If I Ran Marvel, part three: The Defenders through The Mighty Thor
By Michael David Sims
01 November 2006 — If this is the first time you're reading this four-part article, might I suggest you go back and read parts one and two first. They'll fill you in on the reason I've crafted this piece, and give you a greater sense of how I would shape the Marvel Universe. If you've been following along since the start, then you know the drill... but I have to recite the rules anyway:
01. All books are monthly, unless otherwise noted.
02. Creators will be given a 12-month head start.
03. No writer can author more than four monthly comics at a time.*
04. No artist can illustrate more than one monthly and one mini at a time.*
05. No one will write and / or draw a comic they're currently working on.*
06. Exclusive contracts are void.
07. With but very few exceptions, no character can have more than one title.
* Creator-owned work excluded.
Writer: Kevin Smith
Artist: John McCrea
Six-issue limited series
Looking at the characters, it's easy to understand why The Defenders has been a comedy book as of late. The arrogant Namor would frown down upon the dumb as rocks Hulk who would be enthralled / distracted by the shiny Silver Surfer who would brood about being stuck on a celestial body while Doctor Strange would grumble about having to parent them all. The dynamic overflows with comedic potential. With Doctor Strange, Namor and Surfer on the team, the book lends itself to intellectual humor. Conversely, Hulk balances the trio out with plenty of dick and fart jokes. Few writers are skilled enough to tackle both simultaneously. Kevin Smith, however, can juggle smart humor with toilet jokes, thus crafting a story for two audiences. Clerks II is the perfect example of this: while filled with humorous vulgarity, a much deeper story slowly revealed itself by the end. That's how I see him handling The Defenders. John McCrea, who's best known for his Hitman work with Garth Ennis, is no stranger to funny, yet deep tales crammed with the oddest of characters and wacky situations. A good artist knows how to pace comedy as the book progresses towards serious moments, and McCrea has shown his ability to do so time and time again.
Writer: Mike Carey
Artist: Marcos Martin
Excalibur isn't just another X-book. Far from it, actually. It's a magical romp through time and space. Unlike Exiles, Excalibur is mostly dramatic and can take place in the core Marvel Universe. The team fights more than human-hating mutants and power-hungry politicians; they hop into fictional realms to slay foul beasts, sprint off to dying alien worlds and duel pirates after traveling through time. As long as the focus stays on the magical, the sky's the limit and Mike Carey, writer of the supernaturally charged Lucifer and Hellblazer, would be the perfect fit. Besides the aforementioned titles, he's also no stranger to big, fantastical battles (Red Sonja) and sci-fi, superheroics (Ultimate Fantastic Four). Belding all those elements together should bring Excalibur back to its roots. If you haven't read Batgirl: Year One and aren't reading Doctor Strange: The Oath, you may be unfamiliar with Marcos Martin's pencils. They're very smooth, allowing the colorist to play with tones and mood. Facial expressions and gestures are rendered with precise care, delivering us into the hearts and souls of the characters. Set on other worlds, Excalibur needs Marcos Martin's knack for grounding characters in reality whilst exploring the impossible.
Writer: Dan Slott
Artist: Stuart Immonen
On the surface it would seem that the reality-hopping Exiles and Excalibur, as outlined above, are a little too similar. But such is not the case. Whereas Excalibur would focus more on drama, a Slott-written Exiles would be laughs a minute. That's not to say drama would be lost, just look at his work on She-Hulk and The Thing, but humor would clearly be the focus of this team book. Right now, for my money, no comic book writer does all-ages humor better than Dan Slott. To my knowledge Slott has never written a team comic, at least not for more than several issues. So much like the dark Arkham Asylum: Living Hell swept his time spent in the "funny animal ghetto" under the carpet, Exiles would allow Slott to stretch his legs creatively. "Quirky" is how I would describe Stuart Immonen's work on Nextwave, and that's exactly what I want here on Exiles: quirky, superhero adventures. No matter the comic book, the art should always match the tone of the writing and vice versa. Who wants to read a funny book with dark, gloomy artwork? When the art matches the tone of the book, a "peanut butter and jelly effect" takes place — two wonderful flavors come together to create something greater. Consider Slott the PB and Immonen the J.
