Friday, September 30, 2016

New Avengers #2 When: September 2010
Why: Brian Michael Bendis How: Stuart Immonen

The Story So Far...
For years the Avengers were torn apart by philosophical differences that erupted in Civil War. A secret invasion by Skrulls exposed holes in the new regime, allowing Norman Osborn to replace SHIELD as the corrupt Director of HAMMER! His tyranny went unnoticed until finally a siege on Asgard exposed the true evil!

With Osborn ousted in disgrace, Captain America is a natural choice to assume responsibility for SHIELD and a holistic approach to the superhero community. Thus, a new heroic age begins for The Avengers!

Having bought The Avengers mansion for $1 at the behest of Tony Stark, all seems well for Luke Cage and his new, fully authorized Avengers team! At least, until Dr. Strange and Daimon Hellstrom crash the housewarming in search of The Eye of Agamotto that's spontaneously appeared in Cage's hands!

Magic is afoot as strange forces manipulate The Avengers in a grand design they have no way of knowing about. Now they'll have to fight each other if they're to keep the universe safe long enough for Sorcerer Supreme Doctor Voodoo to do something about it!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Thing 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Dr. Strange 5 (Professor)
Speed: Iron Fist 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Wolverine 6 (Generator)
Agility: Spider-man 5 (Cat-Like)
Fighting: Iron Fist 6 (Warrior)
Energy: Agamotto 7 (Cosmic)

The Avengers are: Thing, Ms. Marvel, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones, Wolverine, Mockingbird, Spider-man & Hawkeye.

Under ordinary circumstances, this incarnation of The Avengers would look to Luke Cage as their fearless leader. Alas, circumstances have it that he's been possessed by an agent of the mystic entity Agamatto!

Agamotto is a founding entity of the paths of magic, spawned from the elder goddess Oshtur. He is perhaps best known for his creation of powerful mystic artefacts: The Eye of Agamatto and The Orb of Agamotto. Both are frequently called upon in the arsenal of Earth's Sorcerer Supreme - Dr. Stephen Strange!

At the time of this episode, Dr. Strange has relinquished his post as Sorcerer Supreme, surrendering the mantle to Brother Voodoo. Voodoo was in command of The Eye of Agamotto, but saw fit to transport it to Luke Cage and The Avengers when he was attacked by two possessed agents of Agamotto: Daimon Hellstrom and Dr. Strange himself!

Along with their possessed teammate, The Avengers will have to contend with Hellstrom & Strange! Cage has grown to approximately thirty-feet tall and is showing signs of his already impressive strength being augmented. We saw Cage get the better of his teammates when they were infected with alien symbiotes [New Avengers #36]. Bad news all around!

Fortunately, the group have just added two high-level powerhouses to their ranks: Thing and Ms. Marvel! Both have the durability to pick up the defensive slack for the rest of the team. They also have the power to fight back!

The rest of the team aren't especially well suited to facing off against the magic of Dr. Strange and Son of Satan, but they have been in situations like this before. The group fought off The Hood (augmented by Dormammu) in New Avengers #54, albeit with the help of Strange and Hellstrom.

It's the numbers of The Avengers against the chaos and uncertainty of Agamotto's magic! That's spells a recipe for uncertainty if there ever was one! Let's dispense with the incantations and find out how it all went down!

The Math: Spider-man Ranking: Spider-man (#2)

What Went Down...
Chaos erupts in Avengers Mansion as the heroes are confronted with the sudden appearance of The Eye of Agamotto and hostile Dr. Strange & Son of Satan! The team scrambles to reorient themselves, unsure of the exact nature or intent of the magical threat that has also transformed their leader into an angry giant!

Wolverine tells The Thing to grab The Eye of Agamotto and make a run for it, choosing the team's newest recruit for his phenomenal strength and rocky hide! He makes a grab for it, but is sent hurtling out of Avengers mansion with a blow from his gigantic magically charged friend!

Jessica Jones unloads care of her and Cage's daughter to the arms of Spider-man, who makes a run for the stairs to get the baby out of danger!

Meanwhile; Iron Fist launches a fly kick in Daimon Hellstrom's direction, Ms. Marvel hovers over a toppled Luke Cage, and Wolverine pounds on Dr. Strange's chest with a fist full of adamantium! All of their efforts are temporary measures in an effort to keep the possessed heroes from the mystic talisman!

Hellstrom clobbers Iron Fist, Luke Cage tugs at Ms. Marvel's hair, and Strange wrestles with Wolverine -- each in a mad dash for The Eye!

Retired heroine Jessica Jones reaches into her untapped super-human reservoir to launch herself at her possessed husband! The super-human uppercut knocks him backward and launches The Eye of Agamotto into the air!

Wolverine catches the magic artefact and hurls it out the window as far as he can! Ensuring the possessed mystics cannot take chase, he rushes them with a calculated thrust of his claws! The unbreakable metal slices into their chests!

