What Candy Would Your Favorite Superhero Hand Out?

Oct-31-08

So I took my boys trick-or-treating last night and was pretty amazed at the bizarre range of “treats” they ended up hauling in…things like a bag of Doritos, a tube of Go-Gurt and a pack of those Nip-Chee crackers you get out of vending machines. I thought it would be funny to imagine what the superheroes would hand out if they were part of the neighborhood. I’ll throw out my thoughts and then see if John has anything to add…

Superman: Obviously, he’d be handing out Clark bars (and absolutely no one would see the connection).

Silver Surfer: For a shiny dude who has traveled the entire galaxy, could there be a better treat than a Milky Way bar?

Mister Fantastic: I’m guessing he left a bowl outside the Baxter Building filled with gummi bears, bubble gum and salt water taffy.

Captain America: There’s no way Mr. Straight-Laced would be handing out candy. No, his immaculately decorated house would be the one mercilessly TP’ed after he offered up apples and toothbrushes…or worse, savings bonds.

Hulk: Jawbreakers.

Iron Man: I’m guessing there’s a hefty collection of those airline-sized bottles of liquor clogging up a closet somewhere on the Stark compound.

Hawkman: Cans of Red Bull. It gives you wings!

Thor: Skittles, in memory of the gateway to his homeland, the Rainbow Bridge.

The Joker: Aside from the obvious, like gumdrops laced with poison or brownies filled with razor blades, I think he might go for something subtle…like Snickers. Get it? Snickers?? ‘Cause he laughs a lot?

The Blob: Empty Chunky bar wrappers…because, well, y’know…

Martian Manhunter: He’d give out Oreos, until the legal department caught up with him, when he’d switch to Chocos.

Human Torch: He’d be too busy running around with the Thing playing tricks on everyone, but I’m sure he’d leave a bowl of Hot Tamales next to Reed’s candy.

The Thing: His bowl next to the Torch’s would have pieces of rock candy.

Dr. Doom: I bet trick or treating is a lot of fun in Latveria. “Who dares TP Doom’s castle? Is that you Richards? Curse you and your automatic egg thrower! I swear on the soul of my dead mother, Doom shall lay flaming poop on the front stoop of the Baxter Building!” In any case, I imagine his gives out gummi Reed Richards, filled with a strawberry jelly, so his subjects can actually have the pleasure of ripping the accursed Richards apart and feasting on his entrails.

The Wasp: I think she gives out fashion tips. “Dear, I don’t care if you are dressing up as a ghost, that plain white sheet is booooring. Wait right there and I’ll be back with something to spruce it up!”

Dr. Pym: He gives out miniature candy bars.

Mr. Miracle: Rubik’s cubes and Chinese finger traps.

The Spectre: He gives out unholy vengeance to all those who dare to play tricks. “I saw you TPing that house! I shall now transport you to a dimension where you are made of toilet paper and the John Goodman Impersonation Society has just finished eating at a Mexican buffet!”

Got any more?

Aww…wouldn’t Wasp hand out Bit O’Honeys? And Mars bars for J’onn J’onnz (he’d keep all the Chocos for himself)?

Green Goblin: He’d have a satchel full of those little pumpkin-shaped candies, the only problem being that he’d be throwing them at everyone and cackling madly. Oh…and they might explode.

Wolverine: Candy cigarettes (if the Marvel editors will allow it).

Skrull Kill Krew: Cow Tails.

Mr. Mind: Anything but gummi worms.


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Marvel and DC: The Horror, the Horror!

Oct-28-08

It’s almost Halloween and so popular culture is awash with the sound of screaming, as television shows, movies, and lots of internet sites use the holiday as an excuse to release their version of horror on a very suspecting public. Comics, however…well, except for frequent mentions of the Rutland Halloween Parade back in the 1970s, comics don’t often take time out of their busy schedules to reflect on many holidays. Christmas will sometimes be mentioned, and there are even often special one-shot comics published for that holiday, but Halloween? Not so often.

In fact, horror seems to get somewhat short shrift in the superhero comics universes. There are certainly horror comics being published, and there have been for decades. In fact, one can look to the horror comics published by the late, lamented EC Comics back in the 1940s and early 1950s (like Tales from the Crypt) as being partly responsible for the direction that the comics industry has taken. I’m sure we all know the story: the EC Comics were rather graphic, and they were some of the primary evidence used by Dr. Frederic Wertham when he tried to convince Congress, and the world, that comics were a destructive influence on children. His crusade led to the development of the Comics Code Authority, and some rather stringent regulations that made horror comics all but impossible to produce, since almost any facet of an effective horror comic had been forbidden by the Code.

At first glance, some people might consider some of Marvel’s titles from the early 1960s to be horror comics. Titles such as Tales to Astonish, before invaded by the spandex set, often featured stories of hideous monsters threatening the human race. Still, these are normally classified as monster comics, mostly because there were few scares to be had in these tales, and there was no atmosphere, no sense of foreboding, that a horror comic needs. No, it would not be until the next decade that horror comics would begin to return, and this time they’d start melding with the superhero lines of both companies.

In the 1970s both Marvel and DC had begun to test the boundaries of the Code, and one of those areas was in the area of horror comics. In fact, the 1970s were something of a Golden Age for superhero horror, as both companies launched numerous supernatural or horror comics. Some of the titles, particularly on the DC side, were separate from their superhero output. Tales of the Unexpected, Ghosts, House of Mystery and House of Secrets were titles that had no crossover with DC’s stable of popular superheroes (of course, some of these titles would be yanked into DC’s Vertigo line in the 1990’s, but at the time they were originally published, I don’t believe DC foresaw any potential crossover value). However, DC was still bringing horror to its main superhero line, with stories about Deadman, Swamp Thing and the Phantom Stranger.

Meanwhile, over at Marvel, horror was being integrated into the superhero line much more forcibly, with the best example being the long running Tomb of Dracula title, which introduced the vampire lord to the Marvel mainstream, where he fought such foes as Dr. Strange and Thor. The Man-Thing was also introduced around this time, as was Ghost Rider in his own title. Perhaps more surprisingly, however, is that Marvel began publishing stories with a horror bent in their mainstream titles. The Defenders, while perhaps not a horror title, featured many situations involving the supernatural which bordered on horror; Dr. Strange also saw his adventures take an even more gothic turn; new characters such as Moon Knight encountered horror themed villains, such as Werewolf by Night; and even perennial favorite Spider-Man got mixed up with Morbius, the Living Vampire.

Oddly, as the 70s drew to a close, horror comics disappeared from both companies, and the characters associated with horror, such as Deadman and Ghost Rider, soon saw their books cancelled and their appearances dwindle. Since that decade, horror has been mostly forgotten by the big superhero publishers. DC has been successful with horror in the decades since, but almost always under their Vertigo line, which is somewhat divorced from their superheroes. Marvel tried to revive horror in the mid-90s with a line they branded The Midnight Sons, which included such 70s heroes as Dr. Strange, Ghost Rider and Morbius, and introduced new heroes such as Terror and a group called the Redeemers. However, those comics were not successful, commercially or critically.

