Friday, January 26, 2007

The Bird, the Beast and the Lizard (Marvel comics)
X-Men: First Class #2 When: Decmber 2006
Why: Jeff Parker How: Roger Cruz

The story so far...
Promised a vacation from their troubles, Professor Xavier diverts the trip home to Florida, where he and his X-Men intend to take a relaxing beachside trip to the Worthington holiday home.

Things go awry when the Professor decides to bring his students to visit the home of an old college friend, the biogeneticist, Dr. Curt Conners.

With Conners absent, his wife confides in Xavier and his motley crue of mutants, confessing that he had once more become victim to the lure of genetic experimentation that grants him incredible regenerative healing capabilities -- but also turns him into a human-Lizard.

While the rest of the team lounge on the beach, budding scientist Hank McCoy (the Beast) and Angel set out to catch a Lizard, but will it be they who become prey in the swampy everglades?...

Previous Form:
Beast (#56): Beast has had mixed results, getting physical with Namor and Xorn.
The X-Men: This incarnation of the X-Men, including Beast, Angel & Iceman; was unsuccessful in battle against both Sub-Mariner and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.
The Lizard: Lizard has not yet been featured.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Lizard 5 (Super Strength)
Intelligence: Beast 6 (Genius)
Speed: Lizard 4 (Olympic Sprinter)
Stamina: Lizard 4 (Trained Athlete)
Agility: Iceman 7 (Unlimited)
Fighting Ability: Iceman 4 (Trained Fighter)
Energy Powers: Iceman 2 (Projectile Weapons)

Well, it certainly isn't everyday you have The Lizard up against a trio of X-Men!

The Lizard's an interesting character who tends to fluctuate between the very heights of superpowered menace, and the more average levels of phyiscal menace. As you can see above, we rate him at a five, which is equal to that of the Beast's general strength level, but perhaps with a little bit more ferocity behind it.

Still, that at least reveals a potential blockade for the Lizard's attempts to strongarm his X-opponents. Which, as often is the case, brings us to suppose how this brute might articulate his strength to be advantageous.

As Dr. Curt Conners his intelligence would rival that of Hank McCoy, Beast, but as the Lizard he suffers the usual 'animalistic' regression we see in characters like this. Not that this makes him a total loss in the brains department.
Rather than juggling figures and compound structures, Conners' brainpower redirects it's agility to the art of war, making The Lizard a deadly strategist capable of harnessing the advantages of his surroundings.

The X-Men are trained to deal with this kind of thing, and the Angel, if he has any use in the field, is to thwart urban warfare with a bird's eye view.

This particular trio of X-Men has another advantage, but we'll leave that for now to go to the basic advantage here -- that of numerical superiority.
While The Lizard would be quite capable of handling the three X-Men, I think their abilities are suitable to counter, and ultimately overcome the obstacle.

The Math: X-Men (Total) Lizard (Average)
The Pick: The X-Men

What went down...
Feeling a commonality with his fellow biologist, Beast volunteers a convenient segue for him to feature in this particular issue. Somehow Angel also manages to convince everyone it's a good idea that he go into combat with a giant lizard-man.

Setting off into the marsh on a little boat, Beast steers he and Angel through dense wildlife, eventually coming upon harmless alligators. Fortunately, as Beast kindly informs us, they generally don't exert energy in an attack, so they're relatively safe... Or at least, they were, until Beast notices his compadre has disappeared and there's feathers on the water.

Meanwhile, undah dah sea, Angel finds himself in the merciless grip of the amphibious Lizard, who seems intent on dragging the X-Man down.

Beast, having finally clued in, fulfills his dual role on the team as both 'smart guy' and also 'muscle' by diving in and slapping the good Doctor around a bit.

Angel, feeling useless enough as it is, finds himself on the receiving end of Beast's bulky feet as he is kicked upward toward the surface where he attains some assemblage of use.

Meanwhile, Beast grapples with the mighty jaws of the Lizard, struggling to keep his head off the platter.
Though impressively agile, in the drink Lizard's maneuverability proves too great, as he whips around to bring his body down on top of the dextrous mutant.

As he struggles for breath, Beast finds salvation from above! Angel's unwritten storyarc is complete as he comes to the aid of his friend with their gondele style propultion stick! Smack! Straight to the side of The Lizard's head! Angel is redeemed!

Beast resurfaces for air as Angel finds himself back in hot water, the Lizard using his mighty crocodilian jaws to snap their stick like a twig.

In the boat, Beast catches the end of Angel's wing and yanks him out of the water, so that he might live to fight miserably another day. Oh, I joke because I love.
Angel proves his worth once more [despite my ribbing] by carrying Beast to safety, away from the rickety vulnerability of a boat that Lizard could no doubt destroy with ease. Leaving the X-Men to ponder the home advantage provided by the bayou.

As Beast monkey-swings his way through the trees, Professor X pops in for a psychic chat. This proves to be sufficient enough distraction for the Lizard to emerge from the murky depths, and attach himself to Beast's mighty leg by way of his teeth.

Angel grabs hold of Lizard's tail, looking for a means to aid his buddy. Finally Angel is able to drag the fight by the tail to his domain. The skybound Lizard struggles until finally he makes the call we all face at some time -- he bites his own tail off!

[Having become the Lizard in an effort to regrow a lost arm, Doc Conners has the convenient reptilian ability to regrow lost apendages, so this is nothing to worry about.]

Lizard plops back into the swampy water, where Angel and Beast have little chance of finding him again. So, Beast devises a strategy to use Lizard's own bleeding tail-end as bait to lure him in to a special little trap secretly orchestrated with Prof X.

Detecting the oozing green trail left by Angel, Lizard reemerges, taking hot pirsuit after the duo. Lizard gets awfully close to his prey, snapping at the feathers of Angel's wings, before rounding the corner toward his everglades home where Iceman and Professor X wait.

Using his mutant gifts, Iceman cooks up enough ice in the water to produce a hazing snow as Lizard catches up with Beast.
As the temperature lowers further, the cold-blooded flaws of the Lizard make themselves present as he becomes unable to function.

With Lizard's maw frozen wide, Beast is easily able to pour the transformative cure into his gullet. Thus, Curt Conners is saved once more... Until the next time he has the overwhelming urge to get his arm back, and inadvertantly become a snarling man-beast...

Yeah... Well, at least we learned the benefit of teamwork.

Vanilla Ice... Man. Haw!The hammer...
And so; Beast, Iceman, and yes, even Angel emerge victorious against the lethal Lizard!
[With the assist from Professor X, I might add. - Mike]

Secret Wars on Infinite Earts has a few mission objectives, and sometimes they get a little lost amongst the flying fists and snarling teeth. One of those is to present a friendly entry point into enjoying comics, and I've had the pleasure of talking to various visitors who are casually acquainted with the characters and stories depicted here.

One of the other more base objectives is to map out a ;andscape of who might be the ultimate fighter in comics. Done not through speculation, but rather on their own terms, through issues just like this.
The Lizard is the last foe you would ever list when compiling a catalogue of would-be foes for the X-Men, but here it is in full colour, and it's glorious!

Speaking of glorious, how about that cover art by Marko Djurdjevic?
Gotta admit, after a cover like that, a guy can really be disappointed by more conventional interior artwork. I believe he's been doing cover work on the new Super Villain Team-Up series upcoming, and that too is glorious.
You'll notice a couple of our mugshots (including the above Iceman) are taken from these X-Men: First Class covers. They're fantastic!

Meanwhile, you might be interested in the series itself.
For those who don't know, First Class pertains to the original group of X-Men, rather than any indication of quality. 'Lost Years' books are really a dime a dozen, and efforts to squeeze stories in-between the historical canon can be a pretty messy business. One tends to believe efforts could be better utilized trying to propel properties forward, rather than lingering in the past.

Likewise, a book like this starts to look a little redundant in a world where youngsters have an in through Marvel Adventures: X-Men or even Ultimate X-Men. Although, these sorts of titles have generally failed even in times before those kinds of on-going options were available, so what's the point?

As an eight issue mini-series, First Class should be able to justify itself, but having read two of the eight issues, they lack the collective intent a strong mini-series should have. While there may be a unifying twist at the end of number eight, these early issues show no indication of such, which does not service such an outcome.

These reads are fun. You could not take away from that at all.
It's a thrill to see the X-Men of the sixties fighting other sixties allumnists like The Lizard, or teaming up with Thor and Dr. Strange. It's just a shame that it's done under such dubiously planned circumstances.

The artwork is less than stellar, and actually, it kinda harkens to what you expect from the Adventures line of titles. Though, it certainly isn't what I'd call poor. And whoever came up with the new take on the sixties designs has done a great job, although, by it's nature this just makes this book an even more confusing riddle of logic.

If you're new to the X-Men, it might be a nice way to become acquainted with the guys who were there in the very beginning (and meet the pre-fur Beast), but even the most nostalgic long-time readers probably won't get a lot out of this.

The Fight: 4 The Issue: 4

Friday, January 19, 2007

How I Won the War Part 3: Mutually Assured Destruction (Marvel comics)
Punisher War Journal #3 When: March 2007
Why: Matt Fraction How: Ariel Olivetti

The story so far...
The Punisher is back in the thick of things, and he's ready to bust some face of super villain scum once more.

Under the care of Stuart Clarke, Punisher recovers from the severe beating Punisher received at the hands of Captain America, after he shot two unarmed villains sympathetic to the anti-hero registration act.

Conscious after four days of recovery, Frank Castle finds himself held up in a SHIELD armory with a slew of weapons an intelligence at his disposal. Intelligence that points directly toward the hideouts and movements of criminals throughout the city. First top -- Rhino's place...

Previous Form:
The Punisher: Punisher has not yet been featured.
Rhino: Rhino has not yet been featured.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Rhino 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Punisher 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Rhino 3 (Trained Athlete)
Stamina: Rhino 5 (Marathon Runner)
Agility: Punisher 2 (Average Human)
Fighting Ability: Punisher 4 (Trained Fighter)
Energy Powers: Punisher 4 (Arsenal)

Punisher is a half-crazed Vietnam vet with an uncanny knack for getting hold of copious amounts of weaponry and corresponding ammunition.