Outside the mansion, The Eye lands in the middle of a picnic in a nearby park! The giant-size Cage, Thing and Ms. Marvel take chase - prompting a terrified citizen to throw it into the air!

Ms. Marvel's aerial abilities allow her to snatch the amulet just as Cage and Thing are making a grab for it. The development gives Thing a chance to even the score with a haymaker that sends Cage flying!

Jessica Jones arrives on the scene to leap on her husband once he's landed. She desperately tries to reach the man she loves, but his words don't match his actions - an uppercut that sends the former Jewel flying through the air!

When the possessing entity fails to convince Thing and Iron Fist that it is the voice of their friend Luke Cage, the creature issues an ultimatum: Give him The Eye of Agamotto and he will return Cage. Ms. Marvel counters with an ultimatum of her own: leave Cage or she'll smash The Eye into a million pieces!

The spirit lunges at Ms. Marvel with Cage's gigantic arms outstretched, incidentally launching Thing and Hawkeye into the air. Marvel effortlessly avoids the attack and returns fire with a super-charged hit of her own!

Even though the possessed Cage eats a hard shot, he's still able to wrap a giant hand around Ms. Marvel! She loses her grip on The Eye, but Iron Fist makes the running play with Thing taking chase in the distance!

Sick of the demonic possession - Iron Fist turns and thrusts his mystically charged weapon-hand into Cage's gigantic chest!

Cage goes down hard and Thing jumps on top of him to make sure he stays down with a massive right cross! Jessica Jones and Ms. Marvel hover in support.

The recovered and healed Dr. Strange & Daimon Hellstrom follow Wolverine urgently to the battlefield! They arrive as Doctor Voodoo teleports onto the scene and the possessing demon leaves Luke Cage's body, transferring to the victorious Iron Fist! A revoltin' development as the fight comes to an end!

The Hammer...
Delivering a knock-out blow to a giant possessed Luke Cage probably made Iron Fist an attractive host for Agamotto! He disappears into the other realm of the Vishanti with the hero's body, just as Doctor Voodoo enters the scene -- the story to be continued!

It's an added detail that doesn't impact our result: The Avengers victorious against their possessed comrades!

The victory is shared with Wolverine, Thing, Ms. Marvel and Jessica Jones, who all contributed to the win in a pro-active manner. Mockingbird stopped to film the possession on somebody's phone, which I'm sure has tactical value. Hawkeye was there, but doing his best Where's Wally throughout. I genuinely wonder if Stuart Immonen forgot all about him while drawing the issue. It's almost comical when he appears floating in mid-air in the latter third of the issue. Spidey was on baby duty and generally loafed about, as well.

The line-up reflects a blended group mostly made from the street-level Secret Avengers who formed after Civil War. Ms. Marvel is the biggest trade from the more traditional "Mighty" Avengers. Thing was the most surprising addition, despite a similarly brief stint in the late 80s launch of West Coast Avengers.

We talked about the idea of "JLA-ing" the Avengers in our last entry, concluding that the original 2005 New Avengers line-up didn't really go there.

By the time this second volume was launched in 2010, there was much more credence to the idea of a non-traditional, all-star line-up of disparate pre-established acts. Spider-man, Thing, Wolverine, Iron Fist, Luke Cage and Dr. Strange (who eventually made his stay permanent) are a very JLA arrangement.

Much like the JLA; the successful Avengers began to expand beyond their core team formulas. The "Heroic Age" relaunch maintained a brand-traditional Mighty Avengers, while also installing a third "Secret Avengers" title in the oddball hodgepodge mould of The Defenders.

In the years that followed The Heroic Age, the lines between Avengers groups would blur further. Famous hold-outs like Daredevil would join the team. Even the X-Men, who had a few unique ties through heroes like Beast and Quicksilver, would finally be more aggressively blended through the Uncanny Avengers!

The net result is what opponents of Avengers Disassembled and the original New Avengers were afraid of all along: The demise of identity and a tradition.

Thanks to the success of Marvel's blockbuster film franchises, "Avengers" has become synonymous with the company. Almost interchangeable with Marvel itself. Yet, ironically enough, it's the movies that have to date best represented the traditional flavour of The Avengers: Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Vision, Hulk and so on.

In comics: It's now a lot easier to name characters who haven't been part of the monstrous Avengers uber brand. It's a muddying of the waters that's affecting many of Marvel's mainstay brands, extending to the dilution of individual characters who now share their identity with multiple alternate characters [see; Hero of the Week: Dr. Doom].

The traffic hasn't been exclusively one-way, though. Earlier this year, Marvel relaunched Power Man & Iron Fist for a new age, restoring the Heroes For Hire to their iconic buddy team roots away from The Avengers! The result is one of the more exciting, upbeat offerings reinvigorating the classics while also revamping them!

Luke Cage is also part of a reinvention of the Marvel identity on screen! September 30th marks the official launch of a thirteen episode live-action Netflix series! Mike Colter stars as the man with bulletproof skin, who we've been celebrating all throughout September on Secret Wars on Infinite Earths!