What do the two major superhero publishers currently have in the horror genre? What has happened to horror in comics? Is it possible to mix horror and superheroes? Were any of these comics, or the concepts behind them any good? That’s what we’ll be discussing this week.

My thoughts are a bit all over the place on this one, so please bear with me. First, let’s talk about the overarching view of horror in other media. Movies and TV are able to handle horror very well because of the movement, the ambiance and the vocal aspects of their presentation. These tools allow tension to be built and emotions to be exploited. Movies and TV relish their ability to delve into the unexpected, which is much harder to do on a series of flat pages that can be perused to avoid any sort of anticipation. The “reveal” that sparks a gasp or a scream on screen is blunted, if not completely eliminated, in comics. And the authenticity of real people in real (even if exaggerated) situations can never be duplicated in print. I don’t care how good the creators are.

That being said, I still think there’s an opportunity for comics to dig into the surreal aspects of horror. The series in the 1970s really wallowed in the macabre and a sense of black humor. Of course, this was also a time of social experimentation and by using supernatural…and, at times, Satanic…themes, these comics were really playing off the vibe of the era. The films of the 80s seemed to revolve around extreme violence and body counts, which played into the selfish excess of the times. And today’s best horror films are built around victims being trapped in settings that are completely out of their control. It’s the slow, torturous plotlines that remind us of the helpless feeling we have in the world environment, claustrophobic and panicky.

It’s funny how some genres want to offer followers an escape from reality, while horror firmly plants itself in the ethic of “no escape.”

Like John pointed out, there’s never really been a consistent horror comic in the stable of either Marvel or DC. They’ve had their moments and certain books have come and gone over the years, but nothing has taken a strong hold on the sales chart. The strange thing is that every time one of the tried and true characters is brought back, the relaunch is often greeted with relatively high readership (Ghost Rider, Moon Knight) at first, only to see the numbers trail off dramatically. I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that a lot of readers like the characters themselves, but the storylines often become repetitive or just lose their momentum. You can’t keep up the “ooh…spooky” feeling for too long before it becomes a Boy Who Cried Wolf scenario. People start to not care.

I believe that the best usage of these characters is as Marvel has done with them. Dracula shows up every few years to advance a plot. Blade and Dr. Strange work on the fringe of the Marvel Universe, knocking back villains and threats that other heroes just don’t understand or can’t be bothered to care about. However, I feel that, if used correctly and sparingly, these characters can build a solid niche for themselves. Worked into the existing continuities, they can exist side by side with the other popular heroes and villains. It adds a depth to the characters that relegating them to simply horror usage seems to remove.

John and I have already offered our own horror-skewed revamps of both the Defenders and Doctor Strange. I’m not as familiar with the DC side of things (aside from Swamp Thing…sorry for the pun), but John and I promise a deeper look into Vertigo in the near future.

Any sort of reintroduction or revamp must take into account the current zeitgeist. The Son of Satan from the 1970s can’t be played the same way in the 2000s or it comes off as hokey and flat. The problems these characters face can’t be the same rote Gothic mansions populated by creepy spirits and deranged groundskeepers. And you can’t simply invent a foreboding dimension with shambling monsters and expect it to portray the same threat level as it did decades ago.

The biggest obstacle when trying to place horror types next to superhero types is that fleeting element of believability. The best horror and suspense stories have to be believable to be truly frightening and having some dude flying by in tights and punching zombies’ faces off really takes away that suspension of disbelief. That’s another reason why the threats need to be tweaked.

John and I wanted to introduce a young Steampunk villain for Doctor Strange. With a lack of morals and a twisted worldview brought on by a fascination with technology and the past, this character could do some truly creepy things and really set himself up as a new type of horrific bad guy. Creepy is the key word…perhaps even “unsettling” would be a better description. I think DC has done some interesting things in their world, though terribly misguided and poorly timed, with all the grisly murders that have taken place in recent years. Sure, stuffing women in refrigerators, developing a plot around the rape and murder of a hero’s wife and even having a vigilante-type tear a criminal in half in full public view, may be a bit extreme for mainstream superhero fare, but I think some of those outlandish elements could play into a new horror theme rather well.

Critics have labelled these new horror movies as “torture porn” and I tend to agree for the most part. However, I find the randomness of some of these situations to be fascinating. I look at a movie like The Hills Have Eyes or Funny Games and I see everyday people plunged into pure chaos by the seemingly coin-flipped decisions of their captors. The over-the-top gore of a Friday the 13th is laughable in comparison to the psychological horror of The Strangers, where the antagonists are always two steps ahead of their victims. Just when you think the good guys have come up with an ingenious way to escape their situation, something goes wrong and that elation you felt is instantly replaced by an uneasy nausea in your gut.

Like I said, it’s nearly impossible to replicate something like that on the page, but adjusting for the times is a clear first step. Let’s update not only the characters, but the settings and subsequent consequences as well. A good horror yarn can be stitched together with a truly credible threat and a seeming lack of viable contingency plans. Put the heroes in real peril and make them work for their escape.

That’s probably the other problem with trying to fully integrate horror types with hero types: the heroes never lose. Kinda makes for a lame horror movie, huh?

It’s interesting that you mention how times were different in the 1970s. That is so true. It’s often said that morals and values have lessened over time, and one can do and say things today that were unthinkable thirty years ago. In some areas, that’s certainly true. Besides the relentless onslaught of blood and gore that one sees in DC comics now, and sometimes at Marvel, there’s also the use of such words as ass and damn, which would never have seen print in 1970s mainstream comics. However, there are certain things that were okay to print back in the 1970s that one couldn’t print now, and one of those things was Satanism. I recently (just this year) reread the entire run of Ghost Rider, from his beginnings back in 1972 to some of the most recent issues. That series in the 1970s was absolutely packed with Satanists! It seemed like every third character in the book identified as such! I have to believe that, when it was published, it seemed to be a relatively minor point, but now, it stands out most tellingly. Heck, Marvel comics today don’t even want to admit that Satan exists, despite the fact that he was a villain in their comics for years!

Anyway, yes, times change. And horror is very difficult to do around the hero set. Just about every hero has probably had a few spooky adventures, but you really have to change the tone of their book for a few issues to pull it off effectively. Otherwise, supernatural elements stop being harbingers of horror and just become superheroes or supervillains with drab costumes. When Marvel tried their relaunch of horror in the 1990s, the Midnight Sons, they separated them from the rest of the Marvel Universe. Yes, they were still in continuity with the Avengers and Fantastic Four, but it was pretty clear that those characters wouldn’t be making guest appearances in the Midnight Sons titles, and vice versa. This is one of the reasons that Dr. Strange is so horribly cast as a member of the New Avengers; the Avengers are too mainstream, and while on the team, Strange becomes just another superhero. With the Defenders, he could maintain an air of mystery and atmosphere, because that team was on the fringe and had horror elements as well, but with the Avengers, all of that gets washed away.

