Wednesday, October 31, 2007

QUICK FIX DOUBLE FEATURE: Bring me a dream...
The Tarantula Strikes (DC)
Where: Adventure Comics #40 When: July 1939
Why: Unknown How: Larry Dean

Quick Fix...
My word! A comedy of errors here at the Infinite Wars as I slide into lateness once more, and accidentally delete the previous poorly drawn Comik-Politik cartoon. Apologies particularly to the fangirls from WFA who were following the much appreciated link, and finding only dead air.

Speaking of dead air, today is, of course, Halloween!
To mark the occasion we've spent the latter half of the month hovering around the sinister and macabre, and as easy as it could've been to go with vampires and zombies, I thought it might be fun to take this holiday of nightmares and use it as a vehicle for a couple of interesting little posts with a sleepy theme to them.

Now, it goes without saying that I'm a big fan of the Spidey villain.
I thoroughly enjoyed Spider-man 3, and personally regarded Sandman, who is among my favourite Spidey villains, one of the true undisputed highlights of the film. Therefore, it's with that qualifier that I make the curmudgeonous statement: There is only one true Sandman in the DC Universe, and he doesn't go down especially well with eye-liner or Siouxsie and the Banshees.

Wesley Dodds debuted in New York World's Fair Comics #1, and quickly became a recurring staple of Adventure Comics from NAP, in the late thirties.
The character straddled the pulpy line between mysteriouso, gadget-wielding detectives like The Shadow, and the new wave of super-hero ushered in by Superman and Batman in sister titles; Action, and Detective Comics.

Much like Batman, it would only take a few years for the character to lose much of his connection to the pulp stories of the previous era, joining the superhero fraternity with the initiation of a new colourful suit, and junior sidekick.

I'm by no means any kind of expert on the Golden Age, but it was an affinity for characters like the Sandman that influenced the earliest iterations of my own work, The Kirby Martin Inquest. The Sandman would no doubt have featured much sooner in the Infinite Wars, if it were not for the nature of his character as a subversive combatant, and his appearances here in mostly short stories.

Indelible influences from a childhood of Phantom stories written by Lee Falk and drawn by grossly underrated American masters like; Raymond Moore and Wilson McCoy; probably primed me for a fascination with characters of this mould.
In the same way one views the wide array of characters from contemporary Marvel and DC comics; the Sandman represents a different slice of the same cultural pie, calling upon popular influences, themes and zeitgeists of the time.

Holding true to his ties to the pulp corner of this developing universe, the Sandman lacks the colourful rogues gallery of recurring villains that would lead to a distinct divergence between this character, and a Batman. The Sandman's stories are largely isolated tales more about corruption and common villainy, than the garrish, or costumed.

That's not to say there weren't memorable characters, and certainly The Tarantula emerges as one of the more visually stimulating villains.
It would be this character that would serve as one of many inspirations for the 1990s revival in, Sandman Mystery Theatre. This Vertigo version of the classic Sandman (written by Matt Wagner) would dramatically redefine many early stories, developing them in more removed ways than typical retellings of past tales [similar to Wagner's later Batman work]. This was far from an Ultimate affair, despite being perhaps more worthy of the prefix than those that use it.

Wagner largely takes only the basic premise of the original tales, setting his series in 1930s New York, where the Sandman tracks a serial kidnapper and abusive version of the The Tarantula. This original creation highlighted the uncompromising shift in Wagner's overall approach, acting free of the social constraints that kept the Sandman within certain parameters of specifics, as mature as the broader concepts may have been.

Wagner blows the character out into a world of intrigue and incestuous bickery between disgruntled family members, and exposes the homicidal tendencies of an emotionall withdrawn weakling. So specific is Wagner's direction, that it specifically references the motivations of the original Tarantula kidnapper.

Wesley Dodds, having learnt of the kidnapping ransom of actress Vivian Dale, travels to her home by cover of night, putting himself to bed in effigy to stalk the streets as the sinister Sandman.

Evading the police net, Sandman lurks the grounds of Ms. Dale's estate where police hold all houseguests and servants as suspects, while waiting for the Tarantula's next message.

With a mystery surrounding the Tarantula's methods for whisking the actress away unseen, Dodds already carries the theory that she may not have left her large, ancient mansion. A theory that ultimately proves to have some credence when he follows the Tarantula to a secret hallway hidden within the walls.

With the aid of his gas gun, the Sandman puts to sleep the gunman who guards a bound Vivian hidden within a secret room. Following the labyrinth of hidden passages through the old home, Sandman discovers a room empthy that should be filled -- the guest room of Mr. Crossart, a man who had objected to the police's treatment of those staying with Ms. Dale.

The Sandman proves to be Crossart's undoing, drawing fire from the villain's pistol with the use of a pillow garbed in his hat and coat, placed carefully across the room at the guest's desk. The Sandman is able to turn the tables, putting the Tarantula to bed, which is where the police discover a sleeping Vivian Dale, with the thwarted crooks tied to her bedpost -- with a sprinkle of sand on each: the calling card of the Sandman!

Perhaps as interesting as this six-page short story and it's responsibility for inspiring four full issues of work six decades later, is that DC credit the story's art to Bert Christman, using the pseudonym Larry Dean, but are unable to cite a writer.
A tragedy, given the kudos deserved for being a crucial part of these great Sandman tales, before the character would succumb to the mediocrity and loss of identity as yet another costumed hero.

Wesley Dodds may have been succeeded by his forties sidekick Sandy, but I can't help but regard this character as the one-and-only true Sandman at DC comics.

The Fix: 2 The Story: 4
Winner: Sandman

Wesley Dodds may have been succeded by his forties sidekick Sandy, but I can't help but regard this character as the one-and-only true Sandman. His early adventures have been collected as "The Golden Age Sandman Archive Edition" from DC Comics. Likewise, the earliest issues of Matt Wagner's Sandman Mystery Theatre can be found in trade on Each are a worthy addition to any collection!

The Evil That Men Do! (Marvel)
Where: Incredile Hulk #335 When: September 1987
Why: Peter David How: John Ridgway

From the Sandman to the sleeper, as we wrap up our Halloween double feature with yet another tale of spooks and scares. This time, from a period in Bruce Banner's history when, much like the first days after his accident, he finds himself changing uncontrollably by moonlight into the grey-behemoth that is: The Incredible Hulk!