This celebration helped Luke Cage break into the Comic Book Fight Club Top 10 [see; Cage #3] at the expense of perennial favourite The Thing! The ever lovin' blue-eyed Thing fell to #11 as a result of Cage reaching #9 -- an unplanned result that made today's pre-scheduled feature fight all the more interesting!

Fans of the rankings will be excited to know Thing's shared victory returns him to the Top 10 just two weeks after he fell out! The defeat isn't enough to disrupt Luke Cage's spot at #9, though. Instead, it's Daredevil who will be shunted down from #10 to #11! Keep scrolling to the bottom of this update to see where all the characters finished in the ranks!

If you'd like to get the full experience of today's feature fight, use the Amazon link provided to purchase the collected edition! Doing so helps keep the wars infinite!

You can find more spotlights on Luke Cage, The Avengers and the individual characters by following character links, or diving into the Secret Issue Index! There you can browse battles by series, issue and publisher!

Stay tuned to Hero of the Week for a final spotlight on Luke Cage! Then be here in October as things start to get a little spooky for Halloween!

Winners: Iron Fist, Wolverine, Thing, Ms. Marvel & Jessica Jones
#4 (+2) Wolverine
#10 (+1) Thing
#30 (+10) Iron Fist
#76 (+53) Ms. Marvel (Carol Danvers)
#92 (+197) Jessica Jones
#2 (--) Spider-man [+1 Assist]
#120 (-2) Hawkeye [+1 Assist]
#407 (+79) Mockingbird [+1 Assist]
#9 (--) Luke Cage
#65 (-2) Dr. Strange
#101 (-12) Son of Satan (Daimon Hellstrom)
#807 (new) Agamotto

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The world of Marvel's live-action Netflix universe gets a little bit more complete this week with the premiere of Luke Cage - September 30th! The bulletproof Power Man will bring Netflix one step closer to their city ensemble, venturing into a world already populated by Daredevil, Jessica Jones, The Punisher, Elektra, Kingpin, Purple Man and more!

Throughout September we've been featuring Luke Cage in Friday Night Fights, and this Old Comics Wednesday we're casting an even wider net to get ready for what's ahead! Iron Fist is the next Netflix series to look out for in 2017, before the heroes converge in The Defenders!

By hitting the covers below you'll be transported to a variety of classic featured fights starring the heroes and villains of Netflix! If you want even more, you can follow links in each throwback - or dive into the Issue Index for a complete catalogue! We've got one more Luke Cage spotlight left in September - be here to witness as the Hero for Hire becomes the ultimate Avengers villain!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Real Name: Dru-Zod
First Appearance: Adventure Comics #283 (April, 1961)
Fight Club Ranking: #189

Featured Fights:
- vs SUPERMAN: Action Comics #846 (Feb 2007)

In recent weeks we've been talking about additions [Ghost Rider] and subtractions [Hawkman] made to the major comic book universes. Today's Hero of the Week comes with a little bit of both: General Zod making an ominous return to the DC Universe in the pages of Suicide Squad #2!

Comic Book Resources reported on the return a couple of weeks back, breaking their story into two major headlines. The first was simply Zod's return from The Phantom Zone. Surprising -- only in the sense that you don't usually expect to see a major Superman villain make a return in Suicide Squad!

It strikes me as a premise that sits quite well with the Hollywood conscious Squad, whose film incarnation was formed to counter the threat of a rogue Superman. General Zod certainly fits that bill quite well, both as a similarly powered Kryptonian with destructive urges -- and as a character whose most convincing history comes from cinema, not comics.

For many, Terrence Stamp's commanding presence in 1980 sequel Superman II is the definitive vision of General Zod. 2013's Man of Steel suffered for the choice to repeat the villain in the first DC Extended Universe film, played unenviably to conclusion by a committed Michael Shannon.

Comics have struggled to match the charisma of Stamp's performance, too. Attempts to make something significant of Zod have gone wrong with overwrought stories about a New Krypton, or the invention of similarly named facsimiles hailing from Russia and other misguided sources.  Bizarre and confounding errors for what amounts to a fairly straight forward idea: An evil Superman!

The appetite for "Evil Superman" stories is always there. It's the schoolyard question of who would win in a fight -- minus the tether of knowing that Superman will never callously fling his opponent into the sun.

That intrigue has fuelled a heckuva lot of awkward, lazy attempts to reenergize Superman in a mainstream context. The ill fated New 52 Superman spent as much time causing problems as he did fighting them - even becoming Doomsday! Other parallel versions, like the evil Regime Superman found in Injustice: Gods Among Us, go a long way to showing just how unsatisfying the concept is when the sole goal is to make Superman the bad guy. Unconvincing and shallow, it rings false and quickly becomes uninteresting.

General Zod is an evil version of Superman you can get behind! He's the militant sun-powered menace who would create an army to forge a Regime of power through conquest! He scratches a completely different itch than Bizarro, but has more star power and untapped potential than other equivalents. Ergo, Zod sounds like a terrific addition to the on-going saga of the DCU to me!

Which makes what happened in the second big story of Suicide Squad #2 a little disappointing...

Zod's arrival comes with the apparent incineration of Captain Boomerang, leaving only a pair of smouldering boots after a blast of heat vision.

Honestly, I find it difficult to believe there isn't some sort of twist coming to explain the 'shock' moment away. I wouldn't be all together surprised to learn the good Captain is perfectly fine in the next issue. It's just not a good time for these types of fake-outs - and an even worse time for a genuine, frivolous extermination! He was our Hero of the Week only a month ago!

With any luck it'll all work out in the end, but I'd really love to see DC Comics retiring these kinds of cheap tricks. We discussed the diminishing returns of cheapening death in our Hawkman HOTW. The message of today's entry, and last week's, is the joy of accumulating strong characters into the living, breathing superhero universe. Here's hoping General Zod can exceed all expectations, instead of living down to ultimately meaningless sound and fury.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Breakout! Part Three (Marvel)
New Avengers #3 When: March 2005
Why: Brian Michael Bendis How: David Finch

The Story So Far...
When the mental state of Scarlet Witch began to deteriorate, the ensuing chaos ripped the Avengers apart from the inside out! In the wake of their worst defeat ever, Earth's mightiest heroes disassembled - leaving a hole in the heroic fabric that keeps villainy at bay.

When Electro is hired to stage a breakout at the high-tech SHIELD prison The Raft, he plunges the city of Manhattan into darkness and frees eight-seven of the most dangerous super-criminals held under lock and key on the island!

Fate conspires to bring together a new team of Avengers to thwart the breakout! Former Spider-Woman Jessica Drew is on the island as an Agent of SHIELD, while Luke Cage was accompanying Daredevil Matt Murdock in his civilian identity of blind lawyer Matt Murdock.

When the breakout begins, the trio leaps into a fight for their lives! Joined by Captain America, Iron Man and Spider-man - the heroes begin to turn the tide against the escaping horde! One villain stands calmly among the rest, though, and he's about to use his powers of manipulation to turn Luke Cage against them all! Beware The Purple Man!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Luke Cage 5 (Super-Human)
Intelligence: Purple Man 5 (Professor)
Speed: Luke Cage 2 (Average)
Stamina: Luke Cage 5 (Marathon)
Agility: Draw 2 (Average)
Fighting: Luke Cage 3 (Street Wise)
Energy: Draw 1 (None)

It's not often Luke Cage is an underdog in a battle of wills, but when his enemy is attacking his very senses -- bulletproof skin can't help him!

Zebediah Killgrave is the villain known as the Purple Man: A Croatian spy accidentally exposed to a compound that turned his skin purple, and granted him the ability to emit a strange pheromone.

The Purple Man's intangible chemical secretion gives him total influence over a human subject - forcing them to obey his every command! So potent is the pheromone, and Killgrave's control over it, that he can target an individual in a crowd -- or marshal complete control over the entire mob!
Among Killgrave's grandest stunts: Subtly influencing most of the population of Manhattan in a plot involving X-Man. Uniquely strong-willed individuals have been shown to resist his influence, such as Dr. Doom and arch-nemesis Daredevil. The ion-powered Wonder Man was also immune to his pheromones.

Purple Man's most infamous and heinous deed was maintaining domination over the young heroine Jewel. He forced to live a degrading nightmare as his personal slave, until she was sent to destroyed Daredevil and mistakenly attacked Scarlet Witch and The Avengers. The ensuing battle left her in a coma.

Jewel is better known as private investigator Jessica Jones - future wife to Luke Cage! A personal connection that gives The Purple Man an added psychological weapon to use against the super-strong Power Man!

If it comes down to a battle of brawn, Purple Man doesn't stand a chance against Cage! Unfortunately, Killgrave's weapon can strike from a distance - ending the fight before it even begins!

As much as Cage is made of tough stuff, meditative mental training and finesse have never been his thing [eg; Power Man & Iron Fist #66]. He may be able to shake Purple Man's influence off, but at close range he could be vulnerable! The emotional raw nerve of Purple Man's past with Jessica Jones could work for him, but for a master manipulator like Killgrave, it's still a risky proposition!

Worse still - this fight takes place during a mass breakout at The Raft! Which means Killgrave has a small army of super-villains to call upon, many of whom are likely willing and able to do the dirty work for him without manipulation!

Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-man, Jessica Drew and Matt Murdock are also on The Raft island, but with several villains for every hero, Cage probably won't be able to rely on his fellow heroes! Does that spell doom for Cage? Let's cut the jibber jabber and get the hell on with it!

The Math: Luke Cage Ranking: Luke Cage (#9)

What Went Down...
A flood of inmates spills across Ryker's Island, fleeing The Vault for the salvation of freedom! A small group of heroes does their best to stem the tide. Amidst the chaos - a lone figure calmly surveys the darkened field: The Purple Man!

