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

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