Marvel: The Manhattan (Kansas) Project

Sep-08-08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love Hypno-Hustler though.

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

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

I’m laughing already.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How does that change work for you?

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

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

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

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

Ant-Man and Stature.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Expanding the Playing Field: Go West, Young Marvel!

Sep-02-08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


One-Shot: Slyde

Jun-06-08

Have fun with this guy. What’s his superpower? He has lubed up clothing. That’s about it.

Seriously, he’s fought Spider-Man on many occasions. He was part of one of the versions of Masters of Evil. And he’s apparently dead (not that that has stopped anyone in comics EVER). In fact, he was killed once before…only to be revealed that it was his step-brother in the costume. Evidently, the costume is more important than any piece of meat shoved inside it. That should help you somewhat…

Slyde!

You know, others may laugh, but I actually think Slyde has potential, and there are a few things that set him apart from other characters. First of all, while his power is somewhat silly, it’s different and relatively helpful. He can move very quickly by sliding along the ground, and he’s very difficult to stop. Can he do any real damage in a fight? Well, not so much. Or, at least, not yet.

Here’s the thing. In his “I’m not a dork in spandex” identity, Slyde is a chemical engineer. He created the costume that gives him his abilities and that suggests that he may be able to create some other gimmicks that can increase his attack power. So there is some potential there. I also find him interesting because he’s 40 years old, which is 256 is super-hero years. Add to this the fact that he’s managed to cheat death twice, and I think we may have a savvier character here than anyone realizes.

Slyde is currently part of the Initiative, and I think that’s perfect. Slyde should be part of a team. He knows his powers will always be somewhat limited, and he also knows that, as a forty year old man, even in great shape, he’s better off surrounding himself with testosterone infused young ‘uns, who can take the blows meant for him and cover his back. So, we have Slyde in an Initiative team, perhaps being presented in Marvel Comics Presents. It doesn’t really matter who else is on the team; we can tell Slyde’s story over the course of a year of stories about this Initiative team, weaving it in and around the stories’ of the other characters.

This Slyde is the original. After his first defeat by Spider-Man, he decided to get someone else to run around in the costume, and roped in his brother-in-law. After his brother-in-law got killed, Slyde realized that no one else would want to take on the Slyde identity unless it was shown that Slyde was a viable concept, so he went out to beat on Spider-Man. With that out of the way, he was able to sucker some other schmoe into the costume again, but this one got killed by Hammerhead. Well, now Slyde realizes he can’t keep relying on others, since they’re morons and don’t understand how best to utilize his abilities. He knows that, to achieve his goal, he’s going to have to do this himself.

Slyde’s main goal is to seize control of the company that fired him, which is what caused him to become Slyde in the first place. To achieve this goal, he’s going to need a lot of money, and it would be nice if the authorities weren’t hunting him. He’s tried to get two other numbskulls to use his suit as villains and steal some money for him, and that road has been a bust. Civil War gives him an idea for a new plan; he figures that working on the side of the authorities makes more sense, since this gives him amnesty and those aforementioned big strong guys to watch his back (and being heroes, they’re more likely to actually do that watching than the villains he’s worked with in the past).

So, while helping out his new team when they need it, Slyde is also figuring out crimes he can commit. He puts his chemical engineering skills to use and actually comes up with something useful; a chermical that dissolves anything inorganic that it touches, something like a super-acid. (We can’t have him dissolving organic things, as it wouldn’t be good if he started putting holes in super-heroes.) Making himself some rudimentary sprayers, he creates a new identity as Acid-Wash (hee-hee, that is such a stupid name; but this is the guy who thought Slyde would take the world by storm…obviously he can’t pick names) and goes out to start committing robberies to get money. He does pretty well with these robberies, partly because he knows where the local super-heroes are going to be and how to avoid them.

So, the reader is seeing this new villain committing crimes, but no one knows who he is. Perhaps he runs into two of his teammates during one crime, and manages to escape, but now his Initiative team has been tasked with hunting down and defeating this new criminal. The reader doesn’t know who Acid-Wash is (Bwah-ha-ha….sorry, I can’t help it, that name is horrible) and the Initiative is getting frustrated, since they never seem to be able to find him when the entire team is assembled. Perhaps Slyde gets someone to act as Acid-Wash, as he did with the Slyde identity, so that the team can fight him once or twice, and perhaps even defeat him. Then, when Acid-Wash is in jail, a few nights later, he’s spotted again. The mystery (for the reader) deepens.