Fate would have it that the nearest hero is Luke Cage. With torn shirt and unconscious criminal in hand, he spots his violet observer. He's too close. It's too late. The Purple Man has him!

Cold and calm, Killgrave asks Luke Cage to kill the other heroes on the island, and then himself. It's the kind of confident request a man with the power to control others can make with impunity.

The heathen villain cites a high power's love as the source of his unlikely circumstance. A path from the Hell of imprisonment and Cage to greet him - contradictions to his lack of belief. The taunting logic of a sick man.

Cage turns in the direction of the ragtag group of heroes trying to stop the madness. His eyes go blank, but focus returns when Purple Man threatens his wife Jessica Jones, and their unborn baby. Killgrave has overplayed his hand!

The tables turn as Cage informs his would-be puppet master of the drugs The Raft employs to retard his dangerous powers. Drugs still limiting the effect of the pheromones that could otherwise control him. Purple Man's eyes go wide as the reality of the situation sinks in. Then it comes.

Cage unloads with a violent left cross that sends blood, teeth and Killgrave's apple flying through the air!

The rage of a loving husband and doting father surges through a fist as strong as steel! A vengeful right fired like a missile that hits Killgrave before he can even drop from the last one!

Incensed by vile acts of the past and the promise of future threats, Cage is unforgiving! He hits The Purple Man again and again and again!

Blood spatters, and Purple Man's face begins to swell and deform around the damage. Cage clutches the collar of his prison uniform to keep him close enough to take the beating.

A red glove catches Cage's flexing bicep before it rains down another punishing blow -- Captain America! "Enough", he says, calling the hero back through the fog of his rage. Cage relents with a thanks, leaving Killgrave to collapse.

The Hammer...
An emotionally charged episode occurring within the anarchy of The Raft breakout. With no uncertainty: Luke Cage emerges victorious!

The Purple Man and his threats obviously refer back to landmark 2003 issues of Alias, which revealed the secret history behind Jessica Jones' final days as super-heroine Jewel. That story is the basis for much of the recent live-action Netflix series Aka; Jessica Jones, which adapts the exploration of psychic violation as one of its principle plot lines.

It's heavy subject matter for an otherwise frivolous Avengers reboot, but the specifics are left unsaid in New Avengers, consistent with the darker Alias story only through the inference of those who would know it. For me, that's a tasteful balance between creating a consistent reality between the characters, and depicting the type of evil that defines a hero.

History will probably see these comics as products of a post-9/11 attitude. Darker than today. More calloused to the harsh realities of villainy, and intent on staring them down without flinching. I don't have a problem with the content or the style, but boy am I glad we did get back to being able to have fun - eventually!

It's interesting to look back on the New Avengers with ten years distance.

Bendis and Marvel editorial denied they were "JLA-ing" the Avengers with their revamp line-up. The all-star additions of traditional hold-out Spider-man and Wolverine made that denial seem particularly absurd, but to be fair, it was never a "Big Seven" mentality.

The Sentry may've been a suitable Superman stand-in, but he never escaped his status as an interloper in the Marvel Universe. Spider-Woman was an oddball choice pulled from the mothballs of Bendis' dreams, later revealed to be Skrull  long con: Queen Veranke. The less said about late arriving, fumbled gimmick Ronin (originally depicted as exo-skeletoned "Bubble Boy") - the better!

All in all, it was a far cry from the JLA! Which only became more true when Avengers pillars Captain America and Iron Man were used to split the team a year later in Civil War! Which actually went a long way to establishing a real identity for the New Avengers, who flitted between modern flavour, and aimless mish-mash before rebranding as urban rebels.

In all of this rejiggering, Luke Cage emerged from the New Avengers as a stand-out find! Where the revamp of '92 had failed to instill iconic qualities in the character and his adventures, opting for a non-descript solo action hero [eg; Cage #3]; New Avengers thrust Cage into the heart of the Marvel Universe as a means of further building an identity. With Jessica Jones, the self-serving Hero for Hire developed into a hero juggling lofty aspirations and domestic priorities.

Cage had been an odd fit in the original New Avengers line-up - another seventies spawned Bendis project, begun in the pages of Daredevil and Alias. He was much less left of field than Spider-Woman, having at least maintained relevance in books like the late nineties Heroes for Hire reboot, and the Marvel Knights team-up book. Nobody could've guessed he would organically grow into a viable leader of the team, though.

After the death of Captain America; Luke Cage did indeed become the leader of the Secret Avengers - a team that included Spider-man, Wolverine, Dr. Strange, Iron Fist and Hawkeye. A stand-out player in the Marvel Universe that we're now able to celebrate throughout the month of September!

Luke Cage is the latest live-action Netflix series, starring Mike Colter as the man with the unbreakable skin! If you haven't seen trailers yet, I strongly suggest you seek them out! The series goes live September 30th.