With all of that being said, I still think that there is a place for horror in comics. A lot of people like to bash poor Howard Mackie, who wrote a few comics that were not well received (including a run on Spider-Man), but I would take the first 20 issues of Ghost Rider that he wrote, starting back in 1990, and use them as an example of how to do horror in comics. He kept guest stars to a minimum, and he used mostly new villains, all of them dark and somewhat twisted. Moreover, when those guest stars did drop by, they were forced to adopt the darker outlook of the book. When X-Factor made an appearance, they were there to deal with rogue mutants, most of them hideous monsters living underground. When Dr. Strange stopped for a visit, he was allowed to be mysterious and we didn’t delve into his head. Much of the credit no doubt goes to the excellent artists Javier Saltares and Mark Texiera and their colorist (I can’t find the colorist’s name online, and I don’t have my issues here, so whomever the colorist is, forgive me for not knowing your name), who kept the book extremely dark. One of the neatest things they did was color the spaces between and around the panels black; there was no real white on any of the pages, making everything seem dark and claustrophobic.

Unfortunately, I think where the series lost its way was around issue 25, when they began to introduce more and more demonic villains and the human characters started to get lost and pushed into the background. As Jason mentioned, it’s difficult to do traditional scares in a comic, but they can make you anxious and uncomfortable. The early issues of Ghost Rider did that by building up a supporting cast and not being afraid to kill them when necessary. As a reader, you were never sure if someone might survive to the next issue. Once those human characters were gone, it really just became any other superhero book, except with demons and vampires substituting for more traditional heroes and villains.

In the end, I do think a horror comic is possible, and would be a welcome addition to the comics racks. You need a dark, atmospheric art style. You need to keep the character’s interaction with the rest of their superhero universe to a minimum. It’s fine to acknowledge that all the characters are in the same universe and guest stars can work, but it can’t be too much, and the guest stars have to be brought into the horror genre (i.e. bright primary colors on their costumes need to be muted and their more outrageous abilities need to be toned down). There needs to be a strong, human cast, people who can be threatened by the darkness around them, and characters whose deaths will be meaningful to the series. Wholesale slaughter is not the way to go; it decimates your cast, and it cheapens death. Occasional death is the ticket, as it makes death unpredictable, and suggests that no one is safe.

I think these tricks could even be used in mainstream comics for a few issues, just to shakes things up a little. Batman is a perfect example of a character whose comic (one of them, at least; goodness knows he has enough) should be spotlighting a horror story now and again, since so many of his villains lend themselves to that. Still, horror can happen to anyone. Captain America, one of the brightest, most cheerful heroes out there, could star in a good horror story. Actually, he almost did; when Roger Stern and John Byrne were the creators on his series, they pitted him against a vampire named Baron Blood. Those few issues were awfully close to the definition of a horror story, and might very well qualify. There was mystery, a darker art style, a good cast of humans who you believed could die…..it’s possible anywhere.

And hey, wasn’t Cap turned into a werewolf for a little while? That story was pretty horrible…

I hadn’t thought about the crossover aspect of heroes and horror as specifically as you just pointed out and I think you make an excellent point. Dr. Strange is NOT an Avenger. I don’t care how much Bendis likes him. His power set is antithetical to most superheroes. His demeanor is much more reserved. And his battles, both internal and external, are much more private and singular. Having him crack jokes with Wolverine makes him seem more like an amusement park caricature than the Sorcerer Supreme. And therein lies the rub.

When you import superheroes into horror settings, they stand out like a sore thumb. Brightly colored tights and abilities that include stretching their bodies, turning into ice and shooting arrows at robots makes them seem like a joke. Conversely, shining the big spotlight on a magic man by dropping him into a hi-tech headquarters littered with public figures flying around and saving lives really exposes him as some sort of hokey kid’s birthday act. They are two great tastes that don’t taste so great together…like ice cream and tuna.

I agree that any successful integration by a horror title into a mainstream superhero world must focus on moderation. Not only do guest stars need to be limited in general, but the ones that are allowed have to be very specifically chosen as well. Spider-Man works as a visitor in a Dr. Strange book, Captain America doesn’t. Batman could blend into the atmosphere of a Swamp Thing issue, Superman could not. I think the interaction of all those characters that don’t fit should be limited to one of those conversational mentions in passing. Y’know…Brother Voodoo and Hellstorm are assembling the proper materials for an exorcism and one of them cracks wise about the Fantastic Four not being so fantastic. That has its place and reminds readers of the bigger world outside this insulated and secretive story.

I also like the idea of a disposable supporting cast. Too often, situations arise where you know that no one is in any real danger and that strips the suspense out of the story. There is no way to play favorites in a true horror genre. Granted, the title character is probably safe, but that’s only because the story needs to be told through the eyes of a consistent figure. If I were an editor, everyone else would be fair game. The powers that be can always figure it out over in the superhero side of things anyway.

My last point would be to agree with what you’ve described as far as tone goes. The right artists (including ink and colors) are key to the success of a strong horror title. Just take a look at how Mike Mignola has developed his style over the years, from his early days at DC to his current Hellboy output (which Alan Moore has described as “Jack Kirby meets German Expressionism”). The stable of artists he has assembled for the Dark Horse books, including himself, Duncan Fegredo and Guy Davis, are excellent for that genre. Texeira has certainly made a name for himself with that kind of work, as have Angel Medina, Frazer Irving, Doug Mahnke, Bernie Wrightson and Richard Corben to name a few.

We’re in agreement that a good horror title could exist in the Marvel or DC stable. Should we try to flesh one out or provide a somewhat detailed list of what we think could be done? Maybe even throw some characters at each other and see how we could turn them into horror stories?


John’s 20 Things Every Super-Hero Comic Collection Needs

Oct-14-08

You’ll find that my list, as opposed to Jason’s, tends to hit more specific issues than Jason’s did. It’s also, of course, informed by my personal preferences. There are plenty of important comics that I simply didn’t include because I’m trying to find the comics that people will enjoy reading, and will still show the comics medium at its best and show everything of which the medium is capable. Before I get started, I want to mention that there are four things on my list (and one thing on my list of “Honorable Mentions”) that are also on Jason’s list. To avoid repetition, I’m going to mention them now, but instead of including them below, I’m going to bump some of my “Honorable Mentions” up to my main list. It may be cheating, but there are so many cool things out there that I want the opportunity to list them all (and I still won’t have room)!

So, Jason and I agree on Starman, James Robinson’s series, a true wonder of comics. The best superhero series of the modern age, this series may be unique in that it ran for 80 issues, and was only ever written by Robinson. The plotting is dense and well planned; things in the first issues pay off in the final issues. The characters sound like real people, and they grow and change as the series progresses. This is what superhero comics should be, and honestly, you could read these issues, never read another comic again, and be happy.

