Friday, December 23, 2016

The Deadshot Ricochet (DC)
Detective Comics #474 When: December 1977 Why: Steve Englehart How: Marshall Rogers

The Story So Far...
While Bruce Wayne plays interested billionaire playboy for enterprising love interest Silver St. Cloud; news breaks of an old enemy's escape from Gotham City maximum security prison!

Floyd Llawton once threatened to replace The Batman as Gotham City's resident masked vigilante, adopting the marksman's moniker of Deadshot!

When he was exposed for the crook he really was, Deadshot was thrown into prison and soon forgotten. Locked away with a bitter grudge against The Dark Knight, Llawton waited for his opportunity to escape -- finding it when The Penguin is incarcerated with a laser monocle!

Back on the loose, Deadshot has honed himself into a deadlier nemesis than ever before! Knowing the escaped convict's old haunts are dangerously close to Silver's exhibition, Wayne takes to the rooftops as Batman to confront his enemy in the ultimate grudge match!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Batman 3 (Athlete)
Intelligence: Batman 5 (Professor)
Speed: Draw 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Batman 5 (Marathoner)
Agility: Batman 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting: Batman 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy: Batman 4 (Arsenal)

We've spent a lot of time revisiting the mid to late eighties of DC Comics during this year's Secret Wars on Infinite Earths. It was a time defined by Crisis on Infinite Earths, and the subsequent rebuild of the company's shared universe.

You can't think about the post-Crisis eighties without remembering John Ostrander's Suicide Squad -- featured heavily in August updates to coincide with the release of the feature film! A pivotal, breakout character of the original run (and movie) was Floyd Lawton, aka; Deadshot -- fan-favourite, never-miss mercenary with a wrist-mounted gun for hire!

We got to see Deadshot's gunsight in use during the Suicide Squad's inaugural mission in Legends #3. Recruited from prison after a run-in with The Flash [Legends #1]; Lawton helped take down a giant fire-monster from Apokolips called Brimstone! The creature had previously taken down Firestorm [Legends #1] and the Justice League of America [Legends #2]. A pretty big debut!

Before he became an expendable covert asset for the United States Government and Task Force X: Lawton was a wealthy thrillseeker who fancied himself as the next Batman. Dressed in top hat, tails and mask, he turned his crackshot skills against Gotham City's mobsters and became the new top vigilante in town.

Batman and Robin eventually exposed Deadshot for the crook he really was. He was thrown in jail, where he remained for years -- until Detective Comics #474 brought him into a new era!

If we were approaching this story in 1977, the odds would probably be even. Deadshot did have the upper hand in that original 1950 story, but was also ultimately defeated. Today, we have a very different impression of both featured characters. The post-Crisis modern DC Universe placed both characters on equal footing with some pretty major league opponents!

Batman, in particular, has routinely taken down super-powered foes of the caliber of
Darkseid [Superman/Batman #42], Superman [Superman/Batman #78], and Amazo [Batman #637]! His arch-nemesis The Joker is basically a mortal man relying on weapons, but their dynamic typically sees The Dark Knight in complete combative control. Even Marvel's Bullseye was effortlessly punched out after a game of Batarang catch in DC versus Marvel #1!

We haven't seen Batman really face-off with a marksman of Deadshot's caliber, but he was significantly tested in hand-to-hand fights with Rick Flag [Suicide Squad #10] and Captain America [Marvel versus DC #3]. There was also the little matter of his ultimate defeat by Bane [Batman #497] - a tactical fighter, but not really at all comparable to Deadshot.

This is essentially new territory for Batman on The Comic Book Fight Club. How will he handle the ultimate gunman? Nine times out of ten he should have the best of the cavalier Deadshot, but lets see just what happened when Batman first faced off with his revamped nemesis!

The Tape: Batman Ranking: Batman (#1)

What Went Down...
Patrolling the Gotham City rooftops; The Dark Knight remembers the time he was nearly bested by a twisted counterpart -- now a fugitive! As if in reply, a rifle shot rings out in the night, narrowly missing the caped crusader's cowl! An attention grabber fired from the barrel of recently escaped convict: Deadshot!

From a vantage point atop the nearby Ellsworth Building, Deadshot calls to his nemesis. He educates his enemy in his new methods: a wrist-mounted blaster to channel his hatred into pure power. In the past he played games, but now his revenge will come as straight as a bullet from a gun!

While Deadshot is distracted delivering his impassioned speech, The Batman navigates the night to launch a sneak attack. He seizes upon the villain with a sudden tackle, clutching at his weapon - but Deadshot is unfazed!

In the former dandy, Batman finds a nemesis who has used his prison time to harden his will, and strengthen his body! Deadshot avoids an uppercut and fires back with his own left cross! The scuffle sends Deadshot toppling from their precarious perch, but he's prepared for that too! A grappling line fired from one of his gauntlets allows him to glide effortlessly through the city street! He challenges The Batman to catch him if he can!

Batman wastes no time - taking chase on his own batline to follow the arc of his gun-toting counterpart. As they touch down on a conventional hall roof, Batman uses his momentum to turn the tables on his prey!

The costumed combatants smash through a skylight, plummeting onto a giant typewriter displayed within the convention hall! A prop in the exhibition run by Bruce Wayne's favourite girl Silver St. Cloud!

