If I Ran Marvel, part four: New Mutants through Young Avengers
By Michael David Sims
09 November 2006 — Ah, part four of what was originally envisioned as a simple one-part response to a piece Mark Millar authored several years ago. No matter the length, intended or actual, here is the last batch of books I'd publish if Marvel fell under my control. Before that, however... rules:
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: C.B. Cebulski
Artist: Ben Oliver
Roughly 15 years from now what remained of the so-called 198 has died off or disappeared, thus rendering the mutant gene extinct. Homo sapiens once again rule the planet... or so they think. To everyone's surprise a new generation of mutants has emerged, and so has the hatred for their kind. Much like the original five were guided and sheltered by Charles Xavier, an ashen man calling himself Christopher Winters takes the teens in and trains them in the use of their powers. What the children soon discover is that Winters is in fact the former Mr. Sinister, and he is responsible for their births. Some of the children will splinter off, fearful of Winters' true motivations, whist others will remain by his side, trusting he truly wants to usher in an age of peace. For a project such as this, one which plays with X-Men lore but isn't afraid to move forward with new ideas, a writer who knows and respects the legacy is needed. C.B. Cebulski's work on X-Men Fairy Tales did exactly that: he took familiar concepts, but bent them in such a way they seemed fresh. And for my money Ben Oliver is the best Ultimate X-Men artist in a long while; there's a sense of reality to his work which grounds the title and makes it accessible to new readers. New Mutants needs exactly that, mostly because these are untrained, teenage mutants we're talking about. Over-buffed, silicone-implanted characters would turnoff the intended audience.
Writer: Dan Slott
Artist: Kazu Kibuishi
As I see it, of all the in-continuity team books, New Warriors should be the most fun. These aren't kids who want to act all serious and grow up to be Avengers; these are kids who want to have fun, look good and kick butt. Some might question putting Slott on two "fun" team titles, but not me. Exiles and New Warriros are two different beasts altogether: Exiles is the "quirky" team book set outside continuity, and New Warriors is the "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll" party book. Two different types of fun, see? Kazu Kibuishi is a virtual unknown to the mainstream comic book world, but his work on Daisy Kutter will change that soon. Set in the New West, Kutter is an action packed, steampunk adventure filled with robotic gunslingers, two-timing gamblers, a train robber turned sheriff and mechs. While not about celebrity, Kutter's sense of danger and adventure is exactly the kind of tone I want present in New Warriors artwork.
Writer: John Ostrander
Artist: Ryan Sook
This books needs to standout from the pack, and the "we're Canadian" / "Wolverine used to be on Alpha Flight" thing just doesn't do it. As a superhero team, Alpha Flight comes off as X-Men Light or Avengers North, both of which do nothing to garner support (RE: sales) for the title. Under writer John Ostrander, I envision Omega Flight as a Suicide Squad-esque comic book (i.e. heroes running dangerous missions for the Canadian government). Some are covert and others are superheroic in nature, but all are suicide runs. No one would be safe. Having written Suicide Squad for 66 issues (and an annual), where he deftly blended superheroics and government / military operations, Ostrander is the first name atop a very short list. Ryan Sook merges a smooth, Adam Hughes-like flavor with a gritty, Mike Mignola twist and comes up with his own distinct, noirish style that's perfect for a superhero / military comic of this nature.
Writer: Jeff Smith
Artist: Takeshi Miyazawa
Runaways isn't about action. It is about moving the characters forward by putting them through one trial after another: someone dies, someone leaves the group, someone falls in love, someone has their heart broken, etc. Character driven stories thrust the book onward and upward. Mixed in with the drama, however, are periods of fun. These are children we're talking about after all; it shouldn't be all doom and gloom. Adventures, laughs and good times should be had. Coupling high drama with thrilling adventures creates memorable moments readers will cherish forever. Finding that balance between somber and lighthearted falls into the lap of Jeff Smith, creator of Bone and master of the very task outlined above. Bone is considered a modern-day epic because of how skillfully Smith wove drama and comedy and adventure and fantasy in and out of his series: for every high there was an equal low. Runaways should be no different. And this being a character driven piece, we need an artist who's capable of twisting ordinary moment into page-turning reading. Takeshi Miyazawa, of Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane fame, does that each and every month in the abovementioned comic book. Mary Jane is about the various relationships and crushes shared by the cast, and though it might sound mundane on paper (or on screen), it works surprisingly well thanks to Miyazawa loving pencils. To the doubters who might suggest Miyazawa is a stranger to action, of which Runaways would have some, I would like to note he is manga-influenced and worked on a WildStorm-published Robotech series just two years ago. Slower moments might be his specialty, but in no way is he limited to them.
