Friday, December 01, 2006

MONTHLY PUNCH-UP #12 (December, 2006)
The Great Beyond (Marvel)
Where: Beyond! #1 When: September 2006
Why: Dwayne McDuffie How: Scott Kolins

Quick Fix...
Technically this is our anniversary, but for the time being it's quick business as usual. Stay tuned, folks.

I've had this one sitting around for a while now, and honestly I only came across it at the time because I was browsing through Marvel's sales lists. Since it's release I've only come across one source talking about it, and that was The Invincible Super-Blog. A nice read to be sure, but not exactly an endorsement in Wizard Magazine. [Wizard may have featured this series. I do not know because I haven't really researched these claims.]

For those who haven't been writing about the series, and are blissfully unaware as to it's story -- it's quite simple. That wacky cosmic deity, The Beyonder, is at it again, gathering together a motley crew of superheroes to duke it out in an obscure combat challenge. This is the series we probably wish Secret Wars II was, but alas, I will not dwell on the past...

Spider-man, front-and-centre on the cover, is obviously the lynchpin of the promotional angle on this series. He's the kind of character who's pretty generously spread around, and could probably be justified, while the other characters largely read like a who's who of available characters.

These are by no means characters I'm terribly interested in, but the concept is enough to warrant a look, and yes, the inclusion of guys like Spider-man and Venom do lend to getting these other guys exposure.
The line-up of second stringers includes; Firebird, Hank Pym, Gravity, Medusa, Wasp, The Hood, Kraven the Hunter Jr #2, and the villain formerly known as Scorpion, Mac Gargan.

Pleasantries completed, things kick-off with a bellowing voice from the void that declares, "I AM FROM BEYOND! Slay your enemies and all you desire shall be yours! Nothing you dream of is impossible for me to accomplish!!"

The Hood goes a little crazy, but Kraven Jr II quickly puts an end to his gun-toting rampage, and debate begins as to what the heroes should do.
Of course, having a guy like Mac Gargan around is bad enough when he's the Scorpion, but as Venom there's got to be a second underlying whisper of insanity, and that's where business picks up.

Though the intentions behind the act are unclear, McDuffie does well to kick things off in a very typical fashion. Venom extends his symbiotic costume out with destructive intent, and Spidey swiftly hops over it.

Spidey webs up Gargan's eyes as he goes on a muscle bound rampage.

The quips fly as Spider-man dances around his foe, and smashes the floor with his face.
He procedes to web Gargan up, but to the shock of all, Gargan uses the symbiote to manifest a Scorpion style tail, and impales the unwitting spider with it.
[Lest we forget, the symbiote does not trigger Spidey's preternatural Spider-Senses! - Mike]

The other heroes can only gaze on horrified as Spider-man's limp body peels from the tip of the symbiote tail with a shluk, and tumbles down toward the ground.

Using her animated firey red hair, Medusa cradles Spider-man before he can hit the ground, and draws nearer.
The fatally wounded Parker mistakes his savior for his wife, Mary Jane, and whispers his final words to her.

Venom, believing he had completed the challenge required by the Beyonder demands what he deserves. Medusa rises from the corpse with a tear in her eye, and promises to deliver exactly that.

Of course, Spider-man is still running around and having problems, so you can rest assured his death is reversed, but you do have to wonder whether or not it was worth it.

Presumably Spider-man was there as an entry point, and this gives an opportunity to have the other character shine, but there's still something terribly cheap and nasty about this. Still, apparently one of the repercussions of the series is to be dealt with in McDuffie's upcoming Fantastic Four run.

Not to end on a sour note, but as far as the art goes, Scott Kolins is not winning me over. I was appalled by one of his New Invaders covers in particular, and ever since it's just felt like it's downhill.
Underneath it all there's probably some fine pencils, but the colour palettes following him around aren't helping, and the inking process is entirely unflattering. If this is digital, as it appears, then I continue to equate this with the dark side of what CP Smith has done.

The Fix: 4 The Issue: 4
Winner: Venom (Mac Gargan)
Amendment (02/02/07): The Spider-man in this battle is in actual fact The Space Phantom.

As I mentioned, this officially marks a full year of Secret Wars on Infinite Earths.
For the sake of a clean break I'll leave some of the nostalgia for January's Punch-Up, but I should take this opportunity to thank each and every reader out there.
Hit counting technology allows me to know you are out there, and particularly with all the delays in entries, I appreciate the views.

Hopefully there'll be plenty more droll, uninspired summarizing and alliterations coming in this new year [of which we are already twelve days into].

Next year there'll be a few changes, notably a fresh start to the rankings.
A year of the top five has provided us with some fun and interesting results, but to keep it fresh, the top five will restart for 2007. Next month we will crown the top five characters for 2006, so this is a big month for some guys!

With that in mind we might do something a little a different.
Instead of talking about the top five characters, it might be nice to take a look at the top five creative contributors. As you'll no doubt notice, at the top of the page in the right column is a cumulative top ten list of writers and artists.
This is updated after every entry, and due to the sheer number of creators involved, will not be reset for 2007.

Secret Wars on Infinite Earths began with a simple mandate, and that was to enjoy and explore comics and superhero characters in a fun, welcoming atmosphere. I've enjoyed sharing links with readers much less familiar with the medium than I, and I hope you guys can do the same.
Comics are fun, educational and entertaining. There's no shame in indulging in a little light hearted debate or discussion about them. Even when it's about who would win a fight, and even if you're one of those bozos who thinks the Hulk should beat Superman. Hah! Shyeah, what-evarrr!


The Monthly Top Five Creators...
#1 Ron Marz (Writer) (Freelance)
Ron Marz has held the top spot fairly conclusively since we featured DC versus Marvel on it's tenth anniversary.

Being brutally honest, he's not one of my favourite writers, but to his credit he's firmly entrenched himself in the cosmic character culture.
His work with characters like Silver Surfer and Green Lantern has to be considered pretty solid, and including Super-Skrull in battle against Thor is always a good thing.

I don't expect to be seeing much of Ron Marz in 2007, but the Silver Surfer/Green Lantern crossover issue has been sitting on my 'to-do-list' since the site started, so he's not completely out of the picture.

#2 Judd Winick (Writer) (DC Comics)
In many ways you could consider Winick the true number one, which in many ways is surprising. I would not generally rate Winick as one of my favourite writers, but his efforts on Batman have really earned him his spot here.

His partnership with Doug Mahnke, along with a strong take on Gotham and it's characters really attracted me to his work in 2005.

Green Arrow remains a solid book, although post-Hester/Parks, it isn't the visual powerhouse it once was. Enjoyable, but I would not consider this to be top-tier written work from Winick. Editorial demands may have contributed to that.

History shows DC is willing to support Winick as an A-list writer, and while he may not occupy the role completely, he has a good base to work from as one of the many writers involved in the epic storytelling of 52 and the events of the DC Universe.

#3 Claudio Castellini (Penciller) (Freelance)
Before the DC vs Marvel series I had very little to do with the Italian born penciller, and honestly, I've had nothing to do with him since.

While his linework is clearly competent, DC/Marvel was far from inspired or impressive. I don't know if this is indicative of his work on a whole, or just the result of popular influences of the time imposing on his own style and efforts.

I'm completely unaware of his current working situation, and would imagine 2007 will fascilitate the devouring of Claudio Castellini as other creative voices are heard in the same quantity, here on the site.

#4 Doug Mahnke (Penciller) (DC Comics)
As Winick's partner in crime on Batman, Mahnke collaborated with an impressive unit of inkers and colourists to complete the image of Gotham City, alive and populated by criminals.

Smooth, competent and well placed lines made this particular run on Batman a real joy to read. This unfortunately contrasted against fill-in artists, who brought a less subdued approach to the characters.

I haven't had the pleasure of observing Mahnke in many other books, but I would imagine he is a talent that will be keenly observed by Secret Earths.

#5 Frank Miller (Writer/Penciller) (Freelance)
For the past couple of decades a select few individuals have risen through the comic booking ranks to cast looming shadows over the industry. Certainly Miller's unique, but influenced voice has made him a stalwart to many-a comic fans top five lists.

As writer/artist on the critcally acclaimed The Dark Knight Returns, Miller told many great stories, and most importantly to this website, some great fights.

Dual credits on Superman/Batman play a part in this positioning, but few fans could argue that it isn't deserved. Even if later works have been controversially received, such as the allegedly cancelled All-Star Batman and Robin.

As he moves closer to the Hollywood side of things, following up on his co-directorial debut on Sin City, Frank Miller will no doubt remain in the consciousness of fans everywhere. Removal from on-going comics, however, leaves his relevence in 2007 a fifty-fifty crapshoot as far as Secret Earths is concerned.

Namor laughs last with a bullet, up forty positions from last month, while Magneto plummets to the very bottom - #186!Super Stock...
1. Batman (-) (DC)
2. Spider-man (-) (M)
5. Hulk (+1) (M)
6. Daredevil (-1) (M)
7. Superman (-) (DC)
8. Captain America (-) (M)
9. Venom Symbiote (+8) (M)
12. Zatanna (-1) (DC)
17. Sub-Mariner (+40) (M)
21. Silver Surfer (-1) (M)
28. Rogue (+9) (M)
32. Venom (Mac Gargan) (new) (M)
40. Sagat (-2) (Capcom)
47. Rayden (new) (Midway)
48. Tombstone (new) (M)
52. She-Hulk (-4) (M)
61. Professor X (new) (M)
77. Colossus (+4) (M)
101. Scarlet Witch (new) (M)
102. Gambit (new) (M)
105. Wonder Woman (-3) (DC)
112. Jean Grey (new) (M)
177. Scorpion (new) (Midway)
178. Angel (new) (M)
179. Iceman (new) (M)
180. Mastermind (new) (M)
181. Toad (new) (M)
182. Quicksilver (-81) (M)
186. Magneto (-72) (M)

The Hammer...
That about wraps up December's punching intro!
We've got a fifth week as we come to the end of 2006, so bare with me as I grapple with the trials of technology. Scanning may pose some difficulties, but we will prevail.

A lot of Marvel lately! Mostly a symptom of my whims, and dipping into the well of a mostly Marvel collection. I can only apologise for that in hindsight guys, sorry! Be sure to scout back and check out the many fine contributions made to the site by DC Comics!

As the Super Stock shows, there's still a lot that could happen in the top five as we wind down this month. There are a lot of guys still in contention, so if you were ever to stay tuned, this is the month to do it!

To try to make up for my blatant bias, I'd like to leave you with some of the very best DC issues featured on Secret Earths in 05/06. Hopefully they can make up for just a portion of the Marvel zombie pain being inflicted upon DC-loyal fans. Cheers!

- Dark Knight Returns #4
In a grim and gritty future, Batman does battle with the government controlled Superman in one last nasty showdown. It's dirty, it's grim, and it's the Batman's last F-You... Or is it?

- Batman #637
Batman and Nightwing team up to deactivate a stripped down Amazo android that has been purchased by Black Mask. Things get nasty and rough, as the android with the powers of the Justice League takes on two of DC's most prominent heroes without powers.

- Blue Beetle #1
There's a new Blue Beetle in town, and his magical armor has something in common with much of the DC Universe -- It doesn't like Guy Gardner!
More psychotic than every, Guy Gardner does what we always knew he would -- battle with a pubescant!

- Seven Soldiers: Zatanna #4
In the wake of the revelation that Zatanna wiped the minds of villains and heroes alike, she takes leave of the League to find herself. What she finds instead is a whole mess of trouble, and the moustached Zor is right at the forefront of it!

- Green Arrow #45
Green Arrow comes face to face in a confrontation with the newest and most dominant criminal element in his city - The Brick. It's man against monster as Ollie attempts to fight a guy whose rocky hide can take all of his tricks!

- Identity Crisis #3
Dr. Light has remembered all the thoughts the League stole, and he's none too happy. Not the most threatening scenario, but when Deathstroke enters the game bought and paid for, the League are in for some serious trouble!

- Batman #647
The villains are uniting, and with Batman and Red Hood on his case, Black Mask is happy to accept entry in exchange for assistance. Enter Captain Nazi, Hyena and Count Vertigo.
Batman must team up with his former protege in a bitter fight against foes more powerful than they have ever faced!

- Batman #648
Black Mask has had enough, and it's time for a final showdown between criminal mastermind and vigilante thug.
While Jason Todd steps up to the plate, Batman races to the scene, but can he get there in time to save Red Hood from himself -- or is there another twist waiting in the wings?

- Hawkman #31
Relocation to St. Roch has not come without it's trials for Hawkman, and as if the people and police of the city weren't suspicious and resentful of the hero before -- a spate of deaths that link straight to the hero will make sure they are!
Hawkman does battle with an all new foe!

- Batman #442
It's Tim Drake's first day on the job as Robin, and with Batman and Nightwing trapped beneath an exploded building, it's going to be a doozy.
Add Two-Face menacing in the wings and convinced a late night radio programme is feeding him commands, and you've got yourself a great big dose of uh-oh!

November Hit Count: 2777* (+386)

* Hit count was recorded December 1. Hits for November posts may be reflected in the December/January counts.

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