Friday, August 17, 2018

The Enemy Within Part 3: Blood Tide (Marvel)
Venom: The Enemy Within #3 When: May 1994 Why: Bruce Jones How: Bob McLeod

The Story So Far...
San Francisco is caught in a grip of madness as demonic goblin hordes swarm the city! Emerging on Halloween night, the creatures bring chaos and death that is soon met with fear and fire at the behest of Mayor Palentine!

While the city burns, its lethal protector Venom finds an unlikely ally in the living vampire Morbius!

Resolving suspicions, they work together to uncover the occult curse behind the goblin's rise. As the chase leads them to Alcatraz, they ready for a showdown with the wicked creatures an their deadly new master: Demogoblin!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Venom 5 (Super-Human)
Intelligence: Morbius 5 (Professor)
Speed: Draw 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Demogoblin 5 (Marathoner)
Agility: Venom 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting: Venom 3 (Street Wise)
Energy: Demogoblin 4 (Arsenal)
Total: Venom/Demogoblin 24 (Champion)

It's a 2-on-1 face-off between misfits of science and magic, but the battle lines aren't exactly as they seem! Technically there are three entities on the side of lethal protection -- and a whole army of darkness fighting against them!

Venom is the walking, talking twofer of man & living costume! The alien symbiote was originally brought to Earth as Spider-man's black costume, but he rejected it upon learning of its true parasitic nature. The symbiote then found a willing recipient in Eddie Brock, who shared its scorn for Peter Parker!

Because of its time spent with Spider-man the symbiote emulates his speed, agility, reflexes, and web-slinging, while also enhancing Brock's bodybuilder muscle. His strength has stretched to a peak of fighting Iron Man [Iron Man #302] and even Superman [DC/Marvel: All Access #1]! Neither foe was aware of the symbiote's natural vulnerability to sound or fire.

Despite a few homicidal tendencies -- Venom follows a skewed sense of justice. He even team with Spider-man against his symbiote-offspring Carnage in Spider-man Unlimited #2 -- but not before making the acquaintance of a few other unlikely allies, including Morbius The Living Vampire!

Dr. Michael Morbius is another Spider-man frenemy, whose vampiric tendencies developed after attempts to cure himself of a rare blood disease. As a living vampire he gained characteristic super-human strength, speed, durability, but also sensitivity toward sunlight -- and a need to consume blood.

His thirst saw Morbius walk a moral tightrope that often drew him towards creatures of darkness. Though not mystical like a true vampire, Morbius has battled the likes of Jack Russell, The Werewolf [Marvel Premiere #28], The Night Shift [Marvel Zombies 4 #2], and even Doctor Strange [Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme #10]! He also came into conflict with Demogoblin while assisting Venom during the Maximum Carnage saga!

Demogoblin is a demonic entity once bound to Hobgoblin by the demon N'astirh. Jason Macendale sold his soul for enhanced powers, but eventually expelled his demonic half, regretting the deal. The resulting separation unleashed a demonic imitation of his costumed alter-ego!

Demogoblin made horrific reality of an arsenal Macendale acquired from the Green Goblin's original designs. He rides a winged glider of hellfire, and conjures pumpkin bombs with various mystic properties. He does so in the name of a righteous crusade against those he perceives as sinners, such as Spider-man, and Ghost Rider & Frank Drake [see; Ghost Rider #40].

Typically hellfire burns the soul more than flesh, which means Venom won't be uniquely vulnerable to Demogoblin's attacks. That said, the demon has taken command of an army of goblins that drastically outnumber Venom and Morbius!

The Tape: Venom & Morbius Ranking: Morbius (#63)

What Went Down...
Tiny goblins claw and scratch, bubbling up from the depths of Alcatraz like a living flood that threatens to overwhelm Venom & Morbius! Above them streaks the flame of Demogoblin, riding his glider with gleeful greetings!

The hulking Venom tosses a few goblins aside, escaping to the ceiling on a strand of webbing! His escape leaves Morbius struggling with the hordes, but Venom rejects his offer for noble sacrifice. Instead, Venom covers the living vampire with a protective coating of web that catches a few goblins, as well.

Demogoblin swoops in to blast Venom with untold occult energies!

Venom is blown back by the blast, but the black symbiote spits out a tendril that fixes to Demogoblin's chest like tar. It yanks him completely off his glider!

Alas; dismounting this goblin doesn't separate him from his deadly arsenal. The Demogoblin is grounded, but immediately back on the attack when he conjures a pumpkin bomb and hurls it! Venom only narrowly avoids its blast!

The explosion blows a hole in the exterior wall that floods Alcatraz with sunlight!

The evening glow is enough to drive the goblin hordes back towards the darkness of the lower depths. It also sears the pallid complexion of Morbius!

Distracted by his ally's peril, Venom doesn't notice a line of goblins forming for a parting attack -- a united sonic cry that drives the alien symbiote to agony!

Though effective against their target, the intense sound waves also do further damage to the prison wall -- bathing the goblins in yet more evening light!

With his army burning, Demogoblin is shocked to find Venom recovered from the sonic assault so quickly. Venom takes great pleasure in demonstrating his strength with an uppercut that sends the demon hurtling out of the building!

Venom checks on Morbius, who was badly weakened by the intense exposure to sunlight. As the San Francisco sun sets, he assures Venom that he will soon heal from his wounds. More than can be said for the scorched goblins, whose master blazes away from the prison atop his flaming goblin glider!

The Hammer...
Demogoblin flees to fight another day, but he and his goblin horde were clearly defeated by Venom! Chalk Morbius up for an assist. He helped keep the terror at bay, but remained in a support role.

