Bend Sinister

Hello, Bloggers. Today I’d like to briefly discuss the assassination of character in Marvel Comics.

Here’s something I found Omar Karindu saying about his favourite supervillains, as I dutifully follwed a Neilalien link:

“I like so many of them….

Hmm, I guess today I’ll say the Mad Thinker. Here’s a guy who’s so cripplingly good at understanding things that he can predict everything down to the last detail, but he can’t quite wrap his head around that last little bit, that non-mathematical datum that’d explain the world to him and let him do whatever he wanted. And it makes him bitter, vicious, warped, and, worst of all, uncreative. He’s the anti-imagination, the inability to generate concepts. And as such, a perfect foil to all of those smart, imaginative heroes who consistently beat him by thinking outside the box. He’s like a hack writer whose plots get away from him in search of better authors.”

A marvellously concise summation of the symbolic meaning that makes this classic Kirby villain tick, don’t you think?

And until Omar put it just that way, I hadn’t realized quite what had bothered me about Dwayne McDuffie’s first issue of post-Civil War Fantastic Four. It isn’t really McDuffie’s fault, of course — he was painted into a corner by Mark Millar’s (and to a lesser degree, JMS’) consistent portrayal of Reed Richards as a warning that there may be Soulless Intellectuals Among Us, so he had to paint himself out.

But there was something that grated on me in that, and now I know what it is.

To justify Reed’s hugely out-of-character behaviour in Civil War, McDuffie has him reveal that it was all for a necessary Greater Good — and Reed invites the Mad Thinker to his lab, to show him why.

Here comes the first thing I thought was a bit of a kludge. I mean, it was all right for Byrne to use Larry Niven’s stasis fields in his FF, in part because it was a throwaway bit that didn’t damage anything, and in part because he never actually said that’s what he was doing…but McDuffie has Reed explain in so many words that, inspired by Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, he’s invented psychohistory, and it was pure psychohistorical necessity that forced him into his out-of-character actions.

Okay, this is jarring. But, at least it paints Reed out of that corner. However, there’s something else going on here, too: why is it the Mad Thinker, that Reed invites to see his mathematical proof that he wasn’t really being a dick, not really? Well, because only the Mad Thinker will understand it. And, you know, he does: he even hails Reed as a genius, expressing awe at the way in which he’s so effortlessly accomplished the goal that the Mad Thinker has striven for his entire life.

Marvel Psychohistory. Or, as we might choose to call it…

The Anti-Life Equation.

Notably (if I remember right, that is), Reed doesn’t even stretch in this scene. You know what I mean? The number one proponent of the X factor of human imagination doesn’t even do the superpowered thing that usually makes him such a dandy symbol of it. He just stands there, like a grey-templed Dr. Manhattan, hailed as a respected colleague by the Anti-Imagination Man who has always, before this terrible moment, been his enemy.

And, I’m not even saying I didn’t enjoy this scene, because I did…still, it’s gotta make you think, doesn’t it?

About character, and symbolism, and how that can all get desperately messed-up. Reed Richards, Mr. Fantastic, was always a properly superheroic character who always stood for the same thing, no matter who was writing him that week.

But no more. Until the excesses of Civil War and Illuminati have been forgotten, he will always have this big black mark on him.


Except isn’t forgetting the very problem, here? Because what you can’t remember, you can’t deny, and as far as the character of Reed Richards goes, the Internet is full of people opining that the Millar/JMS/Bendis interpretation is an accurate and faithful one — Reed has always been a bit of a dick, they argue. He’s always been a little scary, working there in his lab without the regulation of normal human emotionality or sense of proportion. He’s always been an image of Amoral Science Gone Wrong.

Of course, as anyone who’s ever read an FF comic prior to JMS’ run knows, this assertion is utterly false. Utterly false, in the sense that superhero characters are crafted by their creators with a certain amount of built-in symbolism, carefully chosen and developed…and if there’s something that reading forty-odd years of FF comics (and I most definitely include FF: 1234, here) ought to inform the reader about, it’s that this character was never made to be that way.

Only if you just started reading, could you think that. But, what a thing to think even if you have just started reading! “Reed Richards has always symbolized this, this character has always been like this.” That’s not a thing a person thinks because they’ve just started reading. That’s a thing a person thinks because either a) they’ve been told it’s true by those they accept as knowledgeable about the matter, or b) they did read all the old stuff, but so inattentively or uncaringly that they can’t actually remember the sense of what they read.

Reed as the Mad Thinker’s idol. There’s something quite wrong about that.

But, it’s not just Reed.

Let’s take another favourite character of mine who suffers from the problem of mass fan-forgetting: Nighthawk.

“He’s always been a bit of a loser, a wannabe.”

This common judgement exposes the prevalence of a radical misreading of Nighthawk’s historical character arc, one that stops dead at about the same time Nighthawk acquires a character worth talking about — and then cherry-picks whatever it can from after that (and it’s not much) to support the misreading. Nighthawk’s “always” been a loser, a wannabe?

Nighthawk starts out as a villainous Marvel-ized Batman, a credible foe for Captain America. Not much character there at all, except “whoever this joker is, he moves like greased lightning!”

We next see him employed in Daredevil — where he gets a bit more character plastered on him: becoming a slightly more textured anti-Batman, a rich guy who becomes a villain just for kicks, and who decides to discredit Daredevil so he can commit crimes without having to worry about DD’s interference. Wannabe? Hmm, one could argue it fairly convincingly, I think…Nighthawk’s definitely presented as a coward, a phoney, and a dilettante in this story (anti-Batman!), and I can’t even say pretending to be a hero wasn’t part of his plan, because it clearly was. However, even leaving aside the fact that of course everybody remembers that classic story, don’t they? Remembers it like it was yesterday? Sure you do…but even bearing that so true! fact in mind, I think I’ll quibble with the idea that this appearance forms his essential character, and that everything that happens or is revealed subsequently is just a variation on that one brilliantly-composed theme. If you don’t mind.

