Tuesday, October 23, 2007

"Whatsoever a man soweth..." (Marvel comics)
Avengers West Coast #65 When: December 1990 Why: Roy & Dann Thomas How: Paul Ryan

The story so far...
Eric Williams was the black sheep of the industralist dynasty that would eventually see his favoured brother, Simon, inheret their fortune and business, while Eric would pursue a life of crime with the Maggia organization.

Having been turned into the ionically charged Wonder Man by Baron Zemo, Simon would apparently sacrifice his life saving the Avengers he had been sent to destroy.
Distraught over his brother's apparent passing, Eric turns to his Maggia contacts which lead him to the Tinkerer, who helps design his scythe weapon as part of the murderous alter-ego of the Grim Reaper.

Wonder Man would eventually return, having only been in a coma, and the two would have mixed relations in the years to come. Eventually, after a plot to destroy Vision and Wonder Man, Eric comes to realise the error of his ways and dies during his escape, but the Williams seem to have a habit of coming back...

Previous Form:
Wonder Man (#203): Was among the pro-registration Avengers during Civil War.
Scarlet Witch (#162): Has had mixed team results with the Avengers and Brotherhood.
Grim Reaper: Eric Williams makes his Infinite Wars debut.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Wonder Man 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Grim Reaper 2 (Average)
Speed: Wonder Man 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Grim Reaper 5 (Marathon Man)
Agility: Grim Reaper 2 (Average)
Fighting Ability: Wonder Man 4 (Trained Fighter)
Energy Powers: Grim Reaper 4 (Arsenal)

- As a result of tampering by Baron Zemo, Wonder Man possesses a build up of ionic energies that power his body in strange ways. He possesses superhuman strength, durability, stamina and speed.

Over the years Wonder Man's ionic energy has built-up to allow him means of wingless flight, retiring the limited rocket belt that was a staple of his garb. Likewise, after exposure to a Kree bomb, he was further mutated to allow energy projection, and limited shape shifting capabilities.

- Accompanying Wonder Man is the Scarlet Witch, who during this period was powerless after being apparently stripped of Nexus energies granted by Immortus, that greatly inhanced her inherent hex abilities.

- Grim Reaper began his career with the exclusive employment of technologies, but his association with the super villain community eventually led him to aquire powers mystic in nature. They would be in full force when, after passing, Eric Williams was resurrected by his associate, Nekra. Reanimated, this undead Grim Reaper requires the energies of human life to maintain his existance, and that is where our story begins...

The Math: Wonder Man The Pick: Wonder Man

What went down...
Having been risen from the grave, Eric Williams murders the woman responsible for his return to feed on her life energy. He travels through Californian backroads, coming across a naive Satanic death cult operating in an abandoned bunker.
Taking full advantage of the youths inside, Grim Reaper slaughters the entire lot, absorbing their energies to sustain his "life." A young girl manages to escape.

Running to civilization, the bloody girl manages to reach a diner where Wanda Maximoff and Simon Williams just happen to be enjoying an evening out, before dying on the floor. The pair of Avengers make arrangements to accompany local law enforcement, exercising the broad jurisdiction afforded to them as government sponsored heroes.

Wonder Man heads into the bunker first, leaving the powerless Scarlet Witch with the local police. Expecting to find the scene of a gang struggle, Wonder Man is shocked to instead discover the desiccated remains of the cult members -- and the resurrected visage of the Grim Reaper -- his deceased brother!

Wonder Man charges at his brother, using a table to pin him against the wall while keeping distance between them. The brothers skip pleasantry, the Reaper revealing the nature of his primal goal to sustain life, whilst smashing through the table with his enhanced undead strength.

Summoning responsibility not always characteristic, Wonder Man sends his brother hurtling into the wall with a super-left straight punch, declaring responsibility for his brother's machinations.

The battle within the bunker sends a rumble to the outside, tipping Scarlet Witch and the armed cops off to events unfolding. They rush to Simon's aid, finding Wonder Man unintentionally airborne as he slams backward into the doorway.

The police open fire on the rampaging Reaper, but their bullets have no slowing affect on the already dead Williams brother. Driven by apparent survival instinct, as much as resentment, the Reaper presses on, tossing the officers aside.

Convinced the murderous creature attacking him could not be his protective brother, Wonder Man decides to allow the Reaper's scythe to penetrate his protective aura, believing his ionic invulnerability will protect him.

To each brother's surprise, when life-draining scythe meets ionically-charged flesh, a reverse effect is seen. The Grim Reaper's face gapes with surprise as his precious energies are drained from him, expelling into the body of Wonder Man, who feels an overwhelming rush of cold evil welling inside him.

Once again in need of life energies to sustain him, Grim Reaper turns his attentions to the powerless Wanda Maximoff and her impotent armed guard.
When and attempt to summong a hex spell fails, the Scarlet Witch opts for a more tactile defense, knocking over the single lantern lighting the bunker.

Rim-lit by the moonlight, the Grim Reaper is distracted sufficiently to allow Wonder Man to return to the fray. He reaches out to his brother with the backing of advanced technology and scientific minds afforded by the Avengers. The Reaper proves uninterested, intent instead on pursuing his base needs for life.

The Reaper flees into the night, leaving Wonder Man, Scarlet Witch and the policemen to only imagine what evils are yet to come.

The hammer...
Ah, we've seen it all before in the Infinite Wars! An inconclusive result that leaves us without a clear winner. Though Wonder Man was clearly shaken by the energy dispersed within him, I think it was clearly he who got the better of the Reaper, so I'm giving it to him on points, with the assist to the powerless Scarlet Witch.

If you're wondering, yes! This is the first of our shakey, vaguely halloween themed posts for the rest of the month! With any luck Satanic cults and a resurrected death themed villain, now walking the earth with the soul intent to feast on the living will prove sufficient for your spooky superhero intake.

I'm not particularly attached to the Wonder Man character, [or Scarlet Witch, for that matter], but this is one of those comcis I always like to come back to.
I think it's becoming clear I have a subconscious affinity for Paul Ryan, and certainly mainstream Marvel superhero comics from the nineties.

Talking about USAgent recently, I couldn't help but think back to this issue which, despite spending most of it's time on the WM/SW couple, manages to slip in a great little friction-filled bout of fisticuffs between fierce rivals, Hawkeye and [USAgent]. It's a fairly classic superhero writing style that peppers the incidental around the story, largely absent from today's comics, (in this form), probably for the better.

What has carried through is the penchant for resurrection in superhero fiction.
In the absence of a solid discussion point, I again turn to the cumulative statistics of the Infinite Wars that show us just how prevelant death and resurrection has been to characters of all levels.

Top 25 Dead-Heads:
#1 Captain America
#2 Superman
#3 Mr. Fantastic
#4 Thor
#5 Ultimate Beast
#6 Green Arrow
#7 Catwoman
#8 Red Hood
#9 Iron Fist
#10 Hawkman
#11 Elektra
#12 Ben Reilly
#13 Winter Soldier
#14 Flash
#15 Jean Grey
#16 Cyclops
#17 Dr. Doom
#18 Hawkeye
#19 Black Bolt
#20 Lyja
#21 Raiden
#22 Black Mask
#23 Death's Head
#24 Noob Saibot
#25 Deathlok
Many prominent characters in both the Marvel and DC universes have spent an extended period on the other side.

Wonder Man numbers among the characters so intimately associated with death, it's become the point of comedy.
Much like a Jean Grey or Magneto, any threat to the character and their mythology is completely nullified by the on-again, off-again nature of death in superhero comics.

Likewise, the dead pool is currently speculating how long the upcoming Captain America's tenure can be, with the expectation that the return of Steve Rogers as the Captain is all but inevitable. Yes, that's even with guarantees from editorial and writer that the character will not make a return any time soon.

Which, I suppose, highlights the nature of the medium, and the way the relationship between concept, creator, and reader has blurred the lines of what does and doesn't work.

Death as a plot device has been a tittilating detail of popular fiction for as long as it's existed. The mythological qualities of the resurrection resonate with all walks of life, and it's difficult to deny the power of such a return under the right circumstances. Captain America, a character built upon iconic ideology, stands to expand his legend in ways never before explore by returning from the dead.

Imagine the creative possibilities presented by exploring the messiah qualities of a hero who sacrificed himself for freedom in the face of Tony Stark's oppression. Captain America was seen to be forgiven by the people who'd come to fear him, to a degree, but could his return sway them totally? Food for thought, and some interesting stories should Marvel as a company be inclined to approach that side of it.

Does any of this make it right, though? Does one story prospect make-up for the countless unnecessary deaths that have stripped superhero comics of the air of legitimate threat?

I suppose we can bring our discussion full-circle, coming back to the style of superhero story telling that favours awkward inclusions of characters in no direct relation to the story being told. Sure, it's fun to look back on a heavy handed two-page tiff that awkwardly jutts before the story, but perhaps that kind of story telling is best left in the past.

Likewise, death as a story 'middle', a problem to be solved, is perhaps best left in the decades behind us, where such a thrill might have even carried a question mark. The disenfranchised have contributed to an adult conceit in comic books, and as part of 'growing up', it might be time to put forward finite consequences on the actions portrayed within these books.

If these characters are destined to live forever, it might be time we stopped kidding ourselves. Have an opinion on death in comics? Drop a comment!

The Fight: 4 The Issue: 4.5
[Imagine if on Halloween, every comic superhero and villain that has returned from the dead suddenly turned into a mindless, blood-thirsty zombie! What would we have then? Anarchy? Bloodshed? Mass casualty? Perhaps just thirty-six variant zombie covers for the month of October... Oy!]

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