Saturday, June 24, 2017

ROLL CALL: Who should join The Defenders?

So, As I was reviewing the latest Defenders #1, I got to thinking about the team's membership roster. I get that the comic is based more or less on the Netflix tv show, thus the roll call is pretty much the Fantastic Four of Hell's Kitchen. Still, as a long- long- long-time comic book reader, four members seems a little on the light side for a super-hero team. That being the case, my inner 12-year-old started playing the "Who should join?" game. After all, the "everything changes" new membership drive was a pretty common trope of super-hero comics back when I was a Bronze Age baby. That means I'm pretty well conditioned to speculating who the next new member is going to be. 

FWIW, my selection criteria boiled down to this: Each addition should . . . 

A) be a "street level"more-or-less working class super-hero,
B) have some historical connection to the team in the comics, and,
C) be a character whom we might realistically expect to appear on future seasons of the Netflix show.

So, in no particular order, except that, yes, these are absolutely in order, here are the characters I would like to see writer Brian Michael Bendis and editor Tom Breevoort add to the team:

1. HELLCAT — Honestly, to my mind, it's just not The Defenders without Patsy on the roster. That could be because I started reading the original 1970s run of this title at just about the same time she joined. That's always given me a special affinity for her. Tyroc is my all-time favorite member of the Legion of Super-Heroes for this very same reason. Now, I'll grant you, The Defenders were always discount Avengers in my book, and I could have taken or left most of the members, Nighthawk especially. But I always liked good-natured, wisecracking Patsy. She was to the Defenders what, for me, The Beast was for The Avengers — essentially the heart and soul of the group. So, yeah, I for totes want Hellcat on the team. I suppose what helps me retain a soft spot for Hellcat, of course, is that I had stopped buying The Defenders before she become Bride of Son of Satan. So, that helps.

Now, the good thing is that Patsy Walker is already a part of the Marvel tv universe, having been integral to the Jessica Jones series. And the basic histories of the tv and comic versions are not too dissimilar, except that tv Patsy had a stage mom who pushed her into a tv show and comic book Patsy had a mom who wrote a bunch of books about her. But otherwise, give the comic book version a radio show, while ignoring a lot of her mid-continuity backstory, or have the tv version don a catsuit and put her extensive physical training to use busting bad guy heads, and you've got the same character. In fact, I'm actually really hoping tv Patsy suits up and joins the team sometime during Defenders Season 1. 

Another lucky happenstance is that the Patsy Walker a.k.a Hellcat series has recently been canceled. That book had an entirely different storytelling sensibility from The Defenders. But it's gone now. So, no conflicts. And no reason not to pick Patsy up out of limbo.

2. WONG — Now, of course, Doctor Strange had a long history with The Defenders, having been a non-founding member of the original non-team. But, let's be honest, Benedict Cumberbatch ain't gonna be slumming it on any Defenders tv show any time soon. He's far too busy in the Thor and Avengers movies. But Benedict Wong might need something to do until the next Strange solo flick, and I can see him appearing on any of the Netflix shows, should the plot ever call for assistance from a magic user. Plus, between Wong's interpretation of Wong, and what Jason Aaron did with the character over in his recent run on Doctor Strange, I've grown quite interested in a character that, when I was a kid, really only existed as someone for Strange to yap at for the sake of exposition. However, I bailed on Strange's title when Aaron left, so if I'm to get a regular dose of good ol' Wong, it'll have to be here. And really, Wong is humble enough he'd fit right in with the team, I think. So, why shouldn't he claim the spot on the Defenders roster traditionally held by Doctor Strange?

Plus, and don't tell anyone I said this, he adds a touch of racial diversity for all those snowflake social justice warriors who got pissy because Danny Rand is a white guy. What, just because he's a martial arts expert he HAS to be Asian? Dude, that's racist!

3. VALKYRIE — So, sure, on the surface, Brunnhilde would not seem to be exactly what you'd call "street level." I mean, she's a demigod or somesuch, for one thing. And she rides a freakin' winged horse, for another. But Valkyrie was a member of The Defenders longer than any other character, joining in Issue #4 and sticking it out more-or-less regularly right through to the bitter end. So, if anyone deserves a spot on the latest iteration of the team, it's her.

