Friday, March 04, 2016

Chapter Four: Never-Ending Battle (DC)
Kingdom Come #4 When: August 1996
Why: Mark Waid How: Alex Ross

The Story So Far...
They were humanity's greatest champions, but when humanity no longer wanted them, they were gone. In their place, a new generation of warriors led by Magog, whose violence promises a just world of brutal simplicity.

In the wake of this changing of the guard, a new generation of super-humans arises with little regard for humanity, or justice. Rife with anger, prejudice, personal agenda, and self-interest they wage wars where the heroes and villains are indistinguishable from one another. Violence begets violence. The children of a greatness deemed too hard to accept become doomed to relearn their history's value the hard way. The people suffer for their choice.

When hope seems lost, the heroes return as they always had in humanity's hour of need. The Justice League judges their replacements harshly, forcing them to answer for their actions. It's a dose of truth, justice and the old American way. A blast from the past. Too little, too late. An uneasy return to extremes.

An improvised gulag for the dangerous super-humans becomes a powder keg waiting to blow. The old villains remain the keepers of the match. Lex Luthor and his Mankind Liberation Front are the architects of an Armageddon designed to end all super-humans at the sound of a word, and the word is... Shazam!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Draw 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Captain Marvel 5 (Professor)
Speed: Superman 6 (Mach Speeds)
Stamina: Superman 7 (Unstoppable)
Agility: Draw 2 (Average)
Fighting: Draw 3 (Street Wise)
Energy: Superman 5 (Lasers)

It's one of the most talked about showdowns of the modern era, and one of the most requested fights by fans in ten years of The Comic Book Fight Club! A rivalry so fierce it once spilled over into the real world, testing the mettle of the courts of the late 1940s! Copyright law and the whims of the comics buying public determined their fate for decades, but the rivalry was forever redefined in 1996 by today's feature battle!

Empowered by the Wizard Shazam as a young boy; mild mannered Billy Batson need only speak the wizard's magical name to be struck by the lightning that transforms him into Earth's mightiest mortal: Captain Marvel! The wizard's gifts grant him a pantheon of powers: the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury! With these powers combined, he fights evil in all its forms as a most formidable force for good -- usually.

In the future of Kingdom Come, the adult Billy Batson has been subjected to the paranoid machinations of Lex Luthor and his Mankind Liberation Front. A human endowed with the power of gods, he is a tolerable, mind controlled pawn in a suspicious human cabal's silent war against super-humankind. Steered by engineered derivatives of the insidious Mr. Mind, Captain Marvel strikes against heroes he once might have called friends: the ultimate line of defense against alien powerhouse Superman.

Thanks to Kryptonian physiology that reacts uniquely to Earth's yellow sun; Superman possesses phenomenal super-human strength, speed, endurance, laser-like heat vision, X-ray vision, enhanced senses, and more. Although advanced in age, the Superman of Kingdom Come is at the peak of his powers, surpassing most modern incarnations of the character. This makes it difficult to accurately draw on the example of past battles.

In the opponent comparison test, both heroes found themselves surprised in crossovers with Marvel's Thor! During Marvel versus DC, the god of thunder was able to interfere with Captain Marvel's magic lightning and inadvertently defeat the mortal Billy Batson. On the other hand, it was a stone cold king hit from Thor's mystic hammer Mjolnir that kayoed Superman in JLA/Avengers #1!

In Superman #216, the two heroes met in a previous battle, when Superman was under the influence of the Eclipso entity. Captain Marvel had the better of the fight, before Eclipso Superman was able to catch Marvel as Billy Batson. The intervention of the Wizard Shazam and The Spectre ended the fight.

Around these parts, we acknowledge that Superman has no natural defense against obtuse magics, but do not subscribe to the theory that magic is itself a weakness. This doesn't take away from the devastating physical toll Captain Marvel's strength and "lightning ambush" technique can have, but it doesn't make it the deciding factor in this evenly matched epic!

Our hearts say Captain Marvel has the edge here, our brains say it's always down to Superman. Lets split the difference and find out what happened...

History: Inconclusive (0-0-1)
The Tape: Superman Ranking: Captain Marvel (#325)

What Went Down...
A crack of lightning strikes the Justice League's Gulag. No mere act of nature. A deliberate breach that frees the riot of raging young meta-humans inside. All part of a plan designed by Lex Luthor and the Mankind Liberation Front. A plot even the streaking red blur that is Superman is too late to stop!

