Monday, May 30, 2016

Real Name: Pietro Maximoff
First Appearance: X-Men #4 (March, 1964)
Fight Club Ranking: #818

Featured Fights:
- vs X-MEN: X-Men #6 (Jul 1964)
- vs APOCALYPSE: Uncanny X-Men #295 (Dec 1992)
- vs MAGNETO: X-Men #25 (Oct 1993)
- vs GALACTUS: What If...? #70 (Feb 1995)
- vs FLASH: Marvel versus DC #2 (Mar 1996)
- vs VENOM: DC versus Marvel #4 (Apr 1996)
- vs TEEN TITANS: Unlimited Access #3 (Feb 1998)

I was tossing a few characters around for this week's HOTW, but in the end, I settled on one of the surprise breakouts of the X-Men movie franchise: Quicksilver.

The real furor started back in 2014, when Quicksilver was introduced to audiences in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Played by Evan Peters, he was stage centre for an effects sequence that stylistically showed what it's like to move at super-human speeds. It was an undeniably striking moment underscored by on-point, era appropriate soundtrack - Jim Croce's Time In A Bottle. A moment of levity and exciting super-heroics in the sometimes dour world of Bryan Singer's direction.

That same year: Marvel Entertainment introduced the speedster as a future attraction teased in a credits sequence from Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Approximately a year later, Quicksilver was back in the spotlight in one of the most bizarre twists of the complicated Marvel Comics licensing phenomenon, this time played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

There still tends to be a faith in Marvel's handling of in-house characters, but in Age of Ultron's Quicksilver, some of the biggest cracks were exposed.

It seemed unlikely that Quicksilver would be the battleground for superhero supremacy on the silver screen, but somehow, that's exactly what happened! Even more remarkable - FOX were the winners in the creative tug-of-war! Marvel's version was unceremoniously killed off, while the X-franchise brought theirs back for another run around in X-Men: Apocalypse, and mainstream advertising campaigns!

It all speaks to the core importance of the character in the original comics. It's been a while since I've seriously paid attention to the character. He was a creative casualty of House of M, Decimation, and the lengthy tedium of the post-Morrison deconstruction of the X-Men. He lost his speed powers, messed around with Terrigen mists, did some sort of time travel, was homeless, and generally degraded as a character to the point of no interest. The end of a forty year run that defies belief.

Through all the BS it's easy to forget that Quicksilver is the son of one of the Marvel Universe's most legendary villains: Magneto! It was in that capacity he was introduced, a member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants with his hex powered sister Scarlet Witch. They quickly turned on their villainous father and found their way into early membership of the Avengers! For many years, this role seemed to keep Quicksilver distanced from his parentage, as he became a middling arsehole in the Avengers ranks, who married an Inhuman (Crystal) and had kids of his own. I say arsehole -- because that was really his defining trait. Forget the comedy antics of the movies. Quicksilver's been prone to fits of madness and aggression throughout the years - a perennial angry, scowling jerk.

By the nineties he rejoined the mutant ranks on the side of heroes, and became a member of the government sanctioned X-Factor. Somewhere in there he at least managed to throw a punch in his father's direction [X-Men #25], but was still defiantly under utilized as the heir apparent to Magneto during his Avalon years. Granted, Age of Apocalypse toyed with it well, making Quicksilver the second in command to Magneto's X-Men leadership.

I like Quicksilver. I like that he's been unexpectedly thrown back into the spotlight. As the X-Men films move forward, I'm interested to see what they might make of the character. Is there more to explore? Could this factor into the much discussed New Mutants movie? We'll have to wait and see.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Wanderings (Marvel)
What If...? #94 When: February 1997
Why: Jorge Gonzalez How: James Calafiore

The Story So Far...
Humanity is dead. A single murderous act committed by the mystically empowered Juggernaut has changed the course of human history - condemning him to wander a planet with no human life.

The ripple that doomed this reality was the death of Charles Xavier. In this world, the mutant hunting robots called Sentinels went unopposed by the X-Men. They killed the Avengers and Fantastic Four before the world even knew of their existence. In time, the Sentinels turned on their masters and reprogrammed themselves. Converting their power cells to emit a powerful radiation - they poisoned the Earth. The result was the extinguishing of all human life.

Protected from physical harm by the mystic enchantment of the Crimson Gem of Cyttorak - Cain Marko was unaffected. Unstoppable. Alone. Or so he thought, until years of wandering bring him back to the Sentinel base he destroyed, where an unexpected survivor waits to greet him - Magneto!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Juggernaut 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Magneto 5 (Professor)
Speed: Juggernaut 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Juggernaut 7 (Unstoppable)
Agility: Magneto 2 (Average)
Fighting: Juggernaut 3 (Street Wise)
Energy: Magneto 6 (Mass Destruction)

What if... Magneto challenged the Juggernaut? Both are legendary enemies of Professor X and the X-Men, and both have even joined the team for varying amounts of time in different periods! Even so, neither has had a great deal to do with the other in fifty years of publication! That makes this a special showdown!

This is one of those fights where boiling down a winner really comes down to the circumstances they're positioned in. Both could conceivably finish the fight with a flick of their wrist, just as easily as their strengths could cancel each other out - resulting in a very long, very drawn out stalemate.

Juggernaut aka; Cain Marko is the most direct and inflexible when it comes to his abilities. The Crimson Gem of Cyttorak mystically grants him major league super-strength, implausible invulnerabilities, typically limitless endurance, and momentum that will render him unstoppable! Even so - he has been stopped!

The best examples on record come from the powerhouses of the DC Universe, who managed to match pure brute force with the unstoppable Juggernaut! Superman made the most convincing case, catching him by surprise with a knock-down blow [DC versus Marvel #1]. Wonder Woman & Spider-man employed strength, smarts and a colliding New God for the KO [Unlimited Access #1]! Captain Marvel Jr wasn't so lucky, but a tag team effort from Iceman & Cyclops showed Juggernaut's unstoppable momentum can be used against him [Unlimited Access #3].