Peter David has been responsible for many iterations of the Hulk, and throughout the years has crafted some of the best regarded stories with the character. Among a plethora of memorable moments and stories is Hulk #340, which bares the famous Todd McFarlane drawn Wolverine cover, seen recently as a painted zombie variant by Arthur Suydam [Marvel Zombies #3].

Perhaps the most provocative quality of David's work was the psychological exploration of the characters of Bruce Banner and Hulk alike. Many stories not only spotlight the pathos of Banner as a cursed individual, but also the nature of Hulk as a character walking the line of hero and villain.

This stand-alone story presents a delicious double-header that paints a commentary about a social culture that derives trade from the glorification of violence, and the Hulk, whose relationship with violence presents a similar potential for downfall and loss of control.

Our story begins with a frightened girl attacked by a weedy man with claws who slinks out from under her bed at night, and clutches at her pyjamas. Wearing a wide floppy hat and cloak, the suited individual rakes at her eyes with a spray of blood, leaving her blindly stumbling for an exit out the window.

The Stalker pursues his victim through the suburban street, the girl too frightened to cry for help. Her salvation comes in the form of a solid grey mass standing in the middle of the street. Blinded, she collides with the fleshy obstacle, but immediately fills with a sense of reassurance and salvation.

The seedy Stalker tempts the Hulk to join him in his conquests of evil, but the Hulk declines, despite playfully contemplating the notion. It is the arrival of local law enforcement that prompts the Stalker to disappear into the night, the Hulk finding pardon for his menacing stature by sponsor of the grateful blinded girl.

A tour of the town allows Bruce Banner insight into the inner workings of the creature that stalked the suburban sprawl by night. He discovers a young man unwittingly in a predicament not unlike his own. A man who has surrendered to his demons, living a life of exiled solitude, worshipping devils in a collection of slasher movies, while getting drunk on cheap booze.

When Gil Jeffers falls asleep watching one of the many mind-numbing horror films he's seen hundreds of nights before, the spirit of the Stalker emerges, "free at last!" With night falling, Bruce Banner too falls victim to his hidden monster, transforming in the yard from where he spies.

The Stalker compels the Hulk to join him once more, successfully luring him with promise to free himself of the shackles of his other, and become the controlling bond like he has with the Jeffers boy. A boy whose hatred and imbalance has given birth to this monstrosity that would harass the girl he was too shy to talk to.

The Stalker leads Hulk to a bar where he angrily lords his murderous strength over the innocent patrons. The Stalker spirit entices and tantalizes the Hulk with the kill. Be it the man within the beast, or the Hulk himself, he refuses, falling on the side of angels has he has so many times before.

Suffering a taste of his own medicine, the Stalker flees the bar, throwing a police officer from his patrol car as he realises he is unable to awaken his drunken host, Gil Jeffers.

He flees desperately becoming the victim of this horror film, turning around streets only to find the grey visage of the Hulk waiting to crush his car, and the Stalker inside it! The killer flees on foot, reaching the home of Jeffers, but is still unable to shake him from his drunken slumber, forced to face the Hulk instead.

You might debate that the Hulk sunk to the Stalker's level by killing him, but the lines between justice and villainy are grey in this example. Ultimately, the Stalker's gleeful claims he had rid himself of the interference of his host proved true. Destroyed, he left behind the comatose shell of Gil Jeffers, who apparently had been so consumed by his inner monster, there was little else left.

And with that sufficiently macabre conclusion, we put a close on our [belated] Halloween post. Stay tuned for "tomorrow's" Punch-Up as we run down the villains featured in our Ultimate Alliance Mondays, and stay tuned for spill-over as we keep the spotlight on the things that go bump in the night!

The Fix: 5 The Issue: 5
Winner: Hulk

David's script is brilliantly complimented by atmospheric pencils supplied by guest-artist Ridgway, whose spooky depiction of middle-American suburbia is rounded out by colours from Petra Scotese. Visually, it's very eighties, but it does the job tremendously, recalling the alternative styles of horror comics of the seventies and eighties. This issue is included with others in the first Peter David: Hulk Visionaries.
COMIK-POLITIK: Wonder Woman Greenlit in '09...

"We are no longer doing movies with women in the lead."
WB Production President Jeff Robinov on plans to return cinema to 1909.
Troubled Wonder Woman feature film on hiatus.
Die-hard Avengers fans excited by improving possibilities.
[The Beat article]

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Boy, who woulda thought these back issue posts would've come in handy so quick? Yes, I'm slacking off as we bring our month to an end, catching up with a little bit of a recap on the guest of honor for October -- Dr. DOOM!

Dr. Doom was absent from our humble first year of Infinite Wars, but has made a worthy splash in 2007. Why not browse over some of the battles of the past, and marvel at Doom's cunning in battle. Be he stealing cosmic power from space aliens, or seeking a "cure" for drug addiction, you've gotta love the Latverian lug.

You've got to, because, if you don't, he'll find out and send a Doombot to CRUSH YOUR SKULL, YOU WRETCHED INFIDEL!!! Doom. DOCTOR Doom.

Fantastic Four #350 (March 1991)
"The More Things Change...!" Walt Simonson

Dr. Doom has returned to his rightful place as Latverian monarch, reprising the throne from his robotic stand-ins!
With the bitter intent of exacting revenge on his mortal nemesis Reed Richards, leader of the Fantastic Four, Doom gathers intelligence on the events that transpired during his absence.

Finding a weak link in the She-Thing, Sharon Ventura, Doom lures her into a metallic venus flytrap with the promise of something even Mr. Fantastic has never been able to achieve: A cure for the Thing condition!

The FF soon learn Sharon has four-hours to live, and Ben Grimm is forced to make a dramatic decision!

Fantastic Four #361 (February 1992)
"Miracle on Yancy Street!" Ryan/DeFalco

It's Christmas Eve, and a whole lot of stirring is going on down on Yancy Street! At the request of his old pal, Slugger Sokolowski, the Thing heads back to the old neighbourhood to investigate a spout of disappearances, and the potential connection to drugs that have gotten a hold of Slugger's son!

It's the unlikley two-in-one team-up as Thing joins forces with his mortal enemies - the Yancy Street Gang - to track down the troubled Sokolowski youth, and uncover the diabolical scheme. The only thing more shocking than Thing joining up with the YSG, is the villain who's behind it all, and the reason he's come to New York!

