Old Ventures 2, Ch. 14

Fourteen, Basrah

“You ready, Jack?” Ian asked, his voice staticky over the earpiece.

“Intel’s solid?” Jack asked, leaning out of the alley to see if there was a guard posted outside.

“Apartment rented to a known insurgent under the name ‘Mohammad Attah,’ so one, these guys aren’t playing at subtle, and they’re not rocket scientists.”

“Good,” Jack said, “I could really use punching someone who deserves it.”

“Rules of engagement?”

“Shoot to wound where possible, and only then when you have to. I can pull a punch, you can’t pull  a bullet. We may need them for questioning.”

“Works for me,” Ian said. “This rifle kicks like a mule, even firing prone, and my shoulder isn’t what it once was.”

“How’s your visibility?”

“Awful. Curtains all drawn. I can see silhouettes of movement, but once you’re in you’ll only be a slightly bigger blob than the rest.”

“You sure you don’t want to come in with me?”

“Yes, because I remember why we’re here- because I went in with you last time- and I’m only still here because the man in that building stopped me from bleeding out on a filthy street in Najaf.”

“Then I’ll get the curtains down, first thing.”

“It’s either that or I start blind-firing into the building.”

“Funny,” Jack said, and slid along the wall, halving the distance between minimizing his exposure and being inconspicuous, until he reached the door. “Ready?”

“My grand-nieces are ready, you’re moving so slowly.”

Jack leaned across the door and knocked, before shrinking back, careful to avoid either the door or the window. He heard the muffled sounds of conversation form within, then several shots shattered through the door and frame.

“They don’t seem to be playing nicely, do they?” Ian asked.

“I was hoping for an excuse to take off the gloves tonight,” Jack said, and kicked the door in. He unclipped a grenade from his belt and tossed it inside, before rolling away as another volley of fire pierced the open doorway. “Watch the door.”

Smoke billowed from the grenade, filling the room. An insurgent emerged from it, filling the doorway, raising a .357 revolver. A shot rang out, knocking the gun from his fingers with a loud crack. “Smith & Wesson,” Ian said. “Shame to ruin such a beautiful piece of kit- for an American weapon.”

“You prefer a Walther?”

“I prefer something less ostentatious and more practical… but I suppose we Brits don’t have nearly as much to overcompensate for. And Walther’s a German firearm.”

“Bit below the belt.”

“That is where you Americans tend to keep your insecurities,” Ian said, his smile apparent from his voice.

“You’re in a mood tonight,” Jack said, rolling a flashbang inside. “Everything okay?”

“Never,” he replied, the response mostly lost in the sound of the grenade.

“Anything you want to talk about?”

“You can ply me with liquor, later, to see.”

“I’m not sure I can afford your bar tab.”

“Hugh showed me the balance sheet for the investments he made on your behalf. You can afford me and then some.”

“Can your liver?”

“Means you’ll have to leave one of these alive enough for a transplant.”

“I’ll do what I can,” Jack said. He thumbed the button off his holster, then switched off the safety. He was hoping he wouldn’t need to kill anyone, but he’d never been skittish about taking lives to save them.

Jack rolled inside, snatching the curtain nearest to the door and tearing the rod from the wall,  sending it flying in the direction of two standing, coughing men. He landed in a crouch, pausing to listen for signs of others.

There was a dense hole in the wall of sound around him, about the size of a man in a chair. Jack bolted for the next window pulling the curtains down. This time he caught the rod, a heavy, hollow metal six feet long. Movement, stumbling, behind him, about 7 o’clock. Jack spun, swinging the rod around him, catching a man in the face, and through the smoke Jack saw flecks of blood and spittle fly from him.

Jack could hear movement towards the dead sound; the insurgents he hit with the first rod were still moving.

“How’s your visibility?” Jack asked.

“Smoke’s just thin enough to catch glimpses. The one you just hit’s getting up.”

“Would you mind suppressing him?”

A bullet smashed through the window, raining shards of glass down on the man behind Jack.   

“He’s staying down,” Ian said.

“Perfect.” Jack advanced towards the dead spot in the room, swinging the curtain rod high. He hit one man, and his arm brushed a second. Jack delivered a short, sharp strike from his elbow, and felt both men hit the floor in quick succession.

The dead spot at the center of the room was still there, but closer now. Jack could hear breathing, and the slight shift of clothes beneath rope. Jack reached out, and found a head of curly hair, which he traced to the back of a head, where he found a knot holding a gag in place. He untied the knot. “How many here?”

“Four, here,” Jalal said. “A fifth went for food.”

“Got movement, at the door,” Ian said over the radio.

Jack spun, and flung the curtain rod like a spear at the door, hitting him square in the chest and knocking him onto the ground. “Gun?” Jack asked.

“Doesn’t look like it. Though I think he has burgers.”

“Fries?” Jack asked.

“It’s a brown paper sack with a cartoon burger on it. And you’re the one who could have been holding the bag by now, instead of asking me questions about it.”

“You wouldn’t mind freeing me first, before you stop for a bite…” Jalaln said.

“Of course not,” Jack said, and pulled a knife out of its scabbard. He slipped the blade between Jalal’s wrists, and carefully sawed away until the rope broke.


“Yes,” Jalal said.

“They took your family?”

“Yes. They were afraid the army might try something, or that I might. Keeping us apart meant I couldn’t do anything to tell the police, or leave you clues.”

“But of course, they still had to demand a ransom,” Ian said from the doorway. “That was how I found out. “He was digging through the brown paper bag. “No fries,” he said. “And apparently I was wrong, these are ‘lamburgers.’”

“I could eat,” Jack said, and Ian tossed him a paper-wrapped burger.

Jalal cursed loudly, kicking one of the insurgents on the floor. “Damnable idiots,” he said. “They expected the Army to pay a million dollars each for me and my family. The US government abandoned me to this. Why would they pay a ransom?”

“Lamburger?” Ian asked, holding one out.

“I don’t want food, I want my family.”

“Ugh,” Jack said through a bite, “think he made the right choice. The lamb may have turned.”

“You ever had a lamburger before?” Ian asked. Jack shook his head. “I don’t know if you’d be able to tell the difference.”

Pitchmas 2020, Part 8: Books of Doom

I think the pilot, “Falling For Thirty Minutes” focuses on Loki, both because his rise somewhat parallels Doom’s, but also because he’s already better established than most of these, and because I have a really fun idea where this takes place. We borrow a moment from Thor Ragnarok, Loki charging at Dr. Strange who portals him away. We find him falling through a black void, falling indefinitely. Only he realizes he isn’t alone at all- falling beside him (but also posed like he’s standing still with his arms crossed, his flapping cape the only indication he’s moving at all) is Dr. Doom. He tells him he has a proposition for him. Loki asks if it includes getting out of “here” and Doom says it does. He opens, without a sling ring, a portal beneath them, and Loki slams unceremoniously into a conference table inside a castle. Seated around it are people we’ll get to know over the course of the series: Namor, Justin Hammer (in Whiplash’s armor, modified to make him Whirlwind), Maximus the Mad, Baron Mordo, one of the Deviants (from Eternals), the Hood (I’d bring back Walton Goggins, and tweak the character’s backstory accordingly so his established character from Ant Man and the Wasp could fit into that character’s backstory) and Sebastian Shaw. Loki has a look around the room, then says, “No. You can take me back to my void, now.” We notice a character in shadow just beyond the candle light from the candelabra adorning the table who tenses, his eyes glowing purple- but this is very subtle. “I have no interest in joining your Injustice Legion of Doom.” Doom waves his hand, and the other guests, chairs, and tables disappear as made of smoke he wafted away, and Loki falls to the floor (the creature in the shadows doesn’t disappear, but remains so far back in shadows some viewers may not even notice him on first viewing).

Doom and Loki walk through the halls of Doom’s castle. Doom explains to Loki the world needs an Illuminati- an enlightened counterpart to the Avengers boorish brutes, sauntering in and trying to punch threats to death. “Doom is not a villain.”

“Then Doom may wish to consider a change of name, or at least to first-person.”

“Doom is a ruler, from a proud heritage. Doom is answerable to his people, who deserve better protectors than these,” he conjures an image of the Avengers. Loki’s tempted by the opportunity to do good while showing up his brother. But that also raises his skepticism. He says he won’t be used as a weapon against his brother. Doom laughs, and tells him he wants him for his knowledge of Asgardian magic and tech. From the way Doom speaks, he regards Loki almost as a protégé, a would-be ruler, whose mother taught him magics; their paths diverged when Doom succeeded to the throne, and Loki lost his. Loki realizes he’ll have to go back to the void, and Doom opens a portal for him, and he jumps down into it.

We stay on Doom, whose mind is consumed by his reverie, zooming into the bloodshot eye within his armor. We see Victor as a child. His mother is teaching him magic, telling him that with their strength, they can free their band of Roma from the Baron’s tyranny. But something happens; his mother’s eyes go red, and she looses an evil smile. She speaks with a voice that is several, layered over top, and Victor realizes she’s been possessed, and turns his magic to trying to free her. The demon that’s possessed her is too strong, and blasts him back. It taunts him, with his weakness, with his inability to save his mother, and blasts a hole through the wall and leaves. An injured Victor pursues, following a trail of blood and fire towards the village’s chapel. As he approaches, it goes up in flames, and screaming can be heard from inside. Victor tears his way in, half with magic, half with his bare hands. Since it’s a Disney+ show, I assume we should be coy about the carnage, but the village’s children, and many of its adults, have burnt to death. The flames do not touch a small bubble in the center, where his mother remains safe from the flame. Despite his youth, young Victor carries his mother outside, before dropping her in the earth, and collapsing with her, exhausted from the feat. He crawls to her, and shakes her, but she’s gone, and he cries out.

We cut to Infinity War, aboard the Asgardian ship filled with flames. A beaten Loki grins and proclaims, “We have a Hulk.” We watch, however, as Loki’s smile fades, as he watches Hulk fall to Thanos’ onslaught. Cut a few moments later, as Loki charges Thanos himself, only to be caught, and killed (we don’t need to linger on him turning blue, because this is a Disney+ show, damnit).

Loki wakes up, again in a black void. He asks if it’s the same black void. Doom is suddenly behind him, and informs him it is not. It was once Hela’s realm, but after her unfortunate collision with Surter, it’s been… under different management. He informs Loki that all fees have been rendered; subtly, in the background, we see a wagonload of Latverians being driven away by a man in a red suit, who tips his hat to the two of them. Suddenly, Loki gasps, and we’re in a different room, with the part of Loki now being played by Lady Sif. Doom explains that they needed an Asgardian vessel to house him; frost giants being eminently more accessible, he tried them first, but only an Asgardian would do, and it just so happened he’d come into the possession of Lady Sif some time prior to Ragnarok.

