Friday, July 28, 2006

The Frightful Four -- Plus One! (Marvel comics)
Fantastic Four #129 When: December, 1972
Why: Roy Thomas How: John Buscema

The story so far...
Having returned from taking a licking at the hands of the Moleman, the FF are in pretty bad shape, and they get a little more lopsided when the hotheaded Johnny Storm announces he's going to live with Crystal in the Great Refuge.
Yeah, great timing kiddo. All this, and Sue's had to take the wheel while Reed snoozes, and Ben just made a woman-driver gag...

The fun doesn't stop for Marvel's first family, and before too long Reed and Sue are at each other when Agatha Harkness appears to tell them to collect their son Franklin, as she has matters of the utmost urgency to attend to.

You can't blame ol' blue eyes for taking a brisk stroll to clear his head, but it turns out that might just not have been such a great idea, when a scream rings out into the cold night air.

Previous form:
Neither Thing, Medusa, nor the Frightful Four members included here have been featured on Secret Wars on Infinite Earths in the past.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Thing 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Wingless Wizard 6 (Genius)
Speed: Thundra 3 (Trained Athlete)
Stamina: Thing 5 (Marathon Runner)
Agility: Sandman 7 (Unlimited)
Fighting Ability: Thundra 6 (Warrior)
Energy Powers: Wingless Wizard 3 (Explosives)

If you take a look at my modest comic collection, you'll find clumps of various titles with gaps between numbers anywhere between two issues, to two hundred.
In amongst that sea of inconsistency are some titles more popular than others, and for me, Fantastic Four is one of them. This makes it especially unusual that it's taken this long to feature the Thing -- long time favourite member of the FF.

Now, the Frightful Four have a habit of shuffling membership, so it's important to establish who it is we're dealing with here.
The cover is somewhat misleading, suggesting that Thundra is a fifth member of this sinister quartet, but what we find is actually that she is the fourth, while a former member appears in a reformed capacity. I, of course, refer to the Inhuman - Medusa.

So, the lineup this time around includes stalwart leader, the Wingless Wizard; providing muscle with a slice of versatility is the Sandman; pasting up the town with his patented ensnaring goo is The Trapster; and finally, the Amazonian-like warrior Thundra makes her first appearance in comics.

Really, you'd have to rate the Four pretty highly, despite their somewhat comical win/loss record.
Not only do you have the Wizard's wonderful toys, but also the versatility and strength of Sandman, which is only coupled by the brute strength of Thundra. Really, she makes a pretty impressive addition in place of Madusa, whose abilities are somewhat redundant next to the Trapster.

The Thing gets full credit for his strength, experience and overall durability.
It's these qualities that always make him a valuable asset to any team, but against the combined might of this foursome, his strengths start to diminish.
Pound for pound, Thundra alone could match Thing in the strength department, and while she might not win nine out of ten, she would take him to the very lengths in at least five of those bouts.

Whether their effectiveness ranges from sandy pants rash, to pastey suffocation, the addition of the other three members really tips things in the favour of the Frightful Four, I would honestly have to say.
Against the full roster of the original Fantastic Four it might be a different story, but with the Thing isolated it becomes too difficult to tip the hero.

Medusa, try as she may, is not an equalizer for Sandman, let alone the Wizard (who's nasty with those anti-grav discs, and his tactical intelligence) and the Trapster (who can... tie you up with paste...).

What went down...
Alright, so we all know it: Thing's a good guy!

I don't just mean that in the 'super powered bloke who fights villains and tyrrany in all their forms' either. I mean that if you're in a bind, he'll do what he can to help -- and when a woman's scream echoes in the night air, you can be damn sure Benjamin J. Grimm'll be there!

Barrelling head-long through a wooden fence, Benjy gets his first nasty shock when he plummets down into a dugout construction site.

Things take a further turn for the worse when a flexing figure emerges dramatically, shadowed by the moon behind him -- The Sandman!

Sandman clobbers his sendimentary counterpart, but when Thing tries to return the favour, he gets no love, swinging straight through a mid-section made of sand!

Escaping a grappling session with the FF's muscle, Sandy slips away to allow the entry of two other genial gentlemen in the form of the Trapster and the Wingless Wizard.

A two pronged attack on the Thing proves effective, tying him up with quick hardening paste, and following up with a swift diving attack from the Wizard who did fly.

It's at this time that another player in the game makes herself known.
Snatching the Wizard from the sky are long, red strands of hair belonging to the Inhuman known as Medusa. Dragging the Frightful Four's leader earthbound, Medusa makes clear her resignation from the questionable quartet.

While Medusa duals with the Wizard, Sandman and Trapster launch an attack on the Thing. Using his incredible and oft underrated strength, Sandman tosses a bulldozer in the hero's general direction, while Trapster comes from the other side behind the wheel of a dump truck.

Thing reduces the 'dozer to scrap metal with a left that woulda knocked it outta the park, and makes his turn just in time to surprise Trapster -- not by destroying his vehicle, but by yanking it from it's path into the air!

While the Thing shakes Trapster out of the truck, Medusa's dominance over Wizard has come under fire.
A face full of high-impact sand puts Medusa on the ropes, and frees up the Wizard to turn the tables on Thing, who is proceeding to dangle Trapster by his belt to deliver a spanking -- "Awright, Trappie -- My second time at bat, comin' up --"

One of the Wizard's "new and improved" anti-gravity discs slaps on Thing's back just in time, and Trapster falls to the ground with smug satisfaction.
It's only by the intervention of Medusa, who ensnares the floating Thing in her hair and removes the disc, that Thing does not end up space bound.
Afterall, if Jack Kirby had meant for Thing to fly, he would've given him wings.

Feeling pretty much ticked off and a little chauvinistic [Saved by a female! How mortifyin'!]; Thing looks to take the frightened three down while they're all together by hoisting a crane above his head, and whipping it into the air. Enter: Thundra!

Much like Thing earlier, Thundra reduces the airborne crane to rubble, professing her name and might as she strikes the metallic menace down.