Magneto: Master of Magnetism likely won't be able to rely on brute force. His ability to effect his will over any ferrous material could certainly see him hurling physical objects Juggernaut's way, but that's child's play for the Juggernaut, as we saw when Spidey tried I-beams and a wrecking ball [Amazing Spider-man #230]!

One of the deadliest tactics in Magneto's arsenal is his ability to manipulate an opponent from within. At times he's been able to control the iron content in a foe's blood, giving him enough control to hold them in place. He took that to extremes against Apocalypse [X-Men Omega] and Wolverine [X-Men #25] - the latter succumbing to his famous adamantium being ripped from his bones! As Juggernaut is physically invulnerable, though, this wouldn't get Magneto far.

He could try binding Juggernaut in massive pieces of metal, or by using means of magnetic enhancements to increase the force of his power. That worked well against the rampaging Sub-Mariner, at least for a little while [X-Men #6]!

Indeed, bondage and/or repulsion seem like Magneto's best bets to secure any kind of victory against the Juggernaut. In the past, hi-tech restraints have been used effectively to hold Juggernaut in incarceration for periods. For alternative results, Magneto could use a position of advantage to propel Juggernaut into space. He usually finds his way back, but it would keep him out of the way.

Finally - for a creative solution we need only look to Nimrod, who was able to use highly focused energy beams to disrupt Juggernaut's ability to think clearly once his protective helmet was removed [Uncanny X-Men #194]. Even if the outer helmet is resistant to magnetism, the physical force of other objects has always been a safe bet to get it off. A focused electro-magnetic beam could produce some effect on Juggernaut's brain - disorienting him, at the least.

Of course, the world is full of non-ferrous objects, and if Juggernaut had his way, he could just as easily clobber Magneto with a few park trees and chunks of cement. Which is extra bad news in the alternate reality we're about to visit, where Magneto must maintain protective shielding against a poisoned Earth!

Under ordinary circumstances this one really could go either way! As radiation is a mortal peril of no consequence to Juggernaut, he clearly has an advantage in this environment. Then again, in a world that was once overrun with Sentinels, Magneto may still have a few tricks up his sleeves...

The Tape: Magneto Ranking: Juggernaut (#349)

What Went Down...
Months turn to years as the Juggernaut walks the planet alone - a prisoner of the magic that keeps him alive. Haunted by silence and personal demons, his mind wanders as far as his invincible body. He finds himself back at the Grand Canyon: site of one of the murderous Sentinels' largest manufacturing facilities. It was a source of misery Juggernaut destroyed long ago - an act of vengeance for a world already dead. He wonders if he should have left them to build, so that one day they may overwhelm him. As he does, the metal carcasses stir...

The machines move not of their own will, but by that of a survivor amongst the wreckage: The Master of Magnetism - Magneto!

Wielding total control over the Sentinel's broken metal bodies, they reach out like extensions of Magneto's own form! A giant hand crashes down from the sky, slamming and pinning Juggernaut to the barren Earth!

Entire squadrons of Sentinels were no match for the Juggernaut when they were functioning. The remnants of a few lifeless shells dangled like puppets are barely an inconvenience. He smashes through the pieces effortlessly! Enraged!

Magneto entertains a request for his tale of survival. It provides a distraction while he twists the coil of a Sentinel's metal lash around Juggernaut's body!

The restraint wraps around Juggernaut's massive mystically charged arms like a metallic boa constrictor. It loops around his body - but so do his mighty fingers around it. With a simple clench of his fist - the Juggernaut crushes the steel. With a flex of his chest and arms - he explodes free of the shattering snare!

As unstoppable in action as reputation, the Juggernaut advances - smashing through Magneto's defenses. A wall of Sentinel scrap - no match!

Magneto hurls metal upon metal! More and more! He knows his time is running short. He cannot keep up the attack while also maintaining the shielding that protects him from the radioactive landscape.

Face to face, helmet to helmet - Juggernaut mockingly notices the gaunt look on Magneto's face. It's no joke. The Master of Magnetism is dying and it's all the Juggernaut's fault. Just like all the deaths that befell human and mutant alike.

Succumbing to the effects of the poisoned atmosphere, Magneto tosses his helmet away. He won't need it. He stares through the hulking monster with laser focus and utters a final curse: If the Juggernaut had not succeeded in killing his brother Charles Xavier, the X-Men could have stopped the Sentinels, and the heroes of Earth would not have fallen to ambush, and humanity could have lived.  If the undying Juggernaut is tired of an existence alone - he must live with the knowledge that it was all his own doing!

The barbs of Magneto's final words penetrate the Juggernaut in ways radiation never will! The furious behemoth looms over Magneto as he falls and dies.

The Hammer...
Somehow I don't think this one'll be settling the fantasy fight debates any time soon. Never the less, the record will show a dramatic conclusion makes Juggernaut the physical victor!

After dipping into the alternate reality of Age of Apocalypse last week [X-Men Omega]; I couldn't pass up the opportunity to pull this now classic What If...? out of storage.

The What If? banner has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years, retooling current Marvel events in a series of one-shots and specials. It seems as good a way as any to restore the relevance of a book that languished into cancellation in 1998, a mere ten issues after What If...? (Volume 2) #94 -- today's featured issue.

The book was in the midst of a second revamp at this point. Episodes now revolved around a starring Marvel character, typically suffering some grim fate in a dark, twisted reality. That isn't entirely different from a lot of the classic issues, but the presentation took it into increasingly dark, blood stained worlds, minus the contextualizing of The Watcher's narration. Many of the issues I think of from this time had no relation to the main Marvel Universe at all. 
I imagine some purists consider it a dark time for the series, but #94 highlights the hidden gems that were still coming out of it.