Later, a sullen Loki is plied with liquor, furnished, it seems, by Doom himself. Loki tells him he isn’t thirsty, but thanks him for the thought. The real Doom enters, takes a stein for each of them from the Bot, and sits opposite him. He tells Loki that he hoped they’d have a moment to talk, so he could pass his condolences to Loki for the loss of his mother. Loki’s surprised, both that he knows this, and at Doom’s gentility. Then he sees something in Doom’s eyes, recognizing a kindred spirit. “You lost your mother, too,” he says quietly. “But you brought me back…”

“Some monsters are easier to deal with than others,” Doom says. He sets down his stein, and we see his ale swirl as we transition to a cauldron. A now adolescent Doom is casting a violent spell that’s created a tempest in the stone room he’s in; we can see that the book he’s using is one of the chanied books from Kamar-Taj. Victor’s fighting just to maintain his footing, let alone continue throwing in reagents and properly speak the words. An explosion shatters his cauldron, sending Doom flying back into the wall. As the contents of the cauldron spill out, his mother, her eyes glowing red, climbs out of the sludge. She tears a bacon-strip starting from her collar-bone and ending along her jaw. The demon inhabiting her explains that he flays Doom’s mother nightly; that her torment is all the sweeter, knowing that Doom suffers just as much above as she does below- but that she made her pact, and she belongs to him, and there’s no magic than can sever her from him. Doom attacks anyway, only for his spells to rebound on him.

Back in Castle Doom, one of Doom’s handmaidens brings Loki a refitted costume, and she tries it on; it’s similar to his old one, but appropriate to Jaime Alexander, instead. She’s admiring herself in a mirror, only when she gets to her face, her smile fades, as she looks into her own eyes. Doom knocks at the door, and she tells him to enter. She doesn’t feel right, having stolen Sif’s body. Doom tells her that Sif should be dead- at the hands of Hela, that she was delayed in Latveria because she tried to reclaim an Asgardian artifact in his position- that subduing her left her unresponsive; it might be a fun conceit, as the series goes along, to have Loki Sif talk to Lady Sif inside their shared head, trying to get her to respond, her slowly becoming more conscious… even as he becomes more attached to being alive in her body. But he tells her that if Loki wishes to vacate her, he will do everything in his power to revive Lady Sif- provided Loki renders aid, first. Doom claims to have mastered human technology at a fairly young age, but that Asgardian technology and sorcery are an entirely new field- perhaps this time giving him enough power to free his mother.

Loki is surprised by that assertion; he thought Doom lived for Latveria. Doom agrees that he does- that he would sell himself and his mother into damnation for his country; but that he would happily damn himself to save his mother. “And if you can…” Loki says, clearly thinking of his own mother. Doom says he would happily share the knowledge with her, if he discovered that secret. Sif asks if he can’t just bargain for her mother. He says he can’t; intercepting a soul not in Hell is simple enough; prying one loose from its maw requires more power than even he has been able to amass… thusfar.

We go back to a teenaged Doom. His armor is cruder, closer to Iron Man’s cave armor and clearly hand-pounded. He blasts his way into a military base, mowing through soldiers until he reaches a rip in reality- a literal mouth opening into Hell. He steps through, and is immediately assailed by an army of monsters- and nearly as quickly repels them. He looses a drone that chirps, flying into the air, then moving in the direction of his mother. He flies after it, landing beside his mother, chained to a throne, where sits the red-eyed demon. It taunts him. Doom unleashes on the demon a truly spectacular amount of magical and technological mayhem, only for it to laugh. Last, Doom tries to snap the chain that binds his mother with his armored hands, to no avail. Collapsing from the exertion at her feet, his mother stands, her eyes glowing red, and punts him back through the rift. He lands badly, several of his bones broken, his armor so destroyed it’s falling off of him as he flees. A young Nick Fury picks up one of the pieces and watches as the kid runs.

We zoom back out of Doom’s eyes as a single tear slides from it, disappearing beneath his mask. We go to credits.

The series continues this way, each episode featuring a different member of his Illuminati, their travails in some way paralleling his rise. Doom would be recruited by SHIELD who would sponsor his formal education; he was bright enough that the super-scientists of the previous generation basically fought over him, Howard Stark and Hank Pym and anyone else we can think of taking turns teaching him to be even brighter; it’s also here that his rivalry with Reed Richards begins. However, once Doom’s inventions start paying off, a Latverian father comes forward, backed by the Latverian government, demanding the boy’s return. Doom is torn, at first, until Valeria, his childhood sweetheart, joins the entreaties, and Doom decides to return home. Once there, however, he’s placed under the thumb of the very same Baron his mother had tried to fight when he was a child. Only this time, Victor fights back, and between his magic and technology routes the Baron- but doesn’t stop there- at the urging of those who had long been held under the Latverian aristocracy’s thumb, Doom topples the entire nobility. His work done, he tries to return to his village, and Valeria, only for the people to insist that he lead their new country. At first, Doom is reluctant- his heart is in his science, after all. Thankfully, his dilemma is circumvented by a threat to the entire Earth- so he can go back to the US to join the international effort, while still faithfully serving Latveria. This is the space mission that Doom undergoes with the Fantastic Four in the 60s (see my pitch for that movie from last year). When he exits the portal, it’s a few years later. Latveria is once again at the mercy of the aristocracy; in his absence, Valeria attempted to rally her countrymen, and was executed. By now Doom doesn’t take off his armor; he’s scarred, and also disgusted by humanity. With relatively little urging from his countrymen, Doom embarks on a bloody coup, executing the nobility to a man by hand. When he notices that even his lieutenants aren’t up to the task of leading his armies or watching the country while he sleeps, Doom builds his army of automated Doom bots. Doom’s technological breakthroughs make Latveria, a once poor, agrarian nation, one of the wealthiest per capita in the world, and it is so highly sought after in the rest of the world that they sweep his atrocities and human rights violations under the rug (not so much in his own country, but basically anywhere that Roma or witches are being persecuted, he repays the atrocities a dozen-fold). It also means that despite his aggression against the Fantastic Four upon their return, he enjoys diplomatic immunity and is untouchable.

Depending on whether or not there’s enough there to last ten episodes, this entire series could be set up for a big confrontation with the Avengers in one of the movies, but there’s always the possibility of having the first 5-6 episodes be Doom’s intermingled origins, and the last 4-5 episodes be interspersed with what the Illuminati actually does once assembled. I would probably have their anti-Thanos plan basically be to try and redirect the energies of the Snap; that they plan to spare humanity by redirecting its murderous energies onto alien worlds, instead, using the combination of their various magics and technologies. They even have a backup for themselves, a prison within Latveria where they can redirect any Snap energy directed at themselves to convicts who would otherwise be put to death. Their larger plan fails (obviously), and their secondary plan partially succeeds, in that they’re able to save themselves… but it destroys both the prison and the surrounding city, as well, killing tens of thousands. I think part of their journey would also be a parallel attempt to get the Infinity Stones. Depending on budget, a pretty great season finale could be them tracking down and brawling with Thanos to try and wrest the gauntlet from him- it looks like he’s in fact going to lose, but at the last minute uses the Gauntlet one final time to destroy the stones. Half the Illuminati want to execute him- but Doom, understanding a man who would gladly die to complete his life’s work, insists they leave him in peace, since there’s nothing more to be done here.

Most of the Illuminati go home, dispirited. Save for Loki. He’s known Doom long enough to know that he’s never understood how to give up. So he asks him what the next phase will be, and Doom reveals he’s working on his own time machine- that they’ve been looking at the problems all wrong. Instead of undoing their losses, they can simply prevent them.

This could be set up for nearly anything; we could have a rollicking dual time-traveling adventure with the Avengers, we could do a version of the Doom and Iron Man in King Arthur’s Camelot storyline; it could even be a set up for some version of the Battleworld story, where Doom goes back in time and makes himself instrumental in every important event in Marvel history, so that he’s revered as its most important and central hero, likely twisting Marvel’s heroes in a Doomward direction, say by turning the Hulk into the Maestro, Iron Man into a Superior version, an Old Man Logan version of Wolverine (all of which could be set up for a new phase, where the heroes, once they’re returned to normal, have to work against what they now realize is a potential future of theirs, that Hulk could become the Maestro again)… until of course it all falls apart and things are set mostly right. I’d probably start small- do the King Arthur thing, but with Rhodey maybe, alongside of a version of Tony’s intellect uploaded into his armor’s AI so he can keep up with Doom’s inventing (but he gives it a different voice, we find out, because hearing Tony in his head was too painful… maybe the end reveal is his suit is catastrophically damaged, and can’t do the voice change anymore- so he has to say his real goodbye to Tony …), do a Disney+ TV Movie that’s riffing on a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, but the possibilities really are pretty limitless.

Old Ventures 2, Ch. 13

Thirteen, nearing Weimar, Germany, 04/11/45

The sun was coming up as the train crested the hill. Jack was one of the few GIs not wearing prison uniforms, but was instead dressed as the fireman.

Jack couldn’t help but think to Flossy. She and the rest of the prisoners were marching for Weimar, holding their former captives with their own captured arms, all save for Hauptman Sommer, who was tied to a chair at the back of the compartment, himself wearing a prisoner’s uniform. Fleming had directed the liberated prisoners to a Resistance holdout in Weimar, where they could wait out the advance of the Third Army.

Fleming was dressed as a prisoner with a Star of David sewn into his uniform. He was hunched over the radio, jotting dots and dashes onto a wedge of paper in time with Morse code coming over it. “This is dire,” Fleming said, reading over the paper. “This message is an SOS from the Goethe concentration camp captives. The SS want to evacuate them. They fear extermination.”

“How far out are we?” Jack asked.

Colonel Mike Edwards looked up from the map on the table next to the radio. “According to this, we’ll be there in less than an hour.” He heard beeping coming from Fleming at the radio. “What’re you saying?”

“Telling them to hold out, the cavalry are on our way.” He finished, and turned to Edwards. “What’s our plan?”

Edwards unfurled a second map, drawn by hand by Hauptman Sommer. “Between the maps on the train and everything Sommer’s told us, we know that the train yard is here, on the far side of the camp, just inside the walls. There are guard towers every thirty degrees on this side of the wall, every other housing a machine gun nest, four total.

“Our greatest weapon is going to be surprise. If we can get our men into place near those towers and we can take them quickly, we’ll control a third of the yard almost instantly. I’ve got the best shooters in our detachment prepared to post up in those towers, to give us fire superiority even deeper into the camp. The remaining side has another three towers, at sixty degrees instead of thirty, which makes sense, since there are mostly other camps and Nazi territory to that side.

“Those other towers are going to be a bear, like storming Normandy, but until we take them, it only takes a handful of Nazis to threaten a third of the camp. But there’s plenty of Nazis down on the ground, too. We don’t know how well the prisoners are going to be able to hold out, so we need to push through the center, too. Jack’s going to lead that force, and I’ll be taking the towers, moving south to east to north. Things go smoothly, we’ll effectively pincer the remaining Germans just north of the center.”

“And if they don’t go smoothly?” Fleming asked.

“Then we’re going to kill a heap of Nazis before we die.”

