Friday, February 23, 2007

Vendetta's Echo (Marvel comics)
Blade #5 When: March 2007
Why: Marc Guggenheim How: Howard Chaykin

The story so far...
When the so-called Civil War began amongst the heroes, Wolverine made a point of withdrawing, making a rare declaration of neutrality. Unfortunately, his bloodlust for the villain called Nitro sees him coming into conflict with not only the villain, but also diplomatic denizens of Atlantis.

Thus, Wolverine is dragged into the Civil War, as is Blade, albeit completely inadvertently.

While on the trail of Morbius, Blade is beset upon by SHIELD, revealing Morbius' status as a registered hero. Having been passed over by SHIELD, Blade is finally approached for registration in an effort to recapture a previously detained Wolverine.
SHIELD believe Blade to be their best shot at capturing the mutant Avenger, and in exchange for his services will grant him vampire-hunting amnesty. Thus, Blade hunts a new prey this night...

Previous Form:
Wolverine (#4): Wolverine has solo victories over Lobo, Lady Deathstrike and Silver Samurai.
Blade: Blade has not yet been featured on the site.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Blade 3 (Trained Athlete)
Intelligence: Wolverine 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Wolverine 3 (Trained Athlete)
Stamina: Wolverine 6 (Generator)
Agility: Wolverine 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting Ability: Wolverine 6 (Warrior)
Energy Powers: Blade 3 (Explosives)

Straight off the bat the stats make this look like it's all Wolverine, but that really is not the case at all. In fact, while Wolverine may be deemed to have the edge in some of the above measured feats, statistically each fighter rates on the same level.

Characterization tends to paint Blade in a different light depending on where, when, and under who's watch he's appearing. I tend to like to think of him somewhere in between the various comic book incarnations, but skewed more toward the successful Wesley Snipes film vehicles. This means I've more than embraced the Daywalker moniker, regardless of whether or not it was nature or the nurture of Morbius that granted it to him.

This means Blade should be fully recognised as one damned tough customer!
As the saying goes, 'all of their strengths, none of their weaknesses.'
We're talking enhanced strength, speed, agility and some degree of heightened senses, particularly where detecting the supernatural is concerned.

These abilities are all comparable to Wolverine, and in fact, the Daywalker even possesses a greater capacity for healing. Of course, he probably couldn't survive a stake through the heart (or any other fatal point), let alone three of them.

They say Wolverine's the best there is at what he does.
Despite generally dismissing conventional technical attack, Wolverine is an instinctual and savage fighting presence. Blade's fighting process is far more refined, and he could certainly disarm and detain Wolverine, but whether or not that would be enough to cage the beast is hard to say.

Ultimately skills like a healing factor, reinforced adamantium skeleton, and six protruding claws included with said skeleton, make Wolverine a tough customer for any normal man. And though Blade may not be normal, he isn't extra ordinary either.

The Math: Wolverine
The Pick: Wolverine

What went down...
SHIELD are nice enough to point Blade in the direction of their prey, a tiny, poorly guarded hideout in Brooklyn. Blade notes, the security might not be much, but when you're Wolverine, what kinda security in the burbs do you really need?

Wolverine stumbles in to find Blade in his living room, and having just gone toe-to-toe with Omega Red, he's none too happy about the prospect of anything that doesn't involve a beer and a stretched out spot in his crib.

The two heroes compare cutting implements before Blade lunges into battle with his single sword, promising it will be all it takes to take the X-Man down.
Wolvie disagrees, taking a swipe out of Blade's jacket, but otherwise puts up little defense for Blade to impale him straight-up with his sword.

Impaled healing factor gag? Yeah... It got old...Reminiscent of many-a-scene [including recently featured Cable & Deadpool #36 - Memorisation Mike], Wolverine slides down the sword, making a point of the advantages of a healing factor.

The tips of his blades slice the face of the Blade, and Wolverine puts distance between the SHIELD mercenary with a cracking left hook.

With the pressure off for a couple of minutes, Wolverine yanks the blade from his gut, with a money-back guarantee that he'll stick it where the sun doesn't shine. Now, I know what some readers are thinking -- Wolverine is Canadian. Well, all the more reason to believe that guarantee is iron-clad.

A paragraph of weak comic relief later, Blade is firing off a round from his pistol into the healing torso of the healing mutant.
This proves to set him off, leading Wolverine to abandon his warrior's ironies, and abandon the sword in favour of a more frontal, berzerker attack.

With the mutant up in his grille, as they say on the streets, Blade doesn't back down, throwing out another cracking left.

It does little to phase Wolverine, who maintains a mount position and raises his extended claws above his head. With the half-vampire looking to become all dead, he makes one last ditch effort.

Tearing the mask from Wolverine's face, Blade produces a vial of vampire blood at puts it to Wolverine's neck. The enzymes in the blood promise to turn Wolverine into a vampire far more susceptible to being impaled.

See The Hammer for more on my problems with THIS development...Wolverine, ever the hard ass, scrunches his face up and smiles, offering not fear, but a challenge for Blade to do his worst.

Surprisingly enough Blade relents, and at this time you might think Blade is something of a pansy, but you'd be wrong. With the Wolverine unmasked he finally gets a good look and recognises the mutant for who he is - not an enemy - but an old friend, from long ago.

With that Blade relents, and tells SHIELD that if they've got a problem with Wolverine, they can go through him.

The hammer...
This is probably the kind of scenario that could garner a draw, but with a fairly one-sided battle I'd have to give this one to Wolverine even if only on points.

Before I move on, I'll insert one point I have with this conclusion.
In this world of the scientific viral vampire, what is it about vampire enzymes that supercedes the super-immuno qualities of Wolverine's fictional healing factor? This logic, which has been applied previously, [Marvel Zombies, What if... Wolverine: Lord of the Vampires - Marvelous Mike], seems thoroughly flawed, all other things considered...

