Every week in 2018, the plan is that my friend Rod is going to ask me some geeky question that will answer in a post. This week is Week #24, and after our previous six-part answer to our last question, its great to be able to move on to new things.
What’s your story idea for a series featuring your all-star team of C or D-list superheros?
With this, I’m meant to describe who the characters are (and why I chose them), the basic premise of the series, some of the major plot threads that I would include, some of the of villains they’d face, and so on, for the first fifty issues of their series (assuming this is a monthly series, and that there are some annuals, that means about 4 years worth of stories). I’m allowed to pick the super-heroes from any company, and the villains as well can by anyone, including characters I just make up.
Now, the first thing that I think of with this question is that it sort of sounds like I’m being asked to plot out something like that gang of “Forgotten Heroes” who were shown to be teaming up, randomly, in Crisis on Infinite Earths. Or maybe DC’s newish series, The Terrifics. It features Mr. Terrific, Metamorpho, Plastic Man and Phantom Girl (!) from the Legion of Super-Heroes, who are all bound together by some tragic accident and are now on an adventure of exploration of hope. The first story arc, at least, seems to also feature Tom Strong. I haven’t it, but the concept sounds awesome.
It was tempting to go the same way with this – pick a bunch of characters I like and just throw them together in some time and reality hopping goofy adventure, and let the chips fall where they may.
But because I felt like I’d just be aping The Terrifics, I decided to do something a little different. Not too different, mind you, but a bit different. It’s a book featuring concepts that I didn’t create (in case that wasn’t already abundantly obvious) but which I’m interested in, and might even tempt me enough to buy. It also “reboots” those concepts. My assumption is that the book takes place in the wider DC Universe (the comic world I’m by far the most familiar with) but one that’s not strictly beholden to any particular version of continuity.
Rather than introduce the characters first, I thought I’d share the premise, and let you meet the characters more or less as the readers would.
The story begins with a ragged looking figure in a trenchcoat, holed up in small dingy office. He looks at his “wall of weird” – one of those pin boards with photos, notes and newspaper clippings, all connected with red threads. There are references to organized crime, to alien incursions, to urban myths about monsters, and to religious prophesies. The man delivers an internal monologue to the reader about always seeking the truth, and being willing to put it all on the line to find the reality of a situation. This, he muses, will be the performance of a lifetime.
Suddenly two monstrous and unearthly thugs burst in through the door, and threaten the man. He’s been asking too many questions, it sounds like, and it’s time for the questions to stop. They throw him across the room, injuring him badly. One of them looks at the bulletin board and laughs–the man is so off the mark, he’s almost not worth dealing with, but orders are orders, and no one would dare disobey orders from their master. They laugh at the man–wasn’t he a respected investigative reporter at some point? How far he has fallen! As they say this, we see a journalism award framed on the wall for Victor Sage…the man in question from happier times.
They torch the bulletin board and the man’s filing cabinets, over his feeble protests. Delivering one last mocking threat, they leave the office and the building, tossing behind them an alien-looking piece of technology, which pings a countdown. Bruised and bloody, the man looks at the technology, his swear word cut off by a massive fiery explosion which destroys the small building.
Buried in the rubble, though, we see that the man has survived, protected by a mysterious black & inhuman figure, who seems to be composed of pure energy. The creature carries the man deeper into the rubble, where it’s revealed that the basement of the building has survived, and indeed is of a clearly higher technology than the dingy office would have suggested. The black energy puts the man down, and then merges into the body woman standing nearby, whose face and arms are covered with bandages. Meanwhile, the man wakes up, rubbing his face, which is evidently melting off of him. But he’s not badly injured–rather he’s just annoyed. He mutters a curse at a second man who enters. “Damn it Sage, I hope that was worth it.”
We see the second man…it’s the Question, the faceless superhero alter ego for investigative journalist Victor Sage. The Question affirms that yes, this needed to happen. The enemy had to be put off the trail. Now, the public will believe that the disgraced Sage is dead, and their enemy will be convinced that he was a nobody who just made a few lucky guesses.
Question leads his companions into a deeper sub-level of his building (which we learn was completely empty of other people at the time of the destruction) and he reveals a giant warehouse-sized room full of his theories–his real “Wall of Weird”. It’s a room full of holographic displays, notes, practical evidence and more, all connected not by threads but by lasers.