After a few months of this, Slyde has enough money to mount a takeover of his former employers. He uses someone else as a front for the takeover, but once the takeover is complete, he can’t resist coming out and making it known that he now owns the company, and personally firing the ones responsible for his own ouster. However, it’s now known that he was the money behind the deal, and everyone wants to know where this money came from. Whoops. The mystery draws to a close as Slyde’s teammates begin to piece together the truth, and Slyde is forced into final battle with them, using the weapons of Acid-Wash and the costume of Slyde (which should actually make him relatively formidable). Even if he wins, he is now a criminal, but he’s achieved his goal of revenge against his former employer, and may sneak away until something would cause him to again become a costumed villain.

Ooh…I like that. It has a bit of the original Thunderbolts idea in it, but with a twist. However, Acid-Wash has to go! How about Acid Reign?

Yes, the name was horrible, although part of that thinking was that the guy named himself Slyde, so obviously he doesn’t have a lot of talent in the “Name a supercharacter” department. That being said, Acid Reign is a much better name. Maybe he got better after spending time in the initiative around those wonderfully named heroes like Yellowjacket, Justice, and, um, War Machine.

Or, you know, maybe not.


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.


Defending the Defenders.

Apr-15-08

Okay, enough playing around with the big boys. Let’s dig into the meat that the readers really want to read…

Steve Englehart. Len Wein. Chris Claremont. Steve Gerber. J.M. DeMatteis. Gerry Conway. Pretty much an award-winning list of writers from Marvel’s history, right? So why does The Defenders have such a tragic track record when it comes to comics? Why is the very mention of the team a punchline for the comic book media? Well, let’s examine some of the details:

Problem #1 – The Defenders is a non-team (or so they say). It’s continually pushed, both in the book itself and in Marvel’s communications with the fans, that The Defenders is Marvel’s non-team of heroes. Seriously. That was their selling point.

Problem #2 – The original team consists of Sub-Mariner, Hulk, Silver Surfer and Doctor Strange. That’s four nigh-omnipotent characters that have next to nothing in common. I guess that was supposed to be the charm…either that or they had to use the characters somehow before their trademarks ran out. Of course, The Defenders changed members more often than Spinal Tap changed drummers. I’m surprised any of them even knew each other’s names. The title quickly became Marvel’s circular file for unused characters.

Problem #3 – Many of the team’s adventures had to do with villains named Yandroth, Xemnu, Nebulon, Mandrill, Overmind and The Headmen. Wow. Those names just invoke terror, don’t they? I am an insufferable fan of hokey villains, but only in the right context. A truck driver dressed in coveralls, rubber gloves and an electrified pig’s hide is the perfect foil for a laid-back and sarcastic Spider-Man. But when you have four of the universe’s most powerful heroes going up against a giant dust bunny , therewith a unibrow’s a clear disconnect.

Problem #4 – Closely associated with the bad villains is the fact that most of the adventures The Defenders embarked upon were either overly concerned with bizarre dimensions or so steeped in cosmic mumbo-jumbo that they were almost nonsensical. What the hell are the science-minded Beast and the Prince of Atlantis doing in a Dali-esque dimension straight out of Alice in Wonderland? And, seriously, the Dragon of the Moon? If I can’t even explain it to my wife, then I don’t blame anyone for not reading it.

So, to sum up the problems: The Defenders couldn’t pin down a membership (and when they did, the chemistry wasn’t there), they fought obscure foes in weird situations and no one took them seriously as a team. How the heck do you fix all of that?

I’m not sure if you do fix it. I think that the strength of the Defenders is in their innate ability to fight obscure foes in weird situations. Let’s be honest; if you have a super-hero team, you really should have a reason for them to exist. They need some sort of hook to justify their existence. The X-Men are for the mutants, the Fantastic Four are explorers, the Avengers are the premiere super-team….and the Defenders, I think, are more of a mystical group, fighting those foes that no other hero even know exists.

