Monday, May 14, 2007

Dead Man Walking (Marvel comics)
Beyond! #3 When: November 2006
Why: Dwayne McDuffie How: Scott Kolins

The story so far...
The cosmic entity called The Beyonder has been abducting heroes from the Marvel universe with a simple decree: "Slay your enemies and all you desire shall be yours! Nothing you dream of is impossible for me to accomplish!"

The ragtag grouping of Spider-man, Venom, Gravity, Firebird, Henry Pym, Wasp, Medusa, Kraven and the hood are torn apart when, interpreting the Beyonder literally, Venom appears to slay his mortal enemy - Spider-man.

The other heroes quickly turn on Venom, and although he manages to escape their clutches, his decisions ultimately lead to the crash landing of their spaceship on Battleworld. Here, the group sans Venom encounter "Michael", who is actually Deathlok, the survivor of a previous group. Unfortunately for them, however, he wasn't the only person whose attentions were razed...

Previous Form:
Wasp (#25): Involved in several successful group endeavours.
Medusa (#194): Defeated by her former teammates, the Frightful Four.
Dragon Man, Deathlok, Gravity, Firebird: Have no yet been featured on the site.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Dragon Man 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Deathlok 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Wasp 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Dragon Man 5 (Marathon Man)
Agility: Wasp 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting Ability: Deathlok 4 (Trained Fighter)
Energy Powers: Firebird 6 (Mass Destruction)

Well, well, well... This certainly has to be one of the more interesting groups we've dealt with here on Secret Earths. As you may have noted from the above rankings indicators, despite the impressive array of C-listers, all we're concerned with is; Wasp, Medusa, Gravity, Firebird and Deathlok. The other characters might turn up in future installments, I do not know for sure.

Dragon Man's a fun villain! I've maybe gone a little generous on the strength side of things, but consider him on the low end of a six. Not that it makes much difference, considering all concerned, bar Deathlok, are completely without any major strength based skills or enhancements.

Needless to say, this isn't going to be a fist fight. The Beyond! team needs to look to their unique capabilities if they're going to stand a chance against the Dragon Man, who really isn't that commanding a threat in general, but just generally deals with much stronger foes.

Deathlok has the weaponry and tactical advice of his cybernetic computer going for him, although given the obscure nature of the characters he's paired with, data is going to be limited. Any tactical advantage gained is going to be limited to what he can do, and a gun and cybernetic strength isn't going to do it.

Medusa brings snaring tactile hair strands to the table; Firebird can fight fire with the fire breathing Dragon Man, almost certainly surpassing his capabilities; and Gravity is bringing all kinds of wacky powers to the table.

All in all, a group of level headed heroes with these abilities should be able to function as a unit well enough to overcome the relatively childlike Dragon Man. Certainly the inexperience of Gravity and Firebird is well countered by the season of senior heroes like Deathlok, Wasp and Queen Medusa.

The Math: Deathlok and team(Total) Dragon Man (Average)
The Pick: Deathlok and team

What went down...
With several of the heroes already knocked out, Deathlok wastes no time going to battle with the roaring Dragon Man. His cybernetic intelligence rates chance of survival for Deathlok at less than 4%, but he fights on anyway.

Wasp calls an eyeshot, as Gravity impresses his influence on the situation. He uses his powers to shackle the seething Dragon Man, while Medusa capitalizes, using her strong hair to hoist a boulder onto the Dragon Man's foot.

The pain of the attack inadvertantly sees the Dragon Man bucking in agony, sending Gravity into the unsuspecting Medusa. Their collision knocks them both down.

Wasp, unable to get in for a close shot with her stinger blast, calls for back-up from Deathlok, who appears to be standing around in the middle of the battlefield. Little does Janet Van Dyne realise, Deathlok is unlocking the protocols in his cybernetic enhancements, rapidly increasing his options and chances of victory.

With safety protocols disabled and the maximum strength boost activated, Deathlok not only all-but assures his own survival, but increases the statstical chances of victory for the group. Although it hampers his chances, Deathlok ensures his no-kill parameters remain in effect. "Which isn't to say we can't punch his lights out."

Deathlok heads into the fray with a cybernetically enhanced uppercut that knocks the Dragon Man into next week! Reeling from the blow, Dragon Man is vulnerable for Wasp to come in to fire off one of her blasts at point blank range into his eye.

Unfortunately this serves only to enrage the beast further. Thought his eye is clearly effected, he breathes a massive jet of flame in retaliation, but the Wasp manages to get clear before she can be hit by the blinded beast.

Deathlok takes the brunt of Dragon Man's firey breath, suffering heavily under it's extreme temperature. His body begins to degenerate, as do his cybernetic enhancements, but just when all seems lost, Firebird enters the battle!

The flaming heroin absorbs the impact of the flames, coming between the simple creature and the advanced cyborg, Deathlok. She lets out a Phoenix style burst of flame in the shape of a bird, which sufficiently startles the Dragon creature.

Firebird orders the creature away, and follows her demands with an impressive blast of flame that sends the Dragon Man hurtling across the jungle terrain in which they fight. The attack proves to exert too much energy, but Gravity is there to use his powers to break Firebird's fall.

Deathlok's cybernetics are able to regenerate and self-repair the bulk of the damage done, allowing him to pursue their opponent for one last encounter.
Finding Dragon Man on his stomach deeper into the jungle, Deathlok snatches him by the tail and whips him into more larger rocks and boulders, ensuring the knocked down monster stays down.

The team regroups to address the remaining threats that await them on Battleworld. Mission accomplished.

The hammer...
Chalk up a victory to Deathlok, Firebird, and the rest of the team! In the interest of clarifying the statistical value, I'm going to consider that a solid team effort from everyone concerned.

Speaking of teams; Deathlok goes on to inform his fellows that he was on Battleworld as the remainder of a team that had been summoned long ago. That team consisting of; Darkhawk, Terror Inc, Sleepwalker, Dracula, Photon, Coldblood and Wonder Man. Not a bad little ensemble, even if I do say so myself. Reminiscent of Robert Kirkmans "legion of losers", who were so unfortunate they stole the name of The Spot's team!

Beyond!, like Kirkman's efforts in the later issues of Marvel Team-Up, highlights a resurgance in appreciation for the lower tier characters who largely suffered from post-nineties backlash. While it might not have been the biggest story to befall Marvel Comics, I like to think Beyond! went lengths to just reaffirm the potential value of these characters. Certainly with McDuffie moving back into the Marvel Universe big leagues writing a title like Fantastic Four, which directly references this mini, it's showing promising signs.

I also particularly like seeing an interest with grooming characters for bigger things. A conceit more characteristically seen at DC, where characters seem to be more readily embraced, both new and old. Characters like Gravity can really benefit from these kinds of things, whilst reviving classics like Deathlok.

It isn't all sunny for Marvel's B-listers, though. To the surprise of noone, Blade has been cancelled with the twelfth and final issue. They at least have the grace to wrap up their storylines, but really, anyone who thought this was a good way to capitalize on Blade's unexpected popularity in the films, was an idiot.

While not brilliant stories, what at least earns stories like Beyond! point of recognition is the very simple approach to the characters. Very little effort is made to do anything with them, but deliver an expected charaterization moving through events. Blade failed instantly to successfully capture the formula that was so brilliantly mastered particularly in the Stephen Norrington introductory film. The one that broke Blade onto the map.

Sometimes you really have to wonder about the thought processes behind these decisions. Not that I would volunteer myself as the supreme-intelligence. Even if it is simple brilliance to team the Sub-Mariner and Blade in a storyline that would blow your minds. Yes, I'm going back to the Sub-Mariner B-list packed pitch.

I'll salvage myself by abruptly changing the subject to the overall concept of Beyond!. The idea of a cosmic entity providing the McGuffin by spontaneously collecting up various selected characters, only to plonk them on a planet called Battleworld, is likewise simple brilliance.

It's highly unlikely that it will ever produce a Watchmen, but it is almost certainly guaranteed to be a ridiculously fun and action packed romp each and every time. You have to wonder if Marvel shouldn't focus their attentions on establishing Beyond! as a trademark, in a world where Secret War has perhaps shifted the perception and awareness of the classic Secret Wars branding.
It probably wouldn't hurt to shake-off the stink of Secret Wars II, too. At least Beyond! references the Beyonder, without conjuring images of the white leisure suit and gheri curl.

Gee, I wonder who would be qualified to write a comic about a random collective of superheroes fighting on an alien planet? Hey, I'm just saying, I'm here for the grooming Marvel. Look at the credentials, baby. Two years!
It's 1:15am, so I'm going to go to sleep now. The catch-up continues!

The Fight: 4.5 The Issue: 5
NEXT WEEK: King Midas said there'd be days like this... GREY GARGOYLE!

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