The outcome of the battle loosely alludes to the unusual pairing of Venom and Morbius. By this point, Eddie Brock had relocated to sunny San Francisco. Sure, they have nights in California, but Venom is a character of visual excess. He rarely remains in the shadows that nocturnal, vampire-types typically prefer. So why bring them together?

Venom: The Enemy Within plays in the loosest of ways as a three-issue follow-up to Maximum Carnage.
It doesn't address any of the concerns of the 1992-93 crossover in the slightest, but does capitalize on its visual iconography, and appeal of its oddball assembly of heroes who disbanded less than a year prior.

Venom had extra beef with Demogoblin via another '92 crossover: the four-issue Spirits of Venom. Morbius developed his issues during Maximum Carnage itself, with a particularly memorable battle in the Statue of Liberty, where he sought to rescue a tortured Venom. All of this addresses the surface connections that might enhance The Enemy Within, but it doesn't pay them much mind.

The real appeal of bringing Venom, Morbius, and Demogoblin together should lie in their thematic similarities. Each has explored common themes of duality and moral ambiguity, representing them from slightly different perspectives.

Venom is the self-styled lethal protector, enforcing a skewed view of justice with action-movie violence and flippancy. He is the man embracing his "dark passenger", accepting the symbiote's negative influence in service of what sometimes appears to be good.

Morbius too does good, but is an unintended instrument of death, compelled to drink blood to survive. His evil is of his own making - a responsibility he cannot ultimately expel as a living entity the way Jason Macendale expelled Demogoblin. Morbius did briefly deal in demonic possession around this time, but nothing as interesting as Demogoblin himself. He is the dark passenger personified, roaming untethered in pursuit of what he believes is a righteous crusade.

Somewhere among these thematic variations lies a very interesting thesis, but The Enemy Within is a Venom mini-series from the mid-nineties, with no such concern or aspiration. Action movie one-liners and disjointed, oversized panels tell a story of thinly motivated mayhem.

As you can probably guess, I was never one to follow Venom solo comics too closely. It wasn't for lack of interest in the character. The basics of design and concept were as exciting to me most wide-eyed fanboys who're still drawn into the character's web. The books were usually just a little too pricy, hard to find, and ultimately unsatisfying to read.

I always thought it was surprising Marvel didn't lock down an on-going series given Venom's popularity, but if you've read The Enemy Within #3, you know there's minimal distinction. There's a second showdown ending with Demogoblin's defeat and departure later in the issue. Then Venom: The Mace is teased in an open-ended coda.

The wrap really reads like any other monthly issue of a regular series. The only obvious difference: inconsistent creative teams, mixed prospects for follow-up stories, and a whole lot of new #1s for the speculator market to jump on. If you've ever looked into back issues, you know quality comics still don't dictate sale price. I like these characters, but I still don't have the set. I have my limits.

Want to get a bunch Venom #1s without chasing them all? The Enemy Within is collected with several accompanying mini-series and on sale now! Using the Amazon link provided will not only get you a decent deal - but also help support Secret Wars on Infinite Earths at no extra cost! That's symbiosis!

Hollywood will finally attempt their own Venom spin-off this October when Tom Hardy takes the role in a more faithful direction than past incarnations. It's the first in an ambitious slate of Sony spin-offs that will attempt to tell stories with Spider-man's friends -- but not Spider-man!

No doubt we'll be talking more about Venom and Morbius in the future. Find more battles with both by diving into the Secret Index where every featured fight is catalogued by publisher, series, and issue! You can also follow and subscribe on Twitter and Facebook to get daily links to fights inspired by the topics of the day. A like and share is a great way to show your support!

Winner: Venom (w/ Morbius)
#17 (+2) Venom (Symbiote)
#68 (+50) Venom (Eddie Brock)
#63 (--) Morbius [+1 assist]
#869 (-191) Demogoblin

Friday, August 10, 2018

And Death Before Dishonor (DC)
Adventure Comics #444 When: March-April 1976 Why: Paul Levitz & Gerry Conway How: Jim Aparo

The Story So Far...
When a fleet of unfamiliar Atlantean warships appears off the coast Monaco - Aquaman springs into action to discover a blackmailing plot hatched by his half-brother Orm!

The Ocean Master demands of Monaco their treasury in gold and silver bullion -- while from Aquaman he wants the substance known as Serum X! Capable of turning air-breathing humans into sub-aquatic amphibians; the closely guarded formula would be easy for the King of Atlantis to acquire -- had he not be deposed while away on the surface!

Fresh from battle with "The Shark" King Karshon, Aquaman abandons his effort to steal Serum X, instead opting to turn his frontal assault on Ocean Master's deep sea headquarters!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Aquaman 4 (Enhanced)
Intelligence: Ocean Master 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Aquaman 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Aquaman 5 (Marathoner)
Agility: Aquaman 2 (Average)
Fighting: Aquaman 4 (Training)
Energy: Ocean Master 5 (Lasers)
Total: Aquaman 24 (Champion)

It's high time we had a little high sea smackdown - and who better to take on the King of Atlantis than his own flesh & blood?! It's a royal family affair as half-brothers bring bad blood to bear beneath the crashing waves!

Aquaman is a stronger than average Atlantean, possessing the power and durability necessary to endure the pressures associated with deep ocean waters! T
he degree of that power has fluctuated over the years - growing with modern examples. We saw him wield his might offensively with a kayo uppercut to the powerhouse Olympian in JLA: Classified #3!

With breathing under water presumed; Aquaman's most recognized super-power has long been his ability to mentally commune with marine life. When he lost control of his body fighting the Mercury Monster, he was able to summon a school of fish in Secret Origins #32. A killer whale helped finish Sub-Mariner in their infamously controversial Marvel versus DC #2 showdown!

