Friday, August 05, 2016

Send For... The Suicide Squad! (DC)
Legends #3 When: January 1987
Why: John Ostrander & Len Wein How: John Byrne

The Story So Far...
From distant planet Apokolips, the New God Darkseid and his minion Desaad curse the heroes of the world known as Earth! These mighty mortals have risen to thwart their wicked plans time and time again!

Inspired only by evil intent, the New Gods devise a new plan! Operation: Humiliation -- a scheme to attack the heroes through monsters and media manipulation!

On the frontline of Darkseid's war is the firey goliath: Brimstone! A creature of sentient plasma hatched in the heart of a nuclear reactor, he believes himself to be a blazing fallen angel sent to cleanse the world of false idols.

Having come up short against titanic Brimstone, Firestorm and Cosmic Boy joined the Justice League of America in trying to stop him. All succumbed to his mighty powers. With the situation getting desperate, Task Force X spook Amanda Waller opts to initiate her plan to employ known criminals as expendable agents. Equipped with an experimental gun, Colonel Rick Flag leads the team to South Dakota on what can only be considered a suicide mission!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Brimstone 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Enchantress 5 (Professor)
Speed: Bronze Tiger 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Brimstone 7 (Unstoppable)
Agility: Bronze Tiger 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting: Bronze Tiger 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy: Enchantress 6 (Mass Destruction)

Task Force X are: Rick Flag, Bronze Tiger, Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, BlockbusterEnchantress.

Task Force X was originally established to respond to post-war super-human threats emerging in the absence of a congressionally disbanded Justice Society of America. Among their original personnel were members of the Suicide Squad who had served during World War II, and fought on Dinosaur Island.

Decades later; Agent Amanda Waller assumes control of Task Force X, seeking to resurrect the Suicide Squad as a secret team of government sanctioned super-villains. They are an expendable black-ops force operating with complete deniability for the chance to have their criminal records expunged. The only requirements: Accept the mission, complete the mission, survive the mission.

Leading Waller's team in the field is Colonel Rick Flag, whose father was a member of the WWII Suicide Squad, and Task Force X. Flag recruited deadly deprogrammed assassin and second-in-command Bronze Tiger, along with crack shot mercenary Deadshot.

They headed an original line-up of complicit and reluctant villains:
- Mark Desmond, aka; Blockbuster: A chemist whose experiments turned him into a dim-witted powerhouse who clashed with Batman and The Outsiders.
- June Moone aka; Enchantress: A powerful mystic able to conjure constructs, magic energies, illusions, and various other magic phenomena.
- Digger Harkness, aka; Captain Boomerang: Australian boomerang expert and frequent criminal foe of The Flash!

Operating as Task Force X; the Suicide Squad would learn of their expendability through their first field mission: To destroy a giant flaming monster rampaging across the United States! The monster they're targeting: Brimstone!

We've been following Brimstone's destructive exploits a lot in the last month. He first appeared from a techno-seed planted in a nuclear reactor in Legends #1, where he soundly defeated Firestorm. He would then fend off Cosmic Boy, before defeating the entire Justice League of America in Legends #2! That's a pretty formidable record, but the Suicide Squad have something the JLA didn't!

Understanding that Brimstone is composed of 'super-heated hydrogen plasma given sentient form by complex magnetic fields', Task Force X is able to equip Deadshot with an experimental laser rifle. Capable of firing a single blast able to penetrate the nexus of Brimstone's field - it's their only chance for success!

Can he make the shot? We've seen Floyd Lawton find his target fighting Manticore [Suicide Squad #2], but it was coming up short against the new Flash that got him caught in the first place, leading to his Suicide Squad recruitment [Legends #1]. A master marksman with skinny odds and a death wish.

Everything is working against their success, but that's what the Suicide Squad is for! Will they be the first to take down Brimstone, or die trying? Let's find out...

The Math: Brimstone Ranking: Brimstone (#92)

What Went Down...
In the shadow of Mount Rushmore, The Suicide Squad march uneven ground toward their fate. Captain Boomerang asks if he can change his mind. Brimstone welcomes the sinners with expectation and an explosion! No turning back now!

While the team recovers, Colonel Flag helps Deadshot size up the target. One shot to hit a bullseye at the nexus of magnetic fields. To help make it easier, Flag deploys the super-brute Blockbuster. With "spade-like" hands he scoops up the rock beneath Brimstone's feet and lifts!

Captain Boomerang does his best to chip in, tossing a baffle-rang that swirls around the monster's head. It induces momentary disorientation, but only serves to provoke an attack!

A column of flame descends from the goliath's hand. Despite her best efforts, Enchantress discovers she's unable to transmute the sentient plasma! The heat worries Bronze Tiger, but Enchantress remains confident and cool.

Blockbuster continues his attack of Brimstone's vertical base, smashing through the rocky terrain to reduce it to treacherous rubble! This too only serves to aggravate the behemoth.