Silver Surfer #107 (August 1995)
"Weapon 'S'" Lackey/Grindberg

In the field of robotics and complex programming, Victor Von Doom is second to few. With an army of Doombots, he has fooled the world many times with automaton facsimilies designed to imitate and carry-out the orders of the one true Doom. At least, they're supposed to...

One Doombot was designed with the secret honor to do what Dr. Doom ultimately could not: Contain the stolen power cosmic of the Silver Surfer!

Time has led this Bot to develop another skill, a reflective philosophy based upon Doom's own flaws. Thus, he achieves another skill unknown by the true Doom, and it might just destroy us all!

Fantastic Four #6 (April 1997)
"Retribution" Lee/Choi

Victor Von Doom proper has developed yet another scheme to steal the power cosmic from the Silver Surfer, but in a world where the heroes are reborn, he has no knowledge of his many past failures!

With his old college peer and mortal enemy as an audience, along with his Fantastic Four cohorts and their newest ally - the Black Panther - the stage seems set for Doom to unveil his greatest triumph, but there's a monkey wrench in waiting.

The saboteur that [re]-created the Fantastic Four is about to reveal himself, and this sleeper agent is going to pull a double-cross on Dr. Doom as well! You won't believe it!

Black Panther #19 (October 2006)
"World Tour Part One: Holiday in Latveria" Hudlin/Eaton

T'Challa and Ororo Monroe, better known to the world as Black Panther and Storm, have united in marriage, instantly creating the most powerful couple on Earth!

With civil unrest in the United States creating an environment of suspicion and paranoia, the Wakandan royals plot a world tour around their honeymoon to meet with some of the world's greatest superpowers.

When these two ingenious minds meet, will Earth look forward to a golden age of peace, or the destructive conquest of a super-villain team-up?
[Like we don't know a fight's coming!]

Monday, October 29, 2007

The More Things Change...! (Marvel comics)
Fantastic Four #350 When: March 1991
Why: Walter Simonson How: Walter Simonson

The story so far...
Wearing a powersuit of Reed Richards' design, Ben Grimm attempts to maintain his position on the Fantastic Four while easing the psychological burden felt by Sharon Ventura; ex-girlfriend and former Ms. Marvel, who would suffer the same fate as Grimm to become a She-Thing!

Feeling the same social anxiety and personal discontent that Grimm himself experienced through his earliest days, the despondent Ms. Marvel is ripe for seduction at the hands of the nefarious Dr. Victor Von Doom -- recently returned Latverian monarch, and arch-nemesis of the original quartet that make up the Fantastic Four!

Travelling to Castle Doomstadt, Ms. Marvel willingly submits herself to Doom's experiments that promise to reverse the effects of her radioactive exposure, and restore her to her former humanity. Meanwhile, the reverse is true for the original Thing, who sacrifices his acquisition of humanity, and soon learns of Sharon Ventura's predicament in the clutches of Doom: cured, or killed?...

Previous Form:
Thing (#9): A top ten worthy string of team successes against; the Frightful Four, Sinister Twelve, Iconoclast, Paibok, and Ahab.
Dr. Doom (#57): A previous victory over the Thing and Yancy Street Gang.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Thing 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Dr. Doom 6 (Genius)
Speed: Draw 2 (Average)
Stamina: Dr. Doom 6 (Generator)
Agility: Draw 2 (Average)
Fighting Ability: Thing 3 (Street Wise)
Energy Powers: Dr. Doom 5 (Lasers)

- Ace test-pilot Ben Grimm joined a trio of friends on a space race to beat the Russians into outerspace. The wreckless launch would change he and his colleagues forevermore as insufficient shielding would leave the quartet vulnerable to strange, unknown cosmic rays! Rays that would transform them into the Fantastic Four!

- As the Thing, Grimm has a rocky exterior that is both super-durable, and maneuvered by exponentially increased muscle capacity. Along with super-strength, Thing can also survive in harsh environments relatively unscathed.

- Victor Von Doom was the college rival of Reed Richards, noted as a genius in his own right, despite a legendary arrogance. It was this stubborn insistance that would lead Doom to conduct rushed experiments that merged the sciences with the occult, and ultimately would result in an explosion that would scar him.

- Travelling across the Himalayan mountains of Tibet, Doom would don a metal suit of armor crafted by monks, and adopt this visage as his own as the newly christened, Dr. Doom! His armor would be upgraded to include cutting edge technologies of his own invention, and supply him with the power necessary to overthrow his native Latveria, and become the world-threatening menace faced by the Fantastic Four!

The Math: Dr. Doom The Pick: Dr. Doom

What went down...
The Fantastic Four heed the warning of a messenger Doombot, and make the trek to the tiny European nation of Latveria. At Castle Doomstadt the FF quickly do away with a small army of Doombots, before each member endures a familiar series of tailored obstacles, each designed to push their unique abilities to the very limits.

Doom, with plans of revenge, does not anticipate the renewed strength of a once again transformed Thing. Grimm easily belts away falling chunks of concrete, before pounding through the stone walls of the castle to stumble upon the sleeping, and apparently cured body of Sharon Ventura!

As the burly Thing attempts to free Ms. Marvel from her bonds, a massive burst of energy explodes to knock him to the ground -- the assault of Dr. Doom!
The Thing charges at the team's old enemy, who notes the change in Grimm, once again knocking him back with a charge of an alleged 500,000 volts!

Blurring the lines of thirty years of storyline, the good Doctor swears revenge for one of his earliest defeats at the hands of the Fantastic Four, waged within the Baxter Building headquarters they once inhabited.
With a blast from his pistol-shaped anti-matter extrapolator, Doom manages to put the fear of God in Ben Grimm. Recognising the threat of this strange weapon, the muscle-bound Thing hurls a piece of rubble from the broken wall, strategically striking the weapon in Doom's hand.

With his calcified hide atingle, Thing marches at Doom with a menacing intent.
Though unintimidated, the brilliant Doom calls upon one of the many other weapons contained within the walking arsenal that is his armor.

A high powered laser beam proves Doom's weapon of choice, but it's effects err on the side of the bizarre, rather than offensive! Right before Doom's eyes, the Thing begins to metamorphasize into an even rockier, far more gruesome incarnation of his Thing-self!

