What If Musings: A Team Like No Other

August 9th, 2008 Posted by Gavok

I just got back from vacation and it’s been one shitty day. I had to get up early for my first flight, which was at 7 am. That flight was spent listening to a whining cat that its owner brought aboard. Being that I went from Phoenix to Atlanta, I lost 3 hours. My connecting flight got delayed to hell and I spent about six hours in the airport, waiting. I finished reading every trade I brought with me for the trip (god, why didn’t I read Kaminski’s Iron Man: War Machine sooner?). My iPod batteries were running low. I had lots of time on my hands and I was insanely bored.

This is just my explanation and warning for the following concept.

Right now, Marvel has several superhero teams fighting underground, trying to do right while evading authority. The more apparent of the two are Luke Cage’s Secret Avengers and Nick Fury’s Howling Commandos. So that got me thinking of what it would be like if these two underground hero leader types were to have joined together earlier on.

The following two pages are from The Pulse #9, by Bendis. It takes place as a conclusion to Secret War. Luke Cage was one of several heroes recruited to take part in what became a terrorist act in Latveria, only to be mind-wiped of his experience and attacked a year later for his actions. Here, his pregnant girlfriend Jessica Jones and his partner Iron Fist have him in held up in Night Nurse’s secret hospital as a hologram of Nick Fury sends his final message.

We know how things go from here. But I’m thinking of a tangent reality from this scene. I’m wondering…

What If Nick Fury Founded the Secret Avengers?

Bear with me for a second because this is either really great or really, really stupid.

Before Jessica can go on her tirade, Luke speaks up. This is how Fury responds to Cage being attacked? By running away and saving his own skin? Cage can handle himself, but he’ll be damned if his unborn child is going to be a supervillain target for reasons he can’t even remember. If Fury’s going underground, Cage and Jessica are going with him.

Iron Fist, being loyal to Luke, demands to join too. Fury caves and the four of them go on the run together until this blows over. Since they’re already going off the radar, Luke visits Matt Murdock, whose troubles as Daredevil are getting worse and worse every day. Luke convinces Matt to leave his life behind and join them, as they help people out while staying away from the authorities.

So who are our heroes, again?

Nick Fury. Cigar-chomping (well, not exactly anymore) leader and master strategist.

Luke Cage. Imposing and unnaturally strong black man.

Matt Murdock. Handsome. Persuasive. Sneaky. Always scoring hot women wherever he goes.

Danny Rand. The space cadet, filling in as comic relief. Acts to play off of and regularly annoy Cage.

Jessica Jones. Spirited token female. Former reporter. Doesn’t really do anything.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this:

“In 2004, a crack superhero team was attacked for a crime they didn’t remember committing. These men promptly escaped to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire the Howling Commandos.”

Come on. Like you wouldn’t read the shit out of that comic.

“I ain’t flyin’ on Danny’s plane! Fool’s crazier than Murdock!”

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4thletter of July: Luke Cage is the American Dream

July 4th, 2008 Posted by david brothers

It’s that time of year again, when people barbecue, swim in pools, chill with family, and generally have a good time. I’m stuck in faux-sunny San Francisco for the weekend, though, so all of y’all can eat it. Would it kill global warming to speed up a little bit? I don’t even sweat on hot days here.

Anyway, though, I had a pretty well received post about Captain America and America last year. It’s 2008 now. I’m older, wiser, and meaner. Why not give it another go, yeah?

I’ve been feeling a little nasty lately. Thinking about movies, news, music, and politics. Even comics, man. The presidential race turned into some ugly “My -ism is worse than yours” race, and I’m honestly tired of hearing about how Obama is going to change everything ever, particularly when he took father’s day to air out fathers, but whatever whatever. My point is that I’ve been waiting for an excuse to bite a face. So, you’ll have to pardon any cynicism that leaks through.

You could say that Captain America represents the American Dream. I say American Dream, but if you think about it, it’s really the ideal. Tolerance, perspective, patience, and so on. He thinks before he acts and he does his best to do right. He believes in his country and her people and trusts them to make the right choice. He chooses to lead by example.

If Captain America represents the American Ideal, Luke Cage is living proof that the dream is a valid possibility.

Carl Lucas is a victim of America. He grew up poor in Harlem, had no way out, and ended up running with a fake comic book gang. His childhood is a slideshow of group homes and juvie. He wises up when he gets grown and tries to go legit. His best friend, Stryker, stays dirty, though. Lucas makes the mistake of being the guy his best friend’s ex-girlfriend runs to, which angers Stryker. Stryker frames him, snitches, and Lucas goes to jail in Georgia for some reason.