#94 is actually a pretty classic What If? set-up, obscured by the new style. It makes no overture to tell you exactly when it takes place. Calafiore's penciling style is very much in key with a modern Marvel aesthetic. All of this just goes to obfuscate very deliberate references to X-Men #11-#18 (1965). Classic!

You don't need to know your X-Men history to enjoy the issue, and that's part of the beauty of it. It's just a very effective stand-alone story. One that takes the well known premise of Juggernaut's invincibility and shows the grim downside of being unstoppable. You get some nice superhero action. A mostly convincing vision of a desolate world.

When Magneto dies, Juggernaut goes on another smashing tantrum, uncovering the true reason for the sacrifice: Magneto was trying to lure him away from an underground pocket of survivors. They're sealed away from the outside poisons by a surviving Iceman, whose powers have gone haywire since Charles Xavier died. In his desperation for human contact, Juggernaut condemns them to die, as well. A poignant message about the virtue of treading lightly, and the curse of being immortal: 'A once boastful battle cry is now a horrific prophecy of damnation. No one can stop the unstoppable Juggernaut.'

Of course, like all good things, especially in comics, the more you know - the more you'll get out of it! The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants fought the X-Men in X-Men #11, ending with The Stranger abducting Magneto and Toad. Juggernaut stomped his way into Xavier's Mansion in X-Men #12 & #13. Dr. Bolivar Trask and his Sentinels debut in X-Men #14. Magneto returns to Earth in X-Men #17, telling the tale of his spaceship escape in X-Men #18.

These are the events that shape What If? #94. In this reality, Juggernaut not only confronts his hated step-brother - but murders him! This allows debuting Sentinels to catch sixties Marvels other heroes unawares. Magneto and Toad were safely off-world at the time, allowing them to return and create sanctuary.

All in all, a very effective use of linear publishing history! All utilized without effecting a shred of burden upon a reader who may be otherwise completely unawares of the retro references they were reading! Fantastic!

Of course, a clever and willing reader will never be deterred by loose references to past events. Each of us carries with us an extensive history that is of little or no consequence when we meet new people. The same should always be thought of in superhero comics. Such is life! When a relevant thread of prior history presents itself, it's an opportunity for further learning and familiarity. That was always one of my favourite qualities of the What If? series. New stories starring some of my favourite characters, with glimpses of their classic adventures, and new reasons to seek out old stories.

If you happen to be on the look out for a good stand-alone Juggernaut story, I think keeping this old story in mind will be well worth it. You can, of course, find even more great stories by following links in this post, or delving deeper into the Secret Archive of The Comic Book Fight Club!

Winner: Juggernaut
#111 (+238) Juggernaut [+1 kill]
#352 (-1) Magneto

Monday, May 23, 2016

Real Name: Max Eisenhardt (aka; Erik Lehnsherr, Magnus)
First Appearance: X-Men #1 (September, 1963)
Fight Club Ranking: #351

Featured Fights:
- vs X-MEN: X-Men #6 (Jul 1964)
- vs SPIDER-MAN: Amazing Spider-man #327 (Dec 1989)
- vs X-MEN: X-Men #25 (Oct 1993)
- vs APOCALYPSE: X-Men Omega (Jun 1995)
- vs ZOMBIES: Marvel Zombies #1 (Feb 2006)

Having just espoused the joy of a heroic Magneto during the Age of Apocalypse [see; X-Men Omega], I'm sticking with the theme for Hero of the Week, but not necessarily the same sentiment!

As you may know: X-Men: Apocalypse opens in American theatres this Friday (May 27th). It's the sixth installment in the main X-film franchise. Ninth overall, if you include spin-offs starring Wolverine and Deadpool. Of the six X-Men films so far; Magneto plays a major role in... six of them.

The Master of Magnetism returns in Apocalypse as a man running from a dark past towards a darker future. In the last film, he staged a very public attempt on the life of the President of the United States of America. In this one, he's back to become a Horseman of the ancient Egyptian mutant: Apocalypse. One could safely assume Magneto will reunite with his former allies in the X-Men before the end of the film, to thwart the mutual threat of Apocalypse's grand villainy.

FOX has a lot of problems developing beneath the surface of its expanding X-film universe. Sixteen years of superhero movie dominance has seen a lot of standards change, and the X-Men have been slow to evolve since staking their territory in the early days of the era.

In February; Deadpool defied expectations to become the biggest monetary success in the X-pantheon. Its strengths lie in the introduction of a strong new character pulled directly from the four-colour pages of comics. There was levity, action, and striking visuals. It was by no means a perfect movie, but it broke the mould just enough to be an exciting development.

The fact that the world had to endure the mangled miosis of X-Men Origins: Wolverine before getting to a definitive vision of Deadpool speaks volumes to the foundational problems FOX has had.

Arguments can be made that the pioneering of films in 2000 (X-Men) and 2003 (X-Men 2) were justified in their muted approach. X2 was the film the original wishes it could've been. Stripped of its hokey super-villainy, and refined in its understanding of characters, it remains one of the strongest entries into the series. It was the first time we saw Magneto in an outright heroic context in the films. The impulse to return to the master of magnetism - reasonable, given the potential for building on themes, and exploiting the charismatic stardom of Sir Ian McKellan.

Magneto was a bad guy again in X-Men: The Last Stand. A sequel besieged by a flood of comic book competition, and the departure of key talents, including director Bryan Singer.

I tend to think of Singer as a restrictive influence who does as much harm as he does good. A confessed comics philistine from the start - his detachment from the characters, genre and material has meant an increasingly deformed depiction that neither embraces the filmic qualities and character study of the early films, nor the over-the-top superheroics that have finally taken over the screen.