Marching through Doom's futile attack, the Thing clutches the Latverian monarch's gauntlets and slams him against one of the cold Doomstadt walls.
Lording his increased strength over the FF's oldest enemy, Thing press against Doom's resisting efforts, clamping down with his monstrous mits.

With Doom on the verge of being crushed, it is the intervention of a now conscious Sharon Ventura that rescues the villain from crippling injury!

With the aid of the thermo-lance, Doom has sufficient time to recharge his own armor's weaponry and unleash an additional surge of voltage. The blast fries the further mutated Thing with energy sufficient to kill him!

Doom declares his lethal victory as a stoic Mr. Fantastic enters, having achieved the unlikely task of escaping Doom's clausterphobic entrapments.

Doom offers Richards the lives of his wife and brother-in-law in exchange for a duel through time that will allow the villain opportunity to display his brutal brilliance to one of the few minds capable of appreciating it. Richards accepts, no doubt aware of the possibility to undo the tragedy that had transpired.

The hammer...
Well, an appropriate if unceremonious end to our month of DOOM with a win to the Doc, and a rushed late entry. If you felt something was notoriously familiar about the tape, which I generally try to reinvent for repeat contestants, it's because it was taken from the previous encounter between these two [Fantastic Four #361].

To expand upon our use as a friendly fanbase resource, I might try to tailor more universal descriptions for the tape that can be reused, because yes. After what I would dare to call a pretty stellar run of on-going posting, I've hit a roadblock. I've hit a pain barrier. I've hit a soul sapping obstacle of magnitudes not seen since Daredevil: Ninja.

Not sapping enough that we can't finish on a high note, however!
First thing's first, if you're dying to know how things conclude, then you should head on over to check out Bully's treat-of-a post featuring the hijinks of Fantastic Four #351! Be forewarned, anyone with a pacemaker or occupation that required 20/20 vision might not want to proceed. Serious risk of heart failure, schizoid embolism, or going cross-eyed lies ahead!

As we conclude our chronicles of DOOM, I can't help but draw a drastically different discussion topic from FF #350. Bully ponders the time-space repercussions of events from #351, while another of our blogging contemporaries, Dave Campbell, falls just left of my point while he notes the off-page retcons of reality.

Simonson makes a bold statement by suggesting previous encounters with Doom were with robotic drones. He does so presumably in an effort to push an agenda of characterization that returns Doom to his more specific -- less zany -- villainous roots. Less intentional is the perpetuation of a new rivalry byproxy.

We see today a very careful and intelligent approach to storytelling, but pushing out of the eighties a decided shift was made gearing the process toward pencillers. This meant visual details gained greater importance over conceptual and character driven dynamics, better typified by the work of later industry superstars than perhaps Simonson, who clearly has a high-concept story here.

It's perhaps true of Marvel's earliest origins with the use of the 'Stan Lee method of writing' that involved glorified notations that were spun-out into full twenty-two page issues, later lettered with dialogue by Lee. It's this importance given to the artist from the company's neo-origins that perhaps make it predestined to steer the fate of the entire medium, which already has a predisposition to the visual.

New "artists" like Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, and the other Image founders become increasingly involved in the evolution of a product, proposing new values on the finished project. This invariably pushes the classic characters in new ways, forging relationships built on the subconcious visual values of characters.

Top 25 Nemesis':
#1 Black Adam (Captain Marvel)
#2 Dr. Doom (Mr. Fantastic)
#3 Bullseye (Daredevil)
#4 Deathstroke (Teen Titans)
#5 Sinestro (Green Lantern)
#6 Bizarro (Superman)
#7 Destroyer (Thor)
#8 Noob Saibot (Scorpion)
#9 Akuma (Ryu)
#10 Crimson Dynamo (Iron Man)
#11 Zoom (Flash)
#12 Cheetah (Wonder Woman)
#13 Ultron (The Avengers)
#14 Despero (JLA)
#15 Captain Cold (Flash)
#16 Venom (Spider-man)
#17 Wingless Wizard (Mr. Fantastic)
#18 Baron Zemo (Captain America)
#19 Sagat (Ryu)
#20 Darkseid (Earth)
#21 Abomination (Hulk)
#22 Thanos (Life)
#23 Dr. Octopus (Spider-man)
#24 Vulture (Spider-man)
#25 Green Goblin (Spider-man)
Dr. Doom, in my assessment, should classically be considered arch-nemesis of Reed Richards, but the popularity and visual quality of a character like Thing directs a new rivalry. A far purer example of this subconscious agenda is Magneto's evolution to become considered a bitter rival of Wolverine, as much as he opposes his original foe, Professor Xavier.

We see that particular shift eventuate a few years after this issue in 1993, with the visual spectacular of X-Men #25: the issue that strips Wolverine of his adamantium. It's with this example that we best illustrate the value of the visual at it's height, presenting a four-colour extravaganza of high-action splash pages, and the battle between a fan-favourite character with far more dynamic visuals than the typically restrictive, or ill-defined, Professor Xavier.

Again, it's not necessarily at it's strongest with Simonson's work, which immediately follows up with an issue-long confrontation between Richards and Doom, the classic archetypal foes. Even so, it is food for thought for the underlying subconscious that inevitably shaped a decade of comics, still very close to the essential basics of big battles, and long-running feuds.

These feuds ultimately take more bitter and varied approaches (such as Kingpin/Daredevil) as the written aspect regains it's importance in the recession of comics culture. We begin rebuilding the conceptual, and restore the importance of motivation and characterization in conflicts between characters.

Alas, we still have a ways to go to solidifying the guarantee of these rivalries.
The loss of the historical Doom/Richards rivalry is easily one of the most specific flaws in the feature film adaptation of the Fantastic Four. Stripping their rivalry to something far more immediate, along with much of the bitter history that makes Doom one of the most influential villains in comics, saw a very flat and unmotivated movie unfold.

Further extending the weakness of the Doom character is the tangiential litmus test of associated rivalries. Scenes featuring Thing and Invisible Woman stress the relationship of the nemesis far better than Richards' feeble, failing interactions. Of course, that dominoes into a whole range of issues, which also sees the empowering of Susan Storm and Jessica Alba's importance at the cost of reducing "Mr. Fantastic" to the proverbial damsel in distress. A talk for another time!