Now, the good thing is that we know the Netflix Marvel heroes exist in the same cinematic universe as their big screen betters. And Asgard is front and center in that world. We also know Valkyrie is slated to appear in November's Thor: Ragnarok movie. There she'll be played by Tessa Thompson as "a tough, hard-drinking Asgardian warrior" who "has spurned her Asgardian heritage." So, she's basically Jessica Jones with blond hair and a sword. And, it's not hard to presume that, following the events of the Ragnarok movie, she could well find herself exiled to Midgardby Odin decree or by choice and looking for a place to pass the time. 

And those are sort of my three "must haves," which would make a team roster of seven — pretty standard as these things go.

But let's say Bendis wanted to expand to 10 or 12 members, which also is not too many standard deviations  from the norm for super-hero team titles. In that case, I would add the following:

The Falcon is one of my all-time favorite super-heroes, although that has little or nothing to do with anything he ever did in the comics. No, I love The Falcon because he was my first Mego. I eventually had about 20 of them, but for a long time he was my only one, and he was the greatest doll ever. Er . . . not "doll." I meant, "fully articulated, limited edition, collectible action figure." Definitely not a doll. 

But I did, man, I LOVED that thing and played the hell out of it. Me and ol' Sam, we flew thousands and thousands and thousands of miles together. I can't tell you how happy I was when he joined the Avengers, or how heartbroken when his tenure on the team turned out to be so short-lived.

Sadly, I lost all of my Megos in an August 1980 housefire. The Mego line was no longer on the market at that point, and before the internet there was really no way to access a back market on the products up here in Maine. Then, by the time the internet did become a thing, the dolls were just too damn expensive for me. Sad face --> :(

I haven't followed The Falcon much in recent years, mostly because $4 a pop keeps me from buying anything but the very best Marvels. So, I don't know much about Captain Sam. But because he's all that, I almost left The Falcon off this list. However, on Friday Marvel released solicitations showing the character was going back to being just The Falcon again. I kind of hate the new costume that was shown, and the wing design, but at least the character seems to have come down out of the rarified air a bit, and I can believe he might well hob-knob a bit with the Defenders. 

Now, as depicted on film by Anthony Mackie, The Falcon seems pretty down to earth, a real reg'lar feller. You know, the kind of guy you'd look forward to hanging out and having a beer with. So, I think that version of the character would fit in extremely well with this particular Defenders line-up.

5. MOON KNIGHT — I'm sort of surprised Moon Knight has yet to make the leap to live action. With all those personalities and personas, I'd think the character wold be an actor's dream. Moon Knight did appear occasionally in the original Defenders title, but my fondness for the character comes down to his original solo title. Loved that series! Or at least I did until it went direct sales only. At that time, the only comics shop in Maine was in Portland, a two-hour drive, each way, from where I lived. Thus, I didn't get to the comics shop all that often. By the time a  shop opened up closer to home, albeit still a 30-minute trip each way, Moon Knight's series had been long since canceled, and no subsequent series ever seemed to capture me the way the first one did. His most recent series was a waste of money in my book, with not enough happening in any single issue to make it worth my four bucks. 

I can see Moon Knight making an excellent tv series, although they'd have to careful. Because the character is kind of a loose knob, it'd be easy to dial the cheese factor all the way up to 11 without really meaning to. In the comics, I'd see him more as an associate member of sorts, someone who would come and go as it suited him, there for some adventures, not for others, but because of his various personas, as likely to be stumbled upon in the darkest slums as at the swankiest social galas, much to the amazement and/or consternation of his fellow Defenders.

6. RED GUARDIAN — So, this character was a member of sorts of the original Defenders for a time. A renowned neurosurgeon, she was called upon to replace Nighthawk's brain after it had been removed by Gorilla-Man. No, seriously. That happened! She was around for a short while after that, participating in a few adventures, and then got called back to the Soviet Union. I sort of lost track of the character after that and I think she goes by the name of Starlight these days, sporting a different design that makes her look more like a female Firestorm. I'm partial to the original look, though. What can I say, I've always been a sucker for head fins (even if she doesn't have one in the pic at right).

Whatever her current status, I can easily see this team of Defenders mixing it up with the Russian mafia,  protecting the homeland from the import of drugs, or maybe fighting the female slave trade. A battle against a Russian super-hacker might also be timely. At any rate, any of these springboards could be a good enough reason the reintroduce Red Guardian, or Starlight (kind of a stupid codename, IMHO) back into the Defenders fold. Or, if not Red Guardian for whatever reason, Darkstar could easily slip into the same role. She doesn't have any history with The Defenders, true, but she was almost a Champion, so there's that.