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: José Ladrönn
Despite being Marvel's first modern age comic book, despite the prestige it should have, Fantastic Four flounders. A lot. In order to launch the book to the top of the sales charts, where it deserves to be, it needs two things: epic, sci-fi storytelling and a deep investigation of the titular characters' psyches. Grant Morrison's pedigree (i.e. The Invisibles, New X-Men and Arkham Asylum) sets him firmly atop the short list of capable FF writers. Not only would Morrison's brand of storytelling bring the book back to its sci-fi roots, but Ladrönn's Kirby-inspired pencils would doubly reinforce the "we're going home" message. Together these two would set the stage for Marvel's future.
Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man
Writer: Sean McKeever
Artist: Mike Norton
Spider-Man should always be fun. Even when Peter is down in the dumps, he can slip on the mask, punch Doc Ock in the face and laugh all the way home. That's what makes him special: he enjoys going out there and saving the day while telling lame jokes. Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man would embody that by telling one-off tales set in Peter's early days as the crimson hero. While they would weave into his rich continuity, the book would be geared towards new readers wanting a laugh. Very few creative teams understand young superheroes, especially Spider-Man, the way McKeever and Norton do.
Hero for Hire
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Terry Dodson & Rachel Dodson
Though there's nothing wrong with Marvel's current Heroes for Hire, led by Misty Knight and Colleen Wing, I think it's best if Luke Cage was the star. Thanks to his appearances in Alias, Daredevil, The Pulse and New Avengers (all written by Bendis), Luke Cage has quickly climbed to the top of the cluttered superhero pile. In a few years time he could very easily lead The Avengers, something no one would or could have predicted five years ago. Now that he has a daughter, now that The Avengers have split, Cage needs money to support his family and the best way to earn cold, hard cash is to reopen his business: Hero for Hire. Bendis, whose unquestionable love for Cage has brought him back to the forefront, is the first and last choice for this one. Perhaps best known for their titillating work on Harley Quinn and recent issues of Wonder Woman, the Dodsons are no strangers to illustrating male leads. (Marvel Knights: Spider-Man, anyone?) And just because Cage is the star doesn't mean sexy female bodies would be lacking. Hell, his investigations into the underworld, where sex and drugs are prominent, would strain his marriage with Jessica and provide plenty of drama at home. (Okay, I admit it: I want to see the Dodsons draw Jessica Jones.)
Writer: Chris Carter
Artist: Dave McKean
My thoughts about the Hulk are simple. He doesn't need his own comic book, but, if there is to be a Hulk comic, it should be absolutely bone-chillingly scary. He's not a superhero; he's an uncontrollable monster with limitless strength, yet somewhere deep down lingers the soul of a tortured, broken man. Chris Carter, creator of The X-Files, knows creepy, and scripts dark yet compelling characters. With one foot loosely held in so-called reality, his characters live on the fringe of a sinister, hidden place... like Bruce Banner. Now when I say the character doesn't need his own comic book, what I mean is that he should be one of those characters who pops up from time to time, wrecks some shit and leaves before the dust has settled. Since there's a legacy, since he has a huge fan following, the book stays no matter what I think. However, the idea of Hulk popping up, wrecking shit and leaving is sound, and, thus, the thrust of this incarnation. Readers won't follow Banner / Hulk as he tromps through America's northwest. Instead we'll be guided along by a shady duo working with a shadier organization which aims to rid the world of the creature. It's X-Files and Millennium rolled into one but starring Hulk. Best known for his Sandman covers and work on Arkham Asylum with Grant Morrison, Dave McKean is a master of horrific imagery. Taking the familiar and bending it into the macabre is McKean's specialty, and his artwork would give The Hulk the sinister edge I believe it desperately needs. Outside of the three horror-themed MAX titles I listed in part one of this article, The Hulk would be Marvel's premier horror comic book.
