Friday, May 20, 2016

... Endings (Marvel)
X-Men Omega When: June 1995

Why: Scott Lobdell & Mark Waid How: Roger Cruz

The Story So Far...
It was a world that was never meant to be.
The unstable mutant David Haller believed he could achieve his father Charles Xavier's dream by eliminating his one-time friend turned greatest nemesis: Magneto! To do so, he traveled back to a time when the two were still care workers in war torn Israel, but he failed to consider his father's will to protect a friend. The killing blow meant for the once and future Magneto instead struck the X-Men's founder.

The events stir the ancient mutant Apocalypse from his slumber, beginning the world on a path of destruction. Erik "Magnus" Lehnsherr resumes his destiny to become Magneto, but in this timeline, dedicates his fight to fulfilling the dream of peaceful co-existence between mutants and humans held by the late Xavier!

Already displaced in time, the X-Man Bishop wanders this new reality with the fog of knowing everything is wrong! Armed with the truth, the X-Men set about overthrowing Apocalypse's empire by unmaking the world he has created! To do so, the X-Men will need the cosmic artefact known as the M'Kraan Crystal - the reality nexus capable of healing time and restoring the universe to its true path.

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Apocalypse 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Apocalypse 5 (Professor)
Speed: Draw 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Apocalypse 7 (Unstoppable)
Agility: Apocalypse 6 (Rubber)
Fighting: Apocalypse 4 (Trained)
Energy: Magneto 6 (Mass Destruction)

When it comes to heavyweight mutant match-ups - the marquee doesn't get much bigger than this! They could typically be thought of as two of the X-Men's deadliest enemies -- but in the altered reality of 1995: one leads the X-Men, while the other dominates all men equally as conqueror of the free world!

The former is Magneto: mutant master of magnetism! Born Max Eisenhardt, he witnessed the greatest atrocities of the Second World War first-hand. Abhorring those who would hate without cause, he learns to harness his mutant gifts of magnetic field manipulation to influence the world around him through the metal he controls. So great is his power, Magneto can twist metal, defy gravity, and ride and effect the magnetic spectrum of Planet Earth itself!

In a world of paranoia and fear toward super-powered mutation; Magneto began a pre-emptive war against a human race who would study and catalogue them. In our reality he was founder of the Brotherhood of Mutants - blind to becoming the very thing he hates. In a reality where his best friend Charles Xavier was murdered in a time travelling attempt on his own life; Magneto adopts a dream of peaceful co-existence between men and mutants, founding the X-Men!

Magneto's X-Men are humanity's greatest hope in an Age of Apocalypse!

The ancient mutant En Sabah Nur was discarded as a child for his freakish grey skin. Rescued by nomads from the unforgiving Egyptian desert, he learned a cruel lesson in survival that shaped his life's philosophy. Increasing his power through technology of Celestials, he is an immortal mutant with an agenda of conquest! He enacts his merciless plans through the employ of Four Horsemen, reserving survival for those who are fit enough to take it!

Apocalypse was drawn back into the modern world by a demonstration of power in Israel by time travelling X-Men: Legion, Storm, Iceman, Bishop and Psylocke. In this timeline, he emerged before an age of Marvels that created the Fantastic Four, Avengers and other heroes. Opposed only by Magneto's X-Men, Apocalypse rewrote history, eventually conquering North America to establish a citadel of power on the ruins of Manhattan, New York City.

Apocalypse may be known for staging battles behind augmented minions known as The Four Horseman, but make no mistake - he's a serious threat! We've only seen Apocalypse in action once in past feature fights [Uncanny X-Men #295]. In a state of weakness, he was still able to overwhelm a seasoned team of X-Men with a desperate display of power. At full strength, he wields phenomenal super-human strength, endurance, durability, reflexes, control over his body's size, shape, and make-up, and the ability to expel concussive energy blasts!

That one appearance has kept Apocalypse undefeated, while an unkind streak of circumstances have made Magneto winless on The Comic Book Fight Club!

A brief alliance with Prince Namor snatched defeat from the mouth of victory in X-Men #6. He ripped the adamantium from Wolverine's bones, prompting a rare moment of psychic violence from Professor X in X-Men #25. Magneto also had the rare misfortune of catching a cosmic powered Spidey in Amazing Spider-man #327. He was even eaten by zombies in another alternate version of the Marvel Universe [Marvel Zombies #1]! Unflattering, but you've got to chalk some of it up to bad luck!

In a world built with iron and steel, the master of magnetism is no joke! At the height of his powers, he's even able to dominate the iron content in human blood! Apocalypse has total control over his physical make-up, which might make it tough to play with his armor, but there's still the literal post-apocalypse of New York City to play with! Meaning, even though Magneto has one trick to play against his powerful opponent - it's a pretty darn good one!

The Tape: Apocalypse Ranking: Apocalypse (#220)

What Went Down...
At the feet of Apocalypse, the man called Magneto clings to a dream that was never his own. Battered by a monster called Holocaust, this mutant survivor defies a being who has conquered the free world. He believes his X-Men are on a path to end the nightmare of this Age of Apocalypse: a reality that was never meant to be. Alas; Apocalypse too has learned the secrets of the time displaced mutant Bishop. He has taken possession of the cosmic nexus known as the M'Kraan Crystal. He has turned the X-Men's objective into a well laid trap!

