The Watchtower

This column is dedicated to the memory of Christopher Reeve. You can read mine and others’ thoughts on a guy who was actually worthy of being called Superman in a real life context in the tribute elsewhere on the site. Please visit the homepage of the Christoper Reeve Paralysis Foundation and learn about how you can help honor his memory; even if you don’t plan on donating any money, at least give it a look and see what you can learn.

Ahh”¦how nice it is to finally be able to settle down comfortably into my familiar chair here at the Watchtower and put together a nice full-length column. No Ultimate Marvel News & Views, no Mean, just me, all of you and the open road”¦yeah.

So first”¦

COMPLETELY OFF-TOPIC TANGENT(s)

-Megan is doing well one month plus into Nazi Theater Camp. I’ve gotten to visit her twice so I’ve been able to keep her up on Teen Titans, but she didn’t really like #16 or the Titans/Legion Special because she didn’t understand the Legion stuff (I’m sure there’s plenty out there who can relate).

-On politics: I’m more involved in actually viewing and following the political process than I have ever been. I’m pretty ignorant when stacked up against, oh, anybody else on this site/empire, but I’m saavy enough to know who I trust and judge what I hear. If you want more in-depth stuff, I recommend Eric S., but here’s my short takes:

1. I went into the election pretty apathetic because I live in Massachusetts and my father actually has worked with John Kerry in the past (my Dad is in Healthcare), and he did not leave the most favorable impression. But then I had to do a report on the upcoming election for an Econ class last year and was pleasantly surprised to learn that Kerry’s economic plan (the most important issue outside of a draft for a 22 year old college graduate) actually made sense! Now after he has come out of two debates seeming intelligent, polished, rational and steadfast in his positions, I’m willing to say I like Kerry professionally even if I don’t care for him personally.

2. Watching Bush is like watching Saturday Night Live; the man is a parody. I love watching CBS because they’ll do the split screens and you can see Bush making those ridiculous “huh? I started a war?” faces of outrage. It was funny to watch him completely lose his cool and then try to win the crowd back with his incredibly fake “calm and in control”¦I’m your buddy” voice.

3. While I found myself siding with Kerry on most issues (I’ll admit, Bush did make some good points in the second debate in particular in regards to Kerry’s economic plan I loved so much), the abortion stuff clinched it for me. I’m pro-choice, but my girlfriend, a devout Catholic is “pro-life for me, but pro-choice for everybody else,” a stance I find admirable and one Kerry seemed to share. But more importantly, Kerry showed respect to both sides while acknowledging the political reality of his situation. I understand that Bush needs to come down pro-life in order to keep his votes, but the way he phrased his answer, the way he basically made anybody who did not agree with him out to be morally bankrupt, that was the moment in which I stopped being impartial in any sense.

4. My favorite moment by far was Bush bringing up the Dred Scott(sp?) case as an example of what kind of Supreme Court Justice he would not approve; I am glad to know we have a President who would not put a pro-slavery justice on the Supreme Court, that is just reassuring in more ways than I could ever express.

For an on target assessment of the Vice Presidential debate, let’s go to my best buddy and senior political correspondent, Jordan Geary:

Both VP candidates suck it long and suck it hard.

I dont know if you guys watched the debates last night”¦but both guys were smart as hell but annoying as in the process.

Cheney: Uncle Fester from the Addams family with a huge hunchback. You can see the little ugly guy ringing the bell at Notre Dame. He is a seriously untrustworthy guy that consistently lies to save his ass. As a big business owner, he is even more of a in that he has the exact personality of Mr. Burns from the Simpsons and that old evil boss from It’s a Wonderful Life. As I was saying to Ben last night, you KNOW that he has a trapdoor at the front of his desk for ‘insolent employees’. I would hate to have to go to his big office just to have that creep fire me. What a .

