(Author's Note: This was going to be a Witless Dictionary post at first, then got too big for that--Ideally Witless Dictionary stuff is supposed to be short pithy and punchy, but this is, of course, utterly malleable--then seemed like it might work, then didn't, and then I decided I was just being wishy-washy and I should write the damned thing already and stop being wishy-washy. So here we go.)
First, some words from wiser men than I:
". . .why has Toro been brought back, and why is the Torch being brought back? What is the reason for this story? Why are these characters important or compelling or necessary? These questions should have been asked before this was commissioned, and if they were, the answers aren’t apparent."
Now, I come to you today with a modest proposal: It's time to put Hank Pym and the Scarlet Witch on the bus.
I don't mean kill them off, or turn them evil or any stupid stuff like that (this inevitably leads to books that end in ":Rebirth") I mean put them on the shelf and leave them where they are for as many years as possible.
One of the terrible aftershocks of the fan-as-creator movement has been an obsession with and desire to keep active the minutiae of the past around, long after they are interesting, viable, or in any way necessary in a storytelling sense. They possess no further story potential or room for further character development, they're just . . .kinda . . .there.
And it's been around forever. Roy Thomas was bloody notorious for it, peppering books like All-Star Squadron and Invaders with characters who did frighteningly little except strut about as if to say, "I certainly am from the 1940s!" And for period stories that took place in an at-the-time long past milieu, that was more or less OK--if you liked that sort of thing, it was there for you, if you didn't it, don't go in the sandbox and you won't get sand on anything.
The problem comes in (to return to the estimable Mr. Kennedys quote above) when you do things like bring the original Human Torch and Toro back into present day continuity for no other reason than, since they're the first Marvel superheroes (more or less) obviously they should be viable characters 70 years after their creation, after all, Sub-Mariner is, right?
Sub-Mariner remains viable (barely, at times) because he's an engaging character with multiple storytelling opportunities. Want to do gonzo fantasy stuff? Keep him in Atlantis and have him punch out oddly dressed blue people. Want to do tweener superhero stuff? Have him him team up with Dr. Doom and fight the Fantastic Four for His Own Reasons. Want to do something stupid with him? Have him join the X-Men.
The point is, there's enough that can be done with him as a character that when one approach has played out its string, another can be implemented.
Not so with the Torch. Save for one interesting role in the last decade (Heroes for Hire) Torch hasn't done overmuch to justify his existence. Not since he returned in Avengers West Coast --that is, when John Byrne hijacked the book for a stilted, tortured, boring-ass retcon full of gibberish intended to walk back the cat on whether the Vision was the original Human Torch (long after anyone but John Byrne gave a damn one way or another) that ended with the Vision the colour of sour milk, Scarlet Witch going loco, and the Human Torch returned to life for what turned out to be hatefully little reason, as little was done with him once he returned except that Roy Thomas had him gad about in red longjohns and spout 40's references. Shockingly this didn't work.
But why? Because the Torch was a product of the 40's, and had never developed much of a storytelling engine beyond "blunder into crime/Nazis, set criminals/Nazis on fire." And yet, he was brought back because fans of the character grew up to become comic creators, had fond memories of him, and brought him back, based on fond memories, but once they'd done it, there was little else to do with them.
And yet, the fans-as-creators declare (If you like, you can just pretend I dropped the pretense and said "Alex Ross" here) there are so many storytelling possibilities for them and in any case they should be recognised as the building blocks for comics today and . . .yeah, whatever. The argument seems to amount to "they're first, let's keep them around as museum pieces."
Not that being old is necessarily a hurdle. But you'll find if you look over the history of superhero comics the most enduring characters tend to be the ones that can work in a variety of stories with equal plausibility. Batman can work as a gritty noir crimefighter, or a science fictiony hero, or whatever. The X-Men work as slick action vehicle, but also (occasionally ham-handed) symbol for oppressed minorities.
The Torch was . . .one of the first. And that's it.
There are characters in the middle, as it were--those with a set amount of stories, that once run-through leave any arable storyline potential stripped out. The alternatives then become repeating the same few stories over and over again, turning the character evil, killing him off, or simply allowing him to politely exit without a lot of fuss and feathers.
Which brings us back to our bus-riders. Hank Pym was one of Marvel's first Silver Age heroes, an early bridge between the sci-fi/monster comics they'd been doing up to that point and the burgeoning superhero universe that would supplant it. He began his career as Ant-Man, and seem to spend a hell of a lot of time ruining communist's picnics and not getting stomped on, which, you would think would be hella easy to do to an ant-size dude in bright red longjohns.
What worked OK as a one-off riff on The Incredible Shrinking Man didn't work too terribly well as a superhero book, and its obvious from re-reading them that the creators struggled mightily to Make Things Work. Tired of the threat of being stomped on Ant-Man became Giant Man and did some stomping of his own. He got a partner in the Wasp (because in the early days of Marvel rather than jeopardize impressionable young wards, it was much better to jeopardize your girlfriend and make her wear a hat that looked frighteningly like a butt plug) and the he got replaced in his book, zooming over to Avengers wherein he did frighteningly little (save for being Roy Thomas' author surrogate and creating things that ended up trying to kill the Avengers) until . . .
He smacked the Wasp around. If one points to a moment, as when something achieves absolute zero and all molecular motion stops, this was the moment for Hank Pym when all character development (such as there had been) ceased. Because from this moment on Hank Pym would be the wife-beating loser who was always trying to redeem himself for slapping the Wasp around or generally being an underachiever/loser. Damn near every story he was featured in followed this exact same paradigm and it continues to this very day.
Mind you, the original Wasp-swat was more than twenty-five years ago. We have had variations of this story for nearly thirty years now. In the meantime, none of this constant looping around has made Hank Pym any more interesting as a character--in fact, one could argue that by continually rubbing the reader's nose in what a loser/asshole he is actively repels rather than redeems him.
Other than that . . .what? He's been in the Avengers more or less since the start so he should always be in the Avengers? Why? Who really cares? Would you miss him? Is there anything to be done with him? Is there an argument for keeping him around for reasons other than seniority?
If not, put him on the bus. Retire him. Let him sit on the shelf. Don't kill him off--God knows I need an Ant-Man: Rebirth series like I need to be shot in the kneecap. Don't redeem him--that horse's fossilized remains have been beaten longer than most of us have been alive. Just . . .let him go. If someone has a bold new idea for him, he'll be waiting there on the shelf, but until then, keep him on the shelf and for God's sake don't make a big production of it.
But he's not alone, no sir. Speaking of ballast we're better off without, I humbly submit the Scarlet Witch. For all Joe Quesada whined that Doctor Strange is a plot device, then what the hell is she? Let's see . . .nebulous powers that almost explicitly do whatever the plot requires, longtime member of the Avengers, longtime cipher who did little other than get possessed, turn evil, date a robot, or whatever, and none of these things make her in any way, shape or form and interesting character.
Let me ask you--would you read a solo Scarlet Witch book? Can you think of a Crowning Moment of Awesome for the Scarlet Witch? Yeah, me neither. Because she is ultimately a character defined less by what she is and more by who she is associated with. She's Magneto's daughter, Vision's husband, she's been with the Avengers forever and a day, and yet . . .what has she really done in the 40-some years she's been a viable character to justify being enduring?
Well, she was one of the first characters to do a hell-face turn and one of the second-generation Avengers. Well, so what? That's a benchmark, but all that required was being plugged into a role, which is oddly fitting. The characters history is only that of being plugged into various roles over the years, culminating with House of M, wherein she transcended into pure plot device mode by cutting down the number of mutants in the X-Books, for reasons that have become, five years down the road, as nebulous as the character who did it.
Oh, there have been game efforts over the years to make something of her--in fact nearly every story that doesn't subordinate the Scarlet Witch into some attachment for another character is occupied with the business of "making something from her," whether it's explaining her powers (a brutally torturous storyline, usually) or turning her evil and/or subsequently redeeming her.
Neither of which work, because none of them have stuck and we're left with a character who, like Hank Pym, is here because well, they've always been there, with no great explanation beyond that.
Again I ask--would you miss her? Is there anything she adds as a character to the Avengers ensemble, because honestly--I'm willing to entertain arguments on this. Is there a great Scarlet Witch story that has heretofore been untold that isn't the same 40 year old bullshit reheated and served again? If not, then why keep her around? Why not give that slot over to another character who might, if given some face time, add something new to the team dynamic and do something a bit livelier than take up space and wait for their fob watch?
Are there any other characters like this, who have stuck around long past their expiration date and yet won't go the hell away? Explain your answers in the space provided below.