Friday, September 09, 2016

Old Scores (Marvel)
Thunderbolts #150 When: January 2011
Why: Jeff Parker How: Kev Walker

The Story So Far...
When the villainous Norman Osborn was finally exposed as a corrupting force working within the ranks; Captain America Steve Rogers returned to accept a position as new Director of SHIELD!

At Cap's request, Luke Cage assumes the role of head of a newly reformed team of covert Thunderbolts. This new group adds several notorious criminals who might be swayed to the side of angels: Moonstone, Ghost, Juggernaut and Crossbones all accept an offer to join the team to work toward a pardon for past crimes.

When Director Rogers, Iron Man and Thor arrive to attend a field mission in assessment of the team -- techno-fiend Ghost sees an opportunity to free he and his comrades!

By interfering with Man-Thing's teleportation, Ghost succeeds in shunting himself, Crossbones and Juggernaut to the freedom of a distant, barren universe where SHIELD nanites can no longer be triggered within their bodies! Not everyone is happy about their predicament, though. Juggernaut's going his own way and it's about to get a whole lot worse when The Avengers teleport in to bring them home!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Juggernaut 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Iron Man 5 (Professor)
Speed: Draw 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Juggernaut 7 (Unstoppable)
Agility: Draw 2 (Average)
Fighting: Thor 6 (Warrior)
Energy: Thor 5 (Explosives)

The Avengers are: Luke Cage, Iron Man & Thor.

That's a fairly heavy duty trio for a single opponent, but when the target on the run is the unstoppable Juggernaut -- even Avengers take no chances!

All three have the individual brawn to stand toe-to-toe with the Juggernaut, but super-strength is no guarantee for victory! Just ask the likes of Colossus [Uncanny X-Men #183], Captain Britain [Excalibur #3], and DC's Captain Marvel Jr [Unlimited Access #3]! They're three super heavyweights we've seen take hard falls at the magically empowered hands of the Juggernaut!

Thunder god Thor is both the strongest and most practised when it comes to fighting The Juggernaut. The two have had a handful of memorable battles in the past. Thor usually comes out on top in the end, but fluctuations in power has given each warrior victories over the other.

Thor owns previously featured wins against DC's senior Captain Marvel [Marvel versus DC #2], as well as a sneaky win against Superman [JLA/Avengers #1] -- something Juggernaut wasn't able to manage [DC versus Marvel #1]!

Luke Cage is unofficially leading the team into battle in his capacity as overseer of the post-Osborn Thunderbolts. His unbreakable skin makes him ultra durable, but in strength terms, he has the least offensive chances against Juggernaut. As a reluctant member of Cage's Thunderbolts, Juggernaut was infested with nano-bots capable of slowing him down - a tool Cage used to curb his teammate.

Juggernaut was unable to expel the nanotech due to fluctuations in his magical strength and invulnerability. Various altruistic acts and alliances had cost him the favor of the deity Cyttorak, which diminished his peak powers. He's still a nigh unstoppable force, but the door to victory is more ajar than usual.

In the years preceding this team-up, Cage and Iron Man were notably divided as patrons of the two opposing teams in Civil War. We saw them working with a temporary truce in New Avengers #36, but even when the "Mighty" and "New" groups were reunited, each was on a different team. Thor was inactive through much of this, but had his own issues with Iron Man upon return.

Juggernaut isn't particularly known for psychology or strategizing, but baggage could undermine the teamwork of the Avengers trio. We've certainly seen Thor succumb to his own hubris in the past, like the time Ghost Rider turned his own hammer against him [Avengers #214]! Likewise, Iron Man has a knack for turning friends into enemies, ie; War Machine [Iron Man #310], Sub-Mariner [Invincible Iron Man #12], and The Invaders [New Invaders #0]! They aren't the only teammates who might get under each other's feet, though.

It should be noted that Juggernaut is on the run with Ghost and Crossbones. The latter will be occupied with Captain America, but all are present when the fight kicks off. They're arguing amongst themselves - nobody too pleased with Ghost's plan to maroon them in a strange alternate dimension.

Will team dynamics be a deciding factor? Lets end the speculation and find out!

The Math: Thor Ranking: Iron Man (#3)

What Went Down...
As the runaway Thunderbolts argue amongst themselves, Ghost opts to keep data of an incoming missile to himself. The projectile is none other than Luke Cage - who makes a bullseye touchdown directly on top of Juggernaut!

Juggernaut smashes into the ground, but effortlessly swats Cage away with a swing of his unstoppable arm! It sends the Power Man flying away, as the Iron Man swoops in to continue the fight!

A barrage of repulsor rays pushes Juggernaut deeper into the ground - creating a massive crater! Still on his back, Juggernaut uses his predicament to his advantage, throwing up wave of the surrounding sediment directly at Iron Man!

The curtain of dust and dirt engulfs Iron Man, forcing him into evasive manoeuvres. No such problem for the god of thunder, who charges directly at the rising Juggernaut with hammer extended!

Lightning clings to Juggernaut's metallic shell, crackling all around him! Thor orders the giant to fall. He lets out an almighty yell, but disobeys with the upright integrity that comes with his unstoppable nature!

Luke Cage steps up with a plan, volunteering to aid Thor in his fight with the Juggernaut, while Iron Man pursues Ghost, and Captain America takes care of Crossbones! The team splits -- Cage launching himself into the fray with a dive kick!

Juggernaut absorbs the blow, skidding in the dirt. Thor follows with an all mighty swing of his hammer. It thunders against the invincible powerhouse - surrounding him in lightning once again! He stumbles. Thor leaps into the air and swings Mjolnir again -- this time rending the metal of his protective helmet!

Still the Juggernaut will not fall!

