Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Restarting Timely Comics as a Marvel Imprint

That Marvel Comics is broken cannot be argued. Awful hack writers, ugly art, and horrible rewrites of every character have doomed a once proud stable of characters. The only solution lies in looking backwards. Marvel could dump 10, 20, even 30 years of awful continuity and start over from an earlier point when they were still getting it right.

But I’m proposing something bolder – going back 71 years. In 1943, Timely Comics – the forerunner of Marvel -- was just a small company with a small, but successful output.  This new version of Timely would stay small too.  Relaunching Timely Comics as an imprint of Marvel would allow for a restart and would keep the current mess for those who like messes.

The tone for all the stories is light – violence is like a PG-rated film, sex is limited to kissing with no extreme cheesecake, and stories are meant to be fun and entertaining.  When real issues, like WWII, poverty, or corruption are dealt with, they are handled artfully and tastefully to be as inoffensive as possible. Politically, stories will take a pro-U.S. government stance.  Death is a sobering event, remorse by all heroes, and limited to no more than one death per story. 

I propose 12 titles – 4 solo titles -- Angel Comics, Captain America Comics, Human Torch Comics, Sub-Mariner Comics – and 8 anthology titles – Marvel Mystery Comics, Daring Mystery Comics, Mystic Comics, All-Winners Comics, Young Allies Comics, USA Comics, All-Select Comics, and Comedy Comics. 

All-Select Comics.  An anthology featuring 3 15-page stories of Miss America, Miss Fury, Blue Diamond, and a 9-page Tuk, Caveboy adventure, but with the promise of rotating out characters from other titles, or otherwise unused characters from Timely’s past, based on annual readers’ polls.  The Miss America stories will feature 3 pages of reprinted material, with 12 pages of new material branching out from them.  The Miss Fury stories will feature 7 pages of material from the original comic strip, with 8 pages of new comic book pages taking the stories in different directions. Blue Diamond and Tuk features will be all-new.  Miss America is essentially a half-powered Captain Marvel, able to lift 50 tons.  Blue Diamond has bulletproof skin and can lift 3 tons.

All-Winners Comics. 4 13-page stories featuring the solo heroes, Angel, Captain America, Human Torch, and Sub-Mariner.  Stories may tie into each other and the four heroes may meet in them, but they do not team-up.

Angel Comics.  3 15-page stories starring the Angel and 1 9-page back-up story, usually focused on his supporting cast.  The Angel is strong (lifts 600 lbs.) and a superb athlete and jumper, but not superhuman. His colors are darker (other than the bright red cape) and he adds a domino mask and gloves. He knows some magic and can cast simple charm spells and also wears a magic cape that lets him fly.  His supporting cast is bad girl Lil Lang and good girl FBI special agent Jane Framan.  One story each month takes off from four pages of reprinted material.  In 1942, the Angel will be recruited by the Secret Service. 

Captain America Comics. 3 15-page stories starring Cap and Bucky, and a 1 9-page back-up story of Cap and Bucky out of costume, on Army duty, or Bucky solo. Cap is twice as strong as in modern comics, but not the ‘ultimate fighter’ of modern comics either. Bucky is 13 years old. Supporting cast also includes FBI special agent Betty Ross, Sgt. Mike Duffy, Henry Baldwin (engineer/inventor?), Hawkshaw Brogan (actor- turns soldier?), President Roosevelt, and Tom Peters (fellow soldier).  The stories themselves are a mix of reprint with fresh material. For example, Captain America Comics #1 (new series) would lead off with the first story from Captain America Comics #32, featuring a Golden Age version of the Mole Man, but retaining 6 pages of the original 13-page story with 9 new pages that would take the story in a fresh direction.

Comedy Comics.  A funny animal anthology book, leading with 2 13-page stories featuring Super-Rabbit (superhero/funny animal mash-up), and 3 8-page one-shot stories involving funny animals, plus 1 4-page joke filler.

Daring Mystery Comics.  3 15-page stories featuring the Masked Raider (cowboy genre); amalgamated/new character Dakor Barton, the Invisible Super-Mind (half-robot, half-man, telepathic and super-smart); and Hurricane (the god Mercury as a modern day superhero). A 9-page back-up features the Thunderer, an engineer who designs a costume that amplifies his voice to deafen/disorient selected individuals around him.

Human Torch Comics.  3 15-page stories featuring the Human Torch and Toro, plus 1 9-page back-up story usually focused on Toro solo.  The Human Torch is not yet accepted as equal to a human, and is treated with fear and mistrust wherever he shows his powers. Only Toro, Mr. Harris (a businessman), and Johnson (ex-con, ex-race car driver/the Torch’s chauffeur character) trust and protect the Torch. At least one story a month would be built off of an already-told story, using the first 5 pages of a 12 page story and then adding 10 new pages of different material. 

Marvel Mystery Comics.  3 15-page stories featuring Ka-Zar, Laughing Tiger (amalgamated/new character who wears a tiger costume, laughs when he attacks because he’s slightly off his rocker, and rights wrongs he discovers about as a reporter – also a crack pilot and ex-safari hunter), and Dynamic Man (an android who can lift 6 tons).  A 9-page back-up features the Human Top, an extra light-hearted superhero serial about a guy who can spin real fast.

Mystic Comics.  A slightly more mature anthology with scary visuals, darker themes, the supernatural, up to two deaths per story, and occasional bras showing.  The lead feature is a 15-page serial about the Black Widow (the Golden Age version, woman who is sent back to Earth by the Devil as a supernatural bounty hunter – like the TV show Reaper, but less funny).  Other 15-page features include Dave Blaze and Flexo the Devil (amalgamated/new characters about an amateur conjurer/daredevil who summons a minor devil able to stretch and very resistant to injury), and Blazing Skull (Assistant D.A. who is changed by skull-men to be immune to fire, can start and manipulate fires with his mind, and can lift 1.5 tons). The 9-page back-up feature is about the Black Marvel (Indian who uses his intense physical training to become a superhero).

Sub-Mariner Comics.  3 15-page stories featuring Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner as he explores the world of man, sometimes with his doting cousin Dorma, and usually in the company of his guide and main crush, NY policewoman and tough girl Betty Dean.  Namor is no longer hostile to the surface world by 1943, but he views most of it negatively. Namor doesn't always run around in trunks.  Sometimes he wears surface world clothes and other times he wears his princely ceremonial outfit (complete with cape), but it all depends on Namor's mercurial mood.  Namor is the most powerful being in the world, able to lift 96 tons, which makes him frightening even to the other superheroes. Supporting cast includes now-deposed Emperor Tha-Korr (an isolationist and a bit of a racist who favors the more catfish-like mermen over the more human-looking mermen, still allowed to serve as a figurehead on the Council of Three), Princess Fen (Namor's mother, a real surface world-hater who was briefly allied with the Nazis, and the other member of the Council of Three with Namor and Tha-Korr), Luther Robinson (soldier of fortune and Namor's ally/adversary depending on who's paying him) and Luther's fiancee Lynn Harris (another of Namor's crushes, because Namor is a cad).  Namor's undersea kingdom is Aquaria -- not called Atlantis.  Aquaria is found between Argentina and Antarctica and has 1957-era technology, including nuclear power.  The 9-page backup feature focuses on Dorma, Betty Dean, or Luther.   

USA Comics.  3 15-page stories featuring Electro (the robot “Marvel of the Age”), the Vision (Aarkus, a Martian Manhunter-like character who journeys to our world through smoke), and American Mask (amalgamated/new character who wears a flag mask over a suit while fighting crime and solving mysteries. He works as a reporter by day, but even that is an assumed identity, for he’s really a rich prince from another country. His focus is on detection and mystery).  The 9-page back-up feature is about the Fin, a Navy lieutenant who discovers he’s a mutant (without using that term), can lift 5 tons, survive under enormous pressure, and quickly finds a magic sword.

Young Allies Comics.  Not the Young Allies comic you know, per se.  The first two 15-page stories are indeed about Bucky and Toro teamed up, and may or may not feature less offensive stereotypes of their friends from Young Allies.  These stories may or may not stand alone or continue.  But the third 15-page feature is about Terry Vance, schoolboy sleuth (with a mystery focus, as opposed to the adventure focus of Bucky and Toro).  The 9-page back-up feature stars Young Marvel (a museum mummy turns out to be an alien who abducts Martin Burns, takes him to Jupiter for 4 years, and returns the now-12 year old boy to Earth with the ability to lift 2 tons and with bracers that generate bright flashes of light when touched together). 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Heroes of a Golden Age DC 52 - pt. 3

Just a remainder of heroes remain unexamined in this last installment of a look back at the DC Comics character of 1943 and what could have been done with them to boost their success.

Shining Knight. Always seeming more like a fantasy strip poorly married to the superhero genre, the Shining Knight needs more grounding.  If you're going to keep the winged horse, then the Shining Knight needs a less gaudy outfit -- realistic armor instead of gold chain (the "shining" quality could be from his sword and/or shield) -- a day job (something in the government, like the Training within Industry service, teaching chivalry to common Joes), and a supporting cast of regular people. Even more than Captain America, Shining Knight could really play up the "fish out of water" angle, having to constantly find new ways to adjust his 6th century thinking to the 20th century.

Star-Spangled Kid.  Sylvester needs some of the retconning he would later get, like actual powers instead of just being an athletic kid.  I'd, first, specify that he's 14, so he's more of a young man than a kid. Then I'd have a weaker prototype of Starman's gravity rod wind up in Sylvester's hands, like Roy Thomas would later do with the character. Make his "sidekick" Stripsey a smarter inventor, like was done in the Stars and STRIPE series of the '90s, and have him build an exoskeleton that doubles his normal strength (just not as powerful as the armor the later series would give him).  Like the rest of the Soldiers of Victory, give them government jobs -- in their cases, honorary positions in the Office of Civilian Defense.

Starman. James Robinson showed Starman had, er, star power in the 1990s and much of that could be reapplied to the original Starman. Keep Robinson's innovations of a well-developed cityscape to base his adventures in, a rogues gallery that interacts with him differently than just wanting to fight all the time, the interesting hobby of collecting, and a strong supporting cast -- but without all of Robinson's dark cynicism. Since the original Starman would not have previous incarnations to interact with, play up the scientist angle and give him a group of scientists to hang out with. Maybe he's still a genius, but he didn't invent the gravity rod all on his lonesome. He could also use a love interest.

Three Aces.  From what I gather, this strip was not canceled for lack of quality, but because its creator unfortunately died while serving in WWII.  The story of the American Volunteer Group, pilots "unofficially" aiding China against Japan during the War, is a story modern audiences could use reminding of. "Whistler" Will Saunders, "Gunner" Bill, and "Fog" Fortune could use a dash of humor, some recurring villains, and maybe some of their supporting cast and villains could use magic to make up for the lack of superpowers in this strip. It could be an all-grownups version of Terry and the Pirates.

Vigilante.The modern day cowboy should always have been cool enough to carry his own title. I would only change his sidekick Stuff's name to something less offensive, like maybe Song. Make Song an equal partner (and specify that he's 20 years old). Then I'd soup up his rogues gallery, give Vigilante a love interest, and a job in the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to help give him focus.

Whip.  This one required an awful lot of thought. Substituting a whip for a sword doesn't make this any less of a Zorro clone and taking just a few elements away from the character barely conceals that. I think this is one character that is better served by a complete do-over. Keep the name, location (LA), and the weapon of choice, but make him a soldier of fortune/weapons master who has killed and is looking to redeem himself by acts of good.

Wildcat.  One of those golden age heroes who seems more popular now than he ever was back in the day.  I think what Wildcat was missing back then was more time out of uniform. In the '90s he was shown to be a personable and chummy guy. He should have a larger supporting cast to pal around with when not in costume.

Zatara. Get the man out of the tuxedo. He can wear fine suits, but he needs to look less like a Mandrake clone. His magic needs to be less than all-powerful, too.  We need to see Zatara in danger. International intrigue would be nice. He has a recurring villainess, the Tigress, and that could be spiced up with more tension.