He arrives to see hundreds of figures rising from the prison, before being struck down by another red blur! Captain Marvel - with the speed of Mercury! Hands on his hips, chest puffed out, the unleashed thunderer looms over Superman, an eerie smile. Earth's mightiest mortal now a confused weapon programmed only to keep Superman out of the fight.

Superman locks up with Marvel's wrists and tries to appeal to the mind that once commanded the wisdom of Solomon. He takes a mighty right cross for his troubles -- sending him hurtling across the battlefield!

Elsewhere, the struggle continues with innumerable players. Batman and his faithful join the fight. Wonder Woman fights killers with death. The heroes turn on one another. Across the world, the United Nations draw desperate plans to unleash an atomic doomsday weapon.

Superman unleashes continuous heat vision beamed directly at Captain Marvel's face! It's enough to make him recoil! While the physical battle turns, Superman continues to attack his counterpart's corrupted mind. He reaches gallantly for his former ally to say something for himself. He does...

The Marvel lets cry his magic word, but has no intention of transforming back into hapless mortal Billy Batson. Instead, with staggering speed he avoids the magic lightning of Shazam -- allowing it to strike instead The Man of Steel!

Again. Again! Again! Shazam! SHAZAM! SHAZAM!

On hands and knees, Superman is humbled by the brutal mystic bolts. His uniform tattered, blood pouring from his ears. He is just like anybody else.

Still smiling that vacant smile, Captain Marvel looms over his opponent once more. One more lightning bolt to make him hurt. One more opportunity for Superman to snatch hope from the jaws of despair.

He watches Captain Marvel through bloodshot eyes. Waits for him to say the magic word. Then springs into action -- grabbing Marvel's wrist at super-human speed! This time the magic lightning finds it target! Marvel becomes man!

His timing is perfect as his super hand clutches Billy Batson's jaw. He gives him no opportunity to utter the word again. Silence. The fight is no longer even. The calm after the storm, or merely the eye of a terrible hurricane they were too close to see?

Even in his condition, Superman now hears the screaming of the jet. He knows the sound of the death bringer flying above the clouds. A machine unlike any other, designed to deploy a multi-megaton nuclear explosive. A United Nations sanctioned final solution when humanity faces total annihilation.

With seconds to destruction Superman presses Billy Batson one more time. Compels him to measure the situation as both a man and god and make a choice about their fates. Tears answer silently. Superman lets go and takes flight without fear of being stopped. He is mistaken.

Captain Marvel springs forth once more and catches Superman by the ankle. He tosses him back toward the Earth, but continues on his flight path. Not another attack -- a sacrifice!

Cap heads off the bomb and summons his lightning to destroy the impenetrable forcefield surrounding it. A desperate gambit to trigger the blast before it reaches its target. The bomb explodes. He dies for his cause. Superman mourns him.

The Hammer...
It's been one of the most requested fights since Secret Wars on Infinite Earths began way back in 2005! Now that it's finally on the record - who actually won this epic encounter? Good question!

Through all the requests and recommendations I've received, I've seen a lot of assumptions about who wins. Captain Marvel clearly leaves a strong impression as the controlling dominator early in the fight, but a winner that does not make. Superman arguably determines the outcome when he gains the first decisive winning hold of the fight -- his hand around Billy Baton's face. He could crush the mortal man attached, but appeals to his better nature, and relents. The final offensive action is Captain Marvel's, when he grabs Superman by the ankle, and hurls him back down to Earth. Captain Marvel dies as a result, but not as a consequence of anything Superman did -- their fight was already over.

Even using a points system, it'd be tough to separate the two blow for blow. For determining the resolution of the fight, I lean toward Superman, but all actions considered, I think we must call this a draw. Neither fighter strikes a winning blow. Both choose the higher priority of stopping the U.N. bomb. A fight without a victor.

Quite a ways to come for a draw! This was the third attempt at getting Kingdom Come featured. The first few images seen above were scanned in 2012 -- the final pictures captured by a faithful flatbed scanner at the end of its light. This was also to have been the final fight featured for the 10th Anniversary, but got bumped late in favour of Doomsday's arrival in Superman #74. You'll get more of an idea why that was attractive as this month's featured fights unfold.