A backhanded swing sends Thor hurtling away from him for at least a moment. Juggernaut means to fight to the death to avoid being sent back to The Vault. Cage swears nobody will lose their life this day, tagging in with a big right hook that finally knocks Juggernaut off balance!

The weight of Juggernaut falling to his backside forces the cliff edge beneath them to crumble! He and Cage spill uncontrollably to the lake bank below.

Juggernaut takes the advantage, mounting Cage with the intention to rain super-powered fists down upon his face. Instead, it's the face of Cain Marko that undergoes an unexpected change!

The surrounding waters have "strange properties" according to the locals. Some say it shows the true self of anyone who sees their reflection. Marko watches as his image turns from Cyttorak, to his mortal self, to something truly inhuman. It's enough to make the Juggernaut pause for thought.

Iron Man returns with Ghost voluntarily in tow, and orders Juggernaut down.

When Juggernaut refuses to comply, the golden Avenger unleashes a "localized sonic assault" that once took down an entire regiment! The focused blast causes Cain Marko immense pain, but he doesn't fall!

Iron Man orders Thor to deliver a finishing blow, but Luke Cage calls them off! He can see the weakened Juggernaut is already defeated!

Blood pours from Cain Marko's ears and mouth as the sonic blast vibrates viciously through him. Cage clearly abhors the brutal tactic. He scowls and suggests Iron Man redirect. The armored hero relents.

The Hammer...
Juggernaut may still be standing, but it's only by the mercy of Luke Cage. The fight is clearly won by Iron Man and The Avengers!

This officially begins an unbreakable September on Secret Wars on Infinite Earths! From here forward Fidays will feature fights involving Luke Cage in the countdown to the launch of his brand new Netflix series - September 30th!

Starting the celebration with this era of the Thunderbolts provides an interesting transition from last month's spotlight on the Suicide Squad!

When they debuted in Incredible Hulk #449, The Thunderbolts were an opportunistic scheme hatched by Baron Zemo to fool the world into trusting his disguised Masters of Evil. It came amidst Heroes Reborn -- an event that led the Marvel Universe at large to believe the Avengers, Fantastic Four and Hulk had perished fighting Onslaught. This drain on the superhero ranks made for perfect conditions, creative and fictional, to try a fairly novel take on a new team book!

Of course, over the many years since that initial villainous line-up, the roster has undergone a variety of changes. After Dark Reign put bad guy Norman Osborn in charge of SHIELD [and the T-bolts]; the Luke Cage led team mirrored the basic concept of DC's Suicide Squad by employing heroes and villains with criminal records to fulfil government operations.

There was a lot to like about the basic components of the relaunch, which in no way seemed derivative. Cage maintained the high concept of characters with a criminal record, but also lent the team the starpower he'd earned as a centerpiece of the New Avengers. It was a good focal point for the blended ensemble of the "Heroic Age" relaunch.

Classic T-bolts like Songbird, Moonstone, Fixer and Mach-V offered a pleasant through line from the iconic stories of the recent past. Villainous additions Ghost, Crossbones and Juggernaut added well known combustible elements to the team. Teleport transporter Man-Thing gave it all an extra twist for flavor.

Indeed, everything about the new line-up seemed very correct and well considered. Almost clinically so. There was a certain spark that never quite set in. A stilted approach that almost seemed to presume the formula for success before the work was done. Admittedly, that's a very presumptive way of putting it, but it speaks to the tone of the Marvel Universe as it deliberately detached from several years of unifying post-Civil War editorial direction, in favor of far less successful high concept events.

Thunderbolts #150 feels like it should be a celebration of a lot of things, but it manages to feel more like a memorial. The relationships between the guest heroes and their counterparts doesn't pop the way it should. There's a sense of recent history hanging over the Avengers, but a reluctance to go too deep.

Kev Walker's artwork has a dynamic life to it in previous issues, but here its at its most stilted. Fabio D'Auria joins Frank Martin in the "Color Artist" credits. It's unclear if that encompasses digital inking in the color process, but that would be my suspicion. The palette gets very monotonous, but I'm not sure that alone could account for underwhelming action.

Layouts could be improved. Sometimes cinematic framing manages to make the action feel less alive than well cartooned comics. Walker's grasp of depth of field is technically impressive, but doesn't get the most out of the action. When Thor collides with Juggernaut, I long for the two-dimensional excess of a well done side-on panel. When Juggernaut's helmet is twisted and ripped - I want it to hold complete visceral focus to leap off the page. That it doesn't makes me wonder if there was a tight deadline in play.

Fortunately, there is a lot of good here in supply from everyone involved. When you haven't seen it in a while, you really appreciate the color pop of Luke Cage's yellow pseudo-uniform.

As much as Captain America, Iron Man and Thor are big time guest stars that threaten to pull focus, Cage really gets a great share of the action. It's a tad on-the-nose when Cap defers to Cage for tactics, but I appreciate the sense of focus for the home team. It's particularly fun when Cage is throwing himself around at the bigger, stronger Juggernaut. Two of those panels feature above.

As we revisit more moments of Luke Cage's long superhero career, and continue to map the unstoppable charge of Juggernaut over the years, this issue will be easy to enjoy in meta and macro. Whether or not it was a highlight of either's career, it's nice to be able to note the time Cage and Juggernaut did battle, and were part of the Thunderbolts. An interesting moment in both of their histories.

If you'd like to see this moment for yourself, take advantage of the collected edition available in the Amazon link provided!

You can find lots more featured fights and articles about the characters featured today by following links, labels, or hitting the Issue Index Archive!

Stay tuned this month as we explore even more battles from the past and present of "Power Man" Luke Cage!

Winners: Iron Man, Luke Cage & Thor
#3 (--) Iron Man
#12 (+2) Luke Cage
#22 (+9) Thor
#67 (-1) Juggernaut

No comments: