Friday, June 23, 2006

Lightning Strikes Twice: Part 3 (DC comics)
Superman #216 When: June, 2005
Why: Judd Winick How: Ian Churchill

The story so far...
Madness tears through the bustling hum of Metropolis calm, as a rock star's suicide appears to set-off a chain reaction of violent deaths and destruction.

When the chain reaches STAR Labs' Dr. Jeannie Tracey, she kills an over zealous admirer, and uses her privilages to access a LexCorp security powersuit.
With the suit, she begins a rampage of destruction designed to attract the attentions of Superman.

Battle with Dr. Tracey reveals the hidden threat of Eclipso, the villain who possess those when weakened by anger.
Superman is able to curb his emotions, but finds himself under attack where he least expected it -- in his home. Unknown to Superman, Lois Lane has been possessed, and when she manages to anger him, Eclipso takes hold.

Enter Captain Marvel.

Recommended reading:
Action Comics #826/Adventures of Superman #639: Previous two chapters of the "Lightning Strikes Twice" storyline.
Kingdom Come #1-#4: Prolific mini-series that set the precedent for the rivalry, and pioneered the "lightning ambush."
Marvel versus DC #3: Superman battles the might of Marvel's strongest champion - the Hulk.
Marvel versus DC #2: Captain Marvel faces a man who has felled Superman himself: Marvel's god of thunder, Thor.
Day of Vengeance #1-#6: Continues the magical qualms presented in this story.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Draw 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Captain Marvel 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Superman 6 (Sound Speed)
Stamina: Superman 6 (Generator)
Agility: Superman 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting Ability: Captain Marvel 3 (Street Wise)
Energy Powers: Superman 5 (Lasers)

As discussed in the previous instalment, there can sometimes be some confusion as to elements of a superhero's assault. Discussed around Daredevil #163, we looked at the Hulk's speed, and to the degree his power reflects on it.
Another such issue emerges here between two of the most iconic characters to exist during the Golden Age of comic books: Superman, and Captain Marvel.

Actually, it's this very conundrum that features as one of the vital ingredients that sets these character's value apart both canonically, and outside the realm of the pages, in the creative field.

If you should any contemporary fanboy what Superman's weaknesses are, there are probably two clear-cut, one-word answers that will be delivered -- kryptonite (the traditional answer), and magic.
[Bonus points to anyone who might like to throw in various deviating shades of solar energy, but if you're talking to that kind of fanboy, you should probably start running. - Malevolent Mike]

Superman is a character who has been both blessed and burdened by his encompassing invulnerabilities. He has become the living embodiment of the greatest of superhero qualities, but for many fans in the current climate, and perhaps even writers, these abilities have made the character bland and uninteresting.

Thankfully, there was a very logical counterpoint waiting amidst the wackiness of the fifties and sixties. An element of comic books that even the super-man himself would struggle to deny. A force that escapes the boundaries of what is normal, and skips process, going directly to result. Magic.

Superman's abilities have evolved to account for most typical comic book threats. There are few physical obstacles and powers that can overcome him, in fact, even death itself has no dominion over the man of steel.
Yet, how can someone with the ability to realise their every whim through backward-speak be denied? What possible solve is there when a character like Superman finds his great prowess in ability to curb the physical aspects of attacks?

As comics attempt to explain more and more of their content, this spaceman from the planet Krypton, far fetched as he may be, suddenly finds himself in a limbo of comic book reality, and so, Superman's psuedo-science itself exposes his vulnerabilities to the inherently illogical.

The question that now arises from this is: How far does his weakness to magic travel?
In an effort to humanize the character through weakness, does magic provide a broad answer, or are we free only to recognise this weakness in context to the truly unexplainable?

Kingdom Come, the prolific mini-series from Alex Ross and Mark Waid, originates the concept of the "lightning ambush" [as it is credited in Superman #216 - Multifunctional Mike], in which Captain Marvel dodges his magic lightning bolt, allowing it to strike Superman.

Captain Marvel, as we all know, is a character powered by the Wizard Shazam.
When youngster Billy Batson utters the cry of the wizard's name, he is embued with fantastic abilities of Gods represented by the anagromous SHAZAM.
One such ability is super strength, and thus we encounter the dilemma of whether or not Superman should be effected above and beyond the norm when struck by the mighty fist of Captain Marvel.

In matters involving kryptonite, Superman has been seen to react on a plane not dissimilar to an average homosapien. However, it simply does not seem right that he be so vulnerable to the magic strength of his big red opponent.
Truth be told, there is no definitive answer based on sources available.

Like the Hulk and his capacity for growing strength, I would like to think Marvel's magic fuelled strength is lower in the ballpark than many fans tend to describe.
While there may be an inherent weakness to magic, the fact that these are physical assaults suggests to me that there should be minimal advantage. Truly Captain Marvel can match the Kryptonian in strength, but these blows should roughly fall somewhere around equal to those of the Superman.

Of course, this argument for the physical starts to arise question as to the effectiveness of the lightning ambush, which feels far more comfortable as an attack.

Thus, we have to assume some kind of compromise concerning the magic of Captain Marvel, and perhaps even speculate that his prowess is enough to fell the mighty man of steel.

What went down...
The Eclipso possessed Superman knocks Captain Marvel so damned hard, he sends him hurtling all the way out of Metropolis to Hawaii, creating a sonic boom as he missiles along.

At the coast of California Superman catches up with his opponent and strikes him again, sending him into an island mountain below.
Having already experienced the longevity of Superman's resolve, Eclipso takes delight in recognising his ability to go toe-to-toe with Captain Marvel as long as is required.

Marvel, with the wisdom of Solomon, swears he won't take the bait of his foes rises. He blocks an incoming punch, and locks up with the super vessel of the beast.

As the two titans duel, Captain Marvel reveals his awareness to Eclipso's true plan to capture a more suitably permanent vessel for his existence, namely the magic body of Captain Marvel himself.

Unable to achieve his goals through fisticuffs, Eclipso goes in search of means to stir the vengeance of Earth's mightiest mortal.
Finding a large ship in the waters, Eclipso threatens mass casuality by using the strength of Superman to hurl the ship into the air toward the Californian coastline.

Marvel is able to halt the ship's descent, minimizing the loss of life.
Still Eclipso maintains his vigil, threatening further violence through the body of Superman, prompting Captain Marvel into action.
He plows into the hovering Kryptonian, and pushes him across the globe to a more barren setting somewhere in the arctic.

Eclipso strangles Marvel, and scoffs his defiance, threatening in detail the lives of men and children and his ability to exact such events in the blink of an eye.
Marvel retaliates with a stiff headbutt, drawing blood, and in return assures Eclipso that he need recognise his ability to always stand in his way. To always protect the innocent.

Marvel floats into the sky and bellows his cry, "SHAZAM!"
The magic lightning bolt that descends reverts Marvel back into his human form of Billy Batson, who begins to tumble earth-bound, threatening the vessel Eclipso hopes to possess.

Faster than a speeding bullet, Eclipso races to the boy's rescue, taking him in his arms.
With a stern look of determination, the young boy again says the magic word, returning to him the power of Zeus.

Marvel locks his powerful arms around Superman's neck and transforms again and again until Eclipso is subdued enough for the man inside to speak.
Locked in a full nelson, Superman emplores Captain Marvel to kill him.

Eclipso resumes control and throws his head back into Marvel's face, but the powerful hold does not break. Marvel again cries SHAZAM, but though weakened, Eclipso is this time quick enough to snatch the feeble Billy Batson by the throat, preventing him from calling for magical aid.

Eclipso, furious at his inability to possess that which he desires, instead vows to destroy the boy.
But then, seemingly from nowhere, a bolt of lightning strikes Superman's battered body again. A bolt borne of the wizard Shazam's ancient hand.

Eclipso attempts to meet his obstacle head on again, and again, to no avail.
Realising Eclipso will not stop until Superman is destroyed, Shazam reveals his trump card, "So, it is time for darkness to meet light."

The divine counter balance to the Eclipso force -- the Spectre -- emerges from the clouds and threatens to engulf the possessed Superman.
Energies swirl to the hero's heart, and Eclipso is forced from his very being.

Though he tries to escape his prison, Eclipso cannot escape the blackheart diamond. Sucked back into his cell, the spirit is hurled across the Earth to again seek the opportunity of a host.
Order, for now, is restored anew.

The hammer...
Though the fight began as Captain Marvel's, it was the intervention of the Wizard Shazam and the Spectre that facilitated Eclipso's defeat. Though Spectre's involvement was minimal, under the sternest of rulings, and treating X-Men vs Wolverine as precedent, I'll have to give the victory to him, with assists to Shazam and Marvel.

Meanwhile, both Superman and Eclipso will share the defeat.
Unlike Wolverine's stint mind controlled by HYDRA [Wolverine #25/New Invaders #6], Superman was not in control of his faculties, instead possessed by an intelligent entity. Therefore, they share the defeat both physical and metal.

If you're joining Secret Earths for the first time, these closing remarks are relevent to the cumulative assessment of characters by their performance in each featured battle.
A running tally is maintained, with the top five ranking characters featured at the beginning of each month. Likewise, in the left menu, you can find a running tally of the top creators as determined by review scores of each issue featured.

After declaring a winner, usually I like to use the hammer to discuss the comic in more general terms, not allowed by previous sections of the format.
Among the many functions of this blog website is to inform and expose readers new and old to interesting, and fun comic books in a level headed manner.

Yes, it's with a level head that I again have something positive to say about Judd Winick.
Currently number four on the top ten by virtue of his work on Batman, this particular issue of Superman defies his reputation as a heavy handed, personally motivated, mediocre writer.

While the issue does not rate among comics best, it is suitably the business end of a three-issue story that was apparently prepared as emergency fill-in.
While previous issues may have meandered, this issue serves to do what a good action, fight-orientated comic should: It delivers story and characterization through and throughout the exchange of blows.

In the case of this issue, and particularly through a slightly overbaring introduction, it characterizes forces that intend to assert themselves in future stories in the DC Universe. While these elements pertain to other stories, there is still plenty of enjoyment to be found within these pages.

Captain Marvel and Superman are a character rivalry that really dates back to the forties, where Captain Marvel managed to surpass his predecessor in sales and popularity right through to the fifties.
Cap was published by Fawcett Comics in direction competition with National/DC, and the character eventually spurred a lawsuit casting Fawcett in the role of defendent, accused of creative intellectual infringments.

The suit would be settled out of court, and eventually DC would obtain the rights to many Fawcett creations, including the entire Marvel family, after licensing the property years earlier.

The rivalry between the characters was maintained, and reached it's greatest heights in the Kingdom Come mini-series already mentioned, which brings up to the contemporary argument of Superman versus magic, and this very story where the famous lightning ambush becomes canon.

There are a lot of great things about the Captain Marvel character, but it remains a travesty that he is unable to attain the popularity once at his command over half a century ago.
In fact, mirroring Superman to a greater degree [much like their powers], Marvel lacks characterization and placement in the contemporary world of comics, and the DC Universe.

Recent efforts have to be praised in titles like JSA headed by comics doyen, Geoff Johns, where Marvel finds a role within the context of the DCU, but one can't help but feel he remains out of place, destined to repeat the role of physical foil to characters like Superman.

If this is the worst fate Marvel suffers, then it could be a lot worse.
As this issue aptly reveals, there's still a lot of fun to be had with this rivalry, despite the definitive account presented by Waid and Ross.

Still, it just seems like the character could be so much more.
Like Batman or Swamp Thing or the Charlton characters, Captain Marvel might just be the ultimate vehicle for something truly inspired. We can only hope.

The Fight: 5 The Issue: 4.5

NEXT: The Hulk battles the man who will trap him in space. A man at the heart of a civil war. Tony Stark -- the Iron Man. Don't miss it, as we wrap up Hulk Month at Secret Earths!

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