I think the Defenders worked best when they were associated with Dr. Strange, whether or not he was a regular member. Strange was able to pinpoint and identify mystical threats, or at least more obscure threats, that other super-teams didn’t really know (or, to be honest, probably care) about, but truly were dangerous to the world. In fact, I think the Defenders even became somewhat known for this. I remember, when the Defenders were fighting a group of demons called The Six Fingered Hand, that they got a call from the Avengers. Captain America basically called them to say, “Hey Strange! We found some really weird *^@#, so we think you should take care of it!” Everyone knew that the Defenders operated on the outskirts of the Marvel Universe.

With that being said, if you move in that direction, you also find that the Defenders fulfill a need that is currently not being filled in the Marvel Universe, and that’s dealing with things in a more supernatural or mystical bent. With Strange being the only really well known magical hero in the Marvel Universe, and with Strange no longer having a monthly comic, I think there is a true dearth of stories that touch on the occult. And yes, Strange is currently in the New Avengers, but when he’s with them, he’s just a superhero with magical powers. There’s no sense of a magical realm like you used to see in his own series.

So, I think that the first step would be to assemble a group of Defenders that gathers together some of their more mystically aligned members (and there have been plenty of them) and then sending them off to defend the supernatural edges of the Marvel Universe that tend to be ignored by the mainstream heroes.

I think you hit the nail on the head in that last sentence: The Defenders need to defend something. They need to defend the Earth from weirdness. They need to defend reality itself. And I agree that that mission begins and ends with Doctor Strange. He was the character that drew me to the Defenders to begin with (to be honest, I’ve never liked the Hulk or the Silver Surfer and I’ve only recently begun to appreciate the potential of Namor).

I guess one of the inherent problems with the original run of the Defenders was just a product of the times. You mention the occult and it has to be acknowledged that a certain interest in occult themes peaked in the 1970’s. I remember a lot of Bronze Age books from Marvel touched on those same ideas…Tomb of Dracula, Ghost Rider, Man-Thing, Marvel Spotlight (with Son of Satan) and, to an extent, Conan the Barbarian…not to mention Heavy Metal magazine and DC’s Swamp Thing, House of Mystery and House of Secrets. It was like leftover sixties hippie residue, black light posters and psychedelic music all coming together to freak people out.

Once those energies dissipated, interest in the Defenders waned. You can see it in the fact that Beast joined up and immediately worked to legally justify the team’s existence. Up until that point, it was just an informal association of heroes who happened to have the same interests and experiences. And I think that’s what it should get back to as well. I want to see a “team” of occultists, mystics and magic-based characters working together to investigate the edges of the Marvel universe. But I don’t want it to be an extension of SHIELD or the government, it should be a group that is completely unknown and invisible to the world. Think less X-Files and more Buffy. They have their own networking abilities built on trust and ancient history. They go where they need to go and do what they need to do. No rules. No distractions.

My other problem with the original Defenders lineup, as I mentioned above, was the inordinate amount of raw power it contained. Sure, they could punch the hell out of foes, but does that really help on the magic side of things? I think any plausible Defenders lineup should have a focus more on detective abilities and a knowledge of the obscure, a certain attunement to that realm and its surroundings. So who fits the bill in the Marvel Universe?

Well, let’s look at past Defenders to begin with. Obviously, Dr. Strange would be the catalyst for forming the group. Like you said, he is Marvel’s foremost authority on magic and the most easily recognized manifestation of it. One of my favorite characters, who I don’t believe has been used properly lately, is Daimon Hellstrom. When you think of occult, you can’t get much more appropriate than a Lord of Hell who has tried to rebel against his lineage. He and his wife (Ex-wife? Estranged wife?) Patsy Walker once ran an investigation business themselves. Gargoyle had been living with the couple for years after the New Defenders disbanded…you can’t look at that character without thinking of Gothic horror stories. And, for a character steeped in both a mythic past and his own scientific education, Black Knight would be a curious addition to the team. He was a Defenders member briefly and brings a legitimacy with his Avengers past.

