Friday, January 29, 2016

SPIDER-MAN versus JUGGERNAUT
To Fight the Unbeatable Foe! (Marvel)
Where:
Amazing Spider-man #230 When: July 1982
Why: Roger Stern How: John Romita Jr

The Story So Far...
Madame Web has seen a vision of her impending death and it seems a fate unstoppable! Black Tom Cassidy and Juggernaut wanted the seer's powers of premonition to predict the movements of the uncanny X-Men - forcing her to summon the aid of a reluctant Spider-man!

A lone Spider-man did his best to stop the unstoppable, but a rampaging Juggernaut could not be waylaid from his ultimate goal! When removing the frail clairvoyant from her chair threatened her life, however - everything changed! Even the Juggernaut could see the folly in a mission if it means Madame Web's life!

While Madame Web receives medical attention, Spider-man resolves once more to put a stop to the Juggernaut's mad dash! He's going to make the mystically strengthened Juggernaut pay for his crimes! He just has to figure out how...

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Juggernaut 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Spider-man 5 (Professor)
Speed: Spider-man 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Juggernaut 7 (Unstoppable)
Agility: Spider-man 5 (Cat-like)
Fighting: Draw 3 (Street Wise)
Energy: Spider-man 2 (Projectiles)


Last month, we celebrated the 10th anniversary of Secret Wars on Infinite Earths with four fights from the modern classics! Today: we finish the first month of 2016 with another one! Why? Because we can!

On the surface of things, these guys are operating in two very different weight classes. The visual difference alone would lead many to presume Juggernaut is a villain too far -- the titular "unbeatable foe" in every sense!

When you consider Juggernaut took down Colossus [Uncanny X-Men #183], and went mano a mano with Nimrod [Uncanny X-Men #194] and Superman [DC versus Marvel #1] -- the argument seems to make itself!

It's not an unfair assumption, but this isn't the first time we've seen the amazing Spider-man go toe-to-toe with a powerful opponent! Our favourite wall-crawler routinely finds himself up against the threat of superior muscle. In previous featured fights, recurring villains like Venom, Carnage, Lizard, Scorpion and Menace have all pressed a physical advantage against the proportionate strength of a spider!

In Marvel Treasury Edition #25 (1980), we saw Spidey use speed and guile to stay in the fight with the incredible Hulk! In 2002's Spider-man: Blue #2, it was Spidey's science smarts that took down the rampaging Rhino! He was even able to turn Grey Gargoyle's unique abilities against himself in Marvel: Heroes & Legends #1. Three valuable examples of the skill and strategy he can use to try to curb the seemingly insurmountable raw power and durability of Juggernaut!

Now that we know the how, we can also measure the why. Behind the curtain, we know Juggernaut is perfectly primed for an upset. Villains typically get their comeuppance in the end, and the invincible are doomed to be a proving ground for their light heavyweight counterparts. Juggernaut's ability to bounce back in-fiction hasn't matched up with his scarce appearances here on The Comic Book Fight Club, which is partly why he ranks a lowly #330. That said, you don't rank #2 without winning a whole heckuva lot of fights against a whole lotta opponents!

Spidey has 25 wins on the board, so far - let's see if he can make it 26!

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

What Went Down...
Following a trail of destruction headed west - Spider-man swings the New York City skyscraper line in pursuit of the Juggernaut! Having already met his foe, he knows all the electricity in the world isn't going to stop Juggernaut. He falls back on the tried and true method of lobbing heavy things to stop the unstoppable!


A hotel demolition site provides the perfect ammunition for an unannounced attack. Snatching a giant steel girder, Spidey improvises and oversized slingshot with his trusty webbing. With a little of the ol' heavy-ho, he launches the metallic missile in Juggernaut's unsuspecting direction! Fat lot of good it'll do...


Juggernaut hears the girder as it draws near and turns to catch it with ease! He makes light work of the projectile, twisting it like it were paper! "Someone's tossing girders at me, eh? Well, that's too bad... for them!"

Demolition workers flee as the visage of  Juggernaut forces its way onto the fenced off hotel land. He spots Spider-man clinging to the decrepit hotel wall above, where the wall-crawler wonders why his "spider-sense" for danger is triggered by the land bound behemoth. He soon finds out as Juggernaut rips the corner of the hotel wall clean away from its frame!!


