Friday, December 16, 2016

The Gathering (Marvel)
Contest of Champions II #1 When: September 1999 Why: Chris Claremont How: Oscar Jiminez

The Story So Far...
A race of aliens known as The Coterie have abducted Earth's greatest heroes for the purpose of hosting a Contest of Champions!

The seemingly benevolent species hopes only to honor and pay tribute to the renowned fighting heroes by basking in their prowess through organized competition. Behind their pleasant demeanor lies a more sinister intent, evident in their use of airborne nano-technology to influence the minds and aggression of the heroes.

Iron Man's armor protected him from infestation, allowing him to stay clear headed in the opening round. Alas; his hosts have identified the absence of their mind altering machines, escalating a plan to manipulate the contest and eliminate the problematic Avenger. Now it's an 8-on-1 mismatch as X-Force challenge Iron Man in Round 2!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Iron Man 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Iron Man 5 (Professor)
Speed: Cannonball 5 (Olympian)
Stamina: Iron Man 6 (Generator)
Agility: Domino 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting: Domino 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy: Iron Man 5 (Lasers)

Here we are back for another round of Contest of Champions II!

When last we left the action, Iron Man was victorious in his first match, defeating ninja telepath: Psylocke! In that fight he had to overcome a single X-Woman, but in his next match he finds himself against an entire team!

X-Force are: Cannonball, Moonstar, Sunspot, Meltdown, Proudstar, Siryn, Jesse Bedlam & Domino.

If you're wondering why an entire team is submitted into a fighting tournament as a single entry, the simple answer is: The organizers are secretly bad guys. They've become aware that Iron Man is unaffected by their mind-influencing nanite technology, and are just looking for a way to take him out.

To the credit of the bookers, they've chosen a young team that could plausibly fail. Iron Man's diverse arsenal puts him in good stead against most opponents, and adequately addresses most of the specialist skills of the young mutants.

Proudstar, perhaps better known as Warpath, possesses high level super-human strength that isn't quite at Iron Man's level, but could pose a serious problem if combined with team attacks. Team leader Cannonball is a perfect example: an aerialist whose high speed plasma field achieves invincibility - but whose mastery of the sky may not aim as true as the nimble Iron Man!

Sunspot also possesses super-human strength, as well as the ability to project intense heat blasts, but may not have sufficient solar exposure to maintain his powers on the space station. Sonic vocalist Siryn is also impaired, carrying an injury to her larynx inflicted by the villainous New Hellions.

Moonstar's telepathically reliant constructs are another threat in the vein of some of Psylocke's attacks, but we did just see how Iron Man was able to identity and resolve that type of assault. Meltdown (aka; Boomer) and Domino aren't normally at a level that would trouble Iron Man's armor, either. As a team, however, their abilities could add sufficient stress.

Intriguingly, we don't have a lot of useful data for Iron Man fighting a foe with superior numbers. His affiliation with The Avengers has usually meant the team advantage is working in his favour. Our only prominent case on record is Iron Man #159, where the alchemy of Diablo forced him to fight his own armors!

That said, there are plenty of examples to demonstrate the high level Iron Man always fights at! He's beaten Hulk [Iron Man #2], outwitted The Mandarin [Iron Man #312], endured Sub-Mariner [Invincible Iron Man #12], and stopped the Juggernaut [Thunderbolts #150]! All in a day's work!

It's worth noting just a couple of years prior to this story, Cannonball had a famous, defining victory against Gladiator (during a stint with the X-Men). There's an even bigger x-factor than that working in X-Force's favour, though, that will play out in the following fight. Let's see how it effects things...

The Tape: Iron Man Ranking: Iron Man (#3)

What Went Down...
By virtue of the speed of their attacks, or respect for their opponent; Iron Man finds himself defending against the members of X-Force individually. The first to strike is the team's co-leader and fast-moving human rocket: Cannonball!

On board files help Iron Man understand his young mutant enemies, using intel to counter their unique attacks. Cannonball may be invulnerable while he flies like a human missile, but Iron Man's suit has him beat for maneuverability! He avoids the attack, leaving Cannonball to hurtle past him on a wide arc.

Danielle Moonstar makes the next move, reaching for the bow through which she can channel psychic arrows. A disorienting sonic blast neutralizes her before she can even think, leaving her too dizzy to fight.

Solar powered Sunspot tries his luck, blasting the armored Avenger with a focused beam of energy. Rather than run, Iron Man turns to absorb the blast - using it to recharge his armor's power cells!