Because the next time we see him, in Defenders, he makes the Noble Ultimate Sacrifice, doesn’t he? Ah, the classic and time-honoured Redemption storyline, you have to love it…

Especially in this case, because this is where it starts to get interesting. Because it isn’t the Swordsman. It isn’t the Hulk. It isn’t even Franklin Storm.

Nighthawk is saved at the last minute by Doctor Strange and the other Defenders, and promptly goes out and gets himself a new costume and a new raison d’etre. When next we see him, he’s a wisecracking acrobat, mostly effective and even occasionally inventive…a little bit like Bruce Wayne mixed half-and-half with Peter Parker. Generic Marvel Hero, you might call him. Anti-Batman No More!

And then Gerber gets his hands on him, and we’re into something else yet again. He goes through some stuff. He changes and grows, and in about half a year successfully attains the realization that the superhero thing is barely about the costume and the cape at all. By the end of Gerber’s run, he may still be a bit cranky on occasion…but a loser wannabe?


Then Kraft makes him perhaps a bit more petulant at times, but also — largely — even more inventive and effective. More of a day-saver, even in hysterical mode.

Then DeMatteis — unforgivably! — kills him off. In yet another Noble Ultimate Sacrifice. Well, we all saw that one coming, didn’t we?

Next up is the BuLars Defenders — by the end of which, no less an authority than Mother Earth has pronounced Nighthawk the heart and soul of the team. Which, he clearly is — by this iteration, he’s become indefatigably optimistic (you would be too, if you’d been through the revolving door of Death that many times), and above all he gets the job done. Vindication for Nighthawk, hooray! You see, the whole point of that story was that the “Big Four” thing is bullshit; again and again, it’s Kyle and Val and Patsy who save the day…

But I guess somebody missed that bit.

Maybe they were still reeling from the hilarious Ultimate Defenders, in which they all really are loser wannabes?

Well, whatever happened there…by the time Civil War comes around, Nighthawk folds like the cheapest of cheap tents. It’s uh…really great. Yeah.

A really great example of either — take your pick — fannish contempt, or an inability to read for deeper meaning. Something a tad over twenty-five years of character development, retconned into “always been a loser wannabe”. It’s a shame.

Why, he practically gets dragged around the walls of Troy.

Such are the perils of fan-forgetfulness.

But, it’s not just Nighthawk.

Let’s look at everybody’s favourite punching-bag of a character, Dr. Henry Pym. Once useful, now “always” a mentally-unstable wife-beater with an inferiority complex so yawning you could drop a helicarrier into it…all because of a brief storyline in Avengers written something like twenty years ago, and fixed up at least four times since then! But, nobody remembers the fixes, and for the simplest reason imaginable: because he was always this way, so putting the Shooter stuff behind us just isn’t an option. Shooter’s tenure on Avengers is now deemed to have provided, retroactively, the core of the character. And it can’t be departed from: taking him back-to-basics just naturally takes him there. Well, but where’s the surprise in that, exactly? Nighthawk’s redemption was somehow peeled off him, in the dead of night, with nobody looking…once a happy-go-lucky asshole forced by circumstances to become a mensch, he’s now always been a loser wannabe. Reed Richards has been given a need for redemption he never knew about before (by the way, just to point it out: he’s cured his friend Ben Grimm of being the Thing about a dozen times so far. No, seriously: read the comics), that unfortunately seems impossible to attain, by having always been about how imagination is dangerous, rather than liberating. So why should Hank Pym be any different? Once a square-jawed polymath with a mild temper, who struggled with his commitment issues only to have Fate ironically throw them back in his face as super-fights, he’s now always been about how psychological repression must always be maintained, not worked through.

But, it’s not just Hank Pym.

Over here we have Iron Man, the damaged idealist (look for out-of-left-field Iron Man movie review shortly!) who because he can’t repair his heart, tries to repair the world’s injustice instead. This is a guy who started with Redemption! But, when the wounded heart got thrown out, they passed him a bottle instead…and the upshot is, all these years later, that his story no longer starts with Redemption, but with Recovery. Well, fair enough…and it might have worked in much the same way…except that, perhaps inevitably, someone came along and turned continuous Recovery into continuous Recidivism, because they didn’t read closely enough to be able to tell the difference between those things. Thus, Tony Stark has now always been the man in trouble with the bottle and the ego, and the compromises of the power and the vision. The damaged idealist? That idea’s been flipped around, and now he only damages himself: sneaking, with an addict’s cunning, little stray bits of power and independence from his companions, like so many fifths of scotch from out of toilet tanks…closing the circle of responsibility on himself, and only himself, with an addict’s deadly focus. Protected in his iron suit, and his influential post as head of an ultra-powerful government quango, and his reputation for genius. And there are no Twelve Steps being followed here! Because it isn’t that the heart was damaged by misplaced ideals, and so the ideals must be corrected even though — or in fact because — the heart can’t be…! No, it’s now that the ideals are eating away at the heart, and vice versa, and one will eventually kill the other. You want a conflicted character? Oh, we’ve got your conflict for you: but it’s the conflict of the man who hasn’t hit his own bottom yet. Tony Stark, Addict! I’m surprised he hasn’t tried MGH…

Oh, wait, he has. Just in the Dom Perignon form of Extremis. Well, but the rich are different from you and I…

This, too, is a radical misreading: Tony Stark, futurist. Well, that’s just an excuse, isn’t it? As Reed Richards has come to signify the need to subordinate imagination to control, as Kyle Richmond has come to signify the desire to escape responsibility by role-playing, as Hank Pym has come to signify the inability to overcome weakness and start a new life (“Don’t bother going to the ants, thou sluggard!”), so too has Iron Man come to signify the dark commitment to an ideal, which is really just ideology wearing a false face…

As all ideals are, perhaps we’re meant to think?

Good Lord, even Ultimate Tony doesn’t have it this bad.

But, it’s not just Iron Man.

Enter the Scarlet Witch, and the chthonic terror of the feminine!

