Thursday, May 6, 2010

We Could Be Heroes

Hey ho, readers. Tonight, I'm pulling out a question someone asked me years ago.

"If you had the opportunity to write a series for any comic book character, who would you choose?"

While there are plenty of big name characters out there I positively adore, there's one slight problem with writing them: wiggle room. People have expectations for characters like Spider-Man, Batman, Superman, and if you mess with them too much, well, people start to get upset. Additionally, the editors of these characters are a little reluctant to take bigger risks with their main cash cow franchises.

Now, I'm not saying that it's impossible to do good stories with these characters, not by any means. People like Mark Waid and Geoff Johns have taken things like the Flash and Green Lantern, two fairly well known heroes, and have left their mark on them in a big way. The Flash now has one of the most popular Rogues Galleries among comic book fans, and GL has arguably become more of a cornerstone of the DC universe than even Batman or Superman.

But, let's face it, those characters get a lot of love already, and it's harder to make a movie franchise out of your big names when someone is mucking about with them. What about the characters who haven't gotten a lot of love? Let's hear some of their stories.

1. Johnny Thunder

Right about now, about half of you are saying, "Who?" Quick history lesson. Johnny Thunder was a comedic hero who first appeared in the pages of Flash Comics in the 1940s. Basically, he was a good hearted dimwit, who, through an accident of birth, came into possession of a hot pink genie (more or less) called the Thunderbolt, who would do whatever Thunder asked, after saying the magic words cei-u (say you). Given Johnny's relative lack of wits, his tendency to pepper his conversation with the phrase "say you," and given the fact that the Thunderbolt's vast powers meant it had to take the wishes pretty literally, naturally this meant that hijinks would ensue. He was a relatively minor character in the DC Universe, never having his own series (as far as I know), but he was consistently a member of the Justice Society of America (DC's original super team, and precursor to the Justice League). The character died in the 2000s, merging with the Thunderbolt and passing it on to a successor, Jakeem Thunder.

Now, I'm going to be honest. If I were to write this, it would not be Johnny Thunder's story. Sure, he'd be an important part of it, but in all honesty, I'm more interested in the Thunderbolt. See, the Thunderbolt is an ancient, powerful being, bound to his master by fate. He knows that he is going to outlive his master. We don't actually know how many masters the Thunderbolt has been bound to. One of the things that would interest me is the Thunderbolt through the ages, its interactions with its various masters and mistresses, and how he deals with their inevitable demise.

Additionally, while the Thunderbolt was frequently sarcastic to Johnny, he was pretty much a benevolent being. Most of the other beings we later meet from the Thunderbolt's race (Qwsp, Lkz, and perennial favorite Mr. Mxysptlk) are far less so. This could mean that he's the outcast of his society (hence why he's usually friends with the people he serves). I'd like to see how writing about the Thunderbolt's isolation from his own people would go, (and how he deals with serving under evil people).

Ultimately, I think there's some potential storytelling there.

2. Terrax the Tamer

Some villains start off being credible threats to heroes, but quickly devolve into punching bags to show how awesome a new hero is. Terrax is one of these characters. Much like the much more benevolent and better known Silver Surfer, Terrax was a being who was granted nearly godlike powers by Galactus, Devourer of Worlds, for the purpose of finding planets the being could ingest. However, whereas the Silver Surfer was a philosopher and a pacifist, Terrax was a king, a conqueror, a warrior. And while the Surfer rebelled against Galactus due to a regained appreciation for all the universe's living creatures, Terrax rebelled in an attempt to gain more power. While not as powerful as the Surfer, he still was granted vast energy powers, strength, durability, and his own natural abilities to manipulate earth were amplified a hundredfold. One blow of his axe can be enough to shatter a planet, if he REALLY puts his mind to it.

So, naturally, this powerhouse of a villain is the immediate choice to show off how awesome your new hero is.

So, anyway, what the Hell would I do with this character? Am I just going to ignore all his humiliating, ignoble defeats? No way. That's going to be part of the story. See, Terrax has always been the kind of character who believes power is an end unto itself, and he believes in getting it the old fashioned way. He mainly looks out for himself. The one good deed I've seen him do in comics was freeing an enslaved group of aliens, which he did grudgingly simply because he himself had just been enslaved (alien brain worms, naturally) and helpless to do anything about it. When the aliens refused to accept their freedom, and rushed to bow down to him, he killed them all in a fury over their refusal to stand for themselves.

And of course, being a former Herald for the Devourer of Worlds, Terrax will have people aiming to gun him down. There are, of course, all the inhabitants who escaped the worlds he helped destroy, looking for some small measure of vengeance. And then there are those who hear about this Former Herald, who seems beatable enough, looking to make a name for themselves. And Terrax has made few allies in his time.

He's basically one of those old Barbarian heroes, a la Conan, with cosmic powers. He believes in his own freedom, above all else, and to the detriment of others. And the big question that comes up is, does the universe have a place for that sort of person anymore? Can Terrax exist as an island? Only one way to find out.

3. The Sandman

No, not THAT Sandman. His story is wrapped up nicely, and attempting to bring him back out would only cheapen an otherwise wonderful character. No, I'm referring to the Marvel villain, of Spider-Man fame.

A petty thug who is pushed into a life of crime by a desire to help out some friends who had gotten in debt with some bad people, William Baker wandered into a nuclear testing site while escaping from business. Because radiation can do anything, his body is fused with the sand on the beach, and thus a supervillain is born. Except...

Except he deliberately changed his name so his mother wouldn't worry about him. Except he's been known to look out for other villains he thinks need protection. Except he has been known to help Spider-Man, his biggest enemy, out from time to time, and even tried to make it as a hero (before someone went mucking about in his brain). Except when his father was framed for murder, he went to Spider-Man for help.

The Sandman might be a petty thug, but he's not really a bad person. He's just a man who made a few bad decisions in order to help some friends, and things got away from him. And something about that appeals to me. I could picture his comic book series being something akin to Leverage, in which he lives somewhere, and is trying to keep a low profile, but then sees a situation that could use his particular brand of help.

And, of course, he'd probably use some of his contacts with other criminals from time to time, along with other reformed villains, such as the Blizzard, the former Goliath, and the former Beetle. We'd be able to see the relationships between those common street super-criminals. I think the Sandman is one of the ideal characters for this sort of view into the Marvel universe because he's just riding that fence. He has friends in the superhero community (Ben Grimm of the Fantastic Four was one of his biggest supporters when he attempted to reform), and at the same time he's been shown to look out for some of his former teammates on the Sinister Six when they've been threatened (such as the Vulture in the often panned Identity Disc).

Would he be above committing crimes? Of course not! He still considers himself a criminal, after all. But he'd tone it down a little, and he'd finally have a place where he could do some good.

4. The Mole Man

I've always loved this character, and thought he was the greatest example of the American Dream ever conceived. His origin: he was an ugly, abrasive nuclear engineer, dissatisfied with his life. He stumbles upon a subterranean civilization, and becomes a King. He has since repeatedly attacked the surface world, and is treated as something of a joke within the Marvel Universe.

But what if he wasn't? What if he wasn't the only Kingdom that was underground? What if he was the only thing keeping forces from underground rising up and destroying all of mankind? What if, each of his attacks on the surface world weren't out of vengeance, but out of some Machiavellian plot to help him maintain his grasp on power, and to prevent more dangerous things from attacking?

While I am not a Machiavellian politico, there have been a couple of series which have focused on Kings ruling unusual realms (Paul Jenkins' run on The Inhumans comes to mind), and the unique problems of being the ruler of superbeings. And I think the Mole Man could be a unique take on this, as the beings he rules over, the things he deals with, few of them even resemble humans. What are their motivations? Why do they follow him? What makes them tick, and how is he able to out think them?

Could be fun to see what's underneath us, don't you think?

5. The Wasp

Maybe it's just me, but it seems like all too often superheroic women get the shaft in comics.

I probably should rephrase that, but I'm not going to. You damn well know what I meant. If a female character has the same powers as a male character, they're frequently considered as, "______, only not as good." Often times, they're required to hold the fort while the big strong men go off and do the really dangerous things, because clearly the men are better, as they are men. Many times, they're given lame powers (I'm looking at you, original power set of the Invisible Girl), or are treated as ditzy for no real good reason. And God help you if they're married. They could have been strong and independent before, but now suddenly they're going to frequently end up as the damsel in distress, and always be touting how much easier the situation would be if their husband was around, even if the woman is, say, a living goddess (Dammit, Big Barda, Mister Miracle does not fix everything!).

And let's not even get into "women in refrigerators."

Yes, the trend is reversing, but let's face it, superheroics is still largely treated as a boy's game, which isn't exactly fair. Let's face it: dudes can be just as clueless and ditzy as dames.

This would be my attempt at having fun with it a little bit. The Wasp (recently deceased) has pretty much spent her career labeled as "Hank Pym's sidekick." Yes, Hank Pym (aka Ant Man, Giant Man, Goliath, Yellowjacket, Tater Salad) was the one who first gave her shrinking powers, and yes, Hank Pym is a great scientist. But let's give the Wasp a little respect here. She was, at one point, the leader of the Avengers, and only stepped down when she decided she was needed on another team. She's gotten some hand to hand training from Captain America (among others), and is by no means a brainless airhead in need of a man. Despite this, she was still considered a weak link in the Avengers by many, and would end up as a damsel in distress. Weeeeeeeeeeak!

So, basically, this would be a fun little mini series in which Hank Pym and a lot of the other big brains in the Marvel universe are doing something sciency. Something goes wrong, they end up kidnapped by Skrulls, Space Phantoms, whatever, and are helpless to escape. It's up to the winsome Wasp (and some other ladies of Marvel) to rescue them from their own stupidity. I'd probably even start it off with Wasp telling them that maybe it's not the best idea to go poking around whatever sciency thing it is ("Gee, doesn't investigating that dimension of horrendous tentacled beasts of doom sound like a stupid idea to you, Hank?").

It would be designed as a deliberately humorous series, and probably make fun of other stereotypes in comics as well. Could be fun.


These aren't the only heroes I'd love to write. But I think I'd be able to leave my own fun little mark on them. Well, until next time, this is J. K. Lantern, signing off for now.

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