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

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