In prison, Lucas is broken and angry. He doesn’t care about anything, basically, fights constantly, and eventually is used as a guinea pig for a new variant of the Super Soldier formula. A vengeful security guard sabotages the experiment, accidentally granting Cage enhanced strength and hard skin, and Cage escapes in the confusion. He goes back to New York and starts a new life as Luke Cage, hero for hire. He rebuilds his social circle, finds new love, and gets on with life.

Cage was put through a lot, most of it through no fault of his own.

Nine times out of ten, seems like, most Cage talk tends to be about how he once flew to Latveria to get two hundred bucks from Doom, tiaras, ha ha blaxploitation, and jokes about anal sex. He’s kind of a punchline, but I don’t think people realize how far he’s come.

Cage went from the kind of vaguely-insulting, heart-in-the-right-place black character that was popular back then (and kind of still is now) to the guy who took Captain America’s spot in the Avengers. I’m getting ahead of myself, though.

Part of the American Dream is that frontiersman, wild west work ethic. Staking your claim and all that. You take what’s yours and you refine it, beat it into shape, and make it work how it’s supposed to. Cage applied this to real life. He’s a hero for hire, yes, but that doesn’t mean he won’t work pro bono. There’s a scene in a Daredevil comic where Cage proves this. Luke tells Matt to use his senses to scan the building. Is there anyone selling drugs, being violent, or doing crime in his building? No. Why? ’cause Cage laid down the law.

There’s a line from a rap song that goes “Handle your business before your business handles you.” You can sit and wait for people to fix something for you and get screwed over in the process, or you can fix it yourself. Cage fixed it himself. He handled his business. He did the right thing.

This is something that most heroes do not do. They don’t take a firm hand in policing their area. They just kinda mill around and look for crime, or in Superman’s case, actively ignore things sometimes in the name of “letting people govern themselves.” The problem is, most people aren’t going to govern themselves. Some people do not have that choice or made the wrong choice.

Cage’s method of operating is very similar to how Frank Miller approaches Batman. It’s kind of a benevolent dictator move– he knows what’s right, and he’s going to implement it and you’re gonna benefit, whether you like it or not. He uses the Avengers to clean up a single neighborhood. He believes that heroes should be constantly making a difference, not just fighting supervillains. Superheroes should be visible and lead by example. This isn’t just about fighting crime– it’s about making the world better.

He eventually marries Jessica Jones after the birth of their daughter, Danielle. He begins to take heroing even more seriously after that. What’s the point of having powers if you aren’t going to leave the world a better place? What’s the point of having principles if you aren’t going to stick with them?

Why would you want your daughter to grow up thinking that you’re a coward?

This is part of why his split from Tony Stark is so believable. He thinks that Tony made the wrong choice. He can’t live with going along with that choice if it’s the wrong one, so he chooses to play outlaw instead. He’s doing it for the future and he’s doing it for his daughter.

So, Cage is out there every day, putting in work and doing the best he can. The only way to make it in America, for most people anyway, is through blood, sweat, and tears. You have to get dirty.

Cage is getting dirty. In the process, he’s risen above his beginnings, he’s cultivated a circle of loyal friends, he’s protecting his neighborhood, and he’s providing for his family.

Why is all of this remarkable? Why isn’t it just standard issue? Why should Cage be admired for doing the right thing?

(this is where the cynicism hits, y’all)

The thing about America is that she eats her young. It was founded on the idea of freedom, civil liberties, and making your own way in life. In reality, it didn’t even begin to seriously approach those lofty goals until the mid-1900s, almost two hundred years after it was founded. Even then, the political equivalent of baby steps were what happened, not long strides. It still isn’t 100%.

You’re on your own in America, a lot of the times. Look at the prisons, poverty, and education. You think everyone in prison is there because they’re a bad person? No, I’m willing to bet that a significant number are there because they didn’t have any other choice, so they picked up that gun or bat or kilo and went to work.

Think about it. Say you’ve got a family and your kid won’t stop crying because she’s hungry. You can either hope for a call back from that temp agency or you can hit the corner for a day or two and come home with a roll of twenties.

Now, keep thinking. What kind of a world is this where you have to seriously contemplate the idea of losing your family versus poisoning someone else’s? Could you make that choice? Is it right that you should ever have to make that choice?

This is what I mean. The American Dream should be a reality, but it is still a pipe dream for a lot of people. It shouldn’t be– but it is.

But, that’s life, right?

Well, yeah, it’s harsh, but that’s life. Life isn’t fair. America is not, and has never been, fair. Will it one day be fair? I’d like to think so. Will I see it? Probably not. But, that’s no excuse not to try and do right and behave as if it is.

This is why I love Cage so much. He has every reason to be bitter, full of hate, and furious at the life he’s found himself in. Instead, though, he’s just living his life, trying to do right, and leave it better for the next generation.

That, to me, is the only proper execution of the American Dream. You may feel like Atlas with the weight of the heavens on your shoulders, but your knees don’t buckle and your spine doesn’t bend. When America hurts you, you remind it that throwing a punch is an invitation to catch one right back.