Edwards: A Tom Cruise-lookin jackass with a televangelist smile and the friggin’ COCKIEST way about him ever. During the debates I wanted to smack the taste out his mouth as he smugly sneered, batted his eyelashes, and cocked his eyebrows up in an effort to say to America, “Ye gods, how did all of you get into my exclusive country club?” He is a colla popper in the first degree, and seriously shot himself in the foot last night by saying, “I dont think gay marriage is a real important topic”. Goodbye votes from gays, bucko. Guess they didn’t teach you about the common man in your fancy yacht club, cuz you sure don’t act like one. You act like an upper class snob. What a .

We need to vote for Michael Pittman.

Thank you, Jordan, you summed it up quite nicely.

-I have three fantasy football teams running at the moment, but one is a keeper league with my friends from home (and I’m a rookie, thus my team blows) and one is a team I co-manage with my Dad against his friends (we’re doing well, but I don’t understand the scoring dynamics that well, though I picked most of the team). The one that matters most is the league I’m in with my friends from school. As many of us have observed, with sixteen teams in the league, this becomes far more a game of luck than skill as if any of your guys go down, good luck finding a replacement because there is just not enough depth. Megan is in the league and had the misfortune of drafting both Stephen Davis and Todd Heap. So in a league plagued by injuries, I’ve managed to do all right with my killer combo of Donovan McNabb at QB and Corey Dillon at running back. My wide receiving corps is actually quite solid as well with Laveranues Coles, Robert Curry and Donald Driver, three dependable guys who are nothing special. My pleasant surprise of the season thus far has been Eric Johnson, the 49ers tight end I drafted as a backup to Dallas Clark who has absolutely exploded. What’s holding me back from being a top of the line team is a complete lack of defense (Cleveland and Tennessee”¦ugh) and no second running back (Moe Williams turned out to be a big disappointment). I just picked up Mike Alstott, but I’m not holding my breath. At the moment, I’m in the middle of the league and will probably continue to do well except on weeks in which McNabb or Dillon have a bye (my two losses thus far).

-After hearing such rave reviews from everybody from my mom to my best friend, I decided to give Desperate Housewives a try while I taped Jack & Bobby (it’s produced by a guy from Melrose Place, one of my favorite shows ever, has two MP alum in Marcia Cross and Doug Savant and also has Teri Hatcher, my favorite Lois Lane ever, which is pretty impressive considering how much I love both Margot Kidder and Erica Durance)”¦I’ll never be making that mistake again; talented cast, interesting premise, no legs to carry it. If you’re not watching Jack & Bobby (in particular if you’re not watching it because the WB does a crappy job promoting it; it’s NOT Dawson’s Creek), please give it a shot, you’ll be glad you did.

And with that”¦let’s see what we’ve got for the column proper today”¦


I actually had a nightmare about the conclusion to Avengers Disassembled last night. No joke. I am not a person who regularly has dreams about comic books, but when I do, it’s at least about the characters, like, essentially I’ll write a story in my head, but no, this was actually about me reading Avengers #503 and it being awful.

Now let me clarify by saying it was not awful in an “oh wow, Bendis blew it” way, it was awful in a weird mish mash, nothing makes sense dream kind of way. The art was one third John Romita Jr., one third Alex Ross painted art, and one third Twisted Toyfare Theater (I kid you not, there was in fact a moment where there was an ad for a “All New Scott ‘Slim’ Summers Cyclops” figure that was just a really skinny version of Cyclops); I’d like to apologize to all three of these talented gentlemen/entities for the fact that they were in my nightmare.

Anyhow, I don’t remember much of the story other than that it ended with the X-Men replacing the Avengers. Not all the X-Men joining the Avengers, just them absorbing the team and the book, like a financial merger.

Weird.

This is really neither here nor there, I was going to write this column before I had this dream, but it kind of hammered the point home as to why.