Pitchmas 2020, Part 7: Black Panthers

I think the story opens like this: we see Shuri in costume as a female Black Panther, giving a speech through a voice modulator disguising it’s her, at the UN, talking about the need for the world, in the wake of Thanos’ mass-murder of half the population, to join hands and protect and provide for those left behind. She refuses questions, goes right from there to her plane, where Okaye is waiting. She tears off her mask, to reveal she’s crying, for her brother, for her country- it’s too much to suddenly have thrust on her. Okaye gives her a tough love speech, tells her the Avengers have been calling- and she thinks Wakanda should answer the call. Shuri disagrees- saying they’re in this deep because the Avengers failed, but she won’t stop her from helping them if she’s asking for leave. But first, Okaye drops Shuri off; it’s a mission similar to T’Challa’s first in his movie, a quick espionagey thing, impressive and over quick. Afterward, they fly back to Wakanda in silence.

Shuri’s still deep in thought when she returns to the Temple of the Heart Shaped Herb; it’s been emptied out, and houses a table, with several seated figures we see mostly in shadow as she enters, though even in the low-light we might be able to make out that they’re all wearing similar Panther garb with slight hue variations (similar to Killmonger’s gold). Shuri, annoyed, drops into her seat, removes her mask, and says, it’s done, now it’s time for their next move. We pan around the table, and each Panther removes their mask in turn, revealing, in order: T’Chaka, M’Baku, Ramonda (her mother), Storm, Nakia and Killmonger.

We end on a music sting as we get back to Shuri, and drop in the logo from the Black Panther movie. A panther’s growl is heard, and two swipes tear a bloody “s” at the end, making the title plural. We fade to black, and flash some white text informing us it’s “Sometime earlier…”

We see Shuri on whatever a Wakandan version of a television would look like, and as we pull back, we see the chyron at the bottom of the ‘screen’ states that Shuri, presumed next in the Wakandan lineage, is missing, presumed lost in the Snap. We pan across the street, and see some of the damage done to the Golden City, some from Thanos’ troops, some from disasters as half the population vanished. Some of this damage includes a portion of one of its grander buildings being sheered off, collapsing into the street in a shower of glass (presumably they aren’t all made out of vibranium). Sifting through the rubble are trainees with the Dora Milaje- not yet wearing the ceremonial garb, though their training equipment is a lighter, less adorned variant. Specifically, we linger a moment on Ayo, who pauses to wipe sweat from her brow. It’s just at that moment that her trainer, Aneka, walks by, and chides her for lazing about while Wakanda herself bleeds.

We pan down, not too far beneath the rubble, until we find a small pocket of air, and a shredded pipe dribbling water. Beneath it, catching its water in her mouth, is Shuri, positioned like that because she no longer has the strength to move. She made an effort to bandage a wound in her side, but she’s clearly blead through that, and vainly tries to hold pressure to it. Suddenly, there’s more light as one of the larger pieces of debris shifts. Aneka helps Ayo move it, exposing Shuri to the sun. Ayo gasps, trying to cover her mouth.

Okaye is there when Shuri wakes in a hospital, and tells her she’s surprised she didn’t die. Ramonda is there, and asks for time alone with her daughter. She tells Shuri the other clans have agreed to back her claim to the throne for the time being- she’s cynical enough to think no one wants the job of cleaning up this mess. But she’s held off announcing a new Black Panther. Shuri suggests ‘she’ remain dead- that they play up the metaphysical of the Black Panther mantel, instead- that Wakanda is already wounded, and a flesh and blood ruler would make them more vulnerable still. Her mother agrees, and leaves her to convalesce… and she waits until Ramonda is gone to break out of her hospital room.

She finds her labs largely screwed up from the battle. But she finds the information she was looking for- readings from the Mind Stone embedded in vision, and other readings from Thanos using the stones nearby (along with some video from Infinity War). We have a montage of her testing things for days on end; I like the idea that there’s still a hole through her wall where we watch the sun setting/rising as she goes about this. All of her experiments fail, and she throws something past her mother as she enters in frustration. She’s there because Shuri has responsibilities she can no longer shirk; she could hold the wolves at bay while she healed, but now it’s time to put away childish things. An exhausted, emotionally and physically, Shuri collapses against her mother, and admits that she can’t bring him back. Whatever the Stones are- they are beyond even her. Ramonda spares a moment to grieve with her daughter, before telling her that their people need her more than T’Challa, now, and handing her a fitted version of his costume.

She dons it, and follows Ramonda away. We watch the day drag on through the hole in the wall, into night, before Shuri returns. She pulls off her mask, and yawns, stretching, catching her reflection off a piece of partially broken glass. That gives her an idea, and she pulls up the readings she got off of Thanos as he teleported away (using the Space Stone), immediately after the Snap. Her computers analyze the scene from multiple angles, eventually displaying the number, “68%.” She stares at the number steely-eyed.

We cut to later, as the sun rises. She’s redesigned her gauntlets from Black Panther, and uses it to project a different energy, one that opens a portal- for a second, before it explodes outward, throwing her against the wall; luckily, the kinetic energy is absorbed by her suit. She gets up, and checks her calculations, which are sitting at 74%. She pulls on her mask as her mother arrives, and they leave together. We cut to later, as she walks back in. This time she’s dragging more than before. She does another test, this time hiding behind one of the forcefield cloaks, which absorbs most of the dissipating energy. Her figures are at 82% now. And the portal remains for a moment, long enough for her to jab the tip of a Dora Milaje spear into it, before it disappears, sheering the end of the spear off. She sets the computer to start calculating again, and takes a nap. When she wakes the computer is still calculating, but is up to 90%. She’s about to go towards it when her mother walks in. She scolds Shuri, because she doesn’t like having to march her to work every morning. She glances forlornly back at her equipment as it ticks over into 91%.

She returns at night. Her figures are still stuck at 91%. She tries to adjust things, but the computer tells her it doesn’t have sufficient data to extrapolate further- 91% is as good as it gets. She starts up the gauntlet, and the portal seems stable. She puts the spear in, without incident. She starts put in her right arm, before realizing she’s right-handed and decided to test it with her left, and it comes back without incident. She sees the Black Panther mask laying where she put it, and it reminds her of her brother, and she picks it up, and talks to it like it’s him (Yes, we’re alas poor Yoricking this).

She tells him she’s lost without him, that she knows this is a risk- maybe a stupid risk, since she’s already the back-up ruler. But she doesn’t think she can do this without him- and she isn’t willing to try. “I’m not giving up on you, brother,” she says, putting the mask down. She adjusts the gauntlet, and the portal gets wider, wide enough for her to step into.

We play it like it’s a vision, at first, that she’s at that vision tree, speaking to the ghost of her father. She’s disappointed, because she wanted to travel between worlds, but it’s good to see him. He tells her it’s good to see her, before explaining that this is not a vision. He leads her to the hill that overlooks the Golden City, and there is nothing but flattened, burned earth; if you’ve ever seen the aftermath of a volcanic eruption, that’s the level of destruction we’re talking. T’Chaka reveals that the Avengers fought beside him to stop Thanos- that he personally stopped the Mad Titan- but that the cost was terrible- all of Wakanda reduced to ash, including his wife and his beautiful children. He tells her there’s nothing left for him there, and says it’s time to go. She doesn’t understand, and he says, “You’re here to rescue me, aren’t you?”

They return through her portal, and she collapses onto a couch. She’s relieved, to be unburdened of her mantle. He’s confused. He says he’s not going to take this from her- but he can help her carry the load. Just then, Ramonda comes in, and goes through a rainbow of emotions very rapidly. She’s of course thrilled to have her husband (or at least a version of him) back, and at the same time angry at her daughter for taking such a huge risk, and overwhelmed at her dedication to her brother… it’s just a lot, and thank God we’ve got Angela Bassett delivering it. The episode ends with Ramonda demanding this be the end of her interdimensional adventures, and she agrees, but as her mother leaves, her eyes drift back towards her equipment….

Because I have a life, and pets, and am not being remotely paid for this, I’ll broad-strokes it from here. We’ll probably include a version of the World of Wakanda comics, which is why I dragged in Aneka and Ayo. Each episode would likely be recruiting a new Black Panther, and their world, while Shuri gets pulled deeper into her own bureaucratic Hell.

As we build up this bench of Black Panthers, they would begin to clash in interesting ways since they’re all used to getting their way, eventually forming factions, one of which would likely vie for control of the country. I think the B plot masquerading as the A plot is that a version of Klaw, this time in a much sillier, more comics-appropriate costume, slips through in the wake of one of the stolen Black Panthers- still played by Andy Serkis because he was a rollicking good time. He forms a band of white guerrillas, himself adopting some of the costume accoutrements of Man-Ape, and mocking the White Gorilla clan quite a bit (to M’Baku’s deep irritation). He uses his knowledge of his Wakanda to start amassing a stockpile of vibranium, and using that to outfit and grow his army. 

To spice things up, I think most of this council would eventually be against Shuri, except Killmonger (and maybe M’Baku)- frequently making her question her stance because she’s making a deal with the devil (and a jerk). In the end, she holds fast, and is able to defeat the shadow council of Panthers, who, it turns out, weren’t power-mad; they hatched an idea that to be kind, they needed to be cruel- that none of them wanted her throne, so they needed to toughen her up enough to sit on it- or convince her to stand aside for someone else more suited to the role- before she gets herself or others killed.

In the end, the warring panther factions stop Klaw, finding out he’s a vibranium cyborg and very hard to kill (this is when he ends up looking the most like his comics counterpart). I think the subterfuge of the other panthers is too convincing, and Shuri fights her father to the death, with him finally explaining everything as he’s bleeding out, “I do not usually prefer a trial by fire; but the world is aflame. Wakanda needed you tempered, or it needed you to step aside.”

Aside from being a kind of crazy, but worthwhile story, it would also be a potential solution to the Chadwick Boseman-shaped hole in the franchise. Real talk, for a second: this wouldn’t be an issue if Shuri’s actress hadn’t shared some questionable content on social media; she would have been the presumptive inheritor of the mantle, otherwise (her character has taken over for T’Challa before in the books). This would give her a second at-bat- to give her a chance to prove that she can be a team player, and that she can handle the weight of that legacy… and if she can’t, it opens up a lot of other possibilities. My personal preference, if Shuri can’t be rehabilitated, would be Killmonger. You can lean into the righteous anger with him, but have it be a version of him that outgrew the desire for genocide, who had long talks with the spirit of his uncle and realized how hard it was for him to lose his brother like that- to have to choose fealty to his country over his family. He could even recognize that plenty of the white soldiers he served beside were caught in the same cycles of generational poverty and powerlessness he wanted to eliminate- recognizing that colonialism largely exploited the colonists, too- that it and its modern equivalent (capitalism) monetize the rest of us for the benefit of the monied and powerful- which should get him into the same rough ballpark as T’Challa.

Old Ventures 2, Ch. 12

Twelve, airspace above the Middle East

“Rise and shine, sleeping beauty,” Ian said, his voice nearly drowned out by the whirring props of the plane. The inside was massive, and through a haze of sleep, Jack could barely remember Ian putting him on a plane in Washington. “How much of last night do you remember?”

“I got most of the way to the White House with the intention of putting my boot up Drump’s butt. And I cleaned Hugh’s clock.”

“He says he let you.”

“He would,” Jack said with a grin.

“He would,” Ian agreed. “But we both thought it made more sense to get you out of town while his PR team planted the story of you assisting with a Secret Service incursion drill. And I needed your help in Iraq.”

“Are we invading again?” Jack asked.

“You say that like we ever left,” Hugh said, sipping some tea from a cup, before setting it back on its saucer. “The travel ban has had some… unforeseen knock-on effects. Iraqis who aided the American forces, who were supposed to be granted asylum as part of their assistance, have been frozen out, mostly interpreters. And the insurgents have taken it as a green light to enact vengeance on Iraqis they see as traitors.”

“Seems like we should turn this plane back towards Washington,” Jack said, the muscles in his neck tense.

“I don’t think it’s a problem you can murder your way through,” Ian said. “And I’m not tasking you with solving the problem en total- international aid agencies are already doing a lot of the heavy lifting there. We’re on a more specific mission. Remember Jalal?”


“Well, unfortunately for him, he got some press attention for helping us. Which came back on him now. Insurgents took him and his family. I gave him a cell phone for such an occasion, and he kept it on him and charged, so we’ve got a location, according to pings off the cell towers. He stayed there for at least eight hours before the battery died, so if we’re lucky, they’re still there.”

“How long before we land?”

“We’ll be descending any moment now. I have a jalopy waiting on the tarmac.”

“We aren’t officially here, are we?” “I’m never officially anywhere, if I can help it,” Ian said.

Pitchmas 2020, Part 6: Marvel’s Secret History

but really, it’s Marvel Zombies

Covid-19 Note: I know I’m pitching this in the middle of a pandemic. But between how long it would take to write this, then Claymation it, that should put us out 3-5 years. By then I think it wouldn’t be quite as traumatizing (still, better to focus on goofy zombie fun than anything too real-world pandemicky).

Note: About halfway through writing this pitch, I stumbled across the trailer for the “What If…?” animated series (with what feels to me a questionable revision to the title’s punctuation). Looks like there might be a Marvel Zombies episode, possibly, or maybe they’re just doing a “What if Bucky lived instead of Cap” ep and Hydra reanimated Steve to go after him… anyway, that’s a thing, apparently. But this is a different thing.

And to start off, this one’s weirder than usual, namely because to get this even remotely Disney+ friendly, it would need to be stop-motion or claymated (even animated or CG this gets to hard R-rated in a hurry). Like the animated What If series, it would use the actual actors where/whenever possible, or sound-alikes when not. I’d suggest a partnership, either with the studio who did Nightmare Before Christmas or the folks behind Robot Chicken (or buy them both if Disney hasn’t already). I’d base the first season around the first Kirkman book- and especially spreading out the tone of that book to cover all of the zombie sequences- along with a very loose adaptation in the first episode or so of the Mark Millar Ultimate FF run that introduces them, including some of the story from the Army of Darkness crossover, since they blend pretty seamlessly together (if Marvel wants to buy Ash Williams, I’d be happy to have him along for the ride… but I’m assuming he gets replaced in this treatment). I’m assuming the name it’s released under, at the start, is “Marvel’s Secret History,” before at the end of the first episode (probably around the time that Reed gets cornered by all of the zombie Avengers) the actual title is revealed at the end of the episode as “Marvel Zombies.” Of course, since this is going to be a hard, hard PG-13 in the execution, it might make more sense to just forego the surprise, and market it as a more adult-oriented, blackly humorous show from the jump. The pitch is likely to range into R-rated, so if that’s an issue for you. properly warned ye be, says I.

We open on Reed tinkering with the portal-maker that he uses to access the Negative Zone. In his tinkering he ends up looking across at an alternate version of himself- another Reed, younger, but clearly the same guy (he is, for all intents and purposes- and yes, this is a way to backdoor “The Maker” into the MCU, you clever minx, you, but played by a younger actor, so we get snotty Reed- and also so we’re not burning our Reed actor’s contract appearances at twice the rate). That Reed has been scanning alternate universes for a safe space to try and flee to, after an interdimensional contagion ravaged his world. He mentions that so many of the universes aren’t like theirs- a lot of them never managed to undo the Snap, and even those who did, were prime targets for other calamities, like the cancer verse, any of the symbiote-conquered dimensions, dimensions ravaged by Annihilus, the Phalanx, Galactus or any of a thousand different mutants, monsters or madmen. With their world so damaged, they can only intermittently search, and at great personal risk. Reed says he can’t just let them over; they request that he come himself, he can verify what they’re saying, then they can save those who can be saved. Reed accepts, and leaves his portal open, with the caveat that he won’t share the unlock key to it until he’s satisfied.

He’s been had, obviously. As soon as he arrives, the other Reed, and a zombie version of the FF, attack him. The plan is Maker is going to use Reed’s corpse and the unique energy signature it outputs to trace the portal back to his reality, and figures he can brute-force Reed’s encryption. Reed slips through their grasp in an exciting escape through the bowels of the husk of the Baxter Building, only to find still more zombies at street level, including most of the Avengers, who chase him through the streets. He’s webbed up by Spider-Man, only to be ‘rescued’ by the Hulk, who is the “Hungriest one there is.” They bicker comedically (remember, we want the whole thing to match the darkly comic tone of the Kirkman Marvel Zombies series), and Reed makes a break for it, and they give chase. Headpool (who is, yes, the severed head of a zombie Deadpool) asks for a fastball special, and Hulk chucks him at Reed, who narrowly stretches out of his path in a kinetic, slow-motion sequence, with Headpool crashing into a bus side window comically (it’s subtle, but the window moves into his path). Suddenly, all of the cars on the street begin to float, and Colonel America orders a retreat, because Magneto has arrived. Cars rain down towards them, smashing a few of the lesser characters we aren’t going to keep around.

Magneto takes Reed to his subway station lair. Ben Urich is there, and Magneto refers Reed to him to tell the story of the infection since he was there from the beginning, and we watch it in flesh back (pun intended, because it’s that kind of a pitch).

He was embedded with the Avengers, a fluff piece from his editor to try and humanize them, make Americans feel better about the nuclear weapons running around in tights. They’d just returned from a jaunt to the Savage Land, where Ben had almost been eaten by his first dinosaur. I’m having fun narrating as Ben, but probably the narration would fade away and we’d stay in the flashback for several episodes. In fact, to preserve the quirky, dark fun, we’d pretty much have to spend half our time not in Ben’s perspective in the flashback, to give the Zombie Avengers opportunities to be oddball- because this idea lives or days based around whether or not we can make the zombies fun, for reasons you will understand by the end of it. “Seemed like the danger was all behind them. Black Widow was joking about telling him her secret to making the perfect tea back at the Avengers compound, when there was another all points alarm, this one in the middle of New York. They all boarded a Quinjet, in good spirits, because an emergency in NYC meant they’d all be home for dinner.

“It was someone we’d never seen before- or maybe we had- there seemed to be contradictory accounts on that front, but fella named the Sentry, fell out of the sky. The Avengers didn’t know if he was friend or foe, but he was down, in a crater he made when he landed. Hawkeye said he sure was ugly. Sentry tore through them. Snapped Widow’s neck, choked the life out of Captain Marvel, bit Colonel America- all of this faster than I’m describing it.”

“Colonel?” Reed asks quietly to himself. “Hmm. Another difference.”

Ben continues, “He ripped a chunk of out Luke Cage- I didn’t think anything could get through his skin. He flattened Hawkeye- I could see ribs poking through his suit, and I remember thinking they looked like his bow, with strings of flesh and viscera hanging off the ends to complete the macabre homage. I was a deer in headlights, watching this carnage, scribbling like a man possessed. Didn’t realize Sentry had noticed me, was moving towards me, as I tried to get it all down for posterity. Hah.” The laugh is almost a sob, at the idea of there being a posterity to grant the knowledge to. “Widow got back up, twisted her head back around straight. Cap stood up, got his shield, and I thought, okay, this is where they rally- and that I didn’t know Widow was that hardy. Instead, Cap grabs Wasp and bites a chunk out of her wrist, and Widow started blasting pedestrians on the sidewalk.

“I was yanked away- saved, I realized, later, by Spider-Man. But he just had to try his luck. He swings back down amongst the Avengers, grabs some woman under his other arm, and tries to get us both to safety. Only this time the Avengers noticed, and pursued. Luke threw Colonel America- I think Wolverine called it a Fastball Special- and he cannonballed into Spidey, and we both fell a few stories into a dumpster. I’m covered in blood when I come to, which can’t be more than a few seconds later. The Colonel bit deep into Spidey’s shoulder, and he’s trying to negotiate with the other Avengers- there’s plenty of meat to go around- why not let him keep this one morsel; half the Avengers have dragged along pieces of people and don’t stop tearing off pieces and swallowing, barely taking any time to even chew. I never saw what became of the girl- either she landed bad or I figure the Avengers got her. Spidey wrapped his chompers around Hawkeye, threatening to bear down on him if the others wouldn’t let him have me.

“The Colonel said, ‘There’s plenty of meat to go around- it was really you we were chasing- couldn’t let a fine candidate like Spider-Man get away. But you’re an Avenger, now, Brooklyn, and while the mission may have changed, we’re still the Earth’s Mightiest. So once you’ve got your head on straight, I’m sure you’ll see the mission like the rest of us. And leave us Hawkeye; we just might need him before this is out.’

“That was the first time I realized the zombies were thinking– Colonel America was strategizing. They were prioritizing the superhumans, and if they were allowed to, humanity was finished. Spidey threw me on his back, and I’d never felt more like a fly in my life. But while we were swinging, he took off the mask, to show me his face- that he was still human. The bite was effecting him, but his healing was fighting it. I tried to get him to take me to the Fantastic Four, to Reed, with the Avengers out of commission the First Family were the next best thing. But the thought of them brought Spider-Man back to his family, and he took me home- his home, instead. He put me down just outside of his apartment; he wasn’t thinking straight- I mean I watched him go in, watched his family greet him watched… but something in him changed. He attacked them. It was gruesome, even compared to what happened to the Avengers.”

At the mention of them, we cut away, as a handful of stragglers show up to the Sentry fight, the Avengers attack their allies. I’m going to say this group includes She-Hulk, Black Panther, and Giant Man (Hank Pym), Scott Lang, and Wasp II (Hope). The Avengers we saw earlier are playing possum, with Hank violently shaking Janet trying to wake her. “Thank God,” Colonel America says, walking towards them with his shield raised. He moves closer, saying, “Avengers,” before lowering the shield enough they can see his partially desiccated face, “bite to wound.” Quickly the heroes are overwhelmed, not really understanding what they’re up against. We see several Avengers fall before cutting away (though we don’t see Hank and Black Panther injured in this fight).

Back to Ben, and our scene with Spider-Man, “Nova showed up and flew in through his window; they both flew out a second later, the Spider attacking the Nova. Daredevil showed up, too, and tried to convince the Nova to kill Spider-Man, but he couldn’t. They were friends; ‘chums,’ I think he called them. Daredevil tried to do it himself, but he couldn’t outmaneuver the Spider, and got chomped for his efforts. Nova was freaking out; I wasn’t going to wait and see if he wised up or if Spider-Man remembered he’d left a snack on the adjoining roof, so I climbed down.

