The Avengers: The Foes No Single Hero Can Withstand

Jan-20-09

So, to recap: Jason and I have been working on revamping the Avengers, and taking the book away from where Brian Michael Bendis has taken it, steering it more toward what we feel is an actual Avengers title. If you check out the previous two posts, you’ll see that we’ve assembled a She-Hulk led team, with Iron Man, Captain America, Stature, Ant-Man, Vision and Songbird. I’m not going to go into all the details from the previous two posts. They’re great reads, honest. Go and check them out.

I think we’ve really detailed a lot of interesting tidbits about our new Avengers. However, we hit a bit of a snag when we came to the discussion of villains. Jason laid down two types of villains that he thought should be highlighted: those villains who desired to bring down the US Government and those villains who had a personal gripe with the Avengers. My position is that this is too restricting; the Avengers should be protecting the world, and if that’s from threats in America, in Europe, in Asia, or in the Andromeda Galaxy, that’s where they’ll be. They are, after all, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, not America’s Sweethearts.

However, we both agree that Kang should be given a break. Jason doesn’t like him at all, and I find I like Kang, but think that Kurt Busiek used him so often (and so well) in his stories that I’m not sure what else I could add to the character at this point. At this point, I’m going to just share some of the conversation from the previous post, just so that no one has to keep scrolling around the blog.

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?

Perhaps we could use the Yellow Claw as a potential adversary to the group, and perhaps as the villain responsible for Gabe 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 don’t think that your conditions for Avengers villains 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.

And that catches us up! So, I’m going to turn this over to Jason and let him comment on my thoughts, and then we’ll go from there!

Meh. The Yellow Claw always seemed like a low-rent version of Mandarin to me. Besides, he’s a product of the Vietnam era when everyone seemed spooked by any sort of weird-looking, elderly Asian dude. I don’t buy it in today’s climate. I also fear that you’ve dismissed the Hood too quickly. First of all, you can’t really compare him to the Kingpin. Unlike Kingpin, the Hood has some superhuman abilities, ties to the demon underworld, and an organization completely made up of supervillains. They’re like the Masters of Evil with a dental plan!

The bigger conflict for me comes with the concept of the Avengers being “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” yet they’re controlled by the US government. That screams of a conflict of interest at best and flat-out imperialism at worst. Granted, some threats are bigger than others. However, in the atmosphere that this team is being recreated, with the task of rebuilding trust in the American system and its heroes, I think it would be best to have them focus primarily on any and all potential problems at home first. Maybe I’m wrong. Let’s discuss.

On the subject of creating new villains, I’m torn between dreaming up one of those scheming criminal masterminds like Count Nefaria or Egghead, or focusing on one highly-powered villain who can cause havoc on his own like an Ultron or a Graviton. Which is a bigger test to the team? Do better stories arise from the simple, up front smash and bash of a team versus bad guy scenario, or from the secretive plotting of a higher-up delegating his minions to mess with the team? Maybe it’s both. Maybe we should come up with two unique threats.

Let’s establish some parameters before we move forward on this one. And bring on Doctor Doom!

Well, I can see one of our problems right from the top. You mention that the team is controlled by the US Government, which wasn’t my thinking at all. Just because the team is officially sanctioned by the government doesn’t mean the government controls them. Yes, the government has some input into how the team operates, but I always saw that more as guidelines that the Avengers had to follow if they wanted to keep the government’s approval; much like the standards that the government has for any of their contractors. I suppose I see the team and the government more as partners, and so I shy away from the idea that the government has control over the Avengers. Besides, fighting villains from other countries or planets could be a nice source of conflict between the Avengers and the government, since the government would be sure to agree with your viewpoint, that those aren’t the sort of conflicts in which the Avengers should be involved. I’d still like to keep the villain field wide open. That being said, I do have some ideas for more domestic villains, and those with ties to the team.

Let’s start with the potential of using the Claw, someone who has tried to overthrow the US government on more than one occasion. I think what makes the Claw interesting to me is that he has a strong grasp of history. He is over one hundred years old, and likely quite a bit older than that. Marvel doesn’t have a Vandal Savage type of villain, one who has been around for centuries and can draw upon the vast pool of knowledge that longevity such as that can give a person. I see the Claw fulfilling that sort of role. Perhaps the problem is that, in my mind, I’m completely redefining him. When we return, we find that the Claw is actually hundreds of years old, kept alive by the secret potions and life sustaining herbs that he has mentioned in the past. His past appearance was calculated by him to allow him to blend in with the prevailing mood of the time. He continually has reinvented himself over the years to keep up with the times, and now he appears in more modern garb and with a more modern outlook.

We know that the Claw has kidnapped Dugan in the past, as I mentioned. We know that the Claw knows how to keep a man alive long past the time when death should have claimed him. What if Claw has kidnapped many of the old Howling Commandoes, and without their knowledge, he’s extended their lifespans? It explains why Gabe Jones is still running around. The question is….why would the Claw do that? The easy answer is that he has some means of remotely controlling these men, and will use them in his schemes. I think he could work along those lines.

As for whether the best villain is the solo powerhouse or the criminal mastermind (and sometimes one villain can be both), I think the book needs a mix of the two. I think that Ultron has to come back to bedevil the team. In my eyes, he is the premiere archenemy for the group, even more so than Kang, since one of the Avengers is responsible for creating him. Ultron is also fun because he’s so adaptable. As a robot, you can rebuild him, give him new abilities, and build multiple copies of him. The problem with Ultron would be trying to use him in a way that brings something new to the character, since again, Kurt Busiek really used him to amazing effect during his run on the title. I’d want to try something different with him, and I’m not sure what.

As for Graviton, he’s a character that I used to absolutely love, but I have to admit, he’s been built into a demigod, and he’s a little much for me now. It’s gotten to the point where it seems like having your heroes fight him is like having them fight Galactus. Now, you could make the point that this sort of fight is what proves the mettle and worth of your team of heroes, and that the Avengers are supposed to be about taking down someone on this power level, but honestly, Graviton fails for me because he doesn’t have a strong personality. He’s always been a rather boring guy who just happened to luck into this phenomenal power, and he hasn’t a clue what to do with it. The last few times I’ve seen him it appeared that the writers were using him as a device to explore the personalities of the heroes who were arrayed against him, rather than trying to do anything with Graviton as a character. I say we let him rot in limbo.

On the criminal mastermind front, I’d also prefer to allow Egghead to rot, this time in death. He was great fun the last time he popped up in the Avengers, but he is a little hard to take seriously, and besides, he died a good death, and why bring him back? He’s simply not unique enough to warrant a return to the world of the living. However, Count Nefaria….now he’s a great one! Plus, he’s both a criminal mastermind and something of a powerhouse, which is perfect! The last few times we saw Nefaria it seemed that he was somewhat intoxicated by his own power, and was using it as a bludgeon. I think that’s a shame, since when he first appeared, he was much more subtle and clever. I propose that we take him back to that point.

Let’s be honest, the whole “I’m more powerful than you and shall therefore beat you soundly” strategy that Nefaria has adopted has not turned out well for him. I’d like to return Nefaria to the position of a criminal mastermind, perhaps with the Maggia, or perhaps starting up his own organization from scratch (I’d prefer the latter, and I can’t see his ego allowing him to return to the Maggia). Since you like the Hood so much, perhaps we could set up a “gang war” between Nefaria’s organization and the Hood’s organization. I think that could have a lot of potential. I’d let that simmer as a subplot for awhile before focusing on it, but it could be a great action adventure. Heck, toss in the Masters of Evil towards the end of the plot for an extra ingredient and you could have a true epic on your hands. That story alone has to be worth a year of monthly issues!

So, I propose Nefaria, the Hood and the Masters of Evil as being our original villains. I’d like to do Ultron as well, if you have an idea for him. And I still think the Claw could work. I’ll let you respond to those, but afterward, I have at least one more villain idea to toss your way.

Yeah…I wasn’t actually suggesting that we bring back any of these villains (that’s why I said “like” before mentioning each of them), but rather trying to decide what TYPE of villain worked best. However, after reading your response, I like the idea of a Count Nefaria mob vs. mob showdown. Seriously, how cool would it be for the readers (and confusing for the heroes) to drop the Avengers into this gigantic mess of villains fighting villains and everyone out for their own gain? Where are the limits? Who can make any lasting decisions? And how can the heroes possibly achieve a lasting peace? It would also be interesting to show how these villains are recruited to one side or the other. Who do they have allegiance to? How do the sides balance against each other? The only problem, as far as I can tell, is that Count Nefaria has been killed a few times and is now in “ionic form” like Wonder Man and Atlas. I hate that crap. Kind of tough to retcon too.

I agree that Graviton is a huge bore. I remember his big storyline in West Coast Avengers. I couldn’t wait for that to end…just a horrible mess of over-the-top powers, stilted dialogue and frustrating coincidences. He really has no personality to speak of, which makes his near-omnipotence even more difficult to accept. Quite honestly, I get the same feeling from most of Marvel’s big name villains. Some of them, like Doctor Doom, Kingpin and Red Skull, can be made interesting as their goals change and their deviousness is exposed. However, Kang, Ultron, Magneto, Dormammu, Apocalypse, Galactus, and a bunch of others just seem to strike me as one-trick ponies. Oooh, they’re enraged by good guys! Or they only wish to see the end of civilization (which is taking “hey you kids, get off my lawn” to a ridiculous extreme)! Or they’re just tremendous dicks! Blah.

You may have brought me around to the idea of The Claw…as long as it isn’t actually The Claw. I know that complicates things greatly, but I just have an unexplainable grudge against the character. However, I guess the concept doesn’t make much sense without the established history behind it. His past interactions with Fury and his team are crucial to the story development. This may also be the catalyst to make both of our liaison selections possible. Gabe Jones could start out as liaison, only to be compromised by his past involvement (brainwashing?) with The Claw. A bit of public outcry would then elevate Miriam Sharpe to the liaison position. Interesting, yes? As far as The Claw thing goes though, could we at least, in his first modern appearance, give him a new name and have him explain why he changed it (“The world has known me by many names…”)? That may help alleviate a lot of my concern. Other than that, I’m on board with the idea of this.

I’m curious to hear your other idea for a villain. I’m in a “tweaking” rather than “creating” mood today, so show me what you’ve got and I’ll see what I can add to it.

