Friday, May 06, 2016

Swimming With Sharks (Marvel)
Thunderbolts #105 When: October 2006
Why: Fabian Nicieza How: Tom Grummett

The Story So Far...
Concepts of law and justice are challenged when the US Government initiates a program called the Superhuman Registration Act. It comes as a response to the death of hundreds of civilians as a result of reckless heroics outside of a Connecticut school.

In their zeal to control super-humans of all persuasions, the government forms a pact with known super-criminal Baron Helmut Zemo. As leader of the once duplicitous Thunderbolts; Zemo is sanctioned with the task of capturing super-criminals for incarceration in Prison 42: an inescapable Negative Zone facility designed by Reed Richards.

Although Baron Zemo and his Thunderbolts comply, the one-time villain draws his own plans to deal with the onset of superhero civil war - and a coming contest with The Grandmaster! Seemingly on the path to being a better man, he reaches out to Captain America's renegade Secret Avengers with an offer of allegiance. An olive branch they aren't as ready to accept as the government.

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Hercules 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Baron Zemo 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Captain America 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Hercules 5 (Marathoner)
Agility: Iron Fist 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting: Iron Fist 6 (Warrior)
Energy: Iron Fist 3 (Explosives)

The Secret Avengers are: Captain America, Falcon, Hercules and Daredevil, with Redwing.

An interesting time in Marvel Comics history. 2006 was all about Civil War, but there were a lot of intertwining and far reaching effects you could be forgiven for forgetting, or missing completely. We'll touch on a couple of them today.

The Secret Avengers began as heroes operating in defiance of the government's Superhuman Registration Act. They're led by principled hero Captain America, who stands opposed to the cataloguing of peoples, and federal intrusions upon civil liberty. Siding with Cap's rebel stance is an eclectic early line-up that includes: Luke Cage, Cable, Vision, Cloak & Dagger, The Young Avengers, and the membership featured today! We saw them all in action together during the first big stand-off with Iron Man's pro-registration team in Civil War #3.

One of the interesting quirks of the period is Daredevil: a Secret Avenger in name and costume only! Matt Murdock (Daredevil) wasn't far removed from declaring himself Kingpin of Hell's Kitchen and grappling with issues of exposure and opposition. He was incarcerated in prison at the time - leading "Iron Fist" Danny Rand to assume the mantle in his absence. He joined the superhero civil war in his borrowed identity - even though he'd taken up the devil horns without Murdock's foreknowing [see; Daredevil #87]!

Baron Zemo represents a legacy of evil as the son of Baron Heinrich Zemo: a German scientist working for the Nazi Party during World War II. In the modern era, Helmut Zemo inherited his father's fortune, intellect, and hatred for Captain America. He adopted the purple masked mantle after his face was hideously scarred in battle with the returned hero, but it isn't the only mask he's worn.

When Earth's mightiest heroes were trapped in the Heroes Reborn pocket universe, Zemo became Citizen V - leader of a cadre of villains masquerading as a new generation of heroes called The Thunderbolts! It's in this capacity he's been most featured here on The Comic Book Fight Club, leading his T-bolts to victories over heavy duty opponents: Hulk [Incredible Hulk #449] and The Wrecking Crew [Thunderbolts #1]!

Against the Secret Avengers, Zemo doesn't have a team to do his fighting for him. He has had plenty of time to prepare and strategize, however. As an accomplished swordsman he can handle himself in combat, but his greatest weapons are his former teammate's Moonstones. The alien artefacts grant Zemo mastery over a range of physics principles, including gravity, time and space, as well as more standard energy projection.

Zemo directed Hercules into a coma during The Masters of Evil's infamous siege of Avengers Mansion. His history with Cap and Falcon is extensive and well documented. Iron Fist is the only hero present without serious baggage, but he's more than capable of handing a whooping to the mastermind villain if the other heroes are on board. Everything about the scenario says an Avengers win, but you can never completely count out a villain like Zemo.

The Tape: Captain America Ranking: Captain America (#7)

What Went Down...
The Avengers are none too pleased when confronted with the visage of one of their deadliest enemies. Iron Fist is the first to leap into action, nimbly avoiding the thrust of Baron Zemo's sword. Hercules closes in behind the villain, bellowing a warrior's insults for his hated foe. It does him no good!

Zemo uses the power of the Moonstones to suspend the attacking demi-god and replacement hero helplessly in mid-air! While they're there, he pleads his case to Falcon and Captain America -- submitting their vulnerability as an example of the purity of his intentions. His example of hypothetical quantum dissections does little to persuade the sentinels of liberty.

Falcon beckons for his avian ally: Redwing! "The bird" the Baron had almost forgot swoops down to snatch the levitating Moonstones -- leaving him vulnerable to a two-prong attack from the legendary duo!

Falcon leaps into the air - while Cap tosses his shield in the direction of Baron Zemo's sword. The expertly targeted trajectory leaves Zemo forcibly disarmed and open to an aerial assault!

Falcon delivers a torpedo-like right hand that would knock any ordinary man into next week! Apparently the Baron has been working on his glass jaw -- as well as controlling the Moonstones without being physically linked to them!

Energy crackles around Redwing before the soaring falcon disappears -- leaving only the glowing stones! Emotionally and telepathically linked with his bird - the man Sam Wilson is incensed!

Cap holds his friend back from doing anything rash, while the benevolent Baron restores the bird at Falcon's side -- before sending them both through a "gravimetric phase shift" along with Iron Fist and Hercules!

Captain America quizzes his old nemesis on whether or not his methods are fatal. "A fate worse than that. I sent them to Bayonne, New Jersey."

