Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Mercenary and the Madman (Marvel comics)
Captain America #251 When: November 1980
Why: Roger Stern How: John Byrne

The story so far...
With the promise of a cut of a missing small fortune; French villain supreme, Batroc the Leaper, hatches a plan to free the super-powered Mr. Hyde from prison.

The two come to blows when Hyde reveals his promise of fortune to be a lie, but when he swiftly man-handles the Frenchman during a display of his savate skills, Hyde gains himself a reluctant partner in crime.

Holding a petroleum barge ransom; Hyde intends to raise a billion dollars in funds with a threat to the Roxxon conglomerate who own the ship. As if that wasn't enough, the villains also demand a hostage in Captain America, a chance for riches and revenge. How will Cap over come the odds? Stay tuned!

Previous Form:
Captain America (#8): Victories over Bane, MODOK/Baron Zemo, She-Hulk & the Sinister Twelve.
Batroc & Mr. Hyde: Neither has yet been featured on the site.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Mr. Hyde 5 (Super Strength)
Intelligence: Captain America 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Batroc 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Mr. Hyde 5 (Marathon Man)
Agility: Captain America 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting Ability: Captain America 6 (Warrior)
Energy Powers: Captain America 2 (Projectile Weapon)

Y'know, this has been on the to-do list for quite some time, and given the relaxed schedule afforded in July, I thought it was the perfect time to crack it.

The appeal here is the fighting skill of the characters in question.
Mr. Hyde represents a fairly typical super brute, who really isn't of the same interest as his ally, Batroc the Leaper, a character with the distinction of being a legendary savate fighter.

We don't tend to get into the specifics of the martial arts here, but you may have at least gauged that I have some interest. While a lot of superheroes and villains have close ties to martial arts fighting skills, very few actually have any kind of process or specifics they've gone through. Which is what, no matter how flawed, makes Batroc such an interesting fighter.

You can skip on to the Hammer for the inevitable discussion about Batroc, but in the mean time, let us weigh up the stats as they read according to the tape!

Captain America is one of the heartiest, if not most skilled, fighters in the Marvel universe. Secret Earths rates him as a fighting six, representative of the skill afforded by the brutish or determined characters unique to comics. The specifics of the Captain's hand-to-hand skills tend to vary, but it's undisputable that he is one of the most persistent and successful fighters.

Certainly Batroc does not have the reputation to go toe-to-toe with Captain America, but I'd like to think on a day of his dues, his savate skills would at the very least give Cap a good touch-up. When you couple that theory with Hyde as his wingman, you start to see a pretty clear equation.

If anyone in the Marvel universe is going to overcome these odds, it's Captain America. We've seen all too often before the red, white and blue blazing it's way out of shackles toward a shield, which then blurs to a neck, which is quickly followed by boots and gloves that scramble over a sea of humanity toward victory. Captain America can beat almost anyone on his level.

On paper I think you'd have to lean toward the combination of Batroc and Hyde. Though they may not represent the epitomy of villainous reputation, they at the very least have the fundamentals to make it happen. Off the page, we pretty much resign ourselves to the assumption: Cap wins.

The Math: Mr. Hyde/Batroc (Total) Captain America (Average)
The Pick: Captain America (Yeah, even though he died...)

What went down...
The Roxxon ship, the Queen of Egypt, sails in under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge into a harbor empty save for one individual barge. There, chained to a post, stands the hostage requested by Hyde and Batroc -- Captain America!

Hyde cracks one of the crates on board, discovering the demanded ransom in gold, platinum, non-sequential cash and various other precious metals.
With their kitty secured, Hyde offers Batroc the opportunity to go to work on the hostage, a part of the plan that was supplied by the Frenchman.

Before the villains can act, Cap pushes his boot down on the planks, initiating a trigger for jets of knock-out gas to spurt upward through the barge floor.

Batroc wastes no time voicing his outrage, before leaping at the Captain with a devestating dropkick. Cap, unaffected by the gas thanks to hidden nose filters, is swift to defend the shot with his shield, before returning in kind with a stiff right, before knocking Batroc outta the park with a stiff uppercut.

This panel looks stained, but that's supposed to be the gas...Before Cap can get a lock on the treacherous Mr. Hyde, he is upon him, emerging like a nightmarish shadow from within the mist of the noxious gas.

Recalling a previous encounter, Cap looks to take advantage of a glass jaw, socking Mr. Hyde violently in the face with a stiff right. Unfortunately for him, Mr. Hyde was apparently but a shadow of himself in that encounter.