Outside of previous members, I’ve always been interested in Cloak and Dagger. They’re young, they live on the edge of society and yet have a certain connection to religion, purity and salvation. Both have worked with Strange in the past and recently post-Civil War. I think they’d add youth and a different outlook to the team.

How’s that for a new Defenders lineup?

The wonderful thing about using Dr. Strange is that he’s a really busy man. He can pull the team together (as he did many times during the run of the original series), set them on their path, and then he can fade out if you don’t want to use him (“Sorry, have to go check out a revolution behind The Purple Veil in the Dimension of Watoomb!”) or you can keep him front and center during the story. He works either way.

I think saying that Daimon Helstrom and Patsy Walker haven’t been used well lately is something of an understatement. I don’t want to knock the creators who have been using them since they left the Defenders, but their personalities seemed to change drastically, and for no good reason. I’m all for character development, and if natural forces change people to a point where they would no longer logically be together, I’m fine with that. But when characters just suddenly start acting like completely different people with no explanation as to why, I get concerned. That seemed to happen to both of these characters and I’m horribly confused as to their status, since it almost seems like writers have been throwing ideas about these two out to the reading audience pell mell, hoping something would stick. Heck, even the Marvel Universe official site doesn’t seem to know what’s up with these two crazy kids, as in some places on the site they’re considered separated and sometimes they’re considered divorced. What the heck?

I would love to see them used again. I don’t even have a problem with them being separated, or divorced. Look how much more interesting Hank and Jan Pym often were when they worked together after their divorce. And Jan was upset that Hank hit her….Patsy has that beat hands down, since her husband drove her to an insanity fueled suicide! I’m pretty sure that Patsy gets to be guest of honor at the next “My Super Powered Husband is a Big Fat Jerk” convention. I think the tension between the two of them could be very interesting.

I love Dane Whitman, and he really fits in well here. Except for Dr. Doom, I can’t think of another character who straddles the science/magic line so well. Dane is a scientist who wields a magic sword. He’s a modern man who spent years fighting in the crusades. He’s spent years of his life as a stone statue, fighting in the land of Avalon with the druid Amergin, and as a living weapon when his entire body started to become razor sharp, after invoking the curse of the Ebony Blade. There’s a great history here, but he hasn’t really had much of a showcase since he left the Avengers right before The Crossing started (and kudos to Dane for knowing the best time to get the heck out of that group).

I think Cloak and Dagger are a great duo, and don’t have much more to add to what you said about them. As for the Gargoyle…<sigh>. He does have an interesting visual. Sadly, his visual is about all that’s interesting about him. At the same time, there is potential here. I think the way to use him would be to play up the fact that he doesn’t seem to have much of a purpose. I always saw him hanging out with Patsy simply because he didn’t know what else to do. He’s really an old man, and it must seem to him that the world has passed him by. I think he’s got some potential, but for me, he’d be the most work. At the same time, once you started bouncing him off the other people in the group, he could become one of the most interesting people in the book. Who has not felt, at some time, as if they are adrift, without a specific goal, purpose or mission in life? Gargoyle would be easy for people to relate to.

And don’t forget Dr. Druid. I love Dr. Druid! I’m one of the select few comics readers who seem to like this character (I meet with the other three once a month), and boy, has he been misused over the years. He has a great history with Dane; they were close while Avengers, until Druid tried to take over Dane’s mind and use him for evil. I wonder if Dane has gotten over that yet? Sadly, Druid has a mild case of being dead that he’d have to recover from before he could be used. On the plus side, there’s obviously a medication in the Marvel Universe that cures that particular problem, so it shouldn’t be a huge problem.

What I really like about this group is that there isn’t a lot of raw power. Don’t get me wrong; none of these are really lightweights. But what they have in spades is knowledge (maybe not Cloak and Dagger so much, but the others). Hellstrom, Hellcat, Strange, Dane and Gargoyle (and Druid) are all experts in different areas of mysticism, the occult, and supernatural matters.

Plus, Patsy knows fashion.

Which is odd considering her costume is the lamest of the group. Zing!