"You already tossed yer monicker at us, girlie! Now howzabout somethin' a wee bit more basic, like -- What's a seven-foot gal like you doin' in a place like this??"

[It's about now that Thing should start to quiver in his shorts, because not only is Thundra obsessed with battling her destined opponent of the strongest male alive, but she's also a walking, talking parody of feminisim. But more to the point, Roy Thomas? Run for the hills, man! Lordy! -- Emasculated Mike]

Thing stands his ground as Thundra whips her chain at him, unaware that it's not her intention to injure him with it, but rather to ensnare him so as to pull him into close quarters. Then the real pain starts!

Thundra's blow is so powerful, the explosive blow is exclamated with a giant asterisk: "Rolll your own sound effect, effendi -- We can't think of one that would do Thundra's murderous blow justice! -- Roy and Artie."

Medusa attempts to intervene once more, but tanglging her tensile strands around the psuedo-Amazonian only ensures she see the same fate. Swung and tossed like a cat by it's tail, Thing has to make do with some giant chunks of Earth, which he attempts to use as a makeshift catcher's mit.

Sufficiently distracted, Thing is left wide open to attack as the Frightful Four congregate around he and Medusa.
Vulnerable, not even Thing can resist the crushing combo of full strength blows from Thundra and Sandman! Despite calling him for herself, the combined effort delivers the victory, and leaves Sandman and Thundra to bicker while Trapster subdues Medusa.

The hammer...
Well, the winners, I'm surprised to say, are the Frightful Four!
The Thing was an overdue inclusion to the site, but I have to say, I'm quite pleased to have guys like Sandman and Thundra on the rankings list now, too. Characters that aren't necessarily moving titles, but are strong representations of the Marvel tradition.

It's interesting to see how Marvel's current crossover event Civil War is affecting that tradition. For me, I've enjoyed the story, and the shake up of the 'status quo,' despite being fairly confident it'll all be relatively reset reasonably soon.

I've seen long time readers offended by what they're seeing between the pages of Mark Millar's Civil War. They're seeing characters they enjoy and adore acting in ways that are familiar, yet very different.

In this particular issue of Fantastic Four, the FF are torn apart by in-house bickering, preparing for a shift in the team's roster. Johnny runs off to the Inhumans' Great Refuge, where he hopes to find love with Crystal, an Inhuman and elemental who cannot leave her home.
Meanwhile, Reed Richards and Sue Storm are torn apart when Reed places his science, as he so often does, above more personal matters, like the well being of their son Franklin.

Each of these events is motivated, in the moment, by contrived emotion penned by Roy Thomas. While these events bare little relevence to the story, or even Fantastic Four history as we recognise it today, they attempt to forward on-going plots by using the perceived humanity of the characters prompted by catalysts that could be described as little more than mcguffins.

What we arrive at is a fun moment in history, where Medusa is a member of the Fantastic Four, and a chance to see the Thing take on a brand new character in her first appearance - Thundra.

So, how do I feel about Civil War? I guess I'm not too fussed.
Not to say I condone dramatic dismissal of history, or characterisation. Quite the contrary, I loathe the fan who tells you not to care. Not to invest in the logic these on-going stories demand.
I simply cannot stand readers who insist there's something wrong with disliking a comic's delivery or plot. 'You don't have to buy' is not a good enough answer.

That said, I don't feel Civil War fails as a story, or as a Marvel comic.
This story has introduced feelings that have largely been avoided, partially out of respect for the American sensitivity, and perhaps partially out of a want of escape.

In the wake of 9/11 and shifting climates we do now, however, have a Marvel universe incredibly aware of itself, and the world in which we live.
The Stanford incident reflects a tragedy in American history, and the resulting climate indicates something relevent in the world. The necesity for security, and administration and policing is the subject, and practically the villain. But I don't really feel that's important.

What's important, and what makes this such an acceptable tale, is that it's a story about humanity, magnified several times to become super humanity.
This is a collective of persons with great power, and great responsibility who have lived parallel to great human tragedy, and gross neglect within their own community.

This story highlights a moment in time where all of these people are reacting.
For a time, after 9/11, America seemed united. The spirit was strong, and the will to ensure safety and justice at all costs was strong. It was natural.
Eventually emotions settled, and tensions relaxed. The climate was slack enough to allow a return to dissent, and confusion, and disagreement. The world fell back into it's previous, comfortable context.

This is what I see for the Marvel universe. This is what I see of Civil War.

The Fight: 5.5 The Issue: 5

NEXT MONTH: Civil War comes to Secret Earths! But first, stay tuned for an all new punch-up!

Friday, July 21, 2006

A Lonely Place of Dying Chapter Five: Rebirth (DC comics)
Batman #442 When: 1989
Why: Marv Wolfman & George Perez How: Jim Aparo

The story so far...
Somewhere in space Superboy-Prime is pounding on reality, eventuating in some dramatic changes, but for the time being, Jason Todd is recently deceased.

The Batman has retreated into himself, and a young man named Tim Drake, who has deduced the identities of Batman, Robin and Nightwing - Bruce Wayne, Jason Todd and Dick Grayson, respectively - believes the Batman needs a Robin to remain in tact.

Thus, sponsored by Alfred, Tim Drake dons the tights and cape and goes to save Batman and Nightwing from certain doom at the hands of Two-Face.
With Batman and Nightwing trapped in a collapsed building that Two-Face has blown up for double-good measure -- can Tim Drake - Robin - save the day?

Recommended reading:
Batman: The Long Halloween #0-#12: One of the greatest Two-Face stories ever told.
Batman #647: Batman & Jason Todd team to take on a trio of members from The Society of super villains!
DC versus Marvel #1: A disorientated Bullseye takes Robin hostage in the Batcave. KAPOW!

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Batman 3 (Trained Athlete)
Intelligence: Batman 5 (Professor)
Speed: Robin 3 (Trained Athlete)
Stamina: Batman 5 (Marathon Runner)
Agility: Nightwing 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting Ability: Batman 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy Powers: Batman 2 (Projectile Weapons)

Not a single category. Two-Face is totally fucked.
Seriously, taking on the entire bat-family, let alone one of them alone is just totally ridiculous. Especially when you're Two-Face, whose insanity revolves around duality, indecisiveness, and a pistol.

There is no math in the world that makes this seem like a good idea. Not even the Anti-Life Equation itself could save a lone Two-Face's bacon against the terrific trio.

Being that Two-Face was one of the very few classic characters never to appear in the sixties series, this logic might not apply, but there's always the three Ls: Luck, lackeys and location.
If Two-Face can somehow get some thugs to pull a fast one on ol' Bat-boob, knock him out, and drag him into an elaborate set-up device, he might have a chance. The odds of Two-Face having something like... I dunno... a giant perpetually spinning coin, which, once exceeding a certain speed will spin Nightwing's pretty face off, well... Those odds aren't great.

Especially since we're travelling to the eighties this week.
This is the era of some respectability for the Dark Knight detective. There's no way something that cornball could work... or could it?!?

What went down...
Okay, yeah... Robin saved the day, and there's probably a fight there to be featured another day.

Meanwhile -- despite being shut down, distraught, and reluctant to take another ward in the wake of Jason Todd's death, Batman decides to postpone further deliberation until Two-Face is defeated, and brings Tim Drake along for the ride anyway.

Being the world's greatest detective, it doesn't take long to track Two-Face to a vehicle scrap yard. There, Two-Face can hardly believe his bad luck, and desperately seeks advice from a 24-7 news radio network.

Batman orders Drake to stay in the car while he and Nightwing spring into battle, but just as he does a wrecking ball comes swinging in their direction.
The ball strikes a pile of crushed car bodies, sending them tumbling right before the Batman's eyes onto the Batmobile. Onto Tim Drake!
Or so he thinks!...

Though the car is crushed, the quick thinking Tim Drake hopped out of the vehicle to hide beneath it escaping certain doom, much to the approval of the Dark Knight.

In the wrecking crane control seat, Nightwing discovers Two-Face has disappeared, only to feel the rumbling of a bulldozer heading right for him!
Two-Face charges through the broken scrap heaps, and rams the crane, but Nightwing is able to sommersault free.

Batman tries to keep a concerned Tim Drake clear, while former the former Robin, Nightwing, springs into action.
He scales a stack of wrecked vehicles, and then leaps onto the out-of-control wrecking ball, using it's frantic sway to swing across the yard to swoop down on the dastardly DA.

Nightwing meanders too long, and Two-Face gets the drop on him with a piece of junk. Right to the face!
Nightwing's survival rests in the fate of the coin toss, but as the coin makes it's descent, a dark blue glove snatches the coin out of the air and delivers a stern message; "No, Harvey, it's your mistake."

"Or Robin?" "Or Robin!"

Awwww, it's an arse whooping the whole family can appreciate.

The hammer...
The winner, and still champion, Batman, with some fine assistance from Nightwing and Robin. Hah, but honestly, was there any doubt?
For those playing the Secret Wars on Infinite Earths home scoring game, you'll know that Batman is not only the monthly reigning number one, but he's also undefeated.
Should that change? Write in, drop a comment, and maybe let us know.

Meanwhile, everyone party. Yes, it's actually September 26th, but this post was scheduled for July 21st - my birthday! Hussah!

It was this special event that inspired the pseudo-themed selections for this month, and this stop is probably the most special. Mostly because I was in my formative and happiest comic reading years in the eighties and nineties.
Which was a fantastic time to be comics fan, because they were quite literally available everywhere. I kick myself now in hindsight for not buyin that one issue of Wolverine with Deadpool in it from the service station. They were just everywhere.

I don't know what the American equivalent is, but we have stores we call newsagencies. They're stores that chiefly sell magazines, newspapers, stationery and maybe some other crap, these days.
You're slowly seeing comics coming back to these places, but when I was a kid there was an entire wall at one particular store, and it was just the coolest thing. I mean literally, this must have been the biggest section in the entire place.

So, here's me, all two, three feet of me, staring up at this mountain of colours, and characters, and just sheer excitement and wonder personified. It's something, deep down, that I kinda miss.

I was a terrible reader as a kid, too.
I had a lot of different interests, and over the years I've connected with firends through sports, or music, or movies, or whatever -- but comics has rarely been the common ground. It's just been one of those things I've always done, and that made for a unique experience.

I kind of went through my comics years in a vaccuum.
There was no internet, and even when I went to the comic store proper, I didn't really stop to talk to people. So, I just bought comics based on what I liked the look of at the time.
There was no allegiance to a title, or a writer, or an artist, or anything else. I just bought characters I liked, and whatever felt interesting at the time.
So, in that respect, I missed out on some of the good and some of the bad. For example, my first Image comic wasn't until the very recent Powers #11, because they just carried the stigma, for me as a general fan, of those early Liefeld-ian stories.

It was an interesting way to grow familiar with comics, and I think it's maybe given me a little bit of a heads up over other readers. I'm usually not too fussed by mountains of continuity, and I'm not particularly interested in the trends.
Hopefully some of that reflects on this site, which maybe has some diversity, and showcases some genuine interests that you might care to share.

But, to talk a little bit about this issue (before the readership dies off completely)... Wow, what a strange issue as a youngster.
It actually contains many of the things I despise as a Batman fan. It's got Robin, which, y'know, I don't hate, but prefer to keep in small doses, while the kid goes off and plays with the Titans.
Equally frustrating is the blue and grey, and the yellow Bat-symbol. Things I was glad to see go after the change was made in the animated series.

Actually, I don't really come back to DC comics [since childhood] until Batman loses the yellow symbol. It's more coincidence than anything else, but you damn sure don't see me clamboring for nineties back issues.

Anyway, despite those misgivings, it's actually a pretty decent issue.
When I was growing up reading comics I read a combination of various eighties (and nineties) new releases, with a combination of sixties/seventies/eighties back issues and reprints.

For whatever reason, that meant I mostly missed out on Jason Todd, and through new issues I met Tim Drake, and through the reprints, I lived Dick Grayson.
Always regarding Dick Grayson as the Robin, this issue provided a way for my young brain to accept and acknowledge the new Robin for all he could [and would] be.
I probably don't regard him as such, but if I have a Robin, Tim Drake is probably it.

One of the things that stuck with me as a kid was how eerie this issue kinda felt.
It's not murder and zombies and the grotesque, like other scary Batman comics. This just has a very spooky, frightening reality to a young Mike.

Two-Face has trapped Batman and Nightwing in a collapsing building, and then just for crazy-psycho kicks blows the rubble up. So, you have this blue tinted dark comic with an inexperienced Robin trying to free a buried Batman and Nightwing from the rubble.
And all of this comes after Alfred and Tim confronted Two-Face, and got bricks and shit smacked around with a crowbar. Even just the threat to Alfred felt very real, and very grim, and not in the catchy marketing grim 'n' gritty sense, either.

So, Alfred's almost been killed. Batman and Nightwing have almost been killed. Young kid who wants to be Robin is probably going to be killed.
It's a pretty dark premise, and then Robin manages to free a disorientated and confused Dark Knight, and it gets spookier.

Again, this isn't the over the top Miller Batman, or other marketable grim Batman interpretations. This is a closed off, and very stern father-figure like Batman.
He's got this scowl on his face the entire time, and he's kind of peeved about this strange kid running around dressed like Robin -- who died not long ago.
It was again, kinda scary as a kid.

The final element of the spook is a touch, presumably from Aparo to signify the damage sustained in the blast, is these little cracks all over Batman and Nightwing.
They're not just isolated to cowl, cape and costume either. They have these little spooky, stone-like cracks laid out sparsely all over them.

I can't tell you why, but it was spooky, and made the violence seem unusually real.

So, there you go. A flashback of some fond memories from the past.

The Fight: 2.5 The Issue: 5

NEXT: It's Clobberin' Time! The Thing goes out for a stroll, and finds himself frightfully outnumbered - four to one! Time travel July winds up in the seventies!

Friday, July 14, 2006

The Drowning Room (DC comics)
Steel #28 When: July, 1996
Why: Peter J. Tomasi How: Andrew Robinson

The story so far...
Ever since John Henry Irons was outed as Steel, life's been just that much more hectic.
When Steel starts having nightmares about his family, he decides to move out, but not before real in-house fighting is caught by reporters -- literally leaning into their house!

Cut to "elsewhere," where in an abandoned warehousey type set-up, Plasmus just happens to be watching a TV on a diving board, while he tries to chill in the swimming pool.

Plasmus kidnaps Steel's niece Natasha, and when Steel catches up to the giant melting man, his plan becomes clear. He wants to be saved. From himself.

Recommended reading:
52 #1+: DC Universe without it's top heroes for a year. Features Steel.
Villains United #1-#6: If there's a more specific good Plasums read, let me know.
Steel #21: Steel battles Superman villain, Metallo.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Plasmus 5 (Super Strength)
Intelligence: Steel 5 (Professor)
Speed: Steel 2 (Average Human)
Stamina: Steel 5 (Marathon Runner)
Agility: Steel 2 (Average Human)
Fighting Ability: Steel 3 (Street Wise)
Energy Powers: Plasmus 2 (Projectile Weapon)

I'm going to immediately confess a degree of ignorance where Plasmus and his abilities are concerned. Obviously there are some innate and self-explanatory powers and strengths, but my palette of Plasums references just isn't strong enough to quote. Sorry about that.

You have a pretty basic set-up here of a guy in a suit of armor and a guy who's big, strong, oozy, and burning hot. They are Steel and Plasmus respectively.
You have to ask yourself a certain set of questions regarding this kind of situation.

What capabilities does the armor have?
He may have produced weapons in a past life, but Steel is not Iron Man. His armor is far less on the tech side, and more on the suspension-of-disbelief, with a twist of old fashioned elbow grease and manufacturing pride.

Offensively Steel uses his easy-to-carry extendo-hammer, and wrist-mounted projectile shooting rivet gun. While these are pretty decent basic offenses, against a guy made of burning goop, they're not going to be of great use. In fact, there's every possibility tiny rivets would probably melt to slag before doing any damage.

Steel's armor is clearly strong and versatile, but you'd have to think heat would be a real issue for him. Likewise, the armor only does so much where his strength is concerned, and physically you'd have to think Plasmus has the greater bulk of offense.

If it comes down to it, Steel's an incredibly smart and industrious guy, and no doubt he could think his way around the gooping Russian miner.
It might very well be that element that lends Steel the distinct advantage, but it would still no doubt be a mighty close bout.

What went down...
When Steel's niece is set upon by a stampede of reporters, things look pretty unpleasant, but it gets worse. Steel is on the scene just in time to see the sidewalk ripped through, and a big pair of pink mittens drag his niece into the sewers below.
No, it's not Krang, it's Plasmus!

Steel suits up and heads down, but in that short time Plasmus has managed to stash Natasha someplace else. He's pretty quick for a guy who's losing his physical integrity.

Steel takes a swing, and sizzles his hand -- but it didn't melt, so we'll take Plasmus' word for it, and assume that is a good thing.

Ignoring the pain, John Henry opens up an old fashioned can of whoop, and pounds Plasmus into an unrecognisable, gelatenous mountain of slop, but the heat is still a problem.
Plasmus counters, snatching Steel's hands in his, and squeezes.

Plasmus yaps on some more, and Steel finally manages to swing his feet up, unleashing a blast from his jet boots, and turning the momentum around on Plasmus.
Pushing the hulking mass of... bleh... Steel drives him through a wall, and into a mass of sewer water stuff.

With a wiclked grin, Plasmus swims his way to Steel's feet, and then allows some of his gooey mass to solidify in the cool water, effectively weighing the armored hero down Mafia style.
Working his way to the surface, Plazzy then melts a bunch of brick onto the surface of the channel, where it solidifies into a thick crust.

Using his rivet gun, Steel blasts himself free, and then rocket boots his way back up, crashing through the surface seel with a, "SHAKOOM!" -- which reads quite a bit like Shaq and Doom put together. Sorta like the movie... Haw!

Anyway, burnt into the wall is a message, "She is safe unless you follow. Make suit. I be in touch." The message comes complete with a burnt in arrow, which points to a note left, marked specifications.

While Steel does his best Flashdance montage, working the steel into a suit of armor that will hold Plasmus together -- Natasha helps the sympathetic villain, pouring water into his abandoned swimming pool HQ.
As Plasmus heats up, the waters ceases to be effective, and when Natasha gets a little to close, the hose catches alight! Bummer!

Plasmus grabs her leg as punishment, scorching his way through her French Toast denims. Being Russian, no doubt he was thinking to himself, 'my pain, you taste bitch.'

Steel turns up with a big pile of metal, and it passes the melting test.
Plasmus doesn't let Natasha go just yet, though, wanting to try on his new togs, presumably to see if they fit, or make his melting arse look big.
When all is well, Plasmus turns the girl over to her uncle. But wait!...

When Plasmus starts to bubble and boil his way through the gaps in the suit, he curses up a bloody storm, "You will both die for this! Your entire family will die!"

Steel fires off a rivet as he flies away with Natasha, striking a button on the chest which in turn unleashes a shot of liquid nitrogen -- TO THE BRAIN!

Steel decides to leave him for STAR Labs to take care of, but feeling a little resentful toward her captor, Natasha decides to get a piece of her own back, smashing Plasmus to pieces with a stray crowbar.
Ironically, she cites him as a murderer, but for any concerned readers, he has showed up in Villains United, so... There you go.

The hammer...
I got to talk about it briefly the last time I featured an issue of Steel [Steel #21], but damned if this isn't one great, thoroughly underused character.

During the nineties Steel was a character I bought pretty regularly, and was certainly the only DC title I was reading. This was a time of electric Superman, and other wacky business, and for whatever reason, I just hadn't quite reconnected with DC after living life as a Marvel fan.

Really, it doesn't make a lot of sense that Steel would be the guy I would like, either. I mean, here's a guy who's atypical of bad minority characters, derving himself from another character. Obviously some efforts were made to give him his own direction, and I think losing the Superman S had to be one of the best things to happen to the guy, but that stigma is still there.

Then you look at the stories. This guy never came close to reaching his potential.
These stories are, even to the most generous reader, average. A lot of pretty standard superhero action, with some pretty standard nineties ghetto superstar swirls.

Still, there was just something about this character. Something mysterious that made him enjoyable right through all those early, cheesy, ugly stories.
Maybe it's the armor, or the cape, or the fact that, like Batman, this guy is just all the more impressive for earning his place amongst the Gods. Even with all that meta-human nonsense that worked it's way into things.

He's the 'Black Superman,' and a character of great inspiration and all that rah-rah, but just purely as a character, ignoring the angles... He's the crossroads of humanity and super-humanity. He's technology and magic. He's brain and brawn.
He's a great character who has just so much potential, and I think it's great that 52 to casting a spotlight on that.

I just hope Steel can live up to the Steel I would like to see.
It's an opportunity that shouldn't be missed, if you ask me.

I mean, this is a guy you could literally go anywhere with, I think.
I didn't read a lot of the later Priest issues of the solo series, and I know the character shifted a little. He seemed to become a little more mature, but I'd like to think those varying character traits and faces just load the guy up with more potential.

I see him ranging everywhere from senior mentor, guiding voice of reason -- to very much an everyman, standing awkwardly with rookies in a room with Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.
He's the kind of guy who can seem so right with these guys [JLA], and yet, as a veteran of only a decade and a half, sticks out like a sore thumb. He's got the power to roll with those guys, but the touch to stay down on the streets.

I'd love to see an on-going mixing it up in exactly that fashion.
Put him somewhere where you can regularly throw super villain overflow in the mix, but at the same time let him deal with common crime. Put him in a world of character driven dilemma, and let him deal with the streets.
The first order of business, surely, has to be getting him out of STAR Labs, which I assume 52 is doing.

Not that he has to remove himself entirely from the group.
Maybe STAR Labs could provide some of the supporting cast and sets, ala the Flash TV series. There's just so much to draw upon, and I'm really failing to highlight that with specifics, but maybe next time Steel comes around, I'll be better prepared.

The Fight: 3 The Issue: 4.5

NEXT: Face the face! The bat-family do combat with one of Batman's oldest foes -- together again for the first time!

Friday, July 07, 2006

Enemy of the State: Part 5 of 6 (Marvel comics)
Wolverine #24 When: March, 2005
Why: Mark Millar How: John Romita Jr.

The story so far...
When Wolverine makes the trek to Japan to investigate the disappearance of a child, he find himself under attack and at the mercy of the Hand, working with Hydra under the direction of a new young stud calling himself: The Gorgon.

The Gorgon, a mutant gangster resurrected by the Hand, manages to do the unthinkable by defeating Wolverine.
Thus, the Hand are able to resurrect him anew in their own vision, and under their control.

Unable to resist the control of Hydra's technicians, Wolverine now becomes an instrument of destruction. His mission is simple: Take down superpowers so they can be resurrected too.

Recommended reading:
Wolverine #20-#25: Mark Millar's six-part kick butt epic - Enemy of the State.
Wolverine #26-#31: Freed from Hydra's control, Wolverine turns the tables in - Agent of SHIELD.
New Invaders #6: An Enemy of the State tie-in. Wolverine vs the Sub-Mariner.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Draw 3 (Trained Athlete)
Intelligence: Wolverine 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Daredevil 4 (Olympic Sprinter)
Stamina: Wolverine 6 (Generator)
Agility: Daredevil 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting Ability: Wolverine 6 (Warrior)
Energy Powers: Daredevil 2 (Projectile Weapon)

Alright, come on... Admit it. This is just a really cool pairing of characters.
Pretty well evenly matched, even though they're on two sides of the superpowered line.
The deus X-Samurai versus the blind lawyer ninja.

Not many memories come to mind of these characters mingling, but I'm sure they have. Somewhere around the mid-one hundred and fifties I seem to recall these two, and Vengeance, being brought together by their connections to Typhoid Mary.

Anyway, I'm getting a little side tracked by ten year nostalgia, there.
Who, based on available data, should win a fight between Wolverine and Daredevil?

Well, both would have to be admirably recognised in the Marvel Universe for their fighting abilities. Wolverine, generally speaking, resorts to more feral tendencies of slicing and dicing, while I think we'd all agree Daredevil has a grace and poetry to his moves -- hard hitting as they may be.

To account for guys like the Hulk, less refined, instinctive fighting styles rate quite highly. Honestly, if it were about the technical aspects of who is a better fighter here, I'd lean toward Daredevil. I'm sure he would have a variety of ways to pinch, punch and kick his way to a submission.

Daredevil's also no stranger to adamantium.
As impossible as it's supposed to be, Bullseye has had bones replaced with adamantium substitutes. So, you'd figure even with that kind of dexterity, DD would be well prepared with an intelligent attack.

Of course, Wolverine is no slouch. He's the Predator of the Marvel comics world.
Is he running away? Is he disemboweled? Is he a big fan of Britney going brunete? Or is he just playing games with you?
Truth is, it's all of the above, bub.

Wolverine usually has an inate willingness to maim and/or kill, which has been lost on characters like Daredevil, regardless of their gritty lifestyles and lethal training.
That edge arguably gives Wolverine a leg up against most opponents. We saw it when he took out Northstar [Wolverine #25], and in the past with more profile attacks, like when he scarred Thing's lumpy mug.

It's a pretty good match up, really. I think you could get either/or out of me on any given day, but today, I'm going to have to go with the home favourite.
Daredevil's just that damned good, can match Wolverine's senses/stealth pound for pound, and if you catch him on a bad day [I'd take those odds! - Money-spinner Mike], he might just be willing to get killa on the Canuck.
He'll heal!

What went down...
This issue opens where the last ended, with DD waking up on the sofa after a long night, only to find a fist fulla adamantium at his throat. It was always gonna be that, or a traffic cone.

Now, for a zombified Hydra puppet, Wolverine sure does seem to do a lot of trash talking throughout this series. I don't know if this is a slither of Wolverine secretly enjoying killing heroes, or if it's Hydra, being the cheesy villains they are, just stalling to give the hero time to escape -- but either way, it's quite convenient.

Waiting patiently on a rooftop across the street, sniper rifle in tow, is Elektra and a bunch of SHIELD agents.
You'd think that'd be good news, but Elektra - assassin extraordinaire - misses her shot, zipping a bullet past Wolvie's ample head, and into some nameless Hand ninja. Frankly, if that's the quality of her work, no wonder she died.

The shot buys Daredevil the time he needs to kick Wolverine off him, into a wall, and assess the Hand ninja situation.

DD dives behind the sofa, rolling it with him, and then charges at the arrow-shooting ninja, using the seating as a battering ram.
Realising the Hand are barely even sentient, he snatches on of their swords, and starts slashing.

Making light work of the ninja, Wolverine heads back into the fray.
He makes the delightful acknowledgment that the street guys aren't given credit for their skills, versus the powers of the heavy hitters in the Marvel universe. The skills that are so necessary for those without, "...fancy armor or magic hammers keeping them alive..."

Just when you think DD's skills need sharpening, his stray billy club finds the noggins of various faceless Hand ninja goons!

Much like his fight with the Hulk, Daredevil tries to emplore Wolverine to come to his senses.
As he charges through some more smelly sausage ninja, he cleans Wolverine up and charges them all through a door, and down some stairs to the basement.

Wolverine finally gets a kick in, and sends DD flying into a tool cupboard.

A pair of screwdrivers make for good weapons tossed into the covered faces of the Hand ninja, and those razor keen radar senses probably give DD the heads up to dodge the incoming slashing of Wolverine.

DD locks up with Wolverine, grabbing his wrists in a struggle of strength.
The two shudder with tension, before Wolverine gets a stiff knee to the gut.
Stunned, DD is open long enough to take a grazing swipe from the tips of Wolverine's adamantium claws. DD, narrowly escaping a horizontal fileting, rops onto a stack of weights.

Ever the improvisor, DD snatches up a dumbell and nails Wolvie square in the noggin with a "KLUMP!"

Then, in two of the least graceful panels in superhero history, Wolverine staggers backward, and falls on his arse - impaling himself on one of the Hand ninja swords. How embarassin', bub!

Lying on top of a sausage-ninja, with a blade sticking out his chest, Wolverine is granted a moment of clarity. Freed of Hydra's control, he relays a message for Nick Fury, and generally has a bit of a cry. Fair enough, bub. Fair enough.

The hammer...
Wolverine is the best there is at what he does, and what he does clearly ain't jazz tap. Daredevil reigns supreme!

Enemy of the State is not a smart story.
This issue probably contains a little less story than some of the others, but don't let that do it a disservice. It delivers, and moves the plot along for the next six-issue arc, Agent of SHIELD.

What to say about this series? After droning my way through the previous sections, I do tend to like to take this time to say something interesting and maybe even thought provoking - on this occasion, however, I'm not certain I can.

These stories, written by Mark Millar, are just very straight forward.
It perhaps ends up being far more straight forward than one might have expected based on the initial premise, of Wolverine travelling Japan to investigate the disappearance of a family's child.

Within the first issue we quickly learn of the child's fate ["... we fed him to our pigs."], and then move briskly into the super hero action orientated story that eventuates.
From then on, it's eleven issues of pretty simply slashing, smashing and bashing.

Despite some action high points, I probably don't honestly think the story comes into it's own until the last few issues. By then covers feature a far more refined ink/colour to Romita's ugly, utilitarian pencils, and the saga reaches it's climax with multiple showdowns between chief antagonist, The Gorgon, and the stars of the story, Elektra and Wolverine.

It's intriguing to think of this as it was apparently originally intended -- a Blade story. Perhaps the most puzzling element of that would be the potential for early issues that meander around Wolverine's connection with the X-Men.
Perhaps those issues would've been much the same, with the removal of familiarites, thus justifying the issues even less. One can't help but feel Blade dodged a slow motion bullet, in this respect.

For a character that's enjoyed such phenomenal success on the big and small screens, particularly relative to his comic book history, it's just bizarre that better, stronger stories aren't coming his way. Chaykin and Guggenheim certainly haven't filled me with confidence with previews of their upcoming take - but I digress.

Enemy of the State and Agent of SHIELD are both interesting enough in overall concept, and even though issues may be stretched a little farther than necessary, there's plenty of action and eventual story telling to be found. In that respect, Millar remains an oddity for his ability to tell really dumb stories, without anyone (myself included) noticing.

In a way it's a shame some of the themes within this book couldn't have more directly linked up with Marvel's broader continuity, and fed into Civil War; Millar's current mainstream crossover hit.
Hydra's expansive attack on the superhero/supervillain community, and more importantly the potential effectiveness of such an attack, really could've fed well into the paranoia and necessity for regulation in the Marvel U.

Just to close, I mentioned Romita Jr's hideous pencils.
I think it's fair to say they're a personal taste, but for my directorial eye I think it's a pretty big misstep to give Romita a simple cover job. Eye candy is not his strength, and even the addition of rendered finishes by Richard Isanove leave somethingto be desired.
Still, this was an admirable call by whoever made it. I often feel overall art direction is a ball being dropped by the big two, which is sad, because unlike self-publishers like myself, they have the resources to act upon it.

On the positive, Romita Jr is an incredibly practical sequential artist, and despite a disagreement of style, you couldn't fault his ability to tell a story.

No doubt you'll be seeing more of these issues in the future.

The Fight: 4 The Issue: 4

NEXT: We do the timewarp to the nineties, and jump the fence to take a look at DC's star of 52 - Steel!

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Alright, come with me back to July, when this entry should have been posted.
It is, of course, actually September 14 right now as I continue to scramble my way through the many overdue entries.

June was Hulk month, and the last month for the time being to feature theme Monday entries.
Hopefully everyone has enjoyed having four months of extra entries, and with any luck I'll catch up sometime soon, and maybe look at going back to twice a week.

In the mean time, it's been a pretty big month!
You may have noticed a few minor changes here and there.
In an attempt to further enhance the archive of the site, recommended reads will now be included to reference both other interesting stories relevent to the issue in review, and also previous entries here on the site.

From a practical standing, on-site links no longer open into another window.
This was just an irritant in the design, and hopefully keeping it all in the one window will optimize your experience on the site.

The new banner is really just overdue fluff...

Coming in July:
July is/was the month of my birth, so I eventually arrived at a pseudo theme this month. We're going to expand the range of featured issues by featuring entries from four decades starting with the naughties, back to the seventies.

(July 07) Representing the current decade one of the true masters of the fighting comic book. Interestingly enough, this feature will break apart two characters who are neck and neck on the top five. Scroll down to that to get a clue about who they might be!
(July 14) Everybody's favourite decade! The nineties!
I'm taking an opportunity with each entry to try to pick some personal faves, so hopefully noone will mind as we check out one of the stars of DC's 52, taking on an unlikely foe with some issues regarding physical integrity! Ooo, mysterious!
(July 21) My birthday! It's only fitting then that one of my favourite tattered back issue be the feature. It's three generations of crime fighters taking on the nefarious faces of crime, and it'll be the intervention of the unwelcome youngster that sees the day saved!
(July 28) We round out with a seventies entry that is long overdue.
I don't know whether to be shocked or disgusted that this mug ain't been featured yet here on Secret Earths. This month's main event is sure to be a real clobber knocker!

All of that will be coming up ASAP, as I continue to race to get the site back up to date.

The Top Five...
There comes a time when you have to just cut to the chase, and let's face it, on a site dedicated to fun and fandom, this is the meat of the punch-up. The top five.
Some clear leaders are starting to form, but the pack is still thin enough to open it up to anyone. If you think your favourite is being omitted, feel free to drop a comment, so I don't have to think too much about my choices.

Hulk month has quite naturally taken effect, but the more things change, the more they stay the same. Plenty of familiar constants, but some rumblings in the lower ranks. Blah blah blah, I'm struggling here, so here come the pictures.

#1 Batman (-) (7) (DC Comics)
Batman continues to be the dominant presence as we start to have enough entries to form a top ten. There really aren't any immediate signs of the guard changing hands, the character surviving an entire month off the card, with Hulk getting four entries all to himself.

1 Year Later hasn't done a lot for Batman's stock in my opinion, but with Grant Morrison and Paul Dini looming, that may very well change things. For now, Bats remains the default.

- Batman versus Superman (December 23, 2005)
- Batman versus Superman (January 06, 2006)
- Batman & Red Hood versus The Society (January 27, 2006)
- Batman versus Captain America (May 15, 2006)
- Batman versus Bullseye (May 22, 2006)

#2 Hulk (+7) (new) (Marvel Comics)
No surprises here. After an entire month dedicated to the Hulkster, not making the top five would have completely justified shooting him into space.

Have to be entirely honest, despite being incredibly inkeeping with the nature of the site here, Planet Hulk has not enticed me in the slightest. Marvel have just announced World War Hulk for 2007, and if it lives up to the speculation as Hulk's big, angry return to Earth, it just might turn things around.

Name superheroes trump no-name aliens any day of the week.

- Hulk & Superman versus Metallo (May 22, 2006)
- Hulk versus Deadpool (June 05, 2006)
- Hulk versus The Thunderbolts (June 12, 2006)
- Hulk versus Daredevil (June 19, 2006)
- Hulk versus Iron Man (June 26, 2006)

#3 Superman (-1) (2) (DC comics)
Interesting that the Hulk would be sandwiched between Batman and Superman. Apart from being the World's Finest superheroes, they're also two of Hulk's chief rivals in company crossover events.

Superman's got no powers 1 Year Later, which doesn't do a whole lot for his prospects in the top five, and after Superman Returns fizzled and chokened outside your bedroom window (creepy!), it might not look so good for ol' Kal.

You almost have to have Superman represented in the top five at some stage, and with a meager reserve of DC issues in my longboxes, there's every chance this pop culture icon will hold out. I wouldn't predict it, though.

- Superman versus Hulk (May 08, 2006)
- Superman versus Juggernaut (May 22, 2006)
- Superman & Hulk versus Metallo (May 22, 2006)
- Superman & Hulk versus Moleman (May 22, 2006)
- Superman versus Captain Marvel (June 23, 2006)

#4 Wolverine (-) (4) (Marvel Comics)
Did someone say overexposed?
Shucks, despite some shuffling in the top ranks, Wolverine manages to maintain his place in the top five. Which is probably why he's such a fun character to hate.

No matter how much you hate the guy, there's almost always a redeeming quality or story around the corner.
I haven't been keeping track of the new Origins series, but there are a couple of issues I'd like to feature some time, including Millar's fight-heavy Marvel Knights story.

No matter how much you water the guy down, he'll always be one of comics best fighting characters, bub.

- Wolverine versus The Invaders (December 30, 2005)
- Wolverine versus Lobo (April 17, 2006)
- X-Men (inc. Wolverine) & Juggernaut versus Nimrod (April 28, 2006)
- Wolverine versus Killer Croc (May 22, 2006)
- Wolverine versus Deathstrike (May 26, 2006)

#5 Daredevil (-2) (6) (Marvel Comics)
Well, I sponsored the guy early on as a favourite, but it looks like DD might be on his way out of the top five. Early on it looked like he might be the one to take down the Bat, but maybe it just isn't in the cards.

Brubaker and Lark continue to make this title must-read stuff, and that keeps Daredevil in the conscience, and with a fighting chance.
He's a character known for getting back up after a hard knock, and a favourite here at Secret Earths.

- Daredevil versus Scope (January 13, 2006)
- Daredevil & Elektra versus Bullseye (February 17, 2006)
- Daredevil versus Turk (March 10, 2006)
- Daredevil versus Hulk (June 19, 2006)

Ones to watch...
Looking to win back poker kitty from your mates?
Why not trade bets on who will enter the top five next? Here are some stock tips to keep an eye on in the coming months, for all kinds of reasons, including external influence. I am, after all, only human.

#7 Elektra (-2) (Marvel Comics)
She may have slipped out of the top five, but like the character herself, she's got to be a total dark horse. Never a character I've bought in bulk, but I did just pick up the film (oh yes, I did!) and as a chief character in Millar's MK: Wolverine, there's plenty of recent fodder to see her climb the mountain.

#9 Captain America (-1) (Marvel Comics)
Two words: Civil War. Captain America is the character fans like me are sympathising with, and August is guaranteed to see Cap in the mix as we feature the crossover event.
Cap's never looked better than now under the guiding influences of sifu Millar, and sentinel of artistry, Steve McNiven. He's been a little slow, but it's more than worth the wait!

#10 Iron Man (+12) (Marvel Comics)
Two words: Civil War. Does anyone else find it incredibly fitting that these two [Cap] and Iron Man end up ranked one after the other? These guys are both primed for a spot in the top five, and as the leader of the counter point, even if you hate him, Iron Man is a character to watch in 2006!
IM got a good run last month facing both Hulk and Extremis, and he's sure to be in the mix in August!

#11 Flash (-1) (DC Comics)
I just picked up the DVD set of the TV series, and I'm in Barry Allen heaven.
This particular Flash, ranked eleven, is Wally West, but he's just as good as any other Flash.
Post-Infinite Crisis West is MIA, replaced by his nephew Bart Allen, but no doubt he'll show up sooner than later. With the pathetic Flash relaunch being gradually ignored in unison, leaving West missing rather than dead may prove to have been an intelligent call by the powers-that-be.

#16 Silver Surfer (-2) (Marvel Comics)
Marvel dominates the prospects in much the same way as last month, and it's hard to apologise as the company turns around it's dismal efforts of the past two years.
The Annihilation Wave has not only pushed Annihilus to headlining status, but also brought cosmic characters like Super Skrull, Silver Surfer and Nova right back into the spotlight.

After the cosmic battle between She-Hulk and Champion, it should come as no surprise that Silver Surfer is overdue a run at the top on Secret Earths.

The hammer...
There's just so many fantastic comics coming out, and I'm having great fun trying to diversify some of the back issue entries, so hopefully it's a great couple of months ahead.

The hits have started to roll back in [September], so I have to give a big shoutout to everyone that's been checking the site out. Especially the repeat visitors, it's much obliged, and feel encouraged to drop a comment.

Having a lot of fun with the site, and hope to continue to do so.
It's pretty late, so I'm going to wrap it up, even though I always end up forgeting so many things every time these round-ups come up. May have to look at reformatting for August's punch-up...

One last note of business, if you're at all interested, scores were given to entries from December 2005. The first month did not feature these, and they were added for the creator top ten (seen in the menu on the right, updated regularly).

All the best!
Keep on slugging!

NEXT: We travel back through the ages, starting in 2005 with a battle between two top fivers. This one smells like a winner!
June Hit Count: 1382* (+112)

* Hit count was recorded June 30. Hits for June posts may be reflected in September count.