Monday, October 18, 2010

Eleven great tastes that taste awful together

I needed something random to blog about this week, so I’m going to publish my wishlist for all of you to mock.

Every fan has one of these. “Oh, if only the comics gods would smile upon me, I would completely redefine … [insert name here].” I’ve listened to dozens if not hundreds of them, and I’ve always found it an informative experience … unless and until my companion decided to remind me of the conversation every day for the next few months, on the off chance I might be one of the comics gods in disguise. I’m not.

But here’s my personal top-ten-plus-one list anyway—the eleven characters I’d most like to take a crack at in mainstream (and occasionally indie) comicdom.

1. THE BLACK KNIGHT. The Dane Whitman version, for those of you keeping score. Short version: the son of a mad-scientist supervillain also called the Black Knight, Dane inherits his uncle’s gear, including a cursed sword that likes to drive its owners insane, and sets out to be a superhero. No, I’m not kidding. I took a shine to Dane waaaayyyy back during his days on the unmemorable team book Heroes For Hire, and mostly forgot about him until my college years, when I needed some extra-credit points in a classics course and re-read all my H4H comics to analyze their portrayal of Hercules for a paper. Unfortunately, the professor was one of those dimwits who genuinely believes that Batman and Robin are up to hanky-panky in the Batcave, and he wouldn’t accept any paper about comic books that didn’t boldly proclaim some character to be gay. Thus Hercules needed a boyfriend, and as he spent half his scenes with the Black Knight … well, I felt bad about it afterward, I really did. I felt so bad about it, in fact, that I tracked down old issues where the Black Knight appeared and got genuinely interested in the character. I like the fact that he’s a doctoral-level physics student who got handed a magic sword and somehow avoided the cognitive dissonance, I like the fact that he’s modeling himself on his uncle the supervillain, and I find hilarious the fact that his various writers keep saddling him with assorted curses that never go anywhere because the title gets canceled first, or the writer leaves the book, or they dump him into an alternate universe, or—you get the idea. (Even Paul Cornell’s Captain Britain and MI13 series couldn’t resist—or at least Dane’s heart being made of stone was a new one on me.) I want to write a Black Knight limited series that explores the physics-magic divide, examines his relationship with that dead uncle, and maybe has a few of those dozens of curses bear fruit. I’d keep Faiza Husain, his love interest from MI13, as she’s one of the best-written Muslim characters in mainstream comics and too much fun to pass up. Oh, and I’m going to use Merlin in the tree, but that’s for another time.

2. STAR-LORD. Ah, the Marvel space hero so dorky they had him blow up a planet by way of rehabilitation. I admit I’m irrational on this one—I liked the old version of Peter Quill, with the goofy element gun and the sentient spaceship that seemed to be in love with him and the knack for running into truly weird stuff on planets no one else ever seemed to find. I liked the sheer Joseph Campbell-ness of his origin story—the lost half-human son of the alien prince, avenging his murdered mother across the galaxy … with a sword, no less! An actual sword! And he fought giant lizard-men! I found Star-Lord through the Timothy Zahn limited series from 1996 that had Ship wandering around, lost, without Peter, and taking on a new partner in the wayward telepath Sinjin Quarrel. (Why the hell has that series never been collected???) Once I tracked down the earlier Peter stories, I liked them almost as much. I also like what Keith Giffen’s doing with Star-Lord now, with a disgraced Peter, playing down his connection to Star-Lord, leading the interstellar butt-kicking Guardians of the Galaxy in the title of the same name. So if I ever get the chance, I’d like to write a Star-Lord series where Sinjin meets Peter and things get interesting. And I’m using the gun-toting Rocket Raccoon and his giant tree buddy Groot, because I have to. Say it with me: I AM GROOT!

3. DR. MID-NITE. I have a thing for blind superheroes. Sue me. And I always liked the utility of Dr. Mid-Nite—in almost every version, a gifted medic and a noncombatant who still went into the field with his superhero team because they needed someone to sew their guts back in. That’s a motivation you don’t see every day. The coolest part for me was that, unlike Daredevil, Dr. Mid-Nite didn’t have much in the way of powers—his only gift was the ability to see in the dark (in bright light, he’s still blind unless he’s wearing special goggles), so he defends himself by throwing “blackout bombs” to blind his foes. And he still runs headlong into bright, flashy superhero fights! Dr. Mid-Nite hasn’t seen much action since the Matt Wagner limited series of the mid-1990s, outside of his regular small appearances with the Justice Society of America for DC Comics. In theory he has his own city to protect, and a rich supporting cast there, and I’d like to see him get back to that sometime. For sheer symbolic value, I think I’d have to start my tale with a city-wide blackout …