The Fight: 3.5 The Issue: 5

[This issue has not yet been collected, but you can check out a bunch of Simonson's lead-up work with the Fantastic Four while you wait, in the first volume of Visionaries! Cha-Ching!]

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Hot-Blooded Fei Long: Super Battle Action Movie (Group TAC/Capcom/Manga)
Street Fighter II V Ep. 5 When: May 1995
Why: GisaburĊ Sugii How: Kenji Haga/Jimmy Theodore, Kazuki Yao/Sean Mitchell

The story so far...
After years apart, the martial arts brothers Ken Masters and Ryu are reunited when the wealthy Ken invites his Japanese friend to stay with him in the United States.

It's not long before the two martial arts enthusiasts find their way into trouble, clashing with a group of young Air Force cadets. After their drill sergeant, Guile, manhandles Ryu and Ken both, the pair find inspiration to develop their techniques. Thus, Masters charters a plane to Hong Kong where they will hone their skills within one of the world's martial arts capitals.

Having survived the martial arts underworld of Kowloon Palace; Ryu and Ken, accompanied by their guide Chun-Li, come in contact with the legitimate face of Hong Kong's fighting stars -- Fei Long! With a visit to the set of his newest action picture, Ken and Ryu get a taste of the big time.

Previous Form:
Ken Masters (#61): Victory over Sodom, with sparring ties with Ryu.
Fei Long (#125): Victorious over a group of gangsters.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Ken Masters 3 (Athlete)
Intelligence: Ken Masters 3 (Straight A)
Speed: Fei Long 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Draw 4 (Athlete)
Agility: Fei Long 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting Ability: Draw 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy Powers: Ken Masters 3 (Explosives)

- Ken Masters is a practitioner of the same unnamed ansatsuken martial arts technique mastered by Gouken, Akuma and Ryu.

The style is heavily identified with the mastery over ones ki energy, allowing them to summon powers by methods of hadou. Ken has mastered the hadou-ken fireball and sho-ryu ken rising dragon punch, with a particular flair for the latter.

Ken is a well respected United States tournament champion, having won many tournaments and gained many accolades in his native America. It is this encompassing success that drives him to seek new challenges across the world.

- Fei Long is an accomplished martial artist and film start in Hong Kong.
His mastery of the Hitenryu Kung fu style earned him great attention in the film industry, with his performances best known for fast, furious and genuine fight scenes. At his heart, Fei Long is an honorable fighter who does not wish to compromise his integrity of spirit, despite a flair for showmanship.

The character, quite obviously inspired by the late film legend Bruce Lee, does not typically possess chi based attacks, best known for his prowess and speed.

The Math: Draw The Pick: Ken Masters

What went down...
Having escaped the murderous criminal underworld of the decrepid sectioned off part of the city known as Kowloon Palace; Ken and Ryu look forward to meeting famous Hong Kong film star Fei Long, an old friend of their tour guide, Chun-Li.

When the gang arrive on the set of Fei Long's latest film, they discover the set in disarray as Fei Long struggles to work with stuntment with insufficient skill and training to keep up with him in fight scenes. Ken and Ryu's newly established reputation proves to be the perfect curriculum vitae, and Ken is hired on the spot for a scene as a slumlord on Chun-Li's recommendation.

Forced to watch from the sidelines, Ryu watches his friend encounter Fei Long's fast moving fists and elaborate kicks. Ken provides minimal resistance to the skilled offensive, much to Ryu's vocal chagrin.

Having suffered through kicks and hits, Ken evades a series of jabs before being instructed by the director to amp the action up. Challenged to give it everything he has, Ken leaves behind the role of costumed actor, and begins to view Fei Long as an opponent to be beaten.

Ken quickly establishes an offensive, successfully landing a strike on a closing Fei Long, before evading the return attack to finish with a throw. The move sends Fei Long hurtling out of control into a golden decorative wall with a thud.

WOOTAH!With Ryu egging him on, Ken makes his first out-right offensive, charging with his own combination of punches and kicks, all of which Fei Long manages to avoid. From the duck position he launches his own attack, a devestating kick!
Ken rolls with it, and narrowly avoids a descending flying kick from the Hong Kong star. Ken puts distance between the two of them with his own push kick.

As the director prepares to call a cut, an impressed Fei Long expresses a stoic respect for Masters. Ken returns the compliment in kind, noting Fei Long's skills, but backs himself to win the cinematic showdown.

The two fighters renew their attacks, launching into a familiar exchange of stiff punches, kicks and blocks. Each fighter connects with a range of maneuvers.

The two fighters pull out all the stops to impress one and other, launching into massive airborne assaults. Fei Long flies with a kick that breaks part of the ornate gold wall, while Ken misses his target to shatter a chunk of decorative stonework along the garden path.

Director and fighters alike show wanton disregard for the invaluable scenary of Hong Kong's famous Tiger Balm Garden. The raging bulls barge through film equipment and leap their way to higher levels of the garden.

Ken gets the edge over his opponent with a stiff set of punches, but Fei Long manages to turn things around abruptly with a knee to the head. The move knocks Ken's ridiculous slumlord wig off, again prompting on-the-fly changes, as the director and film crew struggle to keep up with the action.

Perched like statues of two ancient, warring gods, Ken and Fei Long continue to destroy priceless scenery, before coming to another stop. Deeply entranced in the heat of the fight, the pair plays for keeps as Fei Long launches into a string of high flying kicks, coming back to earth with a 360 flurry.

Ken survives the onslaught and unleashes his own, taking advantage of Fei Long's open torso with a barrage of body rips that end with a spectacular dragon punch! The devestating blow sends Fei Long airborne, leaving him wide open for a flying roundhouse kick, much to the horror of the director and his aid!

While Street Fighter II V does not sport high end animation, it is not devoid of moments of anime brilliance, such as this dramatic white-background shot!For but a moment Fei Long appears finished, but he leaps back from his fall ready to continue. Alas, despite the fight's initial integrity, Hollywood rules prevail as the director calls a cut after Fei Long's face is struck.

Fei Long is unwavering in his integrity, decrying the director's imposing "pretty boy" treatment. Even so, the director wins out, leaving Fei Long to express his honor and admiration for Ken and his impressive fighting skills.

The hammer...
If the fight had continued Ken had definitely earned himself a strong position, but with Fei Long still match-ready, it's impossible to call it either way. So, after all of that, we wrap this one up to call yet another draw! Bummer!