“New Yorkers get jaded. We see celebrities, super heroes. Every real New Yorker has a story. Not meeting them professionally, or getting rescued. But seeing them in their day to day lives. I bumped into Hank Pym once getting a hot dog. He wasn’t still wearing the suit, those days, was just a down on his luck inventor. Wild hair. Smirk. That glint in his eyes. But I heard him, walking down the street, and recognized his voice; elephants made less noise than he did, stomping down the street. And I thought, I’m saved. But the reporter in me, it told me to wait. Listen. Observe. Cause he was talking to somebody, the Black Panther, come to find out.

“He said his scientists in Wakanda could handle the infection. Pym thought he could handle it back at his lab- but was just glad to have run into T’Challa when he did. Only the Panther was side-eyeing him, like he knew something I didn’t. Then I saw it; Pym’s uniform was dark, reds and blacks, so I didn’t notice at first, but his side, it was bloody. He’d been hurt. Panther knew it, too, said so; Hank was fast, grew tall enough even the Panther couldn’t get away.”

We hear Pym muttering about squirreling him away for a snack later as he drags him into an underground stairwell, then we’re back in Ben’s POV: “I felt a gun pressed into my head, and thought at least that’s a reasonable way to die, instead of getting eaten alive or torn into jerky strips. The Punisher had me turn around, and was surprised I wasn’t one of them. He asked if I could hold a gun, and didn’t wait for me to respond before thrusting a shotgun into my hands. He led me to Fisk Tower, one of the board rooms in the basement level. The Kingpin himself was there, with every superpowered Mafioso in the Five Burroughs. He welcomed Frank inside, said the rules had changed, it was humanity against something else. Frank didn’t even let him finish the thought before mowing them all down. I wasn’t sure I was going to have any better luck with that monster than with the others, and my legs were carrying me even before I registered dropping the shotgun, which was probably a mistake.

“I ran the rest of the way to Four Freedoms Plaza; I don’t remember breathing the entire way. Alarms were blaring off; the lobby was empty, no security, half the windows shattered. I found a keycard slicked with blood, and it got me to the penthouse. The place had been trashed, and I could hear screaming. There’d been a rampage, but I couldn’t just leave; I felt like I had to know, like… that same observer in me, from before, had to know who’d lived, who’d died. God, I don’t know how I managed to survive so long with such awful instincts.

“Reed and Sue’s kids were dead. She-Hulk filled in for the Thing for a while, after a fight with the Wolverine, even wore one of their blue suits. So she had access, cards, codes, the works. Why the hell she used it to attack the Fantastic Four’s kids, I’ll never know. She was raging the way her cousin was known to, but Ben had her, and Sue executed her; pretty sure this green stain here is the part I got hit with.

“I screamed, and the Human Torch nearly burned me alive. Richards listened, though I’m pretty sure I only made sense every hundredth word or so. And then they got the call, from Fury. He had a decommissioned Helicarrier floating above Manhattan.”

Elsewhere… Giant Man returns to the Avengers compound. The Avengers are snacking on one of their support staff. They offer him a bite. Colonel America breaks away from the rest of them to speak with Hank. “I got a plan. When I’m fed, I can still strategize. But I need your big brain to help with some subterfuge.”

“Sounds fun,” Hank says with a truly grotesque smile. “But first I’m going to need,” the Wasp (Janet) throws him a leg, and he takes a bite out of it, and he follows the Colonel.

We’re back with Ben. “The Four took me with them to Fury, along the way rescuing Nova and Thor from the Thunderbolts.” Because we’re in the MCU, I’m assuming these Thunderbolts would be the ones from last year’s pitch, so Red Hulk, a symbiote, Elektra, maybe Ghost Rider. Headpool and Punisher are not with them.  

We switch narrators, briefly, to Magneto, “I worried over Charles, when the plague hit. I was too late to save him, but I was able to save his charges from Alpha Flight, the Canadian mutant team. They had turned. We received communication from Fury, as well, and rendezvoused with the carrier.”

Back to Ben: “Guy like that can really get you to hate the sound of your own voice. Anyway, everyone who wasn’t one of them showed up. Scarlet Witch was the only Avenger there; apparently Colonel America called an all-points alarm.”

Inside the Avengers compound. The lights are all off, and the zombies are trying to hide. Hawkeye snickers, loudly. “If you can’t cram it, Barton, I’m breaking your jaw,” Colonel America barks quietly.

“I ate the women I loved most in the world. Why?” Spider-Man moans, his voice breaking.

“Shut up, Parker,” Colonel America says. 

Several Avengers burst into the room, slowing when they see it’s dark and seemingly empty. The lights come on, and Hawkeye yells, “Surprise!”

Colonel America groans, then stands and says, “Avengers, assimilate!”

“Oh, like the Borg on that old Star Trek show.” Spider-Man says.

“Shut up, Parker,” Colonel America says through a mouthful of Jack of Hearts.

We’re back on the carrier, where Scarlet Witch is giving a tearful rendition of what came next. “Every Avenger showed up, and everyone who did, they took a bite out of. I called out to Pietro to escape, but he didn’t come. As I was fleeing, I saw him scoop up what looked like me, but it was Mystique. She bit him, and my heart broke.”

“Your Quicksilver survived the fight with Ultron,” Reed remarks.

We cut back to the Helicarrier, where Fury takes over the briefing. “Early reports put Quicksilver all over the planet, stopping us from just dropping a nuke on New York, this is now a global contagion.”

Ben summarizes: “Fury’s plan was pretty simple: the eggheads would work on a cure, while everyone else tried to beat back the tide- rescue what humans we could, stem the loss of life where we couldn’t. After, I managed to shove my way to Fury, and told him what the Colonel was planning- it wasn’t an accident that the world’s heroes were targeted first- that we had to get to superhumans first.

“Son of a bitch already knew, already had a hundred point plan in place, assignments going out to strike teams. He dispatched Sue Storm to Atlantis, on the hopes of using her rapport with Namor to use it as a safe zone; but the infection had already spread there. They sent Johnny to Attilan, to try and secure that; Black Bolt was the last man standing- the Inhumans were overrun and the only thing he could do was destroy it all with a scream. Fury went himself to Latveria, to try and reason with Doom, but there was never any ship there to sail. The X-Men went to the Savage Land, Magneto to Mount Wundagore, Strange to Kamar-Taj, Iron Fist to K’un-Lun. Everywhere they went there was either no room at the inn, or no survivors.

“Reed hand-picked a strike team. Their primary goal was capturing Hank Pym, with a secondary goal of discovering the whereabouts of T’Challa; he didn’t believe the King of Wakanda would fall as easily as the rest. It included the best man-hunters available, including Wolverine, Jessica Jones, Madrox, Misty Knight, Hellcat, Blade, and Deadpool.” We pop out of Ben’s POV, to show them stalking through the streets. They find Hank’s lab, and Pym, and the bloodied tatters of Black Panther’s costume. They capture Pym, but as they’re exiting, they’re ambushed by the Avengers. Not all of them make it back, but presumably Madrox, Deadpool and Wolverine do.

We have a scene of Reed and Hank talking. Hank is almost evangelizing the benefits of being a Zombie, that they’re still able to move, but require far less energy, and can still think; in a way it’s an incredible evolution, if only the negative side effects could be tempered. Reed is not repulsed by Hank’s twisted sense of humor. Sue walks in on them, and is disgusted, and says so before storming out.

“I was assisting Fury, since I was good at tracking multiple trains of thought. Banner was making the most progress, Tony seemed to have abandoned the idea in its entirety, and Reed was getting stranger and stranger. Fury confronted Stark, who admitted that his simulations showed the Earth was a lost cause the moment Quicksilver became infected, so he’d spent his time building out a portal and looking for other worlds. He’d found a handful of suitable life preservers, but that with only the helicarrier’s power they couldn’t use it until everyone was assembled- and even then, they probably couldn’t save everyone. They knew Hank McCoy was among the infected, and couldn’t trust broadcasting this information, knowing he could likely decrypt it.

“Like I said, Colonel America had been planning all this time, building his army.” We pop out of Ben’s POV, in Central Park, where the Colonel gives a demented version of one of his speeches.

“When I was first bitten, all I could think was about eating. But after gorging myself on tourists, which, by the way, taste like hot dogs, I could think again. For a few minutes. And I realized, damnit, people, we’re Avengers. We needed to tackle this problem like Avengers. And that meant getting organized. Because unless we were fed well enough to plan, there was no way we were going to be able to beat this. Now, I know the price of eating is high- Parker can’t stop blubbering about his aunt and stupid girlfriend-“

“Why!” Spidey exclaims, collapsing melodramatically to his knees.

“Shut up, Parker. I know I’m asking a lot. The price of eating is high, but it always has been. It’s a price I’m willing to pay. And if I’m the only one, then so be it. But I’m willing to bet I’m not.” Relative silence, mild golf-clapping. “You think this ‘A’ on my head stands for vegetarian?” he asks dramatically, pointing to his forehead which does not have an A on it.

“Uh,” Spidey says, cocking his head to the side.

“Now let’s go eat some super heroes!”

And we’re back in Ben’s POV narrating. “The only reason we stood half a chance at all was the Avengers attacked when most of our side were back from globe-trotting. They gathered beneath the Helicarrier, and attacked. The returning heroes saw them, and without hesitation counter-attacked.”

This is the clay/silicone equivalent of End Game, a massive fight. For the first few minutes, it looks like the good guys are winning, like they’ve got a chance.

We cut back up to the Helicarrier. Reed is laughing with Hank, as the Fantastic Four show up. Ben is antsy to get out to the fighting; Sue is angry, because their friends are dying while they talk. Reed insists that what they’re doing is more important; their friends are dying so the four of them can ensure they preserve everything they care about. First he mentions his colleagues’ work. “Stark is paranoid; wouldn’t even let me into his labs. But I know his models predict us losing, just like mine, and he’ll have abandoned his original project, and substitute it with some kind of life raft or escape hatch solution instead. Pity; his original solution might have worked best, if he could have ramped up production on armor quickly enough to coat us all in unbitable skin. But then he wouldn’t have been special, and I think Stark would rather die than go back to being a face in the crowd.

“Banner’s been sharing notes with Hank and I; radiation doesn’t seem to effect the infection, and biology was always a distant second specialty, so he welcomed our… expertise. He likely would have missed the deadline- if you’ll pardon the pun- anyway, even without them steering his work in a more fruitful direction. But what neither Stark nor Banner understood, was this isn’t an aberration to be stamped out, this is evil-lution (yes, pronounced like that), a unifying life form that could end poverty, disease, want, racism, xenophobia. There are kinks, to be sure; the hunger will need to be curbed, an infection 2.0. I’ve been steering Banner’s research in that direction, even if he isn’t savvy enough to understand the modifications I’ve made.”

“We,” Pym barks from his place clamped to a table.

“Too right, Dr. Pym.”