Darkseid's destroyer reaches down with a giant hand and wraps it around Blockbuster. The size were as if he were a mere insect. The intense burning heat of the plasma - enough to reduce Blockbuster to a smouldering corpse!

Captain Boomerang is horrified as the sizzling body lands before him. His sacrifice provides sufficient distraction. While it fell, Deadshot sized up Brimstone through an experimental rifle scope. Seeing an object at the heart of the creature's magnetic fields, he finds the target! Rick Flag orders him to fire!

The focused laser beam strikes at the centre of Brimstone's chest! The unfeeling creature is confronted with sensations of agony unlike anything he has known!

Brimstone cries for the dark god who forsakes him, clinging to a delusion of religion that tells him he is a fallen angel. Darkseid shows no mercy. A truly expendable agent whose usefulness is served in the defeat of the Justice League and death of one of Earth's legends: the man-brute, Blockbuster!

Coming apart at the seams, Brimstone becomes a screaming, out-of-control blaze! Even in death - he continues to threaten the lives of the Suicide Squad! A giant ball of flame hurtles toward Bronze Tiger and Enchantress!

Now that Brimstone's flame is no longer sentient -- Enchantress can end the threat with a simple enchantment that turns inferno into a harmless snowstorm!

The Hammer...
Just like that: Deadshot and The Suicide Squad save the day!

Not a bad result for their first appearance! Of course, poor Blockbuster wasn't so lucky. His rather grisly death helped drive home the name and mortal stakes of The Squad. He, the first in a list of fatalities that would plague the group!

In revisiting these early, post-Crisis comics, I'm really reminded of the livewire sense of excitement they created! As much as this was a new beginning for the DC Universe, it also clearly felt like a sharpening and refining for a lot of characters, and properties.

The Justice League got a much needed jolt in transition away from Detroit-based third stringers [Legends #2], to a constructive mix of old and new icons, some originally sourced from other publishers. An all-star assembly that could refresh classic heroes, and elevate new ones to legendary status!

The Suicide Squad played a big role in that reinvigoration and juxtaposition, too! By assembling a few issues earlier in Legends, they became of the same world, cut from the same cloth. They were destined to compliment and clash with the heroes that would leave issue six to become Justice League International. A step ahead of the global topical concerns of the JLI, more immediately rooted in the world of military black-ops, espionage, and beaurocracy.

It was fitting that the two teams would finally meet in battle in Russia. Both teams would feature in stories negotiating the friction of the tail end of Cold War hostilities between The Soviets and America. JLI may have been taking a more worldly view of super-heroes, but The League and Squad both owed their origins to the height of the Cold War in the early sixties.

The Suicide Squad was originally created at the tail end of 1959, appearing in The Brave and The Bold. They were uniform soldiers in the mould you know. A far cry from recurring super-villains like Deadshot and Captain Boomerang, but a modern legacy that continued its tradition -- rather than deleting it in reboot.

The Squad of the late eighties refreshed what was around them by building something new from old parts. Rather than partaking in hard rebooting, the meta principle became part of the core of the book. What if you could have a team with a genuine sense of mortal danger? What if the modern new DCU tried to get a little something extra out of some of its lesser characters, rather than simply writing them out, or frivolously destroying them?

In the world of the Suicide Squad, Amanda Waller is giving them a lifeline of redemption and clean slates. In the world of publication, characters like Blockbuster and Enchantress are getting second chances to mean more than they had in the past. Granted, I'm not sure the series really played out like a do-or-die scenario for expendable intellectual property, but that core concept is exciting! Join the book and become a new icon - or be deleted!

In Legends #3; overseeing arch-villain Darkseid chalked Blockbuster's death up as a win in the spread. If only he knew what would happen! Siblings and clones would keep the DC Universe populated with Blockbusters for years to come! Brimstone came back pretty quick, too. Darkseid promised he would, though.

I'm not sure either character was compelling enough to demand their deaths be undone, but I go with it. Misfits of science both, their pseudo-resurrections have a way of working with their innate simplicity. I especially like that Brimstone continued as a recurring problem for Firestorm. Their encounter in Legends #1 has stuck with me these past few weeks. Somehow it just worked!

Thirty years later, death doesn't mean what it used to. I may forgive the pseudo-return of the team's original fatality, but the circus of death and resurrection is fairly constant in Marvel and DC Comics. It's hard for the Suicide Squad to really mean the same. Likewise, the material drifted over the years, losing the drama of the early Ostrander years to action-movie frivolity. Yet, through it all, there's no denying the appeal of this ragtag group of villains, held to a short leash by a very scary, very powerful woman called Amanda Waller!

Little wonder, then, that Warner Brothers has launched the property into a feature film screening in theatres today - August 5th!

We'll be taking the opportunity to look closer at some of the characters in the film with a feast of feature fights and Hero of the Week spotlights throughout the month of August!