Telepathically summoning sea life doesn't always guarantee success. Sharks weren't able to secure a win when Aquaman went head-to-head with Despero in JLA #118. The alien's vast mental powers outclassed Aquaman's, which have sometimes extended to humans. Fortunate, then, Ocean Master is a long way from developing his own potent psychic powers at this time!

The man sometimes known as Orm Marius has undergone even more radical reinventions than Aquaman. His status as the hero's brother has cast his heritage as both resentfully human, but also equally Atlantean.

Whatever his status: Ocean Master always wields a powerful arsenal of malice against his enemies! Hi-tech solutions, such as his unique helmet, have allowed him to exist beneath the airless oceans. A combination of conventional weaponry, and mystic Atlantean artefacts, have ensured he can weaponized the water itself, and threaten opponents above and below the surface!

Despite the danger he poses, Aquaman has at times shown reluctance to harm his pirate brother. Familial psychology played a part in our only past example of Ocean Master's villainy when Martian Manhunter briefly exploited it in a psychic vision. Orm saw his own trident turned against him by his brother, before baring witness to the Martian's eventual murder, in Final Crisis: Requiem #1.

At the time of this fight, Aquaman has the edge of natural underwater dwelling -- but also the distraction of having just lost his kingdom! He's fighting alone, while Ocean Master commands an army of kamikaze troops!

The Tape: Aquaman Ranking: Aquaman (#63)

What Went Down...
Fifteen miles off the coast of Monaco, Ocean Master anticipates the arrival of Aquaman with Serum X. He presumes his brother to be a hapless slave -- until aide Jurgin spots him coming in hot with a company of electric eels!

Ocean Master scrambles to activate his kamikaze army, but the eels' charge disrupts the signal! Attack crafts are still within reach, but quickly destroyed when whales answer Aquaman's call -- ramming them to destruction!

Before the self-proclaimed Ocean Master can enact threats of total humiliation upon his brother - Aquaman enters the deep sea fortress!

Ocean Master trembles with rage at the sight of his brother - lunging to meet him with arms stretched! This is no greeting of brotherly affection, but rather the insane grasp of a villain who means to choke the life from his nemesis!

With the strength of a madman, Ocean Master wraps his hands around Aquaman's throat! The force of his momentum slams the hero to the ground, but Aquaman's resolve is strong as he stares defiantly into his brother's eyes!

Green gloves wrap around Ocean Master's wrists and squeeze - loosening his grip on Aquaman's neck! The deposed King takes his opportunity, swatting Orm with a left cross to the chin!

The blow sends Ocean Master recoiling, but Aquaman only makes it to his knees before Orm manages to drive his knee into the hero's heart!

Aquaman may be able to breathe beneath the sea, but even he must clutch his chest after such a vicious impact! The pain is not exclusive! Ocean Master rubs his jaw, still reeling from the King's blow, even as he staggers across the control room with finger outstretched -- seeking annihilation!

In desperation Aquaman dives across the room, tackling his brother's legs out from under him -- but it's too late! Even in the fall, Ocean Master managed to hit the button that launches three missiles heading for Monaco!

Death and destruction seems certain for the principality -- until a bubble of hard water suddenly forms around the weapons! Queen Mera successfully detonates the warheads harmlessly inside the hard water shell!

The Hammer...
We never actually get to see the finishing blows, but the abrupt wrap-up implies Aquaman dealt with his brother off-panel, while Mera saves the day for Monaco with her last minute hard-water heroics!

The ending reminds me of a Dennis O'Neil quote: "Occasionally -- just occasionally -- a penciller will become so involved in making wonderful pictures, or drawing what he likes, that he'll forget about parts that may be quiet, but have to be present if the story is to make sense. When you see a story loaded with captions that explain the motives of the characters or describes events that aren't in the story, this is probably what happened."

Some of the finer details get lost at the end, and a few panels wind up a tad sparse, but for the most part it's all smiles as the frenetic action sweeps Aquaman along a current of intense combat!

The "novel-length thriller" of Adventure Comics #444 super-sizes the Aquaman action to fill an entire issue - dispensing with the usual back-up shorts. The ol' novel-length sales pitch feels a little bit cheeky at seventeen pages of comic, but I do wonder if a last minute decision by the editor contributed to some of the looseness.

When I think of Jim Aparo, my go-to reference is usually sharper, more angular and stern figures in his late eighties Batman work. Here, his lines crash and flow like the churning surf! I figured we're overdue a classic showdown with Ocean Master -- but it's actually the least spectacular fight in the issue!

The full length issue delivers the intriguing Karshon to the throne of Atlantis, pitting the former ruler against some of his once-loyal subjects. There are a couple of determined Atlantean Guardsmen that get treated to a particularly brutal impact! Just one of the many skirmishes littering the issue!

I started the year with Flash Gordon on the brain, and I can't help but think of Alex Raymond as I'm whipped through the exotic undersea kingdom by Aparo's blonde adventurer.

The light shadows implying realistic faces, and loose action lines really evoke Raymond. As does the light political intrigue of key figures maneuvering within vividly picture cultures. Even Queen Mera and "Aquababy" feel fitting, with loyalist Vulko a stand-in for Dr. Zarkhov, and Karshon a double for any of the varied rulers of Flash Gordon's intergalactic kingdoms.

It became popular to go sword & sorcery with Aquaman and Atlantis, when he wasn't doubting himself, or subject to outright ridicule. There's some good stuff in a lot of those interpretations, but this might be a peak for me.

This is the kind of Aquaman that really makes you wonder how the character ever fell out of popular favour! Fortunately, this decade has seen him firmly restored to a place of respect amongst the DC pantheon!