The Question reiterates the fact that there is a war on, a war most people are completely oblivious too. An image of Superman amongst the evidence helps to highlight the sort of people Question is referring to. But if you are paying attention, he continues, the pattern becomes obvious. And if you can see it, than you have to act on it. But that determination must be tempered by wisdom–if the enemy finds out too soon that we are onto them, then the war may be lost before it even begins.
The Question’s male companion, the one who was impersonating him as a decoy for the enforcers who tried to kill him, is Robert Furillo, aka Proxy. Proxy was an actor whose face was destroyed in a terrible fire…one that happened because of his own drug abuse. Victor Sage saved his life, and gave him the means to “recreate” his face using the special material Pseudoderm (the same stuff that he makes his own “Question mask” out of. Proxy is able to mold his facial makeup into different forms, using his acting skills to impersonate people…but only for 24 hours at a time. After that, or in situations of extreme stress, the face makeup melts off, and must be replaced.
The women who kept Proxy alive while he was playing the part of a hapless victim is Valentina Vostok, also know as Negative Woman. She’s a former Russian fighter pilot who emigrated to the United States under suspicious circumstances. Victor Sage also helped her to “fly under the radar” and get out of her homeland of Russia, where she is considered a traitor. Her body was accidentally fused with a bizarre negative energy which can be released in the form of a powerful humanoid which is under her control, but only for 60 seconds at a time, during which her regular body is helpless and vulnerable. Her powers leave her dangerously radioactive, which explains the special bandages she must wear most of the time.
Together, these three form a covert team which will now operate from the basement of a supposedly advanced building in one of the poorer neighborhoods of Hub City. Victor talks of the breakthrough he has made in his investigation of the mysterious war that he speaks about. Sightings, rumors, obscure reports…it all points to an unseen enemy which is gathering its forces and moving key players into position. For what purpose is still unknown, but it is apparent that it has something to do with one figure who has recently become quite public, at least in his own little corner of the world.
Victor points to a circus poster, which advertises a new and thrilling act which is guaranteed to set your pulse racing and keep you on the edge of your seats: the world’s greatest escape artist, also known as…Mister Miracle.
It has now become the business of the Question, Proxy and Negative Woman–or the “Faceless”–to find out exactly who this celebrity really is, and what is connection is the enemy who threatens them all.
And that’s the opening of the story! As you can probably see, it’s basically a different take on the famous Fourth World saga by Jack Kirby–a massive comic book epic before such a thing was the standard–which sadly never really was completed properly.
The first arc would be about the Question and his team investigating Mister Miracle, and discovering they are not the only ones who are interested in him. Intergang, a criminal organization connected to the brutes who think they’ve killed Victor Sage are also interested in him. It turns out they want to recruit him, and at first Miracle seems interested. However, when he is given a job to steal something (in order to test his loyalties), he ends up revealing his true loyalties to the Question and his allies: Mister Miracle intends to infiltrate and take undermine Intergang, for reasons that he keeps close to his chest. He and the “Faceless” form an uneasy alliance in which Question, Negative Woman and Proxy must use their special abilities to help “sell” Mister Miracle’s criminal activities.
As the first year continues, the Question and his colleagues secretly “recruit” high profile heroes like Superman and Batman to cause problems for Intergang. They do this by having the Question either provide anonymous tips, or even pretend to “team up” with them in order to put them onto Intergang’s activities. This has the effect of the criminals from realizing that Mister Miracle is working against them.
After many difficult scrapes which test the limits of Mister Miracle’s abilities as an escape artist, Intergang is effectively dismantled as an organization, but the Faceless (and the readers) learn that they are backed by extra-worldly forces, which leads into the ongoing story in the second year.
In these issues, they finally learn the secret of Mister Miracle (who up to this point has kept his secrets close to his chest): he is an escapee from Apokolips, a nightmarish dystopia ruled by the brutal dictator, Darkseid. Apokolips and it’s opposite number, the bright and peace-loving New Genesis, were at war for centuries before an uneasy truce was formed a generation ago. But now Darkseid is quietly breaking the truce by planting agents on earth–Intergang is just one manifestation of his activities.
Scott Free (Mister Miracle’s real name) was a slave of Apokolips who was being trained to be a foot soldiers before he fled to earth and took on the mantle of Mister Miracle. His role in taking down Intergang has brought a level of attention upon him from the other agents of Darkseid, so he more directly joins the Question and his team. He also enlists the help of his old friend, the dwarf Oberon, who becomes a supporting player in The Faceless.
