Wednesday, May 30, 2007

(Marvel comics)
Spider-man When: 2002
Why: Sam Raimi & David Koepp How: Tobey Maguire & Willem DaFoe

The story so far...
Whilst on excursion, High School student Peter Parker is bitten by a genetically engineered spider, altering his own DNA in a process that results in the proportionate strength, speed, agility and web-spinning of a spider!

After letting a thief get away, Peter's beloved surrogate-father, Uncle Ben Parker, is murdered by the man. Inspired by his uncle's words, Peter begins his career as Spider-man, living by the code that with great power, comes great responsibility.

His life as Peter Parker and career as Spider-man collide when his best friend's father, scientist Norman Osborn, goes insane after undergoing a treatment designed by his own organization to enhance strength. As the Green Goblin Norman comes to wage a war against Spider-man, and when he learns that he and Parker are one and the same, he inevitably goes after the ones Peter loves.

Previous Form:
Spider-man (#1): Victories over Kraven, Tombstone, Scorpion, Mysterio, Green Goblin, & Carnage.
Green Goblin: Organized the grouping of the Sinister Twelve, but has not yet been featured in combat on the site. Also manages The Thunderbolts.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Spider-man 5 (Super Strength)
Intelligence: Green Goblin 5 (Professor)
Speed: Spider-man 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Green Goblin 5 (Marathon Man)
Agility: Spider-man 5 (Cat-like)
Fighting Ability: Draw 3 (Street Wise)
Energy Powers: Green Goblin 4 (Arsenal)

We kinda teased at this one during the last Web-Slinging Wednesday [Marvel Knights Spider-man #11], but I had completely forgotten than the Goblin leaves his Sinister Eleven to pursue a conclusion not unlike what we're going to feature here today. That's a matter for the next section of the website, so in the mean time, let's take a look at the tape we didn't see last week!

It's worth noting that even in the comics, where Osborn does not employ a strength enhancing exoskeleton, he poses a considerably less physical threat in combat. Even so, as we've mentioned in days past, Spidey's five-rated super strength tends to operate on a sliding scale from high to low.
The No-Prize would go to saying Spidey's strength is sabotaged by his confidence, or distraction brought on in cases like this, where he is fighting the moderately enhanced, but personally involved, Green Goblin.

Even so, statistically the tape says Spidey has strength on the Goblin, along with the expected speed and agility that are so often Spider-man's strengths. So, what skills or attributes bring Norman Osborn to the dance?

Well, apart from the afformentioned personal attacks, there's the matter of his arsenal of weaponry. This includes not only high explosive pumpkin bombs, razor sharp bats, and other nasty projectiles, but also his infamous mode of transportation -- the Goblin Glider.

Fans of the comics will be more than familiar with the glider's exploits as a weapon, being the weapon that seemingly killed Norman Osborn in the seventies, and successfully did the deed to Ben Reilly, the original Spider-Clone. Likewise, a mere two weeks ago we saw how the Glider could be used as a potential weapon. [Amazing Spider-man #176]

Osborn's mechanical, scientific and tactical genius is probably also more immediately useful than Spider-man's, although both rate a comparable five in the intelligence field.

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

What went down...
We're running very late, so it's a picture book event!

Having struck the first blow by putting Aunt May in hospital, the Green Goblin goes after Mary-Jane Watson, the girl Peter "stole" from Harry, Norman's son.
The Goblin takes her to the top of the Queensboro bridge, where he uses the rocket powered weapons of his glider to destroy the mechanics of a cable car system travelling between the main island and Roosevelt.

Spidey follows the explosions, flinging himself by web across the bridge to the scene of the crime. There, the Green Goblin confronts his nemesis holding the lives of Mary-Jane and the cable car full of children, and asks Spidey to choose: "This is why only fools are heroes, because you never know when some lunatic will come along with a sadistic choice: Let die the woman you love -- or, suffer the little children!"

The Goblin drops both, leaving Spidey to make a swan dive for his girlfriend, before swinging back under the bridge to snatch the severed umbilcle cable of the cablecar out of the air. Dangling beneath the bridge, Spidey desperately holds onto the car as a barge calls ahoy, offering a slow cavalry for the children.

Helplessly dangling, Spidey is an easy target for the Goblin, who seems content to play with his heroic adversary, rather than go straight in for the kill.

Mary-Jane falls again, saved by the dangling cable car, as Spidey defies gravity, holding onto his web whilst flipping back around to snatch the cable once more.
The gliding Goblin pops the pointed blades at the head of his glider, and prepares to come around for a killer blow, but something strikes the Green Goblin, knocking him off his trajectory.

The citizens of New York lean over the edge of the bridge, tossing debris and abuse at the villain in a show of unbridled post 9-11 unity! They buy Spider-man much needed time, but even though the barge arrives in time for Spidey to lower the children and Mary-Jane to safety -- the Green Goblin remains unsatisfied!

He snags the daggling Spider-man with a tow line, and drags him away from the bridge into abandoned buildings nearby. Spidey is hurled into the growth covered ruins, smashing through bricks and more bricks as he attempts to use his webs to steady himself, but suffers only further damage.

The clinking of a pumpkin bomb is quickly followed by the deafening force of explosion. It rips through Spidey's mask with ease, exposing his face as he's hurled through the air to come to a harsh halt against one of the many walls.

The Goblin glides in, leaping off his glider to lorde his power over the broken little spider. He denounces Spider-man for his betrayal, unleashing a volley of super enhanced punches and knees, before finishing with an uppercut that jerks the limp Spider-man into the air.

The Goblin continues the assault with a display of showy acrobatics, and another barrage of punches and kicks. Spidey tries to web an exit, but the Goblin is quick in canceling his plans with the continue combination of moves. Unrelenting, he even picks Spider-man off the ground, only to pound him back down.

Spidey finds some space, shooting webs to catch the fiend like a fly, but the powerful exo-skeleton makes light work of Spidey's super strong webbing.
The Goblin rips aggressively through the webs into another full frontal attack, ending with a blow that throws Spider-man into yet another wall!