The Secret Wars
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist, part one: John Romita, Sr.
Artist, part two: John Romita, Jr.
Artist, part three: Bryan Hitch
Artist, part four: Takeshi Miyazawa
Four six-issue limited series
This mammoth 24-issue maxiseries would outline the secret history of the Marvel Universe. Every so often an event so monumental takes place, the general public cannot learn the truth. While they may know the surface level story — what the government tells the media to feed the masses — the mysterious truth is to remain hidden forever. Until now. Over the past 12 years one intrepid reporter has been closely studying superheroes — the sudden genetic leap, the impossibility of powers birthed from radiation, their meteoric rise to fame, deaths and rebirths, what appears to be agelessness — and he's uncovered the truth by examining several key, yet secret moments in history. Despite his lifelong pursuit of the truth, this is the one lie he'll wish he could relearn. Each of the four, six-issue sections follows the reporter's investigation throughout the years, hence the era-specific artists (Silver Age, Bronze / Dark Age, Modern Age, Manga Age). These four artists each offer something different in terms of storytelling, they represent the changes in art and embody specific comic book ages — all of which are very crucial plot points. Having written the 18-issue Ultimate Galactus trilogy, the conspiracy theory-filled Planetary, the politically charged Transmetropolitan and ultra-battles in The Authority, Warren Ellis would bring together all those elements to craft this hefty monster. In doing so, the scribe would remind us why he's the best when it comes to blending genres and building / revealing stories over the course of extended periods.
SWORD: Guardians of the Galaxy
Writer: Joss Whedon
Artist: Niko Henrichon
The original Guardians of the Galaxy worked in its day (not every series lasts 60-plus issues), but I just don't feel a Marvel book set in an alternate 31st century would work today. (DC's Legion of Super-Heroes, also set in the 31st century, is different — mostly due to its five-decade legacy and ties to Superboy. Guardians of the Galaxy of old lacks both a heritage and tie to a major superhero, hence why I feel it won't work as originally conceived.) Under Joss Whedon, the new series would be set in the present-day with its focus centered on SWORD (Sentient World Observation and Response Department), a SHIELD-like organization created to protect the world from extraterrestrial threats (including alien terrorists). Special Agent Abigail Brand and SWORD, having first appeared in Whedon's initial Astonishing X-Men run, are brimming with potential — as is Marvel's vastly unexplored, yet rich alien universe. Whedon is unquestionably best known for creating Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but we mustn't forget he was also the driving force behind Firefly, making him no stranger to sci-fi action. Pride of Baghdad illustrator Niko Henrichon wields the ability to implement many artistic styles, but what I expect from him on SWORD is a fantastical, Asian sci-fi flair — where everybody's always moving and nobody looks quite human. Rendering distinct aliens and far-off worlds will be made easier by his experience on the aforementioned graphic novel, where it was his task to diversify a pride and bring a broken city to life.
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Marcelo Frusin
Thunderbolts, being a book about redemption, needs to have a certain grittiness to it; these characters aren't angels, nor will they ever be, but not for lack of trying. Though superhero in nature, Thunderbolts, under Bendis and Frusin, would weave in and out of the underbelly of society; these guys aren’t just running from the law and superheroes, but also former bosses and other villains (some super). Bendis might write what seems like a dozen superhero books each month, but his roots are in crime fiction: Powers, Sam and Twitch, Alias, Torso, Jinx and Goldfish might vary in content, but all are noir at their core and written with a wonderful, realistic edge. Along with its sobering starkness, Marcelo Frusin's artwork carries a rather slutty, oily charm; no one is without sin in his comics, their improprieties are worn proudly, and we love his characters for it — especially the truly dastardly ones. As a team of villains on the run à la The Fugitive, every single one of these characters is a dastard, so the creative shoe fits.
Writer: Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray
Artist: Damion Scott
Under my rule Astonishing X-Men would be reserved for slower character moments and exploring the bigotry mutants face everyday, Uncanny X-Men is balls to the wall action. Yes, characters are developed and humans still hate mutants in Uncanny, but I see the title in the same category as Nextwave when it comes to storylines: two or three-issue in length and jam-packed with adrenaline-pumping thrills. As noted when I placed the duo on Amazing Spider-Man, Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray work in such a way to allow the story to dictate the number of issues; they're not the type of writers to fluff out scripts for the sake of trade sales. They get in, tell their tale and move on. Better yet, they enjoy doing it, as evidenced by Claws, Jonah Hex, Daughters of the Dragon and so forth. Uncanny isn't meant to be the party book that is New Warriors, but readers should have a wild ride reading it even when the X-Men are having their asses handed to them. Damion Scott's pencils flow like silk and borrow heavily from colorful animation, however there's a darkness to his characters. Even the fully masked Batgirl dripped sadness when need be, all thanks to how Damion crafted her gestures and posture. That very sleek, animated darkness would keep Uncanny feeling young (despite 40-plus years of continuity), but would also remind everyone that this isn't always a happy book: characters die and lives are shattered on a constant basis. Coupling high action with very stylized, dark artwork would continue the modern tradition of X-titles, but the shorter storylines would make jumping on much easier for the uninitiated.