Read and own the entire first appearance of the Suicide Squad by using the Amazon purchase link embedded in this article [right]. Find more stories with these characters and others by following links, or diving into the Issue Index Archive!

Winners: Deadshot, Blockbuster & Captain Boomerang
#95 (+206) Deadshot [+1 Kill - Brimstone]
#98 (-6) Brimstone [+1 Kill - Blockbuster]
#291 (new) Blockbuster (Mark Desmond)
#292 (new) Captain Boomerang
#404 (+63) Bronze Tiger [+1 Assist]
#495 (new) Col. Rick Flag [+1 Assist]
#496 (new) Enchantress (June Moone) [+1 Assist]

Monday, August 01, 2016

Real Name: Unknown
First Appearance: Batman #1 (April, 1940)
Fight Club Ranking: #362

Featured Fights:
- vs BATMAN: Crisis on Infinite Earths #2 (May 1985)
- vs BATMAN: The Dark Knight Returns #3 (May 1986)
- vs BATMAN: Batman: The Animated Series Ep. 2 (Sep 1992)
- vs HARVEY DENT: Batman: The Long Halloween #3 (Feb 1997)
- vs BATMAN: Batman #614 (Jun 2003)
- vs BATMAN: Detective Comics #781 (Jun 2003)
- vs ROBIN: Detective Comics #826 (Feb 2007)
- vs BATMAN: Batman #663 (Apr 2007)
- vs JUSTICE LEAGUE: Justice League of America #15 (Jan 2008)

There could only be one choice for this week's Hero of the Week. Not only is he about to assault the big screen in the live-action Suicide Squad (August 5th), but he's also stirring controversy with the long anticipated animated adaptation of Alan Moore & Brian Bolland's The Killing Joke!

I am (of course) talking about The Joker! A character who is arguably as important to DC Comics and Warner Brothers as the hero he lives to fight. Interesting, then, that there are two very different visions of the character coming to screens. Three - if you project forward to the Lego Batman movie!

In The Killing Joke, DC & Warner seemingly offer the safe option. The customary reverence for Alan Moore's work is supported by the return of arguably the most beloved performer to play The Joker, if not the most celebrated: Mark Hamill. The film and actor have been inexorably linked by Hamill's desire to slow down as cackling maniac, whilst citing The Killer Joke as the story that would bring him back in an instant. Hamill, like comics readers, has a taste for the classics.

The oft referenced 1988 one-shot is brief, but significant. Remembered for giving Joker the closest he's come to an accepted origin (as The Red Hood), while also introducing the concept of a crippled Barbara Gordon, Batgirl: later wheelchair bound computer whiz Oracle - hero for the millennium.

It's the latter that likely necessitates the R Rating that puts WB's direct-to-video feature in the milieu of a short-lived trend of 18+ comic book films started by February breakout: Deadpool.

It's debatable whether an R is entirely necessary to tell this story. At the heart of that debate lies whether or not you believe Joker's assault on Barbara Gordon is sexual in nature. The filmmakers assume it is, and will pursue that interpretation in their animated vision. Personally, I've never been inclined to read it that way. I don't perceive sexual intercourse as part of The Joker's language. It's hard to argue definitively that it isn't in the story of driving Commissioner Gordon insane. It's simply not required. The message of vulnerability, personal injury, and violation is there regardless.

Of course, I can understand the impulse to look for something deeper and more chilling than what is committed to paper. The Killing Joke, despite its reverence, ultimately reads like a simple episode in the on-going war between Joker and Batman. In factoring Commissioner Gordon in as a target for a psychological attack - it's a pretty good episode, but not an overwhelmingly involving one. I like The Red Hood plot. I like what became of Barbara Gordon in the Oracle persona -- a character I think is far, far stronger than Batgirl. I'm just not especially enamoured with the story. Even less so, as an animated project, given how frequently they gut the subtext and nuance out of the stories they adapt. With so little to mine in The Killer Joke, I can see why they've taken perceived subtext and run with it. Naked Jim Gordon crawling around in circus mud can only fill so many minutes.

If The Killing Joke is testing the threshold for what's acceptable for The Joker -- Jared Leto is officially challenging it as the next live-action version! He was boldly introduced to the world in portrait. Warner Brothers chose to lead with everything they'd changed. A risky proposition.

The need to do something to distance the character from Heath Ledger's Oscar Award winning performance makes sense.

What's surprising is that their direction is moving away from the iconic vision of the comics! The Dark Knight loosely adapted the iconic visual cues of the purple clad clown, but could never be mistaken for the over-the-top comic visual. Going comics faithful seems like a good way to go. A thin, angular man with a big style. Leto goes OTT with a huge mouth, but not that way.

Ironically, one of the few positives taken away from Zack Snyder's direction of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was commitment to the visual. His efforts to bring a Frank Miller inspired vision to life - responsible for the first cinematic Batman to look like a comic book superhero! That his opposite will be so far removed is very surprising!.

