The Avengers: All Dressed Up and Where Do They Go?

Jan-15-09

So, Jason and I have assembled a group of new Avengers. We have She-Hulk leading the team, which consists of the new Captain America, the new Ant-Man, Stature, Vision, Iron Man, Wonder Man and Songbird. Falcon helps to organize and recruit the team, and stops by the mansion regularly to provide guidance and help on the occasional mission. We’ve detailed how the team comes to be in the wake of Dark Reign, as the SHRA is dissolved, and the heroes of the Marvel Universe must work to ingratiate themselves with the populace once again. This team is going to be on the frontlines, fighting those threats that no single hero can stand against, but doing so in a way that shows Joe Plumber that heroes aren’t all evil, selfish or destructive.

What we’d like to do now though, is to get into the nitties and the gritties of this team. From where do they operate (I believe both Jason and I would vote for Avengers Mansion, but it’s currently destroyed)? Is Jarvis a part of the support crew and how is he holding up after being a prisoner of the Skrulls? Are there other support crew members? Who is the government liaison and how does that relationship work?

Beyond those questions, we also need to ask how this group is viewed by the public, and also by other superheroes. How does Hank Pym feel about his identity being used by the current Ant-Man, not exactly the most upstanding hero in the line-up? Are there previous Avengers who are upset that they weren’t asked to join? How do the Thunderbolts feel about Songbird leaving them to join this team?

Moreover, does this team of Avengers have an overall strategy? The fact that they are trying to rebuild the public’s trust in heroes in general already makes them more proactive than many previous incarnations of the team, and the fact that Wonder Man has been chosen as their public face also suggests that they will be more proactive than reactive, at least in certain areas.

So, I’ve asked the hard questions, and now we can let Jason do the actual work by answering them….

I’m just going to take the questions in the order presented and see what develops from there. First off: Location. I would LOVE to see the team return to Avengers Mansion. It’s an unobtrusive way to demonstrate that these heroes see themselves on the relatively same level as the common citizen. The group lives together in a house, not lording over the population in an ivory tower. Of course, I’d also expect that any new version of Avengers Mansion would be completely updated on the interior…top-notch security measures, sub-basements for equipment and transportation, completely wired with tech and accessories. In fact, if Stark is involved, I’d imagine some sort of re-purposing of the Negative Zone prison idea…perhaps a holding cell area for dangerous foes that can’t be managed in conventional prisons. I’m not advocating a permanent location to keep criminals, like the Marvel version of Gitmo or anything, but why not use the space and the technology behind the scenes? Originally I thought they could steal a cue from Doctor Who and make Avengers Mansion be some sort of trans-dimensional location where the interior is far bigger than the exterior, but that could get too complicated far too quickly. Rebuilding Avengers Mansion would also serve as a huge PR win for the team. let’s show the populace that everything is returning to normal and they can begin to feel safe again.

About Jarvis: I’d actually like to see him NOT return. It would be in character for him to politely excuse himself, feeling that he had let the team down and that their trust had been ultimately lost. Honestly, I’d rather see him working for Tony Stark exclusively. Stark is currently going through a revamp of his own in relation to his supporting cast and Jarvis would fit in well there. So where does that leave the Avengers in terms of support? I would like to propose the inclusion of Machine Man as the Operations Manager for Avengers Mansion. With his revamp in Nextwave and his subsequent appearances with the Initiative, he’s the perfect candidate for a position as both integral assistant and comic relief. Considering he was married to the boss, it would make sense to bring John Jameson along too. He could be the Transportation Director or something. And exploring his current non-relationship with She-Hulk would be intriguing. Aside from that, I’d probably look for a Communications Director too…someone who can collect info and relay it to the team ala Oracle (and please not Pepper Potts).

To answer the government liaison question, it’d be easy to appoint Falcon as their mediator. However, I don’t think it would be helpful to have a costumed hero as the government representative (that leaves out Stingray too…damn). However, I do think it would be appropriate to grab one of the long-serving former members of SHIELD to take up that post…someone like Gabe Jones. He has the experience, the respect and the wisdom. Plus, he’s an older gentleman who is probably looking to take it a little easier (not so much a field agent anymore). He’s the perfect candidate in an Obama-led Marvel U.

I’m not going to answer the questions about how the team is viewed, because I think that would need to develop organically. Would Pym really care at this point? Would any former members feel shunned, knowing that no Avengers lineup has ever been written in stone? The only thing I CAN answer is the thought about Songbird. A faction of the Thunderbolts was actually trying to KILL HER, so I could imagine she’d be glad to get out of that situation and they’d be irritated that she got away. Sub-plot alert!

I see this relaunch as a way for Marvel to connect its heroes to the normal folk. I imagine the team would be doing a lot of appearances, making themselves much more public. With Simon in charge of PR, I could even see some sort of reality TV show popping up to follow the lives and adventures of the team. The focus would be to set America’s mind at ease. Maybe the Avengers team up with Damage Control to perform some good works. Basically, they’d be putting out little fires around the states. I’d even go so far as to have them breaking up simple crimes by completely surprising and overpowering some common criminals. Total overkill.

At the same time, I think the team should be challenged quickly and effectively by an outside force. The easiest solution, if Jones is the government contact, is to launch a huge offensive by SHIELD’s nemesis HYDRA…unexpected, with no warning or chatter…perhaps even in conjunction with AIM, the Secret Empire and Sons of the Serpent. Just a ridiculously large, coordinated attack that truly tests the new team’s abilities without resorting to a superpowered menace. This could also be a product of the negative fallout of the SHRA and Osborn and all of that. I don’t want to dictate who would be behind the whole thing, but there’s a curious list to choose from.

Care to expand on any of those answers with some of your own?

I’m in agreement that they should be based in Avengers Mansion. For the moment, I’d say they’re working out of the old sub-basements of the mansion, while the rebuild the structure above them. Then, once that’s done and they can move in upstairs, they can work on renovating the sub-basements as well. This could be a long running subplot, but there’s a lot that can be done with construction and with a crew of people constantly in and out of the mansion. It also forces the heroes to cope with less than ideal conditions for awhile, which can always be interesting. Failing and missing technology can make for some interesting hurdles for our heroes to leap.

Man, I would miss Jarvis. A lot. While I can certainly understand your logic, and that he would excuse himself from duty, I’m not sure the Avengers would allow it. I think that the Avengers need him, and he certainly needs them. The Avengers have always been a chaotic group, with larger than life personalities and frequent roster changes. Jarvis is the glue that holds the team together, and I think dropping him from the title is a mistake. That being said, there’s nothing that says he needs to be their butler and in the title from the get-go. Having him focus on working for Stark makes sense, and since Stark is a member, it also means that Jarvis is still tied peripherally to the team. Have him show up in some issues, acting in his capacity as Stark’s butler, and give him a chance to interact with the cast; both in talking with the members he knows well (like She-Hulk) and in getting to know those members who are new to him (like the new Ant-Man). I definitely would want to see him have a few moments with the new Captain America, since he was so important to the original, when the original joined the team. Let’s keep Jarvis a presence in the book, and if it works organically for him to return to the team in an official capacity, that’s fine. If it doesn’t work and he never rejoins the team, that’s okay too, but at least we’ve got him guest starring occasionally.

