Friday, December 25, 2015

Countdown To Doomsday! (DC)
Superman #74 When: December 1992 Why: Dan Jurgens How: Dan Jurgens & Brett Breeding

The Story So Far...
It came from out of the blue! A hulking monster clad in green garb and binding tubes! The severity of its hidden face -- completely alien in the surrounding countryside. It's reason for being -- obscured by mindless carnage!

The Justice League had no way of knowing what they were confronting when they intercepted a call for help from an inter-state highway! They couldn't have anticipated the sequence of events they would trigger -- events that will change their world forever!

With Blue Beetle barely clinging to life, Maxima is compelled to leave the fight to usher him to safety. In her place, Superman arrives to aid the league in their effort to stem the monster's destruction! The Man of Steel will not face any ordinary alien menace on this day. This is the coming of Doomsday!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Doomsday 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Superman 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Superman 6 (Mach Speeds)
Stamina: Doomsday 7 (Unstoppable)
Agility: Martian Manhunter 7 (Unlimited)
Fighting: Doomsday 7 (Born Fighter)
Energy: Guy Gardner 7 (Cosmic Power)

Justice League America are: Booster Gold, Guy Gardner, Fire, Ice, Bloodwynd and Superman. Otherwise occupied are Maxima and Blue Beetle (Ted Kord): the latter of which was injured in a preceding skirmish with Doomsday.

Ah! Major comics properties in the 1990s... A decade that demands clarification in the Tale of the Tape, as much as analysis! As you've already seen: the Justice League were a far cry from the "Big Seven" roster you may be more familiar with. Even Superman is here as a tagalong drawn in by the fighting - and not part of the active line-up! For the uninitiated, there are a few other important differences in character to note.

Former Green Lantern Guy Gardner wields a Qwardian yellow power ring at this stage of his career -- better known in the future as the weapon of the Sinestro Corps! The mysterious figure known as Bloodwynd is in actual fact Martian Manhunter, who is impersonating a lost hero under the mind-altering influence of the Blood Gem. The true Bloodwynd is trapped inside with the demon Rott.

It's a bit of a mixed up time for the JLA, but they're by no means at their worst. In terms of firepower they're stocked with: Booster Gold's super-strong, super durable powersuit from the future, Guy Gardner's experience as a Green Lantern and the diverse properties of his energy ring, Bloodwynd's mystic powers via the Martian Manhunter's own blend of super strength, invulnerability, mental powers and more. Fire commands green flame and is capable of reaching states of intangibility. Ice is probably the weakest member offensively, but even she offers strategic advantages with the use of ice magic.

Each member has their own individual weaknesses, but what they lack as a whole is cohesion. In battle with Doomsday, Guy Gardner may be their pinch hitter, but his brash attitude and fearlessness means he can be isolated, or even redirected against his teammates. Martian Manhunter's vulnerability to fire could be exploited with Fire on the team, and Ice will need to be on her toes as well, especially surrounded by so much super-powered muscle!

It's impossible to separate this match-up from its inevitable end. This is part of The Death of Superman - a story that implies an end. Doomsday's primary threat at this stage of the game is physical. He's a sadistic, invulnerable brute with a penchant for punching, and throwing large objects. Ordinarily, that's a day at the office for Superman -- but Doomsday's Kryptonian history, and steeled origins through cruel evolution mean he's uniquely suited to withstand most physical threats.

Conventional wisdom says Bloodwynd/Martian Manhunter may be the best way to deal with Doomsday. The mystic Blood Gem can create illusions, teleport the possessor, and project fear through the "Sentence Stare" -- valuable tools in turning Doomsday against himself. Likewise, the Martian's natural telepathic potential could also be used to assault Doomsday's mind, although given his mindless bloodlust, it's impossible to know if he could be manipulated in any meaningful way. His rage may be too great! Let's see what happened...

The Tape: Superman Ranking: Superman (#6)

What Went Down...
A domestic scene like any other. A broken family, tempers flare. A sense of normalcy rudely interrupted by the shattering of glass and the limp body of the heroine called Ice!

The rest of the Justice League are unconscious or indisposed. Ice stands alone against a monster who moments earlier matched the league with one arms tied behind its back! Thrown miles from the fight - the hero of the future Booster Gold bumped into Superman. He introduces The Man of Steel to the concept of the threat by giving it a name: Doomsday!

Arriving on the scene: Superman fearlessly confronts the monster - taking a body blow from its free arm chest-on! The monster recognizes a need to up the ante, leaning back to unleash a kick that winds The Man of Steel, and sends his limp body hurtling through the nearby housing project!

With Superman out of the way, the monster turns his attentions back to Booster Gold. He grabs the hero by the skull and introduces his face into a nearby tree! Booster's suit tech cushions the blow, but he's still left slumped on the stump.

As if drawn to suffering, Doomsday explodes into what remains of the demolished project home. He gravitates toward Ice - unconscious inside the house when it collapsed! He drives his fist down and laughs at the cracking.

Just as the beast set eyes on an innocent woman and her baby, Superman rallies to knock it back! Superman pledges to cover her escape as the available members of the Justice League rejoin the fight! With Booster Gold, Fire, Guy Gardner, and Bloodwynd at his back - Superman leads a frontal assault!

