Sunday, August 12, 2012

Cry Havok

So the day job (well, the only job, you jerks don’t pay me for this) has had me pretty well ensconced (great word) in Marvel NOW! of late, and that’s a good thing. No PR spin, I’m excited to be working at the company I wanted to work at since I was a kid particularly at a time when I’m on the ground level of a major new chapter in its history, where a lot of bold risks are being put on the table, and having the opportunity to reinvent my own approach to my job as I promote and unpack it all. I’m thrilled with the array of new voices I’ve been able to bring to to put a fresh spin on everything and really diversify our output. The best is still yet to come too.

I’ve also had the chance to get in the trenches myself, in particular speaking with Rick Remender about NOW!’s flagship title, Uncanny Avengers. Besides being immensely talented, Rick is an extremely quick-witted and sharply intelligent fellow who knows exactly what he’s doing and can captivate you like crazy in an hour long phone conversation. One of the things we discussed at length is just how cool he thinks Havok is and why Alex Summers of all people is going to be leading a big time Avengers team in a couple months, which got me thinking about my own history with and thoughts on the character…

Alex Summers is the kind of character I don’t think anybody—at least not me—feels like is one of the greats from the outset, but when you think about it, he’s got all the potential in the world. The obvious starting point is that he’s the younger brother of the guy everybody sees as the greatest X-Man of all time and thus the one who gets constantly overlooked; in wrestling terms, he’s Owen Hart just waiting for his heel turn. In talking to Rick though, as he rattled off all the non “Scott Summers’ kid brother” attributes of Havok, I found myself realizing none of this was as revelatory to me as it seemed at the outset, I’d just been guilty of the same thing as countless characters: never giving Alex Summers the time he deserved.

When I imply Havok didn’t make a huge first impression on me, that’s in large part because I started really reading comics in the 90’s when he was leading X-Factor and wearing his big jacket/Gambit style face cowl costume, which was cool, but not definitive. Had I picked up X-Men earlier than that on a regular basis, I would have been privy more to one of the all-time great super hero costume designs by Neal Adams. Back in 1969, Adams bucked every trend I know of by giving Havok a stark all-black bodysuit that contrasted against the bright colors worn by everybody else and incorporated his “logo”—the rings of energy on his chest—into his power set, having them morph and shift as he charged up or unleashed his plasma bolts. Throw in his funky headdress and you’ve got the kind of look that leaves a mark.

The most interesting thing to me about Havok in his formative years as a super hero is that it’s the last thing he wanted to be, another point Rick made. He meets his long lost brother and is initially excited to be part of his world, but at every opportunity following, attempts to get the heck out. When the All-New All-Different X-Men come in, Alex grabs his lady love Lorna Dane and they high tail it off to a normal life. Erik the Red screws that up, brainwashing them into attacking Cyclops and company, but once that passes, again, they head back into relative normalcy as Alex pursues his dream of being an archaeologist. That period ends thanks to Polaris getting mind-jacked by Malice of the Marauders and from there it’s been decades of nonstop craziness from the Australian Outback to X-Factor to another dimension to outer space and back to X-Factor, but the thread that this isn’t what Alex was born to do never gets lost.

And it’s not that Alex is a bad person who doesn’t want to help the world, he just wants to do it as a normal dude. This isn’t a Spider-Man situation where he needs his uncle to die to wise him up to his obligations; he’s an adult who recognizes he has the power to make a positive difference and will absolutely do so when called upon, but would also like to carve out a nice for himself that doesn’t involve fighting demons and monsters. This motivation makes him complex if not relatable—some people may understand not desiring to be in constant peril, but I wager a lot of comic book readers may not get why you wouldn’t want to be on the X-Men front lines if you can harness the power of a star, which makes Havok even more interesting to me—and the tragic circumstances that time and again won’t let him have that gives him a sense of pathos on a somewhat recognizable level (yeah, he loses loved ones and crazy stuff, but he also has more mundane problems like not being able to ever finish his post-grad degree).

Like all good things X-Men, Havok really first came to my attention during X-Cutioner’s Song. With Cyclops and Jean Grey captured by Stryfe early in the story, Alex has to step up and assume in large part leadership over not just X-Factor, but the X-Men as well—Storm is there, so it’s not total control, but we see him chafe a bit under the pressure, yet ultimately come through because it needs to be done. His brother is in trouble and the day needs saving, so Havok rises to the challenge.

At Comic-Con last month, I got to chat with Scott Porter—who voiced Cyclops for the X-Men Anime and upcoming Marvel MMO, but whose favorite Marvel character is Havok in a nice bit of irony—who echoed one of my favorite moments in all of X-Cutioner’s Song in the penultimate chapter and then into the finale, where Havok, Cable, Polaris and Cannonball attempt to enter a force field on the moon where Stryfe is holding Cyclops and Jean captive. The field is set for the Summer/Grey genetic matrix, so though we didn’t know Cable was Scott and a Jean clone’s son at the time, he’s able to pass no problem, whereas Polaris and Cannonball get rebuffed and knocked out. After Cable gets kicked around for a bit, out of nowhere Stryfe gets nailed by a Havok power blast, as Alex reveals that he also got through, with the great line “It knocked me around for not being Scott, but I’ve always done a pretty good job of that myself.” Then he turns the tide long enough for everybody else to rally.

It was an awesome moment and quintessential Havok to me: He’s not generally the center of the story, but he knows it, he deals with it, and he does what needs to be done.

I’m not saying there aren’t dozens of stories about how Alex does have a problem living in Scott’s shadow (Inferno leaps to mind), but I dig more the ones where he rises above it and shows it doesn’t define him.

Now Havok is going to be on arguably the biggest stage ever for the character (his underrated solo series, Mutant X, could be brought up for discussion, but I think leading an Avengers team in 2012 is likely more prominent) with a writer eager to make him the start he’s always had the potential to be. He’s got a great artist to noodle that classic look in John Cassaday. He’s being handed a huge amount of that responsibility he’s always shirked slightly from as far as not only heading up the world’s most prominent super hero team, but being asked by no less than Captain America to be the poster boy for mutant-human relations.

It would be interesting to see any character act as Cap’s handpicked delegate for peace, but a dude who’s never quite risen above the B-list and has frankly always seemed comfortable there?

I’m excited.