As for your other choices, the Machine Man and John Jameson are excellent choices. A Communications Officer would make sense; how about Louise Mason, the Blonde Phantom? For those who don’t know her, she was a supporting character in one of She-Hulk’s previous series. She was a super-hero called the Blonde Phantom back in the Golden Age (no powers), and was pretty old, but she had some of her youth restored to her. I wouldn’t actually want her too young, but we can show her as middle aged. She’d be perfect; it makes sense that She-Hulk would recruit her, since they’ve worked together in the past, and Mason is quite familiar with the life of a hero. She saw a lot when she was the Blonde Phantom, and even more when she worked with She-Hulk, so she is going to be able to keep her cool even when things are going poorly. I have some other ideas if you don’t like that one, but if you like that one, I say we go with it.

Man, I’m a fan of Gabe Jones, but I try to ignore the Howling Commandoes since their histories place them all in WWII, and except for Fury, they should all be incredibly old by now. Using him in the book on a regular basis is just going to be a constant reminder that he’s a walking continuity issue, and yes, it would bother me. Other than that, Jones is perfect, but that’s a pretty big problem for me, and because of it, I’d love to find an alternate. What about Miriam Sharpe? Sharpe, as some may recall, was the primary mover and shaker who organized the demonstrations that helped the SHRA to pass in the first place (her son was among the casualties in Stamford that kicked off the entire Civil War plotline). She’s been described as a brilliant political operator, and indeed, she’s done amazing things for someone who has never been involved in this sort of activity before. She doesn’t work for the government, but that could change, and wouldn’t she be the perfect liaison if the government and the people really want the Avengers to be accountable for their actions? She’s a concerned mother who has become the voice of a nation; I think she’d be a good choice.

As for your other comments, I really like your idea of the Avengers working closely with Damage Control in an effort to boost their public approval. I also think the idea of cameras coming along on some missions in the manner of a reality show has potential. I don’t think that the Avengers will be sitting in cubicles explaining why they’re frustrated because She-Hulk left a green ring around the bathtub again, but I can see them having cameras that record some of their activities.

As for villains, HYRDA is ok, and would probably work well for a beginning arc. My problem with the giant organizations like HYDRA is that they’re not very interesting as villains; they’re mostly faceless flunkies with perhaps one or two recognizable personalities at the very top. However, in a first arc that works well, since you can focus more on your heroes; on their personalities and how they interact with each other, and that’s perfect for when you want to establish some core concepts at the start of the series.

Beyond them, who can the Avengers fight. I like Kang, but Jason doesn’t, and to be fair, I think that Kurt Busiek used Kang quite a bit and quite well, and I’m not sure where you take him from here. I mean, he did conquer the world; it seems most plots would be a step down. I’d not want to do much with him. Ultron always has potential (not that Kurt Busiek didn’t kick major butt with him too when he used him) and is worth bringing back. Otherwise, one of the concepts I’d really like to see brought back is the Masters of Evil.

The Masters have always been a huge part of the Avengers Rogues Gallery, but ever since Roger Stern’s amazing use of them, when they besieged and captured the mansion, they haven’t seen much use, at least in the Avengers title. I think a new Masters is needed, and I think the Mandarin would be the perfect villain to lead it. The Masters almost always have had someone leading them who has a problem with one of the Avengers, and with Stark on the team, the Mandarin is a natural fit. I’ve raved about the new Mandarin before; I never much liked the original, who just never seemed scary. While I loved the gimmicks of his ring, he always seemed somewhat silly to me and I never got the impression he was much of a threat. The new Mandarin definitely exudes an air of menace, and he would be a perfect villain to recruit and lead a new Masters of Evil. Plus, it would be fun to see Songbird’s reaction to fighting the new Masters, and if any other members of the team had doubts about her membership, they would be cleaned up then.

Comments, and other villains you’d like to see?

We seem to be in general agreement about a lot of things. I have no problem with Louise Mason acting as a communications director/general secretary for the group. It would make a lot of sense for She-Hulk, as a new leader, to bring in her own people to flesh out the team. Honestly, I’m just excited by the idea of Machine Man popping up in the title! I agree with letting the Jarvis situation kind of play itself out and see what happens. My main point was that we shouldn’t force him back into his previous position, and this solution offers a solid alternative to that while still keeping him relative to the team. I guess our biggest argument is over the government liaison. I concur that the true age of Gabe Jones is a mystery which needs explaining (and could be another interesting subplot). However, I also feel that he has decades of relative experience working in a government agency and dealing with superheroes. These types of positions need to be filled with logical choices, not just who might seem “cool” at the moment. Unfortunately, I see Miriam Sharpe as a trendy nominee. She was terribly confrontational with the superhero community, spearheading the SHRA which, we’ve already admitted, has to be abolished. We know absolutely nothing about her past, her career or her education. Naming her as government liaison to the Avengers would be akin to making Cindy Sheehan Secretary of Defense! Bonkers!

Ahem. That was quite political of me, huh? Back to the discussion…

We’re agreed on the limits of both the “reality TV” idea and the “massive attack” scenario. I offered neither of these as an ultimate solution that should be taken to its limits, but merely as interesting sideshows, if you will. Anything we can inject into the title that will offer smaller plotlines and show a range of emotions in the team is a necessary exercise. You’re right that HYDRA is kind of boring and faceless (since the Struckers disappeared) and I suggested them only as so much cannon fodder to test the new group’s teamwork and communication abilities. I want to ratchet up the pressure and try to keep the Avengers as busy, as distracted and as overwhelmed as possible. Stress builds character!

As for other villains, I completely forgot that we previously offered up our version of the Masters of Evil! Awesome! Now that I think about it, the whole HYDRA/AIM/Secret Empire plot could end up being set off by Mandarin as his way of softening up the team before the Masters of Evil launch a finely coordinated attack. It would be rather poignant to have the Masters attack as the Avengers are regrouping at a mansion that is being rebuilt, and neither Jarvis nor the original Captain America are on the premises. Kind of a chilling thought, actually.

I believe that any subsequent threats should be positioned in one of two ways: 1. They have something against the US government or 2. They have a beef against the Avengers team concept itself. Any other foes would seem kind of silly at this point. I don’t want to see the new team getting caught up in some interstellar battle or trying to take down any kind of worldwide threat. At the same time, I don’t see them facing off with any singular villain that may have a problem with one member or the other. It has to be a team thing, otherwise it’s just another intricate subplot (which isn’t a bad thing either, as I explained above).

So who do I think fits either of those criteria? Hmm…Hate Monger? Is he still around? Would some sort of Atlantis uprising be redundant at this point? How about fallout from Dark Reign that would pit the Avengers against Doom? Or better yet, let’s see The Hood and his syndicate become some sort of guerrilla army…domestic terrorists that do hit-and-run missions throughout the country.

Honestly, I’m at a loss here. Perhaps we need to invent some new threats in the Marvel Universe?

Let’s start with Gabe Jones.  I certainly understand your point about Sharpe, but understand that she’s appointed by the government, and right now, she’s a news darling.  The government would love her, and to be fair, if the team is trying to project a positive image and win back the trust of the world, having her liaison with them is going to go further in the public eye than some unknown spook who’s buddy-buddy with the superhero elite.  With that being said, I will agree to Gabe Jones (who is a character I like quite a bit) as long as we agree to tackle the problem of why he’s not 80 years old at some point in time. 

That ties us into villains, as perhaps we could use the Yellow Claw as a potential adversary to the group, and perhaps as the villain responsible for Jones’ retarded aging.  First of all, perhaps we can simply call him The Claw, which is not a bad name and a tad less racist, and we can modify his design a touch so he doesn’t look quite so much like a refugee from a 1940’s Charlie Chan serial.  With those touches in place, I think he’d be a great villain for the team; he’s fought them before, and he’s certainly worked to destroy the American government.  He’s a tad megalomaniacal, but I find him interesting.  He ties into Jones’ because, in one of the Nick Fury series, the Claw “killed” Dum Dum Dugan, and then returned him to life.  There was no real explanation, but I’m wondering if the Claw might not have been playing with a lot of the Howlers.  In any case, it’s one possibility.

Now, having said that, I think that your conditions for Avengers villains don’t make a lot of sense.  Why would we confine them to just fighting those who hate the government and those who hate the Avengers?  The Avengers have always been at their best when they’re fighting truly menacing threats, and they exist to protect the world, not just America.  I’m not saying that the two categories of foe you mention don’t have a place in the team’s annals, but I don’t think they should be the only foes the team faces.  In fact, I’d throw the Hood right out the window; the Avengers don’t fight organized crime bosses, and the Hood has not proven himself to be anything but a mafia boss with delusions of grandeur.  Ugh.  It would be like the Avengers going after the Kingpin.  I don’t buy it.  They need world class menaces to test their mettle.  I do like the idea of them fighting Dr. Doom though, since he’s about as world class as you get, and let’s face it, it’s always fun when Doom shows up in any comic.  That works for me.

Otherwise, I think creating some new villains might not be a bad way to go.  Unfortunately, they’ve never had an extensive rogues’ gallery, usually using the villains of other heroes, and I think that needs to change.  In fact, this is so important that we’re going to continue it in a separate post!

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Highlights of 2008

Dec-17-08

The last few days have been fun, as Jason and I peered into our crystal balls to look at what 2009 might hold. However, it’s possible that those thoughts may have seemed a tad cynical to some; I’ll go so far as to say that some may have called them snarky. It may seem to some readers that Jason and I look on the comics industry with disdain, and nothing could be farther from the truth. Well, ok, many things could be farther from the truth, but we’re not totally jaded. Along those lines, I wanted to look at some of the highlights of the previous year.

This is not a best of list. I simply don’t read the breadth of comics that I would need to read to compile a list like that. No, this is a list of what happened in 2008 that gives me hope for the future. I’ll also touch on those things that make me think that 2009 may not be such a bad year for comics after all.

A new Scott Pilgrim book announced for 2009. Jason and I have touted Scott Pilgrim quite a few times, but there’s a reason that this gives me hope. It has long been established that the only financially successful model for comics to follow is to publish monthly pamphlets (or floppies or whatever you want to call the comics that we all know so well) and then to collect those previously published floppies into trade paperbacks some months after their initial printing. There have been some original graphic novels, but generally those are only created by big name creators, those who already have a built in following.

Scott Pilgrim refuses to follow this model. Like the titular hero of the book, this creation comes to us in small graphic novels, each completely original. The writer/artist, Bryan Lee O’Malley, is not a well known creator with a built in following. Yet he’s publishing Scott Pilgrim in a way which I feel shows that there are other options beyond what Marvel and DC believe comics can be published. He’s not the only one who’s exploring alternate ways of publishing comics, but he’s one of the most successful and he gives me hope for the medium.

Jeff Smith’s career. Jeff Smith is the writer and artist who created the absolutely charming and exciting Bone comic, which he self-published. That comic ended in 2004, at which time Smith began working on the equally amazing and endearing Shazam: Monster Society of Evil, a four issue limited series which made the best use of DC’s Captain Marvel that I’d read in decades. Once that miniseries was over, Smith went back to creator owned work, publishing RASL, a series about a dimension-jumping art thief. So why does his career fill me with such hope?

I believe that corporate comics have a place, and can be quite enjoyable, but I also believe that they can drain the creative fire from a creator. I’ve seen creators who I greatly admire go to work for DC and Marvel, only to find the originality, humanity and that special unique voice they had disappear within that culture (<cough> Winick <cough>). Jeff Smith proved that you can do those corporate comics and not lose your voice. He’s also shown that he can succeed in multiple genres, as RASL has proven to be just as intriguing as Bone, albeit not as dependent on adorable animals and stars. I’d love to see more creators take those lessons to heart.

Captain America. She-Hulk. X-Factor. Manhunter. I’m not a big fan of where the Marvel or DC Universes are going these days. I find that both companies seem to favor brainless, unending crossovers, where perhaps a few good ideas lay buried, instead of simply publishing good books. That being said, the titles I mention above are all excellent comics, and they prove that even when you’re writing a comic set in a universe that has taken a turn for the worse, you can still write an entertaining story. Sadly, two of these four comics have been cancelled, but I have no doubt that they will be replaced by other entertaining books that shall dance on the periphery of the major superhero universes, reminding us that some people truly can make lemonade from even the tartest of lemons. They give me hope that, even if I don’t like the direction of Marvel and DC, they will always publish some comics I enjoy without reservation.

Ed Brubaker and Grant Morrison: These men have written some of the most mainstream comics on the stands today, and can be considered some of the movers and shakers of their respective universes. Not all of their comics are ones that I love, but more often than not, they have written books that continue to push at the edges of the comic’s medium, taking old, overused cliches of the business and making them work. Along the way, they’ve managed to create some comics which truly show that superheroes can be fun to read, they can be interesting, and they can be used to explore some important themes. I look forward to seeing what these gentlemen create in 2009.

DC Starts its Final Crisis: I’m not a big fan of this Final Crisis. That said, I love the word Final, and while I’m probably being naive, I’m hoping that it truly is final. I’m hoping that, in 2009, we’ll see DC move away from these huge events, and just start telling stories again. Stories that begin in a hero’s book and end (yes, they must end to be a story; Marvel and DC both need to recognize that) in that same book. Stories that don’t require a massive knowledge of the DCU, and stories that, simply put, are good. That’s my hope for 2009, and I have it because DC tells me that this is the last of their crises. Fingers crossed.

James Robinson returns to comics. Of course, he may have left again, if rumors are true, but his return gave me hope. I believe that Robinson is at his best when he’s writing books where he doesn’t have to worry about massive editorial interference, or worrying about umpty-bazillion crossovers, but just the fact that he’s writing comics again means we could possibly see the brilliance he displayed in Starman and The Golden Age. One of my favorite comics writers ever has returned, and that makes me happy.

There’s some of the things that give me hope for 2009. Jason, anything to add?

Yes, in fact, I do have a few things to add. Some build off of what you’ve already stated and others reflect my own twisted favorites in the comic industry.

First off, I heartily agree with your Scott Pilgrim recognition. I also like how you couched your point in the position that a new book was “announced” in 2008. While O’Malley has been rather methodical in putting out a volume a year, 2008 went by without any Scott Pilgrim. #4 came out towards the end of 2007 and #5 comes out early next year. I’m just glad to know we don’t have to wait much longer!

Your praise of a few good series interests me. I’ve been saying for a year or more that I wanted to start reading the She-Hulk trades. I guess it’ll be easier to catch up now that the series has been cancelled! I gave up on X-Factor a few issues ago. With the tie-ins to both Messiah Complex and Secret Invasion, it felt like the book lost its entertaining focus. The stories turned more towards plot devices than character interaction. And the artwork became quite horrible, in my opinion. Sad, really. I liked the early run that built off the Madrox miniseries from a couple years back. I’m on the second of Brubaker’s Captain America trades and it’s…interesting so far. Not sure I like it yet as much as his Daredevil run. All in all, Brubaker has probably impressed me the most this past year…from the mentioned titles to Criminal to Immortal Iron Fist…and, in the theme of this post, I’m looking forward to his Incognito book with Sean Phillips in 2009.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Brubaker’s partner in crime on Iron Fist (and Uncanny X-Men), Matt Fraction. You know how much I’ve enjoyed his writing the past few years. While his Marvel work has lost some of the attitude and sparkle of his more independent stuff, I still think Matt is one of the top up-and-comers in comics today. The first arc of his Invincible Iron Man felt like something I wanted to write, which is probably the best praise I can offer in my own conceited world. Curious to see what he has up his sleeve for 2009.

