Saturday, April 11, 2020

Blood Ties: Prelude (DC)
Mortal Kombat X #1 When: March 2015
Why: Shawn Kittelsen How: Dexter Soy

The Story So Far...
While under deep cover with the Red Dragon clan, Special Forces agent Kenshi learned of the existence of a son living in Thailand. Abandoning his post, and the search for cultist Daegon, he raced to Lampang, where he arrived to find a bloodbath and the boy's dead mother: Suchin.

Finding his son in the next town, Kenshi must take the boy on the run as the Red Dragon pursue the double agent across Asia. The chase takes them to the wilderness of The Himalaya, where Hsu Hao leads a search right on his tail! With arrows soaring above, the fight is on!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Hsu Hao 4 (Enhanced)
Intelligence: Kenshi 3 (Straight A)
Speed: Kenshi 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Kenshi 4 (Athlete)
Agility: Kenshi 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting: Kenshi 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy: Hsu Hao 5 (Lasers)
Total: Kenshi 24 (Champion)

Most MK fans will tell you the writing's on the wall for this one...

Hsu Hao remains one of the great unloved characters from the series' 27 year history! If you're looking for him in the latest game, you'll only find a billboard reference to Hsu Hao watches, and Erron Black carrying his decapitated head!

The meta-text spells swift death for Hsu Hao, but in the arena of kombat he isn't necessarily a slouch! He's a physically powerful grappler, balancing his preference for close-quarters hand-to-hand fighting with a cybernetic heart capable of firing deadly energy beams. Think Bane with a touch of classic Metallo and you've got a rough idea of what this guy can do.

In his original video game appearance Hsu Hao was accomplished enough to infiltrate the Special Forces of the Outer-world Investigation Agency. In truth, he was a member of the ancient Red Dragon clan -- rival criminal organization to the better known Black Dragon. He was supposedly killed on debut once discovered by Jax, but Mortal Kombat is now existing in a new, rebooted timeline. So here he is -- for the first time all over again!

Blind sword saint Kenshi is undoubtedly a more skilled fighter than Hsu Hao, but faces overwhelming odds against the Red Dragon's innumerable foot soldiers. He's on the run - having spent time undercover with the clan in a reversal of roles with Hsu Hao. The necessary abruptness of his exit means he's burdened with the safety of a young son: Takeda. That could slow him down.

The once arrogant Kenshi wandered Japan, challenging warriors to prove his superiority as a swordsman. He was blinded when Shang Tsung tricked him into breaching the tomb seal of his warrior king ancestors. From this adversity, Kenshi learned to see with his mind's eye, mastering telekinesis and intuition that allows him to commune with the spirits of his ancient ancestors.

Hsu Hao missed the all-in melee of Mortal Kombat: Armageddon's opening sequence, but Kenshi featured, going 1-from-2 in fatal encounters with Sheeva, and Quan Chi. The intro offered a brief showcase of his swordsmanship.

Kenshi should be the favourite, but he enters the battle already under attack from overwhelming numbers, and fatigued from being on the run. His friends in the Special Forces won't be here to save him. Let's see what happens...

The Tape: Kenshi Ranking: Kenshi (#355)

What Went Down...

In the wilderness of the Himalayan ranges, Kenshi dashes across the grass with his son on his back. The small boy notices a volley of arrows, calling his fathers attention to the incoming threat. With a simple gesture, Kenshi cuts the arrows out of the air with his telekinetically guided sword!

The leaping sword saint lands heavy -- one arrow found its way into his leg!

He orders his son to run as Red Dragon soldiers arrive upon them on motorcycles. Hsu Hao leads, gloating that even the impressive mind of Kenshi fatigues when he's been running all night. They trade threats. Kenshi strikes!

Once again Kenshi's sword takes flight, but before it can pierce the cold heart of Hsu Hao its blasted out of the air by his cybernetic laser!

Somewhere nearby, Kenshi's son runs afoul a wayward member of the Red Dragon. Looming over the child, the foot soldier points to a scar he received from the boy's father. He contemplates selling Takeda into Outworld slavery -- only to be punished for his wicked words when a chain and kunai suddenly explode through his throat!

Hsu Hao is unaware of his minion's fate as he stands over Kenshi with blood running from his fists. He mocks the sword saint for failing to kill them, for hiding instead of fighting. Almost too beaten to speak, Kenshi croaks an ominous correction: "Not... hiding... Trespassing."