The Human Torch, stubborn upper-echelon Peter Pan, whose trust fund is a superpower!

The Sentry, ultimate asocial high-school loner sitting in the library at lunchtime!

Dr. Strange, bumbling know-nothing, mystic Polonius!

Every one of these readings is comically reversed. Or, “comically”, that might be putting it a bit strongly…

Professor X, incestuous para-daddy who fucks with his children’s minds…!

Nick Fury, absent deity!

Spider-Man! With great power comes the ducking of great responsibility!

I’m angry!

Actually, I’m not that angry. Really, not angry at all. But it’s interesting, don’t you think? I mean, I liked Watchmen a lot, but I never expected it to go on for this long…

Daredevil, gifted by radioactive accident with the powers of Job!

I take it back: it is comical. Because if these characters were really all always like this, the fledgling Marvel would’ve imploded much like Nighthawk’s convictions in Civil War — don’t blink, you’ll miss it! — sometime around, oh, let’s say 1975.

And who knows? Maybe, in this new reality, it kind of did.

Because they’re going back in time, you know. It’s all up for grabs, now. And all the symbols are set free, tumbling into empty air…there to find new and precisely-wrong meanings…

Such is the peril of forgetting.

Gee, I gotta admit: I had fun ranting that out.

Just a little late about it, of course.

But oh well.

Anybody catch that “Bend Sinister” thing?  Deb Whitman in line at CBGB’s;  I loved that.  That’s how I’ll always remember her.


23 responses to “Bend Sinister

  1. A nice summation of current Marvel product, and much of DC as well.

    Although I always saw Nighthawk as progressing from anti-Batman to fallible Batman, as he grows nearly as obsessed as Bruce Wayne when it comes to his costumed identity (in a wisecracking way of course).

    The differences are, instead of righting a past injustice Kyle is constantly trying to redeem himself for a wasted lifetime. And, to compound the difficulty, rather than accepting that he has made something of his life Nighthawk continues to reach just beyond his grasp – assuming a leadership role in the Defenders after Doc leaves even though he’s really not very good in the role.

    Sadly, instead of taking the more complex road, current Marvel just grabs the “not very good” part of the equation.

    I’ve read the first few issues of Last Defenders, and am amazed at the meta-commentary within the series – which is quite large even for an era where meta-commentary rules. Over and over again, characters keep talking about how the old Defenders never quite “worked,” pretty much echoing the views of EIC Joe Quesada.

    It’s a contention that bothers me, especially when a subplot deals with our old friend Yandroth forming his own big three (mage, water elemental and force of nature) by recruiting Son of Satan, a mutated Attuma and some sort of Hulk-type to be named later. (Woodgod, maybe?)

    See, I always thought the Defenders worked fine as Marvel’s equivalent to the Doom Patrol – freaks fighting freaks. But then again, what do I know? I’m the guy who wants Jessica Drew to return to her roots as a human spider.

  2. Jesus Christ, Yandroth again?!?

    No…no, this is really too much. I really like Casey, but the BuLars team went very effectively and hilariously to this well, I thought for the last time.

    And: funny, I thought Jessica Drew was supposed to be a mutated wolverine…?

    Kyle taking over leadership of the Defenders was a brilliant “pushing” move for rdiculous drama — he couldn’t’ve been ready, but then who else is gonna do it? Smarter than Val, less batty that Patsy, he did a good job of dealing with the Cobalt Man…but holy crap, talk about a “non-team”!

    To me, it’s a foreshadowing of Englehart’s FF run…but with more complications, and in fact they proved insuperable.

    Keeper, great notes on Kyle’s anti-Batmannishness! I also recollect with fondness his expression of mystical insight after Tania put his brain back in his body — Kraft does lose that “rising and advancing” touch a little bit, in his run…

    Though I still esteem it highly. I mean anyone who can follow up Val going to jail, with Val going to school…!

    Hmm, a bit more of a convoluted comment to make later, so for now I’ll just say:


  3. You were so incredulous that I had to check the comic to make sure it really was Yandroth … and, yep, it is.

    I was wrong about Attuma though. The water elemental is Krang. I can never keep those Atlantean warlords straight!

  4. Christ, I’m so sick of no one being able to do a new fresh Sub-Mariner villain…

    Tell you what, Keeper, I’m in a gaming mood…why don’t you and I do a four-issue Sub-Mariner mini, I’ll sketch a plot of one, just a few hundred words, you shoot back the next issue, I’ll respond…Christ, Namor the freakin’ Sub-Mariner! It oughtta be easy!

  5. I’ll get back to this when I have more time at my disposal, but it isn’t that REED has ALWAYS been a dick (whether secretively or implied by his aloof, scientist ways), it’s that many writers have TRIED to INJECT that into his persona.

    They trot out “historical” (as much as anything that happens in comic-fiction can be terms “history”) accounts, or retcon in “behind the scenes / between the moments” happenstances to back up their suppositions, that, yes… this uber-mind MUST be something of a DICK.

    He took his GF, her little brother AND conned his best friend into piloting an experimental rocket into space (and some have stated that he KNEW that the shielding wouldn’t be enough, AND that he hypothesized that the cosmic rays WOULD indeed grant them abilities).
    This one has been made several times over the decades by different writers (all with varied implied intents or justifications), but that he was seeing a GREATER GOOD coming from dicking over his family and friends.

    So… sadly, that IS a part of his personality now.
    It’s just that it only gets dredged up every now and again.

    More later.


  6. Never read a comic with Nighthawk in it, so far as I know, but your description of him is basically also a description of Ted Kord.

  7. I’ve also read Last Defenders, and my impression is that the writer doesn’t necessarily agree with the whole “Defenders never worked” thing, as much as it may be the current editorial party line.
    Within the book, it’s what Stark and others keep telling Nighthawk, who gets more and more upset and determined to prove them wrong, with Stark representing the current “consensus” (I’ll only call it that within quotation marks), and Nighthawk trying to keep the Defenders legacy from being shit on all the time by the current big guns of the MU.
    In fact, when reading your (pillock’s) discussion of Nighthawk, I thought of the new series, and how it was kind of nice to see someone I at least slightly recognized as the “real” Kyle again.
    Sure, he’s being treated like shit by Stark and SHIELD and all of them, but not, I think, being portrayed by Casey as a “loser”, just as someone who’s being treated unfairly and not given the respect he deserves. Just like the character is by editorial.
    And Yandroth? It actually made me chuckle. I think the “yes, Yandroth again” thing is quite deliberate, like a repetition based joke where you eventually come out the other end of being pissed off and start laughing again.
    I remain cautiously optimistic.

  8. Casey said in interviews that Nighthawk was one of the great “reader proxy” characters, which gives me hope. He absolutely was, and in a book like The Defenders, someone like that is essential. “Sorcerer Supreme!” “Raging Childlike Monster!” “Amnesiac Asgardian!” And…uh…”regular guy in a funny suit!” I love that crazy bastard.

    DC did this in a nigh-legendary fashion with Batman. He went from dedicated to insane, from a protector to an avenger, from genius to god, from Bat-Hero to Bat-Dick. Irritating. To use your one-line formulations, he’s “Batman, driven to perfection at the cost of his humanity!” Now he’s “always” been that way. Efforts to reverse the Bat-Dickery tend to be short-lived.

    Hank Pym’s case is a strange one. Some bloggers ranted that comic fans wouldn’t let go the spousal abuse incident. The reason they don’t? Because Marvel wouldn’t let it go either. At last, they had a personality to attach to the ever-bland Hank Pym! At last, they could breed conflict with him! So they wouldn’t ever let it go.

  9. Hm. This is always the problem with superhero comics for me. There’s this reactionary tendency to transform characters into archetypes. All the “you see, X is at the core of this character, so we always need to go back to X” stuff leaves me cold. I would have had no problem with Millar’s decision to transform Richards into a “cold intellectual in danger of losing his humanity” if the change in the character’s behavior was acknowledged. Even MacDuffie’s efforts to tie this change into some kind of deterministic view of science and the world fell short of this, if only because of the fact that Reed’s ‘psychohistory’ theory ran counter to the spirit of his life’s work, which is something that should have had some emotional impact for him. And it didn’t, because Reed is now the stand-in for our fears about the dehumanizing impact of technology.

    Which would be fine. I’m not one of those fans (or enthusiasts, as Dave Brothers prefers to call us) who wants to dictate story outcomes or character motivations. But at the same time, I want to be respected as a reader. You want to have a guy who represented the technological optimism of the 1960’s stand in for our fears of technology? Great. But show me the transformation. Show me the struggle.

    For all this talk about how the genre is maturing, it’s annoying how often readers are treated like idiots.

  10. Harvey: I think it starts with Giffen’s Justice League,, where Bat-dick is used to such great comedic effect…and then, just as a joke, he gets identified as a super-genius by, I believe it was Kilg%re channelling the Source, or something like that. The other characters roll their eyes as soon as they hear this: now he’s gonna be twice as impossible to live with…

    Wow it’s gone too far now, though. The need for rigid classification is death to fantasy, not all the time but much of the time, and yet there are “enthusiasts”, some of whom even write comics, for whom nothing but absolute rigidity will do — I recently read an SF vs. Fantasy argument in which someone claimed “Clarke’s Law” (I think that should always be put in quotes, just for safety’s sake) could usefully be applied to Tolkien’s Middle Earth, if you can imagine such a thing — as a friend of mine’s sister recently said, with much sarcasm, “oh thank you so much for explaining to me why the bad guys’ lightsabers are coloured red in Star Wars!” — and anytime I have to keep in mind that Batman has a really high IQ I think this is the result of them getting into the catnip…

    Jamaal: A good point — very good point, actually — but I’d argue there’s already a Marvel character that comes with this science/humanity conflict built-in. The Hulk, naturally! And to my mind, the point of having a genre in which characters wear their underwear on the outside, psychologically as well as actually, is so internal conflicts can be worked out visually — usually in big punch-ups. So, and I guess by saying this I mark myself as one of those “controlling” fans, why have Reed Richards go through an internal crisis over this, when the Mad Thinker is right there? But Reed always beats the Mad Thinker, and in the same way every time — in the only possible way, in fact — Kirkman screwed around with this determinism too, as I recall, very underwhelming stuff — so that story, it seems to me, must fall flat. Much better to leave such matters for the Hulk, who was designed to address them from the beginning!

    P-Tor: And of course this is all “Ultimization”, right? Reed Richards takes his girlfriend and her kid brother up in a dangerous rocket (and is there any other kind?), so he must be a dick, someone who ought to be in jail, not running around unsupervised…the Hulk probably has killed a bunch of people…Hank Pym is a dangerous looney who can turn into a freakin’ GIANT!!! These aren’t bad interpretations of the characters — nothing that makes a good story is a “bad” interpretation, I’m not that controlling — but they’re also clearly interpretations that depend on reading the old comics in such a way as to invert their original meanings. Basically, it’s Miracleman-Lite. And great for the Ultimate line (until they found they couldn’t take it to its logical conclusion), but bad for the main line…because this is a one-way street. Just as Harvey says, Marvel couldn’t give up the new-always Hank Pym, because he was more productive of conflict…trouble is, that one conflict is all he’s good for, now. And so he can no longer be a credible lead hero; he’s become as much a One-Note Johnny as any supervillain.

    I’ve said it before: the fix for this is thought-balloons. Batman needs ’em, at least. Though I’m not so sure about Iron Man…it might make it worse, since he’s become such an absolute narcissist in Bendis and Millar’s hands. Well, and Ellis’ too.

