Monday, April 09, 2007

Storytelling Engines: Ms. Marvel

(or "Life After Death")

On the surface, there's not a whole lot to distinguish Ms. Marvel from Spider-Woman and She-Hulk, whom we've looked at in previous entries; Ms. Marvel is another female character pretty much created as a quickie spin-off from an established male character (in this case, Captain Marvel...you have to wonder if this has ever traveled in the opposite direction. Wonder Woman didn't spawn a Wonder Man...was there ever an original female character who got a "male spin-off"?) Ms. Marvel also had a new writer come on board after the first few issues and tweak a concept that was rushed into production. These are nothing new to longtime comics readers. But what is interesting is exactly who that new writer was--a young man named Chris Claremont, working in the Marvel offices on a lot of Marvel's second-tier titles like 'Ms. Marvel', 'Iron Fist', 'Spider-Woman', and 'X-Men'.

Obviously, the little 'Sesame Street' song starts up in every comic fan's head on seeing that list."One of these things is not like the others..." But at the time, 'X-Men' wasn't a big seller, it wasn't a hit book--heck, it wasn't even monthly. So Claremont had plenty of time to do other things. And, as it happened, a lot of those "other things" never caught on the way that the X-Men did. 'Iron Fist' only lasted fifteen issues, 'Ms. Marvel' only made it to issue #23, and although 'Spider-Woman' lasted a bit longer, Claremont's run came towards the end of the series.

So where am I going with all this? Simple. I'm pointing out that the end of a series doesn't mean the end of a storytelling engine. 'Ms. Marvel' lasted only twenty-three issues, but pretty much every character that Claremont thought had any storytelling potential, he lifted out and made use of in his other work. Deathbird made her first appearance in 'Ms. Marvel', as did Mystique and Rogue; Claremont later took these villains, the backstories and plans he'd worked up for them, and made efficient use of them when he needed ideas for the X-Men. In fact, Ms. Marvel herself became a semi-regular character in the X-Men (along with Misty Knight from 'Iron Fist' and Jessica Drew from 'Spider-Woman'...more examples of Claremont finding new uses for old characters.) These re-used elements helped Claremont when he needed ideas, because they were ideas he already had sitting around waiting to be used.

Eventually, Ms. Marvel wound up gaining cosmic powers and having space adventures. This new set of stories kept the character in the minds of the fans, eventually paving the way for her return in Kurt Busiek's 'Avengers' run, which in turn paved the way for her to get her own series again. Which demonstrates another good reason to recycle ideas and plotlines from cancelled series. Sometimes, all an idea needs is to stick around until it catches on.

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