Rhino is a really big guy trapped in a super hi-tech suit that gives him strength and stamina enough to go toe-to-toe with the Hulk or even the Juggernaut.

This really is about as open and shut as it gets, folks.

Of course, we all know that these sorts of scenarios have their flipsides no matter how much they defy logic. The key to victory for The Punisher is that innate ability to come up with some big-time weaponry.
An elephant gun might not quite get the job done against the super-hide of the Rhino, but you can bet your bottom dollar that SHIELD has something cooked up especially for Rhino. Not to mention the high grade super-weaponry other organizations in the Marvel Universe probably have. It's not like Rhino's the only level 6 going around.

The overwhelming advantage is in the fact that Rhino can withstand most punishment long enough to potentially make a knock-out charge. Not that that really happens all that often... Certainly not these days. Actually, the guy's become something of a joke, really... Hmmm... I blame poachers.

Poachers and Ralph Macchio.
Not the karate kid, the editor.

The Math: The Punisher (Champion Class)
The Pick: Rhino

What went down...
Having used the SHIELD intelligence to track the Rhino to a warehouse hideout, Punisher makes the tactical decision to burn the place down before announcing his arrival.

Running down a gun barrel is a bit like marriage, sometimes you've just got to commit, and hope for the best. To hell with the danger!When the rampaging Rhino heads out for answers, Punisher is well prepared with a super lightweight SHIELD cannon designed to be as light as plastic.

Rhino takes the heat point blank, sustaining damage to the suit as he's hurled backward through a solid concrete wall.

Lying amidst the rubble and carnage, he has the misfortune of knowing his fate before it happens. The Punisher dons a read glove dubbed the "Satan CLaw," which grants him power of the punch enough to physically send Rhino hurtling through yet another wall, out into the street at large.

What if... The Punisher possesed the Right Hand of Doom?!With the road turn up beneath him, rolled like a carpet, Rhino remains dumbfounded by the attack. Punisher tells him to stay down, and given the beat down Rhino doesn't have much choice in the matter.

Punisher asks Rhino HIS opinion regarding the white boot and glove combo.On his ass, Rhino asks his attacker his identity, and with the smoking rubble behind him, Frank Castle invites the Rhino to take a close look himself.
The giant death's head emblem dawns on Rhino, and although he thought him dead, he realises he has been felled by The Punisher.

Castle gets up nice and close all up in Rhino's grille and makes clear and sure that he'll tell all the other super-criminals on the streets to reset their clocks -- because The Punisher is alive and well, and back to destroy the super villains of the Marvel Universe.

I like to try to keep this a family website, but... Fuck yeah~!

The hammer...
The Punisher debuts on Secret Earths with an unlikely victory over the mountain of muscle that regularly gives Spider-man trouble! And if you don't like it, you can probably kiss his cannon, I imagine...

Interesting to note, and it seems to be an occasional trend, that Rhino seems to have popped up in various titles. He's here, in a new issue of Sensational Spider-man, in the next issue of Cable & Deadpool, and I'm pretty sure I spotted him on the cover of Marvel Adventures Spidey! Interesting!

So, you may have noticed my reluctance to refer to this as The Punisher's return to the Marvel Universe. The powers-that-be, much like many fans, seem to have resigned to the fact that books published under the MAX imprint are all but isolated to their own canon, irregardless of connections to other characters.

Personally, being fond of the MAX Punisher, I like to think it can still work on a level that simply removes Punisher from the super criminal element.
Consider it, after twenty years of dealing with super-crime, a vacation into something that matters. MAX Punisher being the journey of The Punisher into making a real difference to real people, in a way only he can do.

With the Civil War, sure, he felt it necessary to come back to kick the butts of the criminals who were going unchecked because of the hero's in-fighting, but that doesn't mean we need to completely disregard the fantastic stuff going on elsewhere.

Actually, while I can understand the joy of the 'purists,' I'm even kinda disappointed they went back to the more costumed version with the white boots and gloves. I kinda like the evolution to a more subdued, hyper-realistic look to The Punisher. A guy in a trenchcoat and sweatshirt. Why not?

Either way it is pretty sweet having the big P back in the action.
Especially when it involves hardcore action with guys like Stilt-Man and Rhino. That's just really cool. In fact, the only thing that could possibly make this cooler is if the P-man starts dealing with these guys on a more regular basis in strategic combat.

Yes, this brings us back to Winick's Batman, Brubaker's Daredevil, and even my fabled Namor pitch. But tell me it wouldn't be totally bad ass to check The Punisher strategizing in urban warfare against the organized elements of guys like Tombstone, Hammerhead, Sabretooth, Shocker, Deadpool, Bullseye... All these so-called guns for hire, who never seem to actually live up to that role in the world outside of the story listing their appearance in that context.

Of course, if this advice is taken... My Sub-Mariner pitch is totally sunk, so... Y'know... Maybe don't listen to me. At least where The Punisher's concerned.
If you wanna drop the Sub-mariner in that world, then sure. Call me...

Who is Matt Fraction? Well, honestly, I haven't had a lot to do with him prior to this (and I haven't been able to get a hold of Immortal Iron Fist), but it would appear he's the latest talent Marvel have invested in. His previous work must have been decent, because the grooming process has been thrown out the window as he heads up two high-profile projects. And you'd think even friendship could get you only so far where sales are concerned!...

Olivetti? Also someone I've had nothing to do with, but wow!
This presumably CG painted style is something I think we're going to continue to see more and more of in comics, and really, it's not too bad. Olivetti probably holds on to organic motion a little better than an Adi Granov, but there's still room for growth.

A little disappointed that the tussle with Rhino was so brief, and really felt very much tacked on behind flashbacks relating to scenes from the core Civil War book. If it wasn't so dramatic, this would've been relegated to being a quick fix for the Punch-Up. Still, it is forgivable given that the title is War Journal...
I mean, who documents every detail of their day in a journal? You go to the good bits, and the action. Fair enough, guys.

The Fight: 3 The Issue: 5.5

Friday, January 12, 2007

Seeing Red Part Two: The Buddy System (DC comics)
Green Arrow #70 When: March 2007
Why: Judd Winick How: Scott McDaniel

The story so far...
Jason Todd, former Robin and protege to the Batman, has returned from the dead and isn't in the best frame of mind.
Walking a line between good and evil, Todd assumes the identity that gave birth to The Joker - Red Hood - and begins a lethal war against crime for control.

Danny "Brick" Brickwell arrived on the Star City underworld scene abruptly, and his rise to power was swift.
Though his extraordinary strength and rockhide durability were key to his success, perhaps his greatest tool was intelligence and guile.
It was this that set him apart from the other gangsters of the city.

Red Hood has brought his vendetta to Star City, and sought out Brick with a deal too good for a man of his intelligence to pass up. The only question that remains now, is whether or not he'll survive long enough to propose it...

Previous Form:
Red Hood (#29): Red Hood teamed with Batman to defeat members of The Society.
Brick (#197): Brick has suffered defeat at Green Arrow's hand twice.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Brick 5 (Super Strength)
Intelligence: Red Hood 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Red Hood 3 (Trained Athlete)
Stamina: Brick 4 (Trained Athlete)
Agility: Red Hood 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting Ability: Red Hood 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy Powers: Red Hood 2 (Projectile Weapons)

Well, a pretty interesting way to start out the year, I must say.
As a fan and wannabe-writer, I have a great interest and affection for good independent street villains. These guys are arguably two of the best new comers to the scene, and pitting them together is just really interesting. It's not the kind of match-up you'd expect to see.

Anyway, fawning aside, who measures up how?

The most overt advantage here is Brick's rocky exterior which not only makes him invulnerable to fatal wounds from most basic weaponry, but also grants him incredible strength and striking power.

We've seen time and time before how the Batman has been able to overcome overwhelming odds of muscle through strategy and preperation. Victories against Superman, Captain Nazi and Amazo remind us of that.
What's important to recall is not only that Red Hood has had conditioning to approach such obstacles in a likeminded fashion, but is also willing to extend his strategies to incorporate lethal force. Something Batman would never condone.

Thus, in many ways, this makes Red Hood even more dangerous than Batman.

Likewise, Red Hood's acrobatic agility and training in the martial arts put him a level up on Brick, whose school was one of hard knocks. Street wise scuffling may get you to the top of the gang pile, but against guys relying on nothing but skill, your odds start to dwindle.

Certainly it isn't an easy pick-up for Red Hood, but given the difference in experience and style, it's difficult to tip the man-brute that is Brick.

The Math: Red Hood (Champion Class)
The Pick: Red Hood

What went down...
Red Hood shows up on the scene just in the nick of time to mow down his own men, as they threaten to open a can of urban warfare on Brick's ass on a count of a lost shipment of weapons. Foiled, of course, by Green Arrow and Speedy (with a mysteriouso assist from Batman).

Red Hood proposes the notion of Brick helping him with his problem, but when Brick says he isn't interested the helmeted vigilante starts to press his point.

Using his fantastic agility to leap in the path of the hometown advantage, he draws his pistols. Brick shows him just how much he likes that, revealing the hard way how fast he can be.

The crimson cowled one finds himself in the grip of a far more powerful opponent, and unable to breath as he crushes down on his protective helmet.

Reaching for the back of his belt, the Hood produces an explosive grenade which puts distance between he and his potential partner in crime.

Breaking the seal on the helmet, Red Hood reveals the man underneath, still wearing the red domino mask that mirrors his past as a boy wonder.

Red Hood unload a clip of lead in Brick's rocky hide at point blank range, which rocks even his mighty head to the core. Stumbling back, Brick keeps talking, sharing his understanding of the dramatic with a heavy fist that breaks a building wall built with his namesake, as the Red Hood ducks it.

He leaps high into the air, again leaving the Hood to use his speed and agility to narrowly escape certain doom.
The shockwave of Brick's impact rattles Red Hood, but puts enough distance between the two of them to give the smaller of the two opportunity to produce another fantastic gadget.

He fires off a rocket that buries itself into Brick's mighty arm.
With an explosive in his arm and a smiling Red Hood holding a remote detonator, Brick finally stops to reconsider the offer proposed. A deal that will prove mutually beneficial.

The hammer...
Well, even though there's somewhat of a peaceful resolution, I'm going to call this one on points and declare the winner, and king of all the dichotomous gangsters - Red Hood.

If you've been reading Secret Earths for a while, or even tracking back through various links or archives, you'll know there's an invested interest in Judd Winick; or more specifically, his period on the flagship Batman title. [Batman #637, #647, #648]

Something that's been key to my distinct slant toward Marvel titles lately has been the deterioration of my interest in the Bat-titles. Certainly Batman was key to my DC interests this decade, but a shift away from the stoic urban super crime drama of the first half of the 00s, toward retro influenced 'lighter' adventures has curbed my interest.

What's nice about this new storyarc in Green Arrow is that it pays service to Wininck's time on Batman, and continues on the unfolding saga of Red Hood.
The shift in priority of the core Bat-titles meant Red Hood was somewhat lost to the shuffle, reduced to guest-spots in books like Teen Titans, which relied on deviations from his chief objective as displayed in Batman.

Here we are obviously somewhat diverted [to Star City], but Winick is at least able to maintain a consistency of the criminal interactions the Red Hood involves himself with.

Unfortunately Green Arrow remains far less solid as a piece of writing versus the well used issues of Batman. Likewise, Scott McDaniel's overtly cartoony pencils and relaxed inks [by Andy Owens] paint a much less attractive and suitably subdued picture. Which is probably the key difference between he and predecessor, Phil Hester, who, along with Ande Parks, presented a familiarly cartoony look, but with well grounded personal exchange.

Curiously Green Arrow appears to consistently be a touch-and-go title, and while it very much appears to be Judd Winick's stomping grounds, it reads much more B-list than his higher profile work. I don't really have any theories as to why that is, other than perhaps the necessity of editorial decisions forcing Winick to make the decision to cram all his ideas in with immediacy, rather than wait-out the interruption.

Though resembling somthing I'd expect to be more at home in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Brick continues to be an exciting new character in the DC landscape.
As a physical "supervillain" he has an interesting presesnce, but in the vein of the Batman Rogues, he is perhaps most interesting as a character who is capable of astute, almost deadpan understandings of the world in which he operates, and how he can benefit from that.

Though bestowed with extraordinary strength, and a Tombstone-esque theme of resilience, he in many ways reflects real world criminals more accurately.

The Fight: 4 The Issue: 4

Friday, January 05, 2007

Will (Marvel comics)
Spectacular Spider-man #142 When: September 1988
Why: Gerry Conway How: Sal Buscema

The story so far...
Robbie Robertson has made a name for himself as a stern force for journalism, but his past is catching up with him as he feels the push of the albino gangster - Tombstone.

Unwilling to comply with lies any longer, Robertson prepares a tape detailing his dirty history with the thug, and unsuccessfully confronts Tombstone with a firearm.

The casette recording of Robbertson's full confession becomes the hot potato as Tombstone goes on a rampage to retrieve the evidence. Mary-Jane finds herself terrorized by the criminal, and Peter Parker is his next hit -- unless Spidey can get to him first!

Previous Form:
Tombstone (#50): Tombstone has a solid victory over Spidey's pal, Daredevil.
Spider-man (#2): Spider-man has victories over Kraven the Hunter, and Man-Ape.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Spider-man 5 (Super Strength)
Intelligence: Spider-man 5 (Professor)
Speed: Spider-man 4 (Olympic Sprinter)
Stamina: Spider-man 4 (Athlete)
Agility: Spider-man 5 (Cat-like)
Fighting Ability: Tombstone 3 (Street Wise)
Energy Powers: Tombstone 2 (Projectile Weapons)

Well, what do you know? I get the deficit down to under a month and then run head-long into computer gremlins! What a buzzkill!
These scans were done before afforementioned problems, so you might have to bare with me for a little while after this. Anyway...

We've slapped the tape around these two fellows before, Tombstone beind inducted in combat with Daredevil [Daredevil #90] just over a month ago.
With that in mind, you should well know that Tombstone is a tough customer!

Unlike the situation with Daredevil, Spidey's strength not only matches Tombstone but has the potential to well surpass it in short bursts. Which makes this a slightly less intriguing match-up.
Certainly Tombstone's formidable strength makes him a challenge for Spider-man, but Spidey's strength gives him an edge of execution where his speed and agility are concerned.

The advantages against Tombstone make it a fairly easy pick, but don't let the disrespect of recent years fool ya! Tombstone should be noted for being well capable of playing above his level.

The Math: Spider-man (Meta Class)
The Pick: Spider-man

What went down...
Meanwhile -- in Atlanta, Spidey stops by a construction site to sit on a girder and wait for Tombstone, having arranged a drop-off of the evidence tape as Peter Parker.

After waiting forty minutes, the elevator finally emerges but Spider-man's spidey-sense warns him of an incoming swinging pulley hook!
Standing on the level above, Tombstone declares how pleased he is Parker 'called' him, and dives down to tackle the web-slinger in mid-air!