Together with Mister Miracle, the group investigate different initiatives that Darkseid has on earth, including the clone research facility known as the Evil Factory and the television personality Glorious Godfrey. Along the way, it becomes clear that what Darkseid is after is the Anti-Life Equation, a formula which is apparently exists buried in the mind of one or more human beings that would lead to the removal of all free will in the universe.
In between confrontations with the forces of Apokolips, the Faceless must also deal with other threats. For example, Larry Trainor, an American pilot who was the first host for the negative energy inside of Valentina shows up and demands that the creature be returned to him. Valentina is conflicted because while on one hand it would mean she would be powerless, on the other hand it would mean that she’d be free from the ever-present radiation that it causes. In the end, she retains the negative creature and her position on the team.
Also, during this year, Lex Luthor becomes suspicious about the secret war that is taking place on earth, and the Question, Proxy and Negative Woman must enact an elaborate sting to prevent him from confirming his suspicions, and to keep him from potentially capitalizing on the situation.
As the series’ third year begins, the team meets other beings from New Genesis, including the warrior Orion whose brutality in war rivals Darkseid himself, and seems at odds with his planet’s normal way of doing things. With Orion, the Faceless infiltrate a ship that orbits the earth under the command of Darkseid’s chief scientist, the depraved Desaad, and rescue four ordinary humans who are being experimented upon because they are suspected to contain the Anti-Life Equation. They save these people and they become allies of the Question and his team, but it also becomes clear that Darkseid’s activities are escalating, as is New Genesis’, and the war will not remain hidden for much longer.
During this time, the team learns more secrets about their ally, Mister Miracle. It turns out that though Scott Free escaped from Apokolips, he’s actually from New Genesis. Indeed, Scott is the son of Highfather, the leader of New Genesis, and that the truce between the two worlds was sealed with a pact in which the child of both worlds’ rulers were exchanged to live on the opposite world. Darkseid’s son is actually Orion, who was raised in Highfather’s household. Meanwhile, Scott Free ended up living in the fire-pits of Apokolips, along with the rest of that planet’s rabble.
When asked why he hasn’t returned to New Genesis, Scott reveals that he has remained on earth because he recognized that the world had become a fixation for Darkseid, and wanted to hinder his work there. Scott has also stayed away from New Genesis because he didn’t know if he’d be sent back to Apokolips as a slave. But finally, Scott has been on earth looking for a way to make a controlled return to Apokolips in order to rescue his wife, the former leader of an elite band of Darkseid’s warriors known as the Female Furies. Big Barda (as that is her name) has become a hidden outcast on Apokolips for defying the oppressive regime, but wasn’t able to escape with Scott.
The rest of the third year focuses on the efforts of Scott Free to rescue Big Barda. The Question sees this as compatible with his goals as he wants information about Apokolips itself.
Their efforts are interrupted by a brutal terrorist known as Scabbard, who threatens the stability of the world. Assuming at first that he’s an agent of Apokolips, the Faceless must eventually come to terms with the fact that he’s just a human villain, the worst that their world has to offer. Thanks to Proxy’s ability to get close to him disguised as one of his lieutenants, Scabbard is assassinated.
This brings the Faceless to the attention of the US government and Batman, who comes to realize that the Question deceived him back during the title’s first year, though with good intentions. When Mister Miracle figures out a way for he and his allies to sneak back to Apokolips, Batman secretly follows and ends up fighting along side of them as they eventually succeed in rescuing Big Barda and narrowly avoid being killed by Kalibak, Darkseid’s most monstrous warrior. Mister Miracle, Big Barda, Batman and the Question safely return to earth, but at the last minute Negative Woman and Proxy and stuck behind on Apokolips. These shocking events close out the third year of the series.
Big Barda and Scott Free, now reunited, are summoned back to New Genesis to answer questions and heal. Highfather and the denizens of New Genesis seem to feel there is nothing they can do for the Question’s friends at this point. The Question, of course, is not satisfied with this, but is more immediately concerned with the fact that Batman now knows about the war, which means that soon the Justice League will as well. He must convince them not to act directly, as he believes that will provoke Darkseid into all-out aggression that the earth is not ready to face.
Meanwhile, on Apokolips, Proxy and Negative Woman differ about how to respond to their plight. Negative Woman begins to stir up the lowest rabble on the planet into thinking of rebellion, while Proxy impersonates one of Darkseid’s guard to potentially gain access to the Boom Tube technology that will allow them to escape. Even as they disagree with each other, the two also begin to develop a romantic attachment.