The assembled Leaguers focus their fullest powers on their rampaging foe! Superman's heat vision, Fire's flame, Booster Gold's energy gauntlets, Guy Gardner's yellow power ring, Bloodwynd's eye blasts! They give it their all!

The maelstrom of energies obscures Doomsday in a haze of pure power and smoke! It gives the injured occupants of the demolished home their opportunity to escape, but as Fire begins to flicker out, and Booster's power cells deplete, the horrifying truth begins to emerge. Gardner can't imagine anyone surviving their efforts. Survive Doomsday has! And with his restraints broken by the blast, he is unbound for the first time - and ready to attack!

Doomsday rushes the league -- too fast to be avoided! The alien behemoth's charge launches the heroes across the battlefield!

His spiny fists free to do their wicked work, the monster again targets a now vulnerable Booster Gold. Clutching his throat he throws a furious right hand, and lets out another "Ha!" with a rising left. Doomsday then drags Booster to the nearby wrecked family car and slams his head shut in it!

Blinded from the earlier battle - Guy Gardner can only hear Booster's bones as they break. He's too slow to aim his ring and hope for the best. Doomsday tosses Booster's broken body and eliminates the meagre threat.

Superman and Bloodwynd fly in for a two-front assault, but Doomsday is prepared to neutralize that threat, as well! A couple of well placed, unbound backward jabs stop both powerhouses in their tracks -- and send Bloodwynd's eye beams wildly off target!

The stray blast ignites a powerful fire. It isn't long before the flames reach the housing project gas line. The resulting explosion engulfs everyone present in a raging inferno! Ironically, Fire is knocked unconscious in the chaos.

Unaffected by the heat - Doomsday launches himself skyward. Superman sees his leap and takes pursuit, but with the Justice League and the endangered family home owners vulnerable he has no choice but to abandon the chase!

They will meet again soon enough...

The Hammer...
With Superman the only Justice League hero still conscious, yet tactically neutralized, I have no choice but to call Doomsday the winner! I don't think the brutalized JLA will be able to disagree!

It's an explosive victory for the villain's long awaited Secret Wars on Infinite Earths debut, and a big finish to a massive month of 10th Anniversary celebrations!

Back at the beginning: I promised to mark the occasion with a mix of modern classics and frequently requested favourites. Doomsday has consistently ranked among the most sought after characters - and it's The Death of Superman that is the reason why!
Admittedly, it's the big final showdown that's usually the one people want to see, but I couldn't help but go for something a little less obvious.

Doomsday is on the verge of making the leap to the big screen in next year's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. In the movie, their version will confront the seeds of what is to become a film universe Justice League. Since people often forget the Justice League had a noteworthy role in the original introduction of Doomsday -- this seemed like a natural place to start Doomsday rolling!

I have to admit, it took all of ten years to get here because it's a bit of a double-edged sword. The very thing that makes the character notable is also the thing that makes him somewhat uninteresting. The headline is ultimately what's most important: The Death of Superman. By introducing a never before seen brute to fit the task, DC Comics created a character who seemed utterly perfunctory.

In 1992, the stunt was unique enough to receive global press. On the one hand, it seemed inconceivable that there wouldn't be any more Superman comics published by DC. On the other hand; the explosion of the Image style, X-Men, and other flavours of the fast moving early nineties had unflinchingly challenged Superman's playground relevance. In an era of sound and fury signifying flashy change, DC had promised a death. Barry Allen was still dead. Superman's movie cred was in the toilet. Believing them was a strong option.

The Death of Superman is still one of the highest selling comics of all time. It opened the Pandora's box of public execution, and "dramatic change" as sales pitch on a scale unlike any other.

Supes didn't stay dead for long. A few years later, newspapers were covering another stunt -- Superman goes electric. With that, the box arguably slammed shut. Nobody believed Electric Superman would last. If DC weren't going to kill their mascot off, they sure as heck weren't going to keep something that stupid going for long. They'd managed to snap Batman's back and turn Green Lantern into one of their biggest villains along the way, but it all started to seem as pointless and desperate as it was. Readers got wise. Sales plunged.

Attitudes toward crossover events of the nineties seem to have changed over the course of the last ten years. There's always been an audience, but when "big two" comics doubled down into the 2000s on more sophisticated storytelling and characterization, the sins of the chromium age were ready to be cast out.

The aggressive rejection of crossovers and stunts threw the dead super-baby out with the bath water. It hadn't all been bad! By the middle of the decade, an inevitable rethink was coming. Green Lantern: Rebirth paved the way by undoing the one nineties stunt that stuck - Hal Jordan as super-villain. The 20th anniversary of Crisis on Infinite Earths kicked the 'event' doors wide open soon after with Infinite Crisis. 2009's Blackest Night and Final Crisis escalated line-wide events almost as far as they could go. In 2011, they finally killed the DC Universe. Doomsday returned in varied forms. The early nineties struck back with a vengeance.

