…the Scourge of the Underworld’s identity?

3111208-nomadThe following guest post comes from AF McGill who has been reading comics since 1995 and collecting them since 2006. Despite that, she finds herself hating comics more often than not. She might be a contrarian, she might be wrong or she might just be passionate to the point of insanity. She has absolutely no love for several of the “acclaimed” creators or books, instead her favourite comics include mostly Mark Gruenwald, J.M. DeMatteis, Fabian Nicieza, John Byrne and Roger Stern stuff. Her favourite characters are a bit more traditional and include Spider-Man, Captain America, Quasar, Quicksilver and Emma Frost. She also likes some DC but not enough to ever write anything of meaningfully amount about them.  Over to AF:

Jack was the 1950s Bucky who took an incomplete version of the super soldier serum and wound up going a bit insane and becoming an evil racist. He was eventually rehabilitated by S.H.I.E.L.D. during the 1980s and became the real Captain America’s sidekick as Nomad.

figure-01

During J.M. DeMatteis’ Captain America run, Nomad is routinely shown to be a bit of a chump. He always falls into traps, he is headstrong and brash, pessimistic and defeatist and his old way of black-and-white thinking is too ingrained for him to truly accept the way things are now. One more than one occasion, Nomad uses excessive force on super-villains much to the protests of Captain America while Nomad debates Cap’s lake of finite action and how the villains will always come back and they don’t care for the sanctity of life the way Cap does for theirs.

figure-02figure-03DeMatteis wraps up writing the book with #300, and then we enter the “Gruenwald era” (although the first few issues aren’t by him, they still feel part of his run). One of Gruenwald’s first goals was to write Nomad out as he saw no point of having Captain America have a sidekick who had equal (or debatably greater) strength to him. There’s a lot going on with Nomad in this issue, firstly Nomad tries to establish a normal civilian life for himself as Jack Monroe and it seems to be going well but then it’s all ruined one day by the arrival of a super-villain called Madcap. Jack is fired from his new job, rejected by the girl he fancied and then pursues Madcap to exact revenge. Instead, Nomad ends up discussing philosophy with Madcap who is… well, mad. Eventually, Nomad, who’s agenda and views are portrayed as wonky throughout the tale, takes Madcap down by himself and announces to Captain America that he wants to strike out on his own and try being a hero in his own way.

figure-04Captain America #309 ends with Nomad and Cap parting ways.

figure-05And started pretty much then across all the Marvel books, Scourge arrived. A master of disguise who dispensed justice by executing supervillains. Of particular note in Captain America #311 – only 2 issues after Nomad left the book – Scourge makes one of his first appearances targetting Constrictor who is the first supervillain Nomad faced on his return in DeMatteis run, a supervillain who beat Nomad spectacularly. Scourge’s assassination of Constrictor is foiled by Cap but Scourge is more successful in other appearances.

figure-06figure-07In Captain America #319, after the mass murder at the Bar with No Name, Scourge removes his mask and his silhouette could match Jack.

figure-08Likewise on the cover to #320 shows Scourge unmasked and the person again resembles Jack.

figure-09However in the actual issue, he doesn’t have the same features as on the cover.

So, eventually, the storyline/crossover is wrapped up in the aforementioned Captain America #320 where Captain America draws Scourge out into the opening by disguising himself as a super-villain as bait. This is where the story gives us the great ambiguity with the ending. “Scourge” arrives to assassinate Captain America but is depicted in an entirely black catsuit costume which is neither Scourge’s costume nor a disguise.

figure-10Captain America subdues “Scourge” and unmasks him to discover he doesn’t know who the guy is. “Scourge” offers up a origin story but before Captain America can cart him off to jail, “Scourge” is shot dead from off-panel as a voice cries out “Justice is served!” (Scourge’s catchphrase).

figure-11figure-12The issue points out all the possible things going on here. Was that REALLY Scourge Cap caught? Or was Scourge still at large? Who killed him?

figure-13For the sake of this, we are going with the idea that Captain America going on the television to bait Scourge inspired a copycat to follow in Scourge’s steps. Cap fought the copycat and when captured the copycat offered up a pleasing sounding tidy origin story. He was in it for the glory (as echoed in his “went out with a bang”). The copycat was assassinated by the real Scourge who arrived later and discovered it was a trap when he found Cap fighting “Scourge”. Realizing this was also a perfect “out”, especially since Captain America was now investigating him, Scourge retired for a time following this.