Again the mysterious kunai on a chain flies out of nowhere -- smashing through the lens of Hsu Hao's cybernetic enhancement! The spear-like weapon catches inside, launching Hsu Hao off his feet as its master pulls it back!

The flaming fist of Scorpion greets Hsu Hao with deadly accuracy! The force of the blow drives his fist straight through Hsu Hao's head -- spraying blood across the battlefield! The ninja barks a familiar command: "GET OUT OF HERE!"

A Red Dragon archer challenges the lone ninja, positing even he couldn't defeat them all. The point is rendered moot as a group of Shirai-Ryu ninja emerge from the surrounding wood behind their master. Scorpion wins!

The Hammer...
A dangerous plan plays out as Kenshi lures the Red Dragon into a Scorpion victory! Had the ninja arrived a second later - it would've been a very different result! Still a reasonably impressive showing for the losers, particularly considering Hsu Hao's notorious infamy!

The fight comprises the opening five pages of Mortal Kombat X #1, and was used to promote the launch of the series in digital and print formats. It ticks the boxes in terms of action, but had me feeling trepidatious upon first impression.

The importance of blood & guts to Mortal Kombat has always been exaggerated. Kung fu standards and character-driven finishing moves are a fun trademark of the games, but within a narrative setting it just wouldn't be satisfying to see all the characters killed. That isn't what makes Mortal Kombat worth following.

I say that knowing full well that the series has made a habit of temporarily killing off a chunk of its cast, particularly in the most recent installments.

Indeed, much of Mortal Kombat X deals with the fallout from 2011's Mortal Kombat, which retold and rewrote elements of the original canon, most notably concluding with the mass deaths of a majority of original trilogy heroes.

Liu Kang, Kitana, and all the iconic favourites were immediately restored, and made playable in MKX as revenants serving Quan Chi. A dubious solution that quickly stripped any dramatic tension from the threat of death, and weakened the unique status of characters like Scorpion and Noob Saibot by also redefining all fighters returned from the Netherrealm as "revenants".

Long time fans will remember Scorpion as a "spectre" whose personal tragedy drove him to return from Hell to seek vengeance against his killer. His Ghost Rider-like flaming skull, and lust to avenge the murder of his family & clan, gave meaning and distinction to what a spectre's curse could be. Even the revelation that his murdered nemesis, Sub-Zero, had returned as Noob Saibot, contributed something new and unique to the mythology: a rare example of a "wraith".

Case in point: I'm not strictly opposed to characters escaping death, but you can only play that card so many times before you kill the gimmick. It should be an exception to prove the rule, used as scarcely as death itself.

Notoriously unpopular Hsu Hao seems like a perfect candidate for permanent execution, but I'm reminded of Mysterio's demise in Daredevil #7, where the choice to knock-off an unfashionable villain nixed potential for a strong rethink.

I've long thought Mortal Kombat could gain something much more valuable by leaning in to Hsu Hao's bitter unpopularity, repurposing him as Frankenstein's Monster meets Kenny from South Park. A character comically destroyed each game, who returns stitched together with new Red Dragon tech and magic.

MK's checked a lot of boxes when it comes to movie references and archetypes, but there hasn't really been a Frankenstein type. I think Hsu Hao could suit that niche quite nicely, and become a more beloved character in the process.

After today's battle it seemed quite impossible. It's kind of hard to rebuild a guy once his head's been completely exploded. However, the tenuous premise that MKX comics would be tie-ins that actually matter has pretty much gone out the window. Hsu Hao makes a cameo in Mortal Kombat 11 as a very much intact, but decapitated head, during one of Erron Black's fight intros.

Hope springs eternal that Hsu Hao might get a second shot, but the series has come a long way since Daedly Alliance, and Mortal Kombat always has a tendency to relive material from the seminal titles of the early nineties. The next opportunity might not present itself for quite a while.

In fact, Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion's Revenge will take the series back to the tournament of the first game when the animated feature streams next week - April 12th! A home release follows later in the month, which you can order below using the Amazon link provided.

You can also find today's featured fight collected in Mortal Kombat X Vol. 1: Blood Ties. Using Amazon purchase links provided will not only get you a good deal - it helps support the site at no extra cost. So get over here!!

You can find more Mortal Kombat by following links throughout this post, or by diving into the Secret Archive where every featured fight is indexed by publisher and series. Scroll past the DC and Marvel lists to find more from MK!

If you like what Secret Wars on Infinite Earths is all about and want to see it succeed, you can support the project by signing up to Patreon. You can also easily connect with the site by subscribing via Twitter and Facebook. There you'll receive daily links to fights inspired by the topics of the day. A share and a like goes a long way to helping keep the wars infinite!

Winner: Scorpion (w/ Kenshi & Takeda)
#140 (+274) Scorpion (Hanzo Hasashi) [+2 kills]
#346 (+9) Kenshi [+1 assist]
#581 (new) Takahashi Takeda [+1 assist]
#909 (new) Hsu Hao

Friday, April 03, 2020

King of the Hill! (Marvel)
New Mutants #75 When: May 1989
Why: Louise Simonson How: John Byrne

The Story So Far...
When an attack on the X-Men's home turf led to the inevitable defeat of The Marauders -- an explosive device planted in the X-Mansion allowed Mister Sinister to strike the ultimate revenge against his enemies!

Unaware of the events that transpired; the New Mutants return from battling an alien called Gosamyr to make the shocking discovery that their school is in ruins!

A brief skirmish with an injured Sabretooth gives them a taste of what transpired, but there's no time to dwell on the past. A new threat arises when former Headmaster Magneto returns with The Hellfire Club at his side!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Sebastian Shaw 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Magneto 5 (Professor)
Speed: Cannonball 5 (Super-Human)
Stamina: Sebastian Shaw 7 (Unstoppable)
Agility: Warlock 6 (Malleable)
Fighting: Mirage 4 (Trained)
Energy: Selene 6 (Mass Destruction)
Total: Magneto 28 (Metahuman)

The New Mutants are: Cannonball, Sunspot, Wolfsbane, Mirage, Warlock, and Illyana Rasputin.

This is a young team, facing the challenge of a once trusted mentor, but that doesn't mean we should count them out. They'll all go on to great things, and already show signs of their future promise -- even at this early stage. On their way here they dealt with a short-lived challenge from a weakened Sabretooth.

The Hellfire Club are: "White King" Magneto, "Black King" Sebastian Shaw, "White Queen" Emma Frost, and "Black Queen" Selene.

The Inner Circle clearly have experience on their side - none more so than Magneto. His admission as White King comes with his intimate knowledge of the New Mutants, having served very recently as their Headmaster.

We've seen Magneto withstand the coordinated powers of the adult X-Men in X-Men #113. He's clearly a major threat all on his own, and even the telepathic assault that took him out in X-Men #25 is covered by his Hellfire Club support.

Emma Frost hasn't developed her diamond form yet, coming to the fight strictly as a powerful telepath. Sebastian Shaw offers super-human muscle, able to absorb any impact against him and convert it into strength. Selene rounds out the group with mastery over inanimate objects and life-draining.
This one really comes down to team dynamics and execution of strategy. For the New Mutants to have a real chance they'd need to clearly identify the strengths and weakness of themselves and their opponents.

This is long before Emma Frost will develop an invulnerable diamond form, so taking her telepathic powers out of the battle early with a frontal assault could be a good use of Cannonball or Wolfsbane. Removing Sebastian Shaw without powering him up could be a job for Warlock, who could eject him similarly to Nimrod in Uncanny X-Men #209. Wolfsbane could claw Selene, while Mirage's empathic image casting is free to attack Magneto at his core.

The New Mutants could also try to turn Magneto against his new teammates. Will the perfect scenario play out for them? Let's see how it went...

The Tape: New Mutants Ranking: Cannonball (#115)

What Went Down...

Hovering above the ruins of Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters: Magneto and The Hellfire Club survey the damage. Angered by their former headmaster's return, Sunspot grabs a massive hunk of damaged machinery and hurls it!

The steel equipment is effortlessly deflected by The Master of Magnetism, who also holds his clubmen afloat. He allows Black King, Sebastian Shaw, to descend and match Sunspot on the ground. He attacks with a devastating left hook!

Cannonball leaps to his teammate's defense for the second time this day, but finds his path to Shaw suddenly cut off by a rising wall of wreckage. A defensive measure courtesy of Selene, she who commands all that is inanimate!

Cannonball smashes into the wall and falls to his hands and knees!

He's too stunned to resist The Black Queen, who lingers over the fallen firebrand with sinister intent. She traces her hand over the back of Cannonball's neck, preparing to drain his life-force -- when she suddenly becomes a decrepit hag!

The transformation is a mere illusion plucked from Selene's own psyche by the empathic powers of Mirage! The young mutant makes her inner most fear a tangible reality, but she's soon undone by a psychic assault from Emma Frost!

