Poll Position: Super Hero Free Agency

You hear this sort of question all the time as it relates to professional sports, the idea that if you had to start a new franchise with just one star, who would you choose? Only this time, we're doing it comic-book style:


I started thinking about this in relation to "Invincible" and "Hellboy", both characters that were completely unknown but who eventually staked out an entire comic book line of very successful follow-on characters. But few of us have the raw creative power of a Kirkman or Mignola, so it seems like it'd be better to start out with a known commodity.

The question is, which known commodity? Let's explore the options:

  • Wolverine: Logan's proven that he can power a company; I would be that Wolverine-related titles have been responsible for an enormous percentage of Marvel's properties over the last 30 years. Of course, in part that's because virtually every Marvel property has featured Wolverine in one wayr another. Still, readers can relate to him. He can be hurt (for a little while, anyway) just like the rest of us, he's got problems fitting in like a lot of us geeks do, he's been ostracized and outcast, and he doesn't bathe all that often. All key, relatable parts of the core comic book demographic. And yet, he kicks ass. He can get the girl when he needs to. He's got a mysterious past that can hook in a lot of potential story lines. And he's proven that while he can work in a larger cast, he doesn't need them, which is important for a flagship character upon whom you relay for spawning spin-offs.
  • Batman: On the one hand, clearly Batman is enormously popular, so you've got a huge built-in audience. And he's popular in a lot of different media, so you're guaranteed a hefty chunk of non-comics revenue, always a nice thing when starting a new company. The creative challenge is, no Robin, no Catwoman, no Joker, no Rogues' Gallery. Just Batman and whatever else you can come up with. And at the end of the day, without all that history, he's just another run-of-the-mill billionaire who dresses up in tights to fight crime.
  • Superman: Unlike Batman, no one gives a rat's ass about Superman's Rogues' Gallery. So you can't have Brainiac or Toy Man, big freaking whoop. Those guys are all chumps just looking for innovative ways to get their butts kicked by Superman anyway. In fact, I sometimes think Superman would be a way better character if you could shuck all his cumbersome historical baggage. In terms of building a whole comic book line around him, his incredible array of powers leave you a lot of opportunities. You can do space-based fare, traditional adventure stories, slugfest super hero standards, and pretty much anything else you can think of. And while Hollywood hasn't been able to figure out how to make a decent Superman movie after the original two, he has a long history of success in other media, much like Batman.
  • Spider-Man: A relatable character concept that teens will always feel close to, an actually existing home town full of millions of potential customers, and a proven track record of multimedia success. Still, spiders are icky.
  • Iron Man: Like Superman, there's no one else in the entire Iron Man comic book franchise you couldn't do without. You've got a rich guy in a suit of high-tech armor, you're set -- invent as many other characters as you need, you've still got a rich guy in a suit of high-tech armor blasting the crap out of things and getting beat on like a gong. Good times. However, he's never had the die-hard comic book base you'd like if you're founding a whole company on his shoulders.
  • None, you'd make your own founding character: Like I said, few of us have Kirkman or Mignola's pure creative mojo, but the temptation to do something completely unfettered by anyone else's vision or history is very, very tempting.

If you answer "none", please let us know in the comments what kind of character and stories you'd do. I think that'd be great to hear!

If you go with an established character, tell us what sorts of stories you see them involved in at your new company and how you'd change their history around to make sense, what you'd replace their established supporting cast with, etc.

For me, I'd probably go with Wolverine. I could see doing some really awesome adventures with the basic concept of "Unkillable amnesiac with claws". Yeah, that works ...

32 Responses to Poll Position: Super Hero Free Agency

  1. John says:

    Oh, who are you kidding, Jeff? The Bat’s gonna win this one going away. Why? ‘Cause he’s the *&^%#$% Batman, that’s why!

  2. Me, Myself & I says:

    I’d start from scratch, less bagage that way. I would try to develope the characters more worrying less about their powers. The powers would all come out eventually anyways.

    One thing I would do is try to make the villains stand alone. In other words, not dependant on their respective hero’s to have a story. That way they can cross over easily from one hero to the next easily. Granted, other producers have had villains end up getting faced by different hero’s but for the most part they tend to be one hero primary.

    Look at he Joker for instance. You aren’t going to find a more iconic vilain and yet, you can’t think of him without Batman.

  3. Myro says:

    Start from scratch, precisely to avoid the previous baggage that not only comes with the character, but that fans will also expect. I mean, at some point, someone’s going to vocally and publicly start asking why this new series doesn’t feature popular supporting character/villian X. Even on the characters you tried to brush off like Superman or Iron Man with a fairly forgettable Rogues’ Gallery (and in Superman’s case, people will start asking about Lex Luthor, in addition to Lois Lane).