I decided I’ve heard enough negativity about the Avengers, whom I have enjoyed in just about all of their various incarnations. To distract myself from the end of yet another era, I decided I’d do a multi-part column on the full membership to date of the Marvel A-Team, ably assisted by visual aids from my favorite non-English language site, Micro Heros (apologies in advance for any red x’s in place of pics, I’m still working the kinks out). I will share with you the good, the bad and the absurd on each and every person/mutant/synthezoid to have heeded the call “Avengers Assemble!” Won’t that be fun? I hope so, because there are over fifty of these guys and if it sucks I’m gonna be burnt out before I get to Stingray, and that is simply not acceptable”¦


ANT-MAN/GIANT MAN/GOLIATH/YELLOWJACKET/DR. PYM

Oy”¦whether I go alphabetically or chronologically, there’s just no way around this one”¦ok, let’s go (for the record, this entry will be probably be longer than every other one combined).

In the beginning, Hank Pym had the powers of shrinking and talking to ants”¦both of which more or less suck. Over at DC, they had a shrinking super hero called The Atom and compensated by making him a genius, thus making it reasonable that the Justice League would have a use for him (of course he also does that cool “go inside your brain through your ear” thing), thus, Pym got to be a genius too”¦except the Avengers already had a cooler genius in Tony Stark aka Iron Man, so Ant-Man was pretty redundant before issue number one even concluded. So they changed him to Giant Man and gave him the power to get really big”¦now let’s stop there for a second, because I’ve always found growing to be a fundamentally stupid power, whether it was Giant Man, Colossal Boy or whoever. The bigger you are the more of a target you present, while the only real advantage is that you get slightly stronger”¦except anybody else with super strength (Thor, Superboy, whoever) is still way stronger. So basically, Giant Man was a guy who wasn’t as strong as Thor or Wonder Man but could stand in front of everybody and get hit with a ray blast”¦thus he (again, like every other growing guy/girl in history) got relegated to carrying everybody else around and then getting taken out first in a fight to show what a bad ass the bad guy was.

Even when the other “big guns” left and Pym decided to become Goliath, people still didn’t care about him, they cared about his girlfriend The Wasp, they cared about Hawkeye, they cared about The Vision, they cared about the Black Panther”¦but not Pym.

So having tried everything (well, two things), Marvel threw up their hands and said “well, let’s just make him nuts” and they did. Pym became Yellowjacket and started a long trend of being mentally unstable to compensate for being completely uninteresting.

But eventually being crazy wasn’t enough so Jim Shooter had Pym do the unthinkable: he hit his wife, the Wasp, something no super hero would ever do.

And that was it.

That was the end of Hank Pym as a viable super hero. Once a guy hits his wife, you don’t want to see him as a good guy anymore, that’s all there is to it. There were still stories to be told with the character: he helped the West Coast Avengers as Dr. Pym and reconciled with Wasp as friends, and that was cool; it showed that as low as you go, you can always pull yourself back up, to an extent. If they had left well enough alone, let Pym remain a supporting character, helping out from time to time, coming to reunions, being friends with Jan (the Wasp), being jealous when she had a new man in her life”¦all fine (also solves that pesky lame and useless powers problem), but there were two things nobody wanted to see: Hank back with The Wasp and Hank back as a full time Avenger.

But John Byrne decided Hank and Jan belonged together; worse than that, he began a longstanding Avengers writer tradition of ignoring the stories that had come before when it came to Hank Pym.

Then Bob Harras decided Hank should be an Avenger again, as Giant Man”¦argh.

Kurt Busiek and Geoff Johns told some good stories about Hank and his insecurities (Harras tried to blame the whole situation away on Kang trying to brainwash Hank, and that went over real well), but they never broke Hank & Jan back up or tried to ease Hank back into a life of research away from the Avengers (Busiek gave it a bit of a go, but the problem was The Wasp was a cool character and Hank was her baggage).

As much as I bitch about Chuck Austen or Brian Michael Bendis about ignoring the resolution stories about Hank and the abuse issue, but I can see their problem in that it’s just an 800-pound gorilla in the room that you can’t ignore.

Bottom line: Hank Pym was never a great character and the abuse thing was probably the most interesting thing ever done with him, but later writers should have known well enough to retire the poor guy and leave him alone.