I don’t know if it’s because I’ve always been a fan of the group or if it’s because this concept is so obvious, but I feel like we could do BUNCHES with this lineup. I’m more excited by this than any other ideas I’ve got running around in my head. I guess the biggest question is, “How do we get these characters together without it seeming forced?” Well, I’m going to take a stab at it…

Dr. Strange is meditating in his Sanctum Sanctorum when an odd noise disrupts him. The sound is coming from his library. When he enters the library, he sees an ancient artifact disappear in front of his eyes. He calls to Wong to ask if they’ve had a visitor, but both Wong and Strange’s own defenses reveal that no one has entered the building. Strange isn’t overly alarmed, but he is curious. He contacts Cloak and Dagger, because of their street connections, to ask them about the disturbance/possible theft. They assure him that they haven’t heard anything, but then Dagger reveals that she feels a strengthening evil. Strange asks Cloak to transport them to Massachusetts.

The trio arrives at the home of Daimon Hellstrom. He and Strange confer and Hellstrom agrees to help them in their search. The four of them arrive back at Strange’s abode where Wong informs them that two other artifacts have gone missing. Strange takes inventory and determines that the three missing items could be combined into a very powerful weapon. Strange finds Hellstrom in his library flipping through the pages of the Darkhold. As Strange is telling the group about the potential weapon, the Darkhold disappears right in front of them. Immediately, there is a knock on the door.

Wong opens the door to find The Dwarf (of the Darkhold). The Dwarf informs them that 12 pages of the Darkhold have been used. He then hands Wong a vellum envelope and vanishes. The envelope holds a piece of parchment with an arcane riddle on it. Strange decides they need more assistance to tackle this problem, but before they can decide on who to contact, something comes crashing through the window…a giant mutated crab’s claw. The heroes rush outside to confront hideous versions of Cancer, Scorpio, Leo and Taurus from the Zodiac.

After a brief battle, the heroes defeat these monsters. Daimon tells Strange he will return shortly. Then Strange uses his astral form to contact Dane Whitman (Black Knight). He tells Whitman about the possible supernatural weapon and enlists his help. Meanwhile, Hellstrom has traveled to find his ex-wife Patsy Walker and their friend Gargoyle. His appearance startles Patsy, but she tells him that her current position with The Initiative is not very fulfilling and, with the agreement of Gargoyle, the two of them go AWOL from The Initiative to join The Defenders.

The group returns to Strange’s home where they decode the riddle and determine that the force they are facing is none other than…Doctor Druid! Returning to the site of Druid’s death, they discover a black hole tearing through reality. Here, they face off with the rest of The Zodiac, possessed by the Darkhold pages. The team works well together in defeating their enemies. Druid emerges from the nothingness and promptly collapses in front of them.

As it turns out, Druid’s spirit had been inhabiting a plane that ran concurrent to reality. This allowed him to move easily between the centuries, essentially plucking the artifacts from the timestream before Dr. Strange ever had them in his possession. With the staff assembled and the Darkhold to power it, Druid was able to bring himself back from the dead. Unfortunately, the Zodiac were on the same plane with him and took advantage of his power to resurrect themselves as well. Druid wasn’t purposely doing all of this to be evil, but he had no other way to come back. The group accepts this explanation and welcomes Druid to their fold.

The NEW New Defenders

Unfortunately, by invoking the Darkhold and by using the weapon he created, Druid has started a ripple effect that threatens to allow the supernatural to take over reality. The Defenders now have a mission…to investigate these potential uprisings and defend the Earth from their powers.

I agree that this group as a lot of potential, and I think that the group could be very interesting. To me, team books succeed or fail on the strength of the personalities involved and how they interact. As we’ve discussed in previous posts, these characters have diverse backgrounds, and together, they have connecttions all over the Marvel Universe, from the street level contacts of Cloak and Dagger to the cosmic connections of Strange. There are also a lot of interesting character arcs that you could work through as you throw mystical menaces at them.