The White Queen mentally forces Mirage to release Selene from her influence, inciting Warlock to bare massive fangs in defense of his teammate!

The techno-organic creature notes his imperviousness to Emma Frosts' telepathic bolts, but fails to consider his absolute vulnerability to the Master of Magnetism! His cartoonishly distorting body is swept toward the rest of the new Mutants, who find themselves collectively surrounded by twisting metal!

Tired of their rebellious opposition, Magneto holds his former students encased in a ball of metal to end the battle.

The Hammer...

With the New Mutants at his mercy: Magneto quizzes them about the young mystery girl in their company and their missing member. He's surprised to learn his once promising student, Illyana Rasputin, has chosen to become a child to avoid succumbing to her own darker impulses.

Despite their defeat, the New Mutants defiantly refuse to return to their former headmaster's tutelage. The team has simply seen the former villain make too many compromises to ever accept him as their teacher again.

This effectively concludes Magneto's four years as New Mutants Headmaster, and a member of the X-Men. He'll return to villainy shortly thereafter, rebuilding Asteroid M, and joining the cabal of conspiring villains in Acts of Vengeance. We saw how that led him to battle Spider-Man in Amazing Spider-Man #327.

The split from the New Mutants has immediate consequences within the pages of New Mutants #75, where Sebastian Shaw seizes the opportunity to challenge Magneto's position as White King. In the end it always comes down to in-fighting and power struggles with these people.

Shaw claims Magneto was elected into the Inner Circle as a leader of both the X-Men and New Mutants -- but now controls nothing. Magneto takes that about as well as you'd expect, and the two throw down for the main event battle hinted at on the cover of the issue [see; top]. You can be certain we'll return to take a closer look at that fight some time in the future!

Today was supposed to mark the long-awaited wide release of New Mutants in theatres, but FOX's final X-related film was once again delayed, by the closure of cinemas, and unprecedented measures to curb global spread of COVID-19.

These are strange days, but I figure Secret Wars on Infinite Earths can do its small part by continuing to feature some of the characters who would've been in theatres around this time. It's been a good time to do some extra reading while we're all self-isolating, and hopefully it provides a fun distraction.

As I've mentioned before, even as a young reader, I was never one to buy-in to kid heroes. That meant the New Mutants weren't really on my radar until a year later, when they got a major overhaul from the style guide of Rob Liefeld.

The revamp did a good job of shaking off the impression these were the geeks of the X-Men universe. I appreciate the effort to present them as authentically youthful and in training, but I've never been a big fan of this iteration of their matching black & gold uniforms. The update was well timed.

I appreciate that today's featured fight showed the New Mutants coming into their powers, but ultimately outclassed by their opponents. It moved necessary storylines forward, and avoided the dubious trope of kid-heroes overcoming unfathomable odds. This time the bad guys won and that feels credible.

Star pupil Cannonball did manage to violently kayo Sabretooth on the way to this fight, after Sunspot withstood a full rake of his claws. That was another well weighted way to give the team a win before they took a loss. It also set up a future rematch that we can officially add to the To Do list.

You can discover relevant past, present, and future fights by following links throughout this article, or by diving into the Secret Archive. That's where you'll find every battle indexed by publisher, series, and issue number! Or subscribe to Twitter and Facebook for daily links to battles inspired by the day's topics!

Secret Wars on Infinite Earths has featured well over 600 battles and counting! If you like superhero smackdown and want to see the service continue you can contribute via Patreon. Patrons gain insider access to the schedule, and can get involved with special feature articles and polls. Not to mention fostering my eternal gratitude and continued survival!

If today's battle has whetted your appetite, you can get the full story collected in Epic Collection New Mutants: Curse of the Valkyrie. Shop using the Amazon purchase link provided and you'll find yourself a good deal at a safe distance -- while Amazon supports the site at no extra cost! Nice!

Winners: Magneto & Hellfire Club
#81 (+60) Magneto
#182 (+288) Emma Frost
#390 (+508) Sebastian Shaw
#391 (+506) Selene
#128 (-13) Cannonball
#341 (-187) Sunspot
#353 (-156) Magik (Illyana Rasputin)
#357 (-128) Warlock (Phalanx)
#589 (-44) Mirage
#907 (new) Wolfsbane

Saturday, March 28, 2020

And They Shall Call Him... Champion! (Marvel)
Marvel Two-In-One Annual #7 When: October 1982 Why: Tom DeFalco How: Ron Wilson

The Story So Far...
The Fantastic Four's Thing has  earned a reputation as one of the universe's greatest fighters, having battled some of the most powerful beings in this universe - and beyond! Enter: Proja - Promoter Supreme!