I have no problem with changing Claw’s name to something else, and again, I think it makes sense from his point of view. When he began fighting the US government and SHIELD during the middle years of the 20th century, he called himself the Yellow Claw because he was of Asian descent, and that’s how he knew the world would perceive him. Now that there is a different perception of Asians in the American culture (at least, I hope to God there is), he would take another name that more closely defines our current times. So, we’re good there. Also, the idea of changing liaisons through this villain’s machinations, I think, is also a splendid idea.

For the record, yes Count Nefaria does have an ionic form, but like Wonder Man, he doesn’t have to be in it all the time. He can switch back to human. He’s also not quite as powerful as he was when he first gained superpowers and was throwing Thor around like a rag doll. I don’t see his superpowers being much of an issue, or necessary for a retcon. Again, he’s tried to use his superpowers as a bludgeon, and he’s been beaten every time. I think Nefaria has come to the conclusion that his powers are not his best asset; his best asset is his cunning and ability to plot. I don’t see him using his powers until he’s forced into a corner. What’s neat about him having the powers now is that, when he does get forced into that corner, he can kick some major butt! Besides, the best and most powerful villains don’t use their powers much; it builds their mystique, and the true mastermind shouldn’t have to fight very often.

Okay, so, I have one more idea for revamping an old Avengers villain, although it may get me some groans from the audience. This guy actually only fought the Avengers in one plotline, but said plot lasted about forty issues, so I consider him to be a major player in the annals of Avenger rogues. Not only did this guy pose a threat to the group, but he also had his own group of flunkies to help him carry out his dastardly deeds. Finally, he’s someone who has a real mad-on for the concept of the Avengers as a group, which is one of the types of villains that you were hoping to use. Yes, if you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m talking about Proctor and his Gatherers.

Yes, Proctor is from the 90s, but I really liked the character and his Gatherers. Many people may dismiss him since he came from the Bob Harras issues, but I will defend those issues fervently, since I consider Bob Harras to be the man who saved the Avengers from cancellation (I’ll have to write an essay on this at some point in time). I thought Proctor and the Gatherers were easily the most fascinating creation of his and when he finally finished up their plotline in the book, I thought most of the energy he had generated left the book as well.

For those who need a quick history lesson, Proctor is in fact Dane Whitman, the Black Knight, from an alternate timeline, a timeline where he gained superhuman powers granted to him by Sersi. Proctor and Sersi were heroes on his world, but she left him, and this, combined with the curse of the Ebony Blade, drove him into madness. He began gathering Avengers from other alternate worlds (his Gatherers) and traveled the multiverse, killing Sersis (and any Avengers he could find) for revenge. He was finally defeated, but his death was very mysterious, and he could easily return.

Proctor hated all of the Avengers, who he considered idiots and incompetents for allowing Sersi in their group when she was so clearly a selfish hedonist, who had no right being a hero. His largest grudges were against his own counterpart, the Black Knight, as well as his former lover Sersi. Neither of these characters are on our team of heroes (I have to agree with Proctor and say that I never thought it made sense for Sersi to be an Avenger either), so we need to change his motivation a tad, and really, it would make sense to change it anyway, since we don’t want to do the same plot with this guy again and again.

Proctor survived his battle with Sersi, but was thrown into an alternate dimension. This was not a huge problem for him, as he travels the dimensions anyway. After he had cleared his head from the fight, he saw that Sersi and the Black Knight were both gone from the Marvel Universe (they were, for a time, stuck in the Malibu Universe) and without them squarely in his sights, Proctor began to rethink his priorities. He realized that he shouldn’t be so angry with Sersi; after all, she was simply fulfilling her basic nature. She is a frivolous creature with the responsibility of a child, and that’s how she acted when she left him. No, the real problem here is the Avengers themselves. These people are charged with protecting a world, and what do they do? They allow silly tramps like Sersi in their midst, who simply doesn’t understand the sacrifices that true heroes have to make.

As Proctor watches the Avengers, he continues to see evidence that leads him to the conclusion that the Avengers simply aren’t serious enough about this world saving business. They allow people like Thunderstrike on the team, who was woefully inexperienced when he first took over from Thor. They allow situations like the Crystal-Black Knight-Sersi love triangle to flourish, even though it hampers group effectiveness. They allowed Hercules to stay as a member, even when he was stripped of his godlike powers. They kept Captain America as a member during the time the super-soldier serum was breaking down and he was greatly weakened. They allowed the mentally incompetent, such as the Sentry, in their midst. They allowed obvious traitors like Spider-Woman to join. They ignored the problems of the Scarlet Witch, who was right in their midst, and those problems engulfed the team in death and destruction.

Proctor becomes convinced that the problems he has suffered in his life are directly the result of the Avengers not being up to the task of safeguarding the world. He decides it’s time to show the Avengers just what sort of measures are necessary to keep people safe. Proctor begins traveling the multiverse, collecting alternate universe Avengers who have been somehow wronged by their world’s Avengers. Some of these wrongs will be legitimate, and some of them won’t, but by the time he’s done, Proctor has his own team of Avengers. He then comes to the prime Marvel Universe (which he always insisted was the most important one, and the one from which all other worlds sprang) and begins to do some heroing with his Gatherers. At first, his group might be considered heroes by the media, but it soon becomes clear that Proctor has no problems with shooting first and asking questions never. He kills those he deems dangerous to the world, and his group is not gentle. That’s when he and the Avengers begin to tangle.

One of the things I like about this is that we get the opportunity to see the inner workings of two teams of Avengers. One of the teams is more of your “dark and gritty, 90’s style” team, and then we have the Avengers team that we’re building. It’s a nice opportunity to show how the respect and friendships within the current Avengers team contrast with the more brutal and cold atmosphere amongst the Gatherers.

So, what do you think?

Man…I don’t know. Proctor? Really??? Look, I have no problem with a character being used as the catalyst to assemble a group of mirror-heroes…like an evil Avengers version of the Exiles…to wreak havoc on the Marvel Universe and all that. I just have a huge problem with that character being an alternate-dimension version of Dane Whitman. It makes me laugh out loud. I feel that Proctor has already played out his one-trick plotline and I don’t see any difference between that story arc and the slightly nuanced one you’re proposing here. Our Avengers team has absolutely no relation to Black Knight (or Sersi for that matter). Seems like a stretch to me. I would hope that you’re actually more enamored with the concept than the actual puzzle pieces involved.

And, if that’s the case, I can definitely get behind this concept as well. However, the main foe obviously needs to change. Proctor was a product of the 90’s that I’d rather not revive. His costume was dumb. His haircut was embarrassing. And his power set was so amorphous as to be completely unbelievable. Did you know he had the ability to chemically alter human brains?!? Really. No…that ship has sailed, my friend. The good thing is that I have a few solutions. While reading up on Mr. Proctor, I stumbled across two characters that could serve in his place. The first is Hate-Monger, in one form or another. Granted, the first Hate-Monger was a clone of Hitler and that’s just a silly idea today. But, he was also recreated by the Cosmic Cube at one point, and that’s a feasible thought. His essence could be fairly malleable because of his origins, allowing him to traverse dimensions and gather his team of…let’s call them “Revengers” (and yes, that is a deliberate reference to the MC2 team of the same name). The way I see it, this is a new way to incorporate both the themes of Kang and the themes of Proctor into one new storyline. This travelling Hate-Monger could spend decades in each new dimension, building himself up as some sort of dictator, being involved in military coups and government uprisings. He could be overseeing various Super Soldier programs and mutant experimentations. The short story is this: Hate-Monger culls the best of the worst from each successive dimension until he has a team populated with characters hellbent on destroying the Avengers. It’s got time travel. It’s got evil motivation. It’s got alternate versions of our favorite heroes, twisted by family trees, differing realities and unseen circumstances. However, they don’t just pop in and attack the Avengers. No, we see Hate-Monger slowly leaking his team into the current timestream. They pose as their Marvel U counterparts and start committing foul acts, publicly framing this team that is trying so desperately to regain the world’s trust. When everything is whipped into a frenzy, hero and civilian, the team strikes in full force.

We could also use this Hate-Monger as the seed for the villain vs. villain uprising. Or, as my second villain option, we could use a different Hate-Monger to cause trouble. See, there was another Hate-Monger (who later changed his name to Animus) that ran around right before the Proctor saga. His origins were a little vague, but we can use that. Considering he once financed the Sons of the Serpent, I’m thinking he could be used as the person who sets the massive underworld attack into motion…motivating the Sons, Secret Empire, HYDRA, AIM and all those other splinter groups to attack the US during its time of rebuilding. Just a way to rectify our other plot ideas. Might be funny to have the two Hate-Mongers run afoul of each other too.

I’m not sure if my writings were coherent enough just now, but I think you can get the gist of what I was saying. The IDEA of Proctor is a good one, but the REALITY of Proctor just makes me laugh. What say you, kind sir?

I’m sorry. Did I understand that you dismissed Proctor as too much a product of his time, and then suggested (with a straight face), the original Hate-Monger as a replacement? The Adolf Hitler clone was as much a product of his time as Proctor was of the 90s, and there’s absolutely no way that we’re going to write a story with the main villain being a reconstituted Hitler. No. Well, if he teams up with Elvis and JFK, maybe. But otherwise, no. Absolutely not.

Now, your idea of using the other Hate-Monger has a little more promise. Personally, I’m not a fan of the very concept of the Hate-Monger, and the name is ludicrously bad, but at least the version you mentioned at the end of your e-mail had some style to him, and a vague enough backstory that we could do whatever we wanted with him. I’ll go with that.

I’m a little disappointed that you dismissed Proctor so quickly and decisively. Yes, he appeared during the 90s, but Proctor injected a sense of continuity and danger into the Avengers that it sorely needed at that time. I think that a lot of people, tend to brush off most comics from that time period with a dismissive wave of their hand, and I’m not sure that’s always entirely fair. I would contend that Proctor still works as a villain; his powers can be narrowed down (perhaps slightly altered and locked into place during his near death experience after his last fight with the team), and he can visit a stylist for better wardrobe and hair. Plus, he didn’t just hate Sersi or the Black Knight; he hated the entire team, since he felt that they all had let him down by not seeing Sersi for what she was. It would be like limiting Ultron to fighting Pym, and assuming that he wouldn’t attack unless Pym was on the team.

Still, I’ll let Proctor go and we can run with the new Hate-Monger. As long as it’s not a clone of Adolf Hitler, we should be fine. You’re going to have to talk a lot more to convince me that using that version is a good idea.