Spidey shoots off a webline preventing the two from falling to their doom, but the move gives the suicide-diving Tombstone the edge to swing them into construction matter.

Tombstone grabs a nearby piece of metallic piping and uses it to catch Spider-man by the stomach and swing him around into metal mesh fencing.
With the spider all tangled up, Tombstone continues the punishment, actually working up a sweat as he swings blow after blow down on the hero.

With Spider-man reeling, Tombstone uses the pipe to push him over the edge and then swats him over with a swing that suggests a pretty low handicap!

Tombstone stands triumphant, but as he attempts to survey the devestation, he finds himself unable to spot the expected red and blue stain below. Uh-oh!

With sticky hands, Spider-man swings himself up from the floor below, driving his feet into Tombstone's pasty mug with explosive force.

Tombstone's up quick, but Spider-man continues the return, knocking him down with the proportional strength of a spider to the point where major orthodontal reconstruction is most likely.

The ribs don't miss out though, Spider-man driving his mighty fist deep into the mid-section of the bruising baddie, before swinging through with another right-hook.

Despite the amazing beatdown, somehow Tombstone still manages to rise to his feet once more. Remember kiddies -- Tombstone plays above his level!

As Spider-man professes his superiority, he provokes a wild charging attack from the man in black.
Spidey backs his words up, showing off his speed with a matador side-step that leaves Tombstone eating girder.

In a bizarre moment of pathos, Tombstone reveals a sign of redemption as Spider-man asks, "Why didn't you kill Robbie Robertson when you had the chance?"

Kill Robbie Robertson? How could he? Robbie's his friend.

With the villain out on his feet, Spider-man finishes the job, using his super strength to knock Tombstone straight off the scaffolding!
As Tombstone plummets to his doom, Spider-man plays the good hero, shooting off a line of webbing that jerks his lethal foe back, before dropping him into a truck full of wet cement.

And as Spider-man retrieves the tape he'd dropped during the fight, unbeknownst to either he or Tombstone, Robbie Robertson finishes his complete confession to the press from his hospital bed.

Despite his criminal negligence, Robbie Roberton's family and friends, including his old friend and boss, J. Jonah Jameson, all agree to back him for his courage.
A win for the good guys all around, I'd say...

The hammer...
And Spider-man starts the year off with an impressive victory!

Meanwhile, as I mentioned earlier, I'm not having that kind of Spidey-luck. My decrepid old computer is struggling to come to terms with word processing, let alone the scanning of superhero smackdown -- so once more there may be a slight delay before the next entry.

Rest assured our technicians will be doing their utmost to ensure we beat any stinking pinko into unexplored blog-space. The risks are many, and though our shielding is poor, we have the hearts of champions.

FF analogies aside, I've scored a late-Christmas haul, so at the very least I have some fresh fodder coming our way. Among the battles of brilliance are mostly new stories, but rest assured, they're all checked and approved by Uatu himself.

So, anyway, I was saying during the last time we discussed Tombstone, just how much I have an affection for Sal Buscema's pencils. Well, hopefully you too can at least appreciate some kind of understanding of where I was coming from.
I guess the particularly interesting thing about Herr Buscema is not only his penchant for action, but his incredible human moments.

PICTURED: Sal Buscema dumps David Finch upside the head for being a dirty punk, after exploding his face with fists of fury.Amidst the flying bodies, spittle strings and punch explosions, you could lose site of the human element to Sal Buscema's work, but it's undeniably there.
Buscema's contemporary of the time, Kevin Maguire, gets most of the press for his facial expressions, but few artists have the distinctive character that Buscema is able to instill in each mug.

Buscema's Tombstone is Tombstone to me, and if there's any detail I would criticise of Lark's work, it's that is just doesn't look like Buscema. Which is a complaint that is all but impossible and ridiculous to expect to live up to.
There's just something that distinctive about Buscema's work. Likewise, his core cast from JJJ to Robbie to MJ all have a very distinctive and memoral look.

So to the youngsters joining us, if I can get all Cap on your asses, the next time you're gawking slack jawed at the rendered works of David Finch, taste pain at the hands of his better -- Sal Buscema!

And remember kids -- Tombstone plays above his level!

The Fight: 4.5 The Issue: 5
Note: Mr. Buscema probably doesn't consider himself anyone's better, and I cannot condone the use of 'yo momma' slurs direct toward Mr. Finch. He's a fine young artist who continues to hone his craft.

Monday, January 01, 2007

MONTHLY PUNCH-UP #13 (January 2007)
The Bottom Chapter Six: Glories Such As These (Marvel)
Where: Moon Knight #6 When: November 2006
Why: Charlie Huston How: David Finch

Quick Fix...
Moon Knight is shaping up to be a character to watch in 2007, and it all starts here with the on-going series that's got a lot of the right people talking. In fact, so exciting was the return of Moon Knight, that the series was resolicited as an on-going before it was even released!