The Scourge saga resolved then in #320. And what do you know in #324, Nomad – who has been absent from the book since #309 – returns! This time Nomad is planning to murder a drug dealer called the Slug and is employing disguises to get close to his target. How appropriately Scourge-like.

figure-14Captain America eventually confronts Nomad and the two engage in a debate and a fight over killing a villain.

figure-15Eventually, Nomad relents but makes no effort to save the Slug’s life, firmly establishing that Nomad can’t argue with Captain America but doesn’t agree with Cap.

figure-16Nomad remains a supporting character in the book for the next 20 or so issues. This debate continually rears it’s head. Nomad is always quick to suggest fighting or killing baddies and in #340, when Captain America isn’t around, he proudly allows super-villain Vibro to fall to his death.

figure-17Honestly though, I’m glancing over a lot, there is loads of more evidence in both these issues and the DeMatteis issues to support Jack’s uneven character but they usually are a lot of very similar debates about brutality/killing, Nomad acting suspicious or being unstable, Nomad being cynical about the whole superheroes v supervillains dichotomy. I’ve not even mentioned his frequent bouts of anger with “boy scout” D-Man.

Eventually, Captain America and Nomad lock horns over these issues in #345 and a drunk Nomad, after suggesting “storming” the Commission on Superhuman Activities, gets mad and basically calls Cap a pussy. This is Nomad leaving the book’s supporting cast. Forever, actually. He never does return to the book.

figure-18That was #345. In #347, you’ll never guess who returns? Scourge. This time Scourge is shown assassinating the 1950s Red Skull – one of Nomad’s MAJOR enemies.

figure-19figure-20A subsequent appearance (#351) has Scourge arriving at the Commission on Superhuman Activities office and assassinating a member of the Watchdogs (after he in turn attempted to assassinate John Walker). This neatly aligns and mirrors with Jack’s proposed attack on the CSA.

figure-21But by then the Scourge thing more or less fell apart. There was contradictory appearances and a complete lack of success of Scourge’s part to actual do anything. The character was shown to be associated with the Red Skull but also shown to be operating independent. He was killed in one issue by the Red Skull and re-appeared in another completely fine. Eventually we got the explanation that Scourge was basically an organization funded by the Golden Age Angel and there were loads of them.

Meanwhile, Nomad eventually pursued his whole Renegade Easy Rider solo series when he began to notice the complexities of villainy and the law (that’s the actual canon reason for that cosmetic change). Many many years later, Nomad did actually become Scourge in Thunderbolts #33-50. At this time, it was the result of brainwashing.

Here’s where the more tenuous stretches come in.

I’m not sure how to handle Nomad’s relationship with GA Angel. On one hand, the first time around with Scourge, it’s not necessary. But if I want the Scourge who appears in #346-351 to be Nomad, it needs to be established. However, that second round can also be attributed to a subsequent Scourge – but it does ruin the neatness Nomad’s storming out and returning next issue as Scourge.

Secondly, a lot of people cite the Scourge appearance in an issue of Thing where Scourge was disguised as a female wrestler as early evidence there were more than one Scourge because he passed himself off as a scantily clad female.

figure-22However, in Captain America #320, we see Scourge disguised as a pretty convincing woman.

figure-23He also disguised himself as women in other issues such as Cap #311.

figure-24In one issue of Nomad’s solo series, he dresses up as a woman to go undercover.

figure-25When Nomad was Scourge in Thunderbolts, he used an image inducer. He could use one here but that makes the idea of disguises a bit redundant. But Scourge was a MASTER of disguise, he could disguise himself as a bulked up female wrestler.