    Not that there’s anything so wrong or crazy with Tony Stark being a narcissist! Jim Shooter pretty much made him one in his Avengers run, and as much as I wasn’t totally enamoured of the change, it did make Iron Man an interesting character in a group dynamic. And, it’s a useful thing when his problem is alcoholism (not so useful with the damaged heart, though, so we’ll have to call that an innovation on Shooter’s part)…but the thing is, it’s relatively “new”, in that it’s essentially just an overlay, and so it takes work to make it balance…as the damaged heart balanced so easily. I’ve also said before, I think there’s no doubt that Iron Man is being written as a narcissist, and that that way of writing him is perfectly legitimate! Amidst all the accusations of superheroes being written out-of-character — which they are — you can’t hang this one on that failing! There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Tony Stark: Narcissist. Even if I prefer a different sort of Tony, there’s still nothing wrong with it, and it’s pretty easy to reverse it if anyone ever wants to. Would probably make a good story, in fact. But the point is, in that respect he’s been written very consistently, over the last SEVERAL years. So, it isn’t a fuck-up.

    However…Tony Stark: Addict really doesn’t work so well if the only thing he does is quit drinking, so that might just be a fuck-up, indeed. Like poor Hank Pym, Tony just can’t be let out of that cage, because somebody thinks it’s a good cage for producing conflict. Problem is, again: that one conflict’s the only type it produces, and there’s only so many places you can run with it. Eventually you hit a brick wall. Even the damaged heart hit a brick wall, eventually. And the current Iron Man is not just a narcissist, he is an outrageous narcissist. I mean just listen to the way he talks in Secret Invasion. “I’m going to tell you the biggest secret in the world. You two are the smartest people in the world. I know this isn’t the end of the story”. Quite the hotline to God he’s got there! Back in Illuminati: “Reed and I are futurists”. Yes, but apparently Tony’s the one who speaks for the trees. Without some sort of a workable plan, it’s going to be hard to get Iron Man back in any sort of decent order, vis-a-vis being a character that can continue to produce stories in the heroic mould. Successful movies notwithstanding, this Tony is terribly short on redeeming features.

    One route back to the status quo suggests itself: make him a full-on villain. Then have him reform. It’s happened many times before, and to me it seems the surest way out…because all the other stock loopholes are busy being closed.

    Sorry, ranting. But these “Ultimate” interpretations, while fine in themselves, are as far as I can see simply not constructed for long hauls. And yet they’re so sexy…!

  11. I don’t mind TONY STARK : NARCISSIST at all.
    In fact, I kinda LIKE it.
    If you were filthy rich, handsome, powerful AND could bench press an Aircraft Carrier, you’d be a bit of a prick too (I know I would be INSUFFERABLE).

    I DO have a bit of a problem with
    TONY STARK : all-of-a-sudden-FUTURIST.

    If he was SUCH a futurist, you’d think that he’d have seen the problem of leaving a bunch of old IRON MAN suits lying around – and that perhaps someone would get their hands on his tech and start shopping that stuff around to anyone with some deep pockets, which would then result in Stark-tech causing death and destruction and all then lead up to… oh I dunno, some kind of “Armor Wars”.



    TONY STARK : SUPER-INVENTOR is much better than FUTURIST.
    Although, I’d posit that DR DOOM is far more of a FUTURIST (AND a better inventor for that matter).
    It’s just that he’s a “DARK FUTURIST”.
    One that sees the end-point of mankind requiring a guiding (read: controlling) hand to keep it from it’s own self-destruction.

    That, and he doesn’t make his inventions known until he’s using them to warp reality, steal power from the gods or send you back in time for Blackbeard’s Treasure.
    Hell, even Reed is a better inventor, but he never claimed to be a “futurist” until Tony did so FOR him.

    That seems to be another underlying problem with Stark.
    He’s not the BEST or SMARTEST among these INVENTOR/FUTURIST types.
    He’s a close third (without taking guys like MAD THINKER into account).
    So, in order to help give him more importance they tacked this “I AM A FUTURIST” line on there, to help him reinforce that image, and help him stand out among readers / other characters.

    It’s sort of the same problem that plagues Hank PYM (and other super-genius types who AREN’T REED RICHARDS or DR DOOM).
    Not the best at anything (although PYM IS supposed to be the foremost bio-engineer or something like that, so they give him THAT specialty distinction. Much like they give HANK McCOY the foremost geneticist tag), so SOME kind of extra add-on character trait/conflict is added to the character to justify their continued existence.

    PYM = mentally unbalanced wife-beater with low self-esteem.

    McCOY = intellectual outcast who compensates with humor / taking dire chances.


    They can’t say that he’s the best at any REAL single science or study, really.
    As everyone will agree; REED is better at EVERYTHING else.
    DOOM makes better armor (he just doesn’t deviate too much from his basic design).

    DOOM makes ROBOTS too.
    Stark doesn’t even do THAT.
    Unless Stark tech is still behind S.H.I.E.L.D. tech (like what used to be his “weapons maker/financial backer” status USED to be lo those MANY, many years ago (ah… 1960’s Strange Tales).
    IF so, does STARK make the L.M.D.’s?
    THAT might put him over the edge in the “robot” category.
    All DOOMBOTS have that armor and as such, don’t need to LOOK human.
    LMD’s can pretty much fool anyone (and rectify years of bad writing problems for any given character).

    You are correct though, Pillok.
    In order to help these guys JUSTIFY their existence, writers, fans (and writer/fans) find that they MUST be NAILED DOWN to some rigid interpretation (or, compartmentalized personal/professional “power level”, at the very least).

    The question now is, does EVERY interpretation NEED to be the “how they ALWAYS were” sort of tacked on inbound “history”, or can’t a character EVOLVE (devolve) INTO that character trait?

    Why does it always have to be seen as “look. that’s the way they’ve always been”, and not take a gradual path of growth (or regression)?
    Sure, many characters are allowed that path.
    Hell, Englehart made it his oeuvre.

    But, is that since these characters exist far longer than they would normally (compared to their flesh & blood readers) that the next generation of reader sees only the end product; the butterfly/moth, and not the chrysalis stages or recall the pupa at all?