Andy Diggle on Thunderbolts has me curious. Loved his run on Losers, and the Green Arrow: Year One book was a solid take on the character. I’m also looking forward to Dan Slott’s run on Mighty Avengers. Partially because he’s not Bendis and partially because Slott is a huge Avengers fan, but mostly because he writes fun books with the right mix of action, comedy and crucial moments. I first became a fan of his work with the Arkham Asylum: Living Hell miniseries he did at DC in 2003. The early issues of his Avengers: Initiative drew my interest for a while, but I ended up cutting it from my pull list when it got too mired in “big event” plotting. Another book I liked was Paul Cornell’s Captain Britain and MI:13 series. Unfortunately, I only got the first four issues and then couldn’t track down the rest. I guess I’m looking forward to the trades in 2009!

I’ll echo your approval of James Robinson’s return. I picked up the first hardcover collection of Starman this summer and loved it. His Golden Age is one of my all-time favorite stories too. It’s true that he seems to work best when not being saddled by continuity and editorial interference. That said, volume two of Starman comes out in a few short months! DC has also started releasing larger hardcover collections of Y: The Last Man and just announced the same treatment for Fables. I give two thumbs up to those decisions. I want to get my wife interested in both titles (I already got her hooked on Preacher and Blue Monday) and these hardcovers seem like the best way to do it. On that note, Chynna Clugston started a new Blue Monday miniseries in 2008 and I look forward to grabbing that trade next year.

A lot of the other stuff I’m interested in may show up in my stocking from Santa next week. My wish list includes things like: Chip Kidd’s Bat-Manga book, the Skyscrapers of the Midwest collection from Josh Cotter, the first trade of Warren Ellis’ Freakangels, Mesmo Delivery by Rafael Grampa, a few of the Golden Age ACG archives (Green Lama, Magicman, Nemesis) put out by Dark Horse, the Scud collection from Image, Omega the Unknown by Jonathan Lethem & Farel Dalrymple and Blake Bell’s book about Steve Ditko. Most, if not all, of these books were released in 2008. Kudos to the comic industry for that output!

See? Not everything I read has superheroes in it!

On a final note, I’d also like to expand on your note that Final Crisis was introduced in 2008. Unfortunately, it wasn’t finished in 2008. I’m going to go on the record right now and announce that I just don’t care for event comics. Sure, I buy them every freakin’ time they put them out, but I think that’s more a collector’s reflex than any sort of focused interest. I’m almost always disappointed by the results. And DC’s overall universe has taken a gigantic hit in stability, from my point of view, as a result of all this constant “OH NO!” foreshadowing and angsty, heavy-handed plotting. There is not a single title on DC’s current slate, aside form some Vertigo titles, that interests me in the least. Two years ago, I was reading almost everything they put out. If that’s not a glaring problem, I don’t know what is. Sadly, Marvel is starting to deliver the same results for me. The only titles I consistently read anymore are the peripheral books that don’t seem to be as rooted in the general nonsense going on. I’d like to see a moratorium on Events (with a capital “E”). At the least, corral them into a family of titles instead of the entire breadth of your output. The dreaded Spider-Man: Clone Saga was an odious piece of garbage, but it was segregated enough to keep its stench off the rest of the world. Same goes for most X-Men soap opera plots that I have less and less interest in as I get older. Is it too much to ask that we just get an excellent run of Justice League stories or Avengers stories or Batman stories or (god forbid) Wolverine stories without all the restless claptrap constantly revolving around them? And don’t tell me that the “market has changed” and the “customers’ expectations have evolved.” That’s complete and utter bull. These changes and evolutions are self-made. Writers write “for the trades” because they’re lazy or because the publishers are greedy. It has nothing to do with the readers. I’m pretty sure I never signed a petition asking for gloomy, redundant, violent comics without a glimmer of hope or excitement. I don’t remember picketing outside DC’s offices with a sign that said “More Rape Please!” I’m not saying Spider-Man shouldn’t be punching bad guys in the face. On the contrary, I think he should do more of it…with less of the “sky is falling” consequences, sideways glances, overwhelming politics and downward-spiral finality of it all. Lighten the f*** up.

I know that rant isn’t really a “highlight” of 2008. But perhaps 2009 could be the year we get back to good, fun comics? I’d like to be able to praise that accomplishment at this time next year.

John?

Jason, Jason, take your tablets.  Go to your happy place for a few minutes.  We’ll wait.

Of course, I can’t disagree with your rant at all.  Your points are all valid, I agree with them, and I would also love to see 2009 be a return to more fun comics.  Not every comic has to be Giffen/DeMatteis’ Justice League, but not every comic has to be a blood drenched gritty buzzkiller either.  Good grief.  Alan Moore (not one of Jason’s favorites, but I like his work) seems to be able to do serious stories that don’t seem to drown in pathos and unnecessary violence.  Perhaps it’s because, for every From Hell he’s written, he’s also produced a more lighthearted book, like Tomorrow Stories or Tom Strong

Still, I believe we may have gotten off point a tad.  I will echo your words about Dan Slott, a writer who does an excellent job of writing good stories, yet recognizing that they can be fun.  His Great Lakes Avengers limited series is still one of my favorites.  And for those, like you, who were turned off by Larry Stroman’s art on X-Factor, he has left the book, so you may want to give it another try.

We’ve both shared some of what we thought was important in 2008, as well as what gives us hope in 2009.  There’s good stuff out now to read, and more on the way, but the percentage of good reads compared to what’s being published isn’t nearly as high as it should be.


Making Civil War more Civil

Dec-09-08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


John and Jason’s Agreed Upon 20 Things Every Superhero Comic Collection Needs

Oct-15-08

We promise to stop milking this idea and move on after this post, but now that we’ve both given our picks for the 20 things every superhero comic collection needs (which are both quite good, and any items on there are worth your time) we thought we’d bring it all together for one final post, with things we both agree on. Here you go:

1. Starman: I won’t continue to belabor this. It’s great. DC is releasing it in new omnibus editions, collecting the entire run and a few of the miniseries that James Robinson wrote which tied into the main story. The first volume is available now and the second is coming in early 2009. Or, if you prefer, track down the original issues; for the first few years James Robinson answered the letters pages personally, and encouraged people to discuss issues beyond the comics, particularly collecting. Some letters pages didn’t deal with comics at all, yet they were all interesting, and it gave a reader the sense of community that is lacking in many comics today. One more reason these comics were so unique.

2. Giffen and DeMatteis’ Justice League: Again, all I’ll do is encourage you to check out the new hardcover collections DC is printing of this series, starting at the first issue. The first two volumes are available now, and more are sure to come.

3. The Authority: These are also available in trade paperbacks. I highly recommend just the first 12 issues by Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch, which were at one time collected into one giant hardcover, although I don’t know if it’s still in print.

4. Invincible by Robert Kirkman: Possibly the best young hero comic being published today, and one of the best superhero comics being published overall. If you’ve never read it, dive in without reading about them on the internet, as there are surprises in store. Image collects these in trades regularly, and you can also snag an annual hardcover Ultimate collection, which contains a full 12 issues. Great stuff.