The X-Men are not the only ones subject to surprise, or with something to lose, though. Outside Apocalypse's citadel, the mutant called Angel sacrifices himself to destroy the stronghold's force field generator. At the same time, the Mid-West is reduced to a radioactive crater by the Eurasian High Council!

As Apocalypse draws plans for drastic retaliation against his enemies, he opts to accelerate an end to Magneto's life. Before he can discharge the fatal blow - an unexpected interloper enters the unshielded stronghold and sends Apocalypse tumbling across his own throne room! Sinister's secret weapon: Nate Grey!

The youth called "X-Man" confronts Apocalypse, but instead becomes entangled in battle with his heinous son - Holocaust! Their bitter struggle peels away from Magneto as the X-Men arrive to regroup with their leader and determine the future of all of reality!

The Master of Magnetism has no orders for his students. Only words of hope that the world need not be the apocalyptic landscape that cruelly strangles life and love from all who live. A mantra contrary to Apocalypse, who takes the time to turn his defensive grid into a genocidal weapon against The Human High Council.

As Council heads await the obliteration of England, Apocalypse wonders if his centuries old machinations have strengthened "the wolves and sheep" equally, to assure mutual destruction. His musing is interrupted as Magneto rips his way through the fortress to find his nemesis!

From the rubble, Magneto assembles a suit of armor. Wrapping himself in layers of twisted metal, he decries the twisted philosophy held by Apocalypse and the madmen who came before him! He mocks the notion of "survival of the fittest", reminding the High Lord who won the war Hitler began - the so-called weak!

Wielding a righteous gauntlet he topples Apocalypse with a mighty right hand!

With the High Lord down on the ground with the rest of humans and mutant, Magneto pounds his malleable flesh with unforgiving steel fists! He callously calls an end to Apocalypse's rule, confident in the crumbling of his options. Bold words that come prematurely as Guido Carosella - a double agent among the X-Ternals - enters the chamber with Charles Lehnsherr - Magneto's son!

Apocalypse sees a final card to play, but he under estimates the wrath of a mother scorned! Present for the conflict, Magneto's bride Rogue uses her mutant gifts to absorb Carosella's impressive strength and rescue her son!

Apocalypse attempts to use the distraction to sneak away with a shard of the M'Kraan Crystal. Knowing the world he made in his own vision is about to come crumbling down, he plots to inflict himself upon another world - a world in which he can enjoy conquest anew! Little does he realize, he isn't alone in his escape route.

X-Man returns to steal the Crystal from Apocalypse and swear revenge for his adoptive father Forge. He unleashes a telekinetically charged kick that humbles Apocalypse once again! Magneto catches up to rejoin the fight with Nate Grey!

Together Magneto & X-Man pummel Apocalypse into further submission! Magnetic and telekinetic energies bombard his body! For the first time it truly seems as Apocalypse's rule may finally be in danger, but at that moment Holocaust catches up with the fight to steal X-Man away once again!

Distracted by the attack for just a moment, Magneto is vulnerable to Apocalypse, who lunges at him! The towering, ancient mutant bears down on Magneto with his full weight, wrapping malicious hands around his throat!

Suddenly hope drains from the moment! Ever dedicated to a principle of the fit, Apocalypse compels Magneto to fight back! He mockingly questions the lack of will in the Master of Magnetism. He receives his answer...

It begins with a small tug... An almost gentle pull... As Magneto focuses on a single central point, Apocalypse knows what is happening. A harder yank. He can do nothing to stop it. A wrenching tear that tears his body in two!

"For twenty years, you've gone on and on about how only the strong survive. Tell me again, Apocalypse... Just how strong you are."

Feeble utterings choke out of Apocalypse's dismembered head. Nothing of meaning or grandeur. Will the High Lord survive his catastrophic bifurcation? It hardly matters. As Magneto ponders what could have been had two of the world's most powerful mutants worked together, he walks to his wife and child, knowing this reality is about to be unmade around them.

The Age of Apocalypse is finally at an end...

The Hammer...
In one of the most epic battles we've ever seen on The Comic Book Fight Club - it's Magneto who emerges victorious!

Give the well earned assist to Nate Grey, aka; X-Man! His brief intrusions into the fight helped lead to victory, but his true clash with Holocaust is a battle we will have to feature another day!

This year on Secret Wars on Infinite Earths we've been serving many masters, and while doing so, ticking off some of the untapped corners of the comic book universe(s). This entry marks an overdue first victory for Magneto, the debut of X-Man and Holocaust in the rankings, and the first recorded feature from the alternate universe of the Age of Apocalypse!

Like a lot of readers (it seems), I was immediately intrigued by the cancellation of the entire X-line. By the time I was aware of it, there was already a promise of a strange new world told in series like: Astonishing X-Men, X-Calibre, Factor X and Gambit and the X-Ternals. In 1995, with X-Mania lingering but the air starting to let out of the balloon, the stunt seemed inconceivable, yet exciting.

What followed was a rare moment in comics. A harmonious synthesis of high concept, creative execution, marketing stunt, and just a hint of restraint. Sure, there had been grim futures and alternate realities for decades. Surrendering a whole line to them under the proposition of a new reality - exciting and fresh.