Moon Knight is one of those many second-tier characters that fell off the map during the post-nineties decline in comics, and a self-loathing depression for all we had achieved as an industry.
Unfortunately, along with other 'flash in the pan' characters, Moon Knight was washed into the corner as events and brands were manipulated back to more stable areas.

Finally Moon Knight is back in a big way, and who can't be pleased about that?
Only a dirty werewolf, that's who! A werewolf who's going to have to suck it up, as even a Moon Knight TV series has been announced off the heels of a name-reference in the ill fated Blade television programme.
Fingers crossed that comes to fruition!

Here we join Charlie Huston's Moon Knight at the tail end of a battle with the Taskmaster! Having crashed into a building, Moon Knight scrambles with Taskmaster amidst the rubble.

Taskmaster invites his foe to die, firing off arrow after arrow from a crossbow. Which, as Hawkeye would gladly tell you, is the pansy weapon of the nancy archer. Pssshyeah!

Moon Knight takes each arrow gladly and as Taskmaster draws his sword, invites him to kill him again. With no fear the Moon Knight looms over his opponent. Death is a fate Marc Spector has endured many times before.

Taskmaster cowers before the determined menace of Moon Knight, as he draws one of his razor crescent blades.

Despite being a six-issue storyarc essentially about ripping people's faces off, MK is satisfied with merely cutting Taskmaster's skull-like mask off.
Taskmaster has a meltdown, as Moon Knight leaps away -- victorious.

Certainly this is a book that has meandered it's way through it's first six issues, and in future novelist Charlie Huston might like to consider picking up the pace to better take advantage the visual advantages allowed by comic books.
Not to say Huston has made a poor transition to the medium, quite the contrary, but his formula is frustrating in how drastically it drags it's feet before racing into action, and then screeching to another halt.

Finch's lines reach a new leve here, and honestly, the excess of pencil work is a little frustrating. Some detail becomes blurred, unable to see the forest for the trees, ie; Moon Knight's cowl.
Visually it has an air of McFarlane about it, with it's unnecessary lines, and with the subject matter and overall presentation, there's a very Spawn vibe here.

Never the less, it will be very interesting to watch Moon Knight in the coming months.

The Fix: 2.5 The Issue: 5.5

An End to 23:59?...
Somewhere around the middle of 2006 I found myself lagging behind in posts, and since I'm typing this as the clock turns over to the 22nd, you probably know this already.

These posts are identified by the posting time of 23:59, and in 2007 I'm hoping to endeavour to keep the ship afloat and running on time, to again cultivate a regular viewing audience. That means posts on Fridays again, with no immediate thoughts toward Monday additions. That might change if things run smoothly.

Also, 2007 will see some slight formatting changes, including a brand spanking clean new banner that isn't as busy, but still adds colour and verve to the site.

The resetting of the top five is something I mentioned last month.
"Previous Form" will continue to feature the cumulative ranking of a character in regular posts, but the monthly punch-up will now feature an all new top five based on this month's posts. That top five will debut in February.

For those interested in the on-going developments, the super-stock will continue in punch-ups, also featuring the 'true' rankings. Thus keeping everything running smoothly, whilst allowing a fresh new wave of characters to hit the spotlight. Or Batman again.

As you'll soon see, the top five will change slightly to include more information for your viewing and stastistical pleasure. We aim to please!

The Top Five...
And now what many have been waiting for, the top five characters of 2006.
With the entries made over December, it shouldn't be too difficult to figure out where things stand at the end, but it still deserves to be canonized.

#1 Batman (-) (13) (DC)
Class: [Meta] Last Opponent: [Atomic Skull]
Win Percentage: [77.78%] Features: [9]

Batman had to finish the year in the top spot. I don't think there could have been any other just result, and it's worth it.
Spending an uninterrupted reign at the top of the table, the Batman's features highlighted what makes him such a beloved character, and such a well regarded fighting character.

After such a dominant year it might come as a surprise that I would predict a slump for Batman in 2007. Certainly the more recent creative direction of the character does not have my interest as devoted as it was, and maybe I'm just feelin a little burnt out on the character.

Certainly he'll always be a lurking presence on the site, but it might be better to start putting your money on some of the other heavy hitters this time.
Then again, as news filters out regarding the big screen Dark Knight feature, things might turn around all over again.
Best Fight in 2006: Batman & Nightwing vs Amazo

#2 Spider-man (-) (5) (Marvel)
Class: [Meta] Last Opponent: [Shriek & Doppelganger]
Win Percentage: [75%] Features: [8]

Spidey was a late and surprise entrant, but as one of the most recognisable characters in comics, he's certainly made his presence known here on Secret Earths.

As one of the more compelling characters in Civil War, Spidey has been ever present, and certainly I found myself in a phase of spider-mania.
As the only guy to truly challenge Batman, Spidey gets credit where it's due, and honestly... From this vantage point he's a far more likely candidate for top five in 2007.
The return of the black costume and a third feature film really promises a whole mess of accessiblity to the Spider-man. Accessibility that will no doubt again spark my interest in the character who, in many ways, represents comics for my mind.
Best Fight in 2006: The Avengers [inc. Spider-man] vs The Secret Avengers

#3 Iron Man (-) (5) (Marvel)
Class: [Super] Last Opponent: [She-Hulk]
Win Percentage: [71.43%] Features: [7]

With Civil War enveloping the entire Marvel universe, Iron Man has once again been thrust straight back into the A-list. It's no small wonder that he finishes one of the top characters of 2006.