I'm torn as to whether or not the appeal of Magneto is one of several self-made problems the franchise is now hampered with.

There's been a compelling case to keep Magneto involved at most steps along the way. X2 corrected the Saturday Morning Cartoon aspects of the first film's depiction. The third film promised to utilize his star power and conclude an arc of the third film. Even the much discussed X-Men meets The Pianist idea of a Magneto Origins spin-off seemed like a very interesting idea. It ultimately evolved into X-Men: First Class -- which I would consider to be the greatest of all the X-Men films.

Like Deadpool; X-Men: First Class was colourful, reminiscent of comics, and balanced its drama with a healthy dose of levity. It also brilliantly cast, had a vibrant film sensibility, and wove a pretty tight story. You could really only penalize the movie if you dwell on the order of events, and by that point, the adaptation of comic book canon was already well and truly off the table. In isolation, it was a shift in tone and focus that was well worth it. A compelling new layer to the Xavier/Magneto story that has ultimately become the series' foundation. Taking a macro view of the films, however, it may have made things worse.

Magneto is just one of the X-Men's great villains. The impulse to utilize the character may have been correct, but I think the franchise could've done a world of good by allowing the character to step away, and/or become a greater evil. By trying to have it both ways, Magneto has been made far less effective. Fassbender is very charismatic in the role, and I would've loved to see him in the costume, or a version of it, as promised by the end of First Class. Instead, he's about to be a drab looking lackey for Apocalypse. A character I can't foresee Magneto being beholden to. Which may mean more half-measures.

Magneto really has been a strong film character. I'll be hoping for the best. Early indications seem to be X-Men: Apocalypse is headed for a fall. Bryan Singer probably needs to go. A shift in focus could be the ticket, and with FOX promising New Mutants, X-Force, and more Deadpool, maybe things will work out. What ever the course, I hope we can move on to bigger and better things.

Friday, May 20, 2016

... Endings (Marvel)
X-Men Omega When: June 1995

Why: Scott Lobdell & Mark Waid How: Roger Cruz

The Story So Far...
It was a world that was never meant to be.
The unstable mutant David Haller believed he could achieve his father Charles Xavier's dream by eliminating his one-time friend turned greatest nemesis: Magneto! To do so, he traveled back to a time when the two were still care workers in war torn Israel, but he failed to consider his father's will to protect a friend. The killing blow meant for the once and future Magneto instead struck the X-Men's founder.

The events stir the ancient mutant Apocalypse from his slumber, beginning the world on a path of destruction. Erik "Magnus" Lehnsherr resumes his destiny to become Magneto, but in this timeline, dedicates his fight to fulfilling the dream of peaceful co-existence between mutants and humans held by the late Xavier!

Already displaced in time, the X-Man Bishop wanders this new reality with the fog of knowing everything is wrong! Armed with the truth, the X-Men set about overthrowing Apocalypse's empire by unmaking the world he has created! To do so, the X-Men will need the cosmic artefact known as the M'Kraan Crystal - the reality nexus capable of healing time and restoring the universe to its true path.

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Apocalypse 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Apocalypse 5 (Professor)
Speed: Draw 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Apocalypse 7 (Unstoppable)
Agility: Apocalypse 6 (Rubber)
Fighting: Apocalypse 4 (Trained)
Energy: Magneto 6 (Mass Destruction)

When it comes to heavyweight mutant match-ups - the marquee doesn't get much bigger than this! They could typically be thought of as two of the X-Men's deadliest enemies -- but in the altered reality of 1995: one leads the X-Men, while the other dominates all men equally as conqueror of the free world!

The former is Magneto: mutant master of magnetism! Born Max Eisenhardt, he witnessed the greatest atrocities of the Second World War first-hand. Abhorring those who would hate without cause, he learns to harness his mutant gifts of magnetic field manipulation to influence the world around him through the metal he controls. So great is his power, Magneto can twist metal, defy gravity, and ride and effect the magnetic spectrum of Planet Earth itself!

In a world of paranoia and fear toward super-powered mutation; Magneto began a pre-emptive war against a human race who would study and catalogue them. In our reality he was founder of the Brotherhood of Mutants - blind to becoming the very thing he hates. In a reality where his best friend Charles Xavier was murdered in a time travelling attempt on his own life; Magneto adopts a dream of peaceful co-existence between men and mutants, founding the X-Men!

Magneto's X-Men are humanity's greatest hope in an Age of Apocalypse!

The ancient mutant En Sabah Nur was discarded as a child for his freakish grey skin. Rescued by nomads from the unforgiving Egyptian desert, he learned a cruel lesson in survival that shaped his life's philosophy. Increasing his power through technology of Celestials, he is an immortal mutant with an agenda of conquest! He enacts his merciless plans through the employ of Four Horsemen, reserving survival for those who are fit enough to take it!

Apocalypse was drawn back into the modern world by a demonstration of power in Israel by time travelling X-Men: Legion, Storm, Iceman, Bishop and Psylocke. In this timeline, he emerged before an age of Marvels that created the Fantastic Four, Avengers and other heroes. Opposed only by Magneto's X-Men, Apocalypse rewrote history, eventually conquering North America to establish a citadel of power on the ruins of Manhattan, New York City.

Apocalypse may be known for staging battles behind augmented minions known as The Four Horseman, but make no mistake - he's a serious threat! We've only seen Apocalypse in action once in past feature fights [Uncanny X-Men #295]. In a state of weakness, he was still able to overwhelm a seasoned team of X-Men with a desperate display of power. At full strength, he wields phenomenal super-human strength, endurance, durability, reflexes, control over his body's size, shape, and make-up, and the ability to expel concussive energy blasts!

That one appearance has kept Apocalypse undefeated, while an unkind streak of circumstances have made Magneto winless on The Comic Book Fight Club!

A brief alliance with Prince Namor snatched defeat from the mouth of victory in X-Men #6. He ripped the adamantium from Wolverine's bones, prompting a rare moment of psychic violence from Professor X in X-Men #25. Magneto also had the rare misfortune of catching a cosmic powered Spidey in Amazing Spider-man #327. He was even eaten by zombies in another alternate version of the Marvel Universe [Marvel Zombies #1]! Unflattering, but you've got to chalk some of it up to bad luck!

In a world built with iron and steel, the master of magnetism is no joke! At the height of his powers, he's even able to dominate the iron content in human blood! Apocalypse has total control over his physical make-up, which might make it tough to play with his armor, but there's still the literal post-apocalypse of New York City to play with! Meaning, even though Magneto has one trick to play against his powerful opponent - it's a pretty darn good one!

The Tape: Apocalypse Ranking: Apocalypse (#220)

What Went Down...
At the feet of Apocalypse, the man called Magneto clings to a dream that was never his own. Battered by a monster called Holocaust, this mutant survivor defies a being who has conquered the free world. He believes his X-Men are on a path to end the nightmare of this Age of Apocalypse: a reality that was never meant to be. Alas; Apocalypse too has learned the secrets of the time displaced mutant Bishop. He has taken possession of the cosmic nexus known as the M'Kraan Crystal. He has turned the X-Men's objective into a well laid trap!

The X-Men are not the only ones subject to surprise, or with something to lose, though. Outside Apocalypse's citadel, the mutant called Angel sacrifices himself to destroy the stronghold's force field generator. At the same time, the Mid-West is reduced to a radioactive crater by the Eurasian High Council!

As Apocalypse draws plans for drastic retaliation against his enemies, he opts to accelerate an end to Magneto's life. Before he can discharge the fatal blow - an unexpected interloper enters the unshielded stronghold and sends Apocalypse tumbling across his own throne room! Sinister's secret weapon: Nate Grey!

The youth called "X-Man" confronts Apocalypse, but instead becomes entangled in battle with his heinous son - Holocaust! Their bitter struggle peels away from Magneto as the X-Men arrive to regroup with their leader and determine the future of all of reality!

The Master of Magnetism has no orders for his students. Only words of hope that the world need not be the apocalyptic landscape that cruelly strangles life and love from all who live. A mantra contrary to Apocalypse, who takes the time to turn his defensive grid into a genocidal weapon against The Human High Council.

As Council heads await the obliteration of England, Apocalypse wonders if his centuries old machinations have strengthened "the wolves and sheep" equally, to assure mutual destruction. His musing is interrupted as Magneto rips his way through the fortress to find his nemesis!

From the rubble, Magneto assembles a suit of armor. Wrapping himself in layers of twisted metal, he decries the twisted philosophy held by Apocalypse and the madmen who came before him! He mocks the notion of "survival of the fittest", reminding the High Lord who won the war Hitler began - the so-called weak!

Wielding a righteous gauntlet he topples Apocalypse with a mighty right hand!

With the High Lord down on the ground with the rest of humans and mutant, Magneto pounds his malleable flesh with unforgiving steel fists! He callously calls an end to Apocalypse's rule, confident in the crumbling of his options. Bold words that come prematurely as Guido Carosella - a double agent among the X-Ternals - enters the chamber with Charles Lehnsherr - Magneto's son!

Apocalypse sees a final card to play, but he under estimates the wrath of a mother scorned! Present for the conflict, Magneto's bride Rogue uses her mutant gifts to absorb Carosella's impressive strength and rescue her son!

Apocalypse attempts to use the distraction to sneak away with a shard of the M'Kraan Crystal. Knowing the world he made in his own vision is about to come crumbling down, he plots to inflict himself upon another world - a world in which he can enjoy conquest anew! Little does he realize, he isn't alone in his escape route.

X-Man returns to steal the Crystal from Apocalypse and swear revenge for his adoptive father Forge. He unleashes a telekinetically charged kick that humbles Apocalypse once again! Magneto catches up to rejoin the fight with Nate Grey!

Together Magneto & X-Man pummel Apocalypse into further submission! Magnetic and telekinetic energies bombard his body! For the first time it truly seems as Apocalypse's rule may finally be in danger, but at that moment Holocaust catches up with the fight to steal X-Man away once again!

Distracted by the attack for just a moment, Magneto is vulnerable to Apocalypse, who lunges at him! The towering, ancient mutant bears down on Magneto with his full weight, wrapping malicious hands around his throat!

Suddenly hope drains from the moment! Ever dedicated to a principle of the fit, Apocalypse compels Magneto to fight back! He mockingly questions the lack of will in the Master of Magnetism. He receives his answer...

It begins with a small tug... An almost gentle pull... As Magneto focuses on a single central point, Apocalypse knows what is happening. A harder yank. He can do nothing to stop it. A wrenching tear that tears his body in two!

"For twenty years, you've gone on and on about how only the strong survive. Tell me again, Apocalypse... Just how strong you are."

Feeble utterings choke out of Apocalypse's dismembered head. Nothing of meaning or grandeur. Will the High Lord survive his catastrophic bifurcation? It hardly matters. As Magneto ponders what could have been had two of the world's most powerful mutants worked together, he walks to his wife and child, knowing this reality is about to be unmade around them.

The Age of Apocalypse is finally at an end...

The Hammer...
In one of the most epic battles we've ever seen on The Comic Book Fight Club - it's Magneto who emerges victorious!

Give the well earned assist to Nate Grey, aka; X-Man! His brief intrusions into the fight helped lead to victory, but his true clash with Holocaust is a battle we will have to feature another day!

