By Jon Durmin
Proud patrons of this political picture page, it is my positively profound pleasure to present to you the premiere posting of our new Marvel 616 column, Rogue Roulette! I know your jaws have dropped at my inestimable insight on the likes of Namor, Jim “the Torch” Hammond & X-51 (and if those last two articles haven’t been published here yet, just you wait!), but this is the original content I’ve produced EXCLUSIVELY for Marvel 616 Politics. “Hoo boy,” I hear you all asking, “What’s Jon talking our ear off about now? Get to the point already, buddy!” Message received. Let me do my best to stop channeling Stan, the Man for a moment and explain what this column is actually all about. With each installment I’ll take a look at a Marvel hero or team and their rogue’s gallery and try to find a couple of new villains who would really shine as foils for that character. This is the really fun stuff; speculation, speculation, speculation. Now don’t think this is a walk-in-the-park assignment. The way I see it this is an opportunity to mix-and-match characters, hero & villain alike, who may be B-, C- or even D-listers in their historical roles in 616 and bump them up a grade. It’s sort of like cooking; vanilla extract (or Wonderman) may be nothing to write home about on it’s own, but mix it up with just the right combination of sugar, butter, flour & eggs (or setting, theme, supporting cast & villains) and you get some tasty sugar cookies. Everybody up to speed? Great! Let’s get down to business.
Our first candidate for a Rogue Roulette makeover: Hank Pym! Boy-oh-boy, is there a lot to sort out here. First off, Hank’s baggage: he created Ultron and he hit his ex-wife in the middle of a massive emotional breakdown. Unfortunately for him, these two one-off plot beats have come to define the character in the eyes of many readers. I could argue all day that Hank deserves the chance to be known for more than Ultron, and point out that Hank’s relationship with Jan always seemed pretty sour for them both and that both Peter Parker & Reed Richards struck their wives while actually in their right minds (though I don’t excuse any of them including Pym for that; not cool fellas), but today I’m here today to build Pym up. A third element that has held back Hank as a distinct character is the cluster of identities he’s accumulated over the years. If we’re going to enrich him by expanding his rogue’s gallery, which version of Hank Pym are we enriching? What identity is he assuming? Ant-Man? Giant Man? Goliath? Yellow Jacket? Wasp? Dr. Pym? I’ve read ’em all and I’ve gotta say that Hank seems most true to himself when he’s operating as Dr. Pym, Scientist Supreme. Maybe it’s all the Venture Bros I’ve been watching lately, but I’d love to see a series where Doc Pym uses his technological brilliance & abilities as a scientist, an explorer, and adventurer in the tradition of pulp heroes like Doc Savage or Indiana Jones. Take Hank’s regular history of being cavalier about putting himself in harms way (or put less kindly, his self-destructive tendencies) and factor in his lack of wife, children or ownership of a sky-scraper as limitations on his seeking out adventure and I can easily imagine Hank dynamically doing the type of things Reed Richards might if he was less of a lab rat & family man. All he needs is a strong assembly of antagonists to test his mettle.
Taken on the whole, Doc Pym’s extant rogue’s gallery is nothing to scoff at if for no other reason than Ultron, constituting roughly a quarter of the interesting part of the Avengers’ rogues all by his cybernetic self, (perhaps a topic for another article), is a significant part of the short list. Unfortunately for Pym’s development as a character, his standing as King Laius to Ultron’s Oedipus has led many writers to obsess over that relationship as they further his story. Who can blame them looking at the rest of his foes? Egghead, Hank’s one-time nemesis was a genius-threat before Hawkeye accidentally killed him, but he also looked like a doughy, bespectacled Professor X compensating for his lack of obvious menace with a lack of ethics & the fashion sense of a junior high school chemistry teacher. He’s not exactly the guy to build exciting, dynamic adventure tales around. Porcupine . . . have you seen this guy? I know he had a lot of firepower in that suit, but he looked more like Pier-1-Imports-man than his spiky namesake. Look out! He’ll get you with the power of overpriced wicker housewares! (Feel free to quote me on that for your next “Costume Catastrophe”, Jarid.) This leaves Whirlwind, who is really more part of the Wasp’s rogue’s gallery so let’s let her deal with him. Lastly, the People’s Defense Force, a collection of [mostly] Communist agents from the early days of the Silver Age when Stan would have his characters battle a random, forgettable, Red-Scare baddie every 4 months (or in Iron Man’s case every month). It’s not that Porcupine and the PDF don’t have potential to be notable nemeses, believe me they do, but elevating Pym as a science adventurer can’t rely on them alone. Who can we add to round out and enhance Hank’s circle of rogues? It didn’t take me a heck of a lot of looking to find two strong candidates, languishing on the back bench of the Fantastic Four’s strong roster of rogues.
Okay, so our pitch for Doc Pym solo stories has the good doctor seeking out the secrets of the universe to benefit/save the world with his ingenuity, daring & mastery of modern scientific disciplines. What better foil for the Doc than an equally brilliant, but absolutely self-seeking pursuer of the mysteries of existence? Luckily we have just such a figure in Senor Esteban Corazon de Ablo, better known to the 616-at-large as Diablo. In Diablo we have a villain who’s bedeviled the world for over a thousand years, a man who traded away his very soul to Mephisto in exchange for an extended lifespan that would allow him to pursue mastery of man and nature through his alchemical art. Operating with a bizarre synthesis of magic & technology to pursue the same ends as Pym, but with far more sinister intentions Diablo could be a dark reflection of all Hank might have become if he had truly lost control all those years ago. All Diablo needs is a fresh, modern costume and he and Pym matching wits and fists in ancient, jungle swallowed ruins or lost lands under the arctic ice lays the groundwork for some really cool stories. Add to it Diablo’s history & bargain with Mephisto, not yet truly explored in any series and we could be building to a truly astonishing epic tale where Pym challenges the devil himself.
Not to be outdone by Diablo, Pete Petruski, the Trapster, could really make good as a thorn in Dr. Pym’s side. After all he’s spent most of his career as a C-lister, and let’s face it he really started off with a major handicap by launching his career with the moniker “Paste-Pot Pete”, the Trapster is no slouch. He’s a brilliant chemical engineer & inventor and has managed to single-handedly defeat Daredevil, Spider-Man (and a second time, with the aid of the Shocker, almost killed old Web-Head), and Deadpool. What I’m saying is, Trapster has what it takes, he just needs an opportunity to get into the limelight. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if he came into conflict with Pym over technology one or the other of them was developing. Maybe he’d try to swipe one of Pym’s devices to develop a new trap weapon or to assist him in his larcenous endeavors. This would force Pym to one-up his foe in terms of technological innovation and could make for some very exciting, high-tech showdowns. Where Diablo would likely encounter Pym on the periphery of society I can see Doc Pym & Trapster battling their way across the state-of-the-art skyline of a neo-modern cityscape. Come to think of it I could see Trapster being just as much a problem for Diablo as for Pym . . . hmmmmm, I think we may have something here . . .