Using the power of the Moonstones once more, Zemo manipulates the mass of Captain America's greatest tool - his red, white and blue shield! The force of its gravity drags Cap down to one knee.

The Captain untethers himself from the shield's straps and leverages his position into swinging his right leg around for a devastating kick! It finds nothing but air as the target once again uses the Moonstones, this time to render himself completely intangible - a mere ghost: "I am quite done being hit, thank you."

The stones' energy surrounds Captain America and the arrogant Baron tosses his old foe against a nearby brick wall. The twelfth generation Barons' idea of parental discipline, apparently.

Holding his foe in cosmic bondage without hope of recourse - Baron Zemo speaks his mind. He repeats his goal to forge a truce with the hunted hero. He declares a change in character for the notorious Zemo lineage. A desire to do right - even as the definition of the word changes around a civil war of heroes.

Zemo releases his would-be ally from his hold, and Captain America listens...

The Hammer...
The last two masked men standing may have reached a peaceful resolution, but for the purposes of combative notation we declare Baron Zemo the victor! He not only dealt with the attacks of the other heroes, but also worked to pacify Captain America.

As you may know, Baron Zemo appears as one of the mastermind villains lurking behind Captain America: Civil War. If you're just joining us after seeing the movie in theatres, I hope you've enjoyed getting a taste of the comic book version. Baron Zemo likes to talk about being superior, and I tend to think it's the comics version(s) that fit that description.

The movie is notably getting rave reviews, but many elements arrive without the teeth of their source material. The "Civil War" high-concept proves far more mild in the movie. Methods leave the heroes untarnished enough to continue to lead uncomplicated, mainstream movie franchises that are presently too small to really pull off an all-out war. Iron Man and Captain America are alive and able to reconcile. Instead, Baron Zemo ascends as the villain of the piece to clarify exactly why this is a Captain America sequel.

Civil War had its detractors when it was published in 2006, and I suspect there are even more who resent its legacy as the top selling event that Marvel Comics has been trying to emulate ever since.

I tend to remember Civil War fondly, not only for its effective central concept, but for the many tendrils that extended in other series. Fans have been complaining about inter-connected crossovers for the better part of the last twenty years, but Civil War seemed to thrive on its central premise, inspiring a plethora of off-shoots for readers to pick 'n' mix. Thunderbolts was a series ready and waiting to capitalize on the premise.

If you tried to wrangle the monster of every conceivable Civil War tie-in - more power to you! I think most were best served by finding the branches that interested them the most, and pursuing them outward from the central event, which, admittedly, ran a bit lean at times.

Secret Invasion was as a pretty tedious follow-up, but the Dark Reign of Norman Osborn that followed re-connected the pieces of instability put in place by Civil War well. It was key to a great year in Marvel Comics! A lot of fun with screen potential!

Of course, the fun of Dark Reign depended on your tolerance for indulging the temporary success of super-villains. I rather enjoyed today's feature fight for that very reason. I don't harbor dark designs of tyranny or sympathy for any devils. It's just an interesting break in the formulaic expectation of heroes winning. A necessary exercise in credibility when your villains have to keep coming back month over month, year over year. Marvel have some of my favourite villains in that respect, but the movies leave a lot to be desired.

Marvel's cinematic dominance highlights some of the unique cultural differences between pulp savvy comics and blockbuster movies. A glaring omission from the film universe has been Nazi Germany. It was at its most absurd in 2011's period introduction - Captain America: The First Avenger. In that episode, World War II managed to lose the looming menace of its major villains. They even stripped the Red Skull of his explicit Nazi persuasions in favor of creating the oblique evils of Hydra that continue in Marvel film and TV.

For the uninitiated, it can seem a little strange to lament the absence of Nazis - arguably modern history's worst villains. It all boils down to the significance of the 1940s and World War II to the timeline of American comic book publication.

Mandrake the Magician and The Phantom began the evolution of pulp and radio mystery men into comic book superheroes in the mid-thirties. Superman and Batman kick off the Golden Age of superheroes by the time war is breaking out in Europe. Major superhero identities flourish from there, joining the war effort in many cases, and establishing the idea for future generations to mine the time further. By the seventies and eighties, Nazis were perennial whipping boys. Villains for all time to be racked, stacked, and whacked by every hero fighting for truth and justice - no questions asked!

Given Baron Zemo's flirtations with redemption in the comic books, it's probably not such a bad idea to disconnect the son from his WWII Nazi father. I'd think a film version of The Masters of Evil is probably more likely than a Thunderbolts movie appearance, but with General Ross taking a bigger role, you never know.

I do know I'm very disappointed to see another classic Marvel character arrive on screen without their iconic visual. Marvel in general have been pretty guilty of continuing Hollywood's long, confused tradition of fearing superhero design. The Captain America films, in particular, have struggled to come to terms with visually striking characters. Red Skull awkwardly hid his true face behind a Hugo Weaving mask for much of the first film, while Batroc could only wear his shirt in the second, and Crossbones got a dorky home-made paintball version of his straight-forward comics look. Zemo was out of luck. No purple mask for you!

There'll be a whole lot more masks and costumes in our future as we continue to wage Secret Wars on Infinite Earths!

Soak up more Civil War influences with Old Comics Wednesday spotlights on Captain America and Spidey Team-Ups! Or find even more famous fights and curious callbacks via the Secret Archive!

Support the site and get the full story by using Amazon purchase links provided [right]!

Winner: Baron Zemo
#7 (--) Captain America
#40 (--) Iron Fist
#101 (+224) Baron Zemo
#340 (-14) Hercules
#777 (new) Redwing
#803 (-23) Falcon

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