Post-Civil War will surely be an interesting time for the Iron Man character.
An upcoming feature film almost guarantees his longevity, but as the chief instigator in the 'war on heroes,' you have to wonder how the character can recover from the 'damage' done. It should certainly be an interesting 2007 for Iron Man!
Best Fight in 2006: The Avengers [inc. Iron Man] vs The Secret Avengers

#4 Wolverine (-) (8) (Marvel)
Class: [Meta] Last Opponent: [Xorn]
Win Percentage: [50%] Features: [10]

On a site like this, the predictability of Wolverine being in the top five is kinda disappointing. Never the less, you can't say it isn't fitting on a blog entirely dedicated to superhero comic book fights.

Hah, like the previous three characters that have rounded the year out in the top five, Wolverine has a feature film in the wings. I guess that kind of interest will probably filter down to allow continued exposure in 2007.
Certainly the exercised restraint in the Civil War crossover has been a refreshing change of pace, with Wolverine canonically staying 'neutral' to the debate.

Though I sceptically imagine it is not, it would be nice to imagine this is a sign of changing winds in the way the crossover is written. Certainly Millar has a history of astute simplicity, and sidelining a promotional tool like Wolverine is very much along the lines of the 'fan' writing the story.
That is to say, it's what many have been able to see for two decades, but has not been organically allowed to occur.

Apparently you can't keep a good Canadian down (unless they're a throwaway member of Alpha Flight... Ouch!), and we'll probably see more of Wolvie in 2007. Sorry.
Best Fight in 2006: The X-Men [inc. Wolverine] vs Magneto

#5 Daredevil (RE) (11) (Marvel)
Class: [Meta] Last Opponent: [Iron Fist]
Win Percentage: [50%] Features: [8]

Well, okay. Sentimental favourite from the beginning scrapes in at the end of the year by blatant favourtism. Really Hulk should've been the first feature in December, but c'mon... It's Daredevil!

To be fair, with the exception of being featured, the issue was chosen as indifferently as possible, and hey! He didn't even win!
I guess that's the general beat of DD's drum, too. The best received Daredevil stories almost all feature some kind of overwhelming loss, and the payback isn't always worth it.

Certainly Daredevil will remain a stalwart on the blog through 2007, with the last few years worth of issues being the major fodder. Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark continue to do amazing things post-Bendis/Maleev, and DD remains a sentimental favourite.
Lord knows there are a couple of issues from the very beginning of the blog that never got featured, too. So watch out for that!
Best Fight in 2006: Daredevil & Elektra vs Bullseye

Cyclops shines this month, outdoing Namor by moving up the stock over fifty places!Super Stock...
1. Batman (-) (DC)
5. Daredevil (+1) (M)
6. Hulk (-1) (M)
7. Superman (-) (DC)
8. Captain America (-) (M)
12. Zatanna (-) (DC)
33. Soldier (new) (DC)
51. Doppelganger (new) (M)
53. Thing (-2) (M)
54. Cyclops (+57) (M)
55. Beast (+55) (M)
56. Professor X (+5) (M)
65. She-Hulk (-13) (M)
66. Bullseye (-4) (M)
82. Hawkeye (-1) (M)
107. Beak (new) (M)
108. Fantomex (new) (M)
109. Emma Frost (new) (M)
111. Lionheart (new) (M)
112. Shriek (new) (M)
113. Ion (Kyle Rayner) (-10) (DC)
116. Iron Fist (+47) (M)
117. Jean Grey (-5) (M)
123. Xorn (new) (M)
190. Atomic Skull (new) (DC)
195. Toad (-14) (M)
196. Magneto (-10) (M)

The Hammer...
Traditionally the Quick Fix has contribued to the immediate results of the super stock, but in the interest of keeping 2007 all in one place, Moon Knight and Taskmaster are the first to be ranked for the year.

Completing the year seems like a coming of age for the blog, and hopefully through the new year your readership will continue to support the ticking over of that little hit counter at the bottom of the menu.
Certainly a big thank you has to go out to all who have been visiting the site, and even more thanks to those coming back, and/or linking to it.

The higher that hit counter goes, the longer my hair gets, and the longer my hair gets, the more powerful I become. Please, don't make me hunt you down like dogs, because without those hits I will be forced to seek out fresh souls for consumption.

I'd love to finish up by telling you what to expect in 2007, but honestly - I don't know! I wouldn't have caught up if I'd maintained some kind of structure, so I don't intend to change that anytime soon.
The guy I've been going to for fifteen years to get my comics has sold the store and will be moving out soon, so the very future of my comics reading has completely changed. I might actually have to start investigting this thing called "online purchase" and put my new PayPal account to good use.

In the mean time, I guess you'll just have to put up with my collection of 90s Marvel comics... Goooooooooo Morbius!

December Hit Count: 3380* (+603)

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