And with that, it's good to finally have that summary over and done with. Couldn't tell you why, but that just wasn't a compelling read.
Maybe it was the overdone clich├ęs, the warn out Wolverine-in-the-past flashbacks, or Chaykin's pencils that just took it out of me, dragged it around the back, beat the crap out of it, and then dumped it in the back of a cab.

It remains baffling after three feature films and a moderately well received television series, how Blade can remain such a dud in the comic books.
Previous attempts to capitalize on the character's new-found popularity have failed, and I'd have to say this latest effort from Guggenheim and Chaykin fails miserably. Maybe even worse than some of the previous shots.

I'd have to say, as conceptually great as Chaykin is, the pencils laid out in most of his recent work, if not all, is ugly. FUGLY, even.
Consistency in characters is distinctly lacking, particularly where the bizarrely conceived jaws are concerned. I mean no disrespect to the man, but Robert Z'Dar comes to mind, despite some angles depicting the characters in the more familiar, streamlined manner.

Also baffling is Chaykin's ability to make characters appear to gain weight between panels. Morbius, depicted hideously in his seventies garb (complete with frustratingly large red triangles for eyes), appears to not only be overweight, but chewing a mouthload of food whilst talking. Erstwhile, Blade appears to go from having a massive double chin, to not. And finally, Wolverine unmasked reveals not James "Logan" Howlett -- but rather a hairy John Belushi!

On the positive, the action is managed well, but it's amusing to recall early interviews with Chaykin concerning the comic upcoming, where he refers to lengths taken to keep his characters contemporary. There's a distinct dating to these issues that feels like something from the eighties. Certainly Blade lacks the contemporary cool of his big screen counterpart, well portrayed by Wesley Snipes, who should ideally be the model on which the character is based, within legal reason.

Who would have believed five years previous during the height of comics sales, that Blade would be the first hero to truly revolutionize Hollywood attitudes to comic book adaptations? The success of the character and first film was staggering, and owed much to a vision of the character that featured many of his modern comic traits, but took it to a refined, sleek and sexy place.

Why then, when the comics come knocking, is this what we find ourselves with?
Completing lacking is the solitary respect for urban-hero success stories, instead replaced by sales grabbing Civil War tie-ins, obtuse character cameos, and battles with Dr. Doom... Everything the movies were not.

I'm not saying the character should not operate within the Marvel Universe. I would quickly contradict myself, because some of his greatest appearances, if not all, have been moving in and around the urban characters that populate the Marvel Universe. Even characters as outlandish as Ghost Rider, Morbius and Dr. Strange.
But why oh why would this feature film success be apparently completely ignored? Even previous efforts, though similar to the films, have been likewise lacking.

Where's the artistic vision of someone like Alex Maleev? Where's the tight characterization and urban drama of a writer like Ed Brubaker? Where is the consideration to what made the character work so well on celluloid?

I guess this entry leaves more questions than answers, true believers.
One can't help but think to Mark Millar's Enemy of the State story, which was originally conceived as a Blade pitch. It may not surpass the high concept of this issue, but you have to imagine it would have had stoic, Wesley Snipes-style characterization going for it.

The Fight: 3 The Issue: 3.5

Friday, February 16, 2007

Cunning Attractions! (Marvel comics)
Amazing Spider-man #327 When: Mid December 1989
Why: David Michelinie How: Erik Larsen

The story so far...
Tired of suffering defeats at the hands of their foes, the sinister arrangement of The Wizard, Magneto, Kingpin and Dr. Doom gather in an effort to orchestrate their combined efforts to guarantee their acts of vengeance.

Exchanging information and responsibility to combat their foes, it is ultimately Magneto here who steps up to the plate after the failure of Trapster and Titania to do the job on their behalf.

Meanwhile, Spider-man is coming to terms with the mysterious powers that have not only augmented his abilities, but given him brand new cosmic strengths that have him defeating opponents with never before seen ease!
Is this a positive new beginning for Spider-man, or will cosmic powers attract deadlier foes? With greater power must come greater responsibility!

Previous Form:
Magneto (#203): Magneto has been somewhat unsuccessful thus far.
Spider-man (#2): Spider-man previously used his cosmic power to defeat the Tri-Sentinel.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Spider-man 5 (Super Strength)
Intelligence: Magneto 5 (Professor)
Speed: Spider-man 4 (Olympic Sprinter)
Stamina: Magneto 6 (Generator)
Agility: Spider-man 5 (Cat-like)
Fighting Ability: Spider-man 3 (Street Wise)
Energy Powers: Magneto 6 (Mass Destruction)

No sooner than we have the X-Men fighting Lizard [X-Men: First Class #2] than we arrive at this massive miss matching of foes: Spider-man vs Magneto!

For the sake of consistency our statistics do not change based on the circumstances of the fight featured, so there are some misleading facts described in the above 'tape.' This fight features a very different Spider-man.

These days Spidey has organic webshooters, so the amount of metal he's carrying around at any given time is pretty minimal. There's no immediate inherent threat there unique to Spider-man, but anywhere in the civilized world Magneto finds an arsenal at his disposal.
That's completely neglecting the master of magnetism's own mutant virtues. Abilities that occasionally fluctuate but include things like controlling the iron traces in human blood in various dastardly ways, and/or firing off magnetic pulses of concussive energy.

As far as I see, neither character really has any definitive edge over the other.
Spider-man's preternatural senses allow him pretty swift movement around situations Magneto could create, while his own attacks are fairly base, and would conversely have limited effect on Magneto.

Even so, I'd generally have to lean toward saying Magneto has Spidey licked.
Spider-man's one of the best heroes you can find in the Marvel universe, but Magneto is Magneto, and as we've seen in various recent features, he's not a mutant to be messed with.

Of course, as I mentioned, this isn't your typical Spidey-fight.
On the record, this one's Magneto's. Off the record, you have to completely reevaluate the situation when you take into consideration the omin-power that has embued the noble Peter Parker with fantastic cosmic powers as he becomes - Captain Universe!