We also agree on Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis’ Justice League run, which showed that you could be funny and still make good comics. This was particularly groundbreaking, coming out in the late 80s, when Grim ‘N Gritty was the order of the day. We also both feel that Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch’s Authority is worth checking out, for it’s ability to show superheroes as they might act in the real world, and for it’s groundbreaking “widescreen” storytelling. We believe that one of the first series to do that was Mark Gruenwald’s Squadron Supreme, which wasn’t as adult as Authority, but first threw out some of the ethical questions that superheroes must grapple with. Finally, we both direct your attention to Robert Kirkman’s Invincible, a fine example of the quality superheroes you can find if you wander outside of the Big Two.

What about my own picks? Read on….

1. Any comics from Alan Moore’s ABC line (except Promethea): I’m sure a lot of people think us crazy for listing so few Alan Moore comics on our lists. I’m a big fan of his work, and much of it can be recommended, but it’s been recommended elsewhere, and if you’re a fan of comics, you’re going to have read Watchmen, V for Vendetta, From Hell, Swamp Thing or any of his other titles. The ABC line is important because it gave Alan Moore the chance to do lighter, brighter (but no less interesting) fare. I would highly recommend Top 10, as it’s my favorite from this line, but Tomorrow Stories is also an excellent choice, as it highlights how differently Moore can write for different artists. Give one of comic’s greatest writers a chance to show you how well he can write any genre.

2. Any Sergio Aragones/Mark Evanier Collaboration: Jason mentioned their comic Groo in his last pick, and it is a great one. However, it’s not superheroes. On the plus side, these two have done superheroes, in specials where they Destroyed DC and Massacred Marvel. They also did an interesting series for DC called Fanboy, where the titular character became intimately involved with the comics he loved so much. They’re work together is funny, and more importantly smart, and even better, it often has a great message, which they communicate without beating you over the head.

3. Roger Stern’s “Under Siege” story in The Avengers: Being the huge Avengers (and Roger Stern) fan that he is, I was amazed that this didn’t make Jason’s list. These issues, which chronicle the Masters of Evil invading and occupying Avengers Mansion, are some great superhero comics. They may not be the modern inspiration that Starman is, but they clearly show that, in the world of superhero corporate comics, you can still do great stories. The follow up to these issues, in which the Avengers must go to fight the Gods of Olympus, are just as strong. I should mention that John Buscema’s art in all of these issues is superb and helps to make them the classics that they are.

4. Kurt Busiek’s and George Perez’s “Ultron Unleashed” story in The Avengers: Normally, I wouldn’t include two Avengers stories in a list like this. I also tried to find stories that showcased different aspects of the superhero genre. This story is, like “Under Siege”, just a really great superhero comic. However, it is so great, that I couldn’t choose between it and the one above. These issues pit an Avengers team consisting of the classics (Captain America, Iron Man and Thor) with Black Panther and the newcomer Firestar, as they battle an army of Ultrons to protect our world. The panel where the tired and battered heroes finally reach the main Ultron robot, hurt but not broken, is one of the most powerful superhero panels I’ve even seen.

5. Frank MIller’s Batman: Year One: I agree with Jason that Dark Knight Returns simply no longer holds up. However, I believe that Year One does, and it’s my pick for the best Frank Miller work ever. Somehow, in the space of four issues, Miller was able to distill Batman down into his very basics, giving us a fresh and believable tale of how one man could begin the campaign that would make him an icon. You could read this story and never read another Batman tale, and know everything important about the character.

6. Thunderbolts #1: Another Kurt Busiek story (this one pencilled by the always reliable Mark Bagley). If you read this comic in a vacuum, it’s inclusion on my list may make no sense. However, if you had read it when it was first published, the mystery may vanish. Today, it’s impossible, it seems, for comics to be published without fans knowing every detail of the issue; who will die, who will return from the dead, who will be unmasked. The Thunderbolts had been teased for a few months as a new team of heroes, and while some subtle hints had been dropped that there was more going on with them then was apparent, the reveal at the end of the first issue was amazing. It also led into an incredible run which took the superhero concept and turned it on its ear, examining villains trying to become heroes.

7. John Byrne’s She-Hulk: There are a lot of great comics that John Byrne has created, but like Alan Moore, if you’re a fan than you’ve already heard of his incredible work on Alpha Flight or Next Men or Fantastic Four. I  recommend his work on She-Hulk because it again showcases a well known creator doing something different. Byrne’s She-Hulk was again, a very amusing book, although Byrne went much farther over the line than any of the other amusing books on my list. She-Hulk regularly broke the Fourth Wall, chatting with her readers; villains took breaks between their scenes. It was glorious fun, and it is a shame Byrne’s time on the book was so truncated, as no subsequent writer could pull it off as effortlessly.

8. God Loves, Man Kills: If you want a superhero comic collection, there has to be an X-Men comic in it, right? Jason recommended the Claremont/Byrne issues, and they’re wonderful. However, this graphic novel is my favorite. Written by Chris Claremont, and drawn by Brent Anderson, it details the crusade of a religious zealot to stamp out mutants. Claremont is someone who I often criticize for his stylistic writing style, but they’re not in evidence here. Like Year One, you can read this comic, and know everything important about the X-Men.

9. Mark Waid’s Flash: Mark Waid wrote The Flash for years, sometimes alone and sometimes in partnership with Brian Augustyn. Their issues introduced Impulse, explained the Speed Force, and pitted Wally West against innumerable villains. However, that’s not why I chose these issues. I chose these issues because they are the best example of a superhero story that is, in reality, a love story. Sure, there were fights and plots and worlds to save during these issues, but the heart of these stories was the love between Wally West and Linda Park. Everything else was just background noise, easily overwhelmed by the love these two shared. While most heroes have love interests, I’ve rarely seen a romance as real as this one.

10. Ben Edlund’s The Tick: Jason mentioned this when he mentioned comics from other companies, but I singled this out and included it because it is demonstrably a superhero comic. It just happens to contain a man-eating cow and ninjas. It may seem like I keep coming back to funnier examples of superheroes, but this one is the most amusing I’ve ever read. Unlike the others, which mostly tried to ground their adventures in the reality of their comic book universes, the Tick isn’t grounded at all (he lives in a world where villains have chairs for heads). I recommend the original issues that Edlund wrote and drew himself; I laugh until I cry even after multiple re-readings.

11. The Batman Adventures: Comics heroes have visited different media since the radio shows based on Superman. Some of those visits have been good, others have been bad. When the animated Batman show appeared, it was so good, that it gave something back to the medium that birthed it’s hero: this series of comics, presenting some of the best Batman stories ever published. These stories, beautifully illustrated by Mike Parobeck, show how you can tell an excellent story by stripping out the extraneous (and unnecessary) and focus on the important. Some people found the series too plain, but those people missed the boat. They were elegant in their simplicity, and the well written and drawn stories were anything but child-like.

12. Walt Simonson’s Thor: It’s hard, I believe, to do mythology in comics and keep it interesting. It’s difficult to write powerful characters and make them relatable. It’s sometimes career suicide to try and infuse mythology into superhero comics. Yet Walt Simonson made it look so easy. I am still in awe, and these are some of the only Thor comics I have ever enjoyed.