I'm not sure I can remember a time when there wasn't intense nostalgia for the Age of Apocalypse. It was an instant hit. One that only lasted for something like five months! They left us wanting more. As daring a choice as the story itself!

The universe did have its immediate spin-offs and consequences. Refugee characters like X-Man, who starred in his own on-going series, Holocaust, as well as oddballs like Sugar Man, and Dark Beast - the evil alternate Hank McCoy who snuck into the X-Men for a while. Otherwise, it was occasional one-shots, a few mini-series, or a memorable issue of What if...?. Pretty restrained.

In the last ten to fifteen years, there have been far more attempts to recreate the mechanics of the concept. One of the least subtle was the Age of Ultron a few years ago. It seemed to come and go without leaving much more than a prospective movie title for Avengers 2. Something about killing off Hank Pym was in there, I think. It all came about out of so much upheaval and property mismanagement it's really hard to distinguish or care about what happened.

The legacy of Age of Apocalypse has sadly been quite counter to the original. Stories like House of M or DC's Flashpoint played with the same high concept of remaking a world of familiar characters, but usually do so with a destructive design. 2005's House of M was an early warning sign for darker years ahead, built around Magneto and the decimation of Marvel's mutant populous. 2010's Flashpoint holds the distinction of delivering DC's lasting line-wide reboot: the New 52. If ever there was a case for two wrongs not making a right, it's that!

Ironically, it was the truly apocalyptic tone of Age of Apocalypse that helped make it work so well. It had the committed darkness and complete world view of something like Kamandi. There was no illusion that the heroes were always going to make it out okay. In this hellish universe, the heroes aren't even all on the side of angels - and vice versa! Magneto and Sabretooth had been X-Men before, but never with total suspension of disbelief. Their stories - two that tapped into the simple contrarian fun of the alternate reality concept with enough organic grounding that it wasn't time wasted.

The pretenders that've come since usually overstay their welcome. At times, Age of Apocalypse seemed to be trying to cram too much in. Today's featured fight takes place over the entire course of the super-sized X-Men: Omega special -- bookend to X-Men: Alpha. Interspersed between the big final battle are stories involving all the other favourites from related mini-series. There's a lot going on. A harsher reviewer might call the issue a bit of a mess. I think I like it that way, though. At some point the dotting of Is and crossing of Ts just turns into a maelstrom of genuine creative energy!

Like other stunts before it, it's kind of abhorrent on a basic level. Another Death of Superman for a bonfire of culture. If only it wasn't so well orchestrated and motivated. What people think they remember and the logic that's been applied since was always doomed to fail, because they were never bad ideas and never did what we think they did. They were stories that dared to go deeper than ever before, without losing sight of why that contrast worked.

With any luck we'll get a chance to venture deeper into the Age of Apocalypse in future updates. For now, I couldn't allow X-Men: Apocalypse to breeze through theatres without finally cracking the seal on the much loved alternate universe. A fun time in comics, and a great chance to match-up two of the characters who star in the new movie, and haven't done a whole lot of fighting in the past!

You can see more of today's featured fight for yourself by using the Amazon link provided [embedded right] to purchase the entire collected edition. Using the link to navigate to Amazon before you purchase something else can also help the site and future installment!

If you're reading this in real-time, you know we suffered a technical setback in May, but with any luck there'll be plenty more fights to come! In the mean time, you can always go back issue diving in the Issue Index Archive! Yay!

Winner: Magneto
#351 (+461) Magneto
#298 (-78) Apocalypse
#481 (new) X-Man
#482 (new) Holocaust

Monday, May 16, 2016

Real Name: J'onn J'onnz
First Appearance: Detective Comics #225 (November, 1955)
Fight Club Ranking: #29

Featured Fights:
- vs STONE GOD: Secret Origins #32 (Nov 1988)
- vs WOOD KING: Secret Origins #32 (Nov 1988)
- vs KIDNAPPERS: Secret Origins #35 (1988)
- vs DOOMSDAY: Superman #74 (Dec 1992)
- vs HILL STREET CULT: DC: The New Frontier #2 (Apr 2004)
- vs ULTRAMARINE CORPS: JLA: Classified #3 (Mar 2005)
- vs DESPERO: JLA #118 (Nov 2005)
- vs THE SOCIETY: Final Crisis: Requiem #1 (Sep 2008)
- vs GREEN LANTERN & FLASH: Green Lantern #44 (Sep 2009)

Throughout much of 2016 I've had Martian Manhunter's keyed in as a draft Hero of the Week in response to a strong turn in TV's Supergirl. It's been a matter of when - not if. It's with heavy heart that I finally commit to the publish button in honor of the passing of one of comics last great classic masters: Darwyn Cooke.

Many people are already sharing their favourite stories in honor of Darwyn's life in comics. He can be connected to a lot of characters. His contributions to Catwoman in the early to mid 2000s were a blessing that helped redefine the character to its fullest potential. He's written fantastic stories for DC superheroes, Will Eisner's Spirit, the controversial Beyond Watchmen, and other original creations.

For me, his biggest milestone, and a comic I've come back to many times on Secret Wars on Infinite Earths over the years, is DC: The New Frontier.