We've seen this Spidey once previously on Secret Earths [Amazing Spider-man #329] where he averted another typically X-threat of a mystically charged Sentinel. You can reference that to get an idea of the kind of power we're talking about.

With the power of Captain Universe, Cosmic Spidey (as he's affectionately known) is capable of all kind of incredible feats!
He can fly, has enhanced human senses as well as having his own precognative spider-senses amped up in sensitivity. He can produce concussive cosmic blasts, and even in the days of the mechanical cartridge-loaded web-shooters, he could cosmically conjure a comparable compound out of apparent nothingness. Unlimited webbing, to the video gaming folks out there!

So, yeah... Magneto's in trouble, however:

The Math: Draw (Meta Class)
The Pick: Magneto

What went down...
It begins down at the docks, where Spidey is testing out his new cosmic powers, which include super strength enough to allow him to life a fully loaded barge at a scrapyard with ease above his head! The scrapped shells of cars prove a worthy measure as Spidey obliterates the steel with his cosmic hand-blasts, but unfortunately the attention warrants a call to the press from a scrapyard worker.

Contemplating Spider-man's role in the war between human and mutant, Magneto makes note that Spider-man may play an unwitting key role in the survival of either species. Which is nice, because so often he gets overlooked.
A TV in the park tips him off to the whereabouts of the web-slinger.

Before the arachnoid hero even knows what's going on, the barge is swept out of his hands, ushering the arrival of the master of magnetism - Magneto!

Magneto descends upon the hero, flinging a barrage of shrapnel and scrap metal at the hero. His spider-senses aid him in the dodging of the onslaught, but his cosmic powers prove to be the real advanage, allowing him to blast it out of the air piece by piece.

Among the cosmic feats granted by the omni-power, the ability to use one's butt as a weapon...Spider-man flings himself at his mutant attacker, but Magneto's forcefield of magnetic aura protect him from the attack. Never the less, the might of the cosmic Spider-man proves enough to rattle even he.

Using their surroundings, Magneto flings a magnetic loading crane like a wrecking ball at the airborne wall-crawler. Spider-man swings around the obstacle with the aid of his familiar webbing, but Magneto amplifies the potency of the crane to the point where the iron in Spider-man's body is attracted.

Stuck between a crane and a hard place, Spider-man struggles as Magneto brings him down at speed toward the ground. Only by his instinctive use of his mysterious cosmic powers is he saved, changing the molecular composition of the crane from hard metals -- to fragile glass!

Magneto then hurls car bodies at the hero, whose preemptive senses again allow him the advantage of avoiding contact. Free from danger, Spidey uses his cosmic supply of webbing to form a giant baseball bat, swatting the airborne cars out of the park!

Feeling somewhat over the unprovoked attacks of supervillains generally not in his jurisdiction, Spidey then sets his offensive on the Magster himself.

Tangoing with one of the most powerful mutants on the planet seems do-able for a moment, but as Magneto attempts to repell the hero's attacks with his magnetic ability, Spider-man's heightened cosmic senses pick something up.

From his airborne vantage point he spies a cruise ship that fell hapless victim to one of Spidey's own homerun knock-outs with his webbing ball bat.

Deciding to abandon the fight to quash the disaster of his worst nightmares, he discovers the ability of flight, as he heads away from the docks toward the ship in peril.

The diversity of Spider-man's new powers tips Magneto off to his status as human, rather than mutant, and decides to abandon his interests.
Although, he does so, not without promise of a future encounter with the web-slinger, and new manipulations at the hands of the master of magnetism...

The hammer...
As Uatu so dramatically proclaims to the left there, it's a draw.
I can't even give it to anyone on points, the conclusion is clear.

Had this one on my pile for quite some time now. It's one of those many fights that, for whatever reason, got overlooked in 2006. Maybe because there was no conclusion, or maybe just because there have been so many other things going on. Nice to finally get it out there!

I've probably mentioned before how great my affection for this period in Spider-man history is. As much as I love Conway and Buscema, I have to willingly submit Michelinie and Larsen as one of my all-time favourite teams on the character. They just seemed to have story after story full of exciting action, great visuals, and a lot of fun that combined the characters and ideals of the original concept, with a fresh perspective.

Even some of the more casual readers visiting us are probably familiar with some of Todd McFarlane's work on Spider-man, which arguably established a whole new way of approaching the anatomy and style of the character, but pound-for-pound I think Erik Larsen took it, and did it even better.
For me, I think it's just Larsen's linework, which is far less crowded than McFarlane's Spider-man work. Here Larsen appears to lack some of what makes his work today so recognisable, and what hinders my enjoyment of McFarlane's stuff, is the overuse of lines, particular on the faces.

McFarlane isn't bad at drawing faces, but there's a quality to them all that makes them instantly recognisable, and slightly... Well, deformed is a misleading description, but perhaps just a little less than real. Which is ironic, I suppose, because what I'm really talking about is the cartooning simplification of what represents reality in comics.

It's not just the visuals that define this fantastic period of Spider-history, though. David Michelinie - where are you now? I think I heard something about Michelinie doing stuff at Marvel again, but the guy seemed to disappear from the radar after a lot of great work for the company, particularly Spider-man.

I couldn't tell you what it is about the formula, because it isn't particularly identifiable, and it won't hit you over the head with how clever it thinks it is like some of the more contemporary takes on 'good writing.' It just seems to accept itself and move very fluidly between fun cameos, fights and character moments.

Key point that come to mind aren't particularly important in the scheme of things, but appearances by Punisher and Graviton and the Tri-Sentinel just stick in my memory as great moments in Spidey's history. Moments we seem to have lost in this decade amidst the all-devouring gelatenous blob that is Civil War, and the inexplicably popular work of Ultimate Spider-man, built on a house of stuttering and disposable issues.

Actually, I was overjoyed recently to pick up an issue of Sensational Spider-man, which didn't even feature the web-slinger, instead handing the spotlight to Black Cat and Puma, two characters familiar in the era we're referring to here.