7. GOLIATH — Speaking of almost-Champions, I've seen postings and drawings by John Byrne that claim had the original Champions series not been canceled he would have added Darkstar and Black Goliath to the team, along with Jack of Hearts. I'd have loved that at the time, I think. Byrne has a penchant for doing series set in previous continuities, like X-Men: The Hidden Years, or else existing in his own pocket continuity, as with his version of The Doom Patrol. I'd really kind o like Marvel to give him a chance to do an alt. reality version of his proposed Champions line-up, maybe even actually set in the 1970s. 

At any rate, mentioning Darkstar makes me think of Goliath because of the Champions connection, and I always liked the character. He was always a decided C-lister sure (his solo series was canceled quick, almost before Marvel could have got final sales figures on the first issue back in those newsstand-only days, and I've always kind of wondered what happened there). Still, I never failed to grab an issue of Marvel Team-Up or Marvel Two-In-One when he appeared, and I often passed on both titles back in the day, depending on who the guest-star was. The original Black Goliath, Bill Foster, picked up a toe tag in one of the umpitty-gazillion Marvel Civil War events, but there is his nephew Tom, also a scientist, which would add some technical know-how to the team. Maybe he could show up after a fall from grace, having lost his university position for faking data in order to obtain grant funding, something that's fairly widespread (see: global warming), but occasionally requires a scapegoat to ensure plausibly deniability that it doesn't.

8. SHE-HULK — The Hulk was, of course, a Defenders mainstay for a lot of years. I don't particularly want him on the team, whether in the form of Bruce Banner, or Amadeus Cho, or any other iteration. Still, as the "people's attorney" of the Marvel Universe, Jennifer Walters does operate at a decided street level, despite her power levels and evergreen epidermis. It's funny, but I don't think we've ever really seen her and Matt Murdock talking shop, as it were, but as New York lawyers their paths must cross fairly often. Having her on the team would open up a dynamic for Daredevil we don't often see. 

She'd also make a good gal pal to Valkyrie, being of a similar strength, but also is earthy enough to get on well with Jessica Jones. Plus, she has an existing friendship with Hellcat, so if Patsy joins, Jennifer is certain to pop around occasionally. 

Plus, I still have a fondness for the character from Byrne's fabled Fantastic Four run, so I just like her, and would like to see her in a book I'd actually buy.

9. SPIDER-WOMAN — I haven't always had much love for Spider-Woman. In fact, during the run of her original series I sported such an active dislike for her I all but refused to even look at her book, having written off the character as a Marvel cash grab. Her most recent series has, however, positioned her as the type of character who not only would seem to fit in well with the current crop of Defenders, she almost screams of belonging amongst them. She sort of defines the street-level, working class hero. I love her current noir-ish costume, too, by the way.

Plus, as a single mom, she'd open up a whole new side of Jessica Jones. We have occasionally seen one mama-hero on a super-team, but has there even been two? I would think a pair of young moms who also happen to be super-heroes would unveil all kinds of storytelling possibilities, especially for a book that really seems to want its heroes to fully inhabit the neighborhoods they are sworn to protect. Having Jessica & Jessica doing the mom-thing, taking their kids to the park and fretting over the quality of the schools would really reinforce they whole, "Hey, this is our HOME you're endangering!" aspect of the title.

Now, such a thing would have to be carefully handled. We don't want the moms to look too Super-MILF, nor do we want to Defenders series to go too entirely Thirtysomething in dialog and plot direction. Still, Jessica & Jessica also open up character development for the other ladies on the team. I can see She-Hulk being all, "Eeeeeee, babies!! Let me hold!" while Patsy and Valkyrie would be more the, "Ewwwww, thanks, but no," types. 

At this point we get to characters that I don't expect would ever actually join the team, even on a part-time basis like Moon Knight. Still, their MCU connections and character traits would seem to make them fitting guest-stars on occasion. 

10. ANT-MAN — Okay, so Paul Rudd is too big a star to ever put in an appearance on any of the Marvel Netflix shows. Heck, he's so big now I doubt he'd even condescend to a cameo in any Friends reunion. But the character of Scott Lang runs is less much more down to earth (pun intended!). 

