Friday, March 16, 2018

The Secret Origin of Jessica Jones 2 of 2 (Marvel)
Alias #23 When: August 2003
Why: Brian Michael Bendis How: Michael Gaydos

The Story So Far...
Jessica Campbell was an ordinary kid until her life was turned upside down by a car accident on the way home from a family trip to Disney World.

The collision with a military convoy carrying hazardous chemicals killed her family, and left Jessica in a coma for six months. She awakens to a world in chaos as Galactus and his herald touch down in Manhattan.

If that wasn't bad enough: Jessica is soon adopted, and returned to a life of high school bullying and flashbacks to her family's death. The only upside is that she can now fly and break trees with a firm shove! With great power comes great possibility and fate is about to deliver Jessica to her first heroic moment!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Draw 5 (Super-Human)
Intelligence: Jessica Jones 3 (Straight A)
Speed: Draw 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Draw 5 (Marathoner)
Agility: Scorpion 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting: Scorpion 3 (Street Wise)
Energy: Scorpion 3 (Explosives)
Total: Scorpion 24 (Champion)

Every superhero origin story has its confrontation with a first foe. Some stories start with a nemesis that will stay with the hero for their entire career. In the case of Jessica Jones, the story is a bit more simple than that.

A family car accident involving certain hazardous materials left Jessica Jones in a coma, and unwittingly endowed with extraordinary powers. Living in an age of Marvels in New York City, she naturally considered using her newfound super-human strength, endurance, and ability to fly to fight crime.

Fate had already crossed Jessica's path with various super-human phenomena. Like many young girls, she admired teen heart throb Human Torch, unknowingly went to high school with Spider-man, nearly shared a chemical bath with Daredevil, woke from her coma when Galactus was in town, and was even rescued from drowning by a passing Thor! Which brings us to her first fight!

Scorpion was once private investigator Mac Gargan, but when he was hired to learn more about Peter Parker's connection to Spider-man - his life changed forever! In the pursuit of results, Daily Bugle Editor J. Jonah Jameson paid to submit Gargan to an experiment to grant him super-human powers.

Gargan possesses super-human strength, durability, reflexes, speed, and agility. He's also capable of clinging to walls, and wears an advanced powersuit with a trademark tail. Operating as an extra appendage with impressive whipping strength, the tail has also been upgraded to offer a variety of extras: spikes, poisons, electrical charge, acid spray, laser projectiles and more.

His most frequent sparring partner has been Spider-man, but over the years Scorpion has been a formidable foe to the likes of: Ms. Marvel, Captain America, The Avengers, Alpha Flight, and even the Rhino!

We've only seen the classic Scorpion in moments of defeat. Spider-man put an end to his mad vow for revenge in Spectacular Spider-man #215. He was also out maneuvered by Batman during a crossover in DC/Marvel: All Access #3!

Jessica Jones undoubtedly has the strength and endurance to take on Scorpion, but this early in her career, it's fair to question her preparedness for the wild strikes the villain is capable of. A lapse of concentration during a dark period left her exposed to The Owl during a flashback in The Pulse #13.

Scorpion's mental state isn't exactly balanced, and although he's more powerful than Spider-man, he's been known to be outwitted. Jessica's inexperience gives Scorpion an edge in combat, but also means she hasn't learnt fear. The Tape tells a tale that favours Scorpion. Let's see if it's right...

The Tape: Scorpion Ranking: Jessica Jones (#94)

What Went Down...

In the park: Jessica Jones tests her newfound powers with relative success. She can hoist a bike above her head no trouble, and snapping an oak requires little more than a small run-up. Flying is a little trickier, but once she takes off it isn't long before she has a bird's eye view of the world!

In town, the costumed villain known as Scorpion is on a desperate dash for cash and a bee-line out of the city! He uses his suit's tail to shatter the window of a local laundromat and issue his demands.

It isn't exactly Fort Knox in terms of security -- or riches. His targets don't have much more than loose change and dirty clothes. The deranged Scorpion isn't about to change his plans any time soon, though.

He re-issues his demands, threatening the perturbed trio of laundromat patrons with a wiggle of his tail. He clearly didn't notice the girl flying above him.

It wasn't the most elegant take down, but a girl with super-human strength dropping out of the sky doesn't exactly need style points. The impact does it's job - knocking Scorpion out cold before he even knew what him!

Jessica sits on top of the unconscious villain - slightly stunned. Passersby ask if she's the latest superhero in town. After a moment's pause, she decides that's exactly what she is. They discuss her lack of costume, confident in the safety of Jessica's first heroic triumph!

The Hammer...
Every hero has their first fight, but they don't always claim victory on debut. It may've been unorthodox, but Jessica Jones notches up a big win in her first outing! Not bad for a rookie!

Scorpion probably isn't the most obvious foe for a teen Jessica Jones, but I always appreciate it when writers pick up on a small detail that inspires otherwise unusual pairings.

Jessica Jones' superhero career doesn't exactly go well. Eventually she quits the costume biz and gets into more down-to-earth work with Alias Investigations. That little meta connection to Mac Gargan's origins as a P.I. is a lot of fun, and elevates an otherwise arbitrary pairing to something more interesting.

It surprises me slightly that the two characters didn't have more to do with each other. I can't think of any stories that revisited the pairing, and I wonder if that's still fertile territory left untouched.