“You’re insane. You’re both insane,” Sue yells.

Maker sighs. “I knew you wouldn’t be able to see this from my side, Susan. But I suspect you’ll be able to from Dr. Pym’s. You might have noticed a small scratch, while I was speaking. All it takes is the slightest abrasion of the skin, at the microscopic level. Hank’s ants have already infected you- in fact, you’ll be turning in 3, 2, 1.” The other members of the Fantastic Four vomit, and their faces contort.

“Why?” Sue gargles in agony.

Maker strokes her cheek. “Because I love you. I want us to be able to be a family in this new world, and to arrive intact. Our friends, below, many will not be so fortunate. But make no mistake, this was always humanity’s last stand. But with my, Bruce and Hank’s research, perhaps some sliver of humanity might remain.”

“You’re insane,” she says, convulsing on the ground.

“You’re not professionally qualified to make that judgment, and it’s petty of you to use it as an insult to describe a difference of opinion. In less than a half a minute you’ll be in complete agreement with me; we’ll be a family again.”

We cut back to the battle below, only the tide starts turning. And just as things are darkest, the Sentry arrives- and the battle is well and truly lost. Heroes we know and have managed to survive to this point are being bitten, including Wolverine and the X-Men.

Reed and his Frightful Four break down the door into Stark’s lab. “I didn’t want to believe it. I know you’ve been troubled by your failures surrounding this plague, but I thought better of you, Reed.” Tony’s mask slides shut. “Avengers!” he says through a modified voice. Thor and Hulk step into the room. The three Avengers take on the four of them. They’re being overpowered, even before Tony reacts to an injury inside his suit. We go super small, and see Giant Man has bit stark inside his armor. “Pym?” Tony yells. “I’m compromised.” Thor is flung across the room by Invisible Woman. Hulk, trying valiantly to hold back the other three, but Thing bites his eyeball. Tony yells back to Thor, “You have to destroy my teleporter, before they try to use it to escape to fresh worlds.” Thor nods solemnly, and brings his hammer, crackling with lightning, down on the teleporter.

As still more heroes are bitten, Magneto yells for them to retreat to the Hellicarrier, it’s their best hope. They can make their last stand there. From outside, we see the thunder strike cleave the carrier, fatally wounding it, and sending it crashing down into buildings.

Finally we’re back with Ben, who’s with Fury on the Helicarrier. He asks what’s going on, and Fury tells him it’s their roll coming up snake eyes. He gives Ben a flash drive, tells him to take it to Strange. He’s going to try and sneak himself to Latveria, see if maybe Doom can be talked off the sidelines now. Only Fury’s cut down by a Repulsor Ray through the chest.

“Fury always has another scheme,” Iron Man says as we pan away from Ben, who gets into an escape pod and ejects. Iron Man is left standing with Reed and Hank, who are distracted by Fury, who’s still moving. Iron Man remarks that it smells like bacon, and Hank assures him that it tastes even better.

Urich’s escape pod lands him at the edge of the battle, as it’s getting dark. The field is an orgy of blood and violence. He sneaks his way past/through it, trying to remember the way to Strange’s Sanctum (depending on budget/difficulty, this could be a hell of a ride through the battle as he’s trying more than anything not to be noticed amid the chaos). He sees it through an alleyway, and is attacked by a zombie Howard the Duck, and is saved by the Scarlet Witch. They enter the Sanctum (she’s able to bypass the lock magically), to find Mordo has eaten Wong. Mordo is remorseful, feeling he did not want to become this pitiable creature. Strange emerges from a portal, and puts Mordo out of his misery. He tells them that Kamar-Taj had fallen, that he stayed there, working with its mystics to try and find a magical solution, but as one by one they succumbed to their infections, he was forced to face the truth: magic has failed. Strange opens a portal to Latveria, on the hopes that a man of both science and magic might be able to succeed in its stead.

We see the exterior of Castle Doom, under assault by various zombified European heroes like Captain Britain and, for some reason, Goliath. Inside, Doom doesn’t great them happily- he takes issue with anyone teleporting inside his forcefield. Strange tries to reason with him, and Doom says he has plans. He arrogantly tells them he neither needs their help, nor will he accept it. As always, Doom will provide for the people of Latveria, as the rest of the world could not provide for their own.

We cut back to the Avengers Compound, where all of the assembled zombie heroes are planning (we can cut it back to the more strategically oriented among them, so Colonel America, Iron Man, Maker, Hank Pym, Cyclops) to make the scene more manageable. Hulk is there, not because he’s strategic, but because he’s a fun foil to have in the room. Stark’s scans show that infection rates are close to 90% most of the world over- thanks to Quicksilver’s overactive metabolism they’re running out of food faster than even their most pessimistic models. There’s one exception: Latveria. Doom’s forcefield has so far kept the infection out, and he’s kept his population safe. There are a handful of European enhanciles trying to break through, but Doom should be able to handle them. And combined, the Avengers should be able to topple Doom’s castle, and feast. Reed tries to be a voice of reason, to get them to ration the humans- that they don’t actually digest, or even really eat; their hunger makes them gorge themselves, but the Latverian population could last them for years, during which time they could either fix Stark’s portal or move to the stars. “Hulk always wondered what Skrullburger taste like.”

Back at Doomstadt, Doom unleashes an army of Doombots. They kill or chase off the zombies, save for Goliath. He swats them away- their ordinance isn’t enough to really harm him at his size. So Doom launches missiles, which jab into him then explode. Doom is pompously triumphant, as the rest of the Avengers show and lay siege to the castle. Their big guns lay into the force field, which begins to flicker.

Doom is taken aback, about ready to give up. His scientists say they still need time. Dr. Strange and Scarlet Witch offer to help him, and all three go outside, lending their magic to the force field, and keeping it up for a few minutes. They open a tiny portion of the forcefield to allow a squadron of Doombots out to attack the zombie heroes. But this is the next big battle, with the magic wielders doing a lot of damage to the zombies when the field comes down- just not enough. They’re outnumbered horrifically, and one after another get turned. Doom, the last to fall, stumbles back inside the Castle, and orders his guard to “Die for Doom!” Ben follows him into his labs, where a steady stream of Latverians are being led through a portal. Doom admits the tragedy: he’d been spying on the Helicarrier- that was why he didn’t need the intel Ben brought from Fury. But they weren’t able to completely recreate Stark’s device- they could only move the Latverians. He offers to send Ben with them- he’s proven resourceful, and might be able to help his people reactivate Stark’s teleporter and make it off world. He’s been watching Reed, and knows he moved the teleporter to his building. “Or, you can stay here, and I can eat you. I would really enjoy doing so. The hunger is becoming unbearable.” Ben runs through the portal, and Doom smashes it.

He’s immediately surrounded by zombie heroes. “Hah!” he laughs. “Doom has won! You have lost your prize, and I’ve already been bitten. There is nothing you can do to Doom!”

“I can still clobber ya,” Thing says.

He punches him, and we pan towards the other zombies, as we hear Doom yell, “Ah, my beautiful face!” and the sounds of further clobberin’.

They bicker, about their lost food, how they’re already starving. Spider-Man collapses to his knees. “MJ, why?”

“Shut up, Parker,” Colonel America says.

We cut to Ben, arriving through the portal. They’re in Four Freedoms Tower; it looks largely like it did when Ben was last there, including flecks of She-Hulk all over the place. The teleporter, however, is still just as smashed as when Thor whacked it with Mjolnir. They’re stuck. Ben tries to convince them to split apart, that the Avengers will be less likely to hunt them down if they’re in smaller groups. But the Latverians don’t want to separate, and decided to flee north.

Ben, feeling like he’d failed, wanders off alone. He’s found by several zombie Avengers and attacked. Magneto saves him, and brings him to this lair.

And just like that, we’re back to our framing story. Reed asks what his counterpart wants. If he hadn’t fixed the teleporter, maybe he had reservations about spreading the disease between worlds. He theorizes he may still be collecting data, to decide the best ways to spread it, or whether it makes more sense to spread it to other planets within this dimension, first, before venturing between them. Either way, he needs to get them back to his home dimension, and away from these zombies, and then ensure they can’t be followed. Though clearly his counterpart repaired it enough since for them to speak across dimensions and lure him there.

But first, Reed insists they track down the Latverians. His plan is to lead them back to the teleporter and safety. They don’t have to go far, unfortunately, and find that the Avengers caught up with them as they tried to trek outside of the city. Their hunger led them to, yet again, gorge on the Latverians, and they’re hungry by the time Reed, Magneto and Ben arrive. They flee, attempting to hide again in the underground lair, but are tracked there by Wolverine and Daredevil. They flee again, this time to the tower. Magneto has the sickening realization that he can’t go with them, that he has to stay, and destroy the machine from this side after them, to ensure the infected can never use it. Reed tells him that it’s paramount that he focus his attack on the intellectual zombies, his counterpart, Doom, Stark, Pym. Magneto understands. Hawkeye looses and arrow at Reed, and Ben jumps in the way, sacrificing himself for Reed, who uses the teleporter; they both make it through, to be able to have a tearful goodbye.

We linger on the teleporter after Reed leaves in the proper MCU, having locked it down with his security code, and turns down the lights. The Maker and the Frightful Four suddenly appear there, having teleported invisible along with Reed. “Come along, my Frightful Four. We have so much to do to remake this world in our glorious image.” We zoom past the Frightful Four, and into the last crackling bit of energy as the portal dissipates.

We see Magneto, standing triumphantly over the machine, crushing it. Then he blasts his way out of the building, and crushes the building, too, for good measure. The assembled zombie Avengers attack Magneto. He drops the surrounding buildings on their heads, then assembles a cocoon of metal that flies into the sky. The flying Avengers chase after it, as Magneto slinks away on foot, with Captain America’s shield and Thor’s hammer, too. Magneto gets a call, staticky radio transmission. It’s from Asteroid M, his satellite base. There are survivors there, and they want to rendezvous with him. He gives them coordinates to Pym’s hideout, figuring he can secure himself there for a time.

He tries to escape, but is spotted. A fight ensues, and he severely wounds several of them, including putting a girder through Daredevil’s chest and lopping off the top of Colonel America’s head with his shield. He also prevents Spider-Man’s web-shooter from functioning, leading Spider-Man to fall several stories and break his leg (it’s hanging by a thread for a while, literally). He’s shot by Hawkeye with an arrow, and decapitates him with the Colonel’s shield, then puts the arrow through Thor’s throat. They literally rip him into pieces, with Hulk, proclaiming himself the hungriest there is, ending up with a leg to himself.

They eat Magneto, and discuss the nature of their grotesque transformation. Banner, in particular, distends disturbingly from the leg in his now tiny, human stomach. Over the coarse of the scene, he can feel it slowly pushing out of him as it tears his insides apart, all while Spider-Man mewls about the monster they’ve become, and that he ate the two most important people in his life. Pym insists that they can think straight, temporarily, since eating Magneto, and they mustn’t waste this precious time on self-recriminations.