A love letter to a bygone era of DC Comics; The New Frontier managed to be unashamedly retro, while at the same time saying something that felt like the future! His characters weren't exactly as they were in the 1940s, 50s, or 60s. The DNA of their modern counterparts was there for anybody willing to look past the surface. Although, why you'd want to look past the surface is beyond me!

Cooke brought a sensibility to his drawings that was reminiscent of DC's popular animation. Characters were classic, streamlined. His designs cast a full illusion of reality, but didn't over complicated a character, or page. It was a no brainer, then, that The New Frontier would be adapted as a direct-to-video DC animated feature. The comic is practically a storyboard -- something Cooke did plenty of for animation, but went above and beyond with on the comic book page.

The New Frontier is about a lot of characters - the formation of the Justice League, no less! Green Lantern can be called the star - The Flash an important player of the same vintage. Wonder Woman had one of her best turns in a  comic for much of the decade, and Superman played off her fantastically. When I first learned of Cooke's death - I had to go back to the boxing fight between Wildcat Grant and a not-so-subtle homage to Muhammad Ali, "Clay". It's an absolute classic! Perhaps the one who I held most dear, though, was Martian Manhunter.

In DC: The New Frontier, Cooke retells the Earthbound origin of the Martian Manhunter. Doctor Erdel is already on the floor when the Martian is summoned to Earth by mistake. Precious moments flit away as he apologizes for his error and frailty. The Martian pays respect, pulling a sheet over the old man. He's alone in an alien world and he's about to learn how afraid and hostile we humans are.

The story of Martian Manhunter discovering human culture has been told before. In The New Frontier, he watches the television intently, shapeshifting into cartoons and comics until he settles on the stone jaw and squint of a hardboiled detective. The format and subject matter echoed a single issue favourite of mine in Secret Origins #35. I paired the story with an episode from The New Frontier back in 2008. The action differed greatly, but they're great compliments to each other, and really tickle me pink. It's hard to adequately put it into words. I've sometimes wondered if Cooke was aware of the '88 origin story. Probably not. I'm sure I'll never know now.

I don't know if Darwyn Cooke had any intention of telling more stories for DC superheroes, but when the company relaunched in 2011, it seemed the opportunity was gone. The New 52 had no room for a knowing, classic infusion with modern sensibilities. It saddened me to lose a lot of great things DC Comics had built up over the years, and it felt like a little Darwyn Cooke was needed now more than ever. Sadly, that won't come. Very fortunately, we have the work that he did do. Fantastic, all of it.

I'm really going to miss the influence Cooke had through his art. A warm, smart, fun, genuine sensibility. A stubborn man and a talent artist. Must-see comics. Fantastic, all of it!

I invite you to celebrate Darwyn Cooke through just a small amount of his work I've enjoyed:

- Batman, Martian Manhunter & Slam Bradley vs Hill Street Cult (DC: The New Frontier #2)
- Wildcat Grant versus Clay (DC: The New Frontier #2)
- Flash versus Captain Cold (DC: The New Frontier #2)
- Batman versus Catwoman (Solo #1)
- Batman versus Superman (Justice League: The New Frontier Special #1)

       [Home]       Hero of the Week 05/09: Apocalypse >> 

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Gathering (Marvel)
Contest of Champions II #1 When: September 1999 Why: Chris Claremont How: Oscar Jimenez

The Story So Far...
You've heard it all before - it was just a military training exercise. Only, when the armored hero Iron Man and the Human Torch appeared flying above the Hudson River - that's exactly what was supposed to be happening!

A surprise appearance by the X-Man Rogue turned the US Military's super-human tactical war games into aerial playtime for the heroes, but things get deadly serious when Iron Man detects a targeting system of unknown origin! With its sights set on them, the three heroes are teleported away from the planet and into space!

The offending alien abductors are a race of games-masters known as The Coterie. With nothing but adoration for Earth's mightiest heroes, the benevolent species hopes only to bask in their gladiatorial magnificence in exchange for unlimited access to their vast intergalactic knowledge base.

As a wealthy industrialist, Tony Stark knows when an offer seems too good to be true - it probably is. Of course, he may've been tipped off by the nano-technology trying to hack its way into his airtight armor. The same bots that permeate the air, and have begun affecting the minds of his fellow heroes so when the Contest of Champions begins -- the fight will be real!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Iron Man 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Iron Man 5 (Professor)
Speed: Psylocke 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Iron Man 6 (Generator)
Agility: Psylocke 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting: Psylocke 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy: Iron Man 5 (Lasers)

In 2016 we've been picking up the tab on classic characters and comics that've gone untouched by The Comic Book Fight Club so far. The aggressor in today's battle is one of the amazing omissions of the last ten years - an overdue debut when her fighting credentials are taken into account! 

Psylocke may have the appearance of a Japanese assassin, but she was born Betsy Braddock - English pre-cognitive mutant and sister of Captain Britain.

She was eventually abducted by The Hand to be physically and mentally merged with their clan leader's comatose lover: Kwannon. The process and subsequent training altered Psylocke's telepathic and telekinetic abilities. Complimenting fighting skills she acquired in the body swap are new techniques, such as a focused psychic blade, and expertise with a conventional katana. She briefly used this experise as Lady Mandarin, before returning to the X-Men.

