The Way of the Word

5. April 2011

Awesome Ideas That Will Never Be

I actually pitched this one to Marvel, many years ago. It was shot down because of their sliding timescale — “JJJ isn’t that old.” Actually, he is; I had the idea after seeing Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson in the 1939 scenes of Kurt Busiek’s and Alex Ross’s Marvels.

Back in the early 1940s, Steve Rogers was not the only candidate for the Super Soldier program. There was another one. A newspaper journalist: J. Jonah Jameson. He passed the physical as easily as Rogers did, and truth be told the army preferred him. He wasn’t as wimpy as Rogers. True, Erskine had assured them that it didn’t matter, the end result would be the same. But the army liked Jameson’s more combative attitude.

In the end, they put both candidates into separate rooms for the final interviews. But something went wrong.

Nazi agents stormed the place. They Sieg Heiled through the top secret installation and, the element of surprise on their side, managed to kill Erskine and fight their way through to the two candidates. They stormed into the room where Jameson was. When they pointed their Schmeisser machine guns at him, Jameson slunk back into a corner and whimpered. They didn’t bother to kill him. He wasn’t worth their time.

Another group charged the room where small, skinny Steve Rogers was. They were met with a chair thrown at them. When they pointed their Schmeisser machine guns at Rogers, he stared at them defiantly.

“You can kill me now,” he said, “but you will never defeat the power of a free nation!”

That was when the general aborted the test. Rogers had passed, he had proven that he had the strength of character to become the first super-soldier.

Jameson was sent home in disgrace. Inside, he seethed. And every time he saw Captain America in action, or any other costumed hero, he knew that it could have been him, should have been him — if he had been man enough.

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15 Comments »

  1. Sweet Monkey Jebus – That is awesome.

    Comment by Michael Paciocco — 5. April 2011 @ 14:17

  2. Thanks. As mentioned in the post, I actually did pitch this one to Marvel sometime in the late 1990s. I had pitched it as a 5 page backup story.

    Comment by jensaltmann — 5. April 2011 @ 17:46

  3. Sorry, but I don’t buy it. Jameson is a jerk and a bastard, but he’s also a man of principle (weird, twisted as those may be) and I certainly don’t think he’s a coward.

    Comment by Anders Gabrielsson — 5. April 2011 @ 19:49

  4. That always depended on who was writing him. Frankly, though, I don’t even really see that as cowardice: you’re bored, and suddenly men with machine guns storm in and point said machine guns in your face. Breaking down under that isn’t cowardice. The opposite rather, standing up in the face of something like that is remarkable.

    The thought behind this was mostly that it would make Jameson’s pathological hatred (and self-admitted envy) of everyone with a costume so much poignant if it were because he once had a chance to be one of them, and blew it simply because he wasn’t extraordinary enough.

    Comment by jensaltmann — 5. April 2011 @ 20:27

  5. Yeah, it still doesn’t make sense to me. If there’s one characteristic that defines Jameson it’s that he gets irrationally over-the-top pissed when things don’t go his way. He’s stood up to far scarier things than Nazis.

    The story would explain his hatred of costumed heroes, but he would have to be someone completely different.

    Comment by Anders Gabrielsson — 5. April 2011 @ 20:32

  6. Anders: Actually, the way I see it, Jens’ “origin” for Jonah is not only perfectly compatible with the traits that you’re ascribing to him, but also led to their formation in his character. In addition to Jonah’s jealous hatred of superheroes (which Jonah himself explicitly stated in his first appearance), that one moment of cowardice could be for him what Uncle Ben’s death was for Peter Parker – from that moment forward, Jonah would never back down to anyone again, even if logic and reason and common sense says that he should, so when he’s confronted with situations where things aren’t going the way he wants, instead of letting it break him down, it makes him that much more pissed off. It also helps to reconcile the Jonah who hates superheroes with the Jonah who defends mutant rights, because he sees superheroes as persecutors and mutants as victims, in keeping with the narrative that he’s no doubt built up around that moment of testing.

    Comment by K-Box — 6. April 2011 @ 01:46

  7. I guess I see a difference between explaining one facet of a character by describing something that happened to him and changing something else about him to be able to explain that facet. It doesn’t become J Jonah Jameson’s formative moment; it becomes the formative moment of someone who acts like J Jonah Jameson without being him.

    Comment by Anders Gabrielsson — 6. April 2011 @ 06:45

  8. Not really. If you take a moment to think about it: the first time we met Jonah was about 20 years after this. So yes, this is really Jonah Year 1. Also, in an early issue of Spider-Man, he admits that he hates Spidey because Spidey is so much more braver than he is. That is a very OOC moment of self-awareness: someone who never backs down usually thinks he’s brave. Unless he had a moment where he was tested, and he didn’t live up to the demands.

    The way I see Jonah, he grew after that, in part because he never forgave himself for being weak. And his blustering is, in part, to cover up for that.

    Comment by jensaltmann — 6. April 2011 @ 08:28

  9. You get it. Except, as I said earlier, that I don’t even consider that cowardice. Just a “Oh fuck, what’s going on here, oh fuck, that’s machine guns, oh fuck I’m dead” moment.

    As I said, you have to be of extremely strong character to not react that way. Jonah isn’t, he’s a normal person. And like Anders, he mistook what’s an essentially normal reaction for cowardice.

    Comment by jensaltmann — 6. April 2011 @ 08:30

  10. And may I say that I find it awesome that this actually inspires discussion?

    Comment by jensaltmann — 6. April 2011 @ 10:55

  11. Well, I can accept this as a difference of opinion, and I’m not saying that because I think you’re wrong, necessarily.

    I guess it’s like this: I kinda like Jonah. Maybe I’m colored by the deeper, more sympathetic version in The Pulse. (Yes, there were good things in a Bendis book.)

    Also, it’s this: When you present two characters in similar situations with one reacting heroically and one not, the one not portrayed heroically automatically gets kicked into the coward/villain/asshat/generally unsympathetic person pigeon hole, whether that’s the intent or not. If you’re comparing a hero and someone who is not a hero, the non-hero will be cast in an unfavorable light unless you heavily emphasize that they are just a regular joe.

    So I could buy this… if there were another one or two candidates who reacted as Jonah did. That would make Steve Rogers all the more heroic and remarkable, and not short-sell Jonah but portray him as just another guy. That he lets this get to him and starts to hate heroes because he couldn’t live up to the same standards while the other “failures” don’t is okay because that is his actual flaw. Portraying him as a coward, which is what happens when you put him up against Cap whether that’s your intention or not, adds another, unnecessary flaw.

    Comment by Anders Gabrielsson — 7. April 2011 @ 20:16

  12. Then again, if compared to Captain America, everyone else comes up short. 🙂

    Okay, I get what you want to say. Needless to say that I didn’t see it that way. The way I saw it, this would explain a lot of Jonah’s attitudes, and apparently contradictive characteristics (such as Kirk pointed out) that the much older JJJ has.

    Comment by jensaltmann — 7. April 2011 @ 20:40

  13. Yeah, that’s the point: If you compare him to Cap, of course he’s going to look bad. So if your point isn’t to make him look bad, either don’t make that comparison or do it in such a way that you show that everyone else also looks bad.

    Comment by Anders Gabrielsson — 7. April 2011 @ 20:47

  14. I actually saw it the other way around. Not that it makes him look bad to fail the final test — but rather that it speaks highly of him that they considered him possible Captain America material.

    Comment by jensaltmann — 8. April 2011 @ 07:30

  15. Character flaws dominate physical fitness in these situations, I find. 🙂

    Comment by Anders Gabrielsson — 8. April 2011 @ 15:57


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