Well, I’ve talked at length about villains. Any other ideas for some, or should we wrap this up?

I’m spent.

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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!


The Avengers: Reassembling Greatness.

Jan-12-09

If you’ve ever read even one post from this blog, you know that John and I are both GIGANTIC fans of The Avengers in pretty much any shape or form. Oddly enough, in all of our weeks and months pondering over how to revamp this person and how to better position that team, aside from a hypothetical “Dream Team” lineup we’ve never delved into the thick and twisted history of our favorite superhero team.

Until now!

With one week left before the debut of Dark Avengers, we thought this would be the ideal time to spend an entire week thinking, planning and pontificating on Marvel’s premiere superhero squad. No matter what shape they take…be it “New”…”Mighty”…”Ultimate”…”Secret”…”Initiative”…or now “Dark” (which is really just a rehashed Thunderbolts lineup in sheep’s clothing), The Avengers still stand for one thing: teamwork. Of course, we plan to strip away what we perceive as silliness and superfluity. I’m sure, somewhere along the way, there will be some pooh-poohing of Bendis and his mangling of the Avengers legacy. John will say nice things about Kurt Busiek. And we will both sing the praises of Roger Stern.

However, first thing’s first: The lineup (or lineups, as it were). I’ve always been a fan of the continental part of the Avengers lineage. That is to say, I would prefer to see the teams focused on both the East and West coasts. I’m not quite sure where John and I stand on the enforcement of the Superhero Registration Act. Have we sort of let it fall to the wayside in our interpretation of the Marvel U? Or do these Avengers teams we concoct have to abide by stricter guidelines since they fall under government auspices? Or do we jettison the “sanctioned” concept altogether?

We also need to be cognizant of the storylines we’ve already enacted throughout our version of Marvel’s playground. Are Ant-Man and Stature out of contention for membership since we sent them off to Kansas? Is Iron Man off the grid? Do we keep Scarlet Witch under the tutelage of Doctor Strange? We haven’t really fooled around with many of the current core Avengers members in our work…Captain America, Wasp (is she still dead in our world?), Thor, Wonder Man, Ms. Marvel, Ares, Luke Cage and Iron Fist are all available. We sent Hawkeye to California with Hank Pym and Black Widow, but that could be the nucleus of a western outpost. Should Daredevil, Echo, Spider-Man or Wolverine be considered at all? Are there characters we need to bring back from the dead (or from the ranks of the missing/replaced/incarcerated)?

Where do we start with the Meanwhile…Avengers?

So many questions. Let me start by saying that the Avengers is my favorite super-hero comic ever. I have read every issue from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s number one through the issues that took place during Civil War. Sadly, I simply can not enjoy Bendis’ run on the series, and before anyone flames me for that, let me say that I never liked his work on the series, and I still stuck with it for a few years, so I think I gave him a fair shake. My point behind all of this is that I think I have a very firm grounding on what makes the team work and what’s happening on the team when they’re at their best, at least from my point of view.

As far as what is and what isn’t game in our discussion, I am of the opinion that we shouldn’t be beholden to the continuity that we have created in past entries. While it’s interesting to play with the idea that we’re creating our own Marvel Universe I think that forcing ourselves into following previous entries is a negative in two ways: it becomes a barrier to those who haven’t read the blog before (“Wait, they can’t use Stature for what reason?”) and it may cause us to use (or not use) characters which are ideal, simply because they’re somewhere else. Besides, we’ve already violated our own continuity, as we declared Brother Voodoo a supporting character in our Dr. Strange book, and then used him as a member of the Nightstalkers. So, I don’t think our past posts should be used to hinder what we do in the current post.

However, to this point, we have continued using the current Marvel continuity as a guide. That means that the Wasp is indeed dead. Can we use her? Sure, if we want to; we just need to resurrect her, which everyone knows will happen eventually, especially since her death was so incredibly lame. Heck, all of the important characters that Bendis killed in Avengers: Disassembled have returned by now in some form or another, and while we could spend an entire post debating whether the revolving door of death has been a boon or a bane to comics, the fact is that it exists, and we should feel free to use it in this post.

Should the Avengers be sanctioned? Yes, I believe they should. I think the Avengers work best as the “Official” superheroes of the Marvel Universe. Whether working for the United States Government or the United Nations, they are those heroes who the governments of the world seek out when they need help. Being sanctioned has always been good for some great plots as well, as the Avengers are forced to comply with government regulation and policy. Plus, some of the most interesting supporting characters have been the federal liaisons with the Avengers: Henry Peter Gyrich, Raymond Sikorski and Duane Freeman (well, maybe not Sikorski, as he never did too much, but the others were valuable members of the supporting cast).

So, in summary: yes, they should be sanctioned; no, I don’t care about what was written before (you may use it as a guide if you like, but expect that I may ignore it if I feel it’s getting in the way of a good idea); and yes, we should try and follow current Marvel continuity. However, after all my long-windedness, it turns out that current Marvel continuity doesn’t work too well for us right now. As long as Norman Osborn is in charge of things, we’re not going to be able to do what we want with the Avengers, and they sure as heck can’t be sanctioned. So, perhaps it would be okay to look at the end of the Dark Reign storyline, and set our Avengers teams in the aftermath of this particular plot. I don’t think anyone assumes that Dark Reign won’t end with the heroes back in charge and the villains back to operating out of the shadows, so let’s just move there now, as we discuss the Avengers.

Those are the ground rules for this in my mind. Let me know if you disagree, and then, let’s discuss what we want to do. I see Dark Reign as just ending, and the federal government realizes that they made a huge mistake in giving Osborn as much power as they did. They recognize the need for a real team of heroes to restore the public’s trust, so they want to rebuild the Avengers. How do they do that and who would they choose? I think one of the most interesting things about any new Avengers is the absence of Steve Rogers, always a cornerstone of the team. How does a new team form without his involvement? What do you think of this as a starting point?

I can fall in line on most of these points. Current Marvel continuity is our guide. The process we go through to revamp things just makes us use our brains a bit more to resolve continuity conflicts (something I wish more writers and editors would think through). I also agree that the Avengers have worked best as a government controlled team. In fact, I’m pretty sure that most of my Avengers reading has taken place while they’ve enjoyed that status. I can’t really recall the non-government team very well. I also agree that we need to work around the “Big Event” scenarios and just present what we think should happen after all the hoopla dies down. Aside from the whole “bad guys in charge” thing, I’m assuming that the SHRA will eventually be revoked as well, but we can work with it for now.

However, I’m hesitant to ignore the pseudo-continuity that we’ve created in our own Meanwhile Universe. You mentioned our double-dealing of Brother Voodoo, but I really see no conflict there. We made him a member of a team of supernatural investigators. That doesn’t mean he can’t also guest star in the occasional Dr. Strange book. It really just means that he’s precluded from taking off on any extensive adventures with anyone else (without explanation) or joining any other teams. I had assumed that everything we were doing here was linked somehow. Otherwise, every revamp we offer could ultimately be the same…and that would get rather boring and redundant. “I know how we can fix Captain America! Make Spider-Man his partner!” quickly becomes “I know how we can make the X-Men better! Make Spider-Man their leader!” and then we have another annoying Wolverine situation where he’s everything and everywhere. Too easy to just cop-out and offer the safe answer.

No, I would prefer to use the tools we’ve made available to ourselves. If we need to change or explain away some of our own created continuity, that’s fine. And, I believe, it’s an important thing to do. We made a choice to send Stature and Ant-Man to Kansas…now, if we want them back, we need solid reasoning to make it happen. Like I said earlier, most of the major players in team history have been left untouched by us. I think we can assemble something valid and interesting from those characters and a few unique twists.

Is that cool?

I like the point of view on how to start the team. The question is, who’s the one to make the first step? Let’s assume that the teams have been disbanded or have fractured under their own weighty morals and duties. The Osborn-built teams have been sent packing and the ones he merely oversaw are having serious doubts about their mission and their purpose. So, we have a relatively clean slate to work from. Relationships, with each other, with the government and with the people, need to be rebuilt and reestablished. Who raises their hand first?

You and I are going to have to write a post where we can argue about continuity one of these days. Still, I’m willing to table that argument for now and acquiesce to your concerns.

The first step you mention raises an interesting question: would the genesis of the new Avengers come from the government itself, anxious to reestablish a superhero team that can engender the public trust again, or would it come from a hero who felt that the Avengers were a necessary team and needed to be recreated? I believe there would be parties on both sides who recognized the need for the Avengers, but whomever steps up first is going to be the heart of the story, at least in the beginning, and therefore assumes more importance.

While I like the Avengers as being sanctioned by the government, I don’t think the impetus for the team’s formation should ever lie within those official channels. The Avengers should always be brought together because the spark within them, as heroes, cries out that this assemblage is necessary. If the government goes around and recruits the team, then you have Freedom Force or various incarnations of X-Factor, or some other, equally mercenary, group. That’s not the Avengers.

If the genesis of the new team’s formation comes from within the ranks of the heroes, though, who would raise the call to assemble? Captain America would have been the obvious choice, but as we’ve noted, he’s a little dead right now. The Wasp is also dead, which takes two heroes out of the running. Pym has just returned from years as a hostage to the Skrulls, so he may not want to restart the team; or, he may feel like the Avengers are what he knows best, and he may seek them out as a way to reconnect to the past he remembers. Iron Man is in disgrace right now, but he could see the team as a way to return some measure of trust in him to the world; conversely, he could see himself as a liability to the team, with his name and presence bringing instant distrust in the eyes of the public. Thor is something of a wild card, and I admit to not reading his current series, which I’ve heard is excellent. Would he want to be involved in mortal affairs as he tries to rebuild Asgard, or would he prefer to focus on the world of gods before returning full time to the world of men?

You know, with the founding members all in varying states of disorganization and shock, I think perhaps that our team should be suggested by someone outside of this august circle. A former Avenger, to be sure, but one that wasn’t there at the beginning. One who feels that the Avengers are important and believes in the team with all of their being. Any suggestions on who that might be?

Depending on how things fall out of Dark Reign and the SHRA, there will be some hesitancy on the part of the government and the heroes themselves to continue along any given path. Both will be trying to regain credibility in the face of the general public. And I think both will lean on the other to ensure any move forward is done correctly and cautiously. The government would offer to let the Avengers function as their own autonomous team, not bridled under the control of any given agency or overseer. This would take them back to the days of having a liaison…someone who ensures that they do things by the book but isn’t there to dictate missions and decisions to them.

I can only assume that Iron Man’s position of influence will be restored in the wake of everything Norman Osborn is attempting to do to him now. His reputation will be tarnished, but the people are fairly forgiving under the right evidence and circumstances. However, I don’t see him as the catalyst for getting the team back together. He would be very reluctant and would need someone else to set things in motion.

For that position, two names come to mind, both of whom served on the team at one point or another and have always been seen as go-to folks when the Avengers needed a little extra assistance: She-Hulk or Falcon. She-Hulk’s relationship with Tony Stark became more and more strained as events played out in the Marvel Universe, but she’s also a strong personality who is universally trusted by her peers. Falcon was Cap’s right-hand man for a long time. He’s seen as a steadfast supporter of all the ideals the Avengers stood for. Plus, he has the government contacts through his dealings with both Gyrich and SHIELD. I think either, or both, of these heroes would be able to bring the government and Tony Stark to the table to at least craft the beginnings of a relaunched Avengers team.

With his resources, experience and history, Iron Man is clearly the one hero who could stand as a figurehead for the group. I’m not saying he’s a slam dunk for membership, but he would at least play a very significant role in bringing the Avengers back.

Interesting choice for your two heroes who might be the impetus for the start of the new team of Avengers. Of the two, I would choose the Falcon. Here’s how I see it going down.

Dark Reign is over, as you mentioned, and everyone is picking up the pieces. The Falcon recognizes the need for a group of Avengers, a group that can be in the forefront of restoring the public’s confidence in their heroes (since heroes got a bad rap during Civil War, when they fought each other, and then in Secret Invasion, when some of them turned out to be alien invaders) as well as a group that can work with the government, since the government has also had a rocky road with heroes lately. The Falcon would also see the return of the Avengers to be important as a way of remembering the legacy of his friend Steve Rogers. Rogers, as Captain America, was a long time leader and public face of the Avengers, and the Falcon knows how upset Steve would be if he knew that there was no Avengers team out in the world.

However, the Falcon is realistic. He’s a member of the Avengers, but he’s never served with them for any length of time, and he’s not considered one of their premiere members. When someone thinks of the Avengers, the Falcon is one of the last heroes they consider, and when they think of the Falcon, most people don’t even think of his time with the team. No, if the Falcon is going to sell the idea of a new Avengers team, both to the government and to potential members, there’s going to have to be a bigger name than him. That name is Tony Stark.

After all, the Falcon had been working with Stark quite a bit when Stark was the head of SHIELD, and the two had bonded after the loss of their friend, Steve Rogers. Sam approaches Stark, and he explains why he thinks the Avengers need to exist and why he thinks Stark needs to be a part of it. Stark agrees, and the two of them go visit their government contacts, who direct them to the office of Valerie Cooper, the Deputy Director of ONE, which is charged with the preparation and defense of America from superhuman threats. She listens to their proposal, and agrees that perhaps authorizing the Avengers to act for the government, as has been done in the past, is a good idea. However, she’d want to see a team roster.

So, who would be on said roster?

Right. Good setup. Pretty much what I was thinking too. Here comes the tricky part…

Are Iron Man and Falcon automatically charged with being de facto members of the group? Is Falcon registered? Would all of the members need to be officially registered or would clemency be offered? And what about characters that the US government clearly has no jurisdiction over…like Thor or Ares? There’s a whole slew of decisions that need to be made before we can really start to form any sort of cohesive team. Although, I will admit that the task of tracking down characters and inviting them to a “whole new Avengers” would be a fun thing to show in the comics.

I would assume, at least until the whole SHRA thing is nailed down and revoked or whatever they do to it, that we will only be dealing with registered heroes. That gives us a more limited list than I would like, but I think it’s still workable. My first choices would be the three people I’ve already mentioned: Iron Man, Falcon and She-Hulk. I think Tony would need the other two around to act as his conscience and his support. Not a bad nucleus to build a team around either!

I would like to bring Ant-Man and Stature into the fold. Both are currently registered and working through the Initiative. The new Ant-Man has one heck of a personality, but has a certain legacy to uphold. Cassie, of course, has her own unique legacy and I think she would work well under She-Hulk’s tutelage. It would also be interesting (and Dan Slott is doing it too) to add Vision to the team, considering he recently professed his love for Cassie.

Beyond that, I’m not sure. Wonder Man and Black Widow both quit the team after Secret Invasion (plus we have Black Widow off with Hawkeye…of course, that was before Mockingbird came back into the picture). Sentry never did anything for me. Spider-Woman is pretty useless and, regardless of who she really is, will serve as a reminder to the population of the whole “invaded by aliens” thing for a long time to come. Ms. Marvel has jumped over to the unregistered team, though that could be rectified too.

That leaves us with folks like Stingray, Starfox, Hellcat, Nighthawk, Gargoyle, Flaming Skull, members of the Great Lakes team, and any number of Initiative trainees.

So, to recap, I’m proposing an initial lineup of: Iron Man, Falcon, She-Hulk, Ant-Man, Stature and Vision. Feel free to add one or two of your own…or, of course, offer up a completely different list that we can fight over. Fisticuffs!

Let me start by saying that I don’t think that we need to stick only with the registered heroes, and I don’t think you should limit your choices as such. I would be willing to bet your paycheck that the Registration Act will be undone at the end of Dark Reign. When you consider that the ranks of the registered heroes have dwindled as more and more of them go over to the unregistered side, I think the writing is clearly on the wall. Besides, if the Registration Act still existed, our entire premise for the book would be shot. After all, if the government, under the SHRA, wanted to have a new team of Avengers, they’d simply draft whomever they wanted from the ranks of registered heroes. Plus, if we’re dealing with the aftermath of the SHRA, it sets up the idea that the people need heroes to believe in again and the heroes are slightly damaged after all of the pain that the SHRA caused. So, I think the SHRA should not be a consideration when we’re setting up the team.

Moving on to members of the team: Personally, I wouldn’t add Falcon to the team. I love Sam Wilson, but he’s never really been a member of the regular team for long, and I honestly think that he works best when he just comes in and pinch hits for specific missions. Besides that, I don’t think that Falcon would want to be a regular member. For someone who doesn’t have his own book, Falcon is a very busy hero, and Ed Brubaker has been using him to great effect in the Captain America book. I think that Sam would be available to help if needed, and would show up in the book to, indeed, act as part of the conscience for the team, but he wouldn’t be on the roster.

If Sam and Stark (yes, I know, I should be going with all first names or all last names, but calling the Falcon ‘Wilson’ sounds wrong, and Stark sounds better than ‘Tony’ for Iron Man) are looking to build a team that will engender the trust of both the government and the citizenry, I think they’re going to look at those people whom the public identifies as Avengers. So, I can certainly see them choosing Vision and She-Hulk. I believe that they would approach She-Hulk first, with Stark asking her to be on the team to serve as his conscience, since the two of them had such a public falling out after Civil War. I also think that bringing in Stature and Ant-Man is a good idea, as they’re brilliant characters, and they also callback to two of the founding members, Ant-Man and the Wasp.

In fact, if you look at the line-up of Iron Man, She-Hulk, Stature, Ant-Man and the Vision, you begin to see that these may be the Avengers of the new century. Yes, Iron Man and She-Hulk are the same as they have always been, but Vision has been rebuilt, and again, Stature and Ant-Man are the 21st century analogues to two of the founders of the team. With those in place, and with Falcon acting as an advisor, I think that he and Stark would also approach another new legacy hero of the 21st century: the new Captain America.

I think the new Captain America is a very interesting character, and I believe putting him on this team, a team that meant so much to his mentor, is going to be very interesting ground to explore. How does he deal with these people, some of whom were very close to his predecessor? How do they deal with him, since his methods are very different from the Captain America that they adventured with for all of those years? Plus, this gives us an Avengers team with all of the icons on it, or at least modern day counterparts to those icons, with the exception of Thor, who I’m willing to lose.

That would give us a team of Captain America, Iron Man, She-Hulk, Vision, Stature and Ant-Man. Six heroes, and we could add one or two more. One of the questions we haven’t answered is who would lead this team. I don’t think it would be the new Captain America, and even if it were offered to him, I don’t think he’d take it. He’s well aware of how inexperienced he is at being a hero, and he has almost no current knowledge of working within a team. I also don’t think Stark would want it. He’s been beaten around in the press quite a bit lately, and I think he would see himself as a liability in the top spot. Actually, I see him offering the job to She-Hulk when he asks her to join the team; it would be a way that he would show her that he’s not the manipulative taskmaster he was portrayed as during Civil War and its aftermath. She-Hulk has always been a smart woman, and in her solo series, she was shown to be a little more serious and competent. I think she’d do well in the job; it would be another good opportunity to explore parts of a character that haven’t been explored before.

Are you ok with that line-up? Shall we add a seventh hero?

I was going to suggest She-Hulk be the leader as well. Not only is she more than competent and experienced (both as a hero and a lawyer), but it would be a positive gesture on Tony’s part…acknowledging that She-Hulk was right and deserves credit for that.

Looking at the lineup as it is, we have an experienced yet still fresh character (She-Hulk) assuming a new role and we have the most experienced, most historic member (Iron Man) sort of taking a back seat to the decision-making process. On top of that, we have four members who are, more or less, new to the whole hero-ing scene. For that reason alone, I think we need to throw another old schooler onto the squad to offer support and guidance in the field and off. I was thinking of someone like Wonder Man. I know John isn’t a fan of the character, what with all the ridiculous plotlines and rebirths and baggage he’s carried for decades now, but he has proven to be a valuable asset and a dedicated team member in the past.

I also think readers expect a wild card with every new Avengers lineup and I hate to cause disappointment. I remember when certain characters had been brought in before, they were used as the eyes of the common person peering inside this life of a mega-superhero team. We already have those wide-eyed types in the younger, less experienced members. However, as a nod to the recently expired SHRA and the notion of rehabilitating villains into helpful citizens, I thought it may be an interesting gesture to offer a position on the Avengers to a former villain gone good. Not only would it show integration with previous storylines, but it would also add a new dynamic to the team atmosphere…can they trust this person? For that role, I would turn to a well-established character such as Boomerang (who was a member of the Masters of Evil, but also helped Iron Man on at least one occasion), Blizzard (who has also helped Iron Man and has a love-hate relationship with She-Hulk), or more interestingly Songbird (the former Screaming Mimi and former leader of the Thunderbolts).

I think any of the above would be good additions to the team, but I await John’s input before we firm up the lineup. Then we can move on to Part Two and decide how this whole thing happens and what comes next.

Await no longer! I shall input and firm up lines!

You’re correct that a more seasoned hero might be a good idea. You’re also correct in that I find Wonder Man about as interesting as a “Full House” rerun. Ugh. I’ve even read the Peter David penned mini-series featuring him, and it also left me cold. Heck, Peter David convinced me that Madrox was one of the neatest characters at Marvel, and he couldn’t get me to like Wonder Man. What does that say about this character?

It’s interesting, because if you look at Wonder Man from a distance, he has a lot of attributes that should make him interesting. He’s been dead and alive quite a few times, but unlike all the other characters at Marvel who can make that claim, he’s also been in-between those states a few times; once as a zombie, and once as an energy being tied to the Scarlet Witch. The love of his life married his “brother”, the Vision, then dated him, and then went insane. His twin nephews were revealed to be figments of someone’s imagination. His “brother” Vision was dismantled and returned to life without his mental patterns. His real brother has tried to kill him on many occasions. He’s an actor and is conversant in the ways of Hollywood. He’s made of energy. And, he generally has horrible fashion sense. There should be an interesting character here, but if so, I’ve never seen it. He continues to disappoint, and I have zero interest in him.

There are other choices out there besides him. Wolverine, for example, has a lot of experience as a hero, and this would be a great book to showcase him, since he isn’t seen much in the Marvel Universe….

I kid. But seriously folks, there are a ton of other heroes that we could use instead of Wonder Man. For example, there’s….well, actually that won’t work, since we want someone widely known as an Avenger and they aren’t. How about….well, actually, that doesn’t work either, since they’re more of a leader, and I don’t want them stepping on She-Hulk’s toes. Hmm. This is actually a bit of a problem. We want an established hero that is considered a quintessential Avenger, and someone who’s not a natural leader. There’s not a lot of heroes who fit that bill. Plus, Wonder Man would be a perfect public face for the team, and could do their PR, which is going to be important if they’re working to regain the public trust. Fine, he’s in, but you better be able to make him interesting.

As for our “reformed criminal”, I am so down with Songbird being made a member. For those who read “Avengers Forever”, it was stated in that book that she would eventually join their ranks, and there’s no time like the present. She’s proven herself time and again in the Thunderbolts title to be a true hero, yet she still struggles somewhat against her dark past. I think she’d be perfect.

So, She-Hulk leads Iron Man, Stature, Ant Man, the Vision, Songbird, Wonder Man and Captain America, with the Falcon stopping by to advise, hang out, and go on the occasional mission, when necessary. Now that we know who they are, we need to know what they’re doing. That will be another post.


Dream Team: The Masters of Evil

Dec-01-08

We’ve assembled quite a few Dream Teams over the past few months, but precious few of them have been teams of villains. Today we rectify this oversight, as we explore the Masters of Evil. The Masters have been the major villain group to clash with the Avengers throughout the history of that heroic group of costumed do-gooders, first appearing in the sixth issue of the Avengers comic. Originally, the Masters was a group that consisted of arch foes for the current active roster of the Avengers. Baron Zemo, their leader, was the wartime enemy of Captain America; the Melter was a foe of Iron Man; the Radioactive Man had battled Thor; and the Black Knight had crossed swords (well, actually he had crossed lances; he didn’t use a sword) with Giant-Man.

Together, these villains had a vested interest in knocking off at least one member of the heroic super group. Through the years, subsequent gatherings of the Masters of Evil weren’t always made up of villains that hated Avengers members. When the Beetle, for example, joined the Masters, he was basically a Spider-Man and Human Torch foe. While that’s all well and good, for our Dream Team, I’d like to go back to the idea of choosing villains who have a reason to hate the Avengers. I’m going to go with a group of six villains to face off against our heroes, which is a little large for many villain groups, but not unusual for the Masters.

For the leader of this group, I’m going to pick Kang the Conqueror. Many people might dismiss Kang as a choice, since he’s never been a member of the Masters, and more importantly, he often works alone. However, Kang is the one long standing Avengers foe who has worked with groups in the past (he fought alongside his Anachronauts on more than one occasion) and I can easily see him forming a group to help him take down the Avengers. He’d have to be leader, as he wouldn’t settle for another position, but he’s a good leader. He also provides a lot of technology to the group, some decent strategy (he has conquered entire worlds) and an ability to stand toe to toe in combat with almost any one of his enemies. Most importantly, he really hates the Avengers.

Next up on my list would be Sandman. Personally, I like Sandman as a hero, but apparently Marvel’s powers-that-be do not, as he’s been returned to the ranks of villainy, where he hates everything that he did while a hero. I imagine he also hates the Avengers, probably for taking him in and tricking him into doing good acts. I think he’d enjoy getting revenge. I also imagine that he’s got to be a thorn in the side to many of the Avengers themselves. After all, the Avengers pride themselves on taking in felons and reforming them. They did it with Hawkeye, Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch, Wonder Man, Vision, Black Widow, and the list goes on. I believe that Sandman is their only failure, and certainly some Avengers would have a problem with that.

My next choice would be the Grim Reaper. As the brother of Wonder Man and related (sort of) to Vision and the Scarlet Witch, the Reaper has always been an interesting villain. He went through some radical changes in the 90s, making him much more powerful, but now that he’s reverted to human, he’s obviously not powerful enough to take on the Avengers alone. He’s teamed with certain villains in the past (usually calling themselves the Lethal Legion) and there’s no reason why he couldn’t join the biggest group of Avengers-haters out there. In a group, his powers would be more helpful and effective anyway..

Halfway through the line-up, and I’m going with Mr. Hyde. The group needs a powerful strong man, and honestly, I tend to find most of those super-strong types to be horribly boring. Hyde is at least somewhat interesting, and more importantly, he’s somewhat scary. He’s capable of doing monstrous things, and more than willing (perhaps even anxious) to inflict your deepest nightmares on you. If you put him and the Grim Reaper together, it might actually create a very scary duo, and I can see our splash page when they’re first introduced, in a dark panel, lit by a single flash of light.

My next choice may seem a little off the wall (again), but I’d like to see Deathbird as a member of the group. The Avengers are Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, and along those lines, I think they need an alien to fight. Plus, Deathbird has issues with members of the Avengers (Hawkeye in particular) and has clashed with the superheroes many times. I would imagine that she has her own agenda for joining, one we’ll find out many issues later, but she could be an effective team member.

Finally, I’d choose Whirlwind. As a villain, he’s been something of a joke for awhile, but he’s actually got an interesting power, and he’s also got a personal connection and hatred for the team (and an obsession with the Wasp, which is interesting and somewhat more relevant today, with celebrity stalkers an increasingly common phenomenon). I think it would be possible to make him an effective, and somewhat creepy, super-villain.

So, we have Kang leading Whirlwind, Deathbird, Mr. Hyde, Sandman and Grim Reaper. Your rebuttal?

And rebut I shall! Since as far back as I can remember, I have been a huge fan of the Masters of Evil. I’m thinking I was more interested in the concept, a group of less-than-stellar villains brought together to defeat a common foe, than I was interested in the actual members. When I first started collecting comics, one of the earliest books I remember picking up was Avengers #55, featuring the second incarnation of the Masters of Evil. Individually, the members’ power sets weren’t much to crow about, but when you assembled them and handed them at least some form of loose strategy, they were a much more effective product.

Later incarnations of the team sought to overpower the Avengers by sheer numbers. The most successful of these teams was the fourth group featured in the “Under Siege” storyline. That group of 18 bad guys destroyed Avengers Mansion, hospitalized Hercules, bitch-slapped Jarvis and captured Captain America, proving that with a bit of organization anyone can look good. Not too shabby for a crew of also-rans.

There have been eight different lineups for the team. Out of those eight, three have been led by a Crimson Cowl (one of which was revealed to be Ultron) and three have been led by a Baron Zemo (one by the father and two by the son)…the other two were led by Egghead and Doc Ock, in case you were wondering. The sixth grouping eventually became the first lineup of the Thunderbolts, which was another well-written plot.

Why do I make mention of all of this backstory stuff? Well, I just wanted to point out that when it comes to the Masters of Evil, the whole is considerably stronger than its parts. And that’s what I want everyone to keep in mind when I make my choices (and make fun of John’s). I just wish we had more than six slots to fill! Well, here goes nothing…

John said Kang – Blah. That’s all I really have to say about that. However, I will expand upon that comment if only to cast aspersions. Kang? Honestly? Look, I get that he’s a big time Avengers foe and I can appreciate the history there. To tell the truth though, I hate time travel based bad guys. And I really just can’t wrap my head around Kang. I don’t see him ever leaning on the lower tiers of earthbound villainy to accomplish his goals. He pulls entire armies out of the timestream and loads them up with the latest in future technology that hasn’t even been invented yet. His motives tend to gravitate more towards world domination than simple revenge plots against terrestrial heroes. I don’t buy it. Therefore, I’m going to go with someone who seems a bit more practical given what has recently transpired in the Marvel Universe. And that person would be The Mandarin. I don’t care if you come up with a hokey resurrection plan and put the original Mandarin in charge or if you leave it in the hands (pardon the pun) of his son, but the Mandarin is ripe for reexamination. He’s an old school Iron Man foe who could easily see an opportunity to take advantage of Tony Stark’s less than stellar public ratings.

John said Sandman – And Jason is okay with that. Sandman has a great visual power and more than enough grudges against Spider-Man (a current Avenger) and the hero world in general to justify his inclusion. I don’t know what his specific tie would be to the Mandarin, but I know that Sandman was involved with Silver Sable’s crew and there are some international implications right there.

John said Grim Reaper – Isn’t he dead? Again? Still? I see Grim Reaper as more of a team leader these days, after his stints in the Lethal Legion and all that. Not sure he’s sane enough to play a subsidiary role! Plus, he’s been killed and resurrected so many times that he actually comes off as more of a parlor trick than a real threat. I’d go with one of my favorites in here, like Absorbing Man or Mysterio, but we’ve already used them in our Frightful Four revamp (and we’re trying to create some continuity in our own version of the Marvel U). Since they’re not available, I’ll turn to a relative mainstay in the Masters of Evil lineup: Grey Gargoyle. He’s currently a member of The Hood’s Syndicate, which is similar in scope to the MoE, but I don’t see that as a stumbling block. Besides, this could be the opportunity we need to turn Gargoyle into the Wolverine villain we imagined.

John said Mister Hyde – Sure, we need a big, dumb strong guy for the group. He has previous experience as a member of the group, bringing him onto Avengers radar. And he’s generally considered a foe to Thor, Daredevil, Captain America and Spider-Man. He’s part of The Hood’s team too, but since he was part of the Masters that almost took out the Avengers for good, I could see Mister Hyde crossing party lines for another shot at those particular good guys.

John said Deathbird – And Jason said “who?” I’m probably forgetting a storyline somewhere, but isn’t Deathbird primarily an X-Men foe with the occasional Ms. Marvel fight thrown in for good intergalactic measure? Regardless, I still say blah or the same reasons as Kang. I’m looking at villains with grudges who actually live in the same solar system. If we need a female for this group of ne’er-do-wells, let’s go with someone like…uh…well, I can’t think of any relevant females. Instead, I’m going to suggest the old Power Man & Iron Fist villain Chemistro. Now, stop laughing and hear me out! This isn’t just an Affirmative Action appointment. Actually, Chemistro is serving as the unofficial right hand man to the The Hood and, as such, he could be the catalyst to pull both Gargoyle and Hyde back to the Masters of Evil. Maybe he’s looking for a more assertive group of villains to help lead? Either way, pairing he and Gargoyle up is pretty powerful and could get ugly.

John said Whirlwind – And, again, I’m good with that pick. He’s one of the original Masters members and has been in nearly every gathering of the group. Whirlwind has a devastating range of powers and, as John pointed out, he’s a rather creepy individual.

So, my Dream Team version of the Masters of Evil has Mandarin leading Sandman, Whirlwind, Grey Gargoyle, Mister Hyde and Chemistro. I still think we need more than six members though, just for “cannon fodder’ alone!

How many villains would you like? I have no problem with adding a few more, and I’ll throw in some suggestions as we move through my rebuttal to the rebuttal.

I think you sell Kang short, as far as what he could bring to the team, but saying that, I love the idea of the Mandarin taking the top slot instead. I personally am a big fan of the current Mandarin (the son of the original) and thought that he was an update of the original (who had become something of a ridiculous caricature, rather than an actual character) that worked really well. That’s the sort of thing I think Marvel needs to do more often, creating a legacy from one generation to the next. The current Mandarin is a lot more calculating than his father ever was, as well as being a first class fighter in his own right, and I’d love to see him lead this group.

If I thought you sold Kang short, then I think you’re completely missing the potential in the Grim Reaper. This guy has died, been resurrected, died again, come back as an indestructible zombie, worked with supernatural lords of darkness, then been brought back to life again. The last time we saw him, he was a little overwhelmed by his experiences and was trying to figure out how he fit into a world where he was simply human. He’d had tremendous power, but now he was just a typical human (missing one hand), albeit one with access to a nifty mechanical scythe that had lots of gadgets embedded in it. I think that Eric Williams is happy to be a human again, as he gets to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh that he seemed to miss while undead, but at the same time he’s come tumbling down the ladder of power, and now is desperately clinging to the bottom rungs. I’d like to explore the possibilities inherent in that concept, and I think the Masters of Evil would be the place to do it. Yes, he’s been a leader, but his confidence is shaken and his position in the criminal underworld is tenuous at best. He’ll take the subordinate role; the question is, if he begins to get his confidence back, will he be content to stay there?

I’m going to hold onto the Grim Reaper for at least one more round, in the hope that you see the error of your ways. However, if we’re adding more members to the group, that doesn’t automatically exclude the Grey Gargoyle. Now, personally, I’m not as big a fan of the Grey Gargoyle as you are; I think he’s a mildly interesting foe who works well in certain cases, but I don’t see him as part of the Masters of Evil. That being said, you wanted cannon fodder for the group, and you also wanted to try and build him into a better villain, so he can stay.

As for Deathbird, I can’t believe that you don’t remember her, as she featured in a story fighting your favorite Avenger, Hawkeye. This story cemented Hawkeye as the Security Chief of Cross Technologies, as well as cementing him as a scurrilous rogue, when he planted a big kiss on Deathbird after defeating her. Yes, she has appeared in more X-Men books over the years, but she has also played a role in other Avenger stories, most notably being an important player in Operation: Galactic Storm. I included her for two reasons: first of all, the group needs a female. Second of all, for decades the Avengers were known as “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” and they’ve fought a large number of extraterrestrial foes in that regard, yet none of their extraterrestrial foes are represented in the various Masters of Evil teams. While I wouldn’t want to see the Masters become the home of numerous space cast-offs, I thought that having one alien on board would add an element of the exotic to the group, and still fit in with the themes of the Masters. I won’t fight too hard for her, but I do think she has a place. Replacing her with Chemistro, unfortunately, misses the reason she’s on the team in the first place.

Chemistro, I must say, is an excellent choice for the team though. I do like the character, he has very interesting and visual powers, and he’s got a grudge against at least one of the main players in the Avengers. I like the idea, and I think he can join.

So, basically, I’ve kept all of my choices (except Kang) and added all of your suggestions, for a total of eight Masters of Evil. It would be Mandarin leading Sandman, Mr. Hyde, Whirlwind, Grim Reaper, Grey Gargoyle, Deathbird and Chemistro. Hmmm. I’m still not sold on Grey Gargoyle, but let me hear what you have to say about the Grim Reaper and Deathbird. I hope I’ve sold you on the Reaper, but I’m not so sure about Deathbird. I think she can work, but I can also see your argument that she can’t, and I’ll be curious where you stand.

Given the explanation you’ve provided, I can see Grim Reaper on the team. I’ve always liked the guy. My only complaint is that his backstory got completely muddled and became laughable at best. If you think he can right his ship and get back on the truly evil bandwagon, then I’m all for it.

However, with the concession of Kang, it now makes even less sense to have Deathbird on the team. She’s the only pick who is not an Earth-based character. Where does she fit into the equation? Who recruits her? How does it happen? I just can’t see a sensible case in my head for including her amongst this group of villains. If you can find a suitable female rogue (or two) that would have access to the other members we’ve already included, I think that would make much more sense in the long run. I’m just not going to budge on this one!

And I think anywhere from eight to ten characters is a better base for the team anyway, especially considering we have two teams of Avengers right now and, depending on what happens at the end of Secret Invasion, we may have three or four teams soon if you include Nick Fury’s group. If you can come up with two females to replace Deathbird, that would give us nine total.

So there you go.

If you’re willing to give me Grim Reaper, I can dump Deathbird. Hmmm, two evil females to replace her….that may be difficult.

The female that perhaps makes the most sense is the Enchantress, in that she has been a member of the Masters in the past, and has a grudge against Thor (who isn’t really associated with the current Avengers, so it may not matter). While I like the character, she doesn’t really fit with everyone else we’ve assembled and I’m not sure how she’d join, although I suppose all we’d have to do is have her banished from Asgard and she could be in. Still, I’m not feeling the love for her.

I almost suggested her originally, but decided against her. On further reflection, however, I’d like to throw out the name of Madame Masque. Yes, she is also normally a leader of criminals, not a follower, but like the Grim Reaper, she’s also fallen on somewhat hard times. I’m not sure if she’d join the group, but considering how paranoid she is, I think she might, just to make sure that they weren’t plotting against her. Besides, she was first introduced as a flunkie (to Midas) and I can see the Mandarin choosing her as a second in command. She’s also got a tie to the Avengers, having fought them (especially Iron Man) in the past, and she’s a smart, slick woman who could prove a valuable ally.

For a second woman I would recommend Nightshade. She may seem an odd choice, but I selected her for three reasons. First, I think she’s a pretty interesting character, one that’s had run-ins with many of the Avengers over the years, and who is mercenary enough to take the job of joining the Masters to fight them. Two, the Masters don’t currently have a scientist, so she fills a niche in the group. And three, I couldn’t find any other women to join that made sense.

Thoughts?

Hahaha…classic. I was going to choose Nightshade originally, but thought that her lack of powers was a bit of a setback. However, using her as the “smart chick” who can supply weapons and gadgetry to the field agents makes a lot of sense. She’s had run-ins with Power Man and Iron Fist. Plus, she’s the one responsible for infamously turning Captain America into a werewolf. I like it.

I figured you’d go for Madame Masque too. She’s another one who’s currently siding with The Hood and his criminal entourage…the group that seems to have usurped the Masters’ position as “general collection of villains going against the Avengers.” There could be a side story in the works about how this group has splintered off from The Hood for some reason and how retribution could be meted out. Again, I like it!

That gives us a solid lineup of second-tier villains mashed together by a criminal mastermind for a common nefarious cause. It’s the ideal definition of the Masters of Evil! Our Dream Team has Mandarin leading a cabal comprised of Sandman, Whirlwind, Mister Hyde, Grey Gargoyle, Chemistro, Grim Reaper, Deadly Nightshade and Madame Masque.

Good show!



Superhorrors: When Capes and Killings Clash

Oct-29-08

So, Jason and I have been discussing bringing horror into your superhero comics, and how it can be done successfully. We thought we’d take some time to examine some heroes and teams in the multiverse of comics that we think lend themselves particularly well to the horror genre. I’m going to just mention five that I think would work well, although to be honest, I think just about any character that is not simply used for comedic effect can work in a horror comic. I’m not sure I’d write the Ambush Bug Halloween Special, although that could be very amusing. Still, it’s not hitting quite the effect that we were hoping for.

I’m not going to be focusing on characters like Ghost Rider and Deadman since it’s pretty obvious that they work well in horror comics. I’m also not going to be suggesting an entire series based around horror for these characters: I’m not suggesting a new Spider-Man book called Spidey Horror Stories or anything. I’m just going to spotlight some characters who could have a really good one or two issue story in their titles that is more in the horror genre and less in the superhero genre. Here we go!

Fantastic Four: At first it might not seem that this group, the brightly colored leaders of Marvel’s superhero universe, could work well in horror. Johnny and Ben are too goofy, and they’re a more happy-go-lucky team, you might believe. However, I think they’d be perfect. Right off the bat is the fact that they’re explorers, which means they find themselves in situations where horror could be found. In fact, I have a scenario already in mind.

Our Fantastic Foursome are flying through the Negative Zone, moving a small group of refugees whose homeworld was destroyed by Annihilus, when they encounter a derelict spaceship. Reed wants to investigate, and so they dock with the ship, and they begin to explore. As Reed tries to determine what happened on the ship and where the crew went, the team splits up to search for clues. Along the way they begin to discover that whatever happened was mighty unpleasant, and that the cause of the crew’s disappearance may still be lurking aboard!

The Fantastic Four have those dark blue/black uniforms, so they can be drawn in a darker art style and still look faithful to original design. The Thing, of course, works perfectly in a horror setting, since he’s a monster. The Thing and the Torch might be lighthearted at first, but they would get serious when the danger became apparent, and that helps sell the horror; if something can scare or at least unnerve these two, then it shows the audience that it must be pretty bad. If you make the threat something supernatural that helps too, since the FF tend to deal in hard science, and the supernatural will immediately throw them out of their element. The refugees give us characters who can be killed or disappear, since we obviously won’t kill the FF. The trick is not to make the danger about whether the FF will be killed, since everyone knows that won’t happen, but whether or not they can protect this group of refugees. Keep the refugees in danger and have the danger stalking them, and you’ve got actual tension. After all, the FF are the ones who decided to stop at this ship; they are truly responsible for these civilians, and are going to do whatever they can to protect them.

I think there are a lot of creative teams that could do something like this justice, but I would choose Dan Jurgens and Kevin Nowlan. They worked together on a Superman/Aliens story that had the sort of atmosphere I’m envisioning.

Martian Manhunter: He’s dead, which makes him perfect for a horror comic! I kid. Assuming he wasn’t dead, I think J’onn J’onzz would do well in a horror story. Honestly, were I to use him in a comic, I’d use him more like the Phantom Stranger. Because of Jonn’s shapeshifting powers, he can be anyone and anything. He used to want to explore the world around him and learn more about humanity. I can envision an actual series with him traveling the world, taking on different identities and spending time with people. In many cases, he’d be more of a guest star in his own series, as we’d truly be reading the stories of other people, with J’onn more on the periphery. Not all of these stories would have to have a horror bent, but some certainly could.

For example, perhaps J’onn meets a group of people in an inn, where he stops to wait out some bad weather on his travels right around Halloween. He spends some time in the common areas meeting the guests and giving the reader a chance to learn about the other characters. Everyone retires to their rooms, but strange things are happening. J’onn assumes the suspicious activities are part of some Halloween prank, but then people start turning up missing or dead. What’s happening to them? J’onn’s a powerful hero, but his power does him no good when he doesn’t know who the bad guy is or from where the threat originates. I think JM DeMatteis would write something like this quite well, and Tom Ostrander has the sort of moody art which would be perfect!

There’s two, and I went longer than I thought. Do you think they have potential, and do you have any of your own to add?

That’s so weird. I was making a mental list in my head and the Fantastic Four was one group that I had definitely decided could never be made into a horror book. And yet, your idea is strangely compelling. Although, to be honest, it reminds me more of a Challengers of the Unknown plot with some convenient superpowers thrown in for good measure.

For me, the obvious titles/teams/characters that could be turned in a horror direction are some of the ones we’ve already mentioned and revamped: The Defenders fighting off the supernatural in a largely covert manner, a la X-Files or Buffy the Vampire Slayer; Doctor Strange in pretty much any situation; and, of course, Batman when he’s fighting one of his more psychological (or just plain psycho) foes like Scarecrow or Mad Hatter. I enjoy the twisted paths those stories could go down.

However, if I wanted to pitch a completely new direction for an established character, I would pick:

Vision and Scarlet Witch: I know, it’s kind of a cop-out choosing a character with the word “witch” in her name, but bear with me. I see this as more of an urban horror story. Vision plays the role of the vengeful ghost and Wanda is the troubled street urchin trying to convert the masses to her way of thinking. She has that Old World bent to her, but the metropolitan citizens ignore her and look down upon her. Vision visits the successful city businessmen who have shunned their morals in favor of greed and expansion. He’s a creepy robot, the perfect representation of technology run amok, and he can float through their freakin’ walls! The Vision has gone rogue and is taking out his vengeance on the leaders of this new economy. It’s up to Scarlet Witch to find a way to soothe the savage beast, as it were. I’d like to see this written by Warren Ellis, someone who knows a thing or two about current tech but also has a foothold in the paganistic side of things too. And the artwork needs to be done by someone who has a realistic and detailed style…maybe John Cassaday? Or Tim Sale?

Hulk: Given the Jekyll and Hyde background of the character, this is probably a bit of a cheat. At the same time, the Hulk has always been more about the anger and rage of being a monster than of the dark guilt and isolation of being a man with a troubling, uncontrollable secret. Bruce Banner has removed himself to a secluded village somewhere in South America, in the windy valleys of the Andes. He’s set himself up as the town doctor, attending to the elderly residents and the children of the village. But not is all as it seems. In fact, he learns that a lot of the injuries he’s trying to heal have been caused by some mysterious beast that haunts the fields at night. A strong-willed policewoman from the neighboring city has been tasked to track this villain down. Unfortunately for them both, she and Bruce fall in love and he joins the cause to help her hunt…him. This book would have to be written from a first person point of view, like some of Edgar Allen Poe’s greatest works, but with a modern nuance and awareness. I’d put Brian K. Vaughan up to the task. And the art style would need to be dark and muted, with the monster emerging from the shadows to claim its victims. I think Ryan Sook could pull this off well.

I think any of these stories, mine or John’s, would work well in an anthology book, similar to the recent X-Men and Avengers Fairy Tales series. Thoughts?

I really like your idea of the Vision and the Scarlet Witch in horror stories, and your creative team is fine.  However, if I may suggest an alternate penciller, I’d like to throw out the name of Michael Bair.  He’s primarily known as an inker, and does a tremendous job in that capacity.  However, he has done some pencilling, and he did a short Vision story for an anthology (probably an Avengers Annual) where the Vision goes into a burning building to rescue a child.  His artwork was extremely moody and creepy (the child is afraid to go with the Vision because the Vision scares him, and a reader could certainly understand why!) and I think he might be an interesting choice.

Fantastic Four vs the Challengers of the Unknown:  honestly, aren’t they the same thing, except with superpowers and a family situation?  They’re both explorers, and you’re right, you could do the story with the Challengers, and it would be excellent.  In fact, perhaps that could be a good pitch for the next Challengers revival; something more horror related.

I do agree that any of these ideas could work if they were fleshed out.  You mention the Fairy Tales series Marvel published; why not a horror series?  Start producing it in the beginning of the year, and then release it weekly in October.  You could do two or three a year, four issues each, and if they come out once a week it could really draw in an audience, particularly at the spookiest time of the year.  You could release collected editions of them the following year 2-3 weeks before Halloween, while also releasing a new batch of weekly horror for that year.  It could be a nice marketing plan, and by the second year, you’d have single issues of horror for the comics shop crowd, and collected horror trades for the bookstore market! 


Dream Team: The Avengers

Sep-30-08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think of that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Can’t See the Forest For the Continuity.

Apr-25-08

Science! While never one of my favorite subjects in school, I do remember a few precious scientific facts about our world and the things in it. Trees, for instance. I recall learning that there are basically two types of trees: those that seasonally lose their leaves and those that do not. The seasonal types are called deciduous. The others are called evergreen, because, well, they’re always green. Educational lesson aside, here is where I’m headed with this thing. Comics have more in common with tress than merely the paper they’re printed on. If you think about it, the continuity behind comics falls into the same two categories as the types of trees. And the same can be said about many other forms of mass entertainment. The pros and cons of both types are something I want to examine further.

Let’s start with the easier explanation. Evergreen continuity is the basic history of any superhero comic. Each plotline is held as canon for the next. Characters branch off and develop their own roots in the comic universe soil. In the long run, nothing ever changes. But upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that the changes are ongoing. It’s just that they’re ultimately absorbed into the evergreen landscape. You could also refer to this type of continuity as the “Big Picture” view. Everything that has happened affects everything else that will happen. The past shapes the future. Even the event of someone dying is merely a catalyst for their ultimate rebirth.

Broadly speaking, this is an attempt to mirror real-life. For example, Spider-Man meets Dr. Octopus. Years later, Dr. Octopus crosses paths with Spidey again and both remind each other (and the audience) that they met previously. Each instance builds upon the last to give depth to the characters and their backstories. And all of this is fine until you get so weighed down with facts and recollections that the characters are more tied to history than they are to any single plot. Even worse is when a supporting character or particular villain appears in another title and gets strange twists added to their history. This affects not only the villain, but everyone else that they have dealt with in the past or will deal with in the future.

Evergreen continuity is very linear. Unfortunately, comic books don’t follow a linear path. While most companies establish an overarching universe for their characters, each title operates within its own structured sub-universe. Crossover is encouraged (and inevitable), which further muddles the timeline. The closest thing you could compare this phenomenon to is a soap opera where individual sets of characters have their own storylines. When those storylines reach their natural end, the characters are remixed with each other to provide new lines of interest. That’s how you end up with evil twins and convoluted situations where someone ends up being their own mother.

The flip side of this is deciduous continuity. For some reason, this type of history always shows up in humorous situations. I’m thinking of things like South Park, Family Guy and, to a lesser extent, The Simpsons. On these shows, we have a group of main characters that work their way through a half-hour story. Ultimately, the end of the episode has no ill effect on the next episode. Kenny is killed every show and yet somehow magically returns the next week. The supporting characters add color and nuance to the show, but their own backstories are relatively meaningless to the grand scheme of the show.

Deciduous continuity is mostly non-linear. Anything can happen to anyone at anytime. Nothing really sticks. The leaves grow, they’re shed and then new leaves grow in their place. Time moves forward, but the isolation of the main characters helps keep the history streamlined to a degree. This type of continuity is based on episodic stories rather than continuous arcs that lead into each other. Most television shows run on a form of deciduous continuity. Shows ranging from MASH to Law & Order to Friends all deal with this type of history. It’s a type of timeline that runs more on characterization than it does action.

For instance, think of Richie Rich comic books. Richie Rich is the nice guy. He’s loaded, he’s young and he has a funny dog and a helpful butler. Every issue of every title keeps these facts as a constant. The adventures that Richie Rich goes on add color to these facts, but none of them greatly change the main characters. Once you close the book, everything goes back to the way it was and you wait for the next adventure to be entertained again.

So which form of continuity is better? I guess it depends on the type of story you want to tell. But my ultimate argument is that while the name implies that deciduous continuity is always changing, it’s actually not. By shedding whatever history is acquired during a specific story, deciduous continuity brings an air of timelessness to its use. I think it would be more functional to the superhero genre to adopt some of these functions. Look at Iron Man. His origin deals with being a POW in Vietnam. What kind of resonance does that have with kids who were born fifteen years after that conflict? So many villains and heroes sprouted out of World War II or even the tensions of the Cold War. Using a realistic timeline, none of these characters would be functioning at the same level today as they did in their prime. By clinging to an evergreen continuity, superhero comics force themselves to grow up alongside their readers.

Marvel and DC both attempt to do this at a ridiculously slowed pace. And, while I’m a bigger fan of Marvel in the long run, I have to say that this type of history stunts the growth of their characters. The DC universe isn’t specific to any reality. It builds its own history and doesn’t recognize real world events. It can offer broad changes at any time, ebbs and flows. Marvel’s strength, in its heyday, was the emotional power it could imbue in its stories by placing its characters in the real world and having them deal with a form of current events. It was radical in its time, but seems rather dated nowadays. When you try to saddle your heroes to the real world, you’re forced to age them. And everyday occasions…weddings, careers, deaths…add further age to each and every character.

So is there a path to loosening this evergreen status? Is there a reason to do so? Does any of this make sense or am I just over-thinking the whole thing? What does everyone else think?

Whew. I suppose this is a subject we’d have to tackle sooner rather than later, but it’s a mighty complex one. I think that continuity is important, but like everything else in life, needs to be used in moderation. Allow me to clarify my position.

I think that deciduous continuity can rely on characterization, as you mention above, but it’s very static characterization. If the events of the past do not affect your character in the future, then your character’s personality doesn’t really ever change. This works well for children’s fare (check out any long running Saturday morning cartoon series, like Scooby-Doo or Bugs Bunny) and for some humor projects like South Park since you want the characters to be eminently recognizable to your viewers, or in the case of South Park you want to be able to do whatever you want to a character in one episode, and not have to worry about fixing it in subsequent episodes. There’s a lot to be said for that, and anything that makes it easy for a new viewer/reader/listener to pick up on the concept of the series on their first exposure to it can only be a good thing. That being said, there’s a limit to the amount that can be done with this sort of continuity and only so many stories that can be told (with the Simpsons trying to make that statement untrue by telling pretty good stories in this type of continuity for two decades now).

Evergreen continuity, on the other hand, gives you a lot more opportunity to actually allow your characters to grow as the stories continue. Almost every serialized fiction of any real length has used evergreen continuity to an extent. I think it would be next to impossible to find a pure example of deciduous continuity as even shows like The Simpsons will refer back to previous episodes on occasion. I think the difference between a show like Friends and a comic like Iron Man isn’t the type of continuity to which they adhere, but the degree to which they adhere. I believe you were going in this direction in your initial post, but I believe that, like everything else in life, continuity should be used in moderation.

I don’t believe that a writer should come in and ignore everything that has gone before on a title. Those stories happened, and a new writer needs to work with what they are given. Nothing frustrates me more than one a new writer jettisons a previous supporting cast with no explanation, inserts dear old friends that we’ve never seen before (but are now expected to care about) or ignores important events that happened mere weeks ago in the hero’s life. That being said, some stories are just plain bad and trying to explain them so that they fit into continuity is pointless. Let’s use an example…during the mid-90’s, Marvel Comics revealed that Tony Stark had been manipulated by Kang the Conquerer for the past several years. Kang forced Stark to murder people and to fight the Avengers. The Avengers decided that no one could beat Tony Stark except for Tony Stark, and the only possible way to defeat him would be to travel ten years into the past and grab Tony Stark as a teenager and bring the teenage Stark into the future. This they did, and during the battle, the older, Kang-controlled Stark was killed, and Teen Tony took his place as the Iron Man of the Marvel Universe. This met with widespread derision (as well it should) but was quickly undone when teen Tony sacrificed his life to stop Onslaught, was thrust into an alternate universe, and was aged to adulthood once again. When he returned to our universe, his time as teen Tony was not mentioned.

Some readers weren’t satisfied with this. “It makes no sense!”, cried they, eager for clarification. “If Teen Tony was aged to adulthood for the alternate universe, he still wouldn’t have the memories of the Tony Stark from the original continuity, so how does the current Stark possess those memories? Explain please!” Thankfully, to the best of my knowledge, Iron Man writers ignored those pleas and never really delved into his past as Teen Tony. This is good. Trying to explain this continuity gaffe would have taken up time and space and would have been helpful only to a small portion of fandom. The series re-aged Teen Tony, which was sufficient. Let your readers come up with their own solutions as to why he has memories that he perhaps should not have.

Again, we want to make the stories fun and accessible to new readers. Delving into the deep dark recesses of continuity to explain away obscure plot points is not a good use of a character’s series. Some writers don’t understand that. John Byrne, when he wrote Wonder Woman, spent entirely too much time trying to explain why there was a Wonder Woman in the original Justice Society, when Diana hadn’t been introduced into Man’s World at that time. Way too many writers have spent way too many comics trying to untangle the tortured continuity of Donna Troy. Kurt Busiek, a writer I very much enjoy, used a good portion of Avengers Forever, otherwise an excellent miniseries, untangling plot points from the Avengers. And this is not a new phenomenon. Steve Englehart, during his Celestial Madonna saga in the Avengers, back in the 1970s, did the exact same thing, going on for issue after issue in an attempt to explain discrepancies in character’s histories. I like his run on the Avengers, but those issues still put me to sleep, and I would imagine they would leave new readers scratching their heads in puzzlement.

Continuity should be a tool to allow a writer to tell deeper stories and to allow characters to grow and develop. Unfortunately, too many of today’s comics professionals use continuity as a blunt object, and want to craft stories around it, around fixing it or altering it to better serve their visions of what a character’s history should be. Too many of today’s comics professionals are stuck in the past. We need to move into the future, telling new stories. It doesn’t mean you don’t refer to the past. In our Defenders discussion below, you’d refer often to the relationships the team’s roster shared with one another in previous appearances. That deepens their characterizations and makes them more interesting. What you don’t want to do is spend a four issue storyarc explaining how Patsy Walker could have appeared in Avengers #138 with her Hellcat costume, when The Cat #7 clearly states that it was put in storage in Detroit, and none of the members of the Avengers at that time had ever been in Detroit.

Continuity. Writers: Take in moderation.

What’s the downfall of today’s superhero? Retconning. In the Assembled book I’ve been reading, one of the contributors made a comment about Kurt Busiek’s run on the Avengers, saying that “while he was indeed revisiting old-school characters, relationships and situations, he was doing so in the context of the many new developments on those fronts since the olden days, taking assorted old-school concepts in new directions.” Or, to sum it up, he used bits from the past to frame the future.

This is the expected use of evergreen continuity. And perhaps I should have written two posts on the subject, because here’s the true crux of the argument. The “retconning” or deliberate changing of established facts is what ruins evergreen continuity. If all writers would simply work with what’s already been shown, then these superhero comics would be much less confusing and convoluted.

I’m reminded of Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men and how the writers that followed him, whether through company mandate or their own failing to understand what to do next, systematically took apart everything that he had built up. Characters that already had bizarre, twisted histories were given another layer of muddle…even characters that Morrison himself had created from nothing.

I’m all for continuity. I love it. It gives me something to think about and study. And I wouldn’t mind if every writer used all of the continuity of any given character while they’re writing them. When you’re done with your run, the next guy should come in and just pick up from where you left off. The problem is when certain writers come in (yes, I’m looking at YOU John Byrne) with the belief that their talent supersedes the character itself. They feel that they can create their own version of the character’s history and pay absolutely no attention to what happened before. The creative team that follows them is then left scratching their heads and trying to figure out how to accommodate what just happened with what came before AND with what they want to accomplish themselves. This gives you things like Hawkman, Supergirl and Aquaman (is it just coincidence that this seems to happen more often with DC even though I just praised the company for their non-real world universe?).

Of course, then you also have cases where new characters are explained into past history. The first example that comes to mind is Marvel’s Sentry character. Beginning as a hoax on Marvel readers, the Sentry was then integrated into Marvel’s history rather well (though some would argue unnecessarily) by writer Paul Jenkins. Brian Bendis did the same thing with his Jessica Jones creation. This kind of retconning is interesting to me. Here’s a character that blatantly never existed before, yet creators are able to use bits of other characters’ pasts and small vagaries in overall continuity to place their new creation in the fabric of the established universe. It’s a neat kind of phenomenon that can work quite well in building a past for a new character. I think this is another beautiful use of evergreen continuity (and that’ll probably be the only praise you’ll ever hear me heap upon Bendis).

It’s of interest to me that deciduous continuity is used primarily in humorous situations. Not sure what’s behind that thinking except that the telling of jokes is more easily accommodated by simple set-ups. If you have too much history piled upon your characters, there are certain ways you expect them to perform and react to things. Plus, the superhero world already has a problem with bringing characters back from the dead…imagine how horrible it would be with South Park rules!

Wow. Well said. I think that sums things up nicely: deal with the continuity you have, and stop trying to make it the continuity you want. Perfect. You know, creatively, I’m surprised so many creators have problems with this concept. For example, I always loved the Vision and the Scarlet Witch as a married couple. But they’re not. Were I in a position to handle the characters, rather than trying to say that, I don’t know, the two characters had been replaced by Skrulls before their divorce, and then bringing the married couple back, I’d work with what is currently in continuity. It may not be what I consider ideal, but it’s a very good creative exercise to try and make what you have work in a way you find interesting.

Some creators, as you noted, are worse than others on this score. Some creators simply can’t let go of the way they want things to be, and to be fair, neither can some editors. Your example of the way the X-Books dismantled Morrison’s run as soon as he left the book is spot on; I don’t think I’ve ever seen a company back pedal so quickly from a former writer’s work on a book, especially a run that had been so universally praised by critics and fans.

Of course, now we have entire event miniseries (like Final Crisis and Secret Invasion) which seem to exist solely to muck with current continuity. I hope that neither of these series make sweeping changes to try and reset the universes to previous settings. I have no problem with surprises and exciting changes, as long as we’re moving things forward and building on what has been done, not knocking down previous structures and invalidating things that are considered inconvenient for the current and future creators.