Meanwhile on earth, secrecy becomes impossible when a hive of insectoid soldiers from Apokolips is discovered deep within the earth. The Question convinces the Justice League to respond in a more covert manner, but this effort is complicated when Lex Luthor makes the same discovery, and begins his own negotiations with this force’s leaders.
Back on Apokolips, Proxy is discovered and captured, and his mind probed by Desaad. The existence of the Question is discovered. Something about the enigmatic hero draws Darkseid’s interest, provoking him to go to earth himself, and in the midst of everybody’s scrap with his insectoid army, he captures and takes away Victor Sage himself.
Orion and the forces of New Genesis arrive on earth as the war becomes more openly fought. The Justice League become torn between defeating Darkseid’s armies and preventing Orion’s soldiers from wreaking too much collateral damage. Meanwhile, Darkseid examines the Question–a man who had always raged against conformity and blind obedience, and finds within him the Anti-Life Equation, a concept that the Question has been in battle with all his life, and which has nearly driven him insane.
The Equation is released an in nearly an instant, humanity falls, becoming docile drones waiting for instruction. Only a few heroes have escaped exposure, and even the armies of New Genesis are not immune. They are also cut off when Darkseid is able to close off all travel from New Genesis to earth.
Becoming aware of what is happening on earth, Negative Woman unleashes her energy-self in a desperate bid to break into Darkseid’s citadel and access a Boom Tube to take her, not to earth but to New Genesis, separating her body from the Negative Energy for longer than ever has been done before. There, in energy form, Negative Woman is able to find Mister Miracle and Big Barda, who follow her back to Apokolips. They go as quickly as possible back to Apokolips, only to find that they are too late for Valentina Vostok–her human body has died under the strain of the separation from her energy self. However, the Negative creature is still alive, and still retains some aspect of Valentina’s personality.
Together, Mister Miracle, Big Barda, and the Negative creature find the Question, who is still strapped to an experimental table where the Anti-Life Equation was removed from him. They realize that as much as he was the carrier of Anti-Life, that he was also the carrier of Life–that is why he was able to keep Anti-Life in check for so many years. They find a way to release this as well, and earth and humanity are set free from the mindless enslavement that they’ve come under. The battle to free earth begins again in earnest.
Meanwhile, the Question and his friends must escape from Darkseid’s citadel, where they are outnumbered and overwhelmed. But then they are contacted by Proxy, who has been a prisoner as well. He has managed to escape in all the confusion, along with a bunch of other human prisoners of Darkseid’s who have been taken from throughout time in his attempt to find the Anti-Life Equation. One of them is an American World War II soldier who’s face is covered with bandages. Together, Proxy and these guys have found an armory of weapons. Proxy alerts the Question that they are setting off a bomb there which will cause a cataclysmic explosion. While Darkseid is preoccupied on earth in a face to face battle with Superman, he can do nothing to stop the seat of his power from being destroyed. And thanks to the skills of Mister Miracle and the power of Negative Woman, the surviving members of the Faceless are able to escape…except for Proxy, who sacrifices himself to set off the explosion.
With Darkseid’s power disrupted, Boom Tube travel to earth is reestablished, and Mister Miracle, Big Barda, the Question and the surviving aspect of Negative Woman are able to return there. Darkseid is captured by the forces of New Genesis and imprisoned in the Source Wall (a semi-mythical wall in space which guards the source of all these character’s power).
The immediate danger over, the world begins to recover. Mister Miracle and Big Barda return to New Genesis, and the Justice League attempts to induct the Question…but he refuses. Instead, he feels he must continue his mission to ferret out the bizarre going-ons behind the scenes of their universe. He vows to do this with Negative Woman, such as she is, beside him, as well as one World War II soldier from the time-lost survivors of Darkseid’s experiments: he is the Unknown Soldier, and is also an expert in disguise. The new “Faceless” are suddenly confronted by a visitor from an alternate dimension’s future, a superhero known as Jack-in-the-Box from a placed called Astro City, come to warn the Question and his friends of an imminent attack by a warlord from the future…
And so it continues, for the next 50 issues!
So…that’s the summary of the first 4 years or so, including some of the major threats that are faced by our team of heroes. Rod asked me to also include some notes on why I chose my characters, so…
Mister Miracle aka Scott Free
Created by Jack Kirby, first appearing in April 1971
As I have written elsewhere, Mister Miracle is really the heart of the whole Fourth World Saga. Of all that saga’s protagonists, he’s the one who is the most human and relatable, and the one who forms the strongest emotional connections with others. As I pondered this question, I basically started with Mister Miracle—he’s one of my favorite “C-” or “D-List” characters. I like the fact that he’s all about something so specific as “escape”, as well as his overall positive outlook on life and the fact that he’s married. I’m intereste in reading the current series by Tom King, but also a little nervous in case it doesn’t “get him.”
Mister Miracle’s supporting cast has long-included Oberon, a non-powered dwarf who serves as his confidante, business partner and friend, and it’s hard to imagine having Mister Miracle here without having Oberon along for the ride as well.
The Question aka Vic Sage
Created by Steve Ditko, first appearing in June 1967.
Somewhere along the way it somehow occurred to me to start thinking of characters whose faces were completely covered, like Mister Miracle. That quickly led me to the Question, and suddenly I had the gimmick that united all of my primary heroes. I also realized that the Question, as someone who was primarily an investigator (whether it be as a journalist or as a conspiracy theorist) would be the perfect character to head up a group of heroes who were basically attempting to figure out what was going on about a shadow war taking place between celestial beings with earth as a battleground. I really enjoy the idea of the Fourth World Saga and I think it’s a shame that the concepts didn’t play out properly to their end. So I thought it’d be fun to dream about how such a story–or at least a certain portion of it–could be retold. Where Kirby’s original tale flung us into the action with few explanations, I thought it’d be interesting to see things being discovered by someone like the Question.
Negative Woman aka Valentina Vostock
Created by Paul Kupperberg and Joe Staton, first appearing in August 1977.
I actually am pretty unfamiliar with Negative Woman and her iteration of the Doom Patrol (essentially the first one after the original), except for her appearance in Crisis on Infinite Earths where she defeats Chemo and ends up being pretty instrumental in the final fight with the Anti-Monitor. I thought of her because her bandaged appearance fit the whole “Faceless” theme, and probably picked her over the original Negative Man simply because I thought it’d be good to have a woman on board, and I couldn’t think of another one who fit.
Proxy aka Robert Furillo
Created by Robert Loren Fleming and Trevor Von Eeden, first appearing in November 1983.
Proxy came about because originally I was thinking of having five “faceless” characters in the team (mis-remembering Rod’s original question to have specified five characters), and so I was just thinking of anyone I could. My first thought along those lines was the Unknown Soldier, but then I thought Proxy who basically had the same skills but I ultimately thought was better because with him I wasn’t repeating the “bandaged face” thing. I’d also thought of Nemesis from John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad, but really he’s just a disguise artist, without the “faceless” tragedy of either of the other two. Proxy is by far the least well-known of my main characters, whose appearances are entirely in the short-lived but innovative series Thriller from the 1980’s. In it, he was one of the “Seven Seconds” tasked with the ethereal semi-omnipotent Angie Thriller with saving the world. I really don’t remember his personality at all from that book, so like Negative Woman he’s a bit of a blank slate for me.
Created by Jack Kirby, first appearing in October 1971.
When I was still trying to think of a fifth member of the Faceless, I went through lots of possibilities but eventually settled on Big Barda, not because she fit the theme but just because of her connection to Scott Free. Barda was a co-star of the Mister Miracle book, being the titular character’s more powerful wife who had once been an elite warrior in the service of Darkseid before turning against him. I ended up not using her too much in my story, but still I liked having her there as someone who helped to motivate Mister Miracle’s character, and who added an extra boost of power to the team as things really built up to their climax.
The Unknown Soldier
Created by Robert Kanigher and Joe Kubert
Created by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson & Alex Ross, first appearing in October 1995
These two characters are both ones I considered for the series from the beginning, but rejected. As I went along actually creating the plot I realized that the cast was going to go through changes, so they both ended up making an appearance.
The Unknown Soldier was a war-time master of disguise and espionage expert who was I’ve always liked, but had to jump through some narrative hoops to get him here.
Jack-in-the-Box is a clown-themed legacy superhero who is part of the great Astro City series by writer Kurt Busiek. It’s not clear which version of the character is appearing at the end of our story here, but I assume it’s a new one, from further into the future than Astro City itself has shown us.
Anyway, that’s it for this week!