But my favorite Hank Pym costume ever”¦


ANT-MAN II

Scott Lang was a very cool character with an interesting background that made a great living as a fringe character that would have small stints in various titles. He’s a former petty crook trying to do the redemption thing and he’s also a single father, and every writer that has ever written him has always made him seem like a genuinely nice guy saddled with some tough circumstances, but he bears it with a grin. He was neat as a friend to Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne after their divorce, cool as a temporary replacement for Reed Richards in the Fantastic Four when he was “dead” and made sense as a member of the short lived Heroes For Hire team.

But as an Avenger? Well”¦he seemed kind of like a JV guy called up to varsity.

Of course that can make for an interesting story (certainly did with Justice), but on a team that already had two people who could shrink/talk to ants and who also possessed intellectual and leadership skills (whereas Scott knew how to pick locks and stuff), he was pretty redundant.

Geoff Johns did some great character stories with Scott Lang, again he had a good voice, and he was a nice point of view character for readers, but if you were trying to take the title seriously, you had to wonder why the heck he was there.

So from the minute Brian Michael Bendis announced he was going to be killing Avengers, I think anybody who had read the title for more than five minutes immediately filed Scott under “E” for expendable.

What happened to his daughter Cassie though? I say have Hank Pym retire and go raise her and NEVER BE SEEN AGAIN.

And his helmet redesign by Olivier Coipel was dumb”¦how can he see?!


BEAST

If you think I’ve suddenly become demoralized after having to write about the two Ant-Men and decided to switch mid-column to an X-Men retrospective, you are sadly mistaken, for while he is quite a mutant, Henry McCoy truly came into his own as an Avenger.

In fact, many would argue that Beast was cooler in Avengers than in X-Men”¦and they may be right.

I love Beast as an X-Man (particularly at the moment under the tender loving care of Joss Whedon) but he brought so much to the table as an Avenger. When he first joined the team, he was just the X-Men’s big guy who used big words, but Avengers gave him an opportunity to strut his stuff. He’d just turned furry, so he had to deal with that, but rather than wallow in despair, he made the most of it, having a blast. And since the Avengers, unlike the X-Men, already had enough brains, Beast didn’t have to be just the smart guy (though he was when needed), he got to be the class clown.

Beast and Wonder Man also got to be the Marvel Universe equivalent of the guys on Chips (Erik Estrada and the other dude) as the ultimate feel good buddy team. When the world was falling apart and tragedy was everywhere, it was nice to see Hank and Simon poking fun at the whole thing and figuring out where they were going to get drinks and score chicks after they beat Ultron again (they Blue Beetle & Booster Gold about ten years early).

Much as I love angst (and who doesn’t), it’s always nice to see super heroes smiling and having a blast once in awhile, and when it came to Beast as an Avenger, it was all about having the most fun job in the world and loving every second of it.


THE BLACK KNIGHT

Let me make something very clear: the Avengers would never just let some dude with a sword on a team with the likes of Thor and Gilgamesh (except for, um, Swordsman)”¦no, they brought Dane Whitman on board because of his way with the ladies, dude. You think you’re gonna beat the Masters of Evil with a cursed ebony blade or an energy sword? Uh uh”¦but if you need the Enchantress talked down from destroying Earth, BK’s your man.

Back in the old days, he was just yet another scientist who had a neat sword and a flying horse. He saved the Avengers from the Grandmaster (I think) because of some stipulation that only somebody who was not an Avenger could save the day; afterwards they promptly made him an Avenger eliminating the one thing that made him remotely useful.

They never actually let him tag along for more than a mission until he whined a lot so they made him a regular member and he mooned after the Wasp a lot then got his ass kicked by the Masters of Evil and left the team in shame (or something).