As a mature readers MAX series: Alias ultimately had higher-minded ideas, tackling a darker side of the Marvel Universe, most notably with the invasive exploitation by Purple Man -- the series' most challenging and iconic plot.

Jessica Jones did eventually make it into wider circulation via The Pulse, though: A short-lived series that turned private investigator Jones into a "vigilante analyst" for The Daily Bugle.

Mac Gargan has a long held homicidal hatred for Bugle Editor in Chief, J Jonah Jameson. A great many of his appearances have largely revolved around violent attacks on the publisher! Which would've made it very easy to bring Scorpion into Jessica's life again for a positive ID on the unmasked girl who sat on him. Thus igniting a beautiful new arch-rivalry!

I might've even enjoyed a brief return to Gargan's skills as an investigator.

Most stories tend to double-down on the madness Gargan incurred after being forced to live inside his Scorpion suit. That hatred of J Jonah Jameson, of course, is owed to his role in taking the humble investigator, and making him a half-crazed super-villain who needed a bright green suit to live.

At the time of The Pulse: Gargan was bonded to the Venom Symbiote - meaning he could've easily operated more discreetly than the days of relying on his bulky green power-suit. Perhaps a moment of lucidity leads Gargan to try attacking [The Bugle] where it hurts, by lending his investigative services to a publishing rival? It's hindsight, but it might've been a fun avenue to see explored.

Jessica Jones' future feels a little uncertain with creator Brian Bendis leaving for DC Comics. If new writers take her forward in the Marvel Universe, I wonder if some of these ideas might get a run. The character is still recent enough that her history might inspire further exploration. Scorpion is tipped to be a big deal again, too, if Sony follow through with that Silver Sable/Black Cat movie.

As you can probably tell, I don't love Scorpion as the comedy punching bag, but Alias was hardly the first time he fell flat on his face. These days he's back in the Scorpion suit and mixing it up with Spidey and Black Cat. Heck, even Shocker survived the serial mocking Bendis treatment to make it big again.

I could go on for many more hours about B tier villains, but it's probably time we wrap this up. There are many more fights to get to!

If you'd like to examine today's featured fight in its entirety, you can do just that by picking up a collected edition via the Amazon link provided [embedded right]! Doing so helps support the site at no extra charge to you!

Note: Alias is a Marvel MAX mature readers series. It contains adult language and sensitive subjects. Please ensure you are making responsible, age-appropriate decisions before making the purchase.

Need more superhero smackdown in your life? Follow links throughout this post to discover new and exciting battles. Or just dive into the Secret Index to access hundreds of fights organized by publisher, series, and issue number! Subscribe to Twitter and Facebook for daily links to fights inspired by the topic of the day! A like, share, or retweet is another great way to show your support!

Winner: Jessica Jones
#56 (+38) Jessica Jones
#373 (-7) Scorpion (Mac Gargan)

Friday, March 09, 2018

The Phoenix Gambit: Part Four Black Queen's Mate (DC)
Suicide Squad #43 When: July 1990
Why: John Ostrander & Kim Yale How: Geof Isherwood

The Story So Far...
The Suicide Squad have been dissolved, and Amanda Waller imprisoned, but political unrest in the Eastern European nation of Vlatava has forced the powers that be to reactivate their expendable black-ops force!

Now operating as a fully autonomous outfit under Waller's command; a team, partially reassembled by The Batman, infiltrates Vlatava under the guise of going freelance to a global market!

Russian General Kaligari agrees to hire Waller under strict conditions, working to expedite hardline aggressions against the deranged Count Vertigo, and his Vlatavian resistance. In truth, the Squad work against the Russians, aiming to bring in one of their toughest agents -- the man wanted in connection to an assassination in Gotham City: Ivan Illyich Gort - Stalnoivolk!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Stalnoivolk 5 (Super-Human)
Intelligence: Bronze Tiger 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Vixen 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Stalnoivolk 6 (Generator)
Agility: Vixen 5 (Cat-like)
Fighting: Bronze Tiger 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy: Draw 1 (None)
Total: Stalnoivolk 25 (Champion)

It's a classic case of speed and skill against brute strength! The martial arts mastery of Bronze Tiger is unleashed by Amanda Waller with a mission to prove that even an invulnerable man can succumb to the right technique!

Bronze Tiger's target is a Secret Wars on Infinite Earths newcomer: Ivan Illyich Gort, aka; Stalnoivolk - translated as "Steel Wolf"!

Gort is the product of Soviet experimentation during the Second World War. He was born in the early 1900s, but his aging was drastically retarded by the process that also granted him phenomenal super-human strength, endurance, and stamina.

He could have been the first of many, but Stalin ensured his Steel Wolf would hunt alone. The fiercely loyal Soviet super-soldier participated in hostilities in Ukraine, only to be exiled to Siberia after the war. He was eventually recalled to action by the cold and calculating Major Zastrow, to participate in his covert super-human group Red Shadows.

Today we find Stalnoivolk operating under Zastrow to suppress rebels in Count Vertigo's homeland of Vlatava. He's best known for confronting the suspected nuclear threat of Firestorm, and covert operations of the Suicide Squad. As it so happens -- today: he is the Suicide Squad's covert operation!

Bronze Tiger is fighting master enough to challenge most strong-man types, but it's fair to say there's an air of mismatch when he goes up against Stalnoivolk.