Given the perfunctory nature of the original Doomsday, it's easy to see why the idea would be repurposed. In his acclaimed All-Star Superman, concept wizard Grant Morrison transcribed the language of Doomsday as supreme threat into a more insidious, soul destroying genetic weapon. In isolation, it was an exciting, thoughtful way of repurposing the power of an attack through the lens of wacky, Silver Age pop and modern man's fear of the Superman. If it didn't invent the concept of a genetic Doomsday, it certainly popularized and validated it with a finesse lacking in subsequent versions. Just another wacky transformation for Jimmy Olsen. Another sci-fi contingency weapon run amok.

If trailers and scuttlebutt are to be believed, the movie Doomsday will use a similar premise to adapt the corpse of Man of Steel villain: General Zod. If it can be done to Zod, it can probably be done to fellow Kryptonian Superman. This has been the case in New 52 comics, where Doomsday became a Jekyll & Hyde proposition - a virus infecting Superman's genes. A validation of the resentment toward the ultimate superhero. The hero as monster. An on-going assassination of character. The death of the myth, if not the Superman.

I never really viewed The Death of Superman with quite the disdain of my peers, but I can understand the pessimism. I certainly had my share of doubts as it was all unfolding, and I came to view characters like Doomsday as avatars for shallow, if forgivable times. I avoided a lot of the worst of the 90s with budget conscious reading, and in that respect, I always felt I was ahead of the curve. Now that stunts like The Death of Superman seem to inform so much of the modern approach to DC comics and movies, I'm starting to wonder if it was the intolerant naysayers who really saw the writing on the wall.

The legacy of the story has become undeniable as the reading of sales statistics seems to overwhelm long term thinking, and the strengthening of home brands. The short dollar is king. Invest in reader anxiety. Hollywood high rolling on a monthly schedule.

I'm pleased to have finally opened the book on this landmark, much requested story! I'm sure we'll explore more facets of its unique importance sometime in the future. In the mean time, I'd like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! Thanks for joining me for a big month of anniversary superhero smackdown! If you'd like to see more in 2016, be sure to leave a comment and keep diving into the infinite archives!

Winner: Doomsday

Friday, December 18, 2015

Doom! (Marvel Comics)
Thor #337 When: November 1983
Why: Walt Simonson How: Walt Simonson

The Story So Far...
When an experimental warp probe captures images of an unidentified, star destroying ship -- Director of SHIELD: Nick Fury has no choice but to call in the heavy artillery! With the probe destroyed by the alien craft, SHIELD has no way of knowing what will happen when it completes a light speed course headed straight for Earth!

So, why are Fury and his boys making a covert nab of a mild mannered physician who walks Central Park with a cane? Because Colonel Fury is one of the few men on Earth who knows Dr. Donald Blake is really The Mighty Thor - god of thunder! When he taps his cane, he becomes the only hero capable of travelling into deep space to confront the hostile space ship!

Little does Thor realize, his connection to the plight of the occupants inside goes far deeper than SHIELD's convenience -- and what he finds inside will be unlike anything he's ever encountered before!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Draw 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Draw 3 (Street Wise)
Speed: Draw 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Draw 6 (Generator)
Agility: Draw 2 (Average)
Fighting: Draw 6 (Warrior)
Energy: Draw 5 (Lasers)

It's been nothing but close battles for the 10th Anniversary of The Comic Book Fight Club, but we're yet to have a match-up as literally even as this!
Inherently strong, and gifted with the weapons of Norse gods - both of today's competitors owe much of their renowned might to a mutual source. Differing more greatly are their origins, and the favour they receive from Odin. Factors that will weigh heavily into today's legendary superfight spotlight!

We've seen Beta Ray Bill in action just once before on Secret Wars on Infinite Earths, standing toe-to-toe with cosmic super heavyweight: The Silver Surfer [Beta Ray Bill: Godhunter #2]! That's a resounding endorsement of Bill's power, but there's a big difference between that 2009 story, and his first appearance in today's 1983 issue: He doesn't yet have the Uru forged hammer Stormbreaker!

Bill's no slouch when unarmed. He's a Korbonite redesigned by his people to be their ultimate warrior! Through bio-engineering and technological enhancement he possesses phenomenal super strength, enhanced endurance, stamina, and reflexes. He's also a supremely skilled hand-to-hand fighter. A living weapon strong enough to stand up to the demon hordes of Surtur - their primary threat!

The original hammer-meister of Marvel Comics is, of course, Thor! A Norse god by birthright, he's wielded his enchanted hammer Mjolnir in recorded victories against: Super-Skrull [Thor #465], Dr. Doom [Heroes Reborn: The Return #4], Red Hulk [Hulk #6], and two titans of DC Comics: Captain Marvel [Marvel versus DC #2] and Superman [JLA/Avengers #1]!

As résumés go, it's one of the finest, showcasing an ability to beat some of the most powerful characters in two universes - but it isn't perfect! Thor and the Avengers were overwhelmed by the raw power of the unstoppable Destroyer armor in Thor (Vol. 2) #1, and they succumbed to surprise tactics from Ghost Rider in 1981's Avengers #214!

Ghost Rider wasn't worthy enough to wield the enchanted hammer Mjolnir, but he was able to use its natural return trajectory against its master! Sometimes the Odinson takes his weapon for granted, and it's around this time he will revert to frail mortal Dr. Donald Blake when separated from his hammer for more than sixty seconds. Given that Thor can summon the hammer at will, it's no mean feat to play keep away - but it's an important weakness for the few strong, or cunning enough, to take advantage of it!

The Tape: Draw Ranking: Thor (#28)

What Went Down...
Using Mjolnir to traverse time and space, Thor reaches his destination in deep space - coming face-to-hull with the warship Skuttlebutt!
Even as it outpaces the thunderer the mighty machine scans his energies -- detecting a similarity with that of the true enemy that sent the warship on its mission: the deadly demons of Surtur!

Skuttlebutt fires on an unprepared Thor, who returns his own assault with a toss of his enchanted hammer! It breaches the hull, allowing Earth's defender to do his job and learn more about the threat. Inside, he recognizes a ship very much alive, and a "coldsleep defense" procedure just as living!

A giant hand explodes from a mysterious crystal and clutches Thor's inquisitive skull! The creature hurls him across the room and reveals itself - the engineered living Korbonite weapon that is: Beta Ray Bill!

As Bill threatens what he believes to be another demon agent of Surtur, he knows not the cape on which he truly tugs! Thor lets him know, swinging Mjolnir with a mighty upward strike that sends Bill flying and echoes his objection!

Bill recovers quickly, lunging at Thor with murderous intent! Mjolnir spills from Thor's grasp as the alien grapples with his wrists. The living ship Skuttlebutt has given Bill the language to engrave Thor's epitaph. Thor turns the ship against Bill, ripping at its metal walls to toss them at his foe!

The improvised metal work causes vital damage to Skuttlebutt, but fails to slow Beta Ray Bill. He rushes Thor again. The force of his right hand colliding with Thor's skull sends the thunder god's helmet airborne! It's a blow unrivalled by any of Thor's greatest foes! Were the fate of Earth not hanging in the balance, he would relish the combat. Instead, the dishevelled god fires back with a left cross and a challenge to yield. "Only in death!"

His opponent shows no signs of quitting, but Thor has vowed to protect the Earth. He knows he must strike a winning blow, but in the heat of battle, he hasn't retrieved the magic mallet Mjolnir!

The damage caused to Skuttlebutt had expedited the need for the ship to land, sending it on an accelerated course toward Earth! The proximity restores the effect of the enchantment that causes Thor to revert to Dr. Donald Blake when separated form his hammer!

He has no time to act! Bill descends upon his opponent, believing the new form to be an ill conceived tactic! A devastating blow knocks the helpless mortal out cold!

Bill doesn't question the fortune of the strange sequence of events. Instead, he seeks Mjolnir as a means of enhancing his power in the fight against Surtur. Finding only Dr. Blake's walking stick, Bill strikes it in anger -- activating the magic that transforms him into a thunder god!

The Hammer...
"Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor." As we can clearly see - Beta Ray Bill is worthy! He's also the winner in yet another classic comic book confrontation for our 10th Anniversary!

There were a lot of prospective contenders for the Secret Wars on Infinite Earths anniversary month. I've always favoured a mixed bag approach, but I felt it was time to touch on some of the big battles we'd overlooked. This one kinda provides both -- a well known modern classic, but still a little leftfield.

It's debatable whether this is the best fight between the pair. They have another more evenly matched, more meaningful showdown a couple of issues later. This is the first appearance of Beta Ray Bill, though, and that put it over with me. I enjoy the issue just fine, but I love Beta Ray Bill. A milestone we had to have!

I really must impress on intrepid new readers the significance of this issue's event. Noble characters lifting Thor's hammer has become a bit of a modern cliché, but Beta Ray Bill was the first, and most shocking! Well, okay... Wonder Woman was pretty shocking [Marvel versus DC #3], but lets stay on point...

It's kind of a no brainer. The hammer isn't sworn to Thor - the powers are on offer to anyone worthy of them! An Arthurian twist given an extra jolt by the mad genius of Walt Simonson, who didn't take the obvious route of another golden haired, gleaming, virtuous white knight. Instead he created a bizarre, horse-faced alien -- an unlikely figure, intended to appear villainous on sight.

The twist gives Beta Ray Bill a slight edge over many other derivative heroes, and would-be replacements. No matter how extensive the similarities - he'll never be Thor. He won't grow up to be Thor. He isn't a weak ass doppelganger trying to grow into Thor. This guy will always be Beta Ray Bill. A weird echo, a curious odd-man out in most situations: one of Marvel's best original expansions to their pseudo Norse mythology!

I tend to think he's exactly what Marvel movies need. The first two Thor films managed to be tepid and uninteresting, devoid of memorable villains. Building a third movie around Beta Ray Bill's arrival wouldn't just inject much needed personality into an A or B conflict - it'd provide the perfect organic bridge between the terran Avengers and the cosmic Guardians of the Galaxy. It's a short leap from Surtur's demons to Thanos and his movie minions. Bill could be a great addition to The Guardians sequel, before it all comes crashing down to Earth in Infinity War. I dare to dream.

Dreams inspired by Walt Simonson, whose Kirby infused energy I sometimes took for granted as a kid - but have tremendous admiration for, today! The kind of frenetic comics that go balls to the wall to tell the story. Pencils so crazed they don't always have time for posed hero shots, and are fighting the inks that try to hold them down! Good comics!

I'll be working through the holidays to make sure there's more good comics cheer next week! The Friday Night Fights of Secret Wars on Infinite Earths land on Christmas Day! Naughty or nice, there'll be a super showdown to deck the halls with seasons beatings!

Winner: Beta Ray Bill
Stats: Skuttlebutt - 1 assist.

Friday, December 11, 2015

(Image Comics)
Savage Dragon #7 When: January 1994
Why: Erik Larsen How: Erik Larsen

The Story So Far...
 could've been real tough for a hulking, green, amnesiac man-dragon with nothing but the fin on his head. That is - if it wasn't for the friendship of police Lieutenant Frank Darling. Frank helped The Dragon get a job with his cousin Fred, but he soon saw cop potential in Chicago's newest super-powered resident. When The Dragon refused, Frank organized a visit from some local villains -- getting his cousin killed in the process!

The Dragon may've become a badge carrying member of the police force, but Lt. Darling was still indirectly responsible for his cousin's death - and the criminal underworld knew it! Led by Overlord, The Vicious Circle ran Chicago, and now they had Darling. One word from them - and his career would be over. One word form him - and he'd be dead.

Caught between a rock and a hard place, Lt. Darling did his best to keep his super-human best friend away from The Vicious Circle's operations. When Cyberface - a former associate of Overlord - agreed to testify, the jig was up. With warrant in hand, The Dragon and Frank Darling are coming for Overlord!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Dragon 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Overlord 3 (Street Wise)
Speed: Dragon 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Dragon 7 (Unstoppable)
Agility: Draw 2 (Average)
Fighting: Draw 3 (Street Wise)
Energy: Overlord 5 (Lasers)

What a pleasure it is to welcome two unranked modern legends into The Comic Book Fight Club! One is among independent comics' most recognizable heroes - the other is perhaps his deadliest arch-nemesis! It's a heckuva start for both characters, but the perfect legendary battle to continue celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the Secret Wars on Infinite Earths!

If you know one thing and one thing only about The Dragon - it's that he's made a career out of punching the snot out of bad guys!

As a Chicago cop, or member of Special Operations Strikeforce [SOS], he may've shown a range of other skills, but when it comes to the final word - it's usually spoken with two big green fists! So conclusive are these fist-made arguments, not many menaces last long when The Dragon is on their case! It's a major statement about his effectiveness as a fighting hero, but also a major statement about the staying power of Overlord!

The armored leader of The Vicious Circle is the top dog in crime-ridden Chicago! Over time, others have come to bedevil Dragon wearing the Overlord armor, but this incarnation is the original: mob boss Antonio Seghetti.

Seghetti had his associate "Cyberface" Sebastian Kahn build the armor as a response to an emerging class of super-powered opposition. The armor is maxed out on defense and offense - ensuring Overlord can stand up to the toughest superfreaks who might challenge his empire!

It's fair to say today's feature showdown lives on as a premium example of the durability of The Dragon -- an important factor any time he stands against a powerful opponent! Those details will be explored more in the next section of the usual format. For now, we have the classic example of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object!

Dragon's a rampaging powerhouse, but Overlord's a walking fortress! A rough sketch of both characters in stats rewards Overlord for diversity, but you can never count out the big hero! I'm hedging my bets - lets find out who wins!

The Tape: Overlord Ranking: Draw (Not Ranked)

What Went Down...
The Dragon reflects upon the events that have brought him to be standing next to best friend Lt. Frank Darling on an elevator ride to destiny. Their floor: the very top - where armored Chicago crime boss Overlord is waiting to meet them!

Guns drawn, the lawmen do their job. Dragon orders Overlord to face the wall with arms behind his head - no sudden moves. Not in Overlord's town. It's the cops who'd better follow orders and he proves it with a single gesture of his hand and explosive blast of energy!

Dragon's gun explodes into a million tiny pieces. Frank Darling's flesh vaporizes, leaving broken charred bones suspended for a moment as they crumble. There's an officer down and he was The Dragon's best friend. Now it's personal!

The Dragon furiously rushes at Overlord - but his armor isn't just for show. Arrogantly prepared for a physical confrontation, Overlord meets him with a mechanically enhanced body shot. It sends the muscle bound supercop flying!

The Dragon gets airborne again, taking an uppercut to the jaw. Concrete explodes around him - breaking as he falls. Overlord declares himself "the meanest son of a bitch in this town". He might be right. Dragon doesn't care.

"DOOM!" The building thunders as Dragon unleashes his strength on Overlord!

He slams the crime boss into a support column and keeps unloading! His fist pounds into Overlord's body like an unforgiving pile driver! Yes, the fist is definitely the problem - and you don't become leader of The Vicious Circle without being able to solve problems. The Dragon learns it the hard way.

Whatever The Dragon is - it's tough. Only his hand disintegrates when Overlord fires his first gauntlet blast at point blank! When a second shot connects with his mid-section, it leaves a gaping bloody hole - but his body holds up!

A left hook sends the arresting officer flying toward the skyscraper windows! Overlord calls the result as it shatters. "Tomorrow morning they'll find what's left of you and I'll be back to running this town--" A warning to others who might cross Overlord's path, he says. He got one thing wrong: they won't find Dragon tomorrow.

The Dragon's body hurtles through the air, finding the spire of one of the surrounding lower buildings. His body slides down the spike, staining it with his blood. "In your next life, when somebody suggests you leave or face their wrath. Leave."

The Hammer...
Those more readily versed in the usual Marvel/DC fare may have wondered how this battle would factor into our 10th Anniversary celebrations. December is all about bringing untapped, legendary superhero showdowns to Secret Wars on Infinite Earths! Now that you've read the What Went Down recap -- I'm confident you'll understand exactly why this ranks among the modern classics!

The winner, in no uncertain terms, is Overlord. The degree to which he claimed victory is one of the reasons this remains a stand-out from 20+ years of Savage Dragon! It made quite the impact, mythologized by publications like Wizard Magazine. Before I was reading the series - I knew how this issue ended.

There are only 21 "panels" in the issue: it's told entirely in full page. 13 pages focus specifically on the fight in progress, with the only double page spread among them. Overlord dominates in 9. Dragon falls from Overlord's tower in an effective 3 page sequence. He's impaled on the third. The issue ends with a close up of his limp arm - the one that still has a hand - streaming with blood.

The moment of impact is a lasting image [above], and a shocking finish to a thorough ass whooping for the title hero! There are no reassurances here. No comforting copy. "Next Issue: Now What?"

You were entitled to wonder about the future. Heroes were dying in the early 90s, and the Image logo was on and off books with alarming inconsistency. Come back next month to find out what happens, fanboy. If there is a next month! A bold move so early in the life of a new series, at least in isolation...


I wasn't reading Savage Dragon at the time. Bad first impressions from other books meant a decade of what could only be called prejudice. Image was the home of unsatisfying, dodgy knock-offs. The publisher of the unwanted crap they sandwiched with a Fantastic Four back issue in the cheap 3-packs.

This, of course, wasn't true of the publisher as a whole. I've never really been one to bemoan Rob Liefeld as an artist, but his abundant creations kept me dismissive of the publisher (and brand) for far longer than was fair. I can't imagine anyone making the same mistake today. I
 may be an old superhero tragic, but it's clear Image Comics are one of the most dynamic publishers going in 2015. Their modern output could never be mistaken for poor imitations - led by a diverse catalogue of counter programming. Image is the perfect antidote to increasingly insipid, corporate steered IP juggling at the neurotic "Big Two".

During my time away from Secret Wars on Infinite Earths, I specifically came back to Savage Dragon. Modern issues were making a good impression, and fresh eyes allowed me to reconnect with things I love about the early issues.

From a certain perspective, they're pretty standard fare. B-grade characters come and go with little to no sub-text. Visuals, for the most part, take priority over higher ideas. There's clearly no master plan at work, or history to drawn upon. Maybe a mental sketch of an upcoming issue - steering toward a future showdown with a big bad. What you see is mostly what you get. Brutalizing the title hero in his first year may seem like a risky proposition, but it's really just another day at the office, another issue on the rack, a cliff hanger plot to be resolved next issue. Sometimes that's all you really need from a good comic. In 2015, it's a healthy dose of comic book reality that feels sorely missing.

"Uncomplicated" is a word I can't escape when I think about Erik Larsen - the writer, creator and man. His run on Amazing Spider-man -- one of my favourites -- is ancient history. He'll gladly tell you he's living the dream: creating monthly comics based loosely on a childhood creation. I believe him. I admire him. This blunt force perspective has never been a recipe for stagnancy. Larsen is well educated in the art of creating comics, and calls upon a gamut of influences and ideas to always keep it fresh. Just as life has its ups, downs, inconsistency and surprises - so too does over 200 issues of Savage Dragon represent evolving characters and worlds.

Savage Dragon #7 is an interesting example of Larsen's penchant for experimentation. Even in the big, bawdy, pin-up world of early 90s Image, an issue comprised entirely of full page splashes is a big shift! If I'd read it at the time, I might've felt a little ripped off, but years later, I'm in awe of the way it underscores the weight of Overlord as an arch-villain. The same approach was used a couple of years earlier for Superman's final showdown with Doomsday during The Death of Superman event. Both have pros and cons, but overall I think the Savage Dragon example keeps its eye on storytelling a bit better.

Each spread shows good visual consideration - rarely an issue for Larsen. The first page kicks it off with flavor: all recap, riddled with narration boxes on a black void where there would be elevator walls. It's an overhead shot, heavy on shadow and pregnant with expectation. It's an obvious homage to Frank Miller, who was working on Sin City these days, and is a well noted Larsen influence. That Miller twist is common in these early days, gets especially fun when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles show up, but I digress.
Frank Darling doesn't make it more than a few pages before he's a vaporizing skeleton. It's the right type of over-the-top lethality for Miller, but I'm reminded of another of the influences Larsen has cited over the years -- Dick Tracy. You might not see it in the pencil rendered figures, or the oh-so nineties villains, but it's there! Tracy's villains are famous for the big impact they made, but few were around for long before they met a grim end. Crooks in The Dragon's town don't tend to stick it out for long, either. The Mafioso behind Overlord's obvious Dr. Doom inspired façade will get his. The fun is waiting to find out when!

Somewhere around the middle of the issue: DOOM! A lettering effect right out of Walt Simonson's early eighties Thor. Is Chris Eliopoulos having making full page comics, too? How could you not?

Larsen is still pushing his books forward, with a Dick Tracy-esque cutthroat timeline that waits for no one - sentimentality be damned! Dragon Jr's the title character now, and Larsen's putting him through the paces just like pop. A bit like the eras of Tracy, I think I prefer the early examples, but it's still good stuff. These early books feel raw, motivated, uncertain, but full of energy and the sharp edge of a pencil with something to prove. I won't ever tell the man I like his old stuff better than his new stuff. He doesn't want to hear it, and it's not strictly true. Because Larsen knows comics, and he's got a twenty year canon all his own, and some accumulated extra stuff that he ain't afraid to use. Don't I know it? Don't I love it!
Welcome to The Comic Book Fight Club, Savage Dragon! I'm sure it won't be the last time! I'm certain it won't be the next time, though. Next week we'll continue to celebrate ten years of Secret Wars on Infinite Earths with another legendary superhero showdown, and here's a clue: I made a reference to it in this very post. See you next week!

Winner: Overlord

Stats: Overlord - 1 fatality (Frank Darling).

Friday, December 04, 2015

He'll Never Make Me Cry (Marvel)
Uncanny X-Men #183 When: July 1984
Why: Chris Claremont How: John Romita Jr & Dan Green

The Story So Far...
Returned from the violent ordeal of The Beyonder's "Secret Wars": Colossus is a changed man! He was badly injured in battle with The Wrecking Crew, but the wounds that hurt him most are of the heart and soul!

While on Battleworld, Colossus had found himself deeply in love with one of the planet's native inhabitants -- a healer named Zsaji! She was a vital ally to the besieged heroes, sustaining them with her incredible powers. Alas; it was her powers that inspired The Beyonder to hatch a plot made reality by the power-stealing Dr. Doom! The heroes were helpless as Zsaji's life-force was sacrificed a final time so that they may live.

Carrying Zsaji's memory back to Earth, Colossus confronts his greatest love: Kitty Pryde. Intent on honouring both, the mighty mutant confesses his feelings for the deceased healer. The truth breaks poor Kitty's heart, and raises the ire of fellow X-Man Wolverine! He intends to give Colossus a good talking to - maybe worse - but when Nightcrawler joins them on their trip to a Manhattan bar, they're all in for a lesson in the dangers of barroom brawling...

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Juggernaut 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Colossus 2 (Average)
Speed: Draw 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Juggernaut 7 (Unstoppable)
Agility: Colossus 2 (Average)
Fighting: Colossus 4 (Trained)
Energy: Draw 1 (None)

Let's cut straight to it: Juggernaut's mystically endowed strength is the very inspiration behind our Infinite Wars Tape rating for 7 stamina. "Unstoppable" is in the name - but if he's such a world beater, why is the W column empty?

Juggernaut - aka; Cain Marko - may be one of Marvel Comics' most famous amoral bruisers, but he's never had the benefit of a full feature here on The Comic Book Fight Club. A harsh ruling in 2006 for Uncanny X-Men #194 saw Juggy play second fiddle to a powered up Rogue - only earning an assist to the win. When it came to going toe-to-toe in a passing crossover moment with DC Comics' Superman - you can bet there wasn't much opportunity for Juggernaut to pick up a win there, either. The circumstances of each story didn't do him a lot of favours, but those are the risks when you use the power of the Crimson Gem of Cyttorak for evil!

Of course, the mercurial muscle of Colossus is nothing to sneeze at either! A traditionally beloved member of the X-Men, he's the merry mutants' resident strong man, and when he activates his ability to transform into cold Russian steel - you better watch out!

In the 1980s, Colossus was always a young fighter with incredible heart, but was shown to lack the raw strength of benchmark heroes like Thing and Hulk. In more recent times he's been pretty comfortable mixing it up in their weight bracket, an equal 6 for strength by our measure, even if we give the edge to his opponent. He played an assist role in the aforementioned Uncanny fight reviewed in '06, but demonstrated his modern muscle in an emotional return seen in Amazing X-Men #5! His victory over alien Ord is a prime example of his uncaged rage, and 90s physicality against Apocalypse in Uncanny X-Men #295 shows how his brawn evolved.

What does it all boil down to? It means any time you get these two characters together you're going to have one helluva slugfest! The story of Colossus' super-human strength is told through fights like these, earned over years of struggles with opponents greater than he is. Theirs is one of comics' best remembered rivalries, and it wouldn't be so fondly regarded if it wasn't about struggle. By every definition, Juggernaut was Colossus' superior going into this fight - the benefit of unnatural, magical strength.

The Tape: Draw Ranking: Colossus (#273)

What Went Down...
A West Village neighbourhood bar: Monahan's. A broken hearted farm boy. A grumpy old man who thinks farm boy needs a trip to the woodshed... When the X-Man Wolverine suggested he and Colossus go for a drink and a chat, there was always going to be trouble. Not even voice-of-reason tagalong Nightcrawler could've foreseen the large man at the bar with the pretty young lady, though.

Wolverine spots him first. The smell of Juggernaut is hard to miss when you've got keen mutant senses! He tried for a discreet exit, but when Colossus drunkenly resists, he stumbles backward - spilling his beer all over the off-duty super-villain! A polite offer to buy the next one doesn't save Colossus. Cain Marko has other means of getting money. He wants payback!

A one-handed shove from the magically enhanced powerhouse sends Colossus flying through the premises! The fall could've killed him - had he not had the mutant ability to transform himself into a steel-skinned giant!

Colossus doesn't take kindly to the act of aggression! He charges back into the fray, ducking a cross to deliver his own uppercut! The fight is on and the patrons aren't planning to interfere -- Wolverine and Nightcrawler included!

Juggernaut, of course, recognizes his Russian sparring partner, but Colossus is slow on the uptake. Is it the alcohol in his system, or just the obscurity of seeing Cain Marko in civilian attire? Perhaps he just has other things on his mind as a giant fist comes crashing down from above - narrowly missing Colossus as he shoves out of the way, condemning the bar to splinters!

Severed by the clubbing blow - the bar becomes an overgrown weapon for the Juggernaut. Enraged - he swings the entire structure into Colossus!

Fortunately, the owner has superhero battle insurance, but that doesn't stop a terrified mob fleeing the scene -- including Juggernaut's date! With no signs of movement beneath the wreckage, Juggernaut decides to call it quits -- but Colossus is just getting started! He bursts out, tackling Juggernaut from behind!

They square off. Juggernaut likes the boy's willingness to take punishment. Colossus doesn't like being called a boy. Trash talk advantage: Juggernaut! He sends the metal mutant airborne - head-first through a wall with a "Sunday" punch! "An' this is what my partner Black Tom Cassidy'd call..."

The "Coup de Grace" brings the house down - literally! Several storeys of plunder collapse in upon Monahan's bar -- and on top of Colossus! KO!

The Hammer...
In case there was any doubt - don't worry! Colossus can take it! Juggernaut may have won the battle, but the war between the X-Men and Charles Xavier's invincible step-brother was destined to be long and winding feud far beyond this famous issue!
This is, of course, the first fight of December 2015, celebrating the 10th Anniversary of Secret Wars on Infinite Earths! It is also one of the most suggested fights for feature in the blog's history - so I hope you'll be pleased to finally see its famous fisticuffs added to the running tally!
The battle is actually a make-good in a couple of interesting ways!
As mentioned above in "The Tape"; despite being one of Marvel Comics' most renowned super-heavyweight brawlers - Juggernaut hasn't had the most stellar representation here on The Comic Book Fight Club! In fact, with no prior victories recorded [3 assists], he ranks a lowly #761 prior to this result! Colossus is a bit better off at #273, but it's fair to say both have plenty more features ahead of them before an accurate measure can be recorded!
There's also a little editorial make-good at work, as well! In another famous face-off: Juggernaut had lost a surprise fight with Spider-man just a couple years prior [Amazing Spider-man #230]! It's referenced in the issue as a reason for Juggernaut drowning his night away in the bar, and it makes the win here all the more shrewd. After all, if you beat you bad guys too often, they start to lose their lustre - and even a mega power like Juggernaut needs to keep his heat!
Actually, there's a lot to like about this deceptively simple issue and the many masters it serves. On the surface, it's a simple stand-alone superfight issue - but scratch a little deeper and you quickly realize its varied connections.
The fight itself refers to the '82 Spidey battle, and draws upon Juggernaut's many confrontations since his 1965 debut. He's played against type in casual setting, but the cover gives clear indication of the marquee scuffle. At the time of the issue, Colossus was into his tenth year in print. Still a relatively young character - in and out of the story - developing into the legendary X-Man we know today. The issue adds another twist in the soap opera love affair between he and Kitty Pryde, and at the same time deals with fallout from the original Secret Wars maxi-series. Oh, and Juggy's date? Selene - a relatively new, relatively deadly life-sucking villainess who left with another of the bar's patrons, to return in an upcoming issue!

As a sporadic reader at best, I don't have a strong affection for this period of X-Men, but what I do have a great appreciation for is the shaping of its published issues. Claremont's stories have a wonderful way of using monthly issues to weave in and out of the lives of characters, splitting them off for small groups or individual spotlights - like this issue - before inevitably weaving them back together. Focusing on big action is bringing levity back to a book soaked in heavy, team and event dramas. It isn't abandoning them, just keeping it fresh. Good in isolation, fresh in sequence. A wonderful approach that slipped away from superhero comics as time went on.
Thus, a relatively simple issue - remembered for the fight on the cover - connects directly to many varied strands and goals! It's a relatively light read, but these layers of complexity are there if you want to purse them. It's a fine way to do superhero comics, and maybe even a metaphor for this blog, which has always put the fight front and centre, but aimed to juggle more than just combos.
What are we juggling in December? Well, to celebrate the 10th Anniversary, it had to be some of comics' biggest fights - but not necessarily the most obvious! At the end of the year we'll finish big with another of the most requested fights from the blog's history -- but up next we're going with a legendary hero/villain combo who are yet to appear! Be here next week for this famous first!
Winner: Juggernaut