Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Rise and Fall of the Defenders: A Pitch

Major Summer Blockbuster Proposal:

The Rise and Fall of the Defenders

A Tragedy in Five Acts

Civil War was an astounding success, and aside from reactionary frustration people had with certain plot points, the only real regret I feel like readers had with the story was that the heroes were fighting the heroes. This is not to say that Marvel Readers had a problem with hero-on-hero violence (nor have they ever), but that people really missed seeing the villains.

The problem with major stories that feature villains as the main antagonists is that they always seem to function too similarly: the villains unite, almost destroy the world (or the universe or existence or time or whatever) and then the heroes unite and stop them, and the Hulk usually picks up a mountain. And I love these stories, we all do, but I think that readers nowadays are more sophisticated—they don’t want to be told what to think or for whom they should root. They expect more ambiguity, more shades of grey, more complex characterizations.

World War Hulk, poised to be another blockbuster, also eschews the more traditional epic comic story structure by casting one of its most popular characters in the role of violent instigator. This story smacks of the Iliad; the Hulk is Achilles (the strongest there was) he has been wronged by those who were once considered his allies and friends. But unlike Achilles, who enacts his vengeance against Agamemnon and Menelaus (who took his favorite concubine away) by choosing to refrain from fighting, fuming in his black-sailed ships and allow his countrymen to be slaughtered by the Trojans, the Hulk takes the battle directly to the doorsteps of those who wronged him. World War Hulk already has me hooked because I can see both sides of the story, and I feel for both parties. The Illuminati really screwed the Hulk; they destroyed the one place in the Universe he ever felt he belonged. But the Hulk’s offensive could potentially leave so many more dead than the few who did him great ill. This is an engaging story.

So how to reconcile these two trends? How to create a story that has plenty of heroes fighting villains yet doesn’t feel hackneyed, quaint or outdated? I have a germ of an idea that perhaps can lead somewhere. Recently in the pages of Black Panther, in response to the growing conflicts of the Civil War, T’Challa and Storm took a diplomatic trip to some of the various more fantastical other countries or domains in the Marvel Universe. Some of these characters, like Doctor Doom, are villains outright, but others, like Namor, alternate back and forth. Magneto previously played into this category as well, as the ruler of Genosha, and I feel that if he and Doom were to reappear in a major way in the Marvel Universe in a major event, the book would sell very well. And given the books we have access to, I think this could work out all right.

The Pitch:

Growing fearful of American Superhuman Hegemony, Latveria, Atlantis, Wakanda, Attilan (maybe) and New Genosha (and others) form a coalition calling themselves The Defenders, their stated mission being to keep Tony Stark and the Americans in check. Namor is elected the leader of this new governing body which controversially includes the once again Latverian Dictator Doctor Doom and the newly reappeared Magneto, who has developed an unstable and addictive serum that can grant former mutants their powers (these developments can be dealt with as “Road to Defenders” storylines in the pages of Uncanny X-Men or Fantastic Four, as well as why T’Challa would possibly support this dangerous new body).

And to all our hero’s surprise and somewhat dismay, this new governing body is actually extremely effective world wide, repelling a potentially disastrous mystical and alien attack, and gaining a lot of favor throughout all parts of the world other than America. This continues to the point that Spider-Man, feeling incredibly betrayed by his former friends who have abandoned him after the Civil War, opts to join the Defenders (though he also does so to make sure they don’t grow too megalomaniacal, I mean, he is a good guy after all, we can’t have him pick the wrong side for the wrong reasons all the time). She-Hulk perhaps joins the Defenders as well, sick with Tony Stark for sending her bro into space (another plot point of this, depending on how much we want to tie this into World War Hulk is that the rest of the world is really mad at the Illuminati whom they link with the American Initiative for scorning the Hulk and causing his attack on the planet; Namor is clearly absolved from this comparison).