We've got one more stop on the Luke Cage express before September ends! We've seen him fighting alone and fighting with a team, in the next Friday Night Fights battle we see him fighting like we've never seen before!

If you'd like to see the entire Purple Man fight and the formation of the original New Avengers, be encouraged to take use the Amazon purchase link provided! Doing so helps keep the wars infinite!

You can also find many more battles featuring Power Man and friends by following links throughout this entry, or by checking out the Issue Index Archive! There you'll find hundreds of past battles!

Winner: Luke Cage
#9 (--) Luke Cage
#806 (new) Purple Man

Monday, September 19, 2016

Real Name: Robbie Reyes
First Appearance: All-New Ghost Rider #1 (May, 2014)
Fight Club Ranking: #DNR

Featured Fights:
- Yet To Be Featured on Secret Wars on Infinite Earths.

Who knew we'd ever have an Agents of SHIELD inspired Hero of the Week? Truth be told, I probably would've guessed the series would be cancelled before we came back for the 10th Anniversary of the blog. Lo and behold, they've survived long enough to inject a much needed point of interest from the comics: Ghost Rider!

Of course, it isn't the iconic Ghost Rider you know from decades of comics since the seventies. It isn't even his high-profile nineties successor, the Spirit of Vengeance: Dan Ketch. No. This is "All-New" Ghost Rider Robbie Reyes - a Los Angeles mechanic back from the dead to get behind the wheel of a blazing Charger from Hell! Yahoo featured a first look of the TV version and it looks pretty good!

As you may've gathered, I think Agents of SHIELD is some of the most tedious of the unremarkable superhero TV shows we have on our screens right now. Which leaves me reticent about how well the character will be realized when he comes to screens later this year.

We've been talking about death and replacement heroes in various Hero of the Week entries this year [Captain America, Dr. Doom, Hulk, Hawkman], often with a critical view of modern attitude. So it's nice to be able to finally talk about All-New Ghost Rider -- one of the most exciting new superhero series of the past few years!

Where other replacement heroes have struggled with the shadow of their iconic predecessors, or the been there/done that of other temporary replacements -- the newest Ghost Rider has blazed a trail with a vivid sense of individual identity. All-New Ghost Rider doesn't concern itself with matters of legacy. This is a brand new spirit of vengeance with no real awareness of Johnny Blaze or the Ghost Riders who've come before him! (At least, not initially!)

A sense of identity is there in almost every aspect of the character's initial appearances: Robbie Reyes is steeped in the world of LA street racing - familiar to the mainstream through the Fast and Furious films, if nothing else. He abhors the gang violence that makes life dangerous for he and his family. A combination of these two elements combusts to create his death and rebirth as the newest Ghost Rider! Even his transformation comes with an added twist! This Ghost Rider is possessed by the spirit that inhabited his dodge charger - Eli Morrow, who is also his dead uncle! Eli's dark influence is a literal presence Robbie struggles with as he uses his powers.

The material has all the right components to build a compelling new character without the baggage of his lineage, but perhaps the greatest weapon in the All New Ghost Rider's arsenal is visual identity!

Artist Tradd Moore and colorists Val Staples [above] did wonders launching the first arc of All-New Ghost Rider with a look unlike any other superhero book going! Hellfire whips and swirls around the page as if it were leaping off to singe your eyebrows! Reality need not apply - it's too mundane! In this book, the haunted Dodge Charger lives and breathes fire as it tag teams with the Ghost Rider -- whose skull design is a flaming machine head a little like Ghost Rider 2099, but all its own!

How will all of this fit into Agents of SHIELD? That was a question I was asking myself when rumors first started swirling. I'd forgotten that Kyle MacLachlan appeared previously as one of the rare notable villains from the comics - Calvin Zabo, aka; Mr. Hyde! Hyde just happens to be tied to the gang involved in Robbie's origin story, and is the arch-nemesis that ingratiates him so well!

Will the Ghost Rider/Mr. Hyde rivalry play out on the small screen? It's hard to imagine it will - and if it does, it certainly won't be with the visual verve of the comics. Sadly, that level of excitement is worlds apart from anything superhero TV is doing right now. That seems unlikely to change.

Fortunately, we've got the All-New Ghost Rider comics of past and future to enjoy. Which is something you can bet we'll be doing during Friday Night Fights in the near future! Until then, feel encouraged to check out the Issue Index for more flaming skulls and fisticuffs!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Bad Debts (Marvel)
Cage #3 When: June 1992
Why: Marc McLaurin How: Dwayne Turner

The Story So Far...
Having been wrongly accused of the murder of his best friend Iron Fist: Luke Cage is officially exonerated when the authentic article reemerges alive and well - the victim of an elaborate identity theft!

Stepping out of the shadows with a new look, new attitude, and new life as Hero for Hire in Chicago - Cage is dropping the "Power Man" name and going solo!