Granted, there's a sense that Miller's Bowie-esque, thin white Joker of The Dark Knight Returns [#3] has participated in giving Leto a foundation. I imagine it will be argued the tattooed, metal toothed Joker should be seen as a "modern" evolution of that concept. I'm not sure it will ever deliver that.

Live-action casting is often met with reluctance, especially after a memorable performance by another actor. Ledger certainly wasn't someone embraced immediately for what he brought to the role once owned by Nicholson, and to that extent, Leto is in good company. I'm just not sure I will ever be able to accept this incarnation. Grotesque in ways I don't think I can ever accept of The Joker.

Suicide Squad opens in wide theatrical release today! Margot Robbie stars as the Joker's favourite gal: Harley Quinn! We'll be talking more about her and the rest of the Suicide Squad throughout the month of August in Friday Night Fights and HOTW! It's sure to be an interesting ride!

       [Home]       Hero of the Week 07/25: Vulture >>

Friday, July 29, 2016

Breach of Faith! (DC)
Legends #2 When: December 1986
Why: John Ostrander & Len Wein How: John Byrne

The Story So Far...
From distant planet Apokolips, the New God Darkseid and his minion Desaad curse the heroes of the world known as Earth. Their designs for destruction have been thwarted one too many times by the meddlesome mortals. Thus, they plan Operation: Humiliation to destroy them in body, mind and spirit!

Born from a techno-seed planted in a nuclear reactor, Brimstone is a burning goliath on the frontlines of the attack! He decries the heroes as false gods with a gospel of Darkseid, declaring himself a fallen angel to cleanse the sinners. His march of destruction laying waste to New York, Firestorm and Cosmic Boy!

Fortunately for Firestorm, he knows a team of heroes who can help him even the odds against the towering inferno! Thus, the Justice League of America enters the fray to try to stop the monster before he burns the town!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Brimstone 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Elongated Man 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Steel 5 (Super-Human)
Stamina: Brimstone 7 (Unstoppable)
Agility: Martian Manhunter 7 (Unlimited)
Fighting: Gypsy 4 (Training)
Energy: Firestorm 6 (Mass Destruction)

The Justice League of America are: Martian Manhunter, Elongated Man, Vibe, Vixen, Steel and Gypsy, with Firestorm and Cosmic Boy.

You may know this JLA arrangement by reputation as the short-lived, infamous Detroit era team. They're an eclectic mix of classic membership, cast-offs, and unusual new characters. They're held together by the leadership of Martian Manhunter, who inherited the role from Aquaman after he stepped down.

They've been summoned to today's feature fight by Firestorm, who we saw hit a big flaming wall when he took on Brimstone just an issue earlier, in Legends #1! They gather around time displaced hero of the 30th century, Cosmic Boy, who also tried to put a stop to Brimstone's warpath in the last issue. Just who is this walking, talking towering inferno that's giving everybody so much trouble?

Brimstone is a weapon on the front line of Darkseid's Operation: Humiliation - designed to defeat and discredit the mightiest mortals of Earth! He was born from a techno-seed in the heart of a nuclear reactor, exploding in size to stand equal to the skyscrapers of New York City. He is sentient plasma, commanding super-human strength, intense heat, and flame manipulation.

For a team whose primary heavy hitter is the Martian Manhunter -- a giant flaming monster is a definite cause for concern! Even at his most valiant, the Superman scale powerhouse is all but eliminated from offensive consideration by his fire weakness. We saw burning church curtains freeze him in his tracks in DC: The New Frontier #2, a contrast to his disguised participation in an early fight with Doomsday [Superman #74]!

Elongated Man, Vixen, and Gypsy are also pretty much out of their depth. It would take an inventive combination strategy to make use of their individual powers of elongation, animal mimicry, and projections.

Steel (Henry Heywood III) -- not to be confused with armored hero John Henry Irons -- may be able to withstand Brimstone's heat, and exert enough physical strength to move the beast. Likewise, the sonic shockwaves projected by Vibe could effect some physical motion. Combined with the nuclear powers of Firestorm and magnetic field manipulation of Cosmic Boy - they have a good shot to attack Brimstone. Can they possibly beat him, though? That's what we're about to find out!

The Math: Martian Manhunter Ranking: Martian Manhunter (#29)

What Went Down...
Abandoned vehicles litter an empty Manhattan street. Standing over these tokens of human insignificance - the burning giant: Brimstone! He cries out the manifesto of a fallen angel - a false prophet sent by Darkseid to "cleanse" the world of sinners, graven idols and false gods. Lies to discredit Earth's heroes!

Incensed by the burning behemoth's challenge, the Martian Manhunter leaps into the air to meet it head-on! Ordinarily his natural gifts of strength and power would afford him a rash attack, but his actions are without thought! Elongated Man desperately tries to warn him - Brimstone is his very weakness personified!

