Heart and soul. I was driving home from Hell…er…work, and that classic Huey Lewis and the News number came on. Holy Aunt May, I just realized how long ago Huey recorded that — damn I’m gettin’ old. But it got me thinking, which is always dangerous. What are the key ingredients to a good, entertaining super-team? Every team has tactical strengths. There’s a leader, a couple of heavy hitters, a couple of ranged attackers, someone with defensive or healing abilities and often a wildcard component that writers play off of to boost tension. But in any good, well-written, entertaining team book there’s always one character that really holds everything together. He or she can hold any of the tactical roles, but are almost irreplaceable as the moral, spiritual linchpin. Heart and soul. So who are they?
For me, the first one that comes to mind is Colossus of the X-Men. Any X-Men team will likely have a Summers brother (or son in Cable) for leadership, an energy wielder or two, a strong guy, like one of the Proudstars or Juggernaut or even…sorry for the this…Strong Guy, a defensive character like Shadowcat and ALL of the teams will have the penultimate wildcard of the Marvel Universe, Wolverine. But whichever team as Colossus is the one I’m drawn to. His powers are pretty basic. He can take a licking and he possesses high-end strength levels. I honestly don’t care about his powers. He could be one of the depowered mutants after House of M and be nothing more than a large Russian painter and I’d still have him on the team. It’s hard to quantify. He’s sometimes humorous in his naivete, he’s the most even tempered of anyone in the Mansion this side of Xavier, and he’s one of the few, it seems, who can stand up to Wolverine when necessary without getting physical. Some of the stories I remember most revolve around him. I think of all the mutants in the Marvel Universe, Colossus comes off as the most human in terms of traits you’d want in our race. When they killed him, they killed my interest in the X-Men. When they brought him back, well, unfortunately I just can’t find enough other things to like about the X-Universe to stick with Astonishing. I love Joss Whedon’s Firefly mythos, but Ord the generic alien and the third or fourth sentient Cerebro idea just fell flat. If Colossus had been prisoner of someone interesting — say, Sinister — I’d have been much happier. But welcome back, Pete, nonetheless.
My beloved Thunderbolts have been gutted by the Civil War/Initiative events, despite Warren Ellis’ writing, which I usually enjoy. I don’t care for the Suicide Squad version of the Thunderbolts, but I certainly don’t want the Fight Club version either. I want Jolt back. She offered much more than combat-useful superpowers. Jolt was the moral compass for a team of former and mostly B-List supervillains. When the likes of Moonstone or Zemo began to creep back towards their base instincts, she’s the one who rallied the troops into doing the right thing. When Techno was up to something sneaky, it was Jolt who usually called him on it. I believe if it wasn’t for Jolt, Songbird would not have matured into the leadership roll Fabian Nicieza built her up to. For all my bitching about Fabian in this column, I think his handling of Songbird has been one of his better contributions to the Marvel Universe. I’d have no trouble seeing Songbird and/or Jolt joining the Avengers, once the next big event comes through and wipes away the whole Civil War mess. I even have a name in mind for that one — Marvel Disassembled: The House of Jeff. Humble, ain’t I?
You could probably make cases for a number of Justice Leaguers. My pick would probably be Wonder Woman, though Supes, Bats or even perhaps Green Arrow (what? he’s got heart, buried under that macho Robin Hood exterior…man that sounds like something Manolis would say) could be it too. I know the Martian Manhunter has been on most of the various League incarnations, but he doesn’t seem, to me, to be either the heart or soul. He doesn’t have Jolt’s boundless enthusiasm or Colossus moral compass. I still think he’d be a great villain. But I think the heart and soul of the whole DC Universe (or is it “Multiverse” now?) is the surviving original Justice Society members. Alan Scott probably leads that pack, but Jay Garrick and Ted Grant are right there too. Somebody ought to write an Elseworlds story where these guys become “The Rat Pack” like Sinatra, Davis and Martin. Alan has a nobility that few characters can match, mixed with just enough humility to avoid falling victim to hubris. Remember that show “My Two Dads” back in the 80s? If Alan is the stern but fair father figure, Jay is the more easy going confidant. I’ve made mention of my believe that Wally West took too long to grow out of the shadow of Barry Allen. I think, from the point of view of the stories Mark Waid told, that Jay Garrick was hugely instrumental in that maturation process. The Wildcat, Ted Grant, would be the tough guy uncle of the family. The one that not only teaches you how to fight but when and why. I know retcons are largely met with a collective groan by the readers, but the return of the original Justice Society heroes in Zero Hour was, for me, the high-water mark of DC comics since that point. After all, how can you make a case for Batman being the heart and soul of the Justice League when he obviously spends so much time planning ways to neutralize his “friends”? And even Batman reveres Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern.
And there are others, certainly. I’d say Ben Grimm of the Fantastic Four is the glue that holds them together. Cyborg is probably the man for the Titans, and Dick Grayson or Tim Drake have been the hearts of the Batbooks at various times. I think this is why I have such a hard time with the Bendis and Co. Avengers stuff right now. I don’t see the heart or soul of either team. Cap would have been it, but he’s “dead.” The pro-Iron Man bunch is all pretty much unlikable. I can’t see why the hero community wouldn’t launch Tony’s totalitarian ass into space like they did the Hulk, with just alcohol and Hostess products for the trip. The “Secret” Avengers have plenty of likable characters, but even with Spidey there I don’t have a feel for the heart of the team. Dr. Strange is too aloof, Wolverine is too Wolverine, Hawkeye should still be dead, and Iron Fist, while always interesting to me and getting better all the time, still isn’t quite ready for the role. Spider-man still feels like a guest star and just doesn’t have the team player vibe about him yet. Spider Woman could turn out to be a traitor at any moment. And that leaves Luke Cage, the superhero formerly known as Power Man. He might be it. He’s the closest to it at this point anyway. Because of all the Avengers on either team, he seems the most dedicated to his own code. Despite a wife and daughter (it’s a daughter, right? I’m extremely tired as I write this and I’ve forgotten) he still fights for what he believes in. He didn’t go to Canada, he won’t sign the Registration Act, and he won’t be swayed by the likes of Stark and his mutts in the Avengers. Hell, I’ll go ahead and call Cage the heart of the Avengers — calling him the soul of the team as the token black man would just sound trite — and go so far as to say if there was a poll as to whom should wear the uniform of Captain America if not the original, I say put the Stars and Stripes and Shield on Luke Cage. The man needs a costume makeover anyway. But then again, so does most of the Marvel Universe, as long as the next Spider Costume has the right number of limbs.
Just a quick programming note: the Nightmare will likely be down for maintenance next week. Not the column or site — ME!! But hopefully my jaw will heal up and be perfect by Thanksgiving and I can gobble turkey, green beans, corn, cranberry sauce, stuffing, biscuits (the non-limp variety) and mashed potatoes like Pac Man! Because if not…
Welcome to my nightmare.