Aquaman's aesthetic ascension on film could be the difference maker Warner Brothers has been looking for their DC Extended Universe series! Jason Mamoa will be swimming back to cinemas in December, taking on Patrick Wilson as Ocean Master, with Amber Heard as Mera! Exciting times that will almost certainly give us the perfect excuse to return to more classic comics action!

Want to get ahead of the swell to surf the ultimate wave of Aquaman excitement? Do yourself a favour and cast a net to catch some of Aquaman's most exciting stories in history! A

dventure Comics #444 is included with a cavalcade of classics in trade paperback and digital collected editions! Shopping via the Amazon links provided not only gets you great stories, but also helps support the Secret Wars on Infinite Earths at no extra cost!

Find more classic battles with these characters and more by following links throughout this post or label tags below! You can also find every featured fight catalogued by publisher, series, and issue by diving into the Secret Index. Or follow on Twitter and Facebook for daily links to battles inspired by the popular topics of the day! Say ahoy with a like & share!

Winner: Aquaman (w/ Mera)
#40 (+23) Aquaman
#538 (new) Mera
#545 (-46) Ocean Master

Friday, August 03, 2018

An Eye For An Eye (DC)
Action Comics #688 When: Early July 1993
Why: Roger Stern How: Jackson Guice & Denis Rodier

The Story So Far...
Guy Gardner fought by Superman's side just before he made the supreme sacrifice to stop the rampaging horror of Doomsday! So it comes a surprise when Guy returns from space to find four men claiming to be the original!

Seeking to honor the memory of Superman in his own demented way; Guy heads for Metropolis to confront one of the four heroes he's convinced must be a phony! When the visor-wearing Superman spots trouble, he defers to investigate a fire lit by Guy Gardner!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Eradicator 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Eradicator 5 (Professor)
Speed: Eradicator 6 (Mach-Speeds)
Stamina: Eradicator 5 (Marathoner)
Agility: Draw 2 (Average)
Fighting: Guy Gardner 4 (Training)
Energy: Guy Gardner 7 (Cosmic Power)
Total: Eradicator 33 (Super)

It's got all the hallmarks of a Green Lantern/Superman main event - but if you read the marquee you know it has the potential to be a whole lot messier!

Guy Gardner is well known for his days slinging a power ring as charter member of the Green Lantern Corps (and Justice League), but it wasn't always so! Proximity originally kept him from accepting Abin Sur's ring when the alien fatally crash-landed on Earth. Hal Jordan became the Green Lantern of Sector 2814 instead, but Gardner was eventually called up from the reserves.

In more recent years his attitude has attracted a Red Lantern ring -- but back in 1993, Guy was forced to wear an accessory of an entirely different hue!

He lost his Green Lantern ring to a fight with Hal Jordan, who'd returned to Earth after a stay in space. A brief stint as a powerless vigilante saw the likes of Black Hand kicking Guy's butt [Guy Gardner Reborn #1], so he tricked Lobo into taking him to deep space to seek new powers. Their adventure took them the tomb of Sinestro, where the then-deceased villain was buried with his yellow ring of Qwardian origin! Guy took it for himself - and the rest is history!

These days we know yellow rings as the fear-fuelled weapons of an entire Sinestro Corps - but back in those days, Gardner was able to wield the Qwardian ring without issue. It functioned much the same as his Green Lantern ring, allowing for yellow energy projections, and hard-light constructs.

We saw Guy using the yellow ring during Superman and the Justice League's unsuccessful stand against Doomsday in Superman #74.

A subsequent final showdown between Superman and Doomsday would seemingly result in their mutual demise. From the heroic void would rise four new heroes claiming to be the original Superman: A hybrid cloned Superboy, a Cyborg Superman, a literal man of Steel, and today's visored son of Krypton...

Eradicator was in truth a sentient device sent into space by ancient aliens facing extinction. It was reprogrammed by Kem-L of Krypton to instead protect his planet's culture at all costs.

Centuries after Krypton's destruction, its surviving keeper, The Cleric, bestowed the Eradicator upon Superman during a chance encounter on Warworld. The construct imposed various Kryptonian influences upon Superman's life during his post-Crisis reinvention, including the new creation of the Fortress of Solitude.

When Superman had seemingly died, The Eradicator used residual energies to create an organic facsimile of Krypton's last surviving son, retaining Superman's memories from a psychic interface shared with The Cleric. This allowed the new Superman to genuinely believe he was the original article!

The genetic imitation is a convincing one, mimicking the abilities associated with Kryptonian physiology when exposed to a yellow sun. Eradicator differs slightly in his origins as a creature of solar energy, allowing him to perceive and wield energy in different ways, such as powerful blasts from his hands and eyes!

We've seen Guy Gardner handle energy projections from the Blue Beetle scarab [in Blue Beetle #1], and rip away at the yellow fear energy of Parallax [in Green Lantern #24]. Given Eradicator also has innate super-strength and durability -- those past examples may prove cold comfort!

Eradicator also favors far more harsh methods than the traditional Superman, which means Gardner won't even be able to out-do him on the bad ass meter! We've done the introductions, let's just find out how the fight went!

The Tape: Eradicator Ranking: Guy Gardner (#121)

What Went Down...
Spotting a raging inferno from his aerial vantage point, the would-be Superman descends to see if he can help. On touching down at the waterfront, he finds the licking yellow flame disappearing without a trace! Guy Gardner steps from the nearby shadows to introduce himself -- and his yellow power ring!

A massive energy fist catches Eradicator by surprise -- exploding from the dock as Gardner announces himself a "one-man Superman revenge squad!"