A huge inspiration this month is obviously the coming spectacle of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Officially in theatres March 25th, the movie pits hero against hero in their first cinematic encounter. Much like today's Kingdom Come fight, it's at the behest of Superman's brilliant arch-nemesis: Lex Luthor. The movie also marks the beginning of a cinematic Justice League, introducing Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), with Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Flash (Ezra Miller) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) making smaller appearances.

With so many masters to serve, it's easy to forget the movie will launch as a sequel to 2013's Man of Steel. Since we've already covered the Batman v Superman rivalry many times before, I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to double down on featuring more Superman battles. He could probably use the press. These are tough times for the Man of Tomorrow.

Batman was ultimately given first billing in what reads like a calculated move by Warner Brothers' film. Public opinion certainly seems to favour The Dark Knight, as it so often has. Superman has undergone many changes in the last few years to appeal to a broader audience, favouring murder and mass destruction in the 2013 film reboot. Director Zack Snyder insists he didn't "change" the "true canon" of the comic book incarnation. We certainly live in hope. Losing the faith of the people by participating in Metropolis' destruction isn't a great start.

Kingdom Come not so subtly pits the heroes of the Silver Age against the manic principles of early nineties comics. It uses a similar future setting to The Dark Knight Returns to comment on the creative offspring of its grim 'n' gritty 1980s.

There aren't many deliberate targets in Kingdom Come. No glaring analogies to Image Comics characters, or the like. It functions as a basic Justice League story, contributing new ideas along the way. Its meta commentary on ideologies and character creation is ultimately broad, but prescient. Those who choose the shiny, homicidal new toys without feeling or thought are doomed to face the inevitable dead end of a world without heroes, plot lines, a future, or a past.

The saddest thing about the premise of Kingdom Come's prophetic warnings was where the new generation of barren, violent, warring characters came in this decade: the DC heroes themselves.

Kingdom Come never considers the heroes bending completely to the weakness of the audience. Never indulges the prospect of a bomb that literally erases the past and the future. Ten years after Crisis, which brought everything together in a unified whole, it seemed unfathomable and unnecessary that the audience would succeed where Lex Luthor failed. A plot not only to tarnish or brainwash heroes -- but to remake reality where the smear campaign is true.

Kingdom Come, functioning as a story, saw the weathered legends tainted by the rules of the new world, but presumed their example would end with hope. The loss of characters like Captain Marvel cements their worth in a legacy of absence. They're a guiding light for the survivors to strive to be better, and avoid repeating the same mistakes.

After five years of The New 52, you could argue DC chose to become everything Kingdom Come warned against. Trashy reboots, garbled inconsistency, heroes warring in increasingly meaningless crossovers, a heroes dead pool, variant covers instead of new issues sold. A systematic unravelling of the publisher's myth-based dominance of the late 2000s in favour of a reboot of diminishing market share. Echoes of precursors to the crash of the nineties.

Here in 2016, DC are hinting at a course correct with Rebirth -- an upcoming, undisclosed brand rethink. Like the plot of Kingdom Come, it at least promises to reinstate a lost generation of earlier heroes - in this case, the excised JSA.

It will remain to be seen if this restores much needed wisdom and balance to DC Comics, or if history's heroes merely escalate tensions between the old and temporarily, tragically new. Hollywood holds sway in this decade, and their accumulation of understanding awaits individual films slated through to the 2020s. For now, they're content to smash their toys together. Let us hope they survive long enough to be part of something more.

A generation of viewers and readers has grown up believing Superman is a figure rightly resented. Too perfect, too demanding, too strong. A threat. At best, someone to challenge to a prize fight. At worst, a monster to destroy. An alien who should let his adopted father perish to remain under heel. An icon for conformity who should dress and act a certain way or be punished by public opinion. A man you will believe can die. A hero who couldn't stop the bomb.

Lets hope Dawn of Justice and Rebirth inspires us to be super-human again. We need it.

Are you ready to be super-human? Expand your horizons and go beyond the fight with Secret Wars on Infinite Earths! Discover the trials and triumphs of Superman, Batman and the Justice League by following links provided. Find even more via the Issue Index Archive! Get the full story by using Amazon purchase links and hold the universe in the palm of your hands!

From the heavy apocalypse of Kingdom Come, we return to lighter fare next week as we continue our Superman spotlight!
Winner: Draw
(+3) #322 Captain Marvel
(new) #379 Superman (Kingdom Come)

No comments: