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John Seavey’s Storytelling Engines: Ms. Marvel

Here’s the latest Storytelling Engine from John Seavey. Check out more of them at his blog, Fraggmented. Including this one, Storytelling Engines: Marvel Horror, that we missed a week or so ago.

Storytelling Engines: Ms. Marvel

(or “Life After Death”)

On the surface, there’s not a whole lot to distinguish Ms. Marvel from Spider-Woman and She-Hulk, whom we’ve looked at in previous entries; Ms. Marvel is another female character pretty much created as a quickie spin-off from an established male character (in this case, Captain Marvel…you have to wonder if this has ever traveled in the opposite direction. Wonder Woman didn’t spawn a Wonder Man…was there ever an original female character who got a “male spin-off”?) Ms. Marvel also had a new writer come on board after the first few issues and tweak a concept that was rushed into production. These are nothing new to longtime comics readers. But what is interesting is exactly who that new writer was–a young man named Chris Claremont, working in the Marvel offices on a lot of Marvel’s second-tier titles like ‘Ms. Marvel’, ‘Iron Fist’, ‘Spider-Woman’, and ‘X-Men’.

Obviously, the little ‘Sesame Street’ song starts up in every comic fan’s head on seeing that list.”One of these things is not like the others…” But at the time, ‘X-Men’ wasn’t a big seller, it wasn’t a hit book–heck, it wasn’t even monthly. So Claremont had plenty of time to do other things. And, as it happened, a lot of those “other things” never caught on the way that the X-Men did. ‘Iron Fist’ only lasted fifteen issues, ‘Ms. Marvel’ only made it to issue #23, and although ‘Spider-Woman’ lasted a bit longer, Claremont’s run came towards the end of the series.

So where am I going with all this? Simple. I’m pointing out that the end of a series doesn’t mean the end of a storytelling engine. ‘Ms. Marvel’ lasted only twenty-three issues, but pretty much every character that Claremont thought had any storytelling potential, he lifted out and made use of in his other work. Deathbird made her first appearance in ‘Ms. Marvel’, as did Mystique and Rogue; Claremont later took these villains, the backstories and plans he’d worked up for them, and made efficient use of them when he needed ideas for the X-Men. In fact, Ms. Marvel herself became a semi-regular character in the X-Men (along with Misty Knight from ‘Iron Fist’ and Jessica Drew from ‘Spider-Woman’…more examples of Claremont finding new uses for old characters.) These re-used elements helped Claremont when he needed ideas, because they were ideas he already had sitting around waiting to be used.

Eventually, Ms. Marvel wound up gaining cosmic powers and having space adventures. This new set of stories kept the character in the minds of the fans, eventually paving the way for her return in Kurt Busiek’s ‘Avengers’ run, which in turn paved the way for her to get her own series again. Which demonstrates another good reason to recycle ideas and plotlines from cancelled series. Sometimes, all an idea needs is to stick around until it catches on.

12 Comments

Johnny Thunder began as a sidekick to Black Canary IIRC.

Nope. Johnny Thunder predates the Canary by almost a decade. He first appered around 1940, as he was in All-star Comics 3. The Black Canary didn’t appeear until 1947.

Forcing characters and plots from your old books is one of the worst things a writer can do in a comic. Forcing characters where they shouldn’t be, especially to tie up a story that sales and/or readers decided they didn’t care enough to see the end of, is a reason to be thankful that so many books only ever have ‘temporary’ writers.

Rogue first appeared in an Avengers Annual (#10). It WAS a Ms. Marvel story, but it technically wasn’t her comic book.

Actually, you’ve got it backwards, Luis — the Canary first appeared as a hero pretending to be a crook in Johnny’s feature, and eventually squeezed him out of his own stories and his Justice Society segments.

Ian, I have to agree with you in theory. However, having the writer be able to call upon a stable of developed characters is one of the greatest strengths of a shared universe. If a writer needs a villian (or hero) with specific powers or motivation for a given story, it can be far stronger to bring in an establised character who already has some depth rather than to try and develop a new one from scratch.

The obvious limitation to this is that the borrowed character needs to make sense.

I believe there _was_ a male spin-off of Wonder Woman, if only for one issue. I want to say that issue also featured a female Steve Trevor– but I’m not as sure about that part. :- )

Ian, I think John agrees that nepotistic continuity can be a real bad thing in the hand of bad writers (see: Judd Winick and Jason Todd), but it can be useful tool when weel used and if importing the character/plot to that given title makes some sense and if it’s done carefully enough that the intrusion of this new elements plays as natural extension for the series. To give two examples relating to Fantastic Four: JMS using the book to setting up Thor’s return was pretty lame and pretty much felt was happenning there just because it was the one book JMS was writing where he had nothing going on and he need to set-up his return somewhere. Now, Macduffie using stuff from The Beyond on FF works because it’s a good fit for a Fantastic Four story and one could easily see him coming up if it for the series anyway.

And, of course, I’ll include the caveat I include when talking about a lot of the storytelling engine stuff–it is sometimes about quantity, not quality. Sure, everyone wants to come up with a really good, unique, original story that’ll blow the doors off of comics fans…but when those deadlines are looming, and you’ve got a penciller waiting for something to draw and an editor breathing down your neck and a reading audience that doesn’t want to hear, “It’s been delayed, it’ll come out next week…”

Well, let’s just say that having a villain with an already-prepared backstory, motivation, and unresolved subplot is like a gift from heaven. :)

(And yes, Rogue first appeared in Avengers Annual #10, but that was only because Ms. Marvel was cancelled so abruptly–she was originally supposed to first appear in Ms. Marvel #25, along with Destiny, in a sequence that explained why Mystique was hunting Carol Danvers, but they decided #24 was going to be the last issue. So Claremont wrapped up that plot thread in the Avengers Annual. Ms. Marvel #25 was eventually published decades later by Marvel, as part of a “Summer Special”. Fun fact, huh?)

Seems to me that the Storytelling Engine here is Mr. Claremont, not Ms. Marvel. Guess that would have been a less compelling HED, though.

John Ostrander is another major employer of continuity among the author’s own works. Firestorm villains were all over Suicide Squad. Manhunter and Suicide Squad wove in and out of overlapping storylines. His brief run on Captain Atom featured a character he created for Firestorm; his Spectre series made excellent use out of Suicide Squad’s Father Craemer and Firestorm’s Gaia, as well as the whole elementals mythology and cast he created for Firestorm.

Isn’t there a Power Boy spinoff of Power Girl in Supergirl right now? That’s a weird one, since Power Girl is a version of Supergirl, who was a female version of Superman. Oy.

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