So, if you're one of the few readers who salivates for their weekly Street Fighter fix, yeah, apologies for the lateness. No sooner than I dedicate some assemblance of daily posting than I get wrapped up in other obligations, and energy draining activities. Hopefully we'll keep the ship steady as we come in to dock at the end of the month on Wednesday.

Thursday's Punch-Up will feature a round-up of the Marvel Ultimate Alliance Monday posts, which will conclude with "tomorrow's" final entry of Doom!
That'll also feature the latest Super Stock update where you'll be able to assess the progress of our Sunday sponsoring of the Street Fighters. The challenge is for one Street Fighter character to beat out their Marvel contemporaries to reach a spot in the coveted Infinite Wars Top Five in '07. Will it happen? Stay tuned!

Being that I'm running late now, I probably don't want to loiter too much, but this feature casts a prime example of something we've been talking about, in regards to Street Fighter.

It's my opinion that the most epic of failures in more recent Street Fighter endeavours has been the design and widespread infiltration of new characters who resemble very little that makes the Street Fighter mould so great.
We talked a bit about the fight culture that exists in Street Fighter in our last instalment [Sadler's Tournament], and this kind of emphasises that to a degree.

Working hand-in-hand in the original Street Fighter II successes are a lot of real world reference points that build on professional competition, street fighting, and cinematic influences on martial arts culture. Here we see the Bruce Lee/film influence, which is presented throughout Street Fighter history in a slightly cartoony manner, but helps anchor the asthetics in a stylized realism.

The film aspect, along with things like Ken's status as an official US organization champion paint a stark contrast to later additions that featured wacky robots, mutated experiments, ancient wargods, and wannabe superheroes.

Likewise, basing this fight in the realworld location of Tiger Balm Garden (not coincidentally Fei Long's in-game background in SFII) again helps provoke that sense of realism, and the intrinsic connection to a characturized international flavour. The world stage has always been a big part of this, and as much as fight culture has been crucial to shaping the characters and franchise, so too has world culture. Yes, especially for the more closetted students, there is a shred of teaching to be taken from this beat 'em up series!

That about wraps it up here, as I type desperately to close things up as the clock ticks later and later. I'll make a closing reference to the Amazon paraphernalia that's popping up around the website.

You'll probably have noticed that, despite the distraction of my lengthy rantings, this site model is far better lent to assessing and encapsulating the zeitgeist of the year through weekly new comic reviews. Unfortunately that just isn't a financial burden I can meet, and while this probably won't help things, I get a small percentage credit from Amazon any time you make a purchase via one of these links. So, if you've read a review and fancy checking it out for yourself, keep an eye out for an Amazon plug at the bottom of the page!

That's about all the pitiful dirt merchant whoring I can stand for one night. Stay tuned for "tomorrow's" post of Doom, and marvel at how bad one man can draw with "today's" earlier cartoon post that people almost certainly won't get, or won't think is funny. More of that kind of diversity to come.

The Fight: 6.5 The Episode: 5

[If the Infinite Wars have sufficiently prepared you for a whole lot of dumb fun, and you want to check out these episodes in full, then you can't pass up the value of the Street Fighter II V complete twenty-nine episode box set! Only on the DVD will you be able to catch the complete showdown in Kowloon Palace, and all the in-between stuff we don't show you! Mmm, sales!]
COMIK-POLITIK: Poor, poor Tigra...

"It was written to be disturbing.",
Brian Michael Bendis on that scene from New Avengers #35.
[Newsarama Interview]

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Busy, busy, busy! It's been a big week of Halloween havoc, and the fun won't stop here! Leaving the spooktacular to the end of the month seemed the appropriate thing to do, but with so many monsters, vampires, zombies and demons still to be featured, we're going to keep it rolling into November!

The Infinite Wars continues it's launch of daily updates, which, yes, will sometimes include these thematic retrospectives, because I'm just one man!
I can only slur my way through poorly constructed discussions and reviews so often before the dark hadou takes me! Speaking of which; check out some of these groovy back issues, and be with us tomorrow for the Sunday Street Fight!

The Demon #17 (November 1991)
"The Region Beyond Part II: Beyond Redemption" Grant/Semeiks

The impish witchboy, Klarion, has teleported Wonder Woman into the infernal realm! Surrounded by flame and torture, the Amazon warrior princess is ready to confront all trials that await her -- that is, perhaps except the affections of the Demon, Etrigan!

Battle with a vile demonite called Banshee soon turns to a fatal attraction as Etrigan finds himself compelled by Wonder Woman's crimson blood, and affronting brutality!

Will the demon woe his Wonder Woman, or is he destined for a date with a fate not so great? "Gone, gone the form of man" indeed!...

Captain America #408 (October 1992)
"Dark Dawn" Gruenwald/Levins

When Captain America finds himself turned into a savage werewolf, things are pretty bad. When, just as he's about to be cured of such an affliction, an evil doppelganger Cap shows up, things are REALLY bad!

Through the haze of his primal thoughts, Cap struggles to not only protect himself and his friends, but also resist the animalistic lure of bloodlust.

While Cap struggles with the machinations of the Magus, Dr. Druid's also on the scene to protect him from the menace of the lord of werewolves; Dredmund!
Yeah, I don't know if I'd entrust my well being to Dr. Druid either...

Hawkman #31 (October 2004)
"Fate's Warning" Gray/Palmiotti/Sook

A murderer is on the loose in Hawkman's newly adopted home of St. Roch, and all signs point to him! The "Angel Killings" have seen each victim strung-up with fake wings and a red X on their chest, sound like anybody you know?

Hawkman hunts the true killer, who proves to be a chemically infected madman referring to himself as the very spirit of the city, St. Roch! This personification proves to be a monster of pure evil, and he's turning his touch of pestilence to Hawkman and his loved ones.

Can Hawkman and Hawkgirl overcome this zealous, disease-ridden showpony; or will it be St. Roch that fullfils the curse that keeps them apart forevermore?

Marvel Zombies #3 (April 2006)
"Marvel Zombies" Kirkman/Phillips

Life on Earth is nigh-extinct, but the zombies are still hungry! Lucky for them, an immensly powerful visitor from the stars has come to survey the planet! The Silver Surfer is a cosmic-foil wrapped delight waiting to munched down, but with his master Galactus on call, will the zombies finally have met their match?

Perhaps in Galactus they will find peace in a kindred spirit... But more likely it's feasting time, and silver chrome domed surfer dudes are on the menu!

It's the Marvel heroes like you've never seen them, unless of course you've seen any single cover this October... *Groan*...

52 #44 (May 2007)
"Deaths in the Family" Johns/Morrison/Rucka/Waid/Giffen/Barrows

The trials of Shazam are nothing compared to the assault of war, famine, pestilence and death!

It's a sneak attack by a brand new Monster Society, as Black Adam and his adopted "Black Marvel" family do battle with the newest creations of Dr. Sivana: the creatures responsible for bringing plague and suffering to Adam's nation of Kahndaq!

Adam has travelled far and beaten many to rescue his country, but has he finally met his match? The Four Horseman of Apokolips would sure like to think so!...

Friday, October 26, 2007

versus BLADE

Hunters (Marvel comics)
Ghost Rider #40 When: August 1993
Why: Howard Mackie How: Ron Garney

The story so far...
When a black envelope containing a page of the legendary book of mysticism, the Darkhold, is read by Blade, he becomes a living vessel for the rebirth of the Demogorge.

With Blade's own hatred to spark the fire, he marches through the mystic underworld with the sole intent of eradicating all demons, magicks and supernaturally touched spirits that exist throughout the world -- absorbing their powers as they fall by his sword!

With Hannibal King and John Blaze having already fallen to Blade, their allies and fellow members of the fabled Nine; Daniel Ketch and Frank Drake; must chase their former ally and put an end to his unwavering massacre.

Previous Form:
Blade (#30): A defeat at the hands of Wolverine.
Ghost Rider/Frank Drake/Demogoblin: Each making their Infinite Wars debut.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Ghost Rider 4 (Steroid Popper)
Intelligence: Blade 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Blade 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Ghost Rider 6 (Generator)
Agility: Blade 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting Ability: Blade 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy Powers: Ghost Rider 5 (Lasers)

- Like Johnny Blaze before him, Daniel Ketch carries the curse of the Ghost Rider with him. These hellborne powers grant him fantastic powers that may be used in the pursuit of righteous vengeance. Powers that include; super strength, durability, speed, control over the hellcycle, hellfire, and mystic chains.

One of Ghost Rider's most unique weapons is the penance stare, a supernatural glare that allows him to inflict the suffering of an enemy's crimes back upon them.

- Frank Drake is descended from the legendary vampire lord, Count Dracula, from the bloodline started before Dracula became the vampire. The Drakes pursue the curse of their association throughout the generations, changing their name to Drake to remove the stink of Dracula's plague.

Though he does not possess any superhuman capabilities, Frank Drake is well versed in various hand-to-hand combat styles, and advanced weaponry. He is also intimately familiar with the supernatural, and thus not easily intimidated.

- In a whorehouse in London, a child was born into the world, destined for greatness. When the vampire Deacon Frost feasted on the woman in labour, he inadvertently passed along certain enzymes that would eventually granted Eric Roberts the strengths of a vampire, with none of their weaknesses as the Daywalker -- Blade!

Blade lives up to his name, highly skilled with various forms of weaponry and munitions. A dedicated vampire hunter, Blade is skilled in the martial arts, and a thorough tactician with an arsenal of weapons that compliment his acquired enhanced strength, speed, senses, durability and reflexes.

Having taken a page of the Darkhold from the black envelope, Blade has become possessed by the Demogorge. His ability to sense the supernatural is enhanced, as well as a new ability to absorb the powers of the mystics he kills.

- The Demogoblin is a demon who crossed over to Earth after a deal was made by Jason Macendale to gain enhanced powers in his battle with Spider-man.
Eventually split from the Hobgoblin, Demogoblin would go out on his own as a dark shade of his former host. Like Ghost Rider, Demogoblin claims the righteous path of vengeance, pledging to war against those he dubs sinner by his own twisted moral code.

Demogoblin possesses superhuman strength, speed, and a mystic arsenal modelled on the Hobgoblin including; a flaming bat-glider, flaming bats, and flaming pumpkin bombs.

The Math: Blade The Pick: Ghost Rider/Drake

What went down...
Drawn to The Crown Cafe nightclub; Blade, possessing the power of the Demogorge, follows the scent of the occult, stalking the mystic, Seer.
Not far behind, the Demogoblin wins the race with Ghost Rider to reach Blade, hoping to pledge himself to the Demogorge's extinction agenda of all things supernatural. The potential conflict of interests is lost on the demon, who pursues attempts to barter his usefulness.

Blade invites Demogoblin to serve him by throwing himself on his sword, but is soon distracted by the priority of the fleeing Seer. When she narrowly escapes the tip of his katana, Demogoblin again pledges his use when Ghost Rider and Frank Drake finally arrive on the scene!

Ghost Rider snags Blade in the coil of his mystic chain, while Frank Drake turns the non-lethal blast of his plasma cannon on their former ally, hoping to pacify him without lethality. It is Drake's hope the Demogorge's actions may be reversed.

Demogoblin comes to Blade's rescue, hurling several exploding demonic pumpkin bombs at the spirits of vengeance. He snatches Blade up, making an airborne escape to pursue the fleeing young female.

Determined to protect Seer, Ghost Rider summons his hellcycle outside the nightclub and speeds ahead of Drake to catch up to Demogoblin and Blade.
The two homicidal demons are found atop a skyscraper, where Demogoblin continues to pursue an alliance with the Demogorge, offering to sacrifice Seer as a tribute.

The Demogorge again refuses, turning on Demogoblin with the intent to make both mystics his victims. Before he can do so, the flaming wheels of the Ghost Rider's hellcycle cut a path that snatches Seer from Demogoblin's grip, and pulls her to safety.

Drawing his sword, Blade stalks toward the Ghost Rider. He notes an oversight in not coming after him after killing his fellows, Blaze and King, something Ghost Rider no doubt takes an exception to.

Despite the desire for vengeance, Ghost Rider is swatted with ease by Blade, who grows increasingly powerful with each confrontation. Blade declares a death-feud on members of the mystical Nine, starting with the Rider!

Ghost Rider steadys himself and declares his strength great enough to resist Blade at his current power level. Again hoping to engender goodwill from the slaughtering possessor of the Demogorge, Demogoblin leaps up to snag Ghost Rider in a sleeper hold -- noting their combined powers great enough to defeat the spirit of vengeance!

Demogoblin is finally forced to 'take the hint', suffering the Demogorge's uncompromising mission, impaled upon Blade's sword along with Daniel Ketch; the Ghost Rider. The demon smoulders with hellfire in death, as Blade's body absorbs the hellacious powers.

As Seer teleports to gather reenforcements; Blade turns his newly acquired powers on the Ghost Rider. His enhanced strength appears to give him the upperhand as he blasts the already battered Rider with bursts of flame.

The Demogorge chains Ghost Rider to a radio tower, taking his mystic shotgun to use Ghost Rider's powers against him in a literal sense. He turns the gun on him, blasting him with streams of hellfire that burn even the spirit of vengeance.
Unable to risk turning back to his human form of Dan Ketch, the Ghost Rider has no choice to endure the pain until --

-- Drake finally catches up with his partner, foregoing any attempts to talk reason into Blade to instead turn his weapon on him. With a burst of green energy, Drake stuns Blade long enough to retrieve Ghost Rider from the bonds of his own chains, and see him safely escape to summon the aid of others.

Slumped over his hellcycle, Ghost Rider flies on a path to find Louise Hastings of the Darkhold Redeemers, with a promise to stop Blade. A promise the further mutating possessor of the Demogorge denies, with a wag of his newly acquired demonic tongue.

The hammer...
On the strength of the physical dominance Blade showed over Ghost Rider and Demogoblin, I very nearly gave it to the Daywalker on points. On review, I think it's got to be a draw, given Drake went unscathed, and Ghost Rider managed to make a getaway.
A surprise loss for Demogoblin, however, with the kill to Blade.

So, when it came to quickly grabbing a stack of titles to choose from for Halloween, there were two characters that immediately jumped to mind: Ghost Rider and Blade! I mean, what would any good Halloween theme be without a dose of demons and vampires?

Typically when people refer to the variant/gimmick cover craze of the nineties, it's a title like Ghost Rider that gets harsh disapproval, sporting an array of metallic, blacks, and glow-in-the-dark specials. I, some would say fortunately, didn't spend much of my time with the Midnight Sons in the nineteen nineties, so was never particularly affected by this, or any other gimmick cover scam.
Still, I look back on those missed opportunities with some disappointment, because I'd really love to be able to browse over this corner of the Marvel universe.

Perhaps the only greater shame to come from the popularity of the 'darkside' in the nineties, is the way it's been defined and overshadowed by it's lesser qualities. I did one of my occasional google searches before delivering this entry, disappointed to find mostly ebay merchants, outdated sites, and the odd cult reference to something from these books.

In their own way, these books connect with me in a way I wish more titles did.
Behind awkward cut-off references to story chapters to come in other series and convoluted magic: a sensibility that pays careful attention to it's characters and the rules within which they operate. Like the allure of Daredevil and Marvel's criminal underworld, the supernatural equivalent is filled with interesting characters all too often overlooked.

Recent efforts to relaunch titles like Blade and Ghost Rider have been, well, to put it politely, destined for failure. Blade in particular was a series that had a very successful model to work off from the first feature film, but instead played a card that committed neither to the pop-references of Marvel's superhero universe, or the independent culture of the vampire/magic scene.

Ghost Rider succeeded, at least in it's initial issues, in steering closer to it's origins as a supernatural-western thriller, but did so with meandering plot, and disengaging familiarities from Johnny Blaze/Satan stories past. That was, of course, before devolving in ways similar to Blade, getting wrapped up in crossovers like World War Hulk, which to be honest, attracted my attentions far more than the bland Satan stories.

You have to admire a commitment to direction by Marvel, but why it would be those particular directions that would garner such favour, I'll never know.
Even on a visual asthetic, Howard Chaykin's Blade grossly removed itself from the contemporary chic of the Blade films, bogging themselves down in ugly jawlines, and dated looking pencils, designs and washed out eighties colours.
The stake/gun-hand didn't help matters much, either.

From today's stack of talent, it's almost too obvious to talk about your Maleevs, Larks and Ajas for something like Blade, Ghost Rider, or the Midnight Sons; but in contrast to what we have seen, they remain the overlooked obvious.
Mind you, I have to mention, the style of these particular issues from the nineties remains something that stands out as something unique. Not so much the pencils, which don't differ greatly from standard superhero work, but the inks!

The old artistic edict 'when in doubt, black it out' is left behind as the darkness of this world is visually represented by a wanton use of flat blacks. Chris Ivy slathers black both in and out of panels, blurring the lines between where the action begins and ends, lending a stylistic difference to the style more commonly seen in hyperactive sprawls of panel-to-panel wall breaking.

A lot of this stuff, as far as I know, remains uncollected.
Sprouting icicles on the end of what's hot, and what's not, these books get kicked back in favour of the vogue of seventies back issues. Dan Ketch is absent, while Johnny Blaze again takes the reigns of the Ghost Rider franchise.

Maybe I'm looking at this stuff through rose coloured glasses, or maybe the goggles of confusion that sprout several hours after midnight, but with the success of these franchises on film every fanboys must ponder the same question: Why aren't they being made to work on the page?

It's worth mentioning that, although David Goyer's first Blade script distilled the character to much of what makes him so fantastic in a contemporary setting -- the character had already evolved much to this point in the comics themselves.
Those inclined to argue against a fictional drastic revamp would do well to remember this, as would the movie-going kids out there under the impression Blade was a jive-talking 'fro flinger until Hollywood got a hold of him.

No doubt the answers to secrets such as these, and many others, remain under the cosmic guard of Bahlactus! Like a giant purple urban legend, Bahlactus is said to scour the infinite webspace every Friday, seeking out suckers who would be punched, on this night of fights! Dare you risk hellfire, damnation and a Ghost Rider movie sequel by clicking his link to know for sure? ~SPOOKY!!!~

The Fight: 3.5 The Issue: 4.5

[Not surprising of a fledgling comics writer and superhero fanboy, I can't seem to stop grumbling about the imagined promise of a regular Marvel comic that would give a platform to the goings on of the urban underworld. Punisher, Daredevil, Deadpool, Sabretooth, Morbius, Dr. Strange, Blade, Ghost Rider, Cloak & Dagger... The list of characters that could find new life is endless!]