Published under the ‘Marvel Next’ imprint this 6 issue comic book series was written by Adam Warren, who also provided the art with penciller Rick Mays. With its rich anime-influenced artwork and dense plot Livewires is something rather special
The Livewires are a group of robots, although they hate the ‘r’ word, on a mission to eliminate black ops and secret research projects. The newly awakened Stemcell acts as the readers point of view as the rest of the team show her the ropes.
In addition to Stemcell the team consisted of Cornfed, Gothic Lolita, Hollowpoint Ninja and Social Buttefly. Each member served an important function within the group; Cornfed was the mechanic, Gothic Lolita the muscle, Hollowpoint Ninja was the weapon and combat expert while Social Butterfly was able to influence humans. Even Stemcell had the ability to regurgitate vital pieces of technological.
The series had a strong comedic element, playing with the comic format. In issue 2 Stemcell has ‘thought boxes’ making observations about the group and their situation until the rest of the team reveal that her ‘thoughts’ are being broadcast across their intranet.
This comedy helps off-set the over the top violence and sadness of the story. The Livewires are all too aware that they are on a suicide mission. The reason that Stemcell has been activated is because the team has just lost their tech expert, Homebrew and more members of the team die before the end.
In addition to being a good read ‘Livewires’ has a lot to offer those running a Marvel Heroic roleplaying campaign. The setup is perfect for an adventure, a group of skill individuals carrying out covert operations.
The 6 issues provide some useful information about the various organisations within the Marvel universe, such as AIM, HYDRA and SHIELD. These details can be included in adventures.
Beware that from this point forward there are Spoilers.
A government funded program to develop a group of androids to hunt down and eliminate dangerous secret projects. Combining the technology that produced SHIELD’s Life Model Decoys (LMD) and the Mannites (a US government project to genetically engineer super powered children) the Livewires were androids able to pass as human but possessing superhuman abilities.
There was great concern that the Livewires could go rogue and so various measures were put in place to prevent this. Firstly their abilities were deliberately limited, to ensure that they weren’t too powerful.
In addition their overriding priority was to remain loyal to the project above all else. Their ‘father’ David Jenkins saw the logical flaw in this, that they would see the human factor in the project as a liability, but did nothing to prevent it. He gave them his blessing, including the information to modify themselves, even as the killed him and the rest of the project personnel.
Each mech begins life as a metal skeleton with a layer of something approximating muscle tissue. This is immersed in a tank of liquid nanobots which coat the mech in a layer of nanomechanical smartware.
This allowed a livewire unit to customise themselves as needed, filling a specific function within the team. Their body would produce the parts and modifications needed. Newly awakened mech could use this function as a miniature nano-factory, capable of producing just about anything.
By default a mech’s brain was fitted with a human emotional responses. This not only let them feel fear but experience instinctive behaviour such as feeling as they were drowning if submerged in water, even though they didn’t need to breath.
These presets were capable of being modified by accessing a module behind the eye. This was an unpleasant procedure and other mechs were not able to carry out this operation for others. This could be due to programming or because it was considered a rite of passage that a mech must carry out for themselves.
Livewire members shared an intranet, able to share their thoughts instantly. They could share datafiles as attachments, making it much easier for them to co-ordinate their covert operations. This communication could be disrupted.
Originally consisting of 10 members only 4 remain by the time that Issue 1 begins. It is likely that Stemcell was the last Livewire to be constructed before they went rogue, only activated when Homebrew died.
The simple truth was that they knew there was high probability they would die. Their job was to make sure that their death helped the rest of the team complete their mission. This gave them no qualms about carrying out suicidal actions.
When a livewire unit ‘died’ their teammates would take extreme measures to make sure that their hard drive was wiped, to prevent their enemies from salvaging any information. A EMP grenade usually be sufficient.
The Livewires are a great team for running covert adventures, akin to ‘Shadowrun’. Issue 3 is the best illustration of a typical Livewire mission.
Cornfed gathers information about their target, a research scientist, so Social Butterfly can get close to him at a nightclub. Using her skills to coax passwords from the target she broadcasts them to Cornfed while Hollowpoint Ninja eliminates the cloaked robot sniper that is protecting the target. The recovered information Cornfed is able to by-pass security systems and sabotage another secret research project.
The Livewires try to be subtle and keep causalities to a minimum but haven’t hesitated to cause large scale property damage to eradicate the technology they’ve decided to eliminate.
There are virtually countless organisations and super villains that the Livewire team might find themselves in conflict with. In addition to AIM, SHIELD and HYDRA there is Doctor Doom, Red Skull, HATE (from ‘Nextwave’), Dr Octopus, the Mad Thinker, the Wizard and many more.
The fact the Livewire team are able to chat even when not in close proximity brilliantly the way players exchange information at the table. The mechs also have a certain amount of detachment from the action, even during tense situations, just as players do.
By necessity the team has to scavenge and salvage most of the equipment they use. This can be the equivalent of treasure in more traditional roleplaying games. Sabotaging projects and defeating enemies can result in temporary assets and resources for subsequent adventures.
A group could play the Livewire characters featured in the comic, a mix of the unseen mechs or even an entirely separate group. There is plenty of room for the team in the comic to carry out additional missions (particularly between issue 2 and 3) but adventures could take place prior to Stemcell’s activation or even further back, before they went rogue.
At the end of Issue 6 only Stemcell is still activate, with Hollowpoint Ninja shutting down to carry out internal repairs and the rest of the team in pieces. Stemcell is still confident that given time and the proper resources she will be able to repair them.
This allows the Livewire adventures to continue. A whole story arc can chart Stemcells attempts to repair them, the team slowly being restored to its former glory. Then they can concentrate on their primary goal of shutting down projects.
There are a number of ways in which a group of heroes might come into contact with the Livewires. They could work together to defeat AIM, HYDRA or shutdown a new Sentinel program.
This could be particularly interesting for robotic heroes, such as Vision, Machine Man or the original Human Torch. What will they think of such advanced mech? Would they try to free them from their slavish dedication to the Livewire project?
The final revelation in issue 6, that the Livewires brutally killed all the humans on the project, shows that the team have no morality. They shut down projects with no regard of if they are good or evil.
The Livewires are just as likely to sabotage projects run by Stark Industries, the Fantastic Four or Horizon Labs (current employer of Peter Parker). This would make the Livewires appear to be villainous, putting them into direct conflict with PC heroes.
This could occur during sensitive moments in other Events. The Livewires might hamper the Beast’s experiments in the wake of M Day to reactive the mutant gene, they could try to shutdown Negative Zone gates during ‘Civil War’ stranding prisoners or they could sabotage attempts to detect the Skrull during ‘Secret Invasion’.
What would happen if the Livewires were reprogrammed by a villain? There are many who would have uses for such advanced mech. In particular Ultron or Dr Doom could turn them into pawns, having them infiltrate other organisations and even superhero groups.
In this case the PC heroes might be set the goal of not only defeating the Livewires but freeing them from the villain. Can the heroes free their minds or would they be forced to destroy them?
Even if you don’t use the Livewires directly it is interesting that the technology to create them exists at all. The mysterious government project might decide to use the technology again, whether it be to hunt mutants, capture unregistered superheroes during ‘Civil War’, locate Skrulls or just act as super-powered government controlled agents.
This could act as the origin for new heroes. They could be fully aware of their robotic nature or, like Stemcell, they could initially believe themselves to be human. They could be contacted by the Livewire group, reaching out to their ‘cousin’.
With only a short 6 issue run there is still a lot of potential for the group.
Next we’ll look at some of the information Livewires provides about the covert world of the Marvel Universe.