    New characters avoid any previous expectations. As for what I’d do, I’m not sure. I have a number of characters I’ve made that I would jump at the chance to make them into the star of their own comic series. In one case, VII, I even used HeroMachine to make a mock indie comic cover. And I think there could be a profitable niche market for an ass-kicking female assassin in ancient Rome.

  4. Nicolas X says:

    well id either do an alternate dimension superman with all new characters(starting with smallville getting completely destroyed and superman ruling the earth for some time) or start with my own i think if i had to make one from scratch on the spot i would have to make a billionaire with electro powers (they have never fully taken advantage of that like what if a bullet comes at you and because of some new magnetic gloves you invented you do a matrix and stop all the bullets an inch from your face) also if id have to choose one villain for my character it would be a superpowered arms dealer I know its been done but still is cool

  5. Nicolas X says:

    also a spy or gf with telekinesis that we only find out about later Mwahahahha

  6. Jadebrain says:

    I went with the option to have only my own characters. Why? A few reasons:

    1. Less “baggage,” as others have said. As bad as being predictable is in a story, actively going against people’s expectations is hard to pull off effectively, and if you try to be unpredictable and fail to make it work, the results will probably be disastrous.
    2. More personal freedom in design. Sure, I consider myself better at innovating than inventing, but at the end of the day, if I had to choose between a pre-made character design I couldn’t change (see 1) versus a character that was all my own, I’d go with the latter.
    3. I already have plenty of my own characters and stories to tell; if I get distracted by having to tell what is basically a glorified fan-fiction, I’ll probably lose sight of the stories I want to tell.
    4. Unlike most people here, I’m not so much into the whole superhero theme so much as the high fantasy theme. If anyone looks at my creations, they’d easily be able to tell that. When people here talk about the backgrounds for superheroes, I kind of have to take their word for it, ’cause I don’t really know much about superheroes. But if, say, you were to ask me the name of the Evil Emperor in Final Fantasy II (II as in actual II, not IV that was first released as II in America), I would quickly be able to tell you that his name, never revealed in-game yet declared by other sources, was Mateus. Therefore, the choices of superheroes given in the polls really wouldn’t be good for me to choose to be able to make stories about, even if I wanted to.

  7. X-stacy says:

    Ideally, of course you’d only ever use your very own (epic and winning) brand new characters. But let’s face it, your book is going to sell better with Wolverine on the cover. Maybe he doesn’t even have to be inside it–maybe he could just grace the cover. It would work for a couple issues before people got wise, anyway.

    But Wolverine works well as a foundational character, because he’s basically been in every kind of story already, with every kind of cast, and been accepted. You aren’t really taking a chance with it like you would be by separating these others from their supporting casts. He doesn’t need Kitty Pryde or Jubilee to mentor–any spunky teenage girl would work. He doesn’t need a specific foe to fight–anybody who also has healing powers and short-range weapons will do. Nor do his enemies need to come from a particular source–any shadowy government conspiracy or dark criminal underbelly can do the trick.

  8. B.Clouser says:

    Starting with a known character may seem safe, but it’s far more dangerous in my book as you have to release your first comic as a reboot of them – something that can very easily alienate fans.

    I’d use my own character and offer something different from the feigning superhero genre. Here he is:


  9. ajw says:

    I would make the Condor,I didn’t realize before but his story is like memento kinda. So he starts as a bum on the street and proceeds to fight off gang members in an alley only to wake up to find agents in his hospital room telling him he was a hero, that his wife was murdered, his memory loss was caused by a battle with her murderer and they reveal a pic of the murderer, but the agents make him follow their orders until they reveal the killers location ending with a climactic battle.(in a nutshell)

    or Luster a former retired sidekick is brought in to start a team with shade, a character like Cloak from Marvel,and 3 other pairs of opposite powered heroes to form The Negatives.

  10. ajw says:

    nice clouser, wish i could draw and paint like that.

  11. Zaheelee says:

    Personally, I chose to make my own characters because Batman is absolutely NOTHING without his partners and rogues. Also, I have an idea that I have been developing over the past year and a half that is not directed towards guys like most comics are. Instead, my comic, called “Zenith” would feature two teenaged girls who are nothing alike but still manage to fight crime together. Here are their character bios, so if you are not interested, you can just skip the rest of this post 🙂

    Beatrice Campbell A.K.A Eclipse: A teenaged computer scientist and excelent hacker. One day and evil organization called “The Counsil” raids her dad’s research lab, trapping her inside. During the cummotion, a bunch of moon rocks are exposed to radiation and the whole place blows up in the following reaction. Beatrice gets superpowers (flight, energy beams, shields, and limited healing) but can only use them when she is an arms distance away from the radioactive moon rocks or when the moon itself can be seen in the sky. Eventually, she is captured by the Council, who exploits her powers for destructive purposes before she is finally saved by a rogue Council member. She fights crime because she wants to make up for what she did under the Councils influence.