Meltdown's plasma timebombs take the Iron Man test next, but are easily shut down with a few creative bursts from the shellhead's pulse cannons. A tactic that disrupts the kinetic matrix of the timebombs before they detonate!

Ordinarily team powerhouse Proudstar might not concern Iron Man too much, but with the constant threat of nano-tech infestation surrounding him, he can't afford the slightest breach of his armor! He blocks a left cross with his forearm gauntlet and goes airborne to put distance between himself and the strongman!

As he jets in the direction of Siryn, Iron Man's armor alerts him to recent tracheal and larynx trauma that has drastically reduced the mutant's naturally produced sonic scream. Empathy distracts the man inside the armor -- a costly mistake in the arena of combat!

The mutant called Jesse Bedlam possesses the natural gift of disrupting any electrical or mechanical system. Iron Man doesn't even see it coming as the perfect attack seizes his armor in an electrical storm!

Skilled martial artist Domino takes the liberty of striking the finishing blow, leaping through the air with a flying kick she's confident will ring his chimes, armored or not. A KO victory that sets the young mutants celebrating!

The Hammer...
Nobody said the Contest of Champions was going to be fair - and it sure as heck ain't! With numbers on their side, and a much needed precision strike: X-Force eliminate Iron Man from the tournament!

One again I'm reminded of the debate that raged within the letter pages of Wizard Magazine: Could Iron Man single-handedly take down the X-Men?

Wizard editor Doug Goldstein certainly seemed to think so. He was a major proponent for the (apparently) controversial opinion, warring with indignant X-fans in the early years of the comics magazine.

Keep in mind, this is the early nineties, when X-fandom was at its most rabidly fervent! Schooled fans may've known to have a healthy respect for Iron Man and The Avengers, but the popular vote was overwhelmingly in favor of anything with an X! A pretty ballsy stance for a fanzine editor, even if it was all in good fun, and readers were less inclined to run from an opposing opinion.

I really got up to speed with this particular feud thanks to G. Kendall's 2015 articles on Comic Book Resources. "The Guide To The Guide To Comics" was a slightly self-conscious nostalgia trip through the magazine's enthusiastic decade of influence. A fun read that should compliment most retro superhero reading!

Writing about Wizard #27 (November, 1993), Kendall referenced an addendum to Goldstein's original stance. He clarified the X-Men could beat Iron Man as a team, but their members would mostly lose one-on-one. His noted exceptions were telepaths Professor X, Phoenix, and Psylocke, and maybe Kitty Pryde.

For the most part, that's pretty reasonable, and I don't think there'd be too much argument from fans today. I can't help but wonder if Chris Claremont had the debate in mind when it came to writing Contest of Champions II in 1999.

We've been tackling the mini-series slightly out of sequence on Secret Wars on Infinite Earths, but if you paid attention to earlier sections in this post, you know the first fight saw Iron Man defeating Psylocke. That fight confirmed Goldstein's theory of psychic weakness, but also showed how Iron Man may be able to counter a telepathic attack, at least from a lesser threat such as Psylocke.

The final fight of issue #1 set out to eliminate Iron Man from the tournament, but rather than use one of the more powerful X-telepaths, (Phoenix does appear later), or even another A-list hero -- Claremont opted for a secondary X-team!

I'm not aware of anything linking Contest of Champions II to the Wizard debate, but it certainly addresses the matter, one way or another!

This obviously isn't the final word on Iron Man's match-up against mutants. Marvel built an entire event around a similar concept as recently as 2012: Avengers vs X-Men! We may yet get to that saga, or others, some time in the future. For now, take the examples supplied and let the debate rage on. You can even post your opinions in the comments section below!

All eight X-Force heroes may've shared glory within the tournament itself, but we here on The Comic Book Fight Club answer to a different standard of measure. Jesse Bedlam and Domino specifically executed the win, while the rest of the team can only be credited with an assist. See how that effects their individual standings in the updated site rankings below!

While you're down there, why not hit the G+1 button? It's a great way to help keep the site! You can also share all articles by hitting the applicable social media icons. Looking for something in particular? Follow links throughout posts to discover more, or dive in by publisher, series, and issue in the Archive Index!

Winners: Bedlam & Domino
#3 (--) Iron Man
#298 (new) Bedlam
#299 (new) Domino
#134 (+5) Boom Boom (Meltdown) [+1 assist]
#154 (+53) Sunspot [+1 assist]
#313 (+21) Cannonball [+1 assist]
#379 (+20) Siryn [+1 assist]
#507 (new) Moonstar [+1 assist]
#522 (+195) Warpath (Proudstar) [+1 assist]

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