I really like the idea of having Gargoyle realize that his life since he became a super-hero has been somewhat bereft of any direction, at least one he set for himself. He’s followed the Defenders, and then the Hellstroms, and then Patsy alone, but he’s never done much on his own, and seems to be something of a blank slate when I’ve read anything with him in the past. I think that he’d want to start to find his own way in the world. He’s an older man (he should be at least in his 80s by now, although with the sliding Marvel timescale, that may not be accurate) when he’s not a gargoyle, and that has to color his actions. How do Patsy and Daimon feel about him hanging around them a lot? Do they like him, or is he kind of annoying to them, like Kramer from Seinfeld constantly hanging around? If the Gargoyle persona is functionally immortal (as in it doesn’t age), is his human form also immortal? Or, does anytime he spend as a human age that form? If so, time spent as a human would be quite precious for him and how would he want to spend it? Would he be attracted to the youth and vigor of Cloak and Dagger and want to spend time with them? Could they help him reconnect with who he used to be, and start making his own way? Or, would he find their youthful outlook confusing and unwelcome? There’s plenty of direction here.

How do Patsy and Daimon deal with each other? Obviously, there have been some bumps in the road for these two. Daimon even went out of his way to lie to Patsy, believing that she would be happier without him. But, he still loves her. Does she love him? Will he work towards reclaiming her love, or will he continue his policy of pushing her away so that she doesn’t get hurt again? If the latter, how will he feel if she starts dating someone else (like, perhaps, Dane Whitman)?

As I mentioned before, Druid and Dane have quite a history together. How will Dane feel about Druid’s actions when Druid took over the Avengers? For that matter, how does Druid feel about those actions? Will he be wracked by guilt, will he expect Dane to understand that Druid was being controlled at the time? Plus, Druid’s now created even more problems when he managed to resurrect himself. Can this man do anything right? Druid also has history with Strange, since he was technically the proto-Strange, and the two worked together quite a bit during some of the crazy Infinity crossovers of the 90s.

I see this as being a dark, moody, supernatural book. Lots of dark colors, and probably as close to horror as one can go when you’re dealing with people in spandex. Please note that I’m not saying grim and gritty (well, maybe some gritty). I’d like to see some humor in the book as well. I’m not necessarily suggesting big laughs, but some of these characters are upbeat. Dagger has usually been portrayed as pretty optimistic, and Patsy is often portrayed as something of a joker (and I see Daimon having a sense of humor, albeit a very dry one). So, yes, moody, horror type stories, but with strong character development and leavened by a sense of humor. I think it could work quite well.

Humor? Yeah, I think we’ve got that covered. The first running gag I can think of would involve Strange and Druid. We assume Strange will step back and become more of an absent leader for the group…like Charlie on Charlie’s Angels, right? Well, considering how often Druid has been possessed by everyone, wouldn’t it be funny to have Strange use Druid as his “speakerphone” every time he wanted to talk to the group?

I agree with you about the feel of the book, to an extent. It should be closer to horror than superhero fare. I wouldn’t expect an crossovers with Spider-Man, Wolverine or The Punisher…more along the lines of Ghost Rider, Moon Knight and Man-Thing. However, while the environment is dark, I feel it would be clever to have the group be rather nonchalant about it all. Been there, done that. I think that’s where a lot of the humor could come in to it. These characters are in their comfort zone and almost feel nostalgic for what they’re doing.

There’s definitely a lot of room for interaction too, as you’ve said. The fact that most of them are already familiar with each other is a plus, but it’s also interesting that they haven’t all worked together at the same time. I think a “love triangle” between Daimon, Patsy and Dane is a smart move…probably humanizes Daimon more than anything. I would see him as being pissed off at first like, “How dare she have feelings for a mere mortal over me!” But eventually he realizes how out of place he truly is and maybe gets some real emotion behind him. I’m guessing another woman would be brought into the group eventually…perhaps someone powerful like Gargoyle (he may venture off to “find himself”) then Daimon might show interest in her. Could be fun to have Patsy and Daimon trying to one-up each other with their new relationships only to realize they really love each other.

I think the trust factor would come up with a lot of people. Dane doesn’t trust Druid. Patsy doesn’t trust Daimon (and I’m sure everyone else is a little wary of a Hell Lord). Maybe Gargoyle doesn’t trust Cloak and Dagger because they’re young. Druid probably doesn’t trust himself. Interesting to see how they’d handle all of this in team situations.

To be honest, I’ve already taken notes for literally a dozen different storylines. And that’s not even counting your basic vampires, demons and killer plagues. I WANT THIS.