Then Bob Harras started writing the book in the 90s and since it was the 90s every book needed a badass loner with a stubble and long hair and a trenchcoat who got all the ladies (see Gambit, Arsenal, various Image characters, etc.). Rather than create a new character, Harras figured he’d take an Avenger with no personality anybody really cared about and tack this template on to him. Enter”¦

Suddenly every girl on the team was lusting after ol’ Dane and he was being all dark and angsty while single-handedly dispatching of menace after menace after the rest of the team had fallen with an f’n energy blade! This was generally referred to as the worst period in the history of the Avengers and Black Knight was the poster child for it. His saga ended with him getting shipped off to the Ultraverse (yikes) and then coming back and having little runs with Heroes For Hire and Excalibur but never seeing his 90s spotlight status again (he would be a great E! True Hollywood Story).

The other thing about the Black Knight (before he became Don Johnson with a sword) was that this nutty curse of his Ebony Blade afflicted him about eighty five times. The short hand version is that whenever writers had nothing for him (which was a lot) they had him (or somebody else) kill somebody with his sword and he’d get filled with this crazy bloodlust and then turn to stone; it happened many times. Eventually he wised up and ditched the damn sword and his old sidekick found it and became the villainous Bloodwraith.

The funny thing? I actually like The Black Knight a lot, but gosh darn it, he’s so easy to mock I can’t help myself.


BLACK PANTHER

The first important African-American character of the Silver Age is also one of the most badass characters of all time. T’Challa is all the cool stuff about Aquaman (sometimes surly, sometimes debonair prince) without any of the sucky stuff (you know what I’m talking about). He’s also got one of the simplest yet coolest costumes of all time; artists must have loved the fact that you essentially don’t have to do any work to make the Black Panther look cool.

He was generally a pretty nice guy when it came to the Avengers, and that makes it even cooler that Christopher Priest pulled a swerve in the longest running series to date featuring BP and revealed that he only joined the team to spy on them and make sure they weren’t a threat to Wakanda.

Remind you of a certain pointy-eared JLA member? It should; in many ways T’Challa is the Avengers’ Batman, but he’s also got sides and depth to him that make even Bats go “damn.” From his unwavering loyalty to his kingdom and the headaches he gets from ruling it to the time he has spent in America trying to understand the plight of the urban black man, there is so much to this guy that is cool.

The funny thing is that given all that it seems like he should be the last guy who would join a team, he seems like a natural loner (like Batman)”¦which is why he’s so cool as an Avenger.

Geoff Johns was the first to use the “new” post-Priest Black Panther as an Avenger and the results rocked.

And if that’s not enough for you: he banged Storm before anybody else.

Black Panther rules.


BLACK WIDOW

Another fantastic character who belonged nowhere near the Avengers, but since it was the Harras era, not only was she a member, defying all laws of logic and sense, she was the chairperson (on a team that already included Captain America, no less).

Natasha is a fun, sexy character who skirts the edge of the law. Bendis’ recent Daredevil arc was spot on in showing why the character is so great: she’s the bad girl you can’t help but love.

She’s a former KGB spy who specializes in seduction and gets a rush off wearing skintight outfits and poisoning men.

What about this screams “responsible leader?”

Of course the minute Marvel decided to make Avengers respectable again with Busiek & Perez, Widow was out, having disbanded the team after all the real Avengers went to Heroes Reborn; she must thank Roger Stern every day for Dr. Druid’s tenure with the team so she won’t be forever remembered as the worst chairperson of all time.

It might have been fun to see how the Widow fit in on the team with people distrusting her and her trying to make good (and flirting left and right in the process), but in order to make readers buy her as leader, Harras stripped away all her good qualities and just made her bland. Her powers were nothing special and her personality was supposed to be her selling point; as a lifetime agent rather than control person, she was used to taking orders (and defying them more often than not), not giving them.

Great character, waste of an Avenger; read anything that came before or after her tenure with the team.


I’m going to end there because Captain America should be the next character and I want to start a column with him, not finish one. If you’ve got anything to say, whether you agree that the Black Panther rocks or if you’re a rabid Black Knight fan who’d like to yell at me, e-mail me or, better yet, visit my thread at the forum.

I’m having fun with this, so I’ll keep it going, if not next week than whenever I don’t have something else to write about.

In the mean time, thanks for reading.