The floored Spidey desperately tries his webs again, but the Green Goblin is omnipresent. "You've spun your last web, Spider-man!"
The Goblin taunts his beaten foe, promising to end Mary-Jane's life with a joyous orgy of torture and pain for Spidey's defiance. Though his words are rattling, they serve to inadvertently revive the hero's will!

Enraged, Spider-man rises, catching the head of an electrically charged trident the Goblin produces. The two struggle for a moment, before Spidey finally unloads with the proportionate strength of a Spider, flinging the Goblin across the scene! This time it's the Green Goblin's turn to hit a wall!

Spidey trips the Goblin with weblines to the feet, and sprays out lines to pull the brickwall down atop his fallen foe. The green exo-suit protects the Goblin to a degree, but he is slow to emerge from the wreckage.

The first thing to emerge is a hand.
Spidey helps him from the wreckage, swinging on a web to snatch him up and throw him into another wall. There, Spidey holds the Goblin pinned in place, striking repeatedly at his body and face. Norman feels the blows, even through his goblin fashioned helmet.

As quickly as the tide of battle changes, so too does the character of the man Peter Parker faces. The tone of his voice quickly shifts as he begs for mercy, pulling away his helmet to reveal a terrified Norman Osborn.

The shock of the reveal leaves Peter stagnant. Norman speaks of his innocence in the crimes commited by the Goblin, claiming to have been unable to stop him. His conviction is supported by the hint of truth, a psychotic break the result of his own experiments in human enhancement.

Even while he's speaking, he taps a button on his gauntlet to summon the absent goblin glider. He thanks Peter for his saving intervention, and reaches out to him as the father Peter no longer has. Spidey rejects him, proudly remembering Ben Parker as his true father.

The rejection pushes the button Norman needs.

Sucks to be me, but don't worry... I come back from this! And I already had kids! Ha-cha!Spidey's preternatural warning senses warn him of the impending doom.
He flips free of it's path, but inadvertently leaves the glider to impale Norman against the wall. Fatally wounded, Norman's final words are anything but the rantings of a madman, "Peter... Don't tell Harry."

The hammer...
Yaaaaay! Spider-man triumphs over evil! Roll credits!
Actually, it's worth noting, as if you haven't seen the movie a million times, that Spidey carries Norman's body back to his home, where he's seen by Harry, sparking their own feud.

You might say in those dying moments Norman returned to sanity, fearful of the disappointment his son will feel of his father. Or, maybe in some ominous fashion, he was really trying to spare Harry of the knowledge of his crimes, so that he wouldn't repeat them. Who knows?

In the comics being impaled by his glider turns out to be much less lethal than it would appear here. A few years underground, and a healthy dose of regeneration thanks to his Goblin Serum, and Norman is quickly back on top, and in everybody's face as the Green Goblin once more.

The return of the original Green Goblin, as previously discussed, was a bit of a slap to the power of his story, and the story that followed with the Harry incarnation of the character in the eighties and nineties. Even so, it's hard to argue the value of the Norman Osborn character, despite mediocre treatments.

He was retroactively slotted back into some of the missing years, becoming responsible for plots such as the return of the Parker parents, and the fiasco it represented. Likewise, new stories featured new history, revealing Osborn's one-night stand with then-Spidey first love, Gwen Stacy, with whom he ultimately had two children, twins.

If you can believe it, the twins aged at an increased rate because of the Goblin serum in Norman's DNA at the time of conception. Like Harry, they grow into the Goblin legacy, following a series of contingencys to one of Norman's secret labs, where they become new Goblins themselves, before ultimately dying of their congenital afflictions.

Right now Norman Osborn has survived his sinister schemes to become the director of the current version of the government funded Thunderbolts. A team that features other prominent psychopathic killers, Bullseye and Mac Gargan (formerly Scorpion, currently Venom). Otherwise the consemate strategist, mental instabilities have been at the forefront of his charaterization at the hands of Warren Ellis, with regular unprompted outbursts regarding Spider-man.

This is probably where some of my highest praises come of the film. It gleefully retains the technicolour palette of it's comic counterpart, but still manages to tell a relatively sensible story, stripping the Green Goblin/Spider-man rivalry of some of it's less impressive moments. Likewise, it condenses the saga of their feud, bridging the gap to Harry in a way the comics never quite sold.

The film isn't without it's problems. Like certain computer-generated scenes, Kirsten Dunst is entirely unconvincing as Mary-Jane. Likewise, some of the plot does stray a little far into corn, particularly the hurrah-NY moment, which unfortunately has a redux in the much toted sequel.

Fundamentally the film has a strong structure to it, and that's probably where the sequel falls for me. Though Spider-man 2 is regarded by many to be the superior film, if not the greatest superhero film of all time, I think it's repetition of the structure and strokes featured in this film make it far weaker.

As an introductory film Spider-man performs well, but certainly leaves room for improvement. Which may or may not be discussed if we ever get a chance to talk about the sequel, which isn't unlikely!

This is it for Web-Slinging Wednesdays as we finally wrap up the late May posts (today being June 8, 1:47am). If you missed out on some of the other posts be sure to track back, but in the mean time, look forward to more movie madness as we dive into some Fantastic Four/Silver Surfer action for June! Cheers!

The Fight: 6 The Movie: 6

Monday, May 28, 2007

Hands of the Mandarin Part 6 of 6 (Marvel comics)
Iron Man #312 When: January 1995
Why: Len Kaminski How: Tom Morgan

The story so far...
Iron Man and War Machine are forced to put their growing differences aside, and team together with the other members of Force Works to face The Mandarin at the very height of powers.

In possession of the mystic Heart of Darkness, The Mandarin has summoned elemental avatars to aid him in his war on technology. More powerful than ever, the Heart of Darkness allows him to create an anti-technology field of energy that is expanding ever more outward from his base in Hong Kong.

Also in possession of Century's mysterious Parallax weapon, the Mandarin sits poised to rule the globe in a time of fear and confusion. Only Iron Man and Force Works can put a stop to his terror, but can the tech hero withstand Mandarin's might? Or is this the end of the era of the invincible Iron Man?