    Then, you get writers like Ellis or Morrison who dredge up even the most remote incident or long-lost character deviation and bring it back to the forefront.
    Not that either of those two were involved with THIS one, but that one thought bubble back in one of the first X-MEN issues where Prof. X professes his love for Jean Grey, long after it was allowed to vanish to the dark realms of fan-geek memory, was brought screaming back as a plot-point for that awful ONSLAUGHT debacle.

    So, it was no longer “prof x had a moment of weakness” and was now “prof x was ALWAYS possessed by this dark persona and it lay dormant all these years”.

    That was ALSO trotted out for TONY STARK.
    And was used in the same mashup of making him a villain.
    Oh yeah… KANG has had Stark under his control forEVER.
    You can see it at many points on the characters curve.
    (When really, Marvel was JUST ripping off DC’s then-popular Green Lantern storyline; of make Hal go bad and replace him with a younger version.)
    The end product?

    (The funny part is, that when it came time to bring HAL back to the forefront and excuse his becoming a villain, DC ripped off MARVEL’s story point; “was possessed by external evil force”.)


    OK. I think my overall train of thought derailed quite a way down the track, and I have entered into “ramble” mode.

    Change of subject:
    Hey, PLOK?
    Did you ever read NIGHTHAWK’s mini-series that came out a year or so prior to the Busiek/Larson Defenders series?

    It was “interesting”, with Kyle being revealed to be alive, and gaining “mystical eyes” from an “angel” (I won’t give away who the “angel” really was), that allowed him to fight crimes that are ABOUT to be committed.

    He, of course, goes a bit too far and beats the living hell out of some guy for a crime (a murder or rape or something) that the guy is GOING to do, but Daredevil only sees him wailing on an “innocent” man and they duke it out.
    Daredevil gets “killed” and Kyle has to go to hell to save DD’s soul.

    This plot was quickly forgotten and ONLY brought up in the EARTH-X/UNIVERSE-X story by Alex Ross & Jim Kreuger.

    Not saying what, if anything, it has to do with your post, but it was another example of a writer trying to give KIGHTHAWK an added edge/angle.

    OK. I’m out.


  12. Yikes, no I didn’t read that one…I had my own idea for how Nighthawk should come back from the dead, actually…

    But I just assumed BuLars decided to have him say, “oh, hi Patsy…yup, back from the dead again…” and leave it at that. Which I was totally okay with, actually.

    On Tony Stark: Ed and I have a whole big thing about this, but basically I’d propose that Tony’s special niche, what distinguishes him from Doom, Reed, and everybody else, is that instead of being a super-genius, he’s just super-ingenious. He’s basically an engineer, not a mad scientist. But he’s the best engineer. Useful things with multifunctionality, existing technology radicalized…consider all those Iron Man comics where he has to improvise some totally new device out of all the miniaturized “transistorized” crap he’s got plugged into his armour! No Cosmic Cubes sitting dusty on the workbench, but…then again no one wants to kidnap Reed Richards, they just want to steal his stuff and then see if they can figure out how he made it or what it does or what the hell he was even thinking; on the other hand, everybody wants to kidnap Tony Stark, because it’s the shortest route to becoming a world power. Rocket cars! Electro-guns!

    Reed and Doom are Tesla; Stark is Edison.

    Of course neither of these guys were “futurists”. Alvin Toffler’s a “futurist”, and probably the best of a bad lot: because a futurist is just a poorly-trained social scientist with a really bad track record of predictions.

  13. Oooooh, I really wish I could divulge Ed’s characterization of what kind of Genius the Wingless Wizard is…so natural and true, virtually Englehartian. It explains the Wonder Gloves and everything…

    Actually Ed…this kind of makes it so the Wizard and the Mole Man should square off one day, don’t you think? I mean would that be hot stuff, or what?

    I’ve been dying to work, recently. Tomorrow I actually get to start the big effort, get a couple of things done, perhaps earn a few glorious dollars, and doubtless sweat a bit, and bruise a knuckle or two…thank God. Call me crazy, seriously, but that’s what I want. But then again, is it? Because naturally I spend time that oughtta be slept on, on you Bloggers instead! Also, working up rather the head of steam in terms of consumption of booze, at this moment.

    Aah, hell with it.

    Okay, hand over the names of some Marvel geniuses — Ed and I will slice them and dice them for you, and give them each an unassailable supremacy in some area or other! Oh, I volunteer Ed…actually he may not be around, I don’t know. Really, I can’t do it without him.

    But give me some names anyway!

    Yawn. Pop. Fizz. Glug. This is why I was both the best and worst janitor in the world: because I cared too much, but not on time.

  14. Plok,

    Oh, yeah. You HAVE to read that Nighthawk mini (if you “care” about him, anyway).

    That mini was the primary reason for his becoming involved (later, in the BuLars Defenders) with PAPA YAGA.

    Instead of going to Dr Strange with the problem, he went to this weird witch-doctor guy to rid him of the “future-sight” eyes.

    Then, he uses Yaga as an all-around “mystical adviser”.
    Don’t ask me WHY?
    Kyle’s got a direct line with Strange, but then again, Strange is usually too damn busy anyway.
    So, a businessman like Kyle probably felt it better to have a guy who worked well on ONE major issue, be on the payroll where he can be utilized at any time.

    No waiting on line for that haughty “Sorcerer Supreme”.


    The Wingless WIZARD is a weird character, whose history and abilites seem to have been lost over the span of time.
    In recent Bendis-penned issues of New Avengers, while he was in the HOOD’s gang, the Wizard is neither smart, nor even “wingless” (he doesn’t fly. I thought the anti-grav discs were a big part of his repertoire).
    Gone was the giant domed helmet (compensating much?) to be replaced by a skull cap and goggles (iirc).

    And he just had a gun.
    A GUN!
    Sure, it may have been a matter-transmuting gun (I really need to go back and read those issues, but the Leinel Yu artwork makes it practically IMPOSSIBLE to discern what the #^@& is going on), but still… why not have the “gun” mounted to a gauntlet or in little “finger blasters” or something COOL.
    A GUN!