Suspicious of The Caped Crusader's connection to her beau, St. Cloud keeps her security at bay, allowing the vigilante to pursue the fight across lettered keys!

Losing the fist fight, Deadshot flees across the keyboard - warning Batman of a new moral code that has no concern for innocent bystanders! This only fuels the Dark Knight's determination as he launches over the typewriter hull, landing on one of two massively oversized typeballs!

Thinking quick, Deadshot fires a magnum charge at the carriage return key - sending the typeball spinning out from under Batman's feet! He has no choice but to launch himself into the air - his cape sprawled like a bat's wings!

As Deadshot gets him in his sight, Batman disappears into the typewriter void. When the marksman leans over to look in - Batman springs his trap, swinging gymnastically to catch his opponent in a head scissor!

Falling into the machine, Deadshot becomes entangled in the massive tape strip. Finding sure footing above, Batman bests his returned nemesis with a simple threat to write a letter. Deadshot concedes - for now!

The Hammer...
By his opponent's own admission: Batman is victorious!

An seemingly ignoble return for a villain who once successfully bested The Bat, but the beginning of a full-fledged comeback that would create the definitive Deadshot! A legacy that arguably peaked around a decade later, but we're getting ahead of ourselves...

Publishing lore has it that the modern revamp of Deadshot came about almost by accident! Brian Cronin covered the story in his Comic Book Legends Revealed, illuminating the clash of two Joker stories scheduled to hit racks simultaneously.

Conscientious Bat-editor Julius Schwartz tasked his Detective Comics team with coming up with a new script to delay their now-famous "Joker Fish" issue. The resulting insertion was the return of a villain who hadn't made a meaningful appearance since his debut in 1950!

The Deadshot that appears in Detective Comics #474 arguably could've been a brand new character. In his original appearance he was a dandy gunslinger in mask, top hat and tails. There's very little in common between that character and the metal masked, red suited mercenary designed by Marshall Rogers!

Yet, by harnessing the published history of a forgotten villain, Englehart and Rogers create a character pregnant with greater context.

By honoring the noble tradition of reexamining old ideas in comics, they demonstrate one of the factors I love most about the medium.

Back issues were presumably a boon to the creative process, but the reader gets something out of it, too. A reason to look back at an old story, to find new and old meanings, and to see a living evolution of characters and their world. It's creation and fiction coming together to make something special and largely unique to well made, well maintained serial comics!

DC have applied the basic premise of revamping characters quite heavily to their comics line in recent years. Frankly, it's made them unattractive. Their approach to restarting the line was in keeping with the premise of Crisis on Infinite Earths, without any of the justifiable reasoning. By applying a new coat of paint to a forgotten, discarded character, Englehart and Rogers demonstrate when and how to take this approach.

Would I have embraced this new Deadshot if I were an informed reader of 1977? I am a traditionalist at heart, so I'm not  entirely sure, but there are compelling factors that spell welcome update...

Twenty-seven years of dormancy has a way of justifying a new approach. Especially between eras as distinct as 1950 and 1977. The eighties certainly benefitted from Deadshot's look - as at home with four-colour comics as GI Joe toys. I greatly appreciate that the original design is featured in the issue's flashbacks. An acknowledgment and transition that leaves the door open should ideas warrant it.

Of course, there is something appealing about the absurd visual of a man in a tuxedo wielding guns. It lends itself to the idea that this is a dark shadow to Bruce Wayne, lacking motivation or sophistication in his masked alter-ego. In the present, there'd be a fun, facetious, pop post-modernism to embracing the dated appeal of the original, moustachio Deadshot. I think that's a good thing, but don't quote me on it.

The eighties are, of course, a big part of why we're revisiting this issue now. Even with all their considerations, Englehart and Rogers ultimately left Batman with a fairly shallow sniper in his rogue's gallery. A welcome addition, but one that would be most valuable as a utility to stories, rather than an engine. That all changed when the character caught the eye of John Ostrander.

Right from their first mission in Legends #3 (1987), the Suicide Squad put Deadshot up front and center. By now he was well on his way to being a charismatic, cavalier mercenary, but under Ostrander all aspects of the character would coalesce into a worthy icon of DC Comics! A sniper with a death wish and a complicated old money history built on his first appearance.

We ran out of time to really spotlight Deadshot in August, but the dubious big screen Will Smith version did inspire a Hero of the Week entry. As we tie these loose ends from 2016, I hope we can again aim to come back to address more of Deadshot's development. I've had a lot of fun revisiting Deadshot and the Suicide Squad throughout this year!

If you'd like to find more featured fights like this one, take advantage of links littered throughout this post, or dive in by Publisher, Series and Issue in the Secret Index Archive! There you'll find a catalogue of every battle featured on the blog! If you like what you read, hit the G+1 button or social media links located at the bottom of every entry!

Want to read today's featured issue in its entirety for yourself? You can find relevant collected editions by hitting the Amazon links embedded to the right of this text. Using them helps the site, which is great!

I recommend you do. The panels featured in this post really don't do the sumptuous art work justice! Terry Austin's inks give Rogers' art a great strong look, and the reprint colours look great. Strange Apparitions is tough to come by right now. I hoped the Suicide Squad film might get it back into print - but it didn't. I do know this particular issue is included in Deadshot: Beginnings. Another worthwhile read, if you're looking to better understand the character's motivations.

Winner: Batman
#1 (--) Batman
#111 (-6) Deadshot

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