13. Peter David and Todd Nauck’s Young Justice: I suppose anyone who’s read our blog for any length of time figured I’d be including this. Comics about teen heroes have been around for years and there have been some good ones, but for my money, none have been better than this one. First of all, Peter David stayed for the entire run, and Nauck only missed a few issues (often because he was pencilling Young Justice specials or larger issues of the title), so the entire series has a coherence that so many series lack. Furthermore, Peter David was able to keep the cast relatable, keep relationships changing in believable ways, and he was able to do both amusing and deathly serious issues deftly. For a series to change tone as often as this did and not seem schizophrenic is a commendable feat, and David handled it with finesse. And may I say, while some may see Nauck’s art as cartoony, that like Mike Parobeck, Nauck was able to tell a damn good story, stripping away the unnecessary clutter that infects other artist’s work. Nauck handled the serious issues as well as he did the funny ones.

14. Kurt Busiek’s Astro City: This will be my last Kurt Busiek comic, but I had to include it. Astro City uses superheroes as a backdrop to tell stories about people; some issues the heroes have the stage, but often, they’re simply extras, as the stories talk about the regular people surrounded by these gods among men. It’s one of the most human series I have ever read, and well worth your time. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Brent Anderson, who always does such a nice job making sure the stories look good.

15. Jack Cole’s Plastic Man: Jason mentioned comics from the Golden Age, and I said only one spoke to me. That one is Jack Cole’s creation, which has never been used as well since his death. Yes, I enjoy Plastic Man in the modern DC Universe (and recommend Kyle Baker’s series), but Cole’s Plastic Man was so ahead of its time that it deserves special recognition. Even though Cole produced these stories in the 40s and 50s, they resonate with the themes of the modern age. Yes, they’re funny, but the characters have actual personalities (rare in the Golden Age) the humor feels fresh (which is odd, considering how old they are) and the drawings seem to burst off the page.

16. Damage Control: Marvel’s series of limited series about a company that cleans up after superhero fights is such a common sense idea that I can’t believe it wasn’t done sooner. Much like some issues of Astro City, the heroes are often just the backdrop, as we explore the lives of normal humans, inhabiting a world filled with those with power. Yes, it’s funny, but there’s real characters and plots here to balance that. It’s a wonderful look at the absurdities of the superhero genre, while managing to remain a part of it.

17. Peter David’s X-Factor: I think it’s important to mention this series, particularly the first time Peter David tackled these characters alongside artist Larry Stroman, because it made one thing very clear: there are no stupid characters, or if they are stupid, you can still make them work. David took a group consisting of Havok and Polaris and a bunch of (what were then considered) stupid or unworkable characters and made them work. Madrox is, without a doubt, his strongest achievement, and the self-titled limited series that David wrote for him is also worth recommending. If someone had told me in the mid-90s that I would now consider Madrox one of the most interesting characters in superherodom, I would have considered them crazy. David also made Quicksilver interesting, a character that had always been searching for a writer who could keep his obnoxious personality intact, while making him likable. Hey, he almost even made me like Wolfsbane, but I’m not sure anyone could do that.

18. Early issues of JSA Volume 1: Geoff Johns sometimes get knocked around by critics for his love of obscure DC characters and his tendency to cannibalize DC characters and continuity for his own use. However, his early JSA issues, beautifully illustrated by Steven Sadowski, achieve something that other books should try to emulate; he successfully sells the idea of superhero legacies (where names and/or powers are passed down through generations) and reimagines some Golden Age concepts (like Mr. Terrific) for the modern age. Most of the first series was great, and the current series would be better if it wasn’t stuck with some of the plotlines running through the DC Universe, but the earliest issues are certainly worth a look.

19. Amazing Spider-Man #400: It’s struck me that Jason and I have listed precious few comics of the big names in the industry, like Spider-Man or Superman. This comic is one that is often overlooked, as it came out during the Clone Saga, and it featured the death of a character that has since come back to life. However, if you read it as it was originally written, it’s an incredibly moving story of the death of Aunt May. You finally see the chemistry and bond between her and her nephew, and her death will make you cry. It’s a shame they brought her back, as she will never get as good a send-off as the one J.M. DeMatteis and Mark Bagley gave her here.

20. Archie Meets the Punisher: If I have to explain it to you, you’ll never understand.

Cheater. Next time I’m going first so that I can look more original with my picks. Jerk.

Yes, yes, we had a few similarities and, once you read my following comments, you’ll see we had even more in common before I pruned my list. I’m stunned that the Vision and Scarlet Witch maxiseries was not on your list. That being said, I find it interesting that you also excluded all of the so-called “must haves” from your list. I think it’s an example of the media bandwagoning on comics and not really knowing what’s of interest to the true fan.

And now, since you tore my list apart and then managed to somehow call out my fandom like a common street houligan, I’m going to return the favor…

1. Any comics from Alan Moore’s ABC line (except Promethea): I have no opinion on these, because I’ve never read them. To be quite honest, aside from Watchmen and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (and an excellent Superman story), I just don’t get Alan Moore. His superhero writing doesn’t stand out to me. Sure, it may be more nuanced and intellectual, but there’s also less punching of faces which leads to a certain amount of boredom.

2. Any Sergio Aragones/Mark Evanier Collaboration: I forgot all about Fanboy, not that I think it’s essential by any stretch of the imagination. If we did a list of the Top Humor Comics, I could see Aragones and Evanier taking a spot or two. This one seems out of place on an essential superhero list.

3. Roger Stern’s “Under Siege” story in The Avengers: Yes, this one was obviously on my short list. I think that’s why I made the comment about needing to do a Top Storylines post. In retrospect, I probably should have added this. It’s my favorite Avengers arc and probably one of my favorite comic stories of all time. The Masters of Evil finally lived up to their dubious moniker.

4. Kurt Busiek’s and George Perez’s “Ultron Unleashed” story in The Avengers: Two Avengers stories? Hmm…you didn’t even mention that I didn’t have a single Hawkeye story on my list. Actually, I was going to include the first West Coast Avengers miniseries on my list.

5. Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One: I don’t really have a good reason for not including this one, except for the fact that most of the story has been portrayed on film and portions of the origin have been revamped and redacted so many times as to make my head spin. Miller weaves a solid yarn, but I prefer the grittiness of his Daredevil work.

6. Thunderbolts #1: Yes. Almost made my list too. The utter jaw-droppingness of the ending make this one of the best single issues ever printed. And I agree that it may have been the last gasp of “wait for it” timing in modern comics. I often complain about how the internet has taken the fun out of comics.

7. John Byrne’s She-Hulk: Never read it, as I can’t see myself spending money on a solo She-Hulk book. Although, i have heard great things about the humor and how Byrne broke the Fourth Wall (similar to Morrison’s Animal Man). I’m surprised Dan Slott’s She-Hulk didn’t make your list.

8. God Loves, Man Kills: Meh. This strikes me as another of those “classic” stories that just doesn’t hold up well with the passage of time.

9. Mark Waid’s Flash: This is another one that I was seriously considering. Mark Waid made Wally West a person first and a superhero second…which is something DC has had trouble doing for most of its history.