If any positive can be taken out of contemporary directions for Spider-man, it's that we seem to have well and truly left the over indulgent, poorly considered work of the mid-to-late nineties behind us.
We've gotten past the creative stablizing of the industry in the earliest part of this decade, too. [Alternatively referred to as the Jemas-period. - Matriculant Mike] And now we're heading, it seems, toward a balance between the two, indulging willingly in the efforts of the second and third tier characters again, but perhaps with some wisdom gained by the mistakes of the past.

Hopefully even though we didn't deliver a conclusive battle, you enjoyed this flashback never the less. I know I enjoyed flicking through the pages again.
Actually, y'know, my comic guy of fifteen-or-so years has closed up, but is selling off back issues. I wonder if he has any of these for sale...

The Fight: 3.5 The Issue: 4

Friday, February 09, 2007

BATMAN versus O.G.R.E
Rules of Engagement: Part Two (DC comics)
Batman Confidential #2 When: March 2007
Why: Andy Diggle How: Whilce Portacio

The story so far...
The dichotomy of vision between Lex Luthor and Bruce Wayne is extrapolated when the businesses vie for a contract to develop technology to benefit Gotham City.

WayneTech's designs are ones of peace, utilizing state of the art technology to create search and rescue robots with the use of neural-link transmission pilotting.
Conversely, LexCorp concerns itself with the potential threat of an ever changing world full of the fantastic and bizarre. Luthor's proposal is built on advanced weaponry and proactive peace creating agents, as opposed to Wayne's more passive tools.

With a verdict to be decided, things take a nasty turn for WayneTech when their rescue OGRE droid attacks Lex Luthor outside the very building the proposal was made in. Will the Batman be able to solve the mystery of the rogue robot?

Previous Form:
Batman (#1): Batman defeated another giant killer robot, in the form of Amazo.
WayneTech OGRE: The OGRE robot has not yet been featured.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: WayneTech OGRE 5 (Super Strength)
Intelligence: Batman 5 (Professor)
Speed: Batman 3 (Trained Athlete)
Stamina: WayneTech OGRE 6 (Generator)
Agility: Batman 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting Ability: Batman 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy Powers: WayneTech OGRE 5 (Lasers)

Situations like these are always pretty awkward because there really isn't any previous data to draw upon for the OGRE droid, and it's not likely there will be any more after this. Thems the breaks, I suppose.

Batman is Batman. He finished 2006 as the top rated fighting superhero in comics here on Secret Earths, and he did it with only one defeat to his name. [Batman and the Mad Monk #1]

OGRE is a robot built to be able to sustain the most uninhabitable conditions, which inadvertently means he's highly durable and incredibly powerful, with much of the technology being geared toward rescue and retrieval in disasterous situations. This gives it a huge advantage of strength against the human Batman.

The equaliser, as we well known by now, is in Batman's endless arsenal of technology, which under other circumstances could logically include this very piece of hardware. This array of technology is especially efficient when combatting other technologies, with the Batman able to access minds capable of strategising even where he can't.

Although not necessarily a disadvantage, OGRE is pilotted by a human, which also scales down the fantastical extent to which he can analytically combat Batman. This is man versus man controlling machine, and Batman's had much worse.

The Math: Batman (Meta Class)
The Pick: Batman

What went down...
So, the OGRE generally menaces around as it stalks Luthor, ripping effortlessly through the high-grade armor plating of Luthor's limo. Luthor attempts to bargain with the machine, but the implications of his fortune are lost on the bot.

Batman shows on the scene, tossing a clunky Batarang into the field, but OGRE is able to catch the projectile before it strikes -- unwittingly catching a flash-grenade variety batarang! It stuns the robot's sensors momentarily, giving Batman opportunity to place a frequency jamming device on it's back.

The device proves unsuccessful in stopping the machine, allowing it to continue freely on it's rampage. OGRE wrenches the street lamp Batman perches atop from the ground, whipping the hero into the air.
Thermite acid proves to barely be a distraction as he analyses his options.

Luthor's entourage fire on the machine, while Luthor exercises his greatest muscle [His brain... sickos... - Miscreant Mike], recognising the sewers as a viable escape route that would prevent the bulky machine from following.

While Luthor makes his escape crawling through waste on his hands and knees, the OGRE droid pounds at the ground attempting to gain wider access than the narrow manhole.

Batman attempts to contain the distracted machine, but knows full well that his multi-walled nanofilament grappling cable will have little effect on the man-made beast. It snaps it like it were little more than ribbon, and just like that, gives up the fight. With it's in-built rocket thrusters, the OGRE makes a clean getaway.

Meanwhile, back at WayneTech the machine's pilot is found dead in the saline filled deprivation tank form which the machine is controlled. Thus posing the question -- was the controller killed before or after the attack?

One illegal autopsy later, Batman discovers a synthetic medical implant that was no doubt responsible for the pilot's death, but undetectable to conventional investigation methods. The technology fits directly with the boasts of Lexcorp, proposing a connection between the victim and the OGRE attack.

Batman's deductions prove valid when he finds the OGRE at a Lexcorp compound seeking out radioactive materials to power the machine reactor.
Batman connects the events, realising the pilot was presumably working for Luthor from within WayneTech, but was killed while in the tank, leaving his mind to somehow embue the machine with a pseudo-sentience.

Batman tries to talk the "ghost in the machine" out of it's quest for revenge, but is met with a violent response.

Unfortunately for OGRE this time Batman came prepared. Rather than engage the machine once more, he uses his technology to shut the machine down and eject it's memory cortex.

The violence is stopped and Lex Luthor's life, and the lives of untold Lexcorp workers are no doubt saved, but the Batman can't help but feel he has blood on his hands, as this adventure comes to a close.

The hammer...
Well, before anyone else says it, I'm just going to cop to it and acknowledge how full of crud I am. Batman emerges victorious in this second month of 2007.

I was honest in my predictions of a quieter year for the Dark Knight, but I guess when push came to shove, I just couldn't resist getting him on the site again to represent for the D, the C, and the worthy top fivers. 'Cause as much as I love Moon Knight, c'mon...

I digress, I definitely selected this issue for the story more than the fight.
This new title, Batman: Confidential, replaces the cancelled Legends of the Dark Knight, which essentially served a very similar purpose, serving up stories that more comfortably slot into previous decades or eras of the character.
In that respect, the launch of this new title feels underwhelming. As interesting as Diggle and Portacio are under their own individual merits, you can see where it may have previously been less obvious, how this book differs from the All-Star line.

I actually like Whilce Portacio's work, and as the sometimes forgotten Image Comics found, I do tend to wonder where he is, and why he isn't compelled to pick up a pencil and do something high profile. We know the work's out there, having reviewed his work previously. [Iron Man #2]

Portacio's pencils are understandably poorly received by some. His layouts and scenes feature many characteristics of the nineties, with over the top action in most panels, and overlapping page layouts that appear unruly and hyperactive compared to the pseudo-realistic subdued approach of most contemporary reads.

Portacio's stylized approach could be described as moody Jim Lee.
His peculiar trademark of thick black shadow around eyes, even when lit otherwise, is actually something I kinda enjoy. It's not what I'd want to see in every book, but as something unique to Portacio, it's interestingly effective.
Likewise in Iron Man, Portacio's darkness reflects surprisingly well on duplicitous corporately driven characters, with Lex Luthor and even Bruce Wayne appearing appropriately sinister at times. Something we saw on the Civil War/Ultimates-esque Tony Stark during Heroes Reborn.

As for the story itself, it's very similar to an episode of the anime TV seres, Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040, in which a deep sea miner is crushed by his collapsing facility, and the droid he operates becomes corrupted with the pseudo-sentience of his controller.

As a stand alone episode Bubblegum Crisis was able to tell the more rivetting of the two stories, with an emotional line of a neglected wife (ultimately widowed) being the driving component of the story -- rather than this book, which presumably uses this revenge plot to point to corporate espionage, which will no doubt further the book beyond this issue.

It isn't bad, but it would be very easy to tear the book apart, perhaps unfairly-so. Actually, I think it's interesting to note that it deserves at least a second read. Twenty-twenty hindsight adds depth to the action earlier in the piece, explaining with new meaning events such as the failed signal jammer (assuming the controller has already died), and why Luthor offers the machine the prospect of a deal.

For this, Diggle has to get full credit, but as the launch of a brand new feature Batman title, the delivery is somewhat underwhelming.
Editorially, the story itself is actually quite baffling. It reads like a very good Legends story, but to launch a book like this it's surprising more high profile guest characters weren't used. Not that I condone that sort of thing, it just would've made more sense.
Mind you, I guess I'm discounting the value of Lex Luthor as a villain in a Batman book. Likewise, maybe I'm not recognising how deliciously subtle this hero/villain story has come to be set up.

I can't guarantee my sustained interest, but I have to admit, the more I look at the book, the more I can at least pick out the positives. Overall it's a pretty average read, but if you somehow arrived at this paragraph before the previous, you might enjoy the secondary layer one attains from the conclusion.

This isn't typically the kind of book I'd review here, but hey, I'm being contemporary while I can. It's not like I piss money, and buy comics every week. Yes, I'm looking at all of you other over indulged comics bloggers and laughing. Bitterly.

The Fight: 3 The Issue: 5

Friday, February 02, 2007

Unfinished Business: Part One (Marvel comics)
Cable & Deadpool #36 When: March 2007
Why: Fabian Nicieza How: Reilly Brown

The story so far...
Deadpool's career has been in something of a slump, and hanging out with Cable most of the time probably hasn't really helped that reputation of his. So what's a merc with a mouth to do? Score points off some more popular schmuck, of course!

Deadpool tracks down his old sparring buddy, Taskmaster, who still has a mess of cred in the world of warriors-for-hire. In return for freeing him from imprisonment, Taskmaster agrees to entertain Deadpool's insane request.

With the help of his ol' pal, Weasel, Deadpool organizes a showcase in front of an assemblage of those-that-would-need-mercenaries. To up the anti, Deadpool shackles himself as he steps into the field against the Taskmaster.
Insane, or truly, truly brilliant?... Probably insane, yeah...

Previous Form:
Deadpool (#45): Deadpool successfully tangled with the Incredible Hulk!
Taskmaster (#193): Taskmaster was humiliated by Moon Knight.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Draw 3 (Trained Athlete)
Intelligence: Taskmaster 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Deadpool 3 (Trained Athlete)
Stamina: Deadpool 5 (Marathon Runner)
Agility: Deadpool 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting Ability: Taskmaster 7 (Born Fighter)
Energy Powers: Deadpool 4 (Arsenal)

Taskmaster has the honor being the first repeat customer of 2007!
Let's all give it up for the Task-man! Yeah! Whooo!

Tricky thing about Taskmaster is, he's one of those guys who by the very nature of the character should be incredibly successful, but because of that, have become regular targets for defeat. Basically, he makes people look good.

It's said that he can master and duplicate nearly any fighting technique he witnesses, and has a photographic memory for such details. Thus, he is still often seen to carry around approxomations of Avengers weapons, like Captain America's shield, for example, and the Swordman's sword.

Because Taskmaster supposedly breaks down and understands the fighting techniques of others, his intellectual basis suggests he could know your own moves better than you do.
Daredevil remarked in a recent feature that he fights with a rage other fighters don't understand, and this alludes to the instinctive and personal nature of fighting stances and styles. Thus, Taskmaster could presumably pick and choose his way through an arsenal of moves, refining it to be pure and intelligent.

Of course, a wise villain once asked, "Think you can outsmart a bullet?"

For all his skills, Taskmaster is still a man, and there's nothing about his talent that says he couldn't overlook an opponent, or be on the unlucky end of a rocket blast, or something. Also, he could like, be totally in love and not even see the bus coming. See where I'm going with this?

While Deadpool does not carry a bus in his arsenal (as far as I know...), he is in many ways the anti-thesis to the Taskmaster. He has comparable ability to execute skill, but lacks consistent or coherrent thought process. Likewise, he is often completely unconcerned with the fighting prowess or strategy of others.
Deadpool also has a buff nerd for a friend, and kidnapped an old lady and held her hostage for nurturing.

Above all this, Deadpool is a master of obnoxious wit, and given enough time he would almost certainly realise that if you swap a couple of letters you get Masktaster! If Hulk had more letters in his name, even he would be felled by such a hilarious and clever insult.

Jokes aside, these two are actually incredibly evenly match, for many of the reasons listed. Deadpool's healing factor gives him a slight edge, but as a level headed and well executed fighter, it's hard to overlook Taskmaster.

Gosh. Decisions, decisions...
I guess in the purity of this section, this time I'm going to go with the following, but really, this choice could change at any given moment. Much like Rose McGowan's hair colour.

Oohhhh, come on! You totally got that!
Don't make like you don't watch Charmed and wonder about interior decor... Dirty pervert...

The Math: Draw (Meta Class)
The Pick: Taskmaster (Just cuz...)

What went down...
Having freed Taskmaster, bartered for his cooperation, and then sucker punched him out... Deadpool manacles up and enters the test ground of a special forces military training base, apparently outside Provo, Utah.

Armed to the teeth, Deadpool fires off a bazooka blast that narrowly misses Taskmaster and his stupid cloak hood/cape combo.

Spying his target through nightvision goggles, the bound Deadpool hops his way into the coures to make a more front-on attack.
Lurking in the shadows, Taskmaster makes eye contact, and deciding to move in for a more personal attack, he clutches his sword and charges in with the lamest battle cry you've ever heard -- gyaaaaaaaaah!

Pool spins around fast enough to block the hit with a bo-staff and rolls through, tossing the Taskmaster, who lands masterfully on his feet.
Perturbed by his immature, innuendo laden humor, Taskmaster charges at Deadpool with his sword, impaling the merc with a mouth!

YOUR face!Heartbreaking! Unless you've got a grade-A functioning healing factor!

Deadpool slides his way down the sword to come face-to-skull-face with his ol' bud, and twists his body to throw him off balance. The staff does the rest of the work, with a nice tap to the noggin.

Blood gushes from his wounds as Deadpool continues the staff borne thrashing, until Taskmaster is able to slice through the wood with his mighty sword. ... *snort*

DP hits the wall and ricochets back with a drop kick, following it up with a shackled Polish uppercut with the two-fist.
Then offer you 25 free songs when you sign up via, with the guarantee their MP3s work on any player including iPod! Neat!

Taskmaster nurses his jaw, refreshing his memory with just how hard Deadpool hits [and how low's prices are] when DP brings down a brick "George Perez city rubble" wall down where Tasky's kneeling.

Rob Liefeld, co-creator of Deadpool, was a big fan of his contemporary, Todd McFarlane. We can assume he was influenced by McFarlane's character The Rabbit, when creating Deadpool.Narrowly avoiding being crushed, Taskmaster takes pirsuit after the hopping mercenary, leaving behind the urban compound for forest territory.

Actually, this was how Dick Cheney met his wife...Further showing off his combat abilities, Deadpool utilizes his surroundings in the whooping of Taskmaster. TM navigates a cascade of boulders, ducks swinging tree branches, and braves an inexplicable desert storm in his chase of Deadpool, until the Pool-man emerges from beneath the sands and tags him with a poison dart!

With that, Deadpool schlups Taskmaster's unconscious body back to the military base where he parades his victory before the [unwillingly] assembled panel of judges and would-be employers.

Unfortunately, they are none-too impressed by his MTV commercial tactics. Instead of stirring business, he has in fact only further reminded everyone how much of a liability he can be. BUT -- he still won. Nyah-nyah.

Yeah boooyyyyyyy!!!The hammer...
Two months in and Taskmaster's already heading to the bottom of the table, as Deadpool picks up his second Secret Earths victory.

I have to admit, as impartial as I try to be when it comes to selection, it felt like we'd been sorely missing Deadpool entries.
Find me a man who does not enjoy Deadpool comics, and I will show you a moron!

This is actually the first time I've picked up the Cable & Deadpool book, having been tied up with other priorities [and limited funds], and some reticence about the Cable side of things. This probably isn't an accurate way to sample it's flavours, but at the very least I can say this was a pretty satisfying purchase.
Nicieza may just be incredibly obnoxious, but with Deadpool sometimes it's hard to differentiate between obnoxious/bad comedy writing, and his character.

The continued relationship between Deadpool and Taskmaster is a joy to behold though, and I only wish the UDON designed costume [used in TM's mugshot] had stuck. It would've been nice for Deadpool's legacy of positives to extend beyond him. Alas, Taskmaster is back in the buccaneer boots and cloak. What a rube.

I wish I had some profound revelation to bestow upon you all, because I certainly enjoyed this comic. It's just... It's pretty much a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kinda deal. This is a straight up fight comic, with a brief prologue that whole heartedly breaks the fourth wall (in a more blunt vein than "The Masked Marvel" or "She-Hulk"), and resolves a cliffhanger hook that promises more wacky fun next issue with the escape of the Rhino.
[Rhino, for those who don't know, infamously wound up a keychain at the hands of Deadpool. How humiliatin'. - Monolithic Mike]

I missed out on much of Gail Simone's work, but if I had to compare Nicieza's Deadpool to the defining work of Joe Kelly, I'd have to say there might be something lacking in the humor of the dialogue. As I mentioned, it's hard to break apart the character of Deadpool and really refine the good from the bad, but it did feel something was perhaps just a tad askew as far as the written gags versus the visual stuff.

That said, Reilly Brown, whom I don't know by name, has a pretty decent pencil line, well complemented by Jeremy Freeman's inks and Gotham colours.
It just perhaps feels a little less committed to story or comedy, teetering somewhere in between. It's good, but Nicieza seems to remain at the cusp of the big time as a jack of all trades, but master of none.

It is of course February 9 as I type this, which means I've fulfilled my Friday update commitment, even though I'm still a week behind. Hey, who knows? Maybe I'll catch up in the hour and a quarter left before midnight! [Not likely!]

Had a recent influx of hits, so it seems like we're finally getting the address into the right hands. Thanks to everyone who's joining us, and hopefully you're getting what you need. If you aren't, meet me in the alley behind the Sweedish deli and we'll see if we can't come to an arrangement.

The Fight: 4.5 The Issue: 4.5

Thursday, February 01, 2007

MONTHLY PUNCH-UP #14 (February 2007)
Slayride (DC)
Where: Detective Comics #826 When: February 2007
Why: Paul Dini How: Don Kramer

Quick Fix...
Well, I'm posting this on the sixth, so I'm pleased to say I'm nearly caught up completely! More on that when you scroll down to the Hammer, but for now...

Another exciting debut for Secret Wars on Infinite Earths this time in the form of the clown prince of crime - The Joker! Which is kinda strange, when you think about the guys who have been featured. [Looking at you, Dr. Dorcas...]

I kinda had to check this issue out, because I've been a bit sour on the turn in direction for Batman, and this single issue was hyped beyond compare. So, it's a good thing there was some action in there, otherwise I couldn't tell you all what I thought.

I'm going to start with a negative to soften you up, and that negative is the artwork. That first Dini issue with JH Williams promised a great deal, and pointed toward something familiar but different enough to be interesting.
Unfortunately this issue does not feature that kind of treatment, with fairly plain pencils from Kramer and a heavy (but erratic) ink from Wayne Faucher. Colourist John Kalisz does not fade his colours far enough to fall into an eighties homage along the lines of Killing Joke, but it is certainly heading in that direction.
A direction that I'm really not very fond of. [See; Detective Comics #817]

One of the things I had come to enjoy in Detective Comics was the visual style that danced between something along the lines of the Dini-involved animated series, if not in style, in colour palette, drawing largely on greys and urban tones.

Dini's writing actually steers closer to that enjoyable period on the title, with more street orientated stories about the Dark Knight. Granted this issue features Robin, it still maintains a level of reality that distances itself from the caped crusading of the flagship book.

The issue itself probably got more fan-press than it really deserved.
Putting Dini and Joker in the same sentence pretty much guarantees premature fanboy e-reaction, but that considered, it probably wasn't as misproportionate as it could've been.

Dini tells a comptent and interesting done-in-one story that features the Joker nabbing Robin from peril, and taking him on a lethal hell ride across a Christmas decorated Gotham. Some people seem to have over extended this as some sort of revolutionary take on the character, but this is no great character analysis. It's just a fun, single, floppy read.

Our fix begins toward the end of the issue, where Robin has managed to free himself of his shackles by removing his glove, and is baiting Joker with reference to Three Stooges movies.

He riles the Joker by deliberately confusing a line from one film with another, which distracts Joker enough for Robin to throw on damned hard punch.
He then wrenches the rearview mirror from it's place and uses it quick and hard to attack the Joker. Robin willingly acknowledges that he needs to hit hard and fast, wasting no energy on quips and gags.

Robin dives into the back seat, using one of Joker's victims as a shield against a wirey arm that throws a stiff fist. The gawking grin produced by his own toxin leaves Joker with cut knuckles from the move.

As the Joker grimaces, Robin drives the back of his head into the car ceiling and finds the lump of a gas deploying weapon. He blasts it directly into the clown's face, forcing him out of the car onto the highway.

Gasping for breath, he doesn't notice the oncoming truck until it's too late.

In what is usually a good Joker moment, he remarks on his certain doom with a light heart, and laughs hysterically as his limp body is thrown into the air by the velocity of the impact.

Batman ultimately arrives on the scene, but the Joker's body is nowhere to be found. What he does find is pride for how Robin handled the situation, despite many fatalities and a bungled job involving rival gangs.

This one really could've gone either way in terms of being cartoonishly hilarious, or brutally threatening, and to the credit of the art team, they really do sustain the menace of the situation. The decision to play it serious is probably more interesting, although, with the minimalist style seen in the cartoons, this easily could've been one of the more light hearted Joker episodes.

Who am I really critical of? I guess the purveyors of the medium, who have perhaps misplaced previous adoration when promoting or reviewing this book.
It is by any take a very good and enjoyable read, but not the ultimate Joker story.

The Fix: 4 The Issue: 5

The Top Five...
I have to admit, it feels really wrong leaving behind the top five of 2006. A lot of those characters spent most of the year with us, so discarding them in favour of a new year is very strange. Especially with some of the choices I made for this month's entries. Anyway...:

#1 Moon Knight (new) (new) (Marvel)
Class: [Champion] Last Opponent: [Taskmaster]
Win Percentage: [100%] Features: [1]

You ever have a friend who dumped his girlfriend and then started going out with a girl who looked and acted just like her?
That's kinda what this feels like. We've traded Batman at the top spot for what is essentially a Batman analogue, and it just doesn't feel right... Despite being a hot property right now, I couldn't expect Moon Knight to stick around here for long.

If you look at the beginning of the first year of the site, you can see this organic approach is fairly different to the name loaded first month that produced a fairly worthy first ever top five.
Consider this one an abberation folks. Apologies to the Mooney fans.

#2 Spider-man (-) (6) (Marvel)
Class: [Meta] Last Opponent: [Tombstone]
Win Percentage: [87.5%] Features: [8]

Well, a new year for the top five and Spider-man still can't quite get to the top spot. I might not be pushing Batman anymore, but apparently I'm still happy to hold the Spider-MAN down.