The blow sends Eradicator hurtling into the water! Gardner's boastful challenges are soon replaced with presumptions of a one-hit victory when Eradicator fails to emerge from the water. Gardner dives in to the harbor encased in a yellow energy field to scan for his presumed drowning foe -- but comes up empty.

The ring-protected hero deduces his impact must've driven the substitute Superman into the sediment beneath the sea -- but he's only half right! The toppled Superman returns fire with a sucker punch from beneath the muck!

The awesome power of the blow sends Gardner hurtling from the sea to the sky! His air-filled energy field protects him from the devastating impact, and allows him to level out in the sky above -- but the trouble is far from over!

Eradicator rockets out of the water and straight for Gardner with a two-fisted strike! The deadly new Superman has little time for Gardner's childish presence!

The brawling heroes fight inland, where they smash through an overpass before crashing down to Earth. The Eradicator is first to emerge from the rubble as Gardner contemplates his short fuse.

Intent on regaining the offensive, Guy forms a golden suit of armor and lance, but barely has time to wield them before the stand-in Superman launches him airborne with another super-punch!

The incredible punch sends Gardner flying uncontrollably across the Metropolis skyline! He sheds his armor, smashing through jutting chimneys and water towers on a strategic trajectory towards trouble!

A simple energy field protects Gardner from harm as he crash lands into an old abandoned gas station! The scene was carefully selected by the analytical Eradicator, having spied signs of a biker gang before falling into Guy's trap!

The impact destroys the gang's bikes and gives Eradicator a chance to quiz Guy on his reasons for attacking. The gang attacks before a response is given, but Eradicator's brutal and violent methods soon appeal to Gardner's sensibilities.

The ring-slinger's suspicions that this Superman is phony are replaced with admiration and excitement for the Superman he'd rather have around. Gardner presumes a near-death experience has opened the last son of Krypton to more extreme methods than the past. Something Eradicator isn't so sure is good.

The Hammer...
There's an argument to be made that Eradicator had the upper-hand as clear aggressor, but he opts for the talking option to bring the fight to a non-combative conclusion. Gardner agrees to leave Metropolis. All done.

Action Comics #688 leaves us with an inconclusive result between Guy Gardner and Eradicator, but also establishes a sense of further understanding the two characters through their similarities - and differences...

Both ultimately address the same problem from a different angle. Namely: the perception that Superman and his boy scout moral code are outmoded in modern times. The heroes of Reign of the Supermen offer a distinctly nineties twist on the core concept, but it's an issue that still dogs Superman today.

Eradicator's "Last Son of Krypton" walks a line between indulging extreme violence, but also looking like a massive nerd with safety goggles, and off-brand Star Trek unitard. The design was a bit of a misfire, but his hardline crime-fighting successfully explored a Superman who isn't always holding back.

When Gardner abandons suspicion in favor of endorsement, Eradicator develops reservations for the underlying aggression of his actions. He sees his violence reflected back through Gardner's obnoxious and irrational use of power, and questions what it means to misuse the S shield for aggression.

There was a monkey's paw aspect throughout the Death of Superman, and Reign of the Supermen storylines. Eradicator functions very much as a 'be careful what you wish for' scenario. A lesser facsimile of the genuine article.

Guy Gardner essentially existed as a timely counterpoint to the whole archetype of Superman. He was a trash-talking loudmouth in the mode of 80s and 90s action heroes. A 'shoot first, ask questions later' hero occupying a precarious space between outright parody, and testosterone-fuelled power fantasy.

It's easy to appreciate the sweetness of such a perennial butthead taking umbrage with what he believes to be an impostor. There's no attempt to reframe the tense differences between Gardner and Superman, but he isn't a completely one-dimensional character. He didn't particularly like Superman, but he respected his sacrifice, and honored his legacy. Redeeming qualities.

I've always been pretty happy with a Superman who's a stand up kinda guy, which was probably why the whole thing was wearing thin by this point. It's never been a secret Steel was the byproduct I enjoyed most, but in digging through the ruins, I'm gaining more appreciation for the whole. In particular, the way existing elements like Eradicator and Hank Henshaw were made use of.

It's amazing to reflect on how brief the whole thing was. Superman is fighting toward his death in Action Comics #684, cover dated December 1992. He's back among the living by Action Comics #691 (September 1993), having left only two issues starring Supergirl, and four Eradicator.

With the Reign of the Supermen heading to DC animation, and DC Comics announcing new comics set in the aftermath of Death of Superman, it looks like there's going to be a lot more opportunity to reflect on this time in history.

As always: you can join me on this nostalgic trip by using the Amazon link provided to check out the collected Reign of the Supermen! All shopping via the link helps support Secret Wars on Infinite Earths at no extra cost!

Find more featured fights past, present, and future by diving into the Secret Index! Every battle is catalogued in order of publisher, series, and issue number.

For a more daring route, check out links littered throughout this post, or character tags below to discover more from your favourite characters and creators! You can also follow on Twitter and Facebook for daily fights inspired by the topics of the day!

Winner: Draw
#119 (+2) Guy Gardner
#415 (new) Eradicator

Friday, July 27, 2018

Unholy Ghost! (Marvel)
Iron Man #239 When: February 1989 Why: David Michelinie & Bob Layton How: Jackson Guice & Bob Layton

The Story So Far...
When elusive tech company Electronica Fabrizzi jumps at the first low offer from Stark industries -- industrialist Tony Stark travels to Italy to investigate further.

Discovering his old business rival Justin Hammer behind the flagging corporation; Stark enters into an unlikely deal for the soul of a young man named Donald Gill.

Hammer has fostered Gill's burgeoning criminal career as the new ice-powered Blizzard, thwarting Stark's attempts to mentor him back to the straight and narrow. Hammer agrees to leave the boy's life for good on one condition: Stark must send Iron Man to deal with a saboteur he thought was dead: The Ghost!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Iron Man 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Draw 5 (Professor)
Speed: Iron Man 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Iron Man 6 (Generator)
Agility: Ghost 2 (Average)
Fighting: Iron Man 4 (Trained)
Energy: Iron Man 5 (Arsenal)
Total: Iron Man 31 (Super)

It's time for a tech war as our hero meets one of his most unusual adversaries!

Ghost isn't your usual, run-of-the-mill corporate terrorist! He's a completely anonymous mercenary, known to sometimes lend his services to the very corporations he ultimately aims to destroy!

The mystery of Ghost's past is guarded through his suit's ability to render him invisible to most monitoring systems, and intangible to the material world! He can move freely through most physical barriers, carrying a variety of concealed weaponry and hi-tech devices, which allows him mastery over machine systems!

This is technically the first time we're seeing Ghost in action in the Secret Wars on Infinite Earths, but he was in the area when Luke Cage and The Avengers got the drop on Juggernaut, back in Thunderbolts #150!

Ghost was recruited into the Thunderbolts black-ops team by Norman Osborn, whose "Dark Reign" was a means to consolidate military-corporate influence under one entity -- only to infect and destroy it from within! A similar philosophy that first led him to target Stark Industries asset Accutech in the employ of Carrington Pax - a Roxxon Oil executive.

You don't mess with Stark Industries without running afoul of Iron Man! The armored Avenger is, of course, billionaire industrialist Tony Stark, posing as his own bodyguard while suited in one of his most impressive inventions!

Iron Man has no shortage of technological enemies! We've seen him take on the blitzing buzzsaw of Whirlwind [Iron Man Annual #11], his modified War Machine [Iron Man #310], heavily armored Titanium Man [Iron Man #316], diabolical Doctor Doom [Mighty Avengers #10], and Soviet counterpart Crimson Dynamo [Invincible Iron Man #14]. All similar to himself in some way -- unlike Ghost!

Few opponents are able to evade Iron Man's super-strong clutches, let alone render his armor near moot! Psylocke penetrated his defenses psychically in Contest of Champions II #1, while Jesse Bedlam's mutant power to disrupt machines shut him down completely, later in the same issue.

Ghost simply isn't like the others, and although Iron Man has defeated him prior to today's featured fight, he knows all too well Ghost can evade his detection methods, and catch him by surprise! A psychological component to Ghost's assault that plays an extra role in any of their encounters!

The Tape: Iron Man Ranking: Iron Man (#3)

What Went Down...
Broadcast news of Tony Stark's tour at Electronica Fabrizzi is all that's needed to lure The Ghost into a showdown. Iron Man scans the building as he waits to spring his trap, but is surprised to find The Ghost has modified his technology to evade his sensor's detection!

The evasion method isn't Ghost's only upgrade since his last encounter with Iron Man. Raising his fist before him, Ghost reveals the ability to render objects invisible -- including a hi-tech gun!

Iron Man takes evasive maneuvers, going aerial to fly out of the path of the unexpected gunfire! He narrowly avoids every blast as Ghost unloads!

Observing the improved speed and maneuverability of Iron Man's new armor, Ghost abandons the gun in favor of his preferred methods. He becomes translucent as his body begins to disappear through the floor.

Answer Ghost's challenge -- Iron Man takes chase by blasting a hole through the floor with his gauntlets! He kicks his jets into maximum thrust in order to keep up with The Ghost, whose escape continues on the floor below. It's a trap!

The careening pursuit plays right into the hands of The Ghost, who rendered a massive piece of technology invisible! It provides an unseen wall for Iron Man to collide with -- momentarily knocking him to the ground!

Ghost approaches his downed adversary, who prepares to take advantage of their close quarters. When Iron Man thrusts his armored hand in The Ghost's direction - it passes eerily through him!

A chip attached to his armor has rendered Iron Man intangible! Worse still, the chip itself is intangible even to the man its attached to! The Ghost gloats that his nemesis is now beyond nourishment, or aid. Leaving him to a slow death.

The Hammer...
Well, that certainly got grim at the end!

I have to imagine Ghost isn't the first villain to threaten Iron Man with some form of attrition. The fact that intangibility is a prison completely out of Stark's dominion, taking away his very capacity for invention, is what gives it a unique element of psychological horror! Or at least, it would...

The reader probably has every confidence the end will be undone in the next issue! If you guessed an electro-magnetic pulse would disable Ghost's chip long enough for James Rhodes to shoot it off -- you'd be right! That type of solution was certainly my thinking when reading the issue the first time.

The only question left to answer: Does this predicament constitute a defeat?

The circumstances are certainly unusual. Iron Man isn't kayoed, or incapacitated in the traditional sense. His eventual escape from the trap in the next issue can provide only so much context for assessing the conflict, but it matters. When Ghost leaves, Tony Stark is still in full control of his faculties, and presumably his armor - the primary method of his eventual freedom (with Rhodey's assist).

Grand designs for permanent intangibility and eventual starvation don't pass the acid test, but there's more than one way to beat an opponent. Death does not victory as victory is but a temporary state.

As close as I was to calling this an inconclusive draw - Ghost does clearly walk away with his opponent taken out of the fight. Being intangible isn't in and of itself defeat, but by applying it offensively, Ghost gets the better of Iron Man. It's unconventional, but I've got to give it up to him on points!

Of course, in a much later incarnation, Ghost himself will begin to spend more time in a state of intangibility. Not that you'd say he does this without adverse effects. The later Ghost is an increasingly gaunt, eerie presence.

The later version, featured prominently in Thunderbolts, was a lot of fun, and gave the character a bit more edge than the original incarnation. There's a Psycho Mantis quality to him, for those who know their Metal Gear characters.

Fans who've now seen Ant-Man and The Wasp in theatres will know an entirely different character called Ghost, who shares trace elements of the original, in both of his memorable incarnations.

The Ant-Man films have been some of the most aggressive in changing the Marvel Comics they adapt, which might be why I fell in love with the original comic book appearances of Ghost while rummaging through back issues.

The concept is given a lot of weight right from the get-go [starting with Iron Man #219], at a time when Iron Man was surrounded by plenty of memorable foes! If you were a fan of the mid-nineties Marvel Action Hour cartoon, you'll recognize a lot of the villains active during this late slice of Layton & Michelinie. Ghost himself takes on cartoon stalwarts Blacklash, Whirlwind, and Blizzard, earlier in the issue featured today.

Sometimes that kind of hubris in introducing a new villain is horribly misplaced, but here - it worked! Ghost is pretty instantly a memorable, credible nemesis - even though they seemingly killed him off after the first three-issue arc!

Upping the threat in this return rematch was a great way to continue developing the character. The concept really fits in with the hi-tech, corporate world Iron Man moved in, at that time. It's still American superhero, slightly outmoded by the concurrent cyberpunk of Japanese manga, but that was part of the Iron Man charm. I've always enjoyed the notion that America builds their machines big.

The Ghost design is a little generic in these early appearances. It reminds me of a non-descript action figure design. At some point, I know I was confusing a triumvirate of white villains - Ghost, Whyteout, and Slyde. Admittedly, Ghost is easily in a league above the other two.

Ghost was especially complimented by standing out from the other IM villains of the time. He looked and behaved differently from the other pure comic book super-villains, but also the usually armored techno-fiends. It was easy to embrace the update mentioned earlier, but there's a charm to this original style. I daresay the movie finds a nice balance between both, too.

I've had a lot of fun looking back at this era of Iron Man. Quintessential Marvel comics with fast, fun superhero action and melodrama. Not as smooth or punchy as it could've been, but very digestible never the less.

If you'd like to feast on more classic confrontations like this one: dive into the Secret Index to find every featured fight archived in order of publisher, series, and issue number! You can also get daily links to fights inspired by the topics of the day by following on Twitter and Facebook! A like and share is a nice way to show you care and help support the Secret Wars on Infinite Earths!

Winner: Ghost
#312 (new) Ghost
#3 (--) Iron Man

Friday, July 20, 2018

Rest and Sweet Glory Part 2: The Bootstrap Model (Marvel)
Marvel Comics Presents #114 When: October 1992 Why: Dwayne McDuffie How: Ron Wilson

The Story So Far...
Bill Foster's experience working with Hank Pym granted him incredible powers that come with exposure to Pym Particles! The wonders of increasing and reducing his size have made him the newest Giant-Man -- but it's his scientific prowess that Dr. Edwin Hawkins wants!

Recruited at the recommendation of Mister Fantastic: Bill Foster is embarking on a new journey working for Stane International. His knowledge of Pym Particles and biochemistry can help Hawkins build a working quantum mechanical model that could revolutionize physics!

Just one problem! Project Head Dr. Michael Stockton isn't all he appears to be, and Stane International is interested in more profitable markets for their super-science. Recovering from a prototype malfunction - Giant-Man finds the truth!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Draw 5 (Super-Human)
Intelligence: Draw 5 (Professor)
Speed: Draw 2 (Average)
Stamina: Draw 4 (Athlete)
Agility: Draw 2 (Average)
Fighting: Giant-Man 3 (Street Wise)
Energy: Dr. Nemesis 2 (Arsenal)
Total: Draw 22 (Champion)

A couple of weeks ago we had the long & short of it, but today it's big & tall all the way! We're super-sizin' our fightin' fun with two challengers whom, by any other name, would smell as sweet! Info's in the introductions...

Doctor Nemesis is scientist Dr. Michael Stockton, whose field of research is the subatomic. He was recruited by Advanced Idea Mechanics, becoming a self-styled nemesis to Hank Pym and the Wasp! By stealing Pym's unique particle technology, Stockton acquired similar skills of shrinking and enlarging.

This Doctor Nemesis is not to be confused with James Bradley: A World War II-era vigilante, and Nazi collaborator turned hunter, whose unique biochemistry saw him associate with Beast and the X-Men into the modern age. The potential for confusion doesn't end there, though...

Stockton had multiple run-ins with Hank Pym as Ant-Man, but today's battle with Giant-Man is not a rematch in his oversized alter-ego!

At this time: Dr. Bill Foster had assumed the mantle of Giant-Man. He adopted the moniker at the suggestion of his good friend and Project Pegasus colleague - Thing! He had previously adventured as the costumed Black Goliath.

Foster worked alongside Hank Pym as a biochemist at Stark International. He was later responsible for duplicating the Pym Particles formula and removing it of harmful side effects. This was how he acquired his powers, which most typically involve increasing his size to goliath proportions.

Goliath grappled with Pym (as Yellow Jacket) during the Avengers Civil War between registered and anti-registration heroes [Civil War #3]. Goliath and the Secret Avengers were ultimately undone by Iron Man, and a bio-mechanical clone of Thor dubbed Ragnarok. Ragnarok killed Goliath in Civil War #4.

Dying is neither here, nor there. Bill Foster's alive and ready to take on Doctor Nemesis in today's story! As an experienced adventurer - he's got a compelling case for beating him, too! Giant-Man's gone toe-to-toe with the Hulk! The only snag could be Nemesis' ability to warp the science of size-manipulation for devious ends -- combined with the element of surprise!

