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

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