5. Squadron Supreme by Mark Gruenwald: Perhaps his greatest written work, and certainly a series that paved the way for a lot of future investigations into what people with the powers of demigods might do with those powers, like the Authority. This has been collected into a trade paperback (the first printing even had some of Gruenwald’s ashes mixed into the ink) and seems to still be in print. DC is a lot better about keeping their collected editions in print than Marvel is, so if you’re interested in anything Marvel published on our list, grab it in trade now rather than later.

6. “Under Siege” in The Avengers by Roger Stern and John Buscema: This is an example of something that was collected in a trade, but I believe that trade is now out of print. However, the back issues aren’t expensive (look for #270, 271, 273-277) and you should be able to track them down without much trouble.

7. Frank Miller’s Daredevil: Marvel has quite a few of these issues collected in trade, and you should have no trouble finding them either.

8. Mark Waid’s Flash: This one hasn’t been collected, except for a few trades which appear to be out of print (so much for DC being better at keeping things in print than Marvel, although honestly, in general, they are). Waid had a very long run on this book (including some beautiful issues pencilled by Mike Wieringo), which lasted on and off from #80 of the 2nd series through #129.

9. Ben Edlund’s The Tick: I believe that the trades for his issues are out of print, but a little quick internet searching showed some available second hand, and pretty cheap. Actual back issues can be hard to find and tend to be more expensive, so securing old trades may be your best bet. They’re worth the trouble.

10. Damage Control: Sadly, this has never been collected in trade paperback, one of life’s great injustices. I’d recommend searching for back issues though, which shouldn’t be expensive. The first 4-issue miniseries from 1989 is better than the later “Acts of Vengeance” tie-in mini or the final 1991 mini.

11. Thunderbolts: The first few issues have been collected in a trade, but most trades focus on the later issues. Those aren’t bad, but they don’t break ground the way the early issues did, where you never knew where the series was going from issue to issue.

12. Grant Morrison’s Animal Man: There are three trades available which collect his entire run on the series, well worth their price.

13. The Claremont/Byrne issues of Uncanny X-Men: Marvel has published these in their beautiful Masterworks line, although those may be out of print. Original issues may be pricey, but I’m sure there are trades collecting, at the very least, their Dark Phoenix Saga.

14. Madrox Limited Series by Peter David: We decided to include this, rather than X-Factor because it clearly shows the potential that Peter David found in the Madrox character, potential which seems to have eluded every other writer to handle the character for decades before this series was printed.

15. Steve Ditko’s Dr. Strange: This could be the hardest thing on the list to snag. His issues were printed in Strange Tales and have only been collected, to the best of my knowledge, in the Marvel Masterworks line. Still, they are gorgeous and worth having.

16. Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s Batman work: DC has all of these issues collected in some beautiful trades.

17. Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross’ Marvels: Wait a minute! This wasn’t on the list before! Yes, it wasn’t, but Jason preferred this to Astro City and I was more than willing to concede. In many ways, the series are similar, with this also approaching the superhero through the eyes of ordinary humans. This was Alex Ross’ first mainstream work, and for those who think him overexposed now, I ask you to try and imagine what it was like when this series was first released. I remember seeing his art for the first time, and being completely blown away; if the Marvel superheroes existed in the real world, this must be what they would look like, I thought! It’s a great story too; it was collected in a trade, which looks like it may still be available certain places.

18. Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe/DC’s Who’s Who: I don’t believe DC has kept their handbook in print, but you can almost always find some version of Marvel’s available for purchase. The new hardcover editions have changed the format quite a bit, but they’re still the best way to educate yourself on newer and less-known characters. Marvel has also released the original series in their Essential format…but the black & white presentation steals a little of the glory from the pages.

19. Peter David and Todd Nauck’s Young Justice: Jason still doesn’t agree, but I’m adding it. Sadly, DC refuses to reprint most of this series, but the back issues are cheap. Find them. You won’t regret it.

20. Darwyn Cooke’s New Frontier: John can’t see the simple sophistication of this tale, but I still hold it high as an example of celebrating comics’ past while adding a modern touch. If you can afford the Absolute Edition, definitely pick it up. The added sketches and commentary are enlightening.

There you have it! Those 20 things should keep you busy reading for some time, and when you’re through, you should either appreciate superhero comics in a new light. Stop back here and tell us how right we were or start flaming us for stupid picks. We welcome either response (but prefer the former).


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.


Iron Man: Is he in need of an overhaul?

Apr-29-08

Iron Man. Tony Stark. The Armored Avenger. ShellHead. Call him what you will, he’s been one of the mainstays of the Marvel Universe since the early 60s. As a founding Avenger and the star of his own series, he’s been involved in almost every major event that has plagued the denizens of the Marvel Universe for decades. However, he really took center stage during the recent Civil War that rocked the Marvel Universe, becoming the spokesperson and main proponent of the Superhuman Registration Act, leading the forces who supported that Act, becoming director of S.H.I.E.L.D., and revealed as a mover and shaker for years behind the scenes as the creator of The Illuminati. Many people who read Civil War and it’s various crossovers came to regard Iron Man as a villain, and he has been often portrayed as a fascist over the past few years. When we take a closer look at his recent actions, we can begin to answer the question: does Tony Stark need to be revamped, and his continuity cleaned, in the current Marvel Universe? My answer…not so much.

Civil War was really a question of vigilantes over official law enforcers. We accept vigilantes in our super-heroic fiction, as they are a staple of the genre. However, when considered, do you really want someone with the power to blow up a city block to be running around without supervision? It makes tremendous logical sense to try and identify and train super-humans, rather than allowing them to act with impunity. It would also make sense that, if such a law were passed, even if someone with superpowers did not agree with it, they should register. If they register, they are in compliance with the law, and can attempt to make changes to it from within the system, which is really the only way legislation can be changed. if they don’t register, then they are criminals, further enforcing the stereotype that super-powered vigilantes can’t be trusted, and these superheroes are now unable to change the legislation, since they are now operating outside the law.

Honestly, the entire attitude of Captain America and his anti-registration forces made no sense. What, exactly, were they trying to achieve? They spent most of their time trying to figure out how to beat up Iron Man. Had they won their war against Iron Man, then what? Iron Man neither created nor passed the Registration Act, and his defeat would not have repealed it. Defeating Iron Man would have simply made Cap and his followers appear more dangerous and unstable, which again would have strengthened support for the Act. In many ways, I felt Captain America’s reputation was more damaged than Stark’s during Civil War, as I’ve never seen Cap so unwilling to try and talk through a problem, and I’ve never seen him fight for so long without some sort of plan for victory. However, talking about Captain America and his continuity after Civil War is another post, and besides, Cap managed to avoid dealing with his actions during the War thanks to his assassination.

So, with all that being said, why would anyone call Stark a fascist? Well, unfortunately, there were certain issues during Civil War, both of the main series and of some crossover issues, where he came off looking really bad. Now, anytime you have a character starring in multiple books written by multiple writers like this, you’re going to get slightly different variations on a main character. Some writers simply don’t understand the character, and some writers will force the character to fit the role they require the character to fit for their particular issue, effects on that character’s continuity be damned. There’s also the problem that the writer and guiding force behind the main Civil War series, Mark Millar, is about as subtle as a freight train carrying cinder-blocks down a steep hill. If he wanted to make the argument more even handed, and favor Captain America and his allies, Millar simply had to make Stark act like a fascist prick.

Some of the problems with Stark may have arisen out of problems with the Registration Act itself. For example, the Act proclaimed that anyone with superpowers had to register, whether they intended to use their powers or not. I loudly disagree with this; registration makes sense if you plan on donning tights and punching Dr. Doom on his schnoz the next time he attacks the city, but if you are going to live quietly in the suburbs, raising petunias, then I see no need for you to register. For all we know, Stark may have disagreed with this provision as well (I don’t recall him defending it) and he may have felt that it was unimportant and could be dealt with later, after the rebellion had been put down (and really, how many super-powered people in the Marvel Universe decide not to use their powers?). Either way, it’s not really a reflection on Stark. Sadly, it’s also not why most people call him a fascist.

Stark was culpable in two major incidents that led to the fascist label, and sadly, I can’t argue as convincingly in his defense on these points. The first was the creation of a clone of Thor, a clone that would eventually go wild and kill Bill Foster. The second was the creation of a prison in the Negative Zone for use in incarcerating the heroes who refused to agree to register. Both of these events are mind-bogglingly stupid, and I can only believe they were used (particularly the clone) because they wanted a moment of shock and awe in the books. I don’t believe for a second that Stark would attempt to clone Thor. I know that Stark is a fan of science, but the simple fact remains that he and his forces did not need the extra power to defeat Cap’s Resistance Movement, and even if they did, he would be much more likely to create different suits of armor and use those against the Resistance than he would be to participate in the cloning of someone he had considered a friend. As for the Negative Zone Prison, there is a certain logic in noting that the public might be safer with the offenders locked away somewhere away from innocent bystanders, but I do not believe he would condone locking people up without allowing them access to due process and their civil rights. It went against everything that he stood for by supporting the law of the land, and I simply have no words to defend it.

There is one other point that many dislike, and that is the use of super-villains in helping to track down and capture the heroes, particularly the Thunderbolts. I honestly don’t have a problem with the idea of using some super-villains for this purpose. However, I will be the first to admit that the choices that were made in the villains they were using, again, made no sense. No one in their right mind would use extremely unstable individuals, with no record of being controllable or penitent, like Bullseye and Venom. They are both extremely psychotic and strong willed, and using them seemed to be a large risk for little payoff (especially Bullseye; he’s your high-powered help?). The only excuse I can make is that these are all villains with which Stark was not familiar; he was not a regular opponent of either of them (did he fight either of them, ever?) and I can see him dismissing Bullseye as a threat, since Bullseye has no powers. Perhaps Stark simply didn’t feel that either of these people could really give him any trouble, and if they got out of control, he’d simply take them down. Still, it’s a very weak moment.

So, there are definite instances of Stark acting badly out of character during Civil War. Yet, I’m still saying we shouldn’t try to fix his continuity. Why? Well, everyone involved in Civil War(or almost everyone) acts out of character. I’ve already said that I found Captain America to be extremely poorly handled. Mr. Fantastic also comes off extremely poorly throughout these issues, also appearing fascist. I believe the Thing acts out of character, by refusing to choose a side during most of the conflict. Dr. Pym seems out of character; he may be mentally unbalanced at times, but again, here he comes off as a demented mad scientist. The Wasp appears to have had her personality removed for the entire series. I’m not sure that I buy Dr. Strange’s actions, ignoring the whole thing, until the last minute when he finally feels he needs to get involved. There are many other instances, and I’m not sure there’s anything to be gained by running around trying to explain why everyone was acting out of sorts for that period of time. Let’s just say that some people got a little carried away and leave it at that.

Secondly, Tony Stark left Civil War in a very interesting position. First of all, he’s the new Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., which is a great move. If any hero could hold that position, I believe it’s Stark. He understands S.H.I.E.L.D., as he helped to create it and has worked with it for years, and he also understands running large organizations with levels of bureaucracy. He is a good man, which is needed to lead the biggest intelligence organization in the world, yet he also understands that occasionally rules must be bent, a necessity for the spy trade. Plus, Stark is interesting when he’s out of his armor as well as being resourceful, and I like the idea of him leading missions out of the armor when such actions would be appropriate. Moreover, Stark now has a leadership position in the super-hero community and his relationships with the super-heroes of the Marvel Universe have either been strengthened to a great degree (as with Henry Pym and Ms. Marvel) or have been damaged to a great degree (as with Spider-Man and the New Avengers). These updated relationships have helped to make a character fresh, and for a character that’s been in the Marvel Universe for 45 years, that’s no small feat.

So, my suggestion is to ignore the mistakes of Civil War and don’t spend time trying to explain why he made some bad decisions. Use those bad decisions as part of his character and use it to explore who he really is. When he runs into someone from that time period (like Ben Grimm, for example) let Grimm bring up the death of Bill Foster, and let Stark try to defend it. It could be quite an interesting scene. Trying to undo that time would mean undoing all of the interesting things that have happened to Stark since then, and to return him to the status of mere super-hero and a more mediocre existence. Let him shine as a star for awhile.

Ooh…this one’s gonna get juicy, because I disagree with nearly everything you said!

First off, I don’t want to base any sense of “fixing” any Marvel characters off the anachronistic and convoluted events in Civil War. Tony Stark is a character out of time. By basing his origin directly in the time of the Vietnam conflict, Marvel has dated him irreparably. Which is fine. Let’s work with that then. He’s getting older, weaker, more reliant on his technology to survive. Perhaps Iron man is the perfect hero for Marvel to use as a dynasty…pass the armor on to someone else. Let’s put Tony in an elder mentor position like Bruce Wayne takes in the Batman Beyond cartoon.

But that’s just one idea I have. Let’s go back to Civil War and point out a few major discrepancies in character development. Granted, this could turn into one big diatribe about Civil War itself, so I’ll try to keep it focused. First of all, what are Tony Stark’s superpowers? Why would he even have to register as a superpowered human? Secondly, If you look at the “big picture” of the event, wouldn’t it have made more sense if Iron Man and Captain America had switched their allegiances? Cap isn’t always a blind follower of the government, but he would seem more likely to take the law’s side on this point. And Stark has always been portrayed as being wary of the government and holding back his best technology from them. Stark could have easily created some sort of stealth tech that could have kept the renegade heroes hidden from the Registration forces. And, finally, don’t even get me started on the whole SHIELD thing. How can Tony Stark take the place of Nick Fury? When was Stark ever in the military? Where did he learn wartime strategy and tactics? When did he become a master of espionage? Hell, his heart isn’t even strong enough to put him out in the field (outside of his armor). Just because he built some high-powered armor doesn’t make him an expert on state affairs. Putting him in charge of the world’s covert intelligence system makes nearly as much sense as putting a former equestrian judge in charge of emergency management.

Tony Stark is flawed, physically and mentally. He has his demons (which I don’t believe have been explored much lately). And, quite frankly, he doesn’t have many close friends. There are a lot of things I would do with him if I had the chance. First off would be creating a solid cast of supporting characters. He used to have a group like this…not the greatest, but they were there. Who does he have now? I think the version of Stark in The Ultimates is vastly more interesting as a character. Stark in the traditional Marvel Universe is boring and one-dimensional. Who are his arch enemies? Who are his love interests? What happened to make him such a vessel for the current jingoistic views?

Bring him into current history. Maybe he meets up with the grandson of Yin Sen (the other prisoner that helped him design the armor) and they forge a relationship that turns into a fierce competition. Or maybe Yin Sen’s ancestors successfully sue him for a portion of the armor rights. I dunno, but it’s an intriguing concept. How would Stark handle it if someone was better than him at creating these suits of armor? Would his ego be horribly crushed if he came to the realization that Yin Sen may have contributed more to the original armor design than previously acknowledged?

I would love to see Stark stripped of all his technology and dropped into a situation where he has to MacGyver his way out if it. A plane crash into a remote mountain range. Lost and disoriented in the back alleys of some mid-Saharan nation after a failed assassination attempt. Whatever it is, get him away from his increasingly omniscient and immortal armor and show us the man underneath. There are so many things that can be done with this character. To me, he just seems to be a broken record right now.

Let me jump around a little bit. First of all, I agree completely that one of the problems with Civil War was that Iron Man and Captain America were on the wrong sides. Captain America was a solider for goodness sake as well as a police officer; if anyone should have argued for training superhumans, it should have been him. Heck, he fought like crazy to keep the Young Avengers from actively adventuring because they weren’t trained, so why would he fight it like this. And again, even if Cap thought that the Registration Act violated civil liberties, he knows that you can’t fight that sort of thing in a super-hero brawl. Moreover, Iron Man has fought the government in the past over their attempt to appropriate his technology and resources, so yes, he makes more sense in the anti-registration side. I’d also agree that the series was vague on who exactly had to register. Tony Stark should have been immune, since he had no powers. For that matter, so should Captain America. So would the Black Knight, the Falcon, the Black Panther and numerous others. I assume that there was some sort of wording in the law that took these sorts of people into account, but the series just never explained that; just another area where the Civil War we got was not nearly as good as it could have been.

That being said, it is the Civil War that we got, and I think we have to live with it. Trying to change it now would require continuity backflips that I don’t even want to contemplate, although I’d be open to any suggestions you have. You suggest that Tony Stark, since he is tied to Vietnam, should be aging. I like that idea, but he can’t be the only one to age. If you age Stark, you have to age everyone in the Marvel Universe, since they’re all connected. That’s a huge undertaking, and I can’t see it going over well. Stark can’t remember founding the Avengers forty years ago, while Pym, Janet Van Dyne and Captain America remember those days as being five years ago. Stark’s history is much too intertwined with other heroes to not create a domino effect by aging him.

Is Tony an expert on military or intelligence matters, and can he lead S.H.I.E.L.D.? Well, no, no and yes, in that order. Some of the early issues of his comic that show him as the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. point out that he’s trying to run the world’s premiere intelligence organization like a business, and why that’s causing problems. He has some great scenes with Dum Dum Dugan, as Dugan is incredibly frustrated with how Stark is running things. I mean, we don’t want him to run it exactly like Fury, since if that’s the case, we may as well have Fury running it. The interesting parts of that story deal with how things are different now, and what sort of organization will S.H.I.E.L.D. become with somewhat different at the helm? We’ve seen Fury’s S.H.I.E.L.D. for decades….let’s use this as an opportunity to freshen up, not just Stark, but S.H.I.E.L.D. as well.

Your comments about his supporting cast are well taken, and they’ve not been used much recently. Happy Hogan died during Civil War, Pepper Potts has been working with The Order (although with that title being cancelled, she should be free again) and James Rhodes is working with The Initiative. I would like to see more supporting cast, but I think a new group has to be created, and that could best be done with him installed in S.H.I.E.L.D. as its head, since he’ll be around a whole new group of people. Your other ideas, about Yinsen and his armor, are very interesting, but there’s a problem; you’re working with the Iron Man you want, not the Iron Man you have. If you’re not fond of what’s been done with him, and you don’t think it’s the best direction to take the character, how would you get him from where he’s at to where you want him?

Well, obviously we need a scandal. Isn’t that the way most of these things are handled (at least on a quasi-governmental level)? Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to discount Civil War, but we have to move on from that somehow. Otherwise, the continuing scenario makes him a controversial character for pretty flimsy reasons.

So how do we pull the trigger without horribly damaging the character? An inappropriate relationship? That might make Tony Stark some sort of pariah, even if it’s merely a misunderstanding. Some sort of fraud? Too damaging to his business persona, even if it’s proven to be a well-choreographed set-up. Perhaps a stress-induced relapse with his alcohol problem? This option is definitely believable…alcoholics struggle with their disease every day. It would make him sympathetic while also giving him an avenue to redeem himself. Maybe being the head of SHIELD is more than he bargained for. It starts out as something he turns to to calm his nerves, but knowing how one drink can lead to many, it could quickly spiral out of control and affect his crucial judgment when it comes to international security (and not to sound cloying, but it’s also a good window to introduce his problem into a film sequel). Bottom line: he makes a horrible mistake and is forced to step down.

In all honesty, I can’t see him garnering a positive supporting cast simply from the SHIELD ranks. Their agents are mostly pretty anonymous and it might come across as forced to create specific personalities just for Stark’s interaction. I can see him gathering a crew of loyal cohorts through these various “tests” I would put him through, a group of people with varied talents and interests beyond his. Making Tony more multi-dimensional through these adventures and relationships would be a priority and a natural progression…adding a spiritual, intellectual and emotional depth to him. Plus, there could be an entire storyline in there with “Where has Iron Man gone?”

To take it one step further, how about sending Tony on a healing quest after his SHIELD failure? With his alcoholism reasserting its grip on his psyche, Tony Stark decides to drop off the grid and clean himself up old-school style. Put Iron Man aside for a while and delve into Tony Stark as a person. He travels, he gets involved with locals, he finds intrigue…like a modern Indiana Jones without the relics. Tony rediscovers his humanity after being so consumed by technology (some of his health problems have been made rather extraordinary…he installed a chip in his spine and effectively “rebooted” himself?!?)

Hell, in the long run maybe he returns to society as a pacifist and that’s what leads him to pass down the armor to a younger successor (perhaps Yinsen’s kin?). He realizes that Iron Man is still important to the world landscape, but he just doesn’t have the drive any longer to don the suit himself. He becomes the mentor and the benefactor. Iron Man’s greatest supporting player could be Tony Stark himself!

I think there’s certainly some potential in what you’re doing here. However, I have to admit that the alcoholism subplot seems somewhat played out. How many times are we going to go down that road? Yes, I understand its part of his character and it something that all alcoholics deal with every day; that being said, using it again in a work of fiction makes it seem like a convenient plot device, and it also seems to weaken Stark’s strength and resolve as a character. He’s a hero and falling to the disease again, even to a lesser extent, seems to chip away again at what makes him a hero.

I also agree that Stark is an interesting enough character to support a book if he doesn’t show up in armor. However, it may not be very popular to do a book called Iron Man without the title character ever appearing. Perhaps a name change? Tony Stark doesn’t make for exciting cover copy; Tony Stark, International Man of Mystery? How do you write a book like this? If you remove Stark completely from his technological background, have you moved him too far from the source of his character? I mean, at that point you might as well write Indiana Jones, since some would argue that you’re no longer writing Tony Stark. While I think a short (one story arc, tops) break from the world of technology would be a nice change, any more than that and you’ve gone too far. Tony Stark is the cutting edge of technology. It’s part and parcel of who the man is. I still think you would have a more interesting story by allowing him to stay in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D. and dealing with how this man, who is in love with technology and ran a business for years, would run the world’s premiere intelligence agency.

I actually think the idea of him being a mentor to someone else in the armor has potential, although Denny O’Neill played with that a little after Tony Stark recovered from his second bout with alcoholism and James Rhodes was in the armor. Still, I do think that Stark could survive in a position of mentor to a newer hero, as long as he had that technology to tinker with. I think if you could get him to that point without pulling the old alcoholism chestnut out, and without having him wander the hinterlands, you’d have a stronger book and one more in touch with the character of Tony Stark.

I’m thinking we’re not going to agree on this one. I’d say we should let the readers decide, but I’m not sure if we have any.

Oh, you’re not getting off that easily! This is a big deal for me…that’s why I picked Drunk Tony as my avatar!

You don’t want to back down on the alcoholism thing because of Stark’s “strength and resolve” and you believe that using his disease would be going back to the well one too many times. But I say it’s just the opposite. He became an alcoholic and then he relapsed once (during the time you mentioned). That’s it. Are you honestly going to tell me that someone with his status and celebrity, with all the stress he’s under and the expectations piled upon him, is going to have such an easy time dealing with his problem? I call shenanigans.

Look, the strength of the Marvel characters (at least in their heyday) is their flaws. They make mistakes. They have angst. It’s a natural progression. You expect me to believe that someone with that kind of money and lifestyle isn’t going to fall into the same traps again? I’d list all of today’s celebrities that’ve gone down that path, but I’d quickly run out of fingers and toes to count on. It’s almost as if it’s just expected these days that relapses will occur. The stories you don’t hear about are the ones who’ve successfully controlled their disease. And you know why you don’t hear about them? Because they’re not interesting. Comics are supposed to tell intriguing stories with action and emotion, ups and downs, facing enemies head-on and conquering them over and over again…not just about some famous dude who had too many drinks once but now he’s fine. YAWN!

But that’s okay. We’ll let the drinking thing go. I still say he needs conflict. I don’t want to read another book about political situations and black-ops missions and unbelievable tech solutions to every single problem. That’s what really bores me about Stark. Everything is so easily overcome just by slapping some circuitry onto it. You say that Stark is all about the cutting edge, but I argue that that’s what makes him so one-dimensional. What else do we know about him? Where’s his depth? There are no friends, no love interests, no other connections to the real world. Even when he’s out of costume, his life is still all about being some sort of superhero. He’s so vanilla.

So here’s the one-word scenario that’ll keep your SHIELD option open (even though it seems like the equivalent of letting Halliburton officially run the CIA) while still giving Stark some much-needed character: COMPETITION.

As Director of SHIELD, I assume Tony Stark would be responsible for outfitting the organization with the best equipment they can get. Tony’s ego won’t allow him to imagine that someone would have better products to offer than his own company (And as a weird aside, isn’t it a conflict of interest to have the Stark CEO as Director of SHIELD? I have to admit I haven’t been reading the title lately. Was that ever explained?). However, he has to at least entertain bids from other companies to keep everything on the up-and-up. Let’s say that he and a select group of advisers attend a convention for Tactical Weaponry and Defense Systems. They stumble across a small company that just blows away everyone…their tech is simple and efficient, their designs are streamlined and intuitive…to put it plainly, Tony is pissed.

This small company earns a contract with the US government. When a fanatical right-wing militia tries to take over DC, the units using this technology neutralize the militia members quickly and effortlessly before SHIELD can even mobilize. Stark doesn’t like this idea. He sends SHIELD agents to investigate the company. The agents are captured after trespassing on the company’s grounds. The ensuing media coverage is a huge blow to Stark’s standing.

The back and forth continues with SHIELD and this company until Iron Man gets involved and discovers that the lead designer for this new firm is actually Yin Sen’s grandson and the company is run by Yin Sen’s daughter (*cough*potentialloveinterest*cough*). Then AIM gets involved and manages to steal some of this new technology. SHIELD must work side by side with Yin Sen’s family to shut down AIM’s plans and recover the prized tech.

When all is said and done, Tony’s ego is bruised but he also realizes that he isn’t necessarily the bee’s knees when it comes to the future. Maybe this is his opportunity to take a break, expand his point of view and go explore the world. I agree it shouldn’t be for more than a single storyline, but it would give Tony a chance to meet some people and forge some new relationships (Speaking of Forge, why doesn’t he work for Stark?). And Iron Man doesn’t need to be put aside completely. If Tony decides to fall off the grid, I’m sure he has the means to make sure no one can track him. That said, he could leave Iron Man in the hands of Yin Sen’s grandson…could be entertaining to have him in the suit and everyone interacting with him while thinking he was Tony Stark. He would be overwhelmed and slightly confused, but would rise to the occasion.

My major complaint with Stark right now is that it’s hard to make him a compelling character by putting him behind a desk and handing him some papers to push around. Competition, doubt, ego-breaking and the subsequent relief and need to wind down could play out nicely and reinvigorate a rather flat alter ego. The resulting adventures with Yin Sen’s grandson as Iron Man could also add some depth to an Iron Man character that for years has been all about just flying in and blasting some bad guy. And this plot surrounds him with new faces and new locales. I think it’s pretty win-win, if you ask me.

Wow. Maybe it’s the week off from work; maybe it’s spending five days in Vermont and actually having clear air to breathe (the lack of pollutants in my bloodstream is making me punchy); perhaps its the incredible amount of work I’m shoving to the side of my desk while I instead read and reply on the webpage….whatever it is, I think this approach has potential. First of all, it recognizes where Stark is right now in the Marvel Universe. Second, it harkens back to his origin by using relatives of Yinsen.  Quesada, while writing the book, had created “The Sons of Yinsen”, a group of Yinsen’s disciples who had created a cult based on the man. However, I see no reason why this cult’s existence would invalidate their actually being blood relatives of the man. Here’s how I see it working….Yinsen was obviously in political hot water and he knew it. He helped to slip his family out of the country right before he was captured by Wong Chu. His family, not knowing the resources or determination of Wong Chu to hunt them down, decided it would be safer to change their names and live in secret. However, Yinsen’s offspring inherited their father’s brilliance, as well as some of his early designs that were incorporated into the Iron Man armor. They begin their work to build a global technological empire, but still don’t keep their connection to Professor Yinsen hidden. I’d even say that it would be a mystery for a few issues after they’re introduced, and then it can be a big reveal.)

I love the idea of putting Forge and Iron Man together for awhile, or simply using Forge as a supporting character in the book. Man, if we’re trying to hurt Stark’s confidence, how difficult would it be for him to work with someone (or have someone working for him) who’s a better inventer and designer than he is? I mean, Stark is good, but Forge is a freaking mutant, and this is what he does; he invents things. Think of the improvements that Forge could make to the Iron Man armor. Perhaps, we have Tony and Yinsen’s daughter running around the world doing the globe trotting you seem so determined to get in the book. Meanwhile, Yinsen’s grandson stays behind to be Iron Man, with Forge working with him as a mentor and available technology help. What could be very interesting here would be if Yinsen Jr. and Forge make a better team and a more effective Iron Man than Stark ever did alone. Again, let’s nail Stark’s insecurities. I think there is real potential here.

Weird…I just read the first issue of Matt Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man, and he sort of plays up Stark’s insecurity about technological competition (he also includes a brief battle with members of an AIM side project). The only difference between Fraction’s story so far and the idea that I came up with is that Stark’s competition is a bad guy…Obadiah Stane’s son, to be specific. I love Fraction’s writing, but I think this kind of paints him into a corner. They’ve already set Stane’s son up as being a bit of an evil jerk. The only way this storyline can end is in Stane’s eventual defeat. So, in the long run, Tony gets another enemy. I feel like our revamp offered Tony a new group of friends and branched out the Iron Man character in new directions as well. I suppose both results are necessary at some point in the title’s continued history. Meh…maybe I’m just jealous that Matt gets to play in the Marvel sandbox while I remain a meager blogger!