Lang's first appearance in Marvel Premiere #47-48 was really impactful to me, as a kid. I read both issues literally to death — yes, I said LITERALLY — and practiced drawing almost every panel inside for hours on end. I really, really liked the Scott Lang character and was so disappointed that Marvel never really did much of anything with him for years after his debut. And by the time they did use him, it was in the '90s when I was mostly not reading Marvel at all, and it was mostly stupid stuff. I think they killed him off a couple of times, at least, while his daughter Cassie was subject to the SFRAS (Serialized Fiction Rapid Aging Syndrome) disease that afflicts do many children in comics and on tv. Didn't she become, like, Ant-Girl at some point? 

Anyway, the Ant-Man movie, while not perfect, did a lot to restore Lang's lofty statute (again, pun intended) in my eyes. So, I like the character, I like that he's been generally restored to his original incarnation (in the MCU, at least), and I'd like to see him (and a youthified Cassie) appear occasionally. There could be a whole hilarious issue dedicated to his misadventures while babysitting Cassie, the Jessica & Jessica babies, and maybe a few other super-hero kiddie spawn. But, at the very least, his presumed underworld connections, as well as his deep espionage abilities, might make Ant-Man a useful resource for the Defenders team to call upon from time to time.

There's been a clear intent on the part of Marvel to make it kown that the Netflix shows exist in the same shared universe as the big-budget films. We also know the ABC shows are set in the same MCU. But the transitive property of intellectual properties does not seem to extend to Netflix and ABC. Still, Mockingbird, in her civilian identity of Bobbi Morse, does appear on ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, and, of all the characters there, she seems the one most liable to fit in with the Defenders crew, should Netflix choose to make clear its shows and the ABC oeuvre also co-exist.

And let's face it, Marvel kind of owes Bobbi actress Adrianna Paclicki a little love after her Most Wanted pilot got a hard pass. Of course, I think Mockingbird is dead in the comics, but that's easy enough to resolve, and an appearance by the character in the Defenders comics might pave the way for her crossing over to the Netflix Universe. 

12. HAWKEYE — Pity poor Jeremy Renner, the butt of every "just an archer" joke ever, amidst the near cosmic-level power s his Avengers movie series teammates — AND denied his own solo movie despite having been one of the first actors on board with the franchise. Personally, I'm not convinced a Hawkeye movie would work, but I think his own Netflix series could be most excellent. So, why not test those waters by crossing him over into The Defenders? Certainly, his mad skillz would make for an action-packed show, while his background promises all sorts of possible plotlines

Hawkeye has hung with The Defenders before, and I'm half-surprised he was never moved over from the Avengers permanently, as Hellcat was. But what I like about including him on the team is that he has a big (admittedly well- and hard-earned) ego, which I think would both compliment and conflict with almost every other male member of the team, to some degree or other, as he'd likely feel he has more street cred than Luke Cage, better overall combat skills than Iron Fist, and more experience than Daredevil. So, toss him in from time to time and see what happens!


13. BLACK WIDOW — Well, of all the character actors  on this list, Scarlett Johansson seems least likely to submit to a small screen portrayal. She's a bona fide movie star after all. And, for as much as fans have been clamoring for a Black Widow movie from her first Iron Man appearance, and with the Wonder Woman flick having done boffo box office, Johansson is almost certain to prefer a chance to team with a female director (say, Sophia Coppola) and make a run at the revenue record books. 

However, as with Hawkeye, I actually think the character would work better as a 13-part television serial than in a single 2-hour feature film. So, again, why not prep the character for her own Netflix series by first introducing her into that word via the Defenders comic book? She also brings the Russian crime ties I suggested for Red Guardian and/or Darkstar above, but she's also creates a link between Hell's Kitchen and all manner of U.S. government conspiracy theories in which our heroes might wish to engage. Plus, she'd add her own dynamic, being a threat to the ladies on the team, as well as a constant distraction to the men.

Well, that's my list gang. Will any of these characters ever actually join the team? I copied Mssrs. Bendis and Brevoort on a tweet of this post, so it's possible they are aware — maybe even head-smacking themselves as you read this, exclaiming, "Why didn't WE think of that?!" 

Of course, in this highly litigious age, comics creators are wary of acting on any fan idea. So, I say, look guys, you are free to swipe, steal, pilfer, or promulgate any idea, request, or concept contained in this post. 

Just give me the comics I want to read!



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