Previous Form:
Iron Man (#4): Victories against Diablo, Hulk, Captain America, She-Hulk & Titanium Man.
The Mandarin: Has not yet been featured on the site.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Iron Man 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Iron Man 5 (Professor)
Speed: Iron Man 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Iron Man 6 (Generator)
Agility: Iron Man 2 (Average)
Fighting Ability: Iron Man 4 (Trained Fighter)
Energy Powers: Mandarin 6 (Mass Destruction)

In all the entries we've had over the year and a half of Infinite Wars, I think this might be the most one sided tape we've ever broken down. It's actually really quite surprising how statistically removed the two characters are, given than Mandarin fairly comfortably holds the title of arch-nemesis to Iron Man.

Unlike a lot of more classically archetypal arch-villains; Mandarin represents much less of a reflection to Iron Man, resonating more as the opposite end of the scale. Their dramatic tensions, which manifest themselves quite literally in some stories (such as this one), are the theories of the [super]-natural versus the technological.

The Mandarins power rings are alien in origin, but represent the more metaphysical and super natural version of any kind of alien technology. This is in stark [hah!] contrast to Iron Man's powers, which are entirely self-sufficient, terran in origin, and produced by the will of human engineering.

This dichotomy means the two are considerably more versatile in their fields than their other. Iron Man represents the superior physical adversary, while the Mandarin controls X-factors like the various energy constructs and phenomena produced by his rings, as well as the summoning of beasts and minions such as Fin Fang Foom [as seen in Iron Man #271].

The tape would have you believe this is all Iron Man, but the strength of Mandarin's entry on that final stat -- energy powers -- makes him more than a worthy adversary!

The Math: Iron Man (Super Class)
The Pick: Iron Man

What went down...
The Mandarin casts his horrible visage above the terrified citizens of Hong Kong, as Iron Man and the members of Force Works stand amidst the carnage and destruction of the city.

The gleeming red and yellow knight of technology leaves his teammates behind to take to the skies, swearing to defend the modern era against Mandarin's desires for an age of darkness. The Mandarin is unimpressed, declaring himself cast by destiny to destroy all Iron Man represents and stands for.

Iron Man offers up a taste of technology's powers, firing all guns blazing at the ghostly representation of his arch-nemesis. Mandarin scowls at Iron Man's feeble attempts, channeling his own energies through his apparition to send the golden avenger plummeting Earth-bound into the wreckage of Hong Kong.

Failing beneath the massive energies he wields, Mandarin becomes dazed, not yet the master of his godhood. He uses the last of his immediate power to use Century's Parallax staff to teleport himself to the safety of his castle lair, before collapsing from exhaustion.

Tony Stark reconvenes with his teammates to strategize. He eventually seeks out the aid of Su Yin, a scientist who very nearly had a hand in his death thanks to the invention of a techno-organic virus. The virus now makes the basis of the artificial nervous system that sustains his mobility, but Stark puts the scientists available to work to develop it as a potential weapon against the Mandarin.

Force Works do battle with the elemental Avatars, before Iron Man arrives in the streets to do the unthinkable -- he surrenders!

Before the US Agent's objections can give away the gambit, Iron Man pleads for the Mandarin to free his people in exchange for his peaceful surrender. Delighted by the submission, he gladly has his Avatars snatch his foe, and teleports them back to his castle.

Inside the castle, Tony Stark finds himself the victim of the Mandarin's anti-technology field that renders his suit little more than a glorified tin costume.

The Mandarin illustrates some connection with his reality, exercising caution in accepting Iron Man's surrender. Iron Man plays the understanding foe, agreeing he too would procede with suspicion, knowing fullwell of his own deception.

Iron Man claims that when he was blasted from the sky by the Mandarin's god-like power, he reached an epiphany. He claims he was humbled, and faced the realization that he had dedicated his life to technology under the illusion of being it's master, all the while truly being little more than a slave.

Despite the glimmer of truth in his words, Anthony Stark is unable to convince the Mandarin with mere words. Iron Man compells him to lift the unlocked visor on his helmet, and allow him to see the truth that lies within his eyes.
"Yes. I shall. As I said before, I would see your face -- when you DIE!"

With Tony Stark's face revealed to him, the Mandarin slaps it with the backhand of his green fist. Convinced of a great ruse, the Mandarin prepares to do away with his enemy once and for all, but without warning, he chokes on his words.

As Mandarin begins to feel the effects of the ruse, Iron Man reveals the techno-organic virus infecting and aging him laced the faceplate he so eagerly opened.

Desperate, the Mandarin reaches out to his Avatar, Deluge, but the agent of the Heart of Darkness burns at his tainted touch, crumbling to ash and a smouldering mask. Withering and aging, the evil sorceror crawls toward the Heart of Darkness, making one last plea for salvation for his servitude.

The Mandarin's techno-infected hand meets with the mystic object, resulting in a reaction of epic proportions. Science and sorcery collide, hurling the great energies of the Heart of Darkness out of the castle, and into the night sky. It leaves Iron Man, alone with the Parallax staff, and a world of technology.

The hammer...
Originally I expected to skip over much of the middle bits, but since it all fell into place, I'm going to give this one to Iron Man and the assist to Force Works. Victorious over Mandarin and his Avatar henchman.

You'll notice, if you've been following Marvel Ultimate Alliance Mondays, that there's a substantial number of villains I've skipped over, by now. For the most part that's because I either don't have any of their battles in my feeble collection, or at the very least, nothing of significance. Which strikes me as somehow odd as I reflect on my lifelong investment in the medium, and more importantly, the characters.

The same could be said of The Mandarin, who, despite being among the most enduring villains in the Marvel universe, makes maybe three appearances in the entirety of my collection. Which just seems pathetic! Still, I suppose it's avoided serious storage issues through my youth...

Big things lie on the horizon for The Mandarin!
Aside from appearing in Ultimate Alliance, the character has just featured in the DTV animated Iron Man movie, and is also fixing to fullfil the same role in the live-action vehicle of the same name! If casting is anyone other than Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, that will be an impressive feat for a character that seems so unlikely to make it to the screen in the tech-heavy world of the Iron Man universe. Granted, filmmaker Jon Favreau has been quite forthcoming about the corporate take on the character, familiar to readers from the early nineties.

Looking closer to the material in this particular issue, you can see highlighted a Tony Stark who has not only been fighting an on-going rivalry with his former friend, James Rhodes (aka War Machine), but is also abrasive and dismissive of his teammates during battle. Which is the kind of characterization that has garnered Civil War a great deal of criticism.

I suppose that remains one of the more interesting facets of the Iron Man character. Tony Stark, to varying degrees, has always represented something less than mainstream in the hero department. Stan Lee cites the character as an initial effort to make a character who was inherently unlikeable - likeable.
In that respect he and brother Larry succeeded undoubtedly, working with the unpopular topics of establishment supporting weapons manufacturers.

The superficial qualities of the weapons-making industrialist playboy have continued to be a conceit of the character, but it's fair to say lying under the radar has remained the edge of a character designed to rub people up the wrong way. Perhaps the great irony of it all is that in the case of Civil War, Tony Stark was arguably the man who was in the right!

With a movie on the horizon it will be very interesting to see if the character can redeem himself as he did during and after this particular issue, and patch the wounds caused by his betrayal. Unless of course, that original edge of antagonism is what will set Iron Man apart from the other heroes present in the box office...

The Fight: 3 The Issue: 4

Friday, May 25, 2007

Masques! (Marvel comics)
Silver Surfer #13 When: July 1988
Why: Steve Englehart How: Joe Staton

The story so far...
The Kree Supreme Intelligence has fallen, and civil unrest over the choice of his successor has the blue and pink empire riddled with insubordinates. Fortunately for the empire and it's new ruler; Ronan, Supreme Accuser, is more than up to the task of preventing successful rebellion or assassination.

Too bad for Ronan he doesn't know the new Supreme Leader he defends so vigilantly is in fact a shape-shifting member of their sworn enemy -- the Skrull!

To distract Ronan from the developing Skrull plans, and to eliminate the Silver Surfer's allegiance with the Kree, the phony Supreme Leader sends Ronan on a mission to accuse and execute the Surfer. Ronan relishes the opportunity to clash with the power cosmic, but will the unaware Surfer be so full of glee?

Previous Form:
Silver Surfer (#76): Gained a victory for his universe against Green Lantern.
Ronan: The Accuser has not yet been featured on the site.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Ronan 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Silver Surfer 5 (Professor)
Speed: Silver Surfer 7 (Light Speed)
Stamina: Draw 6 (Generator)
Agility: Silver Surfer 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting Ability: Ronan 6 (Warrior)
Energy Powers: Silver Surfer 7 (Solar Power)

Not listed is the two character's glee, which is decidedly in Ronan's favour.
Actually, if you really wanted to break it down, you might say the Silver Surfer was "emo" before emo even existed. Which is actually of relevance, because as we see in a scene prior to combat here, the Silver Surfer is in one of his periods of adjusting to the development of emotion, specifically in reference to the death of Mantis. That, however, is a story for another post.

Generally the Silver Surfer is about as powerful as they come, but like so many other heroic powerhouses, he is readily made vulnerable by his investment and caring for things like life. A Surfer coming to terms with his emotions usually means a Surfer who is more volatile, whose impulses are easily exploited in combat.

If anyone were unfeeling and calculated enough to capitalize on such a perceived weakness, it would no doubt be the Accuser! Though he lacks the Silver Surfer's zen-style cosmic awareness, he remains a supreme strategist.

Statistically the Silver Surfer has most character's number, but that is more representative of potential than actual implementation of the power cosmic. Though his abilities range from the rearranging of matter, to even things as broad as time travel, the Silver Surfer traditionally remains content to engage in more brutish, readily produced, energy blast based combat with his foes.

This is something Ronan can handle in kind, and gladly return via his Kree built hammer-like device, the Universal Weapon. It serves the Accuser in much the way Thor's Mjolnir does, equipped to deal massive concussive blows, expel amounts of energy, and return to it's master's hand.

When you boil it all down the scope of the Silver Surfer gives him the statistical edge, but on a platform of this level, you can never definitively rule out a character like Ronan.

The Math: Silver Surfer (Cosmic Class)
The Pick: Silver Surfer

What went down...
Discovering the decapitated remains of The Contemplator, Nova (Frankie Raye) is free to abandon her quest of retrieval for Galactus, and deviate with the Silver Surfer on a more recreational trip before the two part ways.

Leaving behind the smothering space of The Coalsack, they spy a Kree world where the Surfer is worshipped as a Saint, having overlooked the populated world during his tenure as herald of Galactus. When the two arrive for a closer look, their reception is quite to the contrary, as the planet's inhabitants flee into their ruined world, cursing the Silver Surfer.

The two cosmic charged heroes have little time to investigate as Ronan arrives on the scene, accusing the Silver Surfer himself of the wanton destruction bestowed upon the simple inhabitants. Nova and Silver Surfer plead his innocence, but it falls on deaf ears: "Accusation is punishment!"

Ronan freezes Nova in a statis field of absolute zero - indifferent to her as a bystander to the accused Silver Surfer.

He totes the Kree made Universal Weapon as more than a match for the energies bestowed upon Norrin Radd by Galactus. The Silver Surfer is more than willing to test the validity of his claim.

The Surfer's cosmic blast is aimed toward the weapon, but Ronan's Universal Weapon proves mighty enough to create a barrier of energy, protecting he and the hammer-styled weapon from the blast.

The Surfer fires again, this time missing as Ronan propels himself upward to avoid the energy. He continues his aerial acrobatics, fleeing from the board-riding Silver Surfer, who pursues with a double barrled array of cosmic blasts.
Though they do not connect, he is able to dive bomb the Kree Accuser with his board, knocking him off his axis.

Ronan steadies himself, using the opportunity provided by the Surfer's returning arc to power his weapon, and fire a devestating blast that only narrowly misses it's chrome target.

The momentum shifts to the Accuser, as he continues his assault. The energies of his Universal Weapon sweep up the Surfer's counter blast, with energy to spare!

Ronan follows up the failed attack quickly, firing off a blast of energy directly at the Silver Surfer. It does the unthinkable, toppling him from his cosmic-borne surfboard!

With the upperhand becoming his, Ronan the Accuser summons the versatility of his Universal Weapon's energies, using them again for the purposes of containment. Pulling the Silver Surfer from the air, he holds his accused helpless in a bubble of yellow power.

Fortunately for the Silver Surfer, Ronan does not notice the sentient movement of the Silver Surfer's surfboard, as it continues it's flight, swinging around to collide with Ronan from behind!

The blow to the back of the head topples Ronan, and seperates him from his Universal Weapon. Freed from it's energies, the Silver Surfer uses his own power cosmic for containment, encasing Ronan in a field of energy that contains him away from regaining his hammer.

The Silver Surfer frees his ally, Nova, from the field of absolute zero, and commends Ronan and his Kree science. Ronan reminds him of his position as Supreme Accuser, and promises that he will evade his judgment for only so long.

The hammer...
Thus, without any real question, we declare Silver Surfer victorious in spaaaaaaace! As much as I'd love to get Frankie Raye on the ranking list, I'm afraid I'm gonna have to call that one a non-issue.

So, as you might imagine, when we catch-up to the June posts [today being June 2nd] we'll be taking a look at Silver Surfer and the title stars of June 15th's Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.
As tempting as it was to hone in on the Surfer, we'll be putting each member of the sequel's cast under a spotlight, so I took this opportunity to squeeze in a little extra bit of Surfer -- because you'll only ask for it later!

He hasn't had much of a go on the site here, but it's safe to say I'm as much a fan of the character as even the most uninitiated of you will be after the movie.
It would be safe to say that while Civil War munched up the headlines like Pacman, Marvel's cosmic crossover event - Annihilation - was one of the most pleasantly surprising sleeper hits of 2006!

Not only did Annihilation mark the triumphant return of the Silver Surfer as a starring character, but it also brought characters like Super-Skrull, Nova and even Ronan to the forefront in their own tying mini-series.

We now have the inevitable glut of reprints to expect from Marvel that have accompanied other movie pledges like Sandman, Ghost Rider and Venom, but that's not all! J. Michael Straczynksi has the out-of-continuity mini-series Requiem coming out now, that details a world where the Silver Surfer is dying. A story that isn't going to be for everyone, but is none the less appreciated.

Even efforts such as these outshine the lusterless efforts that have included a sordid effort to relaunch the character with an artist who went MIA after a few issue's worth of work, and the comedic Defenders mini by Giffen and DeMatteis.

While unsuccessful and ultimately not what I would ask for, some of these recent efforts still deserve to be commended. They experiment with the formula that was classically bogged down too deep into being superheroes in space.
One of the attractive qualities of the Silver Surfer character is it's versatility to apply to Earth-bound superheroics, psychadelic space adventures, metaphorical and philosophical commentaries, and Annihilation style space epics.

Space superhero is fun. I think the featured issue of Silver Surfer here is very much in that category, but it was perhaps that limitation that allowed the Surfer to fall into obscurity, and ultimately out-of-print in the very late nineties.
I don't know how anyone else would feel, but I almost want to dub that unacceptable. The Silver Surfer, while not being one of the first-generation Marvel age characters, arguably fits into that class of core characters, along with the likes of the Fantastic Four, Thor, Spider-man and Hulk.

It's probably best not to approach it with such a rigid mandate, but it just seems sad that the character would ever fall out of print.

Anyway, I'm fast losing my point as we once again find ourselves deep into the AM. There'll be plenty of opportunity to talk about the Silver Surfer over the next month, so stay tuned for that. Oh, and call back your armies, DC Nation! There'll be more in what's in store for you in the Punch-Up!

The Fight: 4 The Issue: 4

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Last Stand: Part III of IV (Marvel comics)
Marvel Knights: Spider-man #11 When: April 2005
Why: Mark Millar How: Terry & Rachel Dodson

The story so far...
For the entirety of Peter Parker's career one villain has stood ahead of the rest of them, being the first to discover his true identity, and terrorize him in both his alias and civilian identity. Few villains have shaped Spider-man's life the way Norman Osborn has, aka the Green Goblin.

Finally behind bars, Osborn continues to have an influence as Mac Gargan, the Scorpion, sets in motion a contingency plan arranged years earlier between the two lethal villains. A plan that instructed Scorpion to kidnap an elderly woman should he ever go down -- a woman named May Parker!

Having helped his oldest foe to escape prison; Spider-man, along with the Black Cat, walks right into another of his grand schemes bringing together an assembly of Spidey's most lethal of foes as the Sinister Twelve!
With each villain sponsored by Osborn and his advanced technologies, it seems like certain doom for Spider-man and Black Cat, but help may just be on the way!

Previous Form:
Spider-man (#1): Recorded victories against Green Goblin, Venom, Scorpion, Sandman & Tombstone.
Black Cat (#36): Aided in defeats of the Venom Symbiote as well as Carnage.
Venom (#80): Aided in defeat of Jack Flag as member of Thunderbolts.
Green Goblin: Norman Osborn has not yet been featured on the site.
Avengers [#2]: Victories over Secret Avengers, She-Hulk & Atlantis.
Fantastic Four [#6]: Lodged a strong victory against the Frightful Four.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Thing 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Mr. Fantastic 6 (Genius)
Speed: Lizard 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Iron Man 6 (Generator)
Agility: Sandman 7 (Unlimited)
Fighting Ability: Captain America 6 (Warrior)
Energy Powers: Human Torch 7 (Solar Power)

Okay, so I like to play it sentimentally coy in the opener, but yes. We're fixing for the Avengers to jump in at the last minute, which means this goes from a slaughter to a bloody war between the two super powered factions!

There's a curvy buttload of characters present in these Dodson pencils, so allow me an opportunity to roll call right at the beginning:

The Sinister Twelve: Green Goblin, Venom (Scorpion), Sandman, Lizard, Vulture, Electro, Shocker, Chameleon, Hydro-Man, Hammerhead, Boomerang and Tombstone.

The Avengers: Spider-man, Black Cat, Yellowjacket, Thing, Human Torch, Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Daredevil, Iron Man and Captain America.