This year on Secret Wars on Infinite Earths we've been serving many masters, and while doing so, ticking off some of the untapped corners of the comic book universe(s). This entry marks an overdue first victory for Magneto, the debut of X-Man and Holocaust in the rankings, and the first recorded feature from the alternate universe of the Age of Apocalypse!

Like a lot of readers (it seems), I was immediately intrigued by the cancellation of the entire X-line. By the time I was aware of it, there was already a promise of a strange new world told in series like: Astonishing X-Men, X-Calibre, Factor X and Gambit and the X-Ternals. In 1995, with X-Mania lingering but the air starting to let out of the balloon, the stunt seemed inconceivable, yet exciting.

What followed was a rare moment in comics. A harmonious synthesis of high concept, creative execution, marketing stunt, and just a hint of restraint. Sure, there had been grim futures and alternate realities for decades. Surrendering a whole line to them under the proposition of a new reality - exciting and fresh.

I'm not sure I can remember a time when there wasn't intense nostalgia for the Age of Apocalypse. It was an instant hit. One that only lasted for something like five months! They left us wanting more. As daring a choice as the story itself!

The universe did have its immediate spin-offs and consequences. Refugee characters like X-Man, who starred in his own on-going series, Holocaust, as well as oddballs like Sugar Man, and Dark Beast - the evil alternate Hank McCoy who snuck into the X-Men for a while. Otherwise, it was occasional one-shots, a few mini-series, or a memorable issue of What if...?. Pretty restrained.

In the last ten to fifteen years, there have been far more attempts to recreate the mechanics of the concept. One of the least subtle was the Age of Ultron a few years ago. It seemed to come and go without leaving much more than a prospective movie title for Avengers 2. Something about killing off Hank Pym was in there, I think. It all came about out of so much upheaval and property mismanagement it's really hard to distinguish or care about what happened.

The legacy of Age of Apocalypse has sadly been quite counter to the original. Stories like House of M or DC's Flashpoint played with the same high concept of remaking a world of familiar characters, but usually do so with a destructive design. 2005's House of M was an early warning sign for darker years ahead, built around Magneto and the decimation of Marvel's mutant populous. 2010's Flashpoint holds the distinction of delivering DC's lasting line-wide reboot: the New 52. If ever there was a case for two wrongs not making a right, it's that!

Ironically, it was the truly apocalyptic tone of Age of Apocalypse that helped make it work so well. It had the committed darkness and complete world view of something like Kamandi. There was no illusion that the heroes were always going to make it out okay. In this hellish universe, the heroes aren't even all on the side of angels - and vice versa! Magneto and Sabretooth had been X-Men before, but never with total suspension of disbelief. Their stories - two that tapped into the simple contrarian fun of the alternate reality concept with enough organic grounding that it wasn't time wasted.

The pretenders that've come since usually overstay their welcome. At times, Age of Apocalypse seemed to be trying to cram too much in. Today's featured fight takes place over the entire course of the super-sized X-Men: Omega special -- bookend to X-Men: Alpha. Interspersed between the big final battle are stories involving all the other favourites from related mini-series. There's a lot going on. A harsher reviewer might call the issue a bit of a mess. I think I like it that way, though. At some point the dotting of Is and crossing of Ts just turns into a maelstrom of genuine creative energy!

Like other stunts before it, it's kind of abhorrent on a basic level. Another Death of Superman for a bonfire of culture. If only it wasn't so well orchestrated and motivated. What people think they remember and the logic that's been applied since was always doomed to fail, because they were never bad ideas and never did what we think they did. They were stories that dared to go deeper than ever before, without losing sight of why that contrast worked.

With any luck we'll get a chance to venture deeper into the Age of Apocalypse in future updates. For now, I couldn't allow X-Men: Apocalypse to breeze through theatres without finally cracking the seal on the much loved alternate universe. A fun time in comics, and a great chance to match-up two of the characters who star in the new movie, and haven't done a whole lot of fighting in the past!

You can see more of today's featured fight for yourself by using the Amazon link provided [embedded right] to purchase the entire collected edition. Using the link to navigate to Amazon before you purchase something else can also help the site and future installment!

If you're reading this in real-time, you know we suffered a technical setback in May, but with any luck there'll be plenty more fights to come! In the mean time, you can always go back issue diving in the Issue Index Archive! Yay!

Winner: Magneto
#351 (+461) Magneto
#298 (-78) Apocalypse
#481 (new) X-Man
#482 (new) Holocaust

Monday, May 16, 2016

Real Name: J'onn J'onzz
First Appearance: Detective Comics #225 (November, 1955)
Fight Club Ranking: #29

Featured Fights:
- vs STONE GOD: Secret Origins #32 (Nov 1988)
- vs WOOD KING: Secret Origins #32 (Nov 1988)
- vs KIDNAPPERS: Secret Origins #35 (1988)
- vs DOOMSDAY: Superman #74 (Dec 1992)
- vs HILL STREET CULT: DC: The New Frontier #2 (Apr 2004)
- vs ULTRAMARINE CORPS: JLA: Classified #3 (Mar 2005)
- vs DESPERO: JLA #118 (Nov 2005)
- vs THE SOCIETY: Final Crisis: Requiem #1 (Sep 2008)
- vs GREEN LANTERN & FLASH: Green Lantern #44 (Sep 2009)

Throughout much of 2016 I've had Martian Manhunter's keyed in as a draft Hero of the Week in response to a strong turn in TV's Supergirl. It's been a matter of when - not if. It's with heavy heart that I finally commit to the publish button in honor of the passing of one of comics last great classic masters: Darwyn Cooke.

Many people are already sharing their favourite stories in honor of Darwyn's life in comics. He can be connected to a lot of characters. His contributions to Catwoman in the early to mid 2000s were a blessing that helped redefine the character to its fullest potential. He's written fantastic stories for DC superheroes, Will Eisner's Spirit, the controversial Beyond Watchmen, and other original creations.