Banner, fearing the damage Magento’s leg bone will do when it ruptures through his stomach , asks one of them to hit him, because he doesn’t want a hole in him. Thor obliges, whacking him with his makeshift cinderblock hammer in the face (since he’s no longer worthy to lift Mjolnir). “Id’s nod worging, I feel no bain, I’m nod durning,” says a still human Banner. He narrates as the bone tears out of his stomach, bursting out of him like the chest-burster in Alien (if a bit lower). You see now why this had to be Claymation? Thor leans over to eat some of the Magneto chunks that fell out of Banner. Done right, this is all darkly comical, I promise.

They discuss the fact that they’re biologically dead- they clearly aren’t digesting, with his heart gone, Daredevil’s blood is all pooling in his legs thanks to gravity. Wolverine sums it up best- they’re dead, but not dying. Cage sees something in the sky, then they all see it: the Silver Surfer.

He’s gone before they can follow. Hank breaks off from the rest, saying he has to find Janet. We follow him, and he goes into his underground lab, where he was captured earlier. He has a secret compartment, and inside, an undisturbed lab, as well as an unconscious Black Panther. He’s missing an arm, and chemically sedated. Hank goes to work sawing off one of his legs as he talks about the fact that with another piece of him he can think things through, maybe come up with a way to finish Banner’s serum to help quell the hunger. He’s full of rationalizations, about how this is all a for the greater good, that if he were conscious T’Challa would probably even agree- not that he’s going to let him wake to ask him, which is why on some level he knows he’s a monster.

Janet, who followed him shrunk down, confronts him, demanding he share Black Panther. He reckons he’s going to need every scrap of meat to figure out a cure for the hunger. They argue, come to blows, and he grows and bites her head off, spitting it out because they taste terrible.

The rest of the Avengers return to Iron Man, who figures out pretty quickly that there was enough of Magneto to eat, because Hulk is Banner and Spider-Man is weepy, both of which happen after feeding. He and Colonel America discuss a plan to take a handful of their strongest and smartest and disappear to look for better food sources, with fewer mouths to feed. Daredevil, due to his super hearing, eavesdrops enough to suggest they take a Quinjet; if people think it’s an Avengers rescue mission they’ll run out to greet them.

Just then, the Silver Surfer arrives again. This time he stops overhead, and tells them their world is to be used to sate the hunger of Galactus, that their time is short, and they should prepare for their end. Stark orders the Avengers (really at this point every remaining super being) to get him. Iron Man is cut in half by the Surfer’s blast. Stark manages to grab onto his board and pull himself up to chomp on his leg; however, his teeth shatter on Surfer’s tough skin.

As the Surfer is swarmed, it is eventually Thor who manages to shatter his makeshift hammer on the Surfer, knocking him off his board. Several zombies attack, only for the Surfer to dispatch them. Wolverine pounces, slashing Surfer; his blood is corrosive, and burns away the flesh on Wolverine’s arm (and without the tendons holding his unbreakable bones together, they fall to the ground). Iron Halfman grabs Wolverine’s knee, and tells him to fling him into the fray, so Wolverine fastball specials him. As the fighting heats up, Pym skulks in the shadows of an alley, deciding discretion is the better part of valor, and leaves.

Spider-Man decides to just tear the stupid limb off, rather than leave it dangling, and Banner’s hunger finally wins out and he rehulks. Hulk smashes his way through the fight and snatches Silver Surfer. He gets blasted with the Power Cosmic in the face for his troubles, but Hulk chomps off the Surfer’s head. The rest swarm on Surfer’s body. Giant Man scoops up Spidey and Iron Man and helps them get some torso. Hercules tries to steal the Surfer’s head from Hulk’s mouth, only to get smashed. Beast complains some of them didn’t get any, and Colonel America thrusts out his hand to tell him to quit whining- and blasts his face off with the Power Cosmic.

Cut away to an empty city street. We hear the sound of a walking device, then Black Panther wobbles into view, using a makeshift crutch on the stub of one arm, carrying Wasp’s head under the other. She’s begging for just a taste, for him to cut off a piece of a finger, she’s so hungry. He’s her friend, but the entire thing is morbid, and he lectures her over that fact.

Magneto’s Acolytes confront Black Panther, thinking he’s a zombie, and ask him where Magneto is. They’re shocked he’s human, and alive. But some of the Acolytes want to kill him, anyway, so he flings Wasp’s head at one, and fights long enough for Cortez to tell them to back off, and they all scurry back to the Asteroid together.  

Glactus arrives, and the zombies attack him. Galactus mows through those who weren’t Power Cosmiced up, and the remaining heroes retreat to Pym’s lab. He was planning to use Black Panther’s body to keep them all smart enough to build a machine to help them beat Galactus. Instead, they come up with a grotesque solution- re-eating chunks of meat, then surgically removing them from their stomachs to eat them again. Their bodies are acidic enough the meat gets smaller each time, but it’s helped. Colonel America arrives with the last item on their list- Wakandan Vibranium. They also have McGuffins from all over they’ve been assembling (we can play these runs out, depending on pacing needs). They finish their device, and prepare to take on Galactus, but are met by Red Skull and his own band of zombie villains.

On Asteroid M, Black Panther settles in, and meets Forge, who offers to build him some prosthetic limbs.

Back in the city, the Avengers blast Galactus with the machine meant to amplify their cosmic powers, downing him. Red Skull’s band try to join in the meal- and a fight ensues. It really is a who’s who of Marvel versus, with everybody getting a grudge match or two. But the Cosmic Avengers really do outclass their former villains, and tear through them-the exception being poor Colonel America, whose exposed brain is a fairly easy weakness for Red Skull to exploit (in the book he tears a chunk out; personally, I’d put a grenade in there, but there are clearly a lot of black comedy options). Galactus, however, has rallied, and is ticked off. But he’s vulnerable, and the Avengers tear into their meal.

We fade to black, and we do a five years later, not because I’m reviving that gag again, but because that’s what happened in the book.

A ship lands on Earth. Black Panther, with robot limbs, Wasp, in a shiny new robot body, the Acolytes among them a new Mrs. Black Panther and their new cub, venture out. They say there haven’t been scans of lifesigns for years. They’ve been watching the planet, nothing moving, no zombies, nothing. They mention that Galactus’ attack killed most undead life on Earth, but some of the sturdier heroes and villains survived, for a time. But they haven’t seen hide nor hair of them since. They don’t know where they could have gone.

Title card: Another world. A peaceful alien race is bedding down for the evening. We linger on them long enough to start to empathize, when they’re attacked by the Marvel Zombies, inexplicably now wearing Galactus armor (he always was a trendsetter). Captain Marvel, at the head of a force including the Shiar Imperial Guard, and an Armada that’s a who’s who of Marvel alien races, is at her back. She says something to the effect that their eating tour of the galaxy is at an end. Iron Man remarks, “Oh, good, she brought dessert,” and leaps at camera, and we’re swallowed down, then back out the hole at the end of his esophagus (because he’s only half an Iron Man, remember). Hulk tears intestines out of a super skrull, and they fly into camera in the shape of the logo for “Marvel Zombies.” He eats messily as that slides off the camera, only for more viscera to hit with, “The end?”   

On second thought, (or really, on revisiting the books this is based off) maybe this should be R rated and just go to Hulu, instead. Don’t want to give all the children nightmares. Because who are we kidding, kids and adults are going to see the style and assume this is for kids. And actually, on that note… the show should begin with zombie Colonel America, sitting in a chair, to give one of the recorded messages used in Spider-Man: Homecoming. “So, you think this is appropriate for kids? Just because I’m animated using silicone dolls, doesn’t mean we aren’t going to show a ton of graphic violence, really twisted humor, and scenes so adult most of our voice actors probably shouldn’t have been exposed to them. Look, parenting is tough, and I don’t want to tell you how to raise your kids, but if the thought of watching Spider-Man eat Mary Jane and Aunt May sounds like it might be too much, I’m telling you, we linger on it. By the end of that scene you’ll think Disney’s going to open up a Spider-Man’s Finger-Licking Girlfriend stand at Disneyland, and the scene is just an elaborate commercial for it. But hell, if you want to raise a generation of little psychopaths, what do I care? I eat a bunch of people in this show, some of them friends. You think this ‘A’ stands for approved for all audiences?” he asks, pointing at his forehead, which does not have an A on it.

“You’re not wearing the one with the A, Steve,” the cameraman interrupts.

He kicks his chair over, which is good because it knocks over the camera and cuts him off as he says, “Aw, f-“

If we are still going to try to put this on Disney + (which I think could work- there’s other PG-13 stuff on there), I’d even follow that with some white text on a black banner. “We’re not kidding. This is a pretty adult show. Marvel heroes get turned into zombies and eat people. We play it for laughs, but for impressionable kids, this could really screw them up. If you wouldn’t let your kids watch Day of the Dead, Army of Darkness or all eight Herbie the Lovebug movies in a single sitting, we really can’t in good conscience suggest you watch with your children. Then again, we were also bit by Colonel America, and so we don’t have a good conscience anymore- just the bad one, and we can feel the hunger overtaking us even now…”

Old Ventures 2, Ch. 11

Eleven, Germany, 4/11/45

Jack’s Hebrew was shaky, but he listened intently as the old woman, whose name was Flossy, spoke. “I was sick,” she said, “violently, violently ill. They had no facilities on the train, so the soldiers left me behind. ‘There will always be another train,’ they said. But they took the rest of my family, my Heinrich, our daughter Ruth and her husband, with their children, two girls and a boy. I must find them,” she said, and took hold of Jack’s face, and pulled it down to her, nearly a foot lower than his usual height. “Promise me, you will find them.”

She released him, “I’ll find them,” Jack said, and took out a folded sheaf of paper, and a little charcoal pencil. “Describe them for me.”

Flossy blinked at him twice before registering the paper, and her expression changed. “My Heinrich, he is three inches taller than me, thin, frail, white hair, only on the sides of his head. Spectacles, if he’s managed not to lose them.

“Ruth is thirty-nine, plump, but beautiful, and not just in her mother’s eye. Long, curly black hair, to her backside,” she traced her hand down her own back to illustrate.

Jack put up his hand to slow her. “Sometimes, they shave people’s heads, to prevent lice. Identifying marks, jewelry?”

“She has the ring I was married with,” she touched her left ring finger, twisting the ring that had been gone long enough there was no longer a tan line where it once was. “Gold, with a Star of David, with a sapphire hexagon in the center, my birth stone. My father bought it when he proposed to my mother, and when I met Heinrich, she gave it to me, and I gave it to Ruth when she married.

“Her husband Charles is a gentile, French, with straw hair, in color and texture, usually kept under a small cap. His left leg is shorter than his right, which makes him walk with a limp. And he has a crooked smile, that matches.

“The children all have their father’s color of hair, all to their shoulders, even the boy. He refused to have his hair cut any shorter than his sisters’. They go everywhere hand in hand, the boy, the youngest, between them; I suspect not even the Nazis could separate them.”

“Their names?” he asked.

She beckoned for him to give her his pencil and paper, and he did. She scrawled across three consecutive lines, names, with ages between five and nine, then wrote out the names of her husband, their daughter and her husband, too. Then she handed him back both.