It’s actually pretty easy to rationalize that Nomad and Angel have met or have a previously unseen adventure together. For what it’s worth, Nomad was shown to interact and have unseen history with some other Golden Age heroes in New Invaders #2 and #9.

figure-26Nomad and Angel (along with “sidekick” Domino, Scourge’s info supplier) could have been behind the original Scourge and when Nomad abandoned the guise he convinced Angel and Domino that they should lay low for a while until the heat dies down so Captain America or others don’t investigate them. Or perhaps first time around it was just Nomad and Domino and Angel only came onboard to finance the second round. Either way, After Nomad returned to Captain America’s side, Angel received funding and support from “John Smith” (a.k.a. Red Skull).

I also think it’s a very very smart way of explaining the sudden change in the Scourge organization as being the suggestion of Red Skull – who himself was exploring capitalist ventures, as a means of spreading his evil. He gave Angel the idea to restructure the Scourge idea now as an actual organization with several Scourges (unknowingly ultimately in the Skull’s pocket). But this may have come before or after Nomad’s brief return.

When Nomad abandoned Captain America he briefly returned to being Scourge for a few hits. He was happy to assassinate 50s Red Skull at the command of “John Smith” due to his past with 50s Skull. Or perhaps “John Smith” is receiving the report from GA Angel and Nomad really isn’t aware of the outside source of target selection.

figure-27Either way his next hit was again personal; U.S.Agent.

However the first new recruit appeared in #350…

figure-28However, he was beaten and killed (latter off-panel) by U.S.Agent. (originally I came up with that this could be Jack, and the reason he stopped being Scourge was when he realized “John Smith” was also aligned and working with terrorists, but you see a big pool of blood coming from Scourge on a later page).

figure-29Nomad soon went to the building housing the CSA to kill U.S.Agent but instead found he’d been beaten to it by what was apparently a member of the Watchdogs. Nomad killed him instead and fled.

Following that Nomad hastily abandoned the guise forever, either realizing that the Scourge organization was being played by “John Smith” (and suspecting that the information he was fed about U.S.Agent had also been supplied to the Watchdogs). He may also have been aware of the new recruit who died in #350 alongside other terrorists which further made him realize Scourge was being made into a puppet. Or he didn’t agree with the idea of franchising the Scourge character.

However, Angel was either not made aware of Nomad’s concerns or didn’t care where the funding was coming from since it seemed sincere in support and he continued the program with what was now an organization with it with multiple new recruits to be Scourge. At least one of whom was loyal to Skull.

(Note: In actual fact the “Watchdog” was a CSA agent in disguise)

The Skull had high expectations for his new Scourge organization but found them to be incompetent without a dedicated operative like Nomad and abandoned them – killing (one of?) his inside men and cutting off funding.

figure-30figure-31Despite this, Angel had enough money to continue on. Nomad’s hatred for John Walker from those issues in the #340s could also contextualize why the Scourge organization / GA Angel spent so long screwing with U.S.Agent in U.S.Agent #1-4. Maybe they even held him responsible for Nomad retiring as Scourge.

figure-32And that’s more or less it. Nomad pursued his solo career as a hardened but complex character and along the way began to realize the Scourge M.O. didn’t really work. There was evil that escaped notice, there was innocent people, there were victims who turned to crime. And his care for Baby Bucky also helped him find the humanity and balance to stop him from going full-on Scourge again.

Also worth noting is following the original Scourge saga, Jack hooks up with a woman Priscilla Lyons who is the basic reason Nomad was going after Slug that time. They eventually fall apart but she goes on to becomes one of the subsequent Scourge recruits in U.S.Agent #1-4.