    Paste-Pot Pete laughs at him now.


    So… you guys have a cool WIZARD & MOLE MAN storyline huh?
    Why does that sound like a modern “Marvelization” of (at least HALF of) the Wizard of Oz?

    Wizard = Scarecrow (brain)
    Mole Man = Lion (self esteem)

    You just need someone who needs to find LOVE (that was a big part of the MOLECULE MAN’s deal wasn’t it? Until he fell in love with Volcana?), and a girl who wants to go home (what’s Tana Nile doing since “DayDreamers” ended?)…
    Maybe a “bad girl” who wants to find some sort of rehabilitation so she can go back “home”.
    CRYSTAL (of the Inhumans) could be good.
    She’s all messed up since the Quicksilver debacle.
    Crystal would also interact very well with the misfits that we’ve just assembled.
    AND her elemental powers would compliment theirs quite well.

    Ah, but then again… LUNA!
    LUNA would be PERFECT.
    Especially now post-SILENT WAR.
    A former innocent, now thrust out onto the big stage.

    So LUNA could be the “Dorothy”.
    Looking to reclaim her innocence and get back home to her father & mother (possibly to help them reconcile).

    But who would be the great and terrible OZ?

    Gotta be someone with the ability to help them all out.
    SHAPER of WORLDS, perhaps?


    I better go before this turns into another grand storyline.


  15. Hey, P-TOR …

    I can’t help but feel, if it turns out there’s any old-time medicine show barker behind that curtain, it must be Stan Lee.

    Luna is the perfect Dorothy! Simply cannot be denied. But my anima has been acting up, so I’ll offer my own imperfect Dorothy in a second.

    Villians in Search of […]

    Mole Man – he roars and roars, but he can’t ever feel Pride.

    The Wizard – no matter how clever he is, nobody respects him for his Brains.

    So far so good.

    A Tin Woodman, now. Not a classic FF villian, but here’s one guy who’s been replacing himself bit by bit for years, gone right to the limit – and he has almost no sense of human fellowship. You could call him psycopathic. It’s Techno, the Fixer. Suppose against all the odds he fell in love. He wouldn’t know how to handle it. No experience at all. He’d want a prosthetic.

    The Mad Thinker is the obverse of Tik-Tok, the Clockwork Man; to him the whole world is a wind-up toy. I sort of think he’s happy that way.

    Diablo is any wicked witch you care to name, and the Red Ghost is plainly the Captain of the Flying Monkeys. Can’t see any poignant motivations with them, except that all these chaps seem to want acceptance, to be respected for what they are.

    But who is to lead them? Who, if she found them sufficiently down about it all, could lend them the bright-eyed pep to set off down the road to popular acclaim together? Or would? She’d have to be a villian groupie or something.

    Enter Valeria Storm – Doomgirl!

    This is the daughter of about the most assured woman in superherodom (perhaps after Lois Lane). She also has two fathers, radical geniuses and bitter rivals. Let’s say she’s twelve or thirteen. Self-willed, would you guess? Precocious? Conflicted? Prodigy intelligence in ferment? Brooding in the shadow of her golden elder brother? (and if that’s not the vintage Marvel stuff what is?) Thinks she can strike out on her own, but still flies the colours of her three parents?

    (Armour and mask, chrome steel, modernized but referencing Victor. Tunic, FF blue, cape and hood very dark blue or grey. Emblem, and it’s remarkable nobody’s done this – the 4-in-a-circle flipped upside down making an angular ‘d’. Accessories to order. And her mum’s maiden name. Something to acknowledge everyone, something to offend everyone. She’s thirteen, okay?)

    So how? Well it’s probably not because she’s seeking an education in the Ways of Evil. Too many parent figures already. It’s more that when the Cataclysm has struck, and the great cyclone has swept off her family and Dr Doom too, figuratively speaking, and the Dark Tower is risen and all, Doomgirl is the only one who’d even think of turning to *these losers* for help.

    And their path will be thorny. Spectacularly deadly enough for them all to show their mettle at last. Plus, she can’t be sure it’s not all an intelligence test that Victor is running on her.

    Oh sheeevers! *I’ve got it!* The Great and Powerful OZ. Just, up front of the curtain or behind? Hmmm.

    It’s Doom’s Prime Mover. Seen I think exactly twice, once courtesy of Steranko and once of Morrison. The chess machine which can not only order up a robot facsimile of anybody, but endow it with SHIELD-challenging tech. So, young lady, are you the player or the pawn?

    Luna is still perfect, though.

  16. P.S. There’s only been one “futurist” worth old gum in Marvel, and that’s Odin. And now I’m wondering who would be most likely to walk into the Great all of Asgard, stand before the Throne and say, “I say you’re just a poorly-trained social scientist with a really bad track record of predictions.”

  17. Well, you asked for geniuses, I’m not sure these will qualify, but what the hey.

    The Tinkerer.

    The High Evolutionary.

    The Smythes (I mean, to design spider-slayers with the ability to detect “impulses” given off by spiders, that’s more than just robotics. And Alistair had some cybernetic enhancements done to himself later).

    Mendel Stromm?

    The Black Panther, since he’s usually described as a pretty tech savvy fellow. I get the feeling he’s somewhere in between Stark and Reed.

    The Vulture?

    Is MODOK a genius? Or does he just surround himself with smart people?

    Peter Parker. He studied biology, but the webbing suggests chemistry, but then there’s the spider-tracers, and I just don’t know.

    Charles Xavier. I went the real nerdy route and consulted my trading cards for characters with high intelligence, and they gave him a 5 on a 7-point scale, so would his be genetics, or psychology? Or sociology?

    Here’s one. You mentioned the Beast is usually listed as the go-to guy for genetics. How does he stack up compared to Mr. Sinister? And then there’s Apocalypse, who created Sinister.