Though the second volume of What If...? ran for 114 issues (twice as long as the original series), it could have continued to this day if the basic concept had been tweaked. Issues of What If...? often felt rushed, a little too cramped some might say, due to the single-issue format. The series / concept would have benefited greatly from extended storylines, so that's what we have here: if a story can be told in one issue, great! If it needs two, that's what it gets. Three, four, more? Whatever it takes. Stories should determine the number of issues, not vice versa. Two other alterations would come in the form of the creative teams and points of divergence. Let's say Garth Ennis wants to revisit his first Marvel MAX Punisher run. In said storyline Castle was offered a job working for the CIA. Hunting terrorists would have been his new mission. But having been screwed over by the government countless times, Frank's response was simple: "Fuck you." What if he had agreed? Well, there's your story. To make sure the What If...? issues feel like the original story, Ennis would team once again with the artist of that MAX story: Lewis LaRosa. In times when the original creative team cannot be reassembled, artists with similar styles would be chosen. In the end, the story should look and feel as close to the original as possible. What If...? should not be a tryout book. That's MCP. What If...? should be a place where creators can stretch themselves creatively... a place where they can write unused ideas... a place where they can venture down avenues not afforded to them in the core titles. That said, some stories would not be birthed out of Marvel's rich history; some would be more akin to 1602 and DC's Elseworlds, where we might see Peter Parker as a pirate or Logan fighting in the Iroquois Wars. This would allow writers to look beyond the clichéd "someone else was bitten by the spider / became Phoenix / flew the rocket into space" stories we've seen time and time again.
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Artist: Eduardo Risso
Nobody loves the new noir fiction take on X-Factor more than me. Flipping X-characters on their heads, portraying them as detectives for the downtrodden was a stroke of genius on Peter David's part, and it's a damn shame the fifth rule prohibits me from keeping him on X-Factor for the sake of this article. But since I can't break said rule, I need to find another writer who's capable of penning crime fiction starring superheroes. Hmm... let's look at that short list. Yeah. The answer is so obviously Jeph Loeb. Together Batman: The Long Halloween and Batman: Dark Victory solidified Loeb's standing as a crime author; he doesn't say, "Let's throw Batman into a murder mystery." Loeb spins it: "Let's throw a murder mystery into Batman's world." While the former examines how characters react to the story, the latter reshapes the world and characters. Superhero need not be confined to fighting other superpowered beings. Sometimes the simplest murder or thrashing can alter a character, their outlook and surroundings forevermore. So to assume Loeb wouldn't do the same here, by writing mysteries into the X-world, would be foolish. Eduardo Risso is also a no-brainer. If 100 Bullets is any indication, you will not find a better noir artist in the business today. It's the simple: his dark portrayal of society as a whole, especially the seedier corners, illustrates a bleak picture of the world... and that's exactly what noir is all about.
Writer: Adam Beechen
Artist: Phil Hester
If New Warriors is the Lou Costello of the Marvel Universe, Young Avengers must be Bud Abbott: laughs are to be had, but everything in the title is to be played seriously — almost too seriously. These teens are Avengers in training, as funded and overseen by SHIELD. One slip-up and it's all over: the last thing the government needs is another Stamford incident, especially under their watch. So the slightest infraction could derail a once-promising superhero career. The tension and rivalry would be palatable (leading to many grudges and skirmishes), and the possibility of "graduating" to the Avengers lends itself to a rotating cast (ensuring the book never grows stale). By turning Batgirl (Cassandra Cain) into a villain, Adam Beechen will always remain unforgiven in my book. However, if he's done anything right during his tenure on Robin it's the high action and serious tone he's brought to the character and title; Tim Drake might not want to be the next Batman, but he's slowly turning into him. The grim determination Beechen has written into Drake is exactly what I want to see in Young Avengers. Adding Phil Hester to Young Avengers keeps the book youthful (what with his smooth lines) and makes it easily accessible to new readers (such as his work on Irredeemable Ant-Man), but his sharp angles and superb use of shadows redoubles the serious tone of the comic.