For me, his biggest milestone, and a comic I've come back to many times on Secret Wars on Infinite Earths over the years, is DC: The New Frontier.

A love letter to a bygone era of DC Comics; The New Frontier managed to be unashamedly retro, while at the same time saying something that felt like the future! His characters weren't exactly as they were in the 1940s, 50s, or 60s. The DNA of their modern counterparts was there for anybody willing to look past the surface. Although, why you'd want to look past the surface is beyond me!

Cooke brought a sensibility to his drawings that was reminiscent of DC's popular animation. Characters were classic, streamlined. His designs cast a full illusion of reality, but didn't over complicated a character, or page. It was a no brainer, then, that The New Frontier would be adapted as a direct-to-video DC animated feature. The comic is practically a storyboard -- something Cooke did plenty of for animation, but went above and beyond with on the comic book page.

The New Frontier is about a lot of characters - the formation of the Justice League, no less! Green Lantern can be called the star - The Flash an important player of the same vintage. Wonder Woman had one of her best turns in a  comic for much of the decade, and Superman played off her fantastically. When I first learned of Cooke's death - I had to go back to the boxing fight between Wildcat Grant and a not-so-subtle homage to Muhammad Ali, "Clay". It's an absolute classic! Perhaps the one who I held most dear, though, was Martian Manhunter.

In DC: The New Frontier, Cooke retells the Earthbound origin of the Martian Manhunter. Doctor Erdel is already on the floor when the Martian is summoned to Earth by mistake. Precious moments flit away as he apologizes for his error and frailty. The Martian pays respect, pulling a sheet over the old man. He's alone in an alien world and he's about to learn how afraid and hostile we humans are.

The story of Martian Manhunter discovering human culture has been told before. In The New Frontier, he watches the television intently, shapeshifting into cartoons and comics until he settles on the stone jaw and squint of a hardboiled detective. The format and subject matter echoed a single issue favourite of mine in Secret Origins #35. I paired the story with an episode from The New Frontier back in 2008. The action differed greatly, but they're great compliments to each other, and really tickle me pink. It's hard to adequately put it into words. I've sometimes wondered if Cooke was aware of the '88 origin story. Probably not. I'm sure I'll never know now.

I don't know if Darwyn Cooke had any intention of telling more stories for DC superheroes, but when the company relaunched in 2011, it seemed the opportunity was gone. The New 52 had no room for a knowing, classic infusion with modern sensibilities. It saddened me to lose a lot of great things DC Comics had built up over the years, and it felt like a little Darwyn Cooke was needed now more than ever. Sadly, that won't come. Very fortunately, we have the work that he did do. Fantastic, all of it.

I'm really going to miss the influence Cooke had through his art. A warm, smart, fun, genuine sensibility. A stubborn man and a talent artist. Must-see comics. Fantastic, all of it!

I invite you to celebrate Darwyn Cooke through just a small amount of his work I've enjoyed:

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Gathering (Marvel)
Contest of Champions II #1 When: September 1999 Why: Chris Claremont How: Oscar Jimenez

The Story So Far...
You've heard it all before - it was just a military training exercise. Only, when the armored hero Iron Man and the Human Torch appeared flying above the Hudson River - that's exactly what was supposed to be happening!

A surprise appearance by the X-Man Rogue turned the US Military's super-human tactical war games into aerial playtime for the heroes, but things get deadly serious when Iron Man detects a targeting system of unknown origin! With its sights set on them, the three heroes are teleported away from the planet and into space!

The offending alien abductors are a race of games-masters known as The Coterie. With nothing but adoration for Earth's mightiest heroes, the benevolent species hopes only to bask in their gladiatorial magnificence in exchange for unlimited access to their vast intergalactic knowledge base.

As a wealthy industrialist, Tony Stark knows when an offer seems too good to be true - it probably is. Of course, he may've been tipped off by the nano-technology trying to hack its way into his airtight armor. The same bots that permeate the air, and have begun affecting the minds of his fellow heroes so when the Contest of Champions begins -- the fight will be real!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Iron Man 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Iron Man 5 (Professor)
Speed: Psylocke 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Iron Man 6 (Generator)
Agility: Psylocke 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting: Psylocke 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy: Iron Man 5 (Lasers)

In 2016 we've been picking up the tab on classic characters and comics that've gone untouched by The Comic Book Fight Club so far. The aggressor in today's battle is one of the amazing omissions of the last ten years - an overdue debut when her fighting credentials are taken into account! 

Psylocke may have the appearance of a Japanese assassin, but she was born Betsy Braddock - English pre-cognitive mutant and sister of Captain Britain.

She was eventually abducted by The Hand to be physically and mentally merged with their clan leader's comatose lover: Kwannon. The process and subsequent training altered Psylocke's telepathic and telekinetic abilities. Complimenting fighting skills she acquired in the body swap are new techniques, such as a focused psychic blade, and expertise with a conventional katana. She briefly used this experise as Lady Mandarin, before returning to the X-Men.

With his super-powered hi-tech armor capable of matching brawn with some of the world's most powerful bruisers -- billionaire industrialist Tony Stark usually fights in a whole different league as Iron Man.

The Golden Avenger usually favors firepower and brute strength to get the job done, with liberal use of aerial manoeuvers for an added advantage. Hand-to-hand combat is rare, but not unheard of. He had to rely on fighting skills when the Skrulls stripped him of his armor in New Avengers: Illuminati #1. We also saw Captain America rely on fighting ability when they clashed in Captain America Annual #9 and Civil War #3!