Jokes aside, it's bound to be a big year for Spider-man. As the new mugshot [featuring art by Casey Jones] might suggest, the Black Costume's coming back in '07, and that's thanks in no small part to a third feature film.

I've been pretty silly for Spidey villains lately, too. Heck, even the X-Men are featured fighting The Lizard, who's being rumored for a fourth Spider-man movie.
So, I guess that's indicative of Spider-man's staying power at Secret Earths.

#3 Red Hood (+26) (new) (DC)
Class: [Meta] Last Opponent: [Brick]
Win Percentage: [100%] Features: [2]

Another abberation, one would have to imagine.
As much as I've enjoyed the larger aspects of Jason Todd's return, you just couldn't say he's top five material. Not when we've come used to seeing the likes of Batman, Spider-man and Superman.

His story gained momentum in the pages of Judd Winick's Batman, so it's little wonder a recent turn in Green Arrow has salvaged what was otherwise a fading career for the reborn vigilante.

His story is not one of grand motivations and ideas, but rather the active reentry of an old character in a new way. It would be a real shame if Red Hood were to fall victim to the shift in priorities of the core Batman books, because this has been a surprisingly positive return!

#4 The Punisher (new) (new) (Marvel)
Class: [Champion] Last Opponent: [Rhino]
Win Percentage: [100%] Features: [1]

Another debutant on the top five, and at fourth, slightly less disappointing than the top spot Moon Knight.

Punisher's return to the Marvel Universe has made him a much more likely candidate for feature here. As much as I love the MAX book, there just aren't enough fisticuffs to get it on a site dedicated to superhero fights.

With Civil War and War Journal thrusting him back into the superhero domain, he becomes a much more accessible character for a website like this.
My appreciation for Punisher has grown over the last few years. As a kid he was never really a character I could get behind. I probably disliked him second only to Nick Fury, who was another gun-toting guy I never really got.

#5 Beast (+50) (new) (Marvel)
Class: [Meta] Last Opponent: [The Lizard]
Win Percentage: [50%] Features: [4]

Rounding out the list is another less likely top-fiver, but a goody no less. For some of the movie-going audience joining us, you'll no doubt have been riveted to learn Beast was not always a blue fuzzball!

The X-Men have only arrived on the site here in the last few months, but I have to say they've been a welcome addition. Things seem pretty quiet around the X-universe, so I wouldn't expect to see the blog taken over by mutants, but interest in diversity might keep a Beast floating around the top.

Beast's abilities prove to be good enough to get him one spot over the Sub-Mariner!Super Stock...
1. Batman (-) (DC)
2. Spider-man (-) (M)
7. Superman (-) (DC)
15. Red Hood (+14) (DC)
18. Beast (+37) (M)
19. Sub-mariner (-2) (M)
23. Silver Surfer (-2) (M)
24. Robin (-2) (DC)
51. Doppelganger (-) (M)
52. Moon Knight (new) (M)
53. The Punisher (new) (M)
56. Professor X (-) (M)
66. Tombstone (-16) (M)
67. Angel (+120) (M)
68. Iceman (+120) (M)
69. She-Hulk (-4) (M)
193. Taskmaster (new) (M)
194. Space Phantom (new) (M)
195. Rhino (new) (M)
196. The Lizard (new) (M)
200. Toad (-5) (M)
201. Magneto (-5) (M)
202. Brick (-8) (DC)

The hammer...
And so, there goes another big month of Secret Wars on Infinite Earths!
Finally looking like we might be caught up and running smoothly, despite persisting computer gremlins! With a lot of hits coming in lately, hopefully we'll be able to continue to sustain your readership!

Speaking of hits, gotta throw a shoutout to Rokk's Comic Book Revolution!
A great review blog I came across recently who've been kind enough to be among the select few super-sites to link to Secret Earths! Clearly a genius blog, indeed.

In other business, as much as it gives me diahorrea to do so, I've got make an amendment to a previous post. In the December Punch-Up we featured a fight between Venom and Spider-man in Beyond! #1.
I've since been informed that this character was not Spider-man, but rather the Space Phantom masquerading as the hero. So, as you may have noticed in the top five, Spidey's win percentage is readjusted and the Space Phantom joins the Secret Earths super stock race! Apologies to any perturbed by this misinformation, particularly those of you pregnant with Skrull babies.

You'll have noticed a distinct slant toward 2007 in the most recent posts.
This is in part due to the fact that I got a whopping big stack of comics for a late Christmas, but also because all the cool blogs either review new comics.
The interest of diversity will kick in, and no doubt you'll see more [not so-] classic comics thrown back into the mix, but for the time being, enjoy being contemporary!

Since we're trying to be a bit more free flowing these days I can't tell you what's coming up, but I've been looking at a lot of fun reads lately, so I imagine we might have some Deadpool and maybe some more Beyond in our future.
Even though I've actually been reading some great DC [like Checkmate], it looks like it's still going to be tilting toward Marvel for a while. Sorry about that guys, but hopefully for you DC fans, I'll have some especially strong reviews there. Possibly a look back at a classic we featured around this time last year.

I should make a point of referring to my own comics work. My pencilling collaborator Pedro, and I, are inching ever closer to printing the first issue of the series Kirby Martin Inquest. Don't visit Nite Lite Theatre just yet, because I have a lot of updating to get to, but I'll be directing all my fellow comics fans there as soon as possible.
Pedro and I have also been discussing some other possible projects, that is, if Grant Morrison can stop stealing my ideas for more than a day.

Also, I should put an end to rumors that I'm involved with any upcoming movies starring The Shadow. Actually, that isn't a rumor, but I'm hoping maybe I can get that out there...

As always, please feel encouraged to drop a comment or a question or a request or something. We're supposed to be one of the more friendly blogs around, even if I scare most of you away with excessively long posts filled with aliterations.

Thanks for sticking with Secret Earths, and stay tuned folks!

January Hit Count: 3947* (+567)

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