The warning reaches Martian Manhunter just in time. He pulls back from his airborne attack at the last minute! A near miss for a man vulnerable to fire!

Vibe steps up to take advantage of the long range application of his "vibratory powers". He sends a powerful shockwave directly at the feet of the giant!

The blast knocks the giant off balance! He tumbles backward into the buildings surrounding -- making Vibe the first man to knock Brimstone off his feet!

Undeterred, the creature spews his villainous gospel. Forging a sword of pure flaming plasma, he lashes out at a nearby skyscraper!

The demolished building becomes a curtain of debris descending upon the assembled Justice League. Martian Manhunter goes on the offensive, to use his phenomenal strength to smash through the threat and defend his team.

Cosmic Boy begins to affect a magnetic field of some kind. Firestorm tries to mount a defense, as well. It's all for naught. There's simply too much building!

The skyscraper tumbles down directly upon the League. Burying them alive!

The Hammer...
Another battle, another victory for the blazing behemoth: Brimstone! Can anyone hope to stop his self-righteous rampage? Another grouping will make an attempt when we venture into the dirty deeds of the Suicide Squad - next week!

The curbed villainy of the Squad's should provide smooth transition from the month of July. By virtue of coincidence, it's been the bad guys winning all month in our featured fights. The theme of DC's past Rebirths has meant revisiting stories dedicated to breaking down heroes in order to rebuild them. In the case of Legends, we see here the effective deconstruction of the Detroit era Justice League. Not quite the last hurrah, but the transition.

Things would actually get much worse for this JLA in their final starring issues of Justice League of America. An attack by Professor Ivo's androids whittles the Detroit League to its final standing members: Martian Manhunter & Vixen. They fight, in particular, to avenge the death of Steel. Their loyalties are then divided.

As Legends and "Operation: Humiliation" unfolds over six issues, a new Justice League will begin to form itself - the iconic "Justice League International". Not before Amanda Waller will assemble her first collection of leashed villains and rogues as Task Force X, aka; The Suicide Squad. That's where Vixen finds herself, while the Martian continues on as the soul of the JLA. A position sorely lacking from first impressions of the cinematic Justice League.

These ties between the fledgling DC cinematic universe of 2016, and the post-Crisis "Rebirth" seen in Legends are interesting to compare and contrast.

In design and detail, the movies based on DC Comics have seemed eagre to run from their comic book sources. Even as the boldest and brightest of the culture rises to the top, Hollywood's reluctance to fully embrace four-colour superheroes has snaked its way throughout.

Marvel can be given more credit for turning red and gold armor into superhero chic, but even they've been guilty of shying away from their own colour and imagination. DC have just had a knack for going much further, turning their heroes into detestable funhouse mirror reflections of classic characters. A path they carried into print in the dour New 52 -- a line-wide shift to suit the comics to their adaptations. A creative cultural downward spiral.

The Legends mini-series isn't really strong enough to escape the shadow of the comics it spawned. The slapstick superhero fusion of the Justice League launched by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire is iconic to this day. The shadowy inter-personal drama and intrigue of John Ostrander's Suicide Squad -- inarguably responsible for launching and defining a phenomenon. Even so, the foundation of world building and arrangement Legends provides is in many ways a perfect road map for today's franchised cinematic landscape.

Unique, independently constructed visions of each film property is an appealing conceptual difference for DC, even if its returned severe disappointment, so far. An intricate tapestry isn't what we need more of -- but some Legends-like planning might have helped. Rather than perpetuating the ink stain of Man of Steel, Dawn of Justice might've been better served laying the groundwork for both the Justice League and the Suicide Squad. A very different film, with an end goal to pit the two teams against each other, rather than the rumored stepping stone of Steppenwulf before a presumed New Gods offensive.

We haven't actually explored much of the Legends mini-series at all, but for an example of how it builds to the two super-teams, you might like to flash back to another featured fight from Legends #1: Flash vs Deadshot. The early skirmish puts Deadshot in incarceration, to be recruited later on for the Suicide Squad. A sequence of introduction and construction the movies could've benefitted from.

Of course, I'm assuming that Legends wasn't an inspiration behind DC's initial films. The similarities found, more likely a presumed happy accident massaged by convergent evolution. Multi-picture franchises are just a fact of the box office thanks to the esteemed competition. The studio: ripe with old, stalled projects to benefit from the new world order. Justice League is an old goal that almost happened in the mid-2000s under George Miller and a plot inspired by Infinite Crisis (and Project OMAC). Suicide Squad: a mutation of rumored pitches like David Goyer's Supermax - a movie about Green Arrow imprisoned with villains.

I'm sure we'll be talking a lot more about these topics in August. Stay tuned for Friday Night Fights, and the inevitable walk through Hero of the Week.

In the mean time, we say hello to the Detroit Justice League for the first time on Secret Wars on Infinite Earths -- and good bye, as they face disbanding after the events of the featured issue!

If you'd like to get ahead of the game and see the story in its full context, you can check out the collected edition via Amazon purchase link provided! You can also rummage through the back issues of past features in the Issue Index Archive to uncover more! Both go a little way to helping keep the site going!

Winner: Brimstone
#92 (+197) Brimstone
#30 (-1) Martian Manhunter
#291 (-174) Elongated Man
#341 (-11) Vixen
#793 (new) Vibe
#794 (new) Cosmic Boy
#795 (new) Gypsy
#796 (new) Steel (Henry Heywood III)
#806 (-14) Firestorm

Monday, July 25, 2016

Real Name: Adrian Toomes
First Appearance: Amazing Spider-man #2 (May, 1963)
Fight Club Ranking: #500

Featured Fights:
- vs THE AVENGERS: Marvel Knights; Spider-man #11 (Apr 2005)
- vs SILVER SURFER: Marvel Zombies #3 (Apr 2006)

To say there were a lot of contenders fighting for this week's Hero of the Week is to make a massive under statement! San Diego Comic-Con International (SDCC) launched a steady stream of major daily headlines. Trailers for movies and TV overwhelmed. On Day One, I thought a certain unbreakable Hero for Hire was going to be called upon early - but we're saving him for later in the year. Compelling cases for Dr. Strange, Iron Fist and Wonder Woman could all ruled out by previous features. The less said about the cinematic Justice League - the better!

There were some other outliers we may yet visit before the end of 2016, but when all was said and done, one character got me significantly more excited than any of the others: Vulture!

The thought that an old man in green long-johns would beat out some of the biggest icons in comics is good for a laugh, but that's only because the days for Spidey have been long and dark.

Vulture is a classic villain, one of Spidey's earliest. He was almost brought to life by Ben Kingsley, who was cast for the ill fated third installment of Sam Raimi's beloved trilogy. (The character was cut from the script). The hot rumor now is that former big screen Batman and resurrected Hollywood darling Michael Keaton will turn villain for the role. A little on the nose, considering the feathers he sprouted for 2014 Best Picture Oscar winner Birdman, but an intriguing prospect, never the less.

For me, it's the mere thought that a cantankerous old man with wings might be the villain for next year's Spider-man: Homecoming that has my enthusiasm restored! It's such an unconventional, anti-commercial concept that the mind boggles. Of course, by casting Michael Keaton, the character is already undergoing a metamorphosis to make it more palatable to the movie-going public.

Concept art [via Comic Book Resources] pretty quickly tells us Homecoming will try to play with the pseudo-reality popular in most comic book movies, right now. Circular fans aren't a staple of the comics. Talons, a newer addition once more associated with The Owl -- another green garbed wingman of the Marvel Universe. In keeping with this, Keaton's Vulture will probably look a little younger, a little more dynamic, and have a clearer sense of motivation. That's fine. Inoffensive tweaks, by Hollywood standards. Expected concessions in modern fantasy, for better or worse.

Convention goers were shown brief footage that didn't quite clear up the mystery of whether or not Keaton is playing Vulture, but had plenty of people talking. I'm eager to get a better look!

Of course, as much as I'm simply looking forward to seeing Vulture, there are also the many other questions that surround him! Like - will he be working alone? He would've been beside Sandman in Sam Raimi's Spider-man 3. He would've been part of the Sinister Six, if Sony's last series went ahead. A second villain could certainly spice things up. The list of candidates, too long right now.

Of course, the elephant in the room is the fact that this is the first Spider-man created by Sony Pictures in collaboration with Marvel Entertainment! This unprecedented creative partnership facilitated Spidey's appearance in Captain America: Civil War [see; HOTW 03/14/2016], and has many commentators and fans buying into rumors of a strong Tony Stark presence in Homecoming.

It's undeniably hilarious to imagine that "Birdman" Michael Keaton might actually go toe-to-toe with Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man -- the actor/character combo he deliciously dissed early on as superhero movie pioneer turned Hollywood burnout, Riggan Thomson. Keaton and Inarritu joke in DVD supplemental material that it'd be funny to do a superhero blockbuster sequel to Birdman. This scenario is just as good. Of course, it's not the only crossover I'm thinking about, though...

There's a definite sense that Marvel isn't completely in control, here. They've got the mojo to steer things to everyone's benefit, but Sony's still calling the shots. So exactly how much cross-pollination will exist between the Spider-man franchise as Marvel's larger cinematic universe is up for debate. If this is a complete working relationship, then the thought occurs that Spider-man characters could find their way into other films. Which might not be a huge priority for a Vulture, say, but what about a Norman Osborn? His Green Goblin was well mined with Willem Dafoe, and the last Sony reboot did just retread aspects of the Goblin mythology. If Osborn is able to attack the larger Marvel Universe -- as he did in Dark Reign, when he deposed SHIELD, and became Avengers leader as the original Iron Patriot -- then we have some very interesting prospects for much more than just Homecoming.

I'm looking forward to getting back to Spidey. Everyone needs good Spider-man in their life!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Flash Facts (DC)
Flash: Rebirth #4 When: September 2009
Why: Geoff Johns How: Ethan Van Sciver

The Story So Far...
Before this universe came to be, there existed an infinite array of Earths populated by super-powered champions. When life throughout the multiverse came under threat from a violent creature called The Anti-Monitor, one hero rose above all others to run his final race to stop the end of everything. That hero was Barry Allen - The Flash!

To the merged universe that was created after the Anti-Monitor's defeat, Barry Allen had given his life so that all may live! The legend of his sacrificed lived on in the legends of all the heroes he'd known, especially Wally West - who carried the torch of scarlet speedster into a new age as The Flash.

Only, when the New Gods fell to Earth and another crisis threatened reality, Barry Allen made his shocking return - alive!

In truth, Flash had become one with the cosmic phenomena called The Speed Force: the lightning that powers all speedsters! His return has mysteriously meant death for other runners bound by the Speed Force - a fact that forces him to return to the otherworldly dimension, where he will face another who has escaped death - Professor Zoom, The Reverse-Flash!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Draw 3 (Athlete)
Intelligence: Draw 5 (Professor)
Speed: Draw 7 (Light Speed)
Stamina: Draw 6 (Generator)
Agility: Draw 2 (Average)
Fighting: Flash 3 (Street Wise)
Energy: Max Mercury 3 (Explosives)

Super-villain royalty finally joins the ranks of the Secret Wars on Infinite Earths in today's feature fight! Professor Eobard Thawne is better known throughout the ages as Professor Zoom, the villainous Reverse-Flash!

Originally born in the 25th century, he was a scientist who idolized the Silver Age of super-heroes, in particular the museum memorialized 20th century icon: Barry Allen, The Flash! Adoration turned to resentment when the Reverse-Flash chose to use his speed powers to commit crimes, beginning his inversion as the counter opposite to the scarlet speedster!

By recreating the chemical bath that accidentally connected Barry Allen with his incredible powers, Professor Zoom gained comparable super-human speed and mastery over all that entails. He can move and react at unfathomable pace, endure harsh physical forces, manipulate his molecules fast enough to pass through solid objects, and even use his speed to travel through time!

We haven't seen Professor Zoom in action in past entries, but his successor Hunter Zolomon could be found buzzing in the background of Infinite Crisis #1 as a member of The Society. The nature of Zolomon's powers differ in that they are more specifically linked to time manipulation and displacement.

The Flash has clashed with many speedsters throughout his career, including, but not limited to: Savitar, Lady Flash and even the faster than a speeding bullet - Superman [Flash: Rebirth #3]! We know he can run in step with Professor Zoom, but can he take him down alone? He won't have to!

For every fast running nemesis, The Flash has a speedster to call a friend! Max Mercury is a whirlwind runner from the 19th century, whose early encounters with the speed force eventually led him to become a Zen guru of speed! His life's exploration of The Speed Force phenomena led him to befriend Jay Garrick in the 1940s, and later mentor Wally West in exploiting the fullest of his speed!

Are two speedsters better than one? You'd think so - but let's find out...

The Math: Max Mercury & Flash Ranking: Flash (#14)

What Went Down...
A dance of ghosts greets The Flash as he rejoins the blurring red haze of The Speed Force. The Reverse-Flash - buzzing with afterimages and crackling with red lightning. He didn't expect his nemesis quite so early. It hardly matters...

The yellow clad villain blitzes across The Flash and Max Mercury in the blink of an eye. The collision of his fist against their jaws leaves a ghostly snapshot in time -- a fleeting memorial of his lightning quick ambush!

The world has only recently learned Barry Allen is no longer dead - lost to the world in an act of self-sacrifice that kept him a part of the Speed Force. With his return to the energy phenomena, the scarlet speedster now knows of Professor Zoom's imminent resurrection. A broken neck no longer an end to his tyranny.

Flash tries to rush his enemy, but catches only a fading image. Zoom is already behind him, stabbing through his arm with a lightning tipped baton! He leaves it there - dashing to overwhelm Max Mercury with an onslaught of punches!

Zoom is tapping into a negative Speed Force, cutting through the positive like a cancer - or the jagged lightning rod he left inserted in The Flash's arm.
The zig-zag bolt does as much damage coming out as it did going in. Flash cries in agony! Professor Zoom simply cries foul - admonishing Flash for the heroic legacy he left when he seemingly died stopping Anti-Monitor and his cannon.

Spiteful Thawne keeps Barry off balance - rushing him down with another super-fast flurry of fists! Then he assaults the Flash with a revisionist history - a grand plan to undo his legacy by bringing the hero back from the Speed Force!

Flash regroups with Max Mercury by his side, both under attack from the infectious red lightning of Reverse-Flash's Speed Force. He prepares another attack, but the impurity is too great. Zoom's force is too fast!