Charged with signing worthy opponents to face The Champion of the Universe; Proja sees big box office potential in a match between Thing and his client! Madison Square Garden is the only arena in the world that could stage this once in a lifetime title bout, but you can't have a main event without an undercard!

Thor was disqualified when he brought his enchanted hammer into the ring, and Hulk was deemed too much of a brute to be allowed to compete. Now it's up to Alpha Flight heavyweight Sasquatch to bring brains and brawn to blows against the fresh fists of The Champion!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Champion 7 (Omnipotent)
Intelligence: Sasquatch 6 (Genius)
Speed: Draw 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Champion 7 (Unstoppable)
Agility: Draw 2 (Average)
Fighting: Champion 7 (Living Weapon)
Energy: Draw 1 (None)
Total: Champion of the Universe 29 (Metahuman)

Champion of the Universe came into this with a lot of fanfare and bluster, but at this point you'd be within your rights to wonder if it's all just hype. Let's take a closer look at the tournament so far to see exactly what's happened!

Two heavyhitters were taken out before the action even started: Doc Samson was knocked out cold by his training robot, and Sub-Mariner refused to fight on grounds of not lowering himself to "such folly".

When Thor finally stepped into the ring to begin proceedings, he was swiftly disqualified for bringing a hammer to a boxing match. It was a no contest with Hulk as well when he was deemed too much of a brute to compete!

So far it seems like all The Champion has done is talk trash, and duck & dodge his most powerful challengers with technicalities. So what's he gonna do next? Disqualify his opponent on grounds of fur constituting illegal body covering?!

We know from future reference that Tryco Slatterus actually is the real deal. All you've gotta do is check out the way he dominated She-Hulk in their first match to see that! Don't count his next opponent out, though. This time it's different!

Sasquatch answers the question of what would happen if the Hulk retained the brilliant mind of a scientist. He's a professor of physics whose experiments with gamma radiation gave him super-human strength with total control.

So far Sasquatch has an 0-1 record on Secret Wars on Infinite Earths, but that loss only came after he stood his ground against all four members of the mystically powered Wrecking Crew in Omega Flight #1!

Dr. Walter Langkowski is pretty impressive, and although he's regarded as a strongman and brawler, his background as a professional football player means he should understand the competitive conditions Champion demands. Can he put it together with the fate of the Earth on the line? Let's find out!

The Tape: Champion of the Universe Ranking: Champion of the Universe (#337)

What Went Down...
Sasquatch materializes in the ring an instant after Hulk has disappeared for disqualification. The Champion is beginning to lose faith in Earth's challengers, but his spirits rise when Sasquatch side-steps the first punch!

Sensing a need to keep The Champion off balance, Sasquatch slips around him with a go-behind into a high waist lock.

The wrestling-style tactic falls flat with The Champ, who'd expect the referee to break it up -- if he didn't solve his own problem with a shrug of the shoulder, and thrust of his forearm in Sasquatch's general direction!

Champion follows it up with a wild left that hits deep and launches Sasquatch backwards into the ropes. He callously urges Sasquatch to fight back. He does!

Having played possum to try to expose hidden motives for The Champion of the Universe's game, Sasquatch decides to stop holding back. He bounces off the ropes and leaps with momentum towards a finishing blow -- or so he thinks!

The wild trajectory of Sasquatch's jump takes him straight into the sweet spot of The Champion's devastating left hook! There's nothing he can do to stop the impact as Champ's glove smashes against his jaw!

The phenomenal power of the perfect strike leaves Sasquatch out on his feet -- keeling over for a ten count. The biggest challenger, the hardest to fall!

The Hammer...
A valiant effort from Sasquatch in the first real fight of the tournament, but Champion of the Universe is clearly still the undisputed champ! His pugilistic power was just too much for Sasquatch's catch-as-catch-can confusion.

Champion really needed a convincing win after two non-starters with Thor and Hulk. Boy did he get it! That last shot of Sasquatch doubling over, drool pouring from his mouth, is a pretty effective and haunting image.

Something about the bluntness of it really sells the utter devastation of The Champ's last blow. It's fairly unusual to see a character like Sasquatch look so physically pathetic. The heavy shadow enhances the drama, while Champion's idle posture conveys how utterly unconcerned he is with his defeated foe.

I presume there was some concern with the depiction of blood throughout the issue. I don't think its absence hurts any of the fights, though. That stream of saliva might be even more disturbing. Blood can happen from an incidental blow to the brow or lip, but to drool like that you need to be completely slack-jawed!

Top marks to artist Ron Wilson for creating such a distinct and dramatic image for the third bout. We've already seen him create a different style and character for each battle, with three more to go. That shouldn't be taken for granted!

Sasquatch might seem like a slightly unusual contender through today's prism, but in 1982 he was still a fresh and exciting addition to the Marvel Universe, having debuted early in the Claremont & Byrne run on X-Men, in 1979.

It was some clever booking to have Sasquatch step into the ring right after Hulk was eliminated for being too much of a brute. Sasquatch immediately addresses what might've happened had Hulk retained greater clarity and intellect. I would presume that might also be the reason Doc Samson was taken out before the fighting even began. They're both gamma irradiated powerhouses.

I don't quite buy the self-sacrificing stalling tactic to find out Champion's "real" motivation for threatening the Earth, but it at least gave Sasquatch fans an argument to save face for his ultimately brutal beating.

Sasquatch was also a competitor in the Contest of Champions just a month or two prior to Marvel Two-In-One Annual #7. Which happens to be one of the reasons we've finally come back to revisit the boxing tournament! He's currently appearing in our unofficial sequel! You can check out The Contest: Swamp Thing vs Sasquatch for all the details on how that works, and what went down!

When next we reconvene to Madison Square Garden we'll be seeing if the steely mutant mettle of Colossus can bring an end to the reign of Tryco Slatterus as Champion of the Universe! I hope you'll be here to join me when it happens!

At the time of this writing, the majority of sporting leagues have been put on indefinite hold while the world faces the deadly spread of COVID-19. I'll be doing my best to keep the fight alive with the usual superhero smackdown.

If you need a sporting distraction: you can find well over 600 featured fights on Secret Wars on Infinite Earths! They're indexed in the Secret Archive in order of publisher, series, and issue number. You can also discover more by following links throughout this post, or getting daily updates via Twitter and Facebook!

If you like what Secret Wars on Infinite Earths is all about, and want to help it succeed, you can contribute to the project via Patreon. Patrons receive inside access to the schedule and special request feature articles. Not to mention my eternal gratitude and continued survival!

Winner: Champion of the Universe
#109 (+228) Champion of the Universe
#920 (-231) Sasquatch

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

It had to happen! The Grandmaster has watched the Secret Wars on Infinite Earths for many years and now he comes with a challenge: I must select 12 heroes & villains from the DC Universe to do battle against his Champions of the Marvel Universe! Grandmaster's team competed in the first Contest of Champions and set an allowance of 5000pts based on fixed Fight Club Rankings. Each battle will be decided by you in fantasy fight polls held on Twitter, Facebook and Patreon!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Draw 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Sasquatch 6 (Genius)
Speed: Sasquatch 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Swamp Thing 6 (Generator)
Agility: Swamp Thing 7 (Unlimited)
Fighting: Draw 3 (Street Wise)
Energy: Swamp Thing 4 (Arsenal)
Total: Swamp Thing 33 (Super)

With the last fight the score with The Grandmaster was evened, but I've already spent over a fifth of my allowance just for that! I've got to start looking for some bargain recruits to conserve points for the big fights still ahead. Today's Contest is a challenge, but I think I've got a good contender!

The Grandmaster looked globally when he recruited for the original Contest of Champions, and he found a powerhouse with brains to match his brawn in the cold of Canada. Dr. Walter Langkowski is a brilliant biophysicist whose experiments with gamma radiation turned him into the Sasquatch!

Sasquatch very literally answered the question of what it would be like if the Hulk could retain the brilliant mind of Bruce Banner. He can transform at will, retaining his intellect when he becomes a super-strong, super-durable, shaggy beast. He's even fought toe-to-toe with the Hulk, and we saw him make a commendable stand against all four members of The Wrecking Crew in Omega Flight #1!

Sasquatch is clearly a brawler to be reckoned with, but I think Swamp Thing transcends brawling!

As an avatar for "The Green"; Swamp Thing is in touch with all things in nature. His body is literally comprised of vegetation, giving him the strength of the mightiest oak - and the regenerative powers of the most stubborn weeds. He can also call upon local flora to attack and ensnare his opponents, and that's what I'm counting on making life very difficult for Sasquatch.