In all his publishing existence Nomad has been brainwashed 6 times and he has been “dead” 3 times. If ever a character was so messed up in the head to justify dramatic psychotic breaks in becoming a serial killer, it’s Jack Monroe. But, as you can see, it takes quite a lot of legwork to reconcile the latter appearances, but in my mind, the original Scourge was definitely Nomad. While I think the Scourge well has been tapped well past the point of dehydration and adding anything else to it would be pointless, if I was writing Captain America or an appropriate book, I would try and find some way to hint at this idea. Even if it was just adding a few big hints that Nomad was the original Scourge without actually pursuing the idea beyond suggestions.

Advertisements

…Aunt Petunia’s age?

This guest post comes from foremost Fantastic Four scholar, Chris Tolworthy.  Chris holds the unconventional view that the Fantastic Four (from 1961 to 1988) was the Great American Novel, and equivalent to Shakespeare.  This essay is typical of the stuff he finds every time he opens a comic, and why his site will never be finished.  Over to you Chris…

Since 1964, Ben Grimm (The Thing) has referred to his “old aunt Petunia” as a source of wisdom. Note the word “old.”  But in Fantastic Four #238-239 we finally see her, and she is young.  How young?  She looks to be in her 20s or 30s.  O’Hoolihan calls Petunia “a foin broth of a girl” and Johnny considers her attractive.  Assuming an upper age of 35, and with the stretching time scale between 1961 and 1982, she was born after 1935.  But for Ben to have fought in WWII he left home in 1945 at the latest.  Petunia would have been 10 or younger when she was dishing out old lady advice to a teenage Ben.  More seriously, she was supposedly a qualified nurse and possibly even married to Uncle Jake at this time.  The numbers do not add up.

Figure 1: Ben’s “old aunt Petunia”, from Fantastic Four #239, page 5.

As an aside, Petunia has a highly dated name.  Flower names (rose, lily, iris, etc.) had an explosion in popularity around the year 1900, but the fashion soon ended.  Babycenter.com now ranks Petunia as number 12,986 in popularity (compared with the dated but still possible Susan at 840 and relatively trendy Alicia at 185).  Everything points to Petunia being a generation older than Ben, and not a married nine year old graduate.

However, the story suggests a solution.  Petunia appears to ask Ben’s help with problems in the town.  We learn that ancient earth spirits are causing the bad people to face their inner demons and die, and the solution is to get the bad people to leave.  Only a handful of good people are left, including Petunia and Jake, and a girl called Wendy who spends time with the spirits.  Perhaps Petunia also spends time with them?  Wendy does not tell people what she knows about the spirits.  At the end of the book she is shown with the spirits, a fact not revealed to anybody.  But if it was not revealed, how was it in the book?  In the Fantastic Four we only see what the team tell Marvel: if the team don’t know about it then it can’t go in the book (cf. Fantastic Four #10, #176).  How, then, did they know Wendy’s secret?  Presumably somebody else had experience with the spirits.. Who else could it be but Petunia?  Jake is not mobile, but Petunia is feisty and curious: another Wendy.  Petunia would have explored there as a small girl (face it, there was not much else to do) and, like Wendy, would have discovered the spirits.  Perhaps “Wendy’s friends” are not just the spirits, but also Jake and Petunia.

Figure 2: Ben’s Uncle Jake was once angry we are told, from Fantastic Four #239, page 7.

Jake is also another version of Wendy’s father: he was once angry, we are told.  He comes from a time when men were often violent, and Ben comes from a culture of violent gang members.  But now Jake is at peace.  Perhaps Wendy’s tale is also Petunia’s tale.  Perhaps it is really all about Jake, but like Wendy, Petunia and Ben are too loyal to ever speak against him.  Jake had to face his inner demons, the demons of the violent earth that made his generation (the last generation to sweep the Native Americans away): he had to reap the whirlwind.  Notice that redemption comes from the land itself.  The American settlers lose their thirst to conquer the land and begin to cooperate with it.  The Grimm story is the story of the people of the land.  Note that none of this contradicts “second wife” or “many years younger” story.  But the significance is not that a 50 year old man married a 9 year old, the significance is that a 50 year old man married a 30 year old who healed his anger.