The monstrous villain laughs at the Captain's efforts, before pounding down with his own devestating clubbing fists. With the Captain knocked down, Hyde is unrelenting, unleashing everything he has on the super-patriot.

Shocked by Hyde's success, Batroc leaps onto his partner's massive arm, questioning Hyde's intentions. Appealing to his ego, Batroc convinces him that he is worthy of much more than pummeling Captain America to death like a common thug. With that, Hyde lifts the lifeless body of Captain America from the deck, and prepares to enact a far more devious plan.

When Captain America comes-to, he finds himself greeted by the sea air -- suspended on the ship's front, pointed like a patroit missile at New York City!

Le vainqueur, le Batroc le sauteur et le Monsieur Hyde!
I hope my French was sufficiently poor for your Batroc needs.

It dawned on me that there actually hasn't been a lot in the way of Captain America on the site, and since his death has stirred so much hubbub, it only makes it seem an even greater travesty.

So, hopefully this little gesture at least makes up for it. Even though, no sooner than I say we're going to have more DC on the site, do I slew off a four-hit Marvel combo. Be patient, DC Nation. Help is on the way, I assure you!

Much like Marvel Two-In-One #92, we might follow this entry up sometime in the near future with the second of the two-part story. Y'know, even saying that, it kinda just brings it home how rare it is to come across a two-part story these days... Thank the heavens for Detective Comics and She-Hulk, sometimes.

So, way back in the tape I mentioned Batroc, and at the risk of turning Secret Earths in to one big 'if I were...' blog, I've got to talk about the notion of a fight comic in the Marvel universe. Because, it's something they tried with Thunderbolts, and while I never actually read it, I get the impression it probably wasn't worth the time.

You've got two kinds of great fighting archetypes in superhero comics.

Your mountain movers are guys like Thing and the Hulk, who look at home when they're duking it out in a deserted area full of mountainous ridges and dirt and rock. These are the guys who created shockwaves with their blows.

Then you've got the martial artists, who generally don't have the strength of those raw powerhouses, and are much more at home on the street.
It's these guys that, to me, are where you look for your fight club regulars, and if Marvel came to me right now and said, "Hey Mike! We love that wacky blog o' yours and we want you to do a fighting comic..." the first guy I'd be asking for is Batroc. (See? I am going somewhere with this!)

Batroc is the perfect character to start a fighting comic with.
He has instant relevance, given that the sole reference for his 'superpower' is that he knows savate. He's also a villain, so it's generally going to be a lot easier to explain his shift in motivations, and it's also the reason he generally doesn't have any strings attached to other projects or areas of the universe.

We know Batroc as the silly character: The guy who became one of the Deadpool pseudo-regulars. The guy who's an easy cheap for an eighties one panel scan for an ironic blog post. Even here in 1980 he's part of a joke, albeit, a far less self-conscious one.

In that respect, it might be a bit of a tough sell, and I think the first thing you'd need to do would be to get him out of the mask, if not the costume on a whole.
From there, it's a pretty simple process of turning him into a major, or supporting cast member, benefitting from some victories over other characters, and a general effort to portray him honestly in these violent surroundings.

Presumably a fight comic of this nature is going to be a little grungy.
You're going to get the greys of the street, and the sickly whitewash of caged neon lights boucing off of minimalistic concrete walls and despondent bodies.

As you develop the scene you might start to see more superhero interaction, as it becomes a flowing spring for information, and a hub for new criminal activities. You might see guys like Iron Fist, or Daredevil, or Prowler showing up. You might, given the opportunity, even see a Ronin in a situation like this. The creation of a new fighting persona like Ronin is arguably a more believable scenario than Clint Barton's need for a costume...

Storylines would range everywhere from journeys of self-discovery, gambling and recreational money exchange, the rise and fall of powers, murder plots, honor and sport, the metamorphosis of individuals. A lot can happen in a situation like this that, much like this site, might revolve around the spine of fighting, but expand far and beyond into other realms of thought and interest.

So, before we close, who else might you see as a regular?
Maybe; Black Cat, Blacklash, Boomerang, Bullseye, Crossbones, Deadpool, Fantomex, Grey Gargoyle, Puma, Tombstone, The Wrecker... The options are almost endless! Heck, no doubt editorial would provide a slew of would-be combatants, and suggestions for characters that could be recast in this world!

The Fight: 4 The Issue: 4.5

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