It also doesn't help that Ben Turner isn't in the best of mental states, having been severely rattled under interrogation from Sargent Steel, before the Suicide Squad were officially disbanded as a government operation. The cold control he exhibited fighting Ravan in Suicide Squad #2, or taking care of Enchantress in Legends #3, is replaced with a recklessness that could prove dangerous.

His former lover Mari McCabe, aka; Vixen, secretly has his back, but in his current state The Tiger has no desire to call upon her assistance. She isn't exactly thrilled with the idea of offering it, either. The Ben Turner she once loved is a memory replaced by a man haunted by past misdeeds.

Which is a shame, because Vixen is arguably the better match-up for Stalnoivolk. Her ability to channel the morphogenetic field through her tantu totem means she can emulate characteristics of the strongest animals. That allowed her to go it alone against Professor Ivo and his androids in her own moment of darkness [Justice League of America #261]. She's also gone toe-to-toe with Wonder Woman in JLA: Classified #3, and Volcano Man during Justice League of America (Vol. 2) #15!

If Bronze Tiger and Vixen can get on the same page, they should be able to match the brute force of Stalnoivolk. If they don't, there's a real danger they'll just get in each other's way! The combined stats favour the Suicide Squad duo, but do not count out the simplicity of Stalnoivolk's power!

The Tape: Bronze Tiger & Vixen Ranking: Bronze Tiger (#79)

What Went Down...
Walking the streets of Vlatava; Stalnoivolk receives a call summoning him back to Red Shadow headquarters. It sufficiently distracts him from the figure leaving the shadows behind him. The mystery man strikes with deadly precision!

The blow to the base of the skull manages to send Stalnoivolk to his knees! The attacker is Bronze Tiger -- and he doesn't believe in true invulnerability!

Stalnoivolk defiantly digs his fingers into the concrete sidewalk beneath him and hurls the rubble at his looming attacker! He manages to catch Bronze Tiger by surprise -- momentarily blinding the martial arts assassin!

The Russian powerhouse rushes to capitalize on his gambit, but the Tiger can sense his movements. He vaults over the hulking super-soldier, buying enough time to regain his vision!

With clear sight on his target - Bronze Tiger responds with a furious flurry of targeted strikes! He hits a knee, the jaw, the back of the skull -- all in an effort to bring the "steel wolf" down!

The Tiger finishes his combo by thrusting both feet at Stalnoivolk's face -- but the Russian super-soldier catches him by the ankles! He's getting annoyed!

Luckily for Bronze Tiger, his Suicide Squad teammate and ex-lover Vixen has been following him. She leaps from the rooftops above and summons the charging power of a wild rhinoceros - targeting Stalnoivolk's steel back!

The super-human sneak attack involuntarily arches Stalnoivolk's back, releasing his grip on Bronze Tiger! The martial artist spills to his back, but wastes no time reorienting to capitalize on the unexpected assist!

Vixen channels a stampeding elephant into her punch as she strikes the wolf of steel's skull for the umpteenth time! At that same moment: Bronze Tiger thrusts his heel into Stalnoivolk's chest at full force!

The Russian finally falls! Invulnerable, but not undefeatable!

The Hammer...
At last we can answer the riddle: How do you defeat an invulnerable Steel Wolf? With the pure power of a stampeding elephant, and the striking ferocity of a tiger, of course!

After deep diving into Black Panther's origins last month; it might seem as if we're keeping up a theme of featured feline fighters. It's mostly a coincidence of what I've been reading lately, and maybe a little bit of influence from the recent Winter Olympic Games. I saw a whole lot of foulplay from Russians during the games. What's with that, any way?

The thought occurs that Bronze Tiger would be a very interesting opponent for Black Panther, should we ever get another round of DC versus Marvel fantasy fights! He's kind of a fusion of the physical discipline and mastery of Bronze Tiger, and the animalistic spirituality of Vixen!

Fans have often posited Black Panther works well as a counterpart for Batman, but there's no shortage of those. Who could resist a "cat fight" between two hand-to-hand masters of Black and Bronze?... Speaking of which: we really will have to get to Bronze Tiger's famous fight with Batman sometime soon!

As noted: I've been busied with the pages of Suicide Squad of late, reliving some of their classic conflicts from the back-half of the memorable run.

The Cold War was basically deemed done & dusted by this time in the series, but with a character as fun as Stalnoivolk, who wouldn't want to go back for another round of Soviet espionage and hostility? Facebook trolls and nudging speed skaters pale in comparison to the man dubbed Steel Wolf!

Regular readers know I love a good, simple second tier villain, and the bushy moustached Stalinist fits the bill perfectly! He's a great no frills kinda bad guy! A WWII relic who almost serves as a Russian counterpart to a 1940s Superman.

Stalnoivolk is a "man of steel" from behind the iron curtain - just as capable of leaping tall buildings, or out-pounding the powerful surf, as early era Supes! Like classic era Superman, he also doesn't do much more than take a good punch - or deliver one! The presentation is more austere, but that's both part of its charm, and the effectiveness of the character as a threat of will.

John Ostrander apparently created Stalnoivolk as a Firestorm villain, but he's arguably at his best as a threatening presence stalking the periphery throughout his Suicide Squad run. The Russian shows up pretty early as a continuation of threads from the first year's mission to Moscow [which went poorly]. 1990's "Phoenix Gambit" may come at a time when Cold War tension was losing topical relevance -- but it was the showdown readers had to have been waiting for!

The fight described is an action-packed moment of triumph for two of The Squad's best heroic characters, but it also shows the breakdown of their one-time romantic relationship.

The modern Bronze Tiger is fairly inseparable from Suicide Squad, but their mutually shared arc also did a lot to move Vixen forward after the final days of the Detroit era Justice League [see; Vixen versus Professor Ivo]. She goes into the Suicide Squad an emotionally broken hero, and comes out of it stronger. An inverse to the Bronze Tiger story, which finds him broken by Sarge Steel's grilling amid the governmental dissolving of the Squad in the previous story arc. It also plays to his earlier days brainwashed by the League of Assassins.

Ostrander [and Yale]'s
Suicide Squad is a great time just about anywhere you might drop-in, but as I'm finding out while I fill in gaps, it's much more satisfying read in its entirety!

The accumulation of character development, sub-plots, and high concepts is really fantastic. In many ways, the content feels very relevant to our present world. Yet I'm not entirely sure if the long form spread would lend itself to the more timid aspects of our present pop culture.

If you've enjoyed dipping a toe into Suicide Squad with today's featured fight, you can currently seek out trade paperback collections for most of the original run. Using the link provided [right] will even help support the site at no extra charge to you!

As always, you can find plenty more action by following your curiosity to links littered throughout this post, tags down the bottom, or by plunging into the Secret Archive for an index of every fight organized by publisher, series, and issue number!

You can also subscribe to Secret Wars on Infinite Earths via Twitter and Facebook to get daily links to fights inspired by the topics of the day! A like and a share is a great way to spread the word and support the site!

Winners: Vixen & Bronze Tiger
#48 (+31) Bronze Tiger
#69 (+49) Vixen
#845 (new) Stalnoivolk

Friday, February 23, 2018

Chapter 4: Third Contest: Siege in the City of the Dead! (Marvel)
Marvel Super Hero Contest of Champions #3 When: August 1982 Why: Mark Gruenwald, Steven Grant & Bill Mantlo How: John Romita Jr

The Story So Far...
Across the universe there exists immortal entities whose existence determines cosmic reality. The Grandmaster is one such being: an Elder of the Universe whose taste for games inspires a Contest of Champions!

Snatching the world's heroes from a temporarily frozen Earth; The Grandmaster drafts a team of twelve to represent him in a contest of life and death! His team will race to find segments of a golden artifact scattered to the four corners of the Earth!

The Grandmaster's ultimate prize is the restoration of his immortal brother: The Collector! Killed by the man-god Korvac; The Collector's demise is beyond even the vast cosmic might of a fellow Elder. Thus, The Grandmaster's contest pits him against the ultimate opponent - Death herself!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Draw 3 (Athlete)
Intelligence: Black Panther 5 (Professor)
Speed: Black Panther 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Wolverine 6 (Generator)
Agility: Black Panther 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting: Wolverine 6 (Warrior)
Energy: Black Panther 2 (Projectiles)
Total: Draw 26 (Meta-Human)

At long last we arrive at one of the legendary texts in comic book combat lore!

Contest of Champions is an early Marvel Comics event
that gathered the world's heroes to compete as representatives of The Grandmaster and Death herself! The Contest pre-dates the more famed Secret Wars by a few years, and is distinguished for making opponents out of would-be heroic allies!

There's little love lost when Canadian X-Man Wolverine stalks Wakandan royal Black Panther in today's Contest of Champions battle!

Technically the heroes are part of two three-man teams: Wolverine, Thing & Le Peregrine represent The Grandmaster. Black Panther, Angel & Vanguard represent an unrevealed Death. Like a cosmic edition of The Amazing Race: the teams are teleported to China for a race to discover a hidden artifact.

Still very much the surly loner of the X-Men in 1982; Wolverine goes his own way after a few terse introductions. Thus, we have an intriguing clash of hyper-keen senses, battle-tested combat technique, super-human physical prowess, and command of rare metals!

Wolverine's mutant claws and skeleton were famously coated with nigh unbreakable Adamantium, while Black Panther commands the world's largest deposit of rare Vibranium! There seemed to be a little less fuss made about The Panther weaving the flexible mineral into his costume, back in the early days, so avoidance is probably preferable to testing metal against metal. Sorry, fanboys!

Agility is clearly one of the Black Panther's key advantages over Wolverine. The X-Man is a skilled fighter, but the facility of his mutant healing factor means he can afford to fight sloppy -- and often does, especially in these early days. Untamed aggression frequently gets the better of Wolverine, while T'Challa is all about being in control. Combat technique steered by a brilliant mind!

We've seen Black Panther outwit Wolvie's Contest teammate Thing in Fantastic Four #52, outplay arch-villain Klaw in Fantastic Four #53, and fight Captain America to a complete standstill in Tales of Suspense #98! With upgraded armor, and Storm at his back, The Panther was even able to beat the metal of Doctor Doom and his Doombots many years later, in Black Panther #19!

Wolverine is no stranger to foes like these. We saw him terrorize the Fantastic Four in Wolverine #22, slice & dice nemesis Lady Deathstrike in Uncanny X-Men #205, and fight werewolf Cap to a near standstill in Captain America #405! Of course, we also Cap put an end to a rampage against the X-Men that briefly cost Northstar his life, in Wolverine (Volume 3) #25.

What's the net result? Clearly these are two bad ass fighting heroes!

It's difficult to ignore the superior skill, speed, and agility that have made Black Panther famous. Wolverine's healing factor means he'll always come back again, and his warrior spirit means he's a dangerous man, but his discipline is inconsistent. I'd say T'Challa probably wins 3 to 4 in every five matches.

The Tape: Draw Ranking: Wolverine (#4)

What Went Down...

For all the wonders of Wakanda, even Prince T'Challa is in awe of the terracotta army that greets him in China! Walking amongst the eerily still rows of warriors -- his keen senses detect movement: Wolverine strikes!

Black Panther ducks at the perfect moment, narrowly avoiding the clutches of the diving X-Man! Wolverine is impressed to see his speed matched, but he isn't playing around. He unsheathes his claws and makes his challenge known!

Once again The Panther proves fast and nimble enough to evade Wolverine. He flips forward, leaping over Wolverine and his lunging claw slash! He's shocked by the severity of the attack and the X-Man's intent to be deadly.

The Panther favours stealth, disappearing into the crowd of surrounding clay soldiers. He soon learns that Wolverine's mutant senses are as keen as his own! It's only a matter of time before the mutant finds him - so this time he attacks!

The Black Panther dives out of hiding to snatch Wolverine by the wrists, hoping to control his deadly weapons. The clawed X-Man is able to turn the momentum against his opponent, flipping Black Panther onto his back with brute strength!

Wolverine looms over his opponent, who does not break the wrist-lock that keeps the mutant's claws from finding their target!

As Wolverine presses down with his full body weight and talks trash -- his teammate in the game, The Thing, arrives to admonish his methods! Thing doesn't much like seeing his old friend Black Panther threatened -- not that the fight is over just yet! The slightest diversion in Wolverine's attention is all Black Panther needs to send him vaulting head over heels!

Thing joins the two heroes in the pit, and contemplates the personal pleasure of kicking his teammate's butt. The stand-off is ended when both Wolverine and Black Panther detect the foreign scent of the object they are meant to find.

Thing plunges his massive hand into the dirt below, scooping the strange golden object out of the earth. Victory in The Contest for The Grandmaster's team.

The Hammer...
Indeed, by the terms of The Contest of Champions it is Thing who claims victory on behalf of The Grandmaster's team. Our concerns, however, are purely of the combative! In this arena, the fight between Black Panther and Wolverine can only be considered an inconclusive draw!

Neither man established a definitive upper-hand during the battle, nor was there any finishing blow. A minor disappointment for fans looking to settle the age old debate of Adamtnium versus Vibranium, but a match-up we can no doubt revisit some time in the future!

We saw Thing defeated by Black Panther earlier this month, in his classic first appearance [Fantastic Four #52]. It's kinda fun to come back two decades later, to a time when Black Panther and the FF are longtime friends.

Thing doesn't much like his teammate Wolverine during the issue. Tensions between the two would infamously escalate to a brawl in the 90s that left Thing scarred, and wearing a helmet. Some form of cigar-chomping comradery was settled upon in the convening years. Even in gentler times, Wolverine still had to check off marquee fights with just about every hero in the Marvel Universe!

It's easy to forget just how much Wolverine has evolved over time. The cantankerous loner has softened considerably, especially in the new millennium. On the flipside, it could be argued Black Panther has hardened, expanding his technological arsenal, and responsibilities to the kingdom of Wakanda.

This month's theatrical release of Black Panther has introduced vast movie-going audiences to the world of Wakanda and its heroes. It's a kind of global acknowledgement American-centric media often overlooks.

The world beyond the United States in comics has been a subject of interest on Secret Wars on Infinite Earths over many years, which makes Marvel Super Hero Contest of Champions a long overdue addition to our archive!

Unfortunately, many of the characters suffer from the familiar failings of heroes arbitrarily created to serve a singular focus. The likes of Le Peregrine (France), Shamrock (Ireland), and Talisman (Australia) debut with a relatively dull thud.

Established international heroes like Black Panther, Wolverine, Storm, and Captain Britain go a long way to giving the event a bit of credibility. Not that the international theme of The Contest is of any great focus, or consequence!

The Grandmaster and Death disqualify alien influence, even eliminating Atlanteans, but nothing in their rules seems to demand drafting from obscurity. I quite like the idea of a Marvel Universe "world warrior" tournament, but in the end, the global theme is a strange subtext that doesn't really serve the story.

There are plenty of fan-favourite American heroes keeping things interesting with unusual match-ups. No doubt they'll be the focus when we return to look deeper into The Contest of Champions -- forebear to the famed Secret Wars!

If you'd like to find more curious contests and major match-ups: dive into the Secret Archive Index to find a menu of featured fights catalogued by publisher, series, and issue number! For more direct selections, be sure to take advantage of links littered throughout this post, or follow on Twitter and Facebook to get daily fights inspired by the topics of the day!

Sharing links to your favourite fights is a great way to support the site! You can also donate via the PayPal button further up the page, or sponsor the site by making your next purchase via the Amazon link provided [right]! Buying a collected edition of Contest of Champions, or anything else, means Amazon will kick back something small to the site at no extra cost!

Stay tuned as we venture on! Who knows where the Secret Wars on Infinite Earths will take us next? Perhaps even to a fantasy match from Contest of Champions II?

Winner: Draw
#4 (--) Wolverine
#45 (+2) Black Panther
#10 (--) Thing [+1 assist]

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Way It Began..! (Marvel)
Fantastic Four #53 When: August 1966
Why: Stan Lee How: Jack Kirby

The Story So Far...
Wakanda celebrates the invited arrival of the Fantastic Four, but as they do, a sinister presence from the African nation's past plots against their young ruler!

Massive rampaging jungle beasts attack the unsuspecting kingdom! Animal simulations created from pure sound energy! They are weapons of revenge created by the master of sound: Ulysses Klaw!

Klaw attack Wakanda ten years earlier, killing King T'Chaka in an attempt to claim the country's deposit of rare vibranium metal! Young Prince T'Challa thwarted the attack, and must once again go on the hunt to stop the brutal arch-nemesis whose hand he once destroyed! While the Fantastic Four battle Klaw's sonic monsters -- Black Panther confronts his father's killer!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Klaw 4 (Enhanced)
Intelligence: Black Panther 5 (Professor)
Speed: Black Panther 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Klaw 5 (Marathoner)
Agility: Black Panther 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting: Black Panther 4 (Trained)
Energy: Klaw 5 (Lasers)
Total: Draw 26 (Meta-human)

Every great hero has a villainous shadow to haunt them time and time again. Black Panther has faced many ferocious foes, but none ranks quite as highly as today's featured felon -- his brutal arch-nemesis!

Ulysses Klaw (later renamed Klaue) is the self-proclaimed Master of Sound! He was a Dutch physicist who first ventured into Wakanda to claim the world's largest deposit of a rare, valuable mineral called Vibranium.

The early encounter brought Klaw into conflict with Black Panther's father, King T'Chaka, who he murdered in cold blood! Klaw and his machine gunning men spread much death and destruction through Wakanda, but the young Prince turned Klaw's own sound blaster against him! The encounter cost Klaw his right hand and sparked a blood feud that continues into Prince T'Challa's maturity!

Klaw outfitted his damaged hand with a weapon capable of firing deadly blasts of controlled sonic force! His vibranium powered machines can even create animated objects of pure "solid sound" -- a state he himself will be converted to after the initial showdown featured in today's grudge match!

Most will (hopefully) recognize Klaw as the bizarre pink & red villain known for also rattling the likes of: The Thing, Fantastic Four, Captain America, The Avengers, The Thunderbolts, Daredevil, Carnage, and others.

Fantastic Four #53 marks Klaw's first appearance, an early incarnation to be sure. In the issue prior, we were also introduced to Black Panther, who had the entire Fantastic Four on the ropes, specifically upsetting Thing during the battle!

Without the intimate knowledge of each other's arsenals that they'd have much later, it's tough to say who has the advantage. Klaw's sound-based arsenal will one day be neutralized through the unique properties of vibranium, and other sound-based strategies. In a man-on-man struggle, the advantage seems to belong to the Black Panther. Let's see if that's actually true!

The Tape: Draw Ranking: Black Panther (#72)

What Went Down...

Knowing the jungles of his kingdom well, Black Panther leaps through the trees for the one location capable of hiding Klaw's hideous machines. Coming upon the massive cave, he effortlessly disposes of two guards and stalks toward his true target. Klaw recognizes the voice of the Prince as if he'd heard it yesterday!

Klaw turns to face his nemesis, threatening with the metal Force Glove that now replaces his broken right hand! The Panther keeps his distance, confidently stalking like his namesake as Klaw gloats about the sound converter's power!

Rather than test Black Panther's phenomenal reflexes, Klaw returns to his main machine to generate a massive sound creature: a simulation of a panther!

Instead of ironic vengeance, Klaw is shocked to witness T'Challa's speed and strength as he grapples with the sound beast! It is every bit as ferocious as the real thing -- but the legend of the Black Panther is no exaggeration!

Recognizing the true skill and might of his opponent, Klaw knows he cannot toy with the Panther. With the flick of a lever the giant jungle cat disappears!

For a more direct attack Ulysses Klaw again turns to the lethal power of his hand-worn Force Glove! He claims Wakanda's vibranium as his ultimate prize, even if it costs the lives of every tribesman who survives the Prince!

The vile invader seems to be on the verge of victory - but he has failed to learn one of the Black Panther's greatest weapons: his mind!

A brilliant scientist in his own right: T'Challa has found the switch that will send the massive sound converting machine into a fatal overload! It begins to blow itself apart! The delicate circuits burst with uncontrolled energy!

With total destruction imminent: The Black Panther makes a hasty exit -- fleeing the catastrophic explosions that bring Klaw's secret cave down upon him!

Outside, rampaging constructs that terrorized Wakanda begin to dissipate. The Black Panther joins the Fantastic Four in victory, while inside the collapsed cave, the man called Klaw finds himself still alive, and ready to take a desperate risk!

The Hammer...
Ulysses Klaw may have lived to fight another day, but there's absolutely no doubt about the victor. Black Panther defeated Klaw's sound beast, thwarted his plan, and saved his kingdom! All in a day's work for the Panther prince!

Unbelievably, even with 888 characters ranked in the Secret Wars on Infinite Earths record -- we've never gotten to Klaw!

The shifting roster of the Frightful Four meant we got real close a couple of times, but it's only now, fighting against his arch-nemesis, that we open an account for the Master of Sound!

Admittedly, part of the delay is by virtue of holding off on the exploits of Black Panther, to best dedicate the month of February to Marvel Studios' latest starring hero! It's one of the most exciting Marvel movie releases since Iron Man, but as always, we look to the comics for even greater source material!

Baron Zemo was ultimately responsible for the death of T'Chaka on screen, but as discussed in The Tape section, the bad blood that makes Klaw arch-nemesis of the Black Panther runs deep. He murdered T'Challa's father and laid brutal siege to the kingdom of Wakanda. A crime he would revisit many times again.

The villainous origin story was revised in more explicit detail in 2005 by writer Reginald Hudlin. His take explicitly cast Klaw as a Dutch invader, recalling raw truths of real-life colonial history in Africa.

The story launched with a new #1 as Volume 4 of the Black Panther series, which may be one of the reasons you didn't read, if you were a comics fan of the mid-2000s. The relaunch officially divorced the series from Christopher Priest's cult millennium revival, and awkwardly positioned it as an undeclared - and indistinct - retcon of the classic origin stories.

The opening story arc, Who Is The Black Panther?, fashions Klaw as a new character in company with old favourites, like Batroc and Rhino. it effectively retells the backstory introduced in Fantastic Four #53, fleshing it out as a modern action-adventure of murder, espionage, and revenge. Taken on its own terms, it's an all-time great Black Panther story, and well worth checking out!

We should really wait until we get to the Reginald Hudlin story to talk more about it, but with February running out, I had to touch on it. It's one of my favourites and an admirable attempt to revamp what was done by Kirby and Lee in 1966. Which itself set a high bar for introducing a new hero into the growing Marvel Universe, and pairing him with a strong new villain, as well!

Typically timid, Hollywood has made a few more modifications to the Klaw character. One of the most noticeable will be the spelling of his name, now the slightly less literal "Klaue".

As always, it's easy to reject the perceived risk to credibility.

I'm not aware of what Stan Lee or Jack Kirby's inspirations would've been, but we know there would've been two contemporaries in 1960s New York City with the surname Klaw!

Just a few months after Ulysses Klaw was created for Marvel Comics, Irving Klaw passed away. Born Isadore Klaw, he was a New York purveyor of raunchy pin-ups, famous for propagating the image of Bettie Page. He was operating since the 1930s, and probably would've been a name known to publishing circles.

In the theatre world, there was Marcus Klaw. A producer and theatre owner of German Jewish descent, he died in 1936. You couldn't necessarily call him a contemporary of Lee & Kirby, but his Klaw Theatre was active on Broadway until being demolish in the mid-fifties. Another prominent example of the Klaw name available to the creators of the comic book villain.

So, yes, to modern American ears "Klaw" may ring false for its transliterate homonym (Claw). However, it is a real surname, and not at all unreasonable under greater scrutiny. Which is why we'll happily continue to refer to it!

You can refer to Klaw, too, when you follow character links littered throughout this post, or below in the tags section! There are thousands of featured fights to find, and many hundreds of characters involved!

You can also dive into the Secret Archive to find battles index by publisher, series, and issue number! Sharing your favourite links is a great way to support the Secret Wars on Infinite Earths! You can also get daily links to battles inspired by the topics of the day by liking and following on Facebook & Twitter!

Want to read the issue featured today for yourself? Jump onto Amazon using the purchase links provided [right] to check out collected editions! Using the link to buy means Amazon will kickback a little something to support the site at no extra charge!

Winner: Black Panther
#47 (+25) Black Panther
#844 (new) Klaw (Ulysses Klaw)

Friday, February 02, 2018

The Black Panther! (Marvel)
Fantastic Four #52 When: July 1966
Why: Stan Lee How: Jack Kirby

The Story So Far...
When the royal leader of an African nation gifts the Fantastic Four a hi-tech flying vehicle, they're invited to participate in a great Wakandan hunt. Little do they realize - it's the Fantastic Four who will be the prey!

Upon arrival they discover a nation built with the wonders of super-science and riches beyond belief! This is the remarkable kingdom of The Black Panther!

Black Panther hopes to test his fighting prowess and advanced technology against the cosmically powered might of the Fantastic Four. A gambit that begins by separating the group, leaving Thing to unwittingly stumbled into a trap that will leave him vulnerable to unarmed combat!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Thing 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Black Panther 5 (Professor)
Speed: Black Panther 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Thing 5 (Marathoner)
Agility: Black Panther 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting: Black Panther 4 (Trained)
Energy: Black Panther 2 (Projectiles)
Total: Black Panther 26 (Meta-Human)

What is this? The year of beatin' up on Aunt Petunia's favourite nephew?! We're back talking another classic case of hero-on-hero action, with the ultimate measure of power being the ever lovin' blue-eyed Thing!

This could be a slightly controversial entry, given its status as a fight-within-a-fight against the Fantastic Four. More on that in the Hammer section at the end. For now, we merely concern ourselves with a battle of speed, agility and wits against unstoppable brute strength!

Black Panther is T'Challa: Son of King T'Chaka, and rightful heir to the Wakandan throne! Black Panther lives up to the virtues of the isolated African nations rule by honing his body, senses, and mind through rigorous training.

T'Challa possesses phenomenal speed, agility, strength, and hand-to-hand technique, harnessed with an engineering mind that rivals that of Mister Fantastic! This genius not only furnishes Wakanda with technology beyond that of most modern nations, but also T'Challa himself, who hides many useful tricks within the thin lining of his Black Panther uniform!

The advanced technology of The Panther's suit was on display when he battled Doctor Doom in Black Panther #19! Perhaps more impressively, we saw his physical feats when he fought Captain America to a standstill in Tales of Suspense #98, and the Super-Skrull in Fantastic Four (Vol.2) #6!

His unassisted opposition to the Super-Skrull is the most effective example of how his fighting technique can stall even an opponent as powerful as Thing! Black Panther's stand was made brief by Super-Skrull's cosmic powers, of which Thing possesses none. As The Tape shows -- Thing is all about power!

The Panther has the fighting acumen to turn strength against an opponent, but he may not have to. This fight is the Black Panther's first appearance, and it's taking place in his home arena! At this stage of the fight, he's already used his hi-tech surroundings to entrap Human Torch and Invisible Woman.

Thing is a long way from home and quite possibly out of his depth!

The Tape: Black Panther Ranking: Thing (#10)

What Went Down...
Having been repelled from the rest of his teammates; The Thing recovers by what he believes to be a refreshing pool of water. In truth, he has stumbled into one of the Black Panther's well laid traps -- dousing himself in dangerous amounts of clear, strength-sapping devitalizing fluid!

The Panther Prince seizes his opportunity -- leaping from the shadows cast by labyrinthine machinery to the unsuspecting Thing's back!

The Thing goes to ground, but lifts himself to tackle the head-on Panther. With his strength sapped, he proves far less effective than expected! Black Panther stands his ground and fires off a right hook that sends Thing staggering!

Black Panther grants Thing the opportunity to pull himself to his feet, if only for the satisfaction of knocking him back down. So weakened is the rock-skinned hero, he requires the aid of a nearby post of machinery just to stand steady.

Once back to a vertical base: Thing unleashes a mighty right hand that would rattle the toughest of opponents -- if he still possessed his incredible strength!

Once more the heroes lock-up! The Panther pays homage to Thing's undeniable courage, but cannot compliment his lack of fighting skill.

Riled up by the verbal jab; Thing puts his back into it -- charging like a raging rhino! Black Panther has no choice but to side-step the barreling brute, inadvertently sending him on a path towards a high-voltage refrigeration unit!

Panther tries to warn his opponent of the impending doom - but it's too late!

The Thing smashes into the machine, releasing a deadly deep freeze! It's only by good fortune that he survives the frost as the effects of the devitalizing fluid begin to wear off! He will be frozen solid -- but he will survive!

The Hammer...
Is that a cry of controversy I hear? Objection from the seasoned fans?

Fantastic Four #52 is, of course, famous for the first appearance of Black Panther. It's also relatively well known for The Panther's plan to challenge and defeat the entire Fantastic Four.

It's a test of tactics, tech, and technique, with a healthy helping of teamwork.

Much of the action-packed issue is dedicated to a continuous war game between the Fantastic Four and their Wakandan host. However, under careful scrutiny, and much deliberation, The Comic Book Fight Club determines that the skirmish with Thing functions as an entire fight within the framework of the larger battle.

That means at a later date we will return to review The Panther's battle with the entire Fantastic Four, providing reference to this isolated encounter. It will simply function as a tangent within the larger context of The Panther vs the FF. Similar distinction may be afforded to his brief battle with Invisible Girl, as well.

Why does any of this matter? Hey! Take a look around, buddy. Fight results are kind of the name of the game around here. Sometimes the judge's call has to be invoked to keep the Fight Club Rankings clear. There's something else, too...

Superheroes aren't a whole lot different from any conventional combat sport. When you've got a hot new prospect like Black Panther, you want to get him over by showing what he can do. Like pro wrestling, comics are in control of the outcome and the particulars of the match. So there are a lot of tools to use.

As the headlining act, the Fantastic Four are usually going to come out with the win in the end. Fifty-one issues of victory means they have equity to take a few hits from a new character. So Black Panther may not succeed in beating the team as a whole, but by creating isolated fights within the battle, there's ample opportunity to show he's the real deal.

As The Tape clearly showed: Black Panther isn't in the same strength bracket as Thing, but that kinda protects both fighters.

Supping from a random pool in an indoor environment doesn't say much for Thing's thought process, but the devitalizing fluid means his defeat comes with an asterisk -- he wasn't at the top of his game! So Black Panther gets a big notch on his belt, but Thing gets to walk away with the benefit of the doubt.

Black Panther is undoubtedly one cool character, so it made sense to give him this big debut. It clearly paid off, because he'd have many more adventures in the Marvel Universe, as a title character, and part of memorable ensembles like the FF, and the Avengers!

You can't make it on your own as a hero if you don't have some worthy super-villains to beat up. When you mention Black Panther there's one big bad guy that immediately springs to mind. He debuted in the next issue of FF, and we'll aim to take a closer look at his unique brand of villainy real soon!

We probably won't be doing month-long themes in this year's Secret Wars on Infinite Earths, but anticipation for the theatrical arrival of Marvel's Black Panther has been a long time coming! We've been saving up for it so February could get the black carpet treatment!

Need more Black Panther in your life? Follow links and tags (below) to discover more from your favourite topics - or dive in to the Secret Index to check out past battles filed by publisher, series, and issue!

Use the Amazon link provided [embedded right] to read this story for yourself in collected edition. Doing so helps support the site at no extra cost! You can also show your support by following on Facebook and Twitter for daily fight links inspired by the hot topics! Every like, share & retweet helps!

Winner: Black Panther
#72 (+55) Black Panther
#10 (--) Thing