Sometimes, when you love America, you have to fight America. Sometimes, you have to even dislike America, even though you love it.

Cage gets it right. He proves that the Dream exists. You just have to be willing to fight for it.

Happy 4th.

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Weekly reviews – 02/14/08

February 14th, 2008 Posted by Hoatzin

I read some comics and I review them here. Just click “Read the rest of this entry” to see them. I know you’re all very excited. Happy Valentines Day!

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Joe Q: Villain or Menace?

June 14th, 2007 Posted by david brothers

I’ve been putting out vinyl since ’93 and never looked back once
And y’all trying to chase me
You don’t innovate because you can’t innovate
It’s not a choice despite what you might tell your boys
Keep your identity crisis under the table
I always knew who I was and I’ll always be more famous

-El-P, “We’re Famous”

“What the fuck is DC anyway?” Mr. Quesada said, stoking the fires. “They’d be better off calling it AOL Comics. At least people know what AOL is. I mean, they have Batman and Superman, and they don’t know what to do with them. That’s like being a porn star with the biggest dick and you can’t get it up. What the fuck?” (Paul Levitz, DC’s president and publisher, declined to comment for this story through a spokesperson.)
The Observer, 04/28/02

Joe Quesada, EiC of Marvel Comics, gets a lot of crap.

To be honest, a lot of it is deserved. Marvel has done some bone-headed stuff under his rule. Losing Grant Morrison, the Heroes for Hire thing, giving Greg Land work, almost firing Mark Waid, and so on. I’m sure you have a laundry list of reasons to dislike the dude. He’s got a big mouth, too, and doesn’t hesitate to open it.

But, and here is the rub– it’s his fault that comics are so good right now. Let me explain.

There is a philosophy that a president, I think it was President Rickard, used to have. Okay, it was Truman and I was reaching way too hard for the Prez Rickard joke. Anyway, it’s “The buck stops here.” In other words, if you’re the boss, all the bad crap that happens is your fault, whether you had a direct hand in it or not. It’s a way of taking responsibility for things that your organization does. It’s also a way of blaming the head guy in charge for everything and anything.

Turn that around, though. Doesn’t the head guy in charge deserve some credit for the good things, too? I think so.

Joey da Q is not the best guy around, I won’t deny that. Marvel is hardly perfect. But, he’s trying, and I can respect that. Obviously, the credit for these decisions should be shared with his editors, the creators, Bill Jemas, and Dan Buckley, but Joe Q should get a slice of that, as well.

This is pretty long, and I cover a lot of stuff, from comics to sex to race to dissing the competition, so click through.
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The Top 100 What If Countdown: Part 2

August 7th, 2006 Posted by Gavok

When it comes to doing countdowns of the best What If issue, I’m not the first. A couple years ago, Wizard magazine had their own top ten list. Here is their version:

10) What If Captain America Were Revived Today? (volume 1)
9) What If the Beast Continued to Mutate?
8) What If the X-Men Lost Inferno?
7) What If the Fantastic Four Had Not Gained Their Superpowers?
6) What If Pheonix Had Not Died? (volume 1)
5) Humor issue (volume 1)
4) What If Daredevil Killed the Kingpin?
3) What If the Hulk Went Berserk?
2) What If Conan the Barbarian Were Stranded in the 20th Century?
1) What If the Alien Costume Had Possessed Spider-Man?

Does this list coincide with my list? Not very much. Only two of those issues make it into my top ten. Three of them aren’t even on my list in the first place (I already talked about why #7 sucked). One of them is in this article.

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The Top 100 What If Countdown: Part 1

August 3rd, 2006 Posted by Gavok

It’s time to begin. Er… now that I’ve done two prelude articles before starting this off, I now realize that I don’t have anything to say for an intro. I could always go over the history of the series. Yeah, let’s do that.

What If first started in 1977 with the issue What If Spider-Man Had Joined the Fantastic Four?, based on the very first issue of Amazing Spider-Man. The series lasted for seven years until ending with issue #47, What If Loki Had Found the Hammer of Thor? For the most part, the quality remained about the same.

Several years after cancellation, a special was released called What If Iron Man Had Been a Traitor? While not exactly a classic, it seemed to have helped bring the rebirth of the series as volume 2 started the very next year, 1989. Volume 2 followed the same structure of the first volume: Uatu the Watcher would go on a monologue about who he is and what he does, followed by spelling out just what the issue’s story is about. Like I mentioned a couple articles back, this is a good way to learn Marvel history. Me, I just found out Shang Chi’s backstory days ago. Before that all I knew about him was that he’s some martial artist guy without fear and his name makes him sound like Shang Tsung and Quan Chi from Mortal Kombat did the Fusion Dance.

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