The sneering grin remains as Flash's hands clutch for a throat that's no longer there. Just a haunting image - fading, as Professor Zoom leaves the dimension of speed to complete his plot for revenge. If Flash won't infect his friends, Zoom will kill them himself. The starter's pistol to a race of life and death!

The Hammer...
It was a fight that ended with a threat, not a knock-out. Yet Professor Zoom ran rings around the heroes, and left them bleeding behind him as he set out to fulfill his wicked designs.

For those overwhelming reason - we must call this a villain's victory! To the matter of attacking The Flash at the very core of his heroic legacy -- that's a subject up for debate...

Throughout the month of July we've been discussing various points in history when DC Comics has invoked a "Rebirth".

In 2016, they're trying to put back the things they lost during their line-wide reboot: The New 52. It's similar to the predicament found in 2004's Green Lantern: Rebirth, which worked to restore the besmirched legacy of Hal Jordan, and bring back the definitive mythos of the Green Lantern Corps.

Green Lantern: Rebirth, also headed up by writer Geoff Johns and artist Ethan Van Sciver, found itself at a very similar juncture at this point, but heading in a very different direction.

Issue #4 revealed once dead nemesis Sinestro was alive and well, himself reborn, and directly connected to a polarized impurity infecting heroes. In Flash: Rebirth, it's the negatively charged red lightning of Reverse-Flash's Speed Force. In Green Lantern: Rebirth, it's the yellow weakness in power rings, now known to be a vein of fear spread by the spectrum entity Parallax.

Both stories use this villain's power source to infect heroes, and make them a danger to their family in earlier issues. By issue #4, both launches the reborn nemesis into a two-on-one face-off against a pair of heroes. For a better parallel to the Kyle Rayner & Green Arrow team-up we featured last week, there's the mentor & next generation team-up of Jay Garrick and Bart Allen that Professor Zoom runs into immediately after this skirmish. The similarity ends there.

It was easy to get on board with Green Lantern: Rebirth. It fixed something that was clearly broken. Hal Jordan's fall from grace in the mid-nineties, and career thereafter as the super-villain who murdered the Corps, never sat right. Even with the creation of a perfectly adequate replacement (Kyle Rayner), there was no real denying that something significant had been lost. The DCU was smaller, and the Silver Age Green Lantern's legacy not what it should be when he was finally killed off in a half-hearted attempt to redeem him.

Barry Allen never had that problem. Yes, he'd been tainted by murdering the Reverse-Flash, but he was still the same hero he always was, conflicted in his lethal act. Thus, just as its told in Rebirth, the legend of the Silver Age Flash only grew with his demise. His sacrifice in Crisis on Infinite Earths #8 was poignant and well told. A cosmic predicament only he could solve. A death worthy of an icon, told in an important landmark maxi-series, responsible for the Rebirth of the entire DC multiverse!

Unlike the Green Lantern story, 2009's Flash: Rebirth had nothing to fix. The hero's death wasn't a mistake. His mythos - as stronger as ever! "Kid Flash" Wally West had quickly transitioned into the mantle of his dead senior. There would be plenty of times to miss the Silver Age Flash, but his modern successor was easy to accept. For over twenty years, he was The Flash, expanding upon the role as a multi-media icon, and the shining example of a legacy hero.

So, was the return of Barry Allen a victory - or a defeat?

I like the way these meta-textual questions play directly into the fiction of the story itself. If the series must happen, that's a very worthwhile idea to explore through the characters -- even if the end goal is never to answer the question.

For better or worse, Barry Allen would end this series as The Flash. (In truth, he'd already returned a few months earlier, in the pages of Final Crisis). His legacy would not be that of a selfless hero who sacrificed himself to save the universe. The DCU would not move forward. Wally West would continue to be The Flash, but became irrevocably lost in the shuffle, to eventually be jettisoned two years later when someone decided it was a good idea to rubbish the entire universe -- The New 52 reboot. [For more, see; Hero of the Week: Flash].

As a long time reader, I have an undeniable affection for the Silver Age heroes. Barry Allen was The Flash I knew and loved in some of the earliest comics I read. How could I not enjoy his return? Yet, I cannot ignore the conflict it creates with all that was spawned from twenty-plus years of Wally West! If Green Lantern: Rebirth was created to bring something back - Flash: Rebirth was created to take something away. Which seems like such a shame.

Sadly, our run through past DC Rebirths is also almost at an end. If you haven't read Flash: Rebirth and want to know more, take advantage of the Amazon link provided [to the right]. You can also find many more featured fights from Rebirths past by diving into the Secret Archive!

For a special fifth week our month of Rebirth goes back to where it began to take another look at a post-Crisis battle from the pages of Legends! Don't miss it!

Winner: Professor Zoom
#290 (new) Professor Zoom
#15 (-1) Flash (Barry Allen)
#794 (new) Max Mercury