    Devon Heartland A.K.A. Solstice: A nationaly ranked gymnast at the age of nine, Devon was kidnapped by the Council and trained to be one of their most talented asassins. She was present at the lab when the moon rocks blew up the building and also light based gained powers (illusions, and light constructs that actually have mass, unlike green lantern which can be moved at will, once she creates them they are just like ordinary objects). She helps Beatrice escape from the Council and agrees to fight crime with her so that no one else could be manipulated the way she was.

    Sorry that was sooooo long, once I start talking about them, I just keep going… 🙂

  12. McKnight57 says:

    I went with “None.” As far as my story is concerned, Ive already got everything down in writing, with regard to backstories, relationships, profiles and have even started writing my first issue. If you want to know what the idea or concept is, well you might want to pull up a chair.

    My main character, McKnight (Michael Alan Colt), was born in 1752, making him the first US Marine, and is actually immortal. In his family, this is genetic to the firstborn, be they son or daughter. His son, Overlord (Alexander Joseph Marion, he took his mother’s maiden name), is the main villain and McKnight’s grandson, Marshal Justice (Frank Marion), is the second-in-command of the titular group, the Hero Corps. Though they are officially unaffiliated with either local or state government, they are endorsed by both military and civilian law enforcement agencies. This is primarily because both McKnight and Marshal Justice have served as LEOs (Law Enforcement Officers) and as US Marines. They occasionally operate under Executive orders, though generally on their own terms.

    McKnight is the only character in the comic who routinely breaks the fourth wall. Every so often one or two others will inadvertently do so and have no recollection of it. This is explained by the fact that while in active duty in Vietnam, his brain and body were experimented on after he was seen coming back to life after being shot in the head.

    Now for a rundown of the other heroes;
    Crimson Lightning
    Lucky Lad
    Lee Norris
    Daniel Ben-Zion
    The Native
    The Fallen

  13. McKnight57 says:

    Almost forgot the villains lineup. Their group is called the Chaos Dominion.
    Golden Blur
    Yukon Jackhammer
    Grim Reefer

    If there are any questions, relating to the story so far or any characters, let me know and I’ll respond as soon as possible.

  14. thejay says:

    The A.O.F, the so-called “army of the fallen”, is a secret paramilitary organization with only three parameters of admission:

    Candidate must have served in the national army for at least 13 days.
    Candidate has performed some sort of heroic deed (usually saving a life, but not always).
    Candidate has died prematurely.

    an AOF soldier is granted super-strength, super-speed (up to a train’s speed) and invunerability (their crystal-blue eyes are their only vunerable area, and they use protective goggles when on duty). In addition, they are invisible or otherwise ignored by the living; their speech on the phone sounds like static. so they can’t reconnect with their families and loved ones. The story is multi-cast based, each issue may focus on different characters. Haven’t figured out the villains yet. originally modelled after the IDF, but if it ever came out in Israel, it would’ve just hurt a lot of people who lost friends and family in the wars.
    Also – separate storyline where the government investigates the footprints and strange phenomenons surrounding the AOF, only to be one step behind the shadow army.

    “They cannot be harmed, but their hearts are forever broken.
    They watch over us, though we cannot see them.
    They live among us, yet they are not among the living.”

  15. thejay says:

    It’s going to be heavy with flashback scenes. Note that an AOF soldier doesn’t necessarily die in a war before getting resurrected. I have a few ideas: prom queen who was raped and murdered takes revenge, soldier who was in a coma most of his life wakes up only when he’s dead, a philosophy major with a big mouth who gives his opinion about his situation (even though nobody asked him), soldiers from different wars and periods all look the same age – the age they died in – and the only living man in the AOF, the team’s psychiatrist, who helps them deal with their own deaths.

  16. My own founding character. Most of us agree about not carrying baggage. Jadebrain’s Point #3 is why I’d start fresh. Using an established character would be fan-fiction.

    Somewhere, I still have a list of my Champions and GURPS Supers characters. Some never played but they are fully-fleshed. They are why I sought a program like Hero Machine in the first place.

    I like the versatility of a motif superhero like Green Lantern or anti-hero like The Mask. Where the power spreads among different personalities and motivations. It gives opportunities for epics, serials, and one-shot adventures while still maintaining a continuum. So your hero would not always be the same person (or being), yet share a common history, and still move the story along.

    A hero like that… hmmm… well, it would be more about the super power itself: Zeitgeist. A metaphysical discipline used to mimic other meta-humans or even temporarily possess them. The main character would be the master (mistress?) of the art whose true motivations are undecipherable and actions seemingly random.

    The master neutralizes other Zeitgeists. A yin and yang presence, a balance for karma, or perhaps simply a foil. Sometimes the master is the hero; others the villain. The Zeitgeists exist throughout time, space, and dimension. They manipulate others to fight their battles.

    The constant being the master. However, the master himself is not immortal. Which would open to changes in personality and motivation when a new leader ascends.

  17. Nicolas X says:

    all of you have better ideas than me i am officially shamed

    *sob* *whimper* sob*

    on another note cool ideas my friend has a series based off of sonic the hedgehog thats kinda cool anyways


  18. @thejay: Yes, that works! I especially like the idea of the psychiatrist as a channel. Maybe have the hard-nosed, uncaring squad commander like Lt. Shrieve of “Weird War Tales” and “Creature Commandos”:



    To be honest, when I just made up the Zeitgeists, I was going for Sandman meets Dr. Who.

  19. Myro says:

    Atomic Punk (14): I think you may have tapped into why “start fresh with an original character” is running away with it this week. Most, if not all of us came to HeroMachine to visually realize our own original characters for story or gaming purposes, and as such, we have multiple characters that we would probably like to see published in print, and would probably be more comfortable dealing with characters we ourselves have invented and fully realized in our heads than some pre-existing character from another publication. HeroMachinists, as a rule, are pretty creative, so I’m not at all surprised by the general consensus.

  20. I already have created my own central character of Mustang Sally and surrounding universe. And fortunately, I’ve just been offered a contract for the series, so I can say that there will be a superhero series with my name on it coming out, hopefully with the first book this year.

  21. McKnight57 says:

    Ian Thomas Healy (19): Very cool. I look forward to hearing more about it. Let us know when the first issue is due.

  22. BenK22 says:

    I think it would be cool to start from scratch; though I can see the appeal of picking Spider-Man or Superman or Wolverine.

    I don’t know, I think it might be fun to stat a superhero team of comic book fans and other “nerds”. Or someone who always wanted to help people and gets roped into a dangerous Captain America-esque “super soldier” program. Or a team who stumbles upon a government secret and gets paid hush money only to gain super powers from the secret and use them against the government.

    Though crossovers are always fun…or is that cheating? You know, instead of having a multiverse of alternate realities based on the current universe, each alternate reality would be a different fantasy world, i.e. DC or Marvel.

  23. Novak says:

    I would take the Marvel road and pull a “Mutant X”. By this I mean take a mid-carder “Havak” and give him his own new universe.

    I would take this road for a few reasons. The first is no matter who you walked in on doing what they are never going to give you any of those five to do with as you please. Next if you take Spider-man away from New York or Mary Jane the fans will skin you alive at Comic Con. Third it is hard to create something new with out distroying what is already there, and no one wants to destroy a classic. Finally thing that needs to be said is look at what Neil Gaiman did with the back bencher the Sandman. He took the idea of a guy with a gas gun and turned it into a history making run that forced them to change the rules so comic books could never win there awards again.

  24. spidercow2010 says:

    Starting from scratch. I’ve had an idea for some time now that I think has tremendous flexibility, and there’s really no point in keeping it a secret cuz I know I’ll never get it together and do it. But, hey, the idea is still mine in a very real and legally binding sense.
    You see, in a major New England seaport remarkably like Boston there’s a legend dating back to Colonial days of a mysterious protector of the underdog who seems to know about, and thwart, everything heinous going on, who seems to be everywhere at once, and seemingly can’t be killed. Many believe he’s just an urban myth. “He” is, in fact, an army of guys who all wear the same outfit & mask and the tradition has continued until today, constantly augmented by state-of-the-art tech, and they’re sworn, among other things, to NEVER let it be known that there’s more than one guy.
    Admittedly it’s all extremely derivative, but I’m stealing from the best: Each man has Batman’s mysteriousness, training and dedication, the Phantom’s seeming immortality; they’re all linked in a massive underground organization like the Shadow’s (lots of operatives, informants and plants who aren’t in on the secret and don’t know each other, all linked by a central comm-ops strategist a la Oracle), and there’s the potential for interpersonal dynamics like every team-based story.
    They call themselves the Aegis. They have abundant financing from the low-profile respectable benevolent Aegis Foundation, and a crack support team in their sprawling secret HQ. Plus their long history allows for stories from the organization’s past eras.
    I’ve got lots more; this was the short version.