Swamp Thing's been greatly under represented here on Secret Wars on Infinite Earths, which means he's a steal at just 52pts. His current low ranking of #902 is due to a single recorded battle ending in unlikely defeat to Scarecrow in Swamp Thing #19. There, Scarecrow managed to trigger the fear-inducing formula that could chemically effect Swamp Thing. An unlikely risk against Sasquatch!

I think Swamp Thing can go pound-for-pound with Sasquatch, but if he happened to come out second best in a trading of blows, I think he'll regrow any damaged parts, and call unleash surrounding plant-life to tangle Sasquatch up!

The Verdict...
I knew Swamp Thing had the potential to be a powerful favourite in this match-up, but would his vast mastery of "The Green" come into play in a brawl against the mythic man-beast Sasquatch?

@DCWorldSwampy didn't need convincing, seeing it fairly one-sided: "Swampy, hands down." The Sentry & The Void - Nazar echoed those sentiments: "Swamp Thing. Easily too." Their certainty about Swamp Thing's powers reflected an early lead, but there were still questions.

Talking Alpha Flight offered a different perspective, focusing on the otherworldly aspect of Sasquatch's transformation as a potential equalizer: "People are giving it to Swampy bc they think of Sasquatch as a Hulk knock off, only a strong man. Sasquatch is actually one of the Great Beasts! Langkowski controls the body but Sasquatch is as supernatural as Swamp Thing".

Sam King felt location would be the deciding factor, noting: "Home field advantage is everything in this one!" @DaveWGeary took that thought even further, 'Are they on Earth? We know Swamp Thing suffers when distant from the Green.' He also had concerns about incarnations of each character, "Is it Walter's mind or has he lost to the [beast] again? Otherwise question can't be answered."

For the sake of debate, The Contest isn't rooted in any particular location. Exact incarnations are up for debate too, although Secret Wars on Infinite Earths always favours a loose, iconic impression.

In the end, it was probably the iconic regenerative and environmental powers of Swamp Thing that saw him through to a comfortable 65.8% majority via Twitter. Technical issues on Facebook meant there was no alternative to challenge that figure.

That means the monster mash of Round 3 goes to Secret Wars on Infinite Earths!

We'll be back for Round 4 later this month! Keep your eyes on The Contest for the latest battles, and on Twitter, Facebook, and Patreon for regular updates. You can also tell me how you think today's fight should've gone by posting in the comments, or on social media. I'd love to hear from you!

Winner: Swamp Thing
The Grandmaster: - 1
Secret Wars on Infinite Earths: - 2

Monday, March 23, 2020

King of the Hill! (Marvel)
New Mutants #75 When: May 1989
Why: Louise Simonson How: John Byrne

The Story So Far...
When The Marauders attacked the X-Men on their home turf, the short-lived siege was seemingly thwarted -- but a hidden explosive device within the X-Mansion itself allowed Mister Sinister to make a final strike.

The combined ranks of X-Factor and the X-Men recovered from the blast to defeat Mister Sinister, but there was nothing they could do about the mansion's destruction.

When the New Mutants return home from battling the alien Gosamyr, they're shocked to discover the school in ruins. Unaware of the battle that transpired, they scour the wreckage for survivors. When Mirage senses someone clinging to life, they jump into action to rescue them from the rubble.

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Sunspot 5 (Super-Human)
Intelligence: Sabretooth 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Cannonball 5 (Super-Human)
Stamina: Sabretooth 5 (Marathoner)
Agility: Warlock 6 (Malleable)
Fighting: Sabretooth 7 (Living Weapon)
Energy: Magik 5 (Lasers)
Total: Sabretooth 28 (Metahuman)

Sabretooth is no stranger to stalking young mutants, and today he's got the scent of a fresh batch of students from Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters!

The New Mutants are: Cannonball, Sunspot, Wolfsbane, Mirage, Warlock, and Illyana Rasputin. The team is green, but not so untested that they can't rely on their powers to handle themselves.

There's an obvious parallel between Wolfsbane's werewolf-like, lycanthropic transformation, and the animal savagery of Sabretooth. He was quite lean in these days, but probably still holds a size and weight advantage over her -- something Wolverine had to contend with over the years, as in Wolverine #50.

Sabretooth also has a wealth of experience as a mercenary, but that hasn't always informed his fighting style. He typically relied on brute strength and malice against the speed and finesse of Iron Fist, narrowly coming up short in both Iron Fist #14, and Power Man & Iron Fist #66.