These two are incredibly evenly matched! Let's see who takes the win!

The Tape: Draw Ranking: Giant-Man (#586)

What Went Down...
Growing to gigantic proportions: "Giant-Man" Bill Foster intimidates his way through his employer's restricted access doors. Inside awaits a hi-tech device -- quickly identified by his colleague, Dr. Edwin Hawkins, as a warhead!

The shock that Hawkins' research has been utilized for military application is quickly interrupted by the arrival of Stane International security, led by project head Dr. Stockton. The revelation of international arms dealing provokes action!

The super-sized super-hero rips a sheet of metal from the lab floor and wraps it around a scrambling, armed security team!

Giant-Man challenges other security forces to join the fight, but instead finds another opponent revealing himself! Dr. Stockton removes his lab coat and dons the guise of the notorious Doctor Nemesis!

Foster knows his enemy thanks to Hank Pym, but not the new developments he's made thanks to the search of Dr. Hawkins! Nemesis plucks a button from his lab coat and demonstrates the manipulation of weight but not size!

The tiny button strikes Giant-Man in the stomach with unexpected force! He doubles over, dropping to his knees as Nemesis postulates the button must've weighed a focused forty pounds by the time it hit its target!

Embarrassed by the simplicity of the attack, Giant-Man recovers to his feet - getting even bigger to tower ominously over the bad Doctor! A body-sized fist collides with Nemesis for an equalizer!

Giant-Man follows instantly with a crushing hammer fist to finish the job!

The battle may be won, but the war with Stane International is just beginning! A shadow casts over Giant-Man as he contemplates calling the Avengers, signaling the arrival of another foe -- the gargantuan Goliath!

The Hammer...
A short story delivers a big winner: Giant-Man claims victory!

We're back in Marvel Comics Presents territory, exploring Part 2 of a six-part adventure starring Bill Foster! As covered in The Tape section [above], you may know Bill Foster better as "Goliath".

Foster debuted as the in-fashion "Black Goliath" in 1975, back referencing a character first seen in Avengers #32 (in 1966). He's part of a tangled web of monikers: one of three heroes to have gone by Giant-Man -- and a small handful of heroes and villains who've answered to Goliath.

If I had to pick one Goliath to rule them all - it would be Bill Foster - but to make matters a little more complicated, he's under attack from another well known Goliath at the end of today's featured chapter.

Erik Josten towers as Doctor Nemesis' extra muscle, but looms largest in Marvel Comics lore as the altruistic "Atlas". That was an identity he grew into, having adopted it as one of Baron Zemo's insidious Thunderbolts: villains pretending to be heroes while capitalizing on the Heroes Reborn disappearance of the Avengers and Fantastic Four. [A long story that started in Incredible Hulk #449 if you're really interested!]

I'm sure at some point we'll get around to checking out Foster v Josten, if only for its curiosity factor!

A little bit like Wasp's adventure in Marvel Super-Heroes #3, these Bill Foster asides are some of the fun curiosities you got from Marvel's anthology offerings in the early nineties. Hidden gems buried beneath usual MCP cover star Wolverine, and at this time, Ghost Rider and Iron Fist.

If you feel like you've seen a different cover for Marvel Comics Presents #114 - you aren't mistaken. The series was running with a flip-book gimmick around this time, so there's another cover on the other side. I guess it was somebody's idea for pushing dual lead stories, and it's kind of fun as an artefact, but it's also a needless complication on the racks, and when reading.

"Rest and Sweet Glory" (the title of the Giant-Man serial) doesn't seem like it was ever intended for elsewhere, as is sometimes the case with these anthology series. It doesn't have the heft of a new series pilot, or ambitions of Dwayne McDuffie's introduction to Damage Control in Marvel Comics Presents #19.

It's actually kind of the perfect secondary story for a series like Marvel Comics Presents. A fun episode with a super-hero who might not otherwise be in the spotlight, but is part of the wide, wonderful Marvel Universe.

In this case, the story serves a purpose of helping establish the new identity of Giant-Man. A security guard even gets a helpful correction when he refers to him as Black Goliath -- a nice acknowledgment of his established history, and meta-reference for readers who might be making a similar adjustment.

The shift to Giant-Man wasn't the right fit given its iconic association with Hank Pym, but it probably seemed like a good idea, at the time. It's a classic Marvel moniker that somebody might as well have been using. Pym had been doing his own thing in West Coast Avengers and didn't seem likely to go back. Thirty years into the Marvel saga, it was easy to be naïve about a thing like that.

The Tarantino fueled retro-appeal of haphazardly throwing "Black" in front of an African-American character's name wasn't there yet. I don't know the origins of the practice, but it's always seemed weird. "Black Goliath" probably needed a nineties update and just Goliath had those villain ties. In the end, it turned out to be a much better choice. "Black" or not, Goliath was a well earned name.

Goliath is also a name you'll now have heard if you saw Ant-Man and The Wasp in theatres! Laurence Fishburne brings a maturing Bill Foster to the screen. Sadly, he doesn't perform any feats as Goliath -- which is exactly why we had to go rummage in the comics for that kind of real shared universe fun!

If you'd like to find more curios and classics, you can find every featured fight index by publisher, series, and issue in the Secret Archive! Follow along on Twitter and Facebook for daily links to fights inspired by the topics of the day -- or do it the old fashioned way, and steer your own destiny by following links to characters and series throughout this post! You never know when there'll be a follow-up! Tell your friends while you're at it, too!

Winner: Giant-Man
#357 (+229) Giant-Man (Bill Foster)
#853 (new) Doctor Nemesis (Michael Stockton)