This raises several questions.

First, did Petunia move to Arizona too late to be this young? She said they moved to Arizona “shortly before” Fantastic Four #1.  But why would two New Yorkers choose Arizona?  Seems a long way from New York – where they trying to escape?  Or did they already have connections there?

Second, Jake is portrayed as a nice middle class doctor who was only angry because of his legs.  He contrasts with Ben’s alcoholic father and gang leader brother.  In The Thing #2 we see how Ben idolised his brother, but then his brother was killed in a gang fight, and Ben went to live with Uncle Jake.  Later Ben became leader of the same Yancy Street Gang; and only THEN did Jake talk to Ben about leaving the gang.

Something does not add up. While it is possible that a lower class alcoholic has a middle class doctor for a brother, it is statistically unlikely.  More seriously, Jake knew that Ben’s favourite brother was killed in a gang fight.  Why did Jake wait until Ben was gang leader before suggesting it was a bad idea?  It sounds like Jake was saw gang membership, including stabbing, as perfectly acceptable.

Third, we are told that people disapproved of Jake marrying a much younger woman.  But the numbers suggest this was only a man in his fifties marrying a woman in her thirties – unusual but hardly a scandal.

Which leads to our next curiosity:

Fourth, why did Petunia have such an influence on Ben?  According to The Thing #2, Ben was raised by his aunt Alyce, and Petunia did not arrive on the scene until later.  Ben was a gang leader while Petunia was a student nurse who claims she never questioned anything Jake did.  Why would Ben be influenced by Petunia more than Alyce?  Petunia’s story is all very neat – far TOO neat.  Jake was an idealised man?  Jake needed the excuse of an injury to explain why he met this nurse?  But he was a doctor in a busy hospital (cf. Fantastic Four #238, 257): he worked with nurses all the time!  Then it took years for Petunia to be Jake’s student and then eventually his wife, and then become an influence on Ben?  There isn’t enough time.  And Petunia never questioned Jake? This doesn’t sound like a woman that the rebellious Ben would idolise.

A simpler explanation is that Jake was seeing Petunia before the accident, and we are hearing the sanitised version of events.  I am not suggesting that Jake killed his wife deliberately.  But if Jake was seeing somebody then his marriage may not have been a happy one: Jake’s brother was an alcoholic.  It’s easy to see how Jake might have been driving after drinking, and having a lot on his mind.  That would explain why he and Petunia wanted to move from their home in New York and get as far away as possible: accidentally killing your wife then marrying your much younger mistress is quite a scandal, and they would want to get away.

In short, Jake was not innocent.  Though Petunia probably is.  Petunia must have a pure heart, to survive being friends with the spirits.

Fifth potential problem: if Petunia knew about the spirits, why didn’t she tell Ben?  For the same reason that Wendy kept them secret, right to the end.  Some things are best not discussed.  But why would Petunia come to ask help from Ben if she could already talk to the spirits?  Because the evil in the town is causing deaths, and she needs help to get the bad people out of there.  Wendy did not tell everything she knew, so why should Petunia?

Finally, why did Ben not notice that Petunia had not aged?  Reed notes that the spirits may still be around in ten thousand years.  Like the Native American “ancient ones” found by the Miracle Man, they appear to have slowed aging to an almost standstill.  Being around time-stretching superheroes keeps a person young (as noted in the fourth-wall-breaking She-Hulk book), so perhaps being around these earth spirits will slow aging to a crawl.  This would explain why Petunia had barely aged since Ben knew her when Ben was a child (and 35 then seemed ancient).  This also explains why Ben does not notice that Petunia has not aged: time dilation in comics is never noticed by those who experience it.