By Jon Durmin!!
Capes and full masks, capes and full masks, capes and full masks . . . what is it about a full mask that makes a Marvel character seem that much more cool? Probably the same thing that works for non-caped heroes with a full mask (I know it’s been said of Spider-Man); the ability for anybody regardless of their racial background, gender identity, age or other parts of their physical being to identify fully with and imagine they are that hero. No wonder I like Moon Knight so much I honored him in the third Rogue Roulette. And it’s even less of a wonder that when I, as a budding comic book aficionado, discovered the Prowler – he clicked with me so immediately.
When Hobie Brown first appeared he was a down-on-his luck young man from the Bronx, recently laid-off from a job washing windows. Being an underemployed (and now unemployed) genius engineer and directing feelings of anger about his situation at the world at large, Hobie fabricated his Prowler costume and outfitted with gadgets he believed would be of use in committing high payout robberies. Then on his very first attempt at robbery he was confronted by Peter Parker (you would think people would realize burglarizing the Daily Bugle’s payroll never works out after a while, but no). With witnesses around, Parker manipulated the grappling match so that the Prowler seemed to throw him out an open window, intending to change to his Spider-Man costume and return to defeat this new foe. Instead, when Brown believed he had thrown Parker to his death he was devastated and overcome with feelings of shock & guilt. Hobie fled the scene only to be chased down & defeated by Spider-Man. When Spidey unmasked him he found Brown highly shaken-up by the events at the Bugle. The two talked and Parker, seeing a lot of himself in Brown encouraged the young man from the neighboring borough to turn over a new leaf and use his genius to help others rather than help himself. For his part Brown found an acceptance and understanding that had been absent during much of his life up to that point. He took Spidey’s words to heart and began doing his best to help & protect the welfare of his community both in and out of his guise as the Prowler. Since then the Prowler has been a stalwart ally to Spider-Man.
The downside (or maybe upside depending on your perspective) of being known as Spider-Man’s ally is that most of the foes the Prowler encounters are considered Web-Head’s enemies and not his. There’s nothing wrong with that, but Hobie Brown’s been sidelined for most of his career and a surefire way to help him get some recognition as a hero in his own right is to set him up with a rogue’s gallery of his very own. That is what we do here at Rogue Roulette after all!
Since Hobie lacks a rogue’s gallery to discuss I think the best place to start would be to look at his capabilities as the Prowler and his background as a person and identify a couple of existing ne’er do wells who could give us a foundation to which new foes, unique to the Prowler could later be added. In addition to being trained in basic martial arts and in excellent physical shape, Brown’s power is all in his brain. As an engineering savant Hobie’s invested that into his Prowler suit to help him in the physical arena of crime fighting. These gadgets include a cape that allows Hobie to glide, finger claws for climbing walls (that make a decent weapon in a pinch), and bracers around his wrists and ankles that are loaded with a variety of projectile weapons to stun, subdue and capture his opponents from a distance. He’s sort of like Iron Man except from the opposite side of the socio-economic spectrum, and impacted by everything that comes from that.
Now Hobie’s a young, married man with a high school education who has been working as a construction worker in his civilian life for quite a while. This can be enough to support a family if you’re in the right place with the right employer, but it’s a rather grueling, inconsistent & irregular line of work and may not be quite mentally stimulating enough for a creative, genius intellect like Hobie’s. This being the case I think it would be swell if we returned to Brown’s life to see him working towards a degree and career in engineering at Empire State University. Better yet, he could attend a community college in the Bronx with ambitions of transferring to ESU’s engineering program. When I went back for a second degree to change careers a few years ago, many of my classmates were doing just this, and given the state of the economy, the job market and higher education (and the increasing cost there-of) over the last decade (at least) it’s an experience I think an ever increasing number of readers could identify with. In a setting like that Brown’s genius would really stand out.
Being such a superstar in college will sure help Hobie make the grade, but it can attract the wrong kind of attention too. This brings us to our first member I’ll suggest for the all-new, all-different Prowler rogue’s gallery; the Fixer! Paul Norbert “The Fixer” Ebersol has had his go at heroics a few times with the Thunderbolts but deep down he’s all about making a buck and more than willing to break the law to do it. With his technical genius, penchant for engineering technology to take down superheroes and ambivalence about how he gets paid the Fixer would be a fitting rival for the Prowler to test himself against. Pitting their technology and ingenuity against one-another a showdown between this pair would make for some amazing fights and the opportunities for them to face off could be ample.
The other element of Brown’s background I have yet to touch on is the fact that he, more than many others, is a New Yorker through-and-through. His family, home, community and whole personal history is in the 5 boroughs of NYC. The next rogue I’ll reveal to rival our righteous wrestler is ineffably associated with the Big Apple as well; I’m talking, or course, about Black Spectre. When Carson “Black Spectre” Knowels returned from overseas military service to his native New York he felt shock, humiliation and rejection to discover his wife had left him, his son dead, his ability to find a job nil, and his city rejecting him and other veterans. Like Hobie Brown once did, Knowles turned his anger on the world. His world. New York City.
Now I brought up Black Spectre briefly during our exploration of Moon Knight’s rogue’s some weeks ago. Academics and cultural critics have commented on Black Spectre being a sort of reflection of Moon Knight, an Anti-Moon Knight if you will. To be honest, I don’t see it. At the core of Knowles’ motivation is an association & obsession with an imagined vendetta against New York City. Moon Knight isn’t really intrinsically connected to NYC. Sure he’s operated there, but he spent the first two-thirds of his life in Chicago, is highly tied to Egypt, and has also operated out of Mexico & Los Angeles multiple times. The Prowler IS intrinsically connected to the city of New York. Like the Black Spectre, it is his home born and raised, but where Knowles has come to resent his home and blame it for his woes Brown loves his city and seeks to do his best to help it anyway he can. With Prowler stepping into the role of the main actor challenging Black Spectre the conflict is no longer one between a hero and his own dark side, but a war for the soul of a city. It’s a different kind of story for both characters and, hey, isn’t that what playing Rogue Roulette is all about?