However, the real drama of this cabal involves the power struggle between Magneto and Doctor Doom, who both desire to be the leader of this new team. They both try and play Namor, whose intense love for Sue Richards is, in this storyline, his Achilles heel. Controversial storybeats might include Sue actually returning his affections for once (cause you’ve got to anger as many die-hard fans as possible when you tell stories like this one). Again, this would all be in the hands of the writers and editors of various books, but basically things come to a head when a patrol of Initiative Heroes kill a group of Defenders when they mistaken believe the Defenders are in American Waters without authorization, and Namor uses this opportunity to launch a full out invasion of New York with his real motivation being to kill Reed Richards and reclaim his bride. This is of course where Spider-Man reveals himself to be a hero spy and sleeper agent, where perhaps Doom and Magneto are revealed to be not quite as evil as we’ve always thought (or maybe only Doom is shown to have a heart at the end, Magneto’s having been destroyed by House of M), where several characters die and where Namor Reed and Sue have an almost Shakespearean final confrontation that leads to the death of the erstwhile Prince of Atlantis.

By the term Tragedy I mean it in the Classical Sense, meaning that it would possess these five acts:

Rising Action
Falling Action

In the case of the story I described, the exposition-climax would be the rise to prominence of the Defenders and their successful defeat of a major cosmic/mystical force when the Americans could not, with the falling action and catastrophe being the mad actions of Namor, who for all his success can't find personal satisfaction.

This is a general outline that I think could potentially boost sales of our titles across the board, sell very well itself and in the hands of the right creators, be a critical success to boot. I know Tom said crossovers aren't in effect, but I took that as an olive branch to make things less difficult. I love so much about what Marvel's doing right now I can't honestly think of not including it in my books.


Michael Heide said...

Alright. I like that pitch and would probably want to read it, but I don't think it really fits our mission statement for several reasons.

1.: Remember the Exiles fiasco last time around? That was a solid concept as well, with a perfectly suited creative team in place, but the virtual fan community hated it. Mainly because it took the name of the Exiles. If it had been a new Morlocks book or created a brandnew franchise under a brandnew name, it might have had more success. By creating a new group of Defenders with virtually no ties to the previous group (except for Namor), we might fall into the same trap.

2.: In this scenario, we were hired to, and I quote, "overhaul the place and make it better than it was." Besides, "[at] this point, we're beginning at ground neutral. There are no crossovers in effect--there is no CIVIL WAR, no WORLD WAR HULK, no ANNIHILATION."
Your pitch is a direct continuation of the road that began with Avengers: Disassembled and led over House of M to Civil War. It would most likely work under the former Editor in Chief, Joe Quesada. But we have a new EiC and a new direction. So we might be better off if we go in a different direction.

3.: Look at the books we were dealt. Two X-books, two Spider-Man books, She-Hulk and the Fantastic Four. The way I see it, Spider-Man has nothing to do with your pitch. She-Hulk seems forced, since we don't have the actual Incredible Hulk book. And both the Fantastic Four and the Uncanny X-Men would have to take a backseat against their respective villins, Dr. Doom and Magneto. But we're faced with the task to raise sales on our books. By basically taking out the major players of those two team books, it's highly unlikely that readers will stay on the book once the event is over. Plus, with a Fantastic Four movie on the way, we really should feature the characters. I think that includes restoring the team to its original roster, so Black Panther doesn't have a tie to our books as well.

Please don't take me wrong, I consider this constructive criticism.

Besides, I think we should focus on the infrastructure of the books we got first before planning a huge crossover. We can still do that in week two.

Philip Schaeffer said...

1. I vividly remember the Exiles fiasco, but I'd say this is different because: a) there's not currently an ongoing Defenders title with a loyal following; b) I've heard Joe Q talk about how he's looking for the right idea with which to relaunch the Defenders, since their role as the covert agents has sort of been replaced by the New Avengers (and I think the idea that the Defenders are Defending the world from the Avengers is kind of cool and not that out of step with the original non-team mandate). I'd argue that recasting Doom as a hero is the more upsetting idea for the virtual fan community.

2. You're right about this completely. Granted, we could overhaul my pitch (which was just a pitch, so feel free to be as vicious tearing it down and possibly rebuilding it as you'd like) so that it was a bold new direction, sans a Defenders motif and tied more organically into the books we've been assigned. But you're right that this is very much an extension of current Marvel, so it's up to Sean.