The price of one death may have been lifted from Cage's mighty shoulders, but the spectre of another will haunt him in the form of another double! The son of late villain Bushmaster has hired a mercenary to wage war on Cage! The result is a team of Untouchables led by Hardcore, who descend upon Dakota North in an effort to steal sensitive information she's learned about Cage's past.

Too bad for The Untouchables that Cage is wise to their plans and is about to take the fight to them!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Draw 5 (Super-Human)
Intelligence: Luke Cage 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Tombstone 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Luke Cage 5 (Marathon)
Agility: Draw 2 (Average)
Fighting: Draw 3 (Street Wise)
Energy: Nitro 6 (Mass Destruction)

Be still, my beating heart! What we have here is a good old fashioned dream match! Why is it a dream match? Because for several years these guys were stomping on opposite sides of the mean streets, but they didn't butt unbreakable heads until '92! They're the perfect enemies - and here's why:

Luke Cage is the self-marketed Hero for Hire also known as Power Man!

Growing up in Harlem, Cage's family and friends knew him as Carl Lucas. When he joined The Rivals gang as a young man, Lucas was tempted into a world of crime -- eventually leading to a frame-up that sent him to Seagate Prison!

In prison, Lucas became a subject for super-soldier experiments on inmates. When the process was tampered with, he accidentally gained super-human strength, and skin as strong as steel! He used his powers to escape prison and forged a new identity for himself, choosing to fight crime - for the right price!

The Untouchables are: Tombstone, Nitro & Kickback.

Tombstone is career criminal Lonnie Lincoln. Like Cage, he was born and raised on the streets of Harlem. As an albino, he was ostracized as a child and took to using his physical strength to dominate others. This eventually led him to street fighting, petty crime, and a career as a hitman.

Lincoln cultivated an intimidating persona as Tombstone, filing his teeth and nails into points. He accidentally gained super-human strength when Daily Bugle reporter Robbie Robertson exposed him to experimental gas in an Osborn Chemical facility! The incident also granted him incredible durability!

Even before gaining increased strength, Tombstone has been a regular nemesis for Spider-man [eg; Spectacular Spider-man #142]. We've also seen him go toe-to-toe with Daredevil for a win and a loss, and take on Iron Man and The Avengers as one of the short-lived Sinister Twelve [Marvel Knights: Spider-man #11]!

This is the Secret Wars on Infinite Earths debut for both Nitro and Kickback. We don't have any example data, but the auto-exploding powers of Nitro were responsible for the tragedy in Stamford that kicked off the Avengers' Civil War!

As an eventual member of the New Avengers, we've seen Cage develop as a serious heavyweight! He's battled the likes of: Juggernaut [Thunderbolts #150], The Hood [New Avengers #54], Ms. Marvel [Civil War #3], The Hand [New Avengers #27], and even symbiote possessed Avengers [New Avengers #36]! On the streets, the mutant Unus the Untouchable proved difficult to defeat thanks to his forcefield protection [Power Man & Iron Fist #90]. None of The Untouchables wields any such barrier, despite the name.

Cage is running solo at this point, even though Iron Fist had made a recent and miraculous return from the dead. That means it's three-on-one and that could potentially be a problem!

If Cage can break the fight down, he definitely stands a better chance. Nitro's ability to expel a full body explosion is dangerous, but Cage's unbreakable skin should be able to handle it. Kickback might negotiate a tactical advantage with his time travel powers, but his ability to follow through is limited.

Tombstone is basically Cage's equal - the shadow-self that makes this such a perfect, scintillating dream match. That said, Cage's peak strength usually trends higher than Tombstone's, a high 5 with occasional tendencies to drift tower a low 6, by our measure. We saw that in the Juggernaut fight.

The Untouchables haven't been a unit for long, and are working for mercenary rates. That team instability could be exactly what Cage needs to exploit, enduring long enough to pick them off one by one.

The Math: Nitro Ranking: Luke Cage (#12)

What Went Down...
Tipped off to know all wasn't right at the Chicago branch of North Investigations -- the man called Cage launches into the building! He catches hostage Teague as he explodes through the window, knocking Tombstone off balance!

Time traveller Kickback has already seen the fight three minutes into the future, arriving in our present to watch himself and the other Untouchables surround Cage! Tombstone talks business, but Nitro chooses a more offensively minded strategy -- charging up his powers for a strategically directed explosion!

Cage uses his unbreakable skin to shield Teague from the blast. He eats a boot to the face from Kickback, who appears suddenly having time shifted to avoid the explosion. He teleports away as quickly as he appeared - leaving Cage to swing at empty air!

Tombstone rushes Cage, taking him off his feet with a charging tackle!

The chalk-skinned hitman notes the innate similarities between he and Cage. Thick skin and business acumen aren't enough to compel the Hero for Hire to bond with his foe. He hammers home the differences with a one-two combo of a right hook and uppercut!

The mighty blows rock Tombstone, but he remains on his feet! Nitro calls for him to drop down to give a clear shot, but Cage uses the distraction to grab Tombstone by his feet and send him hurtling into Nitro!

Nitro is floored, but rock-hard Tombstone recovers instantly! He squares off with Cage, lamenting his hopes for a business-like resolution. He charges at the Hero for Hire once again -- more than happy to call upon his days as a street fighter!

The two super-tough combatants smash through the North Investigations exterior wall! Bricks crumble and shatter as they spill onto the street outside - Cage using their momentum to get the upper hand!

An unexpected player arrives on the scene by van: The Punisher! Tombstone tries to tell Cage he's the "Mr. Big" bankrolling The Untouchables, so Cage picks Tombstone up and runs him into the grill of the oncoming vehicle!

The sudden impact throw Punisher face-first into the dashboard! He takes the brunt a lot harder than the bulletproof duo he smashed into.

Cage shakes down Tombstone, demanding the truth about the team. Tombstone gives up the real plan: to gather sensitive information on Cage uncovered by Dakota North! He  also warns that Nitro may be mentally unstable and a danger to the investigator, who may still be inside. This prompts Cage to take his victory and run as Tombstone laughs!

The Hammer...
Nitro does indeed lose his cool, believing Tombstone and Kickback have turned against him. He explodes - destroying the North Investigations building before Cage can get back inside. Cage has no way of knowing Dakota North is safe with Kickback, casting his victory in a grim afterglow as The Punisher arrives.

In a curious twist, Punisher thinks his former acquaintance is actually working with Tombstone. A cliffhanger to be resolved in the next issue - and a future installment of Secret Wars on Infinite Earths, I'm sure!

As you may've already gathered, I was pretty excited about getting around to this issue! I've always been a sucker for Tombstone, as I'm sure I've gushed in the past. There's just something fantastic about the simplicity of the character. A granite faced hitman with aspirations for pin stripe suits and working his way up the criminal ranks.

I've often thought about the perfect match Tombstone presents for Cage, whose history before The Avengers was on the streets. I like that Marc McLaurin's script calls their similarities out, even as it highlights the differences. Yes, they're both rock-hard, super-strong guns for hire - but Cage is no hitman!

Tombstone has had one or two more run-ins with Cage since this initial meeting, but sadly, the chemistry hasn't quite produced a new arch-villain scenario. I live in hope that the option is still there, with history to build upon, though!

It's worth noting that "Cage" was specifically the moniker of choice, at this time. He was still a hero for hire, but gone was the "Power Man" handle, soon to be appropriated by another - a villain. A thorough relaunch of a dormant character.

The silver tiara, yellow silk shirt, and chain belt were gone as well. The seventies-tinged remnants of kung fu and blacksploitation fads weren't looking so cool by the late eighties. Cage had toiled in obscurity for a few years by the early nineties, running from the cancellation of Power Man & Iron Fist in 1988, which told the story of Danny Rand's apparent death.

At a glance, there wasn't a lot to tell you this was the same character when Cage launched in 1992. I always appreciated the classic Power Man look, so it surprised me to see him wearing black and red, even if I could appreciate the aim to match a modern style. He shared an aesthetic with a handful of street level characters of the time. Beneath the surface, it was the same character with the same history. The kind of reboot you can appreciate.

The tragic irony of relaunching when they did is simply that Tarantino and anime would bring blaxploitation and kung fu back into style in a major way! Both characters were tailor made to ride the wave of millennium trends, but Marvel struggled to fully capitalize on any kind of relaunch. They're arguably only just getting to the peak now, with a stylish new comic series by David Walker and Stanford Greene, and the character's live-action debut in Jessica Jones.

September 30th marks the release of Luke Cage on Netflix - the first time the character will star in his own TV series! Here on Secret Wars on Infinite Earths, we're celebrating that fact by dedicating a month's worth of Friday Night Fights to the man with the bulletproof skin!

If that wasn't exciting enough, today's feature fight comes with unforseen repercussions! Long time readers know every battle on The Comic Book Fight Club contributes to an on-going record. With this win, Luke Cage becomes the first hero in a long time to upend the Top 10 rankings!

Rising to #9, Cage leapfrogs two heroes with whom he has close ties: Daredevil becomes the new guardian at #10, while The Thing is shockingly pushed out out of the Top 10 to #11! Check out all the rankings changes at the bottom of this post! As of 2016, all feature fights end with rankings updates.

If you'd like to get the full experience of today's feature battle, you can use Amazon purchase links provided to pick up a collected edition!

If you want to see more Luke Cage, Punisher or other featured characters, use the character links dispersed throughout this post. Or, jump straight to your favourite battles from legend or obscurity using the Issue Index Archive!

Stay tuned as Cage Month continues with a grudge match that changed his life forever!

Winner: Cage
#9 (+3) Luke Cage
#65 (--) Punisher [+1 Assist]
#362 (-1) Tombstone
#804 (new) Kickback
#805 (new) Nitro