  18. Calvin,

    Oddly enough, BEAST has been LINKED to Mr. Sinister via the “Age of Apokolypse” tangent-world.

    That “DARK BEAST” has since come to the “616” Earth and was the chief scientist/geneticist of Genoshia.

    I think they killed him off recently though.
    The last time I recall seeing him prominently, was in the Excalibur issues which formed the prelude to “HOUSE of M”.


  19. That’s Bendis’ Wizard?

    Sigh…Bendis is colour-blind.

    P-Tor and Jonathan…you guys are cracking me up. As to who should tell Odin he’s a losuy social scientist…hmm, it probably should’ve been the Recorder, if it was going to be anybody…

    But it wasn’t…

    Oh! Stupid of me. It’s the witch from Voluspa (“Gullveig”, wasn’t it?), who mocks Odin so constantly: ‘know ye further, or how?” Now who that is, or could be, in Marvel’s cosmology…jeez.

    In some versions she’s a…damnit, what’re they called, the other race of gods…the Valar? The prophetic Valar. Man, they’ve never even come up once in forty years, have they? And yet I know exactly what I would do with them.

    Calvin…I’ll be a bit, but I’ll be back.

  20. That’s the Vanir, and they have shown up once sometime; Frey, I think, and Odin’s wife Frigga.

    Good to be starting with matters Norse; because …

    The High Evolutionary seems rather a spent force, don’t you think? His mission, to spy out the furthest horizons of evolution with magicosmical genetics, except without all that icky actual reproduction. And what does he get for it? Turned into an amoeba, because it’s a cyclic trip … worse, turned into a plot device … finally the mad king alone with his remote thoughts.

    What he needs, and his Beast-Knights need even worse, if for someone to steal his stuff and terrorize the world with superevolved sea-urchins. And intelligent wasp hives. That way they could all be champions of evolution, not just icons.

  21. Ha, “Valar” is Tolkien, I believe…not as good as “Vanir”, but even Shakespeare had his masters. The peace between the Aesir and the Vanir, if I recall correctly, was brought about by a hostage-taking. I want to say Frey, Freya, and Frigga…but that seems like a lot of hostages. On the other hand Frigga sits at her loom quite Fate-like on occasion (again if I recall correctly) which would tie neatly to the Vanir’s prophetic powers…

    The High Evolutionary sounds vital again as soon as you describe him as the mad king alone with his remote thoughts…what that suggests to me is that, yeah, he could stand to be unwillingly drawn into a conflict once in a while. Surely he’s every bit as much Earth’s own little home-made God as Roy Thomas wanted him to be, and an absolute outrage to all Celestial plans…now if someone could just strip all that Evolutionary War “secret history” off of him, he might be good for something again. Maybe, a new secret history? I did have this idea for a comic story sitting around here once upon a time: “The Plot To Kill The High Evolutionary”, which as I recall Sean Witzke called an awesome title…which it is, but only because it was so easy. I mean the thing practically writes itself.

    So: the High Evolutionary doesn’t even rank anywhere on the list of Marvel Geniuses, because (like Benny Hill on the list of top entertainment earners in the UK, once upon a time) he is off the top of it…he isn’t even smart anymore, he’s just a cosmic force of nature.

    But when he was old Herbert…hmm. Well, he was a classically Wellesian secluded mad scientist, wasn’t he? Not a genius; he just thought of, or found, one thing that no one else did, and then never shared it or even told anybody about it. A cross between the Time-Traveller and Dr. Moreau. Therefore: what he was good at was experimentation and discovery. Although he doesn’t fit the Marvel scientist mould all that well (even Bolivar Trask suits it better — world’s greatest anthropologist, don’t you know, such a great anthropologist in fact that he built huge self-replicating killer robots, wow! Now that is some anthropology!), I thought I’d try him on.

    The Beast is easy: he’s the world’s greatest biochemist, not to be confused with Henry Pym, who’s the world’s greatest biophysicist and cyberneticist. But, it doesn’t always have to be about being the best, actually…still, the Black Panther, Spider-Man, the Vulture, the Smythes, and even MODOK don’t count. I mean, T’Challa’s a pretty handy technician, and MODOK was designed only for calculation…but T’Challa’s not a scientist per se, and MODOK doesn’t calculate much since he changed his name. So, yeah, ha! “Surrounds himself with smart people.” Of course MODOK’s more of a transhuman, as is Apocalypse: force of nature stuff again, but MODOK’s shtick is better because it’s more visual — that HUGE HEAD can fit a lot more CRAP in it than an ordinary human being’s can! As for Mr. Sinister, he’s a character Chris Claremont made up for absolutely no good reason, so I can’t figure how to slot him in…except to say he does seem like the most singleminded of all Marvel’s super-scientists or super-intellects. Charles Xavier is frequently touted as the world’s foremost geneticist, but it’s hard to think how he got that reputation except through writerly license…he could make a decent bid for being an extraordinarily shrewd psychologist/educator, I think, but really that’s only because his super-intelligence is best characterized as perceptive…for sheer insight, you just can’t beat the old bald dude in the wheelchair with the spooky eyebrows.

    I confess I dunno who Mendel Stromm is, but ah, the Tinkerer…

    He’s a very creative mechanic.


  22. What?
    No love for the absolute, unrivaled, niche GENIUS of Peter Petruski?

    PASTE-POT PETE is the world’s FOREMOST creator of…er… sticky stuff.



    Who else in the M.U. has ANY chance of being better at that than he?
    Peter Parker and his “dissolves in 60 minutes” webbing?
    I think not.

    If P.P.P. were to open a rival company to 3M, he’d be filthy rich.
    (Or at least, a rival to the “Roach Motel”)

    However, if he insists on remaining a villain, he just needs a new catchphrase to spruce up his “threat-level”.
    Perhaps he could use one (that was the standby for the titular character from a fantastic comic called “Steven” by Doug Allen from Kitchen Sink):

    “EAT PASTE!”

    Not very scholarly, though.



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