Over the years Iron Man has gone up against a wide variety of opponents with unusual methods: Ghost Rider [Avengers #214], Diablo [Iron Man #159], The Mandarin [Iron Man #312] and MODOK [Marvel Adventures: The Avengers #9]. MODOK is the only example of Iron Man facing a foe using mental projection as a primary attack - a surprisingly rare threat. It may be an oversight Psylocke can capitalize on if the armor isn't adequately shielded.

Contest of Champions II brings the heroes together in combat without warning, so if Iron Man isn't flying around with proper specialist shielding - he'll be fresh out of luck. Nano-tech manipulation also means Psylocke will be fighting with an added level of aggression she may not normally employ. Iron Man may otherwise look like a favourite, but if any weakness is exposed it will be preyed upon! This should make things interesting...

The Tape: Iron Man Ranking: Iron Man (#3)

What Went Down...
Energy readouts tell Iron Man he's just been teleported. The wall of sound flooding in from all directions tells him he's in an arena that must seat millions. The pomp and circumstance of laser lights, drums and the audience's adoration gives Tony Stark a moment of intoxication before the introduction of his opponent: Psylocke!

The razor focused mutant doesn't need a cue from her announcer. The second she spots Iron Man the fight is afoot!

Psylocke charges furiously at her opponent and launches into a flying martial arts kick! Were he unarmed he may have been in trouble, but his hi-tech armor allows him to sidestep the attack at high-speed!

The ninja trained X-Man makes her own mid-air compensation, flipping through the air with the perfect arc to drive her psi-blade through the back of Iron Man!

Iron Man's scanners tell a different story -- informing him he's been hit with a blast of The Mandarin's impact beam! Just as he begins to wonder if his arch-nemesis could be behind the entire event, Stark turns to find Psylocke revealed in her one-time villainous alter-ego: Lady Mandarin!

The golden avenger takes to the skies, putting distance between he and his suddenly revamped opponent. Her expertise with The Mandarin's rings nullify the distance, the villain's patented vortex beam unleashing a targeted tornado!

Trapped in the swirling winds, Iron Man is unable to maintain a coherent flight pattern. His stabilizers unable to compensate - he cuts his boot jets just as he careens wildly into the ground! The impact leaves him completely vulnerable to another of The Mandarin's old tricks - the freezing ray of his ring's frigi-beam!

As if the situation wasn't dire enough: Stark's sensors warn him he's getting dangerously low on power - even though the fight has only just begun! As he scrambles for answers encased in a solid block of ice, more bad news - a black light beam designed to further blind his tech! He knows what's next.

Right on cue, the dreaded electro-blast ring sends a "nuclear level" electro-magnetic pulse through his armor - rendering it completely useless! A perfect finishing move in a perfect combination attack. So perfect, it was as if she could read the mind of the man in the armor to know exactly what would beat him...

The genius inventor looks past the illusion of Lady Mandarin and the threat of her Hand ninja training! He finally remembers the nature of Psylocke's mutant powers and stress tests his reality by ordering his armor to activate a proximity defense grid!

The visage of Hong Kong underworld overlord Lady Mandarin fades as electricity shocks through her body! All that remains is the unconscious body of Psylocke and the roar of the crowd. Iron Man is victorious by knock out!

The Hammer...
It's as simple as that! The Contest of Champions has its first winner: announced to the adoring masses as the invincible armored avenger - Iron Man!

It's a rough debut for Psylocke, but the perfect transition as the movie-going world leaves Captain America: Civil War behind, and sets their sights on the next big budget superhero movie: X-Men: Apocalypse.

We may have an obvious comics bias here on Secret Wars on Infinite Earths, but it's been undeniably fun reflecting the 2016 theatrical schedule, using it to weave in and out of an eclectic catalogue of featured fights!

Indeed, it was the heavily promoted introduction of Olivia Munn as one of Apocalypse's Four Horseman [in the film] that drew my eye back to Contest II. You may remember we dipped our collective toes into the 1999 mini-series back in Feb, under similar circumstances, featuring a much later battle between Deadpool and Daredevil [Contest of Champions II #4].

The unusual clash of Iron Man and Psylocke also reminded me of a funny phenomena from the early days of Wizard Magazine.

I wasn't quite an active reader that early in the magazine's lifespan, so I've really been enjoying catching up through The Guide To The Guide To Comics over on the Comics Should Be Good blog! It all boils down to a long-running in-joke/letter column debate about whether or not Iron Man could single-handedly defeat the X-Men. Exactly the kind of shenanigans that spawned this very blog you're reading!

It seems the debate petered out by the mid-90s in favor of the X-Men, whose sprawling masses and superior drawing power of the time almost certainly gave them the hypothetical edge. That didn't stop Wizard's Editor asserting the contrary for quite a while, though. All in good fun - and it doesn't end there!

Iron Man is forced to defend his opening victory against the entire '99 line-up of X-Force in the next Contest battle. I'm not sure if the result would be admissible in a court of fandom, but it's funny, never the less. The Wizard debate was long over by 1999, but I do wonder if Friend O' The Magazine Chris Claremont wasn't having a little fun with readers who were in-the-know.

In truth, Contest of Champions II is full of lots of interesting little curios like the battles mentioned. I'm starting to like the idea of working through the series in a more chronological fashion. I'm just not sure when we'll get the chance! It may be we continue to cherry pick through the big fights for a while.

Here on The Comic Book Fight Club we're scheduled to dive deeper into the much neglected X-Men catalogue throughout May! My plan is to visit a perennial favourite period from X-history that I very much enjoyed at the time -- but have never really discussed on the site!

Update: A great idea if my harddrive didn't crash! This update was partially written at the time of the crash. Stay tuned to see how things play out as I decide whether to finish what I started, or skip ahead to June.

As always, be encouraged to seek out more superhero smackdown via the Secret Archives and all the other nooks and crannies of the site!

Winner: Iron Man
#3 (--) Iron Man
#778 (new) Psylocke