With his super-powered hi-tech armor capable of matching brawn with some of the world's most powerful bruisers -- billionaire industrialist Tony Stark usually fights in a whole different league as Iron Man.

The Golden Avenger usually favors firepower and brute strength to get the job done, with liberal use of aerial manoeuvers for an added advantage. Hand-to-hand combat is rare, but not unheard of. He had to rely on fighting skills when the Skrulls stripped him of his armor in New Avengers: Illuminati #1. We also saw Captain America rely on fighting ability when they clashed in Captain America Annual #9 and Civil War #3!

Over the years Iron Man has gone up against a wide variety of opponents with unusual methods: Ghost Rider [Avengers #214], Diablo [Iron Man #159], The Mandarin [Iron Man #312] and MODOK [Marvel Adventures: The Avengers #9]. MODOK is the only example of Iron Man facing a foe using mental projection as a primary attack - a surprisingly rare threat. It may be an oversight Psylocke can capitalize on if the armor isn't adequately shielded.

Contest of Champions II brings the heroes together in combat without warning, so if Iron Man isn't flying around with proper specialist shielding - he'll be fresh out of luck. Nano-tech manipulation also means Psylocke will be fighting with an added level of aggression she may not normally employ. Iron Man may otherwise look like a favourite, but if any weakness is exposed it will be preyed upon! This should make things interesting...

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

What Went Down...
Energy readouts tell Iron Man he's just been teleported. The wall of sound flooding in from all directions tells him he's in an arena that must seat millions. The pomp and circumstance of laser lights, drums and the audience's adoration gives Tony Stark a moment of intoxication before the introduction of his opponent: Psylocke!

The razor focused mutant doesn't need a cue from her announcer. The second she spots Iron Man the fight is afoot!

Psylocke charges furiously at her opponent and launches into a flying martial arts kick! Were he unarmed he may have been in trouble, but his hi-tech armor allows him to sidestep the attack at high-speed!

The ninja trained X-Man makes her own mid-air compensation, flipping through the air with the perfect arc to drive her psi-blade through the back of Iron Man!

Iron Man's scanners tell a different story -- informing him he's been hit with a blast of The Mandarin's impact beam! Just as he begins to wonder if his arch-nemesis could be behind the entire event, Stark turns to find Psylocke revealed in her one-time villainous alter-ego: Lady Mandarin!

The golden avenger takes to the skies, putting distance between he and his suddenly revamped opponent. Her expertise with The Mandarin's rings nullify the distance, the villain's patented vortex beam unleashing a targeted tornado!

Trapped in the swirling winds, Iron Man is unable to maintain a coherent flight pattern. His stabilizers unable to compensate - he cuts his boot jets just as he careens wildly into the ground! The impact leaves him completely vulnerable to another of The Mandarin's old tricks - the freezing ray of his ring's frigi-beam!

As if the situation wasn't dire enough: Stark's sensors warn him he's getting dangerously low on power - even though the fight has only just begun! As he scrambles for answers encased in a solid block of ice, more bad news - a black light beam designed to further blind his tech! He knows what's next.

Right on cue, the dreaded electro-blast ring sends a "nuclear level" electro-magnetic pulse through his armor - rendering it completely useless! A perfect finishing move in a perfect combination attack. So perfect, it was as if she could read the mind of the man in the armor to know exactly what would beat him...

The genius inventor looks past the illusion of Lady Mandarin and the threat of her Hand ninja training! He finally remembers the nature of Psylocke's mutant powers and stress tests his reality by ordering his armor to activate a proximity defense grid!

The visage of Hong Kong underworld overlord Lady Mandarin fades as electricity shocks through her body! All that remains is the unconscious body of Psylocke and the roar of the crowd. Iron Man is victorious by knock out!

The Hammer...
It's as simple as that! The Contest of Champions has its first winner: announced to the adoring masses as the invincible armored avenger - Iron Man!

It's a rough debut for Psylocke, but the perfect transition as the movie-going world leaves Captain America: Civil War behind, and sets their sights on the next big budget superhero movie: X-Men: Apocalypse.

We may have an obvious comics bias here on Secret Wars on Infinite Earths, but it's been undeniably fun reflecting the 2016 theatrical schedule, using it to weave in and out of an eclectic catalogue of featured fights!

Indeed, it was the heavily promoted introduction of Olivia Munn as one of Apocalypse's Four Horseman [in the film] that drew my eye back to Contest II. You may remember we dipped our collective toes into the 1999 mini-series back in Feb, under similar circumstances, featuring a much later battle between Deadpool and Daredevil [Contest of Champions II #4].

The unusual clash of Iron Man and Psylocke also reminded me of a funny phenomena from the early days of Wizard Magazine.

I wasn't quite an active reader that early in the magazine's lifespan, so I've really been enjoying catching up through The Guide To The Guide To Comics over on the Comics Should Be Good blog! It all boils down to a long-running in-joke/letter column debate about whether or not Iron Man could single-handedly defeat the X-Men. Exactly the kind of shenanigans that spawned this very blog you're reading!

It seems the debate petered out by the mid-90s in favor of the X-Men, whose sprawling masses and superior drawing power of the time almost certainly gave them the hypothetical edge. That didn't stop Wizard's Editor asserting the contrary for quite a while, though. All in good fun - and it doesn't end there!

Iron Man is forced to defend his opening victory against the entire '99 line-up of X-Force in the next Contest battle. I'm not sure if the result would be admissible in a court of fandom, but it's funny, never the less. The Wizard debate was long over by 1999, but I do wonder if Friend O' The Magazine Chris Claremont wasn't having a little fun with readers who were in-the-know.

In truth, Contest of Champions II is full of lots of interesting little curios like the battles mentioned. I'm starting to like the idea of working through the series in a more chronological fashion. I'm just not sure when we'll get the chance! It may be we continue to cherry pick through the big fights for a while.

Here on The Comic Book Fight Club we're scheduled to dive deeper into the much neglected X-Men catalogue throughout May! My plan is to visit a perennial favourite period from X-history that I very much enjoyed at the time -- but have never really discussed on the site!

Update: A great idea if my harddrive didn't crash! This update was partially written at the time of the crash. Stay tuned to see how things play out as I decide whether to finish what I started, or skip ahead to June.

As always, be encouraged to seek out more superhero smackdown via the Secret Archives and all the other nooks and crannies of the site!

Winner: Iron Man
#3 (--) Iron Man
#778 (new) Psylocke

Monday, May 09, 2016

Real Name: En Sabah Nur
First Appearance: X-Factor #5 (June, 1986)
Fight Club Ranking: #220

Featured Fights:
- vs X-MEN: Uncanny X-Men #295 (Dec 1992)

One of the super heavyweights of the Marvel Universe is coming to live-action this month as the headlining star of X-Men: Apocalypse. As a lapsed but now long standing X-Men fan, I was certainly excited by the prospect of seeing Apocalypse on the big screen. Where mileage will vary significantly is in the interpretation of whether or not that's what fans will be getting.

Visually, the X-Men big bad isn't there. Oscar Isaac arrives as a breakout star after appearing as Poe Dameron in Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, but is unrecognizable caked under bright blue body make-up. He's been aptly compared to Power Rangers movie villain "Ivan Ooze" - more than a few shades away from the comic book original, in color and tone.

Apocalypse boils down to a pretty simple, but well executed idea: aggressive Darwinism. Apocalypse will recruit those he deems fit to ride as his Four Horseman, but for the most part, he's a near immortal mutant whose ancient perspective leads him to stress test humanity's survival. A simple premise for conflict and an interesting way to play with the X-Men's internal ideas of evolution and so forth.

Disappointing costume design has been par for the course for Bryan Singer's tenure as director of the X-Men. I might've said "visuals", but Singer is basically a good commercial filmmaker and that's better than average right now. That said, I was dismayed to see unused Apocalypse designs that better represent the character as comics fans know him [above]. Comic Book Resources featured pictures that aren't fantastic for giving an overall impression, but reveal a visual base that certainly could've popped on screen with the right directorial vision.

Singer's willingness to take the material seriously in 2000 was vital to entrenching superheroes on the big screen. For better or worse, we may not have the catalogue of superhero films we do today without the one-two punch of X-Men and Spider-man. By mining the comics for their subtext, he found a way to connect with a world he never claimed was his (comics). Things didn't really click until X-Men 2, but the franchise hit its strongest note with X-Men: First Class directed by Matthew Vaughn.

Watching Days of Future Past recently, I was struck by a lot of little frustrations. There was an interesting core, but it felt like a derailment in a great many ways. It was everything First Class wasn't. Gone were the deliciously colorful costumes. Absent was the juicy pop cinema and design sensibility that permeated the entire film. In disarray, the juggling of characters and plot. Still here - Professor X, Magneto. Wolverine and Mystique.

Early reports suggest X-Men: Apocalypse suffers from a similar failure to live up to the balancing act it sets itself up for. Characters you know and love won't be front and centre. The conflict between Charles Xavier and Magneto will be ever present at the expense of a villain who arguably should've occupied soul focus of a blockbuster epic. There's no denying Michael Fassbender has made Magneto as magnetic a presence as ever, but good lord - the X-Men have a lot of other villains! Good lord!

Will the X-Men survive Apocalypse? Will cinema? X-Men: Apocalypse opens in the US May 27, 2016. You can expect some Apocalypse inspired comic book battles coming your way right here, too. Maybe we'll show 'em how it's done.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Swimming With Sharks (Marvel)
Thunderbolts #105 When: October 2006
Why: Fabian Nicieza How: Tom Grummett

The Story So Far...
Concepts of law and justice are challenged when the US Government initiates a program called the Superhuman Registration Act. It comes as a response to the death of hundreds of civilians as a result of reckless heroics outside of a Connecticut school.

In their zeal to control super-humans of all persuasions, the government forms a pact with known super-criminal Baron Helmut Zemo. As leader of the once duplicitous Thunderbolts; Zemo is sanctioned with the task of capturing super-criminals for incarceration in Prison 42: an inescapable Negative Zone facility designed by Reed Richards.

Although Baron Zemo and his Thunderbolts comply, the one-time villain draws his own plans to deal with the onset of superhero civil war - and a coming contest with The Grandmaster! Seemingly on the path to being a better man, he reaches out to Captain America's renegade Secret Avengers with an offer of allegiance. An olive branch they aren't as ready to accept as the government.

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Hercules 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Baron Zemo 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Captain America 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Hercules 5 (Marathoner)
Agility: Iron Fist 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting: Iron Fist 6 (Warrior)
Energy: Iron Fist 3 (Explosives)

The Secret Avengers are: Captain America, Falcon, Hercules and Daredevil, with Redwing.

An interesting time in Marvel Comics history. 2006 was all about Civil War, but there were a lot of intertwining and far reaching effects you could be forgiven for forgetting, or missing completely. We'll touch on a couple of them today.

The Secret Avengers began as heroes operating in defiance of the government's Superhuman Registration Act. They're led by principled hero Captain America, who stands opposed to the cataloguing of peoples, and federal intrusions upon civil liberty. Siding with Cap's rebel stance is an eclectic early line-up that includes: Luke Cage, Cable, Vision, Cloak & Dagger, The Young Avengers, and the membership featured today! We saw them all in action together during the first big stand-off with Iron Man's pro-registration team in Civil War #3.

One of the interesting quirks of the period is Daredevil: a Secret Avenger in name and costume only! Matt Murdock (Daredevil) wasn't far removed from declaring himself Kingpin of Hell's Kitchen and grappling with issues of exposure and opposition. He was incarcerated in prison at the time - leading "Iron Fist" Danny Rand to assume the mantle in his absence. He joined the superhero civil war in his borrowed identity - even though he'd taken up the devil horns without Murdock's foreknowing [see; Daredevil #87]!

Baron Zemo represents a legacy of evil as the son of Baron Heinrich Zemo: a German scientist working for the Nazi Party during World War II. In the modern era, Helmut Zemo inherited his father's fortune, intellect, and hatred for Captain America. He adopted the purple masked mantle after his face was hideously scarred in battle with the returned hero, but it isn't the only mask he's worn.

When Earth's mightiest heroes were trapped in the Heroes Reborn pocket universe, Zemo became Citizen V - leader of a cadre of villains masquerading as a new generation of heroes called The Thunderbolts! It's in this capacity he's been most featured here on The Comic Book Fight Club, leading his T-bolts to victories over heavy duty opponents: Hulk [Incredible Hulk #449] and The Wrecking Crew [Thunderbolts #1]!

Against the Secret Avengers, Zemo doesn't have a team to do his fighting for him. He has had plenty of time to prepare and strategize, however. As an accomplished swordsman he can handle himself in combat, but his greatest weapons are his former teammate's Moonstones. The alien artefacts grant Zemo mastery over a range of physics principles, including gravity, time and space, as well as more standard energy projection.

Zemo directed Hercules into a coma during The Masters of Evil's infamous siege of Avengers Mansion. His history with Cap and Falcon is extensive and well documented. Iron Fist is the only hero present without serious baggage, but he's more than capable of handing a whooping to the mastermind villain if the other heroes are on board. Everything about the scenario says an Avengers win, but you can never completely count out a villain like Zemo.

The Tape: Captain America Ranking: Captain America (#7)

What Went Down...
The Avengers are none too pleased when confronted with the visage of one of their deadliest enemies. Iron Fist is the first to leap into action, nimbly avoiding the thrust of Baron Zemo's sword. Hercules closes in behind the villain, bellowing a warrior's insults for his hated foe. It does him no good!

Zemo uses the power of the Moonstones to suspend the attacking demi-god and replacement hero helplessly in mid-air! While they're there, he pleads his case to Falcon and Captain America -- submitting their vulnerability as an example of the purity of his intentions. His example of hypothetical quantum dissections does little to persuade the sentinels of liberty.

Falcon beckons for his avian ally: Redwing! "The bird" the Baron had almost forgot swoops down to snatch the levitating Moonstones -- leaving him vulnerable to a two-prong attack from the legendary duo!

Falcon leaps into the air - while Cap tosses his shield in the direction of Baron Zemo's sword. The expertly targeted trajectory leaves Zemo forcibly disarmed and open to an aerial assault!

Falcon delivers a torpedo-like right hand that would knock any ordinary man into next week! Apparently the Baron has been working on his glass jaw -- as well as controlling the Moonstones without being physically linked to them!

Energy crackles around Redwing before the soaring falcon disappears -- leaving only the glowing stones! Emotionally and telepathically linked with his bird - the man Sam Wilson is incensed!

Cap holds his friend back from doing anything rash, while the benevolent Baron restores the bird at Falcon's side -- before sending them both through a "gravimetric phase shift" along with Iron Fist and Hercules!

Captain America quizzes his old nemesis on whether or not his methods are fatal. "A fate worse than that. I sent them to Bayonne, New Jersey."

Using the power of the Moonstones once more, Zemo manipulates the mass of Captain America's greatest tool - his red, white and blue shield! The force of its gravity drags Cap down to one knee.

The Captain untethers himself from the shield's straps and leverages his position into swinging his right leg around for a devastating kick! It finds nothing but air as the target once again uses the Moonstones, this time to render himself completely intangible - a mere ghost: "I am quite done being hit, thank you."

The stones' energy surrounds Captain America and the arrogant Baron tosses his old foe against a nearby brick wall. The twelfth generation Barons' idea of parental discipline, apparently.

Holding his foe in cosmic bondage without hope of recourse - Baron Zemo speaks his mind. He repeats his goal to forge a truce with the hunted hero. He declares a change in character for the notorious Zemo lineage. A desire to do right - even as the definition of the word changes around a civil war of heroes.

Zemo releases his would-be ally from his hold, and Captain America listens...

The Hammer...
The last two masked men standing may have reached a peaceful resolution, but for the purposes of combative notation we declare Baron Zemo the victor! He not only dealt with the attacks of the other heroes, but also worked to pacify Captain America.

As you may know, Baron Zemo appears as one of the mastermind villains lurking behind Captain America: Civil War. If you're just joining us after seeing the movie in theatres, I hope you've enjoyed getting a taste of the comic book version. Baron Zemo likes to talk about being superior, and I tend to think it's the comics version(s) that fit that description.

The movie is notably getting rave reviews, but many elements arrive without the teeth of their source material. The "Civil War" high-concept proves far more mild in the movie. Methods leave the heroes untarnished enough to continue to lead uncomplicated, mainstream movie franchises that are presently too small to really pull off an all-out war. Iron Man and Captain America are alive and able to reconcile. Instead, Baron Zemo ascends as the villain of the piece to clarify exactly why this is a Captain America sequel.

Civil War had its detractors when it was published in 2006, and I suspect there are even more who resent its legacy as the top selling event that Marvel Comics has been trying to emulate ever since.

I tend to remember Civil War fondly, not only for its effective central concept, but for the many tendrils that extended in other series. Fans have been complaining about inter-connected crossovers for the better part of the last twenty years, but Civil War seemed to thrive on its central premise, inspiring a plethora of off-shoots for readers to pick 'n' mix. Thunderbolts was a series ready and waiting to capitalize on the premise.

If you tried to wrangle the monster of every conceivable Civil War tie-in - more power to you! I think most were best served by finding the branches that interested them the most, and pursuing them outward from the central event, which, admittedly, ran a bit lean at times.

Secret Invasion was as a pretty tedious follow-up, but the Dark Reign of Norman Osborn that followed re-connected the pieces of instability put in place by Civil War well. It was key to a great year in Marvel Comics! A lot of fun with screen potential!

Of course, the fun of Dark Reign depended on your tolerance for indulging the temporary success of super-villains. I rather enjoyed today's feature fight for that very reason. I don't harbor dark designs of tyranny or sympathy for any devils. It's just an interesting break in the formulaic expectation of heroes winning. A necessary exercise in credibility when your villains have to keep coming back month over month, year over year. Marvel have some of my favourite villains in that respect, but the movies leave a lot to be desired.

Marvel's cinematic dominance highlights some of the unique cultural differences between pulp savvy comics and blockbuster movies. A glaring omission from the film universe has been Nazi Germany. It was at its most absurd in 2011's period introduction - Captain America: The First Avenger. In that episode, World War II managed to lose the looming menace of its major villains. They even stripped the Red Skull of his explicit Nazi persuasions in favor of creating the oblique evils of Hydra that continue in Marvel film and TV.

For the uninitiated, it can seem a little strange to lament the absence of Nazis - arguably modern history's worst villains. It all boils down to the significance of the 1940s and World War II to the timeline of American comic book publication.

Mandrake the Magician and The Phantom began the evolution of pulp and radio mystery men into comic book superheroes in the mid-thirties. Superman and Batman kick off the Golden Age of superheroes by the time war is breaking out in Europe. Major superhero identities flourish from there, joining the war effort in many cases, and establishing the idea for future generations to mine the time further. By the seventies and eighties, Nazis were perennial whipping boys. Villains for all time to be racked, stacked, and whacked by every hero fighting for truth and justice - no questions asked!

Given Baron Zemo's flirtations with redemption in the comic books, it's probably not such a bad idea to disconnect the son from his WWII Nazi father. I'd think a film version of The Masters of Evil is probably more likely than a Thunderbolts movie appearance, but with General Ross taking a bigger role, you never know.

I do know I'm very disappointed to see another classic Marvel character arrive on screen without their iconic visual. Marvel in general have been pretty guilty of continuing Hollywood's long, confused tradition of fearing superhero design. The Captain America films, in particular, have struggled to come to terms with visually striking characters. Red Skull awkwardly hid his true face behind a Hugo Weaving mask for much of the first film, while Batroc could only wear his shirt in the second, and Crossbones got a dorky home-made paintball version of his straight-forward comics look. Zemo was out of luck. No purple mask for you!

There'll be a whole lot more masks and costumes in our future as we continue to wage Secret Wars on Infinite Earths!

Soak up more Civil War influences with Old Comics Wednesday spotlights on Captain America and Spidey Team-Ups! Or find even more famous fights and curious callbacks via the Secret Archive!

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Winner: Baron Zemo
#7 (--) Captain America
#40 (--) Iron Fist
#101 (+224) Baron Zemo
#340 (-14) Hercules
#777 (new) Redwing
#803 (-23) Falcon