Writing the other day about Terry Kavanagh and Alex Saviuk’s various attempts to inject new blood into the Marvel Universe during their Web of Spider-Man run got me to thinking about the other various characters to debut in the 90’s (and earlier) heralded as “the next big thing” who either promptly went nowhere or settled comfortably into a role as the occasional guest star or reserve team member.
Comics is of course littered with literally thousands of concepts that never achieved the success their creators intended and you could probably sustain a blog for years on those alone (I’m sure somebody out there does). I can think of a few in particular though that I thought had squandered potential or came along either at the wrong time or wrong place to go all the way (and I’m not just talking about X-Treme); some of these characters have enjoyed a modicum of success, but certainly nowhere near what could have been.
I’ve spoken of my affection for Richard Dragon before, which runs alongside my thing before Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu, and both mostly amount to this: there are guys out there in the DC and Marvel Universes who aren’t particularly well-known or “A-list” but who are better in hand-to-hand combat than their more well-known contemporaries. Same deal goes for Bronze Tiger, but he’s also got the added benefit of a far more interesting and conflicted back story as a former compatriot of Dragon who was captured and brainwashed by Ra’s al Ghul’s League of Assassins, forced to become a killer, actually beat Batman, then broke free and sought redemption as a member of the Suicide Squad. Now there’s enough there for a solo series to run at least a couple arcs in my opinion, but if not, why would “guy who beat Batman” not be enough to at least get the Justice League to read your resume? Yeah, there’s the whole “former assassin” thing, but that just adds to the potential drama.
Once he shed his persona as a substitute Thor and gained his own heroic identity, Eric Masterson had the misfortune of receiving a horribly dated 90’s costume complete with sleeveless leather jacket, pierced ear and pony tail—and I’m convinced this had far more to do with his lack of longevity than anything else. Because when you look at the idea behind Thunderstrike—a “street level” Thor who has the power of a god but walks among mortals and deals with legitimate issues—it’s a solid one that I think could have been made to work given more of a chance. Masterson was also already a pretty well-liked character during his time headlining the main Thor title, so he had something of a built-in fanbase; again, it was just bad timing. Thunderstrike came along at a time when the market was barely supporting one Thor title, let alone ready to propel another to success, and again, little things like the visuals just didn’t earmark the character for long-term success. Nowadays, with the Thor franchise more viable, I think Eric Masterson or Thunderstrike could fill a nice niche role bridging Asgard and Earth.
I never really followed any Valiant title too religiously, but if I had, I think it would have been X-O Manowar (or Harbinger, but probably X-O Manowar). When you take just a cursory glimpse at the character, he’s Iron Man but with the ultra cool twist of the dude in the armor being a freaking caveman who went into suspended animation for centuries and woke up in our time to become a businessman and super hero with his alien battle armor; he’s Captain America and Iron Man plus elements of Venom and Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer all mixed together! The guy also just looked rad, so if his IP is lying around out there somewhere, somebody with some cash and motivation should give it a look.
While original Spider-Woman Jessica Drew has been the recipient of a tremendous popularity resurgence in recent years, I always thought her successor, Julia Carpenter, had as much if not more going for her and it’s too bad she’s more or less in limbo now. During a period in Avengers lore when most of the female team members got short shrift in the 90’s, Julia was portrayed as professional and confident and I always felt it was a nice moment when the main team shut down the West Coast branch yet invited her to stay on (and then she turned them down). Her being a single mom who was committed to raising her daughter not fully divorced from her costumed career also made her unique in those halcyon days. She’s also got neat psychic web powers plus a dynamite costume, so surely there’s a place for her somewhere outside of Canada?
For years, the second character known as The Ray has coasted on the fact that Joe Quesada originally designed him with an awesome look both powered-up and just in costume to remain at least on the periphery of the DC Universe whether as part of the Justice League, Young Justice or the Freedom Fighters. However, those who followed Ray’s somewhat surprisingly long-lived solo series in the 90’s probably had higher hopes for him to become a breakout star on his own, much as I did. In addition to the great visuals Quesada gave him, Ray also had a nice stretch of character development by Christopher Priest that included major daddy issues with his Golden Age heroic father, a childhood that saw him raised in virtual isolation, and a doomed love life that somehow included a fling with Black Canary. Ray has that nice balance of legacy and uniqueness that I feel like should translate to another shot in the spotlight, or at least a prominent role in one of the two Justice Society books.
Now it may seem somewhat unfair to place Stryfe on this list due to the fact that he was a primary villain in a semi-major X-Men crossover less than a year ago, but nonetheless, the guy was a big-time personal favorite of mine—and many other—as a kid, and I think we all had bigger things mapped out for the Chaos Bringer in our heads. He made such a blockbuster debut in X-Cutioner’s Song (ok, technically he had been around a few years at that point, but just as an ancillary X-Force villain, not a real deal X-Men baddies) that I think we were all pretty sure we had the next Magneto or Apocalypse on our hands. Yeah, his name was a bit corny and he lacked the big picture motivation of the other villains I just mentioned, but Stryfe was a step above the generic schemers populating the X-books at the time based on his deeply personal connections to characters like Cyclops and Jean Grey and the motivation he derived from therein. He was hugely powerful, spoke like an over-the-top lost work of Shakespeare and when rendered right his thousand-angled costume looked bad ass. However, after his big crossover tour de force, he settled back into being just Cable’s personal nemesis, and then died a couple times without much fanfare before fading from collective memory. His return in Messiah War was much-welcomed from where I sat and he was handled perfectly by Duane Swierczynski, Chris Yost and Craig Kyle, but I hope there are more plans for him beyond sitting in an apocalyptic future somewhere, since even if his full potential may never be realized, Stryfe is too good a bad guy to let rot on the vine.