“Thanks,” Jack said, “this should really help.” He slid both back into his pocket, before seeing that she was staring at a young woman, flirting with one of the soldiers. The young woman kissed one of the Americans, and he said, “Shucks,” loudly enough they heard it. The mood of the train had lightened considerably, except among the captured Germans.

And Flossy. Staring at the reveling, tears streamed down her cheeks. “This wasn’t necessary,” she said, her voice breaking. “We escaped. From Germany. From the Nazis. From Europe. My family, we traveled, by boat. We made it to America, to Ellis Island, in sight of the Statue of Liberty. We were safe,” she sobbed, “we were safe.

“They sent us away, told us there was no room. Like the country was an inn, with no vacancies, and sent us back. No one would take us,” she said, trembling. “The entire world turned its back on us…”

Jack’s jaw set; it had been a awhile since he’d been so furious, and a good long time since that anger was turned towards his own country and government. “I’ll find them,” he said, squeezing her shoulder. “They haven’t invented a Nazi yet who can slow me down.”

She collapsed against him, wailing.

Pitchmas 2020, Part 5: Marvels

Because I’m a big fan of biting off more than I can chew, this would expand upon the concept of the Marvels story from Busiek and Ross. It would parallel the rise of Marvel Comics, but be set in the MCU, showing the reactions of regular human beings to the emergence of superhumans. It would also follow, as our POV characters, famous contributors to Marvel Comics, here recast as reporters and photographers; it’s also a great back-door way for Marvel to provide them and their heirs with a big dumptruck of money for their life/likeness rights. It would use processing similar to Loving Vincent, so the entire series would look and feel like a living painting. It’s spread across 10 episodes, each covering a significant, impactful moment from a decade of the MCU.

1. We open on Carl Burgos, a 23-year-old reporter for the newly formed Timely News. “That’s a good name for a paper,” is the response he’s used to getting (I think that may be a running gag throughout the series, not just to Carl, but for all of our cast). He’s sitting in a crowd, mostly other newspapermen, who are heckling Phineas Horton, as he tries to describe his marvelous mechanical man, and the strange side effect it has, of catching fire when exposed to the air. Horton tells people not to be alarmed as he opens the valve into the vacuum-sealed chamber, and the android catches fire. Burgos captures pictures of it, and hands them in to Mr. Goodman, the publisher, who demands the editor, one John Jonah Jameson, Sr.,  get them and Carl’s story onto the front page. We see a young Stanley Leiber selling that edition on the street later that day. Burgos narrates, “It was an age of monsters, of mutants, of madmen. It was an age of Marvels.” We cut to black, then fade in a processed to look like it’s been painted version of the Marvel Studios logo with the music fading in as well.

Burgos and Bill Everett, a reporter one year his junior, discuss Horton. His miraculous invention was to be buried, because it reminded people how small, how fragile- how human– they were. Being newspapermen, they run towards a commotion, to find the Human Torch escaping, leaping over their heads as people around them panic.

We follow Bill and his current sweetheart (he’ll meet his wife in the Army, so she won’t be recurring) walking along the waterfront. To the chagrin of his sweetie, he follows the sounds of shouting to find Namor, the Sub-Mariner, standing on the dock over a woman. The police seem to think he kidnapped her, but to Bill that doesn’t add up- why would a fish man kidnap a woman onto land? The cops shoot at him, but the bullets ricochet off; Bill sketches the man’s feats of strength as he throws their car, then leaps back into the water.

Bill wants to write the story as he saw it, with a critical eye for detail. Jameson demands a menace angle- he argues they don’t know enough about Namor to know whether or not he’s safe, and there’s no percentage in giving him the benefit of the doubt. But a warning- that will sell papers. So they write the story fabulizing Namor’s travails. It isn’t long before the cops are treating him as the menace the papers declare him to be, and the chief of police desperately pleads with the Human Torch to help them bring Namor to heel. 

They have a clash over the skies. We see it mostly through Stanley’s eyes, as he watches from Timely’s offices. Everyone else is huddled around a radio, because something else is happening, something that is going to change the face of the world forever: the United States has been attacked, and is entering the second world war.

2. The second episode would follow our main cast into the Army, as they were all drafted. Jack and Joe train alongside Captain America, and the war department lets them provide coverage of the new hero as part of a morale boost to the troops. Soon, Captain America, Bucky, Namor and the Human Torch have formed the Invaders, and help turn the tide for the Allies, fighting alongside our leads. Captain America, and the fact that the Invaders are with the Allies, means an end to the antagonism and antipathy they showed previously to these emerging Marvels. The episode ends on a down note, as the sacrifice of Captain America, after the loss of Bucky, leads to an abrupt end for the age of heroes. After the war, Namor retreats into the ocean, and the Torch and the rest of the heroes fade away; losing Cap felt like an end to the Marvels.  

3. The third episode is a strange beast, indeed. In the MCU timeline, nothing really happens here, except maybe some of the Peggy Carter stuff- and while I loved the show, it’s not the big, bombastic heroism this show’s designed for. Thankfully, one of our heroes has a time travel rock for a spell, so he’ll end up in this time period. He’s discovered by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. They want to do an expose, about him, about the future he hails from. He implores them not to print anything, because his knowledge of the future could destroy their entire reality. What’s worse, when he landed there, he accidentally disrupted Senator McCarthy, whose Code Authority regulations, while heinous, need to pass, or the shock to the timeline could also destroy reality. He’s also accidentally called Shuma-Gorath’s attention to the planet by bringing a largely unprotected Infinity Stone to that time period (he is, sadly, no Ancient One at this point, having only just gotten the stone). Also throwing a spanner in the works is one of the earlier Black Widows- not Natasha- but one of her forebears. In the end, Ditko and Lee promise not to cover him until his proper introduction, but demand an exclusive when that day comes.

4. By this point Lee and Kirby have pretty much solidified as our leads, Lee now working as Editor in Chief, and Kirby as the paper’s premiere photojournalist (always a little hacked off at the way Lee changes his headlines, bylines and well, everything), with Lee continuing to write, as well. The Fantastic Four parallel the rise of JFK’s Camelot; the families are even friendly with one another, and Reed’s insights are the only reason Kennedy is confident the Americans can win the space race. The Four are also a new breed of Marvels, these ones everymen, a girl next door, her dorky, obnoxious brother, a cranky uncle; even Reed is a hometown boy done good, especially in New York. They’re as American as apple pie, and equally beloved. Their existence brings a new kind of prestige, and even glamour, to heroism, and as part of that the pair are profiling them, to bring the public even deeper into their world, because Reed knows it’s the tip of the iceberg, more miracles and marvels are coming in their wake. The story, however, ends in the tragedy of their ‘sacrifice’ in saving the world, shocking everyone. It’s a somber note everything ends on, as the Four disappear (this follows the continuity of my pitch from last year, where the FF get shot into the future during the 60s).

5. We pick up with civil unrest. The fall of Camelot, the assassination of JFK, the disappearance of the Fantastic Four, the rise of Cold War paranoia and the likelihood of nuclear annihilation make civil rights conflicts burn with even greater intensity. And while there really was no good reason to fight Martin Luther King, mutants are inherently dangerous- at least, so the story goes. The loss of both MLK and Malcom X has made the two newest civil rights leaders, Magneto and Professor Xavier, both more guarded and at the same time more endangered. Magneto’s speech is met with violence; his followers respond in kind, threatening to overwhelm the human authorities gathered, until the arrival of Xavier and his X-Men. They stand between those who hate and fear them and the mutants who might give them cause to. I imagine both Lee and Kirby make at least references to how analogous the plight of their people has recently been to these X-Men, who didn’t choose the circumstances of their birth, but are trying to make their world safer.

6. We scoot forward further in time, this time into the 80s; a fueding Stan and Jack are both working parallel stories, the “good” scientists, the ones playing ball with the authorities and working with SHIELD- Janet & Hank Pym- vs. the rogue scientist, Bruce Banner pursuing gamma research without sanction. What they and the audience soon discover is Hank & Janet’s final mission is interrelated after all- Banner tells them as part of his research he’s been monitoring gamma releases the world over, and slips that intel to SHIELD, who send their best operatives to stop the missiles the gamma warheads have been loaded onto. At the same time, the Hydra science division screws with Banner’s test, and he’s forced to endanger himself to try and put things right- accidentally unleashing the Hulk- a WMD he aims at the Hydra gamma science division, destroying it so utterly they are never able to attempt another gamma weapon. But as one last screw you, Hydra release security footage of the Hulk rampaging through their base to the public (via Lee and Kirby’s reporting)- ensuring he is hated and feared for years to come.

7. This story runs parallel to the first Captain Marvel movie. We see it through the eyes of Stan Lee, now the editor, as well as two of his newer reporters, Gene Colan and Roy Thomas, as they work to uncover the truth of the strange woman who fell from the stars, and whether or not she’s working with the shapeshifting green men or if she’s going to save humanity from them- only to be shocked to discover they’re sympathetic and they’re going to ban together and protected humanity from the Kree.

8. This one’s pretty easy, just giving us a man on the street reaction to the introduction of Tony Stark, Hawkeye, Black Widow and Thor. It’s really a rebirth of the marvels to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Don Heck is the photojournalist they send out to get most of the scoop, while the two old pros/part-time nemeses go head to head about what it all means. I’d also subtly add in Kevin Feige as a security guard working at Timely, who Lee sometimes bounces ideas off of.

9. Finally, we get to the Avengers, and how nuts the invasion in that first movie is to reporters based in New York. I might, to both give Jack Kirby his due but also not pretend like he lived twenty years longer than we did, reveal in this episode that Jack’s been dead a while, by having Kevin interrupt Stan and Jack talking about the end of the world, and the end of their storied and sometimes rocky partnership. “Talking to Jack again?” Kevin asks, as Jack gives a wistful smile, before fading away.

“I always did my best work with Jack,” Stan says, as Kevin closes his office door. “Still do,” he says sadly, looking out the window at his wounded, smoking city.

10. Ten is as much an epilogue as another episode. After the Battle of New York, the Age of Marvels is no longer a contested idea. Stan publishes a memoir, fittingly titled Marvels, largely covering the series we’ve just seen, with accompanying paintings by Alex Ross, with scripting assistance from Kurt Busiek. The end of the book is Stan and Steve Ditko covering Spider-Man. He represents the new generation coming up after him, with new ideas, new styles- a whole new world, one just as marvelous as they’ve been lucky enough to live through.

At the end of the episode, on his death bed, an ill Stan speaks to Kevin, watching the MCU out of his window. “I used to think that they were the Marvels- the men in tights, the women in armor.” He turns, to pictures on his nightstand, of all of the reporters, photographers and others who he worked with at the paper, the characters we’ve followed over the course of this series. “But after decades spent with the extraordinary men and women covering them, telling their stories- we were Marvels, too; I was privileged to know them, elevated by collaborating with them, honored to have walked among them.”

He asks Kevin for a moment, to say goodbye to his family. Kevin, now in a suit and tie, nods, and closes the door behind himself. And that’s the end.