4. BUCKY BARNES. I’m happy to let Ed Brubaker write him most of the time, but I’d gladly take the chance to write an eensy character-driven one-shot about Captain America’s tortured former sidekick, who now wears the mantle of his former mentor (but still carries a gun in addition to Cap’s iconic shield). I always liked the “man out of time” element to Captain America—his worldview shaped in the period before World War II, his dilemmas when confronted with the modern world. Bucky offers a chance to play that conflict from a different angle, since unlike Steve Rogers he didn’t have much of a civilian life before the war—he was the “mascot” of an Army camp. The U.S. Army he remembers is gone, and society has changed so profoundly that I can’t resist tinkering. But only briefly. (Ed Brubaker scares me!)

5. THE REVENANT. I am forever grateful to Michael A. Stackpole for “Peer Review,” the 1995 short story that introduced his superhero character Revenant and that showed a certain twelve-year-old that superheroes could be written without pictures. I was careful not to steal from the story when I wrote Masks—I just borrowed the idea of superheroes in prose, really—but I still love the character of Revenant, a spooky and pragmatic “Nightmare Detective” who single-handedly defeats an entire superhero team with gadgets, luck, and a dark sense of humor. I also adore what Aaron Williams has done with the character, with Stackpole’s permission, in PS238 (if you haven’t picked this series up yet—WHY NOT?). But I still want to take Revenant for a very brief spin. Maybe a short story? For charity? And explore just how the hell Nemesis got his phone number?

6. THE GREEN HORNET. Forget Van Williams and Bruce Lee—my Green Hornet nerd-dom goes all the way back to the radio shows. I fell in love with recordings of the radio avenger who took the Lone Ranger concept to its logical conclusion. Where the Ranger was always greeted by somebody saying, “A masked man! He must be an outlaw!” the Hornet removed the “must” from the equation and openly told people he was one. Imagine the hero of a 1930s gangster movie in a slightly more colorful costume … and then imagine that his struggles against gangland rivals conveniently always land them in the hands of the law, and preserve the lives of innocents, while the Hornet himself always gets away. To a kid who wondered why more cops didn’t arrest Batman for doing what he did, the Hornet’s ruse made a lot of sense. I’m pretty sure Seth Rogen is going to ruin the character in his upcoming movie, and Kevin Smith’s interpretation of the character for Dynamite Entertainment has been incredibly disappointing (please note—this is not true of the retro Green Hornet: Year One by Matt Wagner or The Green Hornet Strikes! by Brett Matthews). So in about ten years or so I’d like to take a modern Hornet back to his dastardly roots and pit him against modern organized crime, and use that complicated Reid family tree to my advantage. Assuming The Green Hornet Strikes! doesn’t steal my thunder … in which case I’m still happy, because I get my delicious story without having to do the actual work.

7. SPIDER-GIRL (THE ORIGINAL ONE). Yeah, you read that right. Spider-Girl was a commendable effort to make the best of several bad situations, and I think she’s been criminally misused. Originally a “What If …?” character based on the ill-fated “Clone Storyline” in Marvel’s Spider-Man comics, May “Mayday” Parker became an unlikely little superheroine who could. The comic featuring Spider-Man’s daughter long outlasted the alternate-future universe for which it was created, and the character hung on for more than a decade in various forms, acquiring a rich cast of alt-future versions of Spider-Man’s friends and enemies. The comic usually tried to balance superhero action and teenage soap opera, and as loyally as I followed it throughout its run, I have always felt it suffered from having almost no women involved in its creation. There are some male writers who can write female characters well; Spider-Girl guru Tom DeFalco does not seem to be one of them. Too many of Mayday’s adventures were repeats of Peter Parker’s adolescent exploits, or pale imitations of popular girl-TV shows. The superheroic adventure was fun—but the girl part of it never felt real, not even in the way that Peter Parker’s poor-me life in high school seemed to reflect the self-image of many teenage boys. Mayday was finally phased out recently in favor of Anya Corazon, the superheroine formerly known as Araña, in the suit in the present day. Given the chance, I’d take Mayday into areas that male writers don’t seem to think of, like the complex politics of female friendships, or how the classic superhero romantic dilemma plays out when the supporting-player boyfriend is much more likely to be superpowered than the supporting-player girlfriend ever was. Here’s a hint, boys—if you want girls to read comics, it’s time to write girls who act like girls!

8. DARKDEVIL. Yes, you read that correctly. Technically, this is the last pick continued, but it’s an old itch of mine. Darkdevil was the Spider-Girl universe’s version of Daredevil—the ghost of my favorite hero inhabiting the demon-powered body of the son of a Spider-Man clone. If that sounds complicated, it is … but I was always amazed that no one bothered to exploit the tragic consequences of the fact that Peter Parker, now retired from crimefighting and sometimes mentoring his wall-crawling daughter, hates Darkdevil’s guts. Genetically, Darkdevil is part of Peter’s family, and psychologically, half of him is Peter’s now-dead best friend—not that Peter was ever allowed to discover either of those facts. Darkdevil, by contrast, knows the whole story, and seems to have a protective interest in his “cousin”, Mayday, coupled with a strong desire to avoid Peter. (Perhaps he fears the drama overload would endanger innocent civilians.) Meanwhile he’s running around the city as a grim-and-gritty vigilante with a mystic twist and taking a lot of criticism for “sullying” Daredevil’s memory. It’s bugged me for years that no one has explored the conflict inherent in the character, so given the chance, I’d trap Peter and Darkdevil in a stuck elevator during a Spider-Girl adventure and let nature take its course. I can’t promise Peter would be clued in by the end of the story, or that it would end happily for poor exiled Darkdevil, but I just can’t help wondering what family looks like to a guy this messed up.

9. ANYBODY IN A COWBOY HAT. Except for Jonah Hex or the Rawhide Kid, who have both been given thorough revamps and retcons of late, I’d be interested in writing just about any kind of cowboy from either of the Big Two. I developed a liking for the Two-Gun Kid some years back, and was introduced to the rest of Marvel’s Western bunch in the ill-fated “Blaze of Glory” miniseries. Between that and the interesting if limited use of Scalphunter in James Robinson’s Starman, I think there’s some possibilities in a superhero Western with actual history involved. I created the Masked Rider in part to scratch this itch, and let’s just say there’s a reason I tracked down Theodore Roosevelt’s one recorded interaction with Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show …

10. PETER CANNON, THUNDERBOLT. This one is completely irrational, and a little background is necessary. Waaaayyyy back in the 1960s, a talented comic-book writer-artist named Pete Morisi finally achieved a lifelong dream and joined the New York Police Department. But he kept doing comics on the side—signing his best-known work with his initials so his bosses wouldn’t know he was moonlighting. His most popular creation, Thunderbolt, was one of the most thoughtful and well-done invocations of Asian culture in Western comics (despite being a blond guy with no pants). Peter Cannon was the current incarnation of Vajra, the hero of the obscure Tibetan Buddhist monastery where he was raised after his missionary parents died of a plague. He had all kinds of nifty mental powers and some low-grade physical enhancements as a result of your basic meditation. The character bounced around for a while in the sixties and seventies, then was revived in the nineties by DC Comics for a short-lived series. I fell in love with this last effort, partly because it was a clever, well-written superhero adventure that explored just how reincarnation affected people in a genre where heroes routinely died and came back to life. It also did a fine job of messing with geopolitics, making Cannon an exiled Tibetan citizen (he was born there, after all, but forced to leave by the Chinese) and an advocate for a free Tibet. The rights to the character currently lie with Morisi’s estate; the creator died in 2003. I’d want to pick up with a thread left dangling when the series was canceled—the possibility that Peter’s predecessor as Vajra, believed executed by the Chinese, might still be alive somewhere in China … meaning Peter isn’t Vajra at all …

11. THE SHADOW. Another radio favorite, done for a while by DC Comics and others. There have been so many conflicting versions of him that I just want to play with the concept. In some versions he was an almost demonic figure, in others just a playboy with a knack for hypnotism, in still others a grim avenger who seemed to stand outside of time, his supernatural abilities never fully explored or explained. I want to roll all those versions around and see what falls out. And maybe play a little with the Shadow’s creator, “Maxwell Grant,” a.k.a. Walter Gibson, otherwise best known as the ghostwriter for Harry Houdini. What sort of trouble could I start with the master escape artist and the master of men’s minds? I wonder …

Okay, gods of comics. The list is out here. (And everyone else—mock away!)

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