  25. spidercow2010 says:

    Oh, and all very “real world.” No super-powers; people actually die and stay dead; no gizmos that don’t really exist yet.

  26. Worf says:

    My answer would actually depend on another question: Would the background characters count as “unusable”? Like Thomas and Martha Wayne, Uncle Ben and Aunt May, Jonathan and Martha Kent… That would immediately ruin the backstory of the three major contenders… And if established stories are out the window, Wolverine’s interest also drops dramatically (think no weapon-x or origins minis). Batman and Spider-man would be pointless. I mean, what is Bats without the death of his parents or Spidey without loosing Uncle Ben?

    And yeah, I’m not touching Iron Man because he’s the only one that could reasonably survive this ordeal and still be a close facsimile of the original. I mean, I’m pretty sure he survived the first 10 to 15 years of publication without Pepper Potts and War machine was nowhere to be seen for at least that period as well… and as far as villains go… a 5yo child can make better villains. So just ask your kid brother for a few suggestions and you’re set. 😉

    And as far as creating my own… well there I have to fault my nature. I’ve always been more of a builder than a dreamer (hence the computer engineering and the failed aerospace engineering) so I’ve never attempted to create stories and characters.

  27. Sean Murphy says:

    Like so many others, I went with “None/my own pre-existing”. I’ve been gaming a lot of years ad have a stable of characters that could be adapted. The flagship would either have to be Atomstar, the Atomic Ace! (The exclamation mark is part of the phrase and has to be included to comply with the terms of the EULA.). He comes with his own baggge, but none of it is beholden to a fan base that will want to see their favorite supporting characters, some of it is beholden to other members of the gaming group who would be happy to see their characters in print. His archrival Atomsun is a fission byproduct who passed himself off as a “mirror universe” alternate for a long time. Atomstar had a spinoff ally, a character from an earlier game that I brought in with the same secret identity (we were playing V&V where you play yourself) but different origin and powers, Swashbuckler was an unfortunate who was stranded within a Continuum Barrier when a history-altering crossover series retconned him, leaving him effectively homeless. He had allies – Powerman, Nightingale, Matrix, White Ninja, Cyberbrat, Blue Flame, and Phoenix (PCs and a couple of NPCs that took on a life of their own for the GM) and enemies – Whip, Beautiful Dreamer, Doppleganger, MourningSong, as well as a few drawn from supplements for V&V and Champions that would need to be replaced.

  28. zombotron says:

    I went with none, but on second thought, a “John Carter of Mars” style story might be cool. Hmmm… “Batman of Mars”

  29. McKnight57 says:

    Here is a version of McKnight from far in his past, as he was the first Marine.


  30. Blackjack says:

    Oh my gosh, Batman’s losing in the polls! What an upset!

  31. StarMan2000 says:

    In terms of building a comic, i’d prefer to work around a concept that i’ve visualised, and made myself. I mean with all the superpowers out there you can easily build a unique set of powers for a character. Then it’s just putting as much of a real personality into them as you can, starting from basic behaviour, to dreams, ambitions, fears or weaknesses. I think i’d rather go for something along the Watchmen idea (not so gritty and grim) but the whole team of none-powered individuals working together to protect their city sounds cool. But then as a flagship character I would design the a superhuman individual, who is the first of his kind. I mean think of his dilemma, at first he’s the only powered person alive. His struggle to be ‘normal’ or maybe he revels in his god among men-ness. Lots of angles there

  32. D says:

    I went for the last one, because I don’t want Dan DiDio or Joe Quesada to tell me who I can or can’t kill off or who I can or can’t use. I couldn’t work like that. I would rather have the freedom to explore my own ideas. Better still, there’s no fanbase with a vocal, over-opinionated minority whining about even the smallest changes.

    That said, for me the downside would be having to say to people (particularly fanboys) “Hey, folks, this isn’t just another superhero comic, this is something new and exciting.” I would have to work harder to sell my idea than I would if I were writing about an established character whose fans know their story backwards, because my characters aren’t ones they’re familiar with. I would be asking them to believe in, and invest in, something different. And that won’t necessarily be easy. If I were Stan Lee with hundreds of “True Believers” in my corner, someone who is a natural showman with an an endless supply of enthusiasm and pizzazz, it would be different. But I’m not.