NewMU: Wonder Man

Jan-31-12

“Simon Williams has a real problem on his hands….does he show up to the premiere of his new movie, or risk the public embarrassment by skipping that to deal with the costumed Gladiator who’s smashing apart the set of the movie he’s currently shooting?  What’s more dangerous….his arch foe, or the ire of his girlfriend Janet if he leaves her waiting on the red carpet?”

I’ll be the first to admit it….I’m not the biggest fan of Wonder Man.  He’s never really impressed me in his previous outings (except when they team him up with the Beast….the two of them are always worth reading about when they’re together) and his history is a rather garbled bit of business.  Is he a businessman with a flair for inventing, or an aspiring actor?  Is he a super strong human or is he composed of some odd super energy?  Is he dead, or is he in some ghost-like state or is he a zombie?  However, I do believe that he fills a niche in the Marvel Universe, and that’s of a hero with ties to Hollywood.

We’re going to start with his origin, stripping away the failed businessman nonsense that seems to be at odds with later versions of the character.  Simon Williams grew up in California, and from his earliest years he dreamed of being an actor.  As he got older he was sure that his natural good looks and chiseled body would land him a part in a movie or television series which would allow him to break into the big leagues.  However, by the time he turned 25 he still had not found that breakout role, mostly getting walk on bits or one-off roles that required a buff dumb guy.  Unsure of what to do to get noticed, he consulted with his agent, an eccentric spinmaster who called himself Dollar Bill.  Dollar Bill pointed out the number of heroes in brightly colored costumes who were appearing on the scene, and suggested that as an option for Simon to generate publicity and stand out from the pack.  When Simon pointed out that he didn’t actually have powers and was concerned that he might get hurt (and have his handsome face damaged, which would not be good for his career), Dollar Bill replied that he knew of a way for Simon to gain powers.

It seems that Dollar Bill had heard of a scientist who was looking for volunteers willing to undergo a procedure which she said would give them superpowers.  The cost was high but not out of Simon’s reach, as the procedure was dangerous.  Simon was unsure if this was for him, but after repeated pressure from Dollar Bill, and after talking with his childhood friend Fabian Stanton (nee Fabian Stankowicz, who had changed his own last name when he tried to become an actor himself, before he realized he was happier creating technical effects for movies), he decided to go for it.  He contacted this Dr. Nightshade, and soon went into her care for a period of two weeks.  He doesn’t remember much of that time, but when it was over, he had gained superhuman strength and limited invulnerability.  Thrilled, he rushed to tell Dollar Bill and Fabian the good news.

Dollar Bill had crafted him a costume and christened him Wonder Man, in his typically bombastic style.  Bill and Fabian had also decided that being able to fly would make him seem more dashing and heroic, and Fabian had built a jetpack for him.  After that, Simon began making appearances as Wonder Man, usually fighting everyday criminals like bank robbers or saving people from fires and car accidents.  Of course, he always made sure to stick around for the press to arrive, and he made sure that everyone knew that Wonder Man was really Simon Williams, made much easier by the fact that he didn’t wear a mask.

That’s our setup.  Simon is our hero, using the celebrity that doing good deeds affords him to advance his fledgling acting career.  How much does being a hero mean to him?  Probably not that much.  He prefers acting most of the time, and honestly, he’s actually pretty good at it.  Dollar Bill is still his agent, crazy and over the top as ever.  Fabian also works in the movie business, doing special effects and serves as Simon’s confidante and tech help.  Simon’s girlfriend is Janet Van Dyne, an heiress who has her own reality show, sort of like one of the Kardashians.  The difference is that Janet is also a mutant, with the ability to shrink, grow wings from her back and fire venom blasts.  In that guise she calls herself the Wasp, but she’s not much of a superhero.  It’s unclear if she and Simon are just using each other for the publicity, or if there are deeper feelings between them.

On the other side of the scorecard we have the villains.  Our big baddie is Mr. Robert Mojo, one of the most powerful producers in Hollywood.  A recluse because of his looks (he’s an obese albino man who rarely even rises from his chair) he nevertheless has his finger in all sorts of activities in Los Angeles.  Besides his entertainment connection, he also knows many of the less reputable citizens of the City of Angels, and he is willing to do whatever it takes to get what he wants.  At the moment what he would like is for Wonder Man to either come work for him, or for Wonder Man to stop stealing the press from projects on which Mr. Mojo is working.  However, Simon is currently under a contract with another mysterious producer, James Madrox, and Mojo can’t touch him.  In an attempt to stop Simon, Mojo sends one of the stunt men he employs, Melvin Potter to Dr. Nightshade for the same sort of enchancement that Simon received.  Once he too has been bulked up, Mojo gives him a costume with numerous blades on it and dubs him the Gladiator.  Mojo also can rely on his assistant, who he calls Tick Tock, and who can predict the short term future, which aids Mojo in his plotting.  Finally, rounding out our cast is Arkon, an interdimensional traveller who got stuck on Earth, was found by Mojo, and was turned into a star.  It is Arkon that Mojo is concerned about Simon overshadowing, and Arkon shares that concern.

I know I just info-dumped a lot on you in those last few paragraphs.  Take a look at it, see what you think, and then I’ll discuss some of the themes and plotlines I see spinning out of the cast that I just assembled.

Arkon? Love it. I can totally see Wonder Man competing with him for the typical “action star” roles. Gladiator is a good street-level grunt. I like throwing Wasp in there as someone who is famous basically for being born into wealth. We could make some good commentary on the banality of success. And it’s a brilliant twist to have Mojo as the main bad guy (and still related to the entertainment industry). Does he have any mysterious interdimensional background or is he simply a creepy human being?

I don’t have any real issues with any of this. Seems vaguely similar in tone to my Dazzler relaunch. This gives us two titles that deviate nicely from the standard punch-a-bad-guy stuff.

Here’s one thing: What to do with Dr. Nightshade? Is she going to be killed off like Dr. Reinstein (or Erskine for the movie buffs) who invented the Super Soldier serum? Or is she going to keep up her mad experiments and churn out an endless stream of mediocre bad guys at Mojo’s command?

Oh, one more thing: Will Wonder Man’s powers change over time? Will they affect him in some unexpected way…as the result of being a guinea pig?

Those are the first things that popped into my mind.

At this point, my vision of Mojo removes all of the interdimensional trappings of the character.  Honestly, I find the Mojoverse to be a great idea for one story, which Marvel has since tapped for eleventy-billion stories.  I simply don’t think it works in the long term and I think the character is more interesting as a human.  That being said, I think we leave Mojo’s origins murky right now, so if we want to use an interdimensional background at some point, if we find a way to make that interesting and get some good stories out of it, we can do that.

I thought of Dazzler when I was doing this, and I really wanted to position Valerie Cooper as Simon’s agent.  I thought it would be a nice crossover if she repped both Simon and Dazzler.  However, she’s not so much Dazzler’s agent as a talent scout in your reboot of Dazzler, and it works to have Dollar Bill as Simon’s agent….he’s a much crazier personality and should inject the book with a lot of color.  I had thought about recasting Henry Gyrich as his agent, and thought perhaps we could take all the old government agents from the Marvel Universe (including Raymond Sikorsky, Duane Freeman and the like) and make them all entertainment figures, and then down the road we could reveal that they were actually working for the government as some part of a bizarre scheme, but then my head hurt and I realized I was needlessly complicating things.

Simon’s powers could change over time, and that’s part of why I kept what Nightshade did to him shrouded in secret.  And no, I don’t want her dead.  First of all, I like the fact that she created both Simon and his arch-enemy.  Furthermore, I think it’s interesting that we really don’t know what she did to them.  What is her agenda?  Will she create more superbeings, and if so, why?  This leads me into a discussion of all the different ways the book can work.

On the hero side, we have Simon trying to be an actor, and I’d like to see that explored.  Again, at least to start, he’s really only a hero as a means to an end.  Will he develop into a true hero?  Will he want to do less heroing if his career takes off?  Will that be an option?  If he stops heroing as much, will it hurt his career?  It’s going to be a trickly balancing act for Simon, and what happens if he fails during one of his hero missions….will it hurt him enough in the realm of public opinion to damage his career?  In a way, because he didn’t think this through enough, he’s kind of stuck being a hero, whether he wants to or not.  He can’t drop the hero part, because it will hurt his career, but if he spends too much time as a hero, that hurts his career as well.

His relationship with Bill and Fabian is pretty standard….the former will be pushing him to do more outrageous things to further his public profile, while Fabian provides a cool voice of reason.  His relationship with the Wasp should be interesting, and we’ve got some of the same questions for her that we do for Simon.  Will she develop into a true hero?  Does she actually care for Simon?  I think you can take her character in wildly disparate directions.  You could gradually mature her, perhaps morphing her into someone closer to the Wasp we see in the original Marvel Universe.  By the same token, you could go in an entirely different direction, making her more heartless and selfish.  She could even end up as a villain in the series if she and Simon have a falling out!

I also like the idea that, for this series, the hero doesn’t have a secret identity, but the bad guys do.  Gladiator wears a full helmet, and he really can’t be captured, because Mojo doesn’t want his identity discovered for fear that it could lead authorities back to him.  The same is true of Arkon….he’d like nothing better then to find Simon and kick his butt, but he has to be careful that the public doesn’t see him as a bully and certainly he doesn’t want the public to see him as a murderer, although he’d be more than willing to plant Simon six feet underground.  Are villains are always going to try to make sure they have an escape route from a fight, so the authorities can’t apprehend them.  I could even see Arkon adopting another identity in which he can fight Simon…perhaps he calls himself Thunderbolt and fights Simon that way. 

And just what does Nightshade want?  As I mentioned above, her endgame is being left up in the air, but she’s very smart and she’s a planner.  Those who only know her from a few comics where she turned Captain America into a werewolf haven’t seen what this woman can do, and our Nightshade is even more cunning.  She’s one of those comic book scientists who’s an expert in multiple fields; in her case, both genetics and robotics.  She’ll have some gadgets to protect her, and more importantly, she certainly can create more superhumans to act as her flunkies.  She’s playing both sides off against each other, but is she good enough to outwit Mojo?

And then we have another one of the Madrox clones around.  Simon signed a contract with Madrox thinking it would be his ticket to stardom, but neither Simon nor Bill read the contract closely enough (not thinking things through is a personality trait we’ll see a lot with Simon.  He’s not stupid, but he’s not much of a planner.).  Now Simon can’t work directly with Mojo, but Madrox also isn’t giving Simon much more than the bit parts he was landing before signing.  Madrox obviously has a plan, but Simon has trouble getting an appointment with him and doesn’t understand why the contract is structured this way.

Overall, I think there’s a ton of different directions we could take this book, and I think it’s different enough to stand out amongst a crowd of 38 other titles.  It has it’s own feel and identity.  Anything else to add or questions to throw my way? 

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