10. Ben Edlund’s The Tick: Agreed on all counts. I’m also glad you singled out the fact that the issues NOT written by Edlund just don’t match up. Was that a double negative?

11. The Batman Adventures: I briefly thought about this title, but then I realized that I have the DVD box sets on my shelf and I’d much rather watch the cartoon.

12. Walt Simonson’s Thor: When I sold off the majority of my Thor collection, these are the only issues that I kept. However, I think that just may be the nostalgic side of me. I honestly haven’t retained any info from this run. Is this the one with the frog?

13. Peter David and Todd Nauck’s Young Justice: As little as I care for the majority of DC’s pantheon, I care even less about its junior members. Whatever.

14. Kurt Busiek’s Astro City: Busiek is a great writer, I just prefer superhero books that are actually about superheroes, especially when the superheroes who do show up are just derivatives from the Big Two. I’d be more interested in throwing Marvels onto one of our lists. Even though I think it missed some marks, the fact that it tried to show the human side of an already highly established universe made more sense to me.

15. Jack Cole’s Plastic Man: Plastic Man has always been a peripheral character to me. Right after I posted my list, I thought about going back and throwing in Beck’s Captain Marvel work, but I don’t know enough about that or Plastic Man to make a sensible argument.

16. Damage Control: Definitely a consideration for me. LOVED the first series. The subsequent ones didn’t have the same “Ooh” factor for me. Taking a peek behind the scenes in a superhero-filled world, and its repercussions, was definitely a unique vision at the time.

17. Peter David’s X-Factor: I wanted to include an X-Factor run, but I just didn’t think they were iconic enough for a “best of” superhero collection list. There are so many X-titles and offshoots out there that I just basically ignored the mutant sub-genre completely. However, these were good stuff. And that Madrox miniseries is one of the highlights of the last few years.

18. Early issues of JSA Volume 1: Again, not sure. I appreciate Johns’s enthusiasm for obscure characters and legacy heroes, but a lot of the stuff he worked with was still mired down with DC’s baffling continuity. You really had to know your stuff to follow along with some of it.

19. Amazing Spider-Man #400: Seriously? Hell, I’d rather reread the What If? issue with Aunt May as a herald of Galactus. If you wanted to pick a good Spider-Man story, why not the final Kraven one?

20. Archie Meets the Punisher: Really? You couldn’t find a 20th entry with more relevance than this? I think you can definitely see some of our personalities in these picks. You seem to have gone for the intentionally humorous while I’ve tended towards the accidentally funny books. I love irony.


Dream Team: The Avengers

Sep-30-08

As we continue to come up with new things to discuss here at good old Meanwhile…Comics, we thought it might be interesting to take some of the iconic teams in the super-hero universe and create a dream roster for them. Now, not all teams work like this: for example, the Fantastic Four is always at its best when it’s Reed, Sue, Ben and Johnny. Yes, there have been other members, and I’m someone who greatly enjoyed She-Hulk’s tenure with the team. That being said, other members are always temporary. The Fantastic Four is a family, and if you’re not using those four characters, in the end, you’re not writing the Fantastic Four. However, a team like the Avengers is perfect for creating a dream roster. One of the reasons the Avengers work so well for this is because there are so many of them. I’d estimate that about 80% of the non-mutants in the Marvel Universe are members of the Avengers; heck, 3/4 of the Fantastic Four have joined the Avengers at one time or another! Their membership is huge, and even if one discounts the dead, inactive, depowered and deflowered (whoops! How’d that sneak in there?) members, there’s still quite a large pool of superheroes from which to choose.

Now, in choosing a dream roster for any team, there are a few pitfalls one must avoid. First, many people tend to believe that the original roster for any team is their best roster, and I have no doubt that many people would choose a team of Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Henry Pym and the Wasp. While I like all of these characters, I don’t believe that they all need to be present in a dream roster. Another trap to avoid relates to the saying that the Golden Age for any comics fan is when they were twelve; in other words, the team you grew up reading is bound to be your favorite. For a Roger Stern fan like myself, it would be really simple for me to choose those characters he used during his run on the book and create a roster from them. However, I don’t think that’s quite fair, and I’m going to do my best to create a more diverse roster than simply “the Roger Stern Avengers” (although, truly, those Avengers did rock, and if you haven’t read the first series Avengers from about issue #230 to #290, you’re missing a treat). Finally, we should consider how many members the roster should have. It would be simple to create a roster of two dozen characters (especially when you have so many members, like the Avengers do) and be done with it. However, that’s simply too many characters for one book; there would be no room to develop them or for the reader to get to know them. Some years ago, when Captain America was chairman, he designated a membership of six. I agree that six or seven Avengers is a good number, and I’ll be shooting for that.

One more note before I start: I love the Avengers. They are my favorite super-hero team in comicdom, and I truly believe that you can do a lot of interesting things with any six of them that you’d throw together. Honestly, were I asked to write the Avengers, I’d be tempted to choose all but one of the heroes at random, and then I’d have the fun of making the randomly chosen heroes gel into a cohesive team. That being said, while I can argue for and against any member on the roster, I recognize that you can do interesting things with a different group than I’ve chosen, and hopefully we can generate some good debate on our choices. So, who would I choose?

Captain America: There’s simply no debate on this issue. While I believe that Iron Man and Thor, while great characters and wonderful in the Avengers, aren’t necessary for the book to feel like the Avengers, Captain America is. Without him, the Avengers just don’t feel right. I also insist that he be chairman. I’ve enjoyed a lot of other chairmen over the years, and I actually grew up when the Wasp was in charge (and quite liked her in that role). However, Cap is simply too inspirational in the role for me to be comfortable with anyone else in command. I consider this slot to be the only non-debatable choice on my roster.

Vision and the Scarlet Witch: I know these two aren’t a couple anymore. I know the Scarlet Witch is no longer an active hero. I really don’t care. Restoring Wanda to her former role in the Marvel Universe would be simplicity itself. As for them not being a couple anymore, I’m fine with that. I list the characters together, since they’ll always be a couple in my mind, but I’m at peace with them being separate people now, moving on with their lives. Bringing in the younger Vision from Young Avengers will provide even more reason for the two of them to stay apart. Still, they are Avengers from way back, and their powers are fascinating; I like the flexibility of them both. I think they provide color and interest to the team, as well as experience and well developed personalities (well, Wanda does; the Vision gives us the opportunity (yet again) to rebuild his personality in a different way).

The Black Knight: I like Dane Whitman, and think that he’s never served so well as when he is with the Avengers. While he isn’t a powerhouse, he does give the team a foothold in the realms of magic, which is a nice way to involve them in plots that are a little different than their more mainstream foes. He’s also a scientist, and that tends to get overlooked. He’s the only scientist I plan on including on this team, in the hope that this will give his scientific skills a chance to shine.

Living Lightning: Every team needs a newer hero that is just learning the ropes (ok, ok, they don’t, but it sounds profound, and if you don’t think about it too hard, it makes perfect sense). I enjoyed the Living Lightning during his stint with the West Coast Avengers. His powers are unique (and have a great visual) and he’s Hispanic, which helps to create at least a little diversity (although a synthezoid and a gypsy may be diverse, they don’t have much resonance with real world readers). If Dan Slott’s comics are to be considered in continuity (and I believe they are) he’s also gay, which could be a lot of fun to explore, if Marvel doesn’t hamstring the writer and force the writer to make him a eunuch.

Mrs. Peel: The group needs another woman, and she always seemed very skilled at….I’m sorry? What? Wrong Avengers? Heh, heh, whoops. Sorry about that. Moving on!

Ms. Marvel: The group needs another woman, and she also provides the “strong person” role in the group. I was a fan of Ms. Marvel when I first read her appearances in the Avengers that were printed back in the late 70s and early 80s, and while I wasn’t thrilled with the alcoholic plotline they used when she was re-introduced to the team as Warbird in the late 90s, now that she has reclaimed the Ms. Marvel name, I think she’s become much more interesting. She’s got the same military background as Captain America, without having as many ideals. She’s a good person, but she’s been forced to confront the world for what it is, and I find that very interesting.

So, there’s my team. Captain America leads it, and it includes Vision, Scarlet Witch, the Black Knight, Living Lightning and Ms. Marvel. I’m willing to bet it’s not your team. Feel free to tear this one apart, and then let’s see what you have. I’ll lay money yours includes Hawkeye.

Gee, that’s a real sucker bet, isn’t it?

Before I get into the meat of this, we have to throw up a disclaimer. We’ve been working for 5 months now to create our own version of the Marvel Universe and its continuity. I think this exercise sets aside all of the plotlines and positioning we’ve put out there. It’s just a simple way of gathering all of our favorite characters into our favorite team.

Like you, I’ve always been a huge fan of the Avengers. Reading one of their adventures is parallel to listening to someone’s greatest hits collection. You always expect the best and don’t want to be distracted by the amateur stuff (although most bands usually throw a new track into the mix too). That said, I agree that every good Avengers team has at least one longshot member on it, if for nothing other than offering an outsider’s perspective on the ultimate superhero pantheon. The best incarnations of the Avengers offer balance…between genders, between powers, between strength and weakness, and between overall attitudes. You can see the archetypes, but you’re not distracted by them. The proud, quiet warrior. The hot-headed know-it-all. The underrated wallflower that suddenly bursts out of their shell. Reading a good Avengers tale is like watching a revved up version of the Breakfast Club.

There are things I like about your choices and some that I don’t. Living Lightning does not resonate with me at all. Can’t recall a single appearance of his. For someone who has a near-complete run of West Coast Avengers, that’s probably a problem. I dunno. Maybe I need to go back and reread some issues. I’ve enjoyed the latest appearances of Ms. Marvel, but prior to the last two years or so, she means nothing to me. Having her on the same team as Cap seems like overkill in the “military background, strong leader” realm. My other thoughts are explained in my choices. So, without further ado, here’s my Dream Team:

Captain America: I agree wholeheartedly that Cap is the backbone of the best Avengers teams. He has not only the spirit and the drive, but he possesses the knowledge and organizational skills acquired from years of military training to make the team formidable.

Hawkeye: Surprise, surprise. Hawkeye plays off Cap so brilliantly. He looks up to him while also offering a cocky counterpoint to Cap’s authority. These two can be the best of friends and the bickering old men on the stoop at the same time. And he’s been through a lot recently, which plays into good storytelling.

She-Hulk: My first two picks are just plain dudes with a hell of a lot of training, so I figured we should start getting into some superpowers. She-Hulk offers big power with the sexiness and attitude to match. She and Hawkeye have a brief fling in their past, which makes things even more interesting.

Vision & Stature: I like the idea of Vision & Scarlet Witch, but I feel like that ship has sailed. There’s a lot of bad feelings and messed up continuity there that I don’t want to touch. So, here’s where I get my rookie pick and angle for a bit of the old school as well. Let’s grab two of the Avengers minor league players and give them a promotion. Vision has great powers and a quirky personality (mixed with a bit of the old “let’s transfer someone else’s memories into a robot”). Stature is a legacy character whose powers reflect one of the founding members without all the baggage attached. I’m completely fascinated with her emotional state and how she’d react to playing with the big boys. There’s also something to be said about adding some youth to the team.

Firestar: She “retired” from being a hero in the wake of the Superhero Registration Act, but I think having Captain America leading the team again would bring her back around. She has the elemental and flight powers I’m looking for and she adds another emotional dimension…possible love interest for Hawkeye or possible youthful competition for Stature.

Falcon: This is not my Affirmative Action pick. Falcon may not have a lot of power, but he has the experience and the history. There’s also the potential for a face-off with Hawkeye since both see themselves as Captain America’s right-hand man, both are orphans and both have criminal beginnings. Plus, I just like the way he looks.

I was tempted to add Hercules or Black Knight, just because I always liked them on the Avengers, but that would be too similar to the Stern years. I think I’ve struck a decent balance with this grouping. Pretty evenly split along gender lines. Half of the team consists of heavily trained fighters with less (or no) powers. There’s a strong type, a metal dude, a black guy, some flight, some youth, and a character with long distance energy-based abilities. Therefore, my team looks like this: Captain America is in charge. Hawkeye, She-Hulk and Falcon are his core players. Firestar is the reluctant participant. And Vision and Stature are the wide-eyed rookies.

What do you think of that?

Gasp! Hawkeye you say? On your Avengers team? What a surprise. Yawn.

I kid because I love. We both agree on Captain America, so no comments there. I like Hawkeye as an Avenger. I do. I like his relationship to Captain America, as well as his relationship with She-Hulk (they’ve had some interesting run-ins over the years). He’s a strong hero and he brings a lot to the team. Yet I’d simply prefer not to see him in the group. I’ve come to the conclusion that Kurt Busiek was right when he had Hawkeye leave the Avengers to lead the Thunderbolts; Hawkeye has outgrown the role he tends to be placed in with the Avengers, especially with Cap as the leader. Bring him back for an occassional guest shot, but I just don’t see him as a regular member. He’d be bored with it, and I would too.

I must have written “She-Hulk” as a potential member for my team five times and erased it that many times as well. The reasons to include her are many and varied. She’s got a long history with the team. She’s experienced and powerful. She’s got an interesting personality, and her personality plays well against the personalities of other characters. However, I didn’t include her for two reasons. First, like you, I was trying to not recreate the Roger Stern team. Second, in the end, my favorite She-Hulk stories have never been during her time with the Avengers. I like her so much better in her solo stories, or when she adventures with the Fantastic Four. I have a lot of great She-Hulk moments in my head, and none include her Avengering. It seems that her being in the team restricts her, and makes her conform to the rather dull “superstrong superwoman” character. She needs room to have a personality, and with few exceptions, she’s not given that in the Avengers.

You know I agree with Vision, so no argument there. I would gladly give up the Scarlet Witch for Stature. I agree with everything you say about her, and these two could be a great pair (paired for now, because they come over from Young Avengers together). I think that Stature has more potential than any other neophyte hero in the current Marvel Universe and I truly hope that they explore it.

Firestar? Honestly? I have honestly never liked this character. Kurt Busiek did some wonderful things with her in his run on the title, but even then, she wasn’t actually that interesting; she just had the good fortune to be plopped down in the midst of interesting events. I mean, she got to help Cap, Thor, Iron Man and the Black Panther fight an army of Ultrons….it would have been impossible for her to not look cool. She just seems so dull and I can’t imagine what she could bring to the team that we couldn’t get elsewhere. If you want someone with her powers, what about Firebird? She’s very close, and she’s a more interesting character, because she’s a devout Christian. The major comics companies never want to tackle religion head-on, but I think she’d be fascinating on the team if they kept that facet of her personality in mind when writing her.

The Falcon is a great character, and I like him a lot, but I also can’t see him on the Avengers long term. Besides, my concern would be that a team including Cap, Falcon and Hawkeye would soon splinter into two smaller teams, with the non-superpowered trio and the superpowered quartet. Surely we could find a better minority member than that (and isn’t it sad how few there really are to choose from?); I’d much rather see Black Panther filling that role (he almost made my list).

Hmmm. So, we’re in agreement on Cap, Vision and Stature. Shall we try to hammer out a dream team we can both agree on or shall we agree to disagree? I have a lot more Avengers I can trot out if you want to continue this.

No, no, we’re going to hash this one out. I can outlast you!

Seriously though, I can’t believe your flippant dismissal of Hawkeye. Granted, he’s been the outright leader of a few teams, but that doesn’t make him any less of a team player. I always think it’s good to have a second-in-command who knows what the hell he’s doing and talking about (see the current political situation for a PERFECT example of what NOT to do). Besides, how else are we going to spin off another incarnation of the West Coast Avengers?

I’ll give you the removal of Falcon. He was my Hail Mary pass anyway. I’ve always liked the character, but his similarities to Hawkeye’s role may be a bit of overkill.

I picked Firestar over Firebird because I can’t stand the namby-pamby way Firebird was always written. The reason overtly religious types aren’t used well in comics is that they’re either instantly cliched or ridiculously boring. Firebird straddles the delicate line between those two horrible choices. Besides, Firestar is a mutant. Muties represent!

I’m still going to fight for She-Hulk. It’s either her or Hawkeye. Someone has to have that history with Cap to build a team around, otherwise it just seems like Cap’s recruiting whatever is left over from the hero ranks…and that does not instill confidence in the Avengers name. She-Hulk provides the toughness for the team while also acting as a potential mentor for Stature. Good stuff there.

I like Black Panther, but I’ve always had a problem with a foreign sovereign being part of the team. Whether it’s Namor, T’Challa or Thor (not to mention other “gods” like Ares), their presence always seemed forced and out of place. Besides, what powers does Panther really have to offer that would help the team?

The lineup seems to be begging for someone in a big metal suit with a bunch of built-in weaponry. Iron Man is an Avengers icon, but I can understand any sort of apprehension with adding him to a team alongside Cap, given the current circumstances. War Machine may be a better choice. He has past Avengers team experience, he’s a minority, and he carries an awful lot of firepower. Plus, he adds the Tony Stark influence without being Tony.

If we remove Firestar, we still need someone with energy-based abilities. I’d suggest the ultimate elementally proficient member of the Marvel Universe: Crystal. However, when I envision a framed portrait of “The Avengers” hanging on a gallery wall, her inclusion rings false. She just doesn’t have that oomph. I suppose I’m willing to sacrifice She-Hulk and give you back Ms. Marvel. She has flight, strength and energy powers, but she doesn’t have as close a relationship to Captain America.

If we have War Machine and Ms. Marvel, I think we can then add another member who may not have big power but does have a big personality. I say we bring back Beast. He gives us a scientific outlook as well as a bit of intellectual humor and some mutie street cred. And hey, there are no other blue people on the team.

So…my first attempt at a compromise Avengers lineup is as follows: Captain America, Hawkeye, Ms. Marvel, War Machine, Beast, Vision and Stature.

Well, I obviously can’t argue with Cap, Ms. Marvel, the Vision and Stature, so we’re closer. That gives us only three characters to hash out.

I love the idea of bringing the Beast back. I think he’s wasted in the X-Men, to be completely honest, and he’s never as much fun. Being stuck as part of Marvel’s Mopey Mutants (and, were I an editor at Marvel, that would be my next pitched title for a new series: The Mopey Mutants), the Beast is forced to become sullen and more subdued. In the Avengers, he’s able to spread his metaphorical wings and be more of a star. Plus, when he’s normally been a member of the team, the team has been overflowing with scientific experts, forcing the Beast away from that role. In this team, he’d be their only real scientist, enabling him to focus more on the science which he so enjoys. Yes, the Beast is in.

War Machine. Man, that’s a toughie. You mention that, when you envision the Avengers, Crystal just doesn’t fit (a sentiment with which I must wholeheartedly agree). Sadly, War Machine feels the same way to me. I’ve always hated the name and the armor with the huge guns; they scream mid-90s comics to me, and that is not a compliment. It never really seemed to fit Rhodes’ personality anyway; while he has been a soldier, I don’t think violence is his first recourse, as the name and armor seem to suggest. However, that’s easily fixable, and I like James Rhodes, so I think this is a perfect idea. I’d prefer to fiddle with the armor a little and come up with a new name; there certainly should be something snappier than War Machine out there. I think I’d prefer Armor Guy, in a nod to X-Factor’s Strong Guy, but I know that we could come up with something even smarter.

That leaves Hawkeye. I’m not sure that I follow your logic that Cap would pick Avengers he has personal ties with. On numerous occasions Cap has led groups of Avengers that he’s not personally friendly with, and he used to pick teams based on their complimentary powers, and not on their personal relations. I think he relies on his leadership skills to bring them together as a team, and if he only surrounds himself with personal contacts, he’ll never develop newer contacts amongst other heroes. So, I don’t think Hawkeye gets a pass just because he shoots pool with Cap.

However, I am okay with including Hawkeye, mostly because we just included James Rhodes. Rhodes currently doesn’t have any real relationship with anyone on the team, and while we could play with that to make Rhodes an outsider, I’d rather not go that route. It was done with the Falcon when he was on the team, and I’d hate to play that card again. Rhodes and Hawkeye have some history, and that should help draw Rhodes more organically into the group.

So, there’s our Avengers: Captain America leading Vision, Stature, Beast, Hawkeye, James Rhodes and Ms. Marvel in their fight to protect the world from those forces against which no single hero can prevail! Earth’s Mightiest Heroes!

I agree that War Machine is a horrible name that instills more fear than security. I’m glad you feel the same way that I do about Beast. You make good points about his near irrelevance in the current X-Men mythology. I miss the days of the quip-ready, happy-go-lucky Hank McCoy. All in all, I think this would be a good field team for the Avengers. I’m not sure we achieved “Dream Team” status…hard to do without including the iconic Iron Man, Thor and Wasp…but I would sure like to read about this team’s exploits.