3. Spider-Man and She-Hulk have much less to do with the pitch, you're right. She-Hulk doesn't fit in all that well, but in crossovers like this some characters always get swept in in order to sell more books. It's a method, and admittedly not one of the ones Sean suggested.
Spidey fits in a little better, at least in my mind. The Spider-Man solo titles I'd envisioned would be Spider-Man in Africa (called Ananse there?), Spider-Man in South America, helping third world countries and almost being swayed to the idea that the Defenders have some good ideas.
And it would be up to the writers to make sure the X-Men and Fantastic Four are very much engaged in the new activities of Doom and Magneto, sure, but I would argue that those are characters just as important to the properties as the heroes (Magneto even moreso to the X-Men since the roster changes so frequently). I can't see people being upset, after such long absences, about finally seeing some Doom and Magneto. However, you're right that it's always hard to keep readers coming back after the tie-in. My argument to that, however, is that by then our two weeks will be over!

I'm a little confused by your feeling of trying to tie in the FF Movie if you don't care about Civil War, WWH etc. What kind of simulated world are we dealing with here, anyway?

Now, as for focusing on the infrastructure of the books we gots... I agree completely. I'm not suggesting we run with this immediately. All I'm saying is that, if we can agree on SOME overarching crossover early enough we can start laying the pipe and groundwork that makes the payoff that much more exciting.

Michael Heide said...

1.: While there is currently no Defenders book around, don't make the mistake of thinking that the name doesn't come with an inbuilt fanbase. Look at the ruckus about Omega Flight or Kevin Grevioux' New Warriors. Fans from former incarnations of the respective teams have been vocal from the start. They still care. They might not care enough to keep a Defenders book afloat, but it might be enough to sabotage us.

2.: I have no problem with overhauling your pitch. Like I said, I want to offer constructive criticism. It's just that I have my doubts that this in its entirety is the way to go.

3.: While I like your ideas for Spider-Man in South America and Africa, I see two problems with them. First of all, you are taking him out of his element. This can lead to awesome stories, but it usually annoys readers. The second problem is that the Ananse concept reminds readers of JMS' Spider-totem. And the vocal majority is our main enemy in this internetbased simulation.

4.: I think tying the Fantastic Four to the movie release is a tad late. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try. Perhaps we should ask Tom about movie releases, video games and the like on Earth-2. Until now, I assumed that while we have no Civil War, Annihilation or Planet Hulk, it's still our world. But we all know what happens when we assume. It leads to assumptions...

Philip Schaeffer said...

I wouldn't ask Tom anything about Earth-2, or he'll call you "one of them gall-durned 616ers" and banish you from the game!

To respond to your responses to my responses to your responses to my pitch:

1. Omega Flight sold out. They changed it from an ongoing because the retailers didn't order it that aggressively, but it wound up selling out. It is different to revitalize an old building than burn down a building with people still in it.

3. When I described the Spider-Man in his new elements (Shanghai was another) I didn't mean he'd be in the Sahara or a rainforest: He'd still be swinging around an urban environment, and it would serve as a parallel to the urban jungle of New York, that this one is so much worse and really needs defending. And while you're right that changing the status quo can annoy readers, when you do it in the context of a crossover, where it's clear that he'll return to relative normalcy when it's done they grant you some leeway (the Stark spider-armor being an example of this). However, your concerns on this matter are important ones and should be dealt with Head On (apply directly to the forehead).

Here's my reason for wanting to a linewide crossover: you get the sales benefit of three two-title crossovers (which I imagine we would all do between our own books) plus the built in benefit of a three book crossover. Clearly, not everybody is going to buy all six books, but a few Spidey readers who don't normally pick up FF or She-Hulk will check them out if they dig the Spidey crossover.

I know it's more complicated and it's a bit of a gamble, but it pays off better than anything else. Look, I came up with that Defenders thing in half an hour; I'm not married to it, though I think it's really cool. We can come up with something else. I just want some synergy.

This all goes out the window if Sean has different ideas.