None of the New Mutants has the martial arts skills, or speed & agility of Iron Fist, but that might not be such a problem. in Adventures of the X-Men #7, he returned to the X-Mansion to stalk Jubilee, but was ultimately thwarted when she gave Professor Xavier enough time to recover from being attacked.

Mirage could use her empathic image casting to mentally soothe the savage beast with visions of something calming. Failing that, there's always the kinetic impact of Cannonball, or solar enhanced strength of Sunspot!

DC's Superboy combined both flight and strength to put Sabretooth down hard during a crossover battle with the Teen Titans in Unlimited Access #3! He won't have the tricks Deadpool used to ground Cannonball in New Mutants #98, or solar absorption that helped Iron Man win in Contest of Champions II #1.

Can the New Mutants stare down the intimidating sadism of Sabretooth? He's got the element of surprise, but also the bruises of recent battle. How will it all play out? Let's take a look...

The Tape: New Mutants Ranking: Sunspot (#155)

What Went Down...

Standing in horror amidst the wreckage of Xavier's decimated School for Gifted Youngsters, the New Mutants are alone and shell shocked.

As they consider the possibilities of who could've been responsible for such destruction, and who may've been present: Mirage detects the rising death glow of someone clinging precariously to life. Sunspot powers-up to investigate...

Sabretooth springs from beneath the massive piece of rubble lifted by Sunspot. He thanks his rescuer with the sharp side of his claws, raking them across his solar-powered face!

Seeing his friend in peril, Cannonball launches into action -- flying across the battlefield on a beeline towards the attacker!

The mutant missile collides with Sabretooth with unforgiving speed!

The force of the blow snaps Sabretooth backward, sending him tumbling head over heels back into the rubble. Face down and already exhausted, the fight leaves him as the New Mutants attempt to find out who Sabretooth is.

He introduces himself, gloating over the fruits of the Marauder's labour. It was their siege on the X-Men and X-Factor that led Sinister to destroy the mansion!

The taunts trail off -- seemingly Sabretooth's final words when Warlock detects his vital signs ceasing. Mirage senses no such passing, intuiting his inevitable survival through her "Valkyrie Gift" to see death coming, while the group resumes contemplating their present situation.

The Hammer...
Cannonball claims a pretty major scalp early in his career, even if Sabretooth was already pretty banged up by the X-mansion explosion.

Could it have gone any other way? It's hard to say. Despite his well earned and fearsome reputation; Sabretooth has a knack for being a bit of a punching bag -- especially during this period in the late eighties.

Even before the mansion was brought down, he'd been defeated with a psychic strike from Psylocke, in one of their first encounters. We also saw Mister Sinister brush him off pretty swiftly barely two years prior, in Uncanny X-Men #221.

Sabretooth is currently the lowest ranked character in the Fight Club Rankings at #961. The string of unanswered defeats doesn't seem adequately reflective of his stature, but it's difficult to deny a higher than average rate of losing.

Bad guys generally trend toward more losses than wins, and Sabretooth is one of the worst! He also has the added pressure of a healing factor, which means he can take a kicking and come back ticking. That gives writers license to knock him around. In fictional terms, it can also make him over confident and a bit sloppy. Similar can be said of Wolverine, who currently has a 52.5% win rate.

Appropriately enough: Wolverine is the only opponent on record that Sabretooth has managed to fight without losing. Even then, the Wolverine #50 tied result ended with both characters mortally wounded. He's decapitated and written off for several years by the end of the multi-issue struggle. Not a high point.

He seemingly died at the end of this battle, but as Mirage notes for the reader, death isn't coming for him. A pretty clear message that fans can look forward to more trouble from Sabretooth.

He will return in the pages of New Mutants, and I seem to remember something about Mister Sinister experimenting with Sabretooth clones, but that's a messy concept I'd rather not think about right now.

We shall simply commit this one to the books. It's a pretty obscure fight, easily overlooked in favour of two others, most notably the cover featured main event between Magneto and Sebastian Shaw. You can bet we'll be revisiting the issue to look more closely at both of the other battles at some time in the future.

If you want to read ahead to see the whole shebang for yourself you can find this issue collected in Epic Collection New Mutants: Curse of the Valkyrie. Use the Amazon purchase link provided and you'll get yourself a good deal and make sure Amazon supports the site at no extra cost to you!

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Winner: Cannonball (w/ Sunspot)
#114 (+229) Cannonball
#153 (+2) Sunspot [+1 assist]
#961 (--) Sabretooth