Whew! That's quite an assembly!
With so many characters, it's going to be tough to really draw any concise conclusions. The versatility of strengths and weaknesses really makes this a mixed bag of conclusions, but with characters like the Fantastic Four, Yellowjacket and Iron Man on the job, certainly the heroes are coming well prepared.

The Sinister Twelve roughly divides fifty-fifty for heavy hitters, and street performers. Guys like Hammerhead, Chameleon and even Boomerang, Tombstone and Vulture are going to have limited success where combatting many of the heroes assembled are concerned. In individual breakdowns I might give them a better shot, but we're talking The Avengers!

Sandman and Hydro-Man both present widespread potential problems for the heroes. Given the nature of their respective powers, they can tackle multiple opponents efficiently, whilst also remaining relatively intangible, and subsequently immune to attack.

This is the story that introduces Mac Gargan to the Venom Symbiote, which also means while he presents a potent threat, there's margin for inexperience. Although, teething problems are going to be fairly minute, down to adjustments to the Symbiote's powers and minor communication problems between the host and costume. Otherwise, the already impression Scorpion is only going to be augmented even further than perhaps even the likes of Eddie Brock.

Green Goblin could potentially tackle with the likes of Iron Man, but even he seems somehow dwarfed by the power packed by the majority of heroes who will provide back-up in this scenario. It's hard to really properly break up the twenty-two parts and anticipate the elimination of one over the other.
I guess that's why we have a system...

The Math: Sinister Twelve (Total) Avengers (Average)
The Pick: The Avengers

What went down...
Having aided the Green Goblin's escape from Rykers prison, Spider-man and Black Cat find themselves set upon by the lethal foes of Spider-man, gathered by the Goblin as -- The Sinister Twelve!

Contrary to Norman's plans which involved outfitting many of the villains in more advanced versions of their standing equipment, Mac Gargan shows up wearing the Venom Symbiote, instead of Osborn's upgraded Scorpion costume.
Ever the consumate planner, Osborn is understandably miffed by the shift in affairs, disturbed less by the fact that Scorpion is "wrong", but that he defied him.

Jetting around on his glider, the Goblin promises to settle matters once he's finished murdering Spidey's wife, Mary-Jane Watson. Charming.
The tiff between the two senior villains garners the attentions of the others assembled, who perhaps look on out of curiosity, or question of how the development effects their position in the plan. Either way, Spidey uses the opportunity to strike!

Spidey shoots web and throws his leg out, instructing the Black Cat to do the same, as they prepare to quite literally fight for their lives!

The Cat nails the ravenous Lizard with a stiff kick, while Spidey frog leaps over the Vulture's head. As though willing it to happen, he thinks of the Black Cat, "make it count, baby."

What genius invited Chameleon to a FIST FIGHT, anyway?! Way to go, Norman...With the proportionate speed and agility of a spider, Spider-man leaps across the battle field scoring hits against the Sandman and Shocker, while Black Cat does her best with the Lizard and Electro in the background.

Scorpion answers Chameleon's cries for a result, propelling himself from his rooftop vantage point to collide mid-air with the leaping Spider-man. He drives his agile body hard into nearby crates that line the dock area.

The devestating blow distracts the Cat long enough for bad luck to come her way in the form of Electro. He fires off a charge that rattles her to the core!
The attack incurs the unlikely fury of the Vulture, who had called dibs on Black Cat for an encounter that left him badly beaten and injured in an eye. The intervention of Shocker rallies the aggressions of the villains back to Spider-man, whom they all have motive to destroy.

Scorpion, still on top of Spidey taunts him; "Hear that, Spider-man? They all want a piece of you now. And you know what? They're gonna get it. We're gonna carve our names in your corpse and hang it from the nearest flagpole."

Staring death in the face, Peter Parker's resolve remains undying.
With the total of his super human strength, he sends the new Venom flying through the pack of circling villains. Even resigned to the fact he's going to die, Spider-man stands valiantly before the gathered villains.

A blast of water from Hydro-Man sends Spidey into the air, where Lizard descends from a flying leap, soon to be followed a flocking mass of evil. Sandman, Hydro-Man, Electro, Lizard and Vulture all grab on to get their fill.

At that moment, overlooking the dock, a shadowed figure with winged tips protruding from his head raises a finger. "On my mark, ladies and gentlemen..."

Here comes... DAREDEVIL! We haven't forgotten you, DD!Like a miracle, the Avengers assemble.

Daredevil swings in with a kick that topples Venom, while Iron Man plucks an unsuspecting Lizard and Tombstone, and flies them high above the docks where they can do no harm.

The Thing heads for an old friend, scooping up Sandman as well as the Shocker in his mighty grip, while Human Torch and Captain America's shield blaze technicolour in the background. Finally, for Spidey, it sinks in: The cavalry has arrived.

A giant-size Hank Pym snags Boomerang, Chameleon and Hammerhead, while the fantastic Mister and Mrs Fantastic swoop in to take care of Electro. Still shaken, Spidey is left somewhat dumb founded while the action evolves around him.

Despite the relief he no doubt feels having escaped certain doom at the hands of his deadliest foes, the call of great responsibility compells the Spider-man.
Fully aware of the Green Goblin's plans for Mary-Jane, which are as he speaks commencing, Spider-man takes leave of the situation, leaving the Avengers to clean up the docks. Captain America offers his full blessing.

The hammer...
Unfortunately neither the Captain, nor Thing, who clobbers Tombstone one last time, notices that one Venom has escaped the scene. Even so, Spider-man, Black Cat and The Avengers prevail!

Statistically we've got a few tricky calls to make. Even though the scene is mostly summarized in relatively few panels, all the heroes will pick up the win stat, even Black Cat, who despite being flash fried, was right in the thick of things for the first half of the fight.

Green Goblin actually left before the fight got underway, so despite his instrumental involvement in setting up the pieces, I think I'm going to have to omit him from any result. As orchestrator, he is similarly omitted in recent entries featuring the Thunderbolts.

Meanwhile, to get to the discussion side of things, I guess when you ask for an array of Spider-man villains, the cosmos provides via Web-Slinging Wednesdays!
It was only in the last entry [Marvel: Heroes & Legends #1] that we discussed the lethal foes shaped hole in the Spider-man universe, and this was a recent example that was unfortunately omitted!

If there's a writer in comics right now who deserves to own stock in this particular corner of the blogosphere, it's Mark Millar. Noone writes big superhero action on the boom-crash operatic scale of Mr. Millar, who is behind comics like; Wolverine, Ultimates, Civil War, and of course, Marvel Knights: Spider-man.

At the time Millar's twelve issue run on the newly launched Spider-man title under the Marvel Knights imprint really split the paying audience. Spider-man fans seemed uncertain as to whether this was an instant classic, or a malicious assault on the characters they hold near and dear.
Many cried for the safety of Aunt May, the peril of Spider-man, and the apparent bastardizaton of Venom and Scorpion, in what many believed was going to be another stinky symbiote marketing ploy.

Granted, the new Venom (with vanilla swirl!) narrowly avoided the hideousness of the publisized squid costume design, but ultimately I think it's proved to be a lasting positive for the Marvel universe. Mac Gargan has found new and unusual relevance post-Scorpion, currently being treated to a thorough handling by Warren Ellis in Thunderbolts [also featuring Green Goblin, as mentioned earlier!].

Under very unique conditions, Millar did exactly what we asked for: He provided a fluid tale that managed to showcase many feature villain stories, while also cramming in some C-snaps of characters like Rhino, and the barely seen Chameleon, Boomerang, and Tombstone even in the issue reviewed here.

Granted, this isn't quite the context we were talking about. Stories like this, and the preceding Batman: Hush storyarc from DC's Jeph Loeb are unique situations.
What we aren't looking for is broken up twelve issue stories that cram as many villains in as possible. What a story like Millar's Spider-man could have provided was a launching pad for the kind of evolving reality we did discuss, and are seeing in a detached form, lest we forget the ill-fated Secret War mini-series.

I couldn't end the review without also pointing out that the art team of Terry and Rachel Dodson contributes greatly to making this one of the most enjoyable Spider-man stories of the decade. Dodson's pencils flow brilliantly, delivering not only the sensuous feminine curves that have made him famous, but also high quality action that walks a line between common Spidey, and McFarlane-style agility-in-excess.

Likewise, Rachel Dodson's confident, thick inks and Ian Hannin (of Avalon)'s cool, smooth colour palette make for a visually exciting take on the script, that's quite easy on the eyes. It certainly requires far fewer graces than the dynamic, but blunt pencil work of collaborator, John Romita Jr.

Anyway, that's it for now. I've been pegging back one more post at a time!
This was of course the all-in special for Web-Slinging Wednesday; featuring the villains of the Spider-man 3 feature film. The last post of the month will be a fifth-week special that promises to be one of the biggest battles posted on Secret Earths, so DO NOT miss it!

Likewise, this particular issue of Marvel Knights: Spider-man also features another colossal battle within it, so do not scratch it off your list yet. Like many other issues, we will revisit it at some stage in the future. In the mean time, I've got to go have a chat with the Beyonder. Because there is -no way- I've been taking orders from a lowly stinking mutie all this time!...

The Fight: 5 The Issue: 6.5

Monday, May 21, 2007

For Better and For Worse! (Marvel comics)
Marvel: Heroes & Legends #1 When: October 1996
Why: Stan Lee & Fabian Nicieza How: John Romita Sr.

The story so far...
Reed Richards and Susan Storm, known to the world as Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Girl of the super hero sensation the Fantastic Four are finally getting married. It should be the happiest day of their lives, but we all know better!

With the city gathered for the event, it doesnt take long for chaos to grip the city as the collective efforts of some of the most notorious super villains set their plans into motion, all at the manipulation of the jealous Dr. Doom!

The Avengers, X-Men, Spider-man, Daredevil and others pitch in their efforts to contain the threat, but not even the blushing bride can avoid being dragged into the epic battle! Can good triumph over evil on this most audacious of occasions, or will this bad omen prove to be the end of the wedding, and all else?!

Previous Form:
Spider-man (#1): Victories against the Tri-Sentinel, Blacklash, Man-Ape, Tigershark, The Trapster, The Wingless Wizard, Elektra and the Hand, and many others.
Grey Gargoyle: Has not yet been featured on the site.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Grey Gargoyle 5 (Super Strength)
Intelligence: Spider-man 5 (Professor)
Speed: Spider-man 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Grey Gargoyle 5 (Marathon Man)
Agility: Spider-man 5 (Cat-like)
Fighting Ability: Spider-man 3 (Street Wise)
Energy Powers: Spider-man 2 (Projectiles)

Hawkeye is actually in the vicinity when this one kicks off, but fortunately for us his involvement is entirely incidental, leaving us to concentrate on a good old fashioned one-on-one situation.

Ol' Grey Gargy is actually harassing the small child that provides the through line of the story, but the boy never actually does much to engage him in combat, so I'm going to ask for a concession there.

The Grey Gargoyle manages to get around the place pretty good for a hulking man made of stone, so I'm sure he and Spidey have had reason to cross paths since this encounter, but it still makes for an interesting, less than common encounter. Just the kind of thing we could use, if you ask me.

Spidey's a tough customer, but when it comes to strength, Grey Gargoyle's sitting on the highest end of a five. The Gargoyle made his name fighting grudge matches against the Hulk and Thor, which is the merit badge of all the coolest heavy hitters in the Marvel universe!

If Spidey went to blows I'm sure Grey Gargoyle's going to feel it, but a guy doesn't really tend to crack a sweat when he's got stone for skin. Which is why Spider-man's greatest strategy is going to be to utilize his superior speed and agility to run rings around the bulky, cumbersome Grey Gargoyle.

That's going to come in double-handy for avoiding contact with the Grey Gargoyle, who involuntarily turns anything he comes into contact with to stone.
Of course, that's where the Gargoyle's strategum lies. Survive the ranged attack long enough to make contact, and either squash or petrify the bug. Though, given Spidey's abilities, that seems less than likely...

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

What went down...
Having taken a spill at the hands of Thor earlier, the Grey Gargoyle reemerges in a capacity of general menace to any citizens that may be unfortunate enough to come across his path. In this case, little Avengers admirer Mark is the unlucky one. [It's not the first time a child has been endangered by Avengers worship. Lest we forget the watertower scaling Thor imitator of Avengers #214. - Muckracking Mike]

He makes a run for it, heading for a nearby fire escape, knowing full well that the Grey Gargoyle can't follow through on his stoney threats if he can't touch him.
The Grey Gargoyle proves too heavy to follow up the iron steps, but it matters naught, as the monstrous Frenchman simply tears the escape from the buildingside!

Mark manages to reach the an open window in time, but the integrity of the building wall is compromised, sending a safe plummetting street-bound -- directly on top of the arrow slinging hero, Hawkeye!
Before he can be crushed, super durable webs snare the weight in mid-air, leaving it dangling safely [for at least an hour] above.

Spidey swings into action, heading through a broken window to follow the thundering footsteps of the Grey Gargoyle! The villainous Frenchman is right on Mark's tail, seeking to use him as a hostage to escape the clutches of the heroes, but it's too late for that!

Looming over the whimpering little boy, a crimson light casts the Gargoyle's shadow against the wall, signalling the entrance of the spectacular Spider-man!

Spidey connects with a stiff swinging kick that sends the Gargoyle's massive weight hurtling backward! He fires back the same criticisms the villain had spewed at the innocent child he was stalking, "Stop whimpering, Gargy!"

Spidey instructs the boy to make an escape, while he sticks around to make sure the Gargoyle troubles no other small children, or babies that may or may not be carrying candy.

The wall-crawler wraps the fallen Gargoyle up in webbing, which has an added bonus when it comes into contact with the Gargoyle's skin: It turns to stone!
"I just had an amusing thought, Gargy! Mind if I share it with you? If everything you touch turns to stone -- then my webbing'll make a nice stone prison for you!"

The hammer...
... And the moral of the story is, be cautious on Manhattan streets, because you never know when a crazy, evil Frenchman will try to turn you to stone! Fortunately for young Mark, Spider-man was on the scene to save the day! If only Canada had been so lucky, eh? Eh?

So, we can notch ourselves up another new inclusion in the ranks of the C-grade villains. We've inadvertently been spending a lot of time lately [Beyond! #3] talking about the forgotten heroes and villains that really made the previous two decades so memorable. I found myself in a message board discussion recently that arose the opportunity to really look at this in a more specific light, and consider it as one of the catalysts for the struggle of certain comics to maintain their appeal.

The example in this case was Spider-man, whose villains have ironically been the focus of this month's Wednesdays. What I felt worth voicing was the strength of the Spider-villain cast of characters, which have essentially faded into relative obscurity during the two thousands.
Certainly efforts are being made by the likes of Robert Kirkman and Matt Fraction to change that, but essentially it's still highly unlikely to pick up one of the monthly Spider-titles and enjoy an appearance clocked by a rotating villain of the week.

Part of this talks to contemporary sensabilities, which demand a greater attention to pseudo-reality, and the unacceptable nature of a villain who is free to escape and return as he pleases without any evolving motivation. Because the medium has found itself so unwilling to continue moving forward (as Spider-man did for his first few decades), we've bogged ourselves down in minutia storytelling that focuses on the dance between a very small group of on-going villains and a hero: thus, the modern storyarc.

It brings us back to a place all too familiar to Secret Earths readers, and that's the infamous run on Batman by Judd Winick. A context closer to home would be the sagas of the eighties and nineties highlighted in the likes of Gerry Conway's work on Spectacular Spider-man. An on-site example is the resolution issue to the on-going sub-plot revolving around Robbie Robertson and his relationship with the villain Tombstone [Spectacular Spider-man #142], where Tombstone was introduced in full force as part of an on-going story, whilst still moving around other events like the release of Peter Parker's Webs coffee table book, and various other duels with villainy.

While these stories managed to tell intelligent and cohesive on-going storylines, they managed to also facilitate the rotation of recognisable villains who were able to exist in and out of stories through defeats on various levels. It was a time that still relied heavily on conventions like the A/B/C stories, using the system to graduate villains from B & C into the A plot [like Tombstone], but they were pretty good with it.

Winick's work on Batman represents a cartoon sketch of the evolution of that. A theory of a working world in which the heroes operate, much to the description of what we're told about them, but without the conceit of forcing regular plight on the characters. Instead, a more organic layout is introduced to facilitate the shifting of existing elements, and occasional introduction of new attractions.

It was this fluid story telling that allowed characters like Black Mask, Red Hood, Mr. Freeze, The Penguin, Scarecrow, Deathstroke and a plethora of others to make motivated appearances, without being restricted to moving within their storyarcs. It was free-flow hyper-realism, or as I always like to call it, the chessboard continuity.

Granted, Winick didn't do it exactly the way I would. I made special note to refer to his approach as a cartoon sketch, because it's a simple version of what could potentially be a map of excellence, the likes of which has never been seen. A strategy that, with incredible support of company and editorial alike, could see characters like Spider-man returning to undisputed prominence, along with various other characters considered forgotten.

Everything the Gargoyle touches turns to stone. Including his career as a villain.How does a Grey Gargoyle fit into a picture like this?
The easy answer for villains who have become unmotivated, particularly with this kind of street value, is to turn them to muscle for hire work, which is something many villains are said to do, even though we never seem to see them doing it. Which is the heart of the theory of the chessboard continuity. Let's get these guys maintaining a regular agenda, even if it means stripping them back to some degree.

I can fully empathise with an industry that doesn't want to do random punch-ups every week, and honestly, I'd much rather see characters making a regular living and approaching their grudges in a structured manner, than showing up periodically without any strong motivation or reasoning.

Outside of springing characters early from jail it sounds like a system that would be difficult to sustain, but really, there are enough of these guys to go around to avoid pulling a Brubaker. Not that writing an accurate American criminal justice system wouldn't involve a lot of early releases for murderers and career criminals. Jail's for the unregistered heroes, and jay-walkers, dontcha know?

You'll be seeing more from this issue in the future, so we'll talk more about this unique event next time. In the mean time, stay tuned for more overdue updates, and drop a comment or something! Geez!

The Fight: 3 The Issue: 6