Writer: Paul Jenkins
Artist: Adi Granov
Six-issue limited series
No matter the creative team, the Inhumans should always appear otherworldly. Despite the (mostly) human appearance of the royal family, there's a very alien air about them and that should come into play. They're like the new kid in school; as a whole, they're not welcome because they don't want to be welcomed. These feelings should come across in the writing and art. Jenkins, who made his name on The Inhumans alongside artist Jae Lee, would return to the characters he knows so well. Though no one has picked up the ball and ran with it, Jenkins' 12-issue stretch on The Inhumans made the characters important to the Marvel Universe. Since 1999, since the end of the series, their place in the MU has diminished once more, but within six issues Jenkins would have them back on top again — especially now that there's a cold war brewing between mankind and the Inhumans. Adi Granov is the new Alex Ross. His paintings are crisp, stunning and emotionally charged. But they can also feel cold and sterile like the vastness of space — where the Inhumans just so happen to reside — thus giving off the aforementioned alien air.
Writer: Joe Casey
Artist: John Cassaday
Imagine the corporate world run by not only one of the smartest men alive, but also one of the premier superheroes. That's what we have in Iron Man; that's why Iron Man needs to go beyond punching common thugs and fighting ninjas; that's why we need to see more shady, back-alley deals such as we have in recent issues of Amazing Spider-Man, Thunderbolts and Civil War. Stark's weapons should be used to stop international crimes, reshape war and redefine the world. Tony has this power, but, until Civil War (and a few other brief moments), he was too consumed with playing superhero, with punching bad guys in the chops, to do anything about it. Now that Civil War is in full swing, now that he's a big player in redesigning the world, Iron Man is in the perfect position to become a smart, corporate-themed thriller. With Stark running his company and aiding the government, he wouldn't have time to don the suit. Instead, I see him as a cross between the aged Bruce Wayne from Batman Beyond (mentoring a new Iron Man), Kingpin (making deals with superheroes and villains alike) and Lex Luthor (running a worldwide corporation). (Who the new Iron Man is would be left up to the writer, but I feel it should be a woman and would push for this. "But then," you ask, "shouldn't the book and character be called Iron Woman?" No. Not only does the name have a legacy to continue, both in and outside the comic, but no one would suspect a female as being Iron Man. It's the perfect ruse.) Joe Casey's my man for this project. His 24-issue run on the similarly themed Wildcats Version 3.0 made the decision easy; Casey can do action (Adventures of Superman, G.I. Joe: America's Elite), corporate espionage (Wildcats Version 3.0), sci-fi (Deathlok) and he sticks with projects for the long haul. Finding an artist who can combine all of these elements whilst keeping the slower, human moments grounded is far from easy, but ultimately John Cassaday's name rise to the top. Planetary's sci-fi, conspiracy theory-filled world was deftly crafted by Cassaday, and wouldn't be all that different from what Casey would be writing on Iron Man. And recent issues of Astonishing X-Men, specifically the scenes between Kitty and Peter, are the perfect example of the "slower, human" moments I spoke of a moment ago. This creative team would knock Iron Man out of the park, while continuing to establish him as a good man who sometimes has to go too far.
Marvel Comics Presents
My idea for MCP is simple: two stories per book, one penned by an established writer and illustrated by an up-and-coming artist, the other written by a new writer and drawn by a well-known artist. This take gives the fresh meat a chance to work with big names while exposing them to an audience they might not otherwise receive. Stories written by mainstays would span multiple issues (such as Barry Windsor-Smith's Weapon X), while the Marvel rookies would receive one-issue, 12-page stories.
The Mighty Thor
Writer: Walt Simonson
Artist: Walt Simonson
The best thing for Thor is for the title to exist outside Midgard, such as it did under Walt Simonson's previous run. Mixing gods with superheroes should be reserved for special occasions, such as the rare crossover. For the most part Thor should have high adventures through Asgard and various other godly realms. After all, when he can slay giant trolls and dragons, where's the fun in watching Thor punch Dr. Doom's metal face? Creatively, sometimes you have to look backwards to move a character forward. Thor isn't an easy character to write, no matter which realm he inhabits, and few have truly captured him and Asgard in all their godly glory. Walt Simonson is atop that list for a reason: as a writer he has a firm grasp on Norse mythology, and as an artist he brings the mythical, otherworldly Asgard to life. Simonson doesn't just tell stories featuring gods and monsters; he transports us to Asgard and drops us into the fray.