With the proportionate strength, speed and agility of a spider - the hero leaps from the crumbling fa├žade to safety below. If girders are no good, he'll have to hit Juggernaut with something harder, he reckons. A three-ton steel wrecking ball fits the bill! He swings the ball in circles above his head and throws!


An effortless backhanded punch deflects the wrecking ball with ease - inadvertently sending it hurtling into the hotel building! Taking out key supports, the ball finishes the job it started - bringing the entire building down!

Sensing the imminent danger, Spider-man leaps for some reinforced sewer pipes. The cylinders protect him as bricks and mortar rain down from above! Spider-man can only lie low in his pocket of air as the wreckage thunders down from above. The Juggernaut stands idle - he has nothing to fear!

When Spidey finally digs himself out of the rubble, he's greeted by the demolition workers who can hardly believe their eyes -- both men survived the collapse! Nothing can stop the Juggernaut - but you can bet the spectacular Spider-man will try!

The Hammer...
Both men went down, both men got up. I think I've gotta call this one a draw!

I thought we might be in for a decisive finish, but I overlooked the obvious break in rounds that caps today's featured fight! I'm sure we'll revisit this issue some time in the future, to see Spider-man pick up the chase for another shot at taking down the unbeatable foe!

If you were here for the 10th Anniversary in December, you saw Juggernaut and Colossus throwdown in the famous barroom brawl that is Uncanny X-Men #183! What was the unstoppable Juggernaut doing parked in a New York village pub? Drowning his sorrows after battling Spider-man, of course!

That modern classic was inspired by the many requests for more Juggernaut on Secret Wars on Infinite Earths. For what ever reason, he wasn't a villain who found a lot of traction in the first ten years of fights.

I'm inclined to compare the character to Doomsday - another powerhouse we've been talking about a lot in recent weeks [see; All-Star Superman #4].

Both villains pose the impossible challenge of presenting a nigh unstoppable force that inevitably exists to be beaten by the hero. Doomsday has the added complication of a greater degree of malice, while Juggernaut has the interesting dichotomy of being the counterpart adopted sibling of Charles Xavier, spiteful in origin and skullduggerous in action - but not necessarily evil, or without reason.

It helps that Juggernaut wasn't created to be muscle against muscle. When he made his first appearance in X-Men #12 in 1965, the closest thing the X-Men had to a strongman was the once hairless Beast. Juggernaut was unstoppable brawn targeting the physically infirm, yet brilliant mind of Professor X. Perfect opposites attacking each others weakness -- telepathic assault an iconic attack of choice when it comes to stopping the unstoppable Juggernaut.

By the time Juggernaut was butting heads with Colossus or the Hulk, the intrigue of a simple test of strength was built up organically as a secondary interested to the character's initial grievances. You could argue going up against Spider-man in 1982 is a third stage of development, taking advantage of the now established and tested strength of the character. The great mismatch!

Where Doomsday suffered for being introduced as an event first - Juggernaut was able to grow into becoming one! Which is exactly why this two-part story still resonates with enthusiasts, and fans have sought out more Juggernaut on this very blogsite!

I wasn't properly introduced to Juggernaut until some years after this story, around 1989 or so. I hadn't been much of an X-Men reader, but the status the character had built up preceded him and his mutant nemesis! There was only one of him, and when he entered the story you knew it wasn't going to be a complex affair - it was just about lasting enough rounds to survive!

I have a particular issue in mind when I think of that, and with any luck we'll get to it later in the year as we look at more Juggernaut. If you want to look at more Juggernaut, Amazon links are provided as always [right] for your convenience.

In the mean time, we shift gears, because in February Deadpool is coming back to Secret Wars on Infinite Earths! With the movie coming to cinemas, it'll be a timely opportunity to revisit the Merc' With a Mouth and some of his classic face-offs. Be sure to be here in 7 days for that, or sooner for even more! 

Winner: Draw
(--) #2 Spider-man
(+4) #326 Juggernaut

Monday, January 25, 2016

HERO OF THE WEEK: CAPTAIN AMERICA (Marvel)
Real Name: Steve Rogers
First Appearance: Captain America Comics #1 (March, 1941)
Fight Club Ranking: #7

Featured Fights:
- vs BATROC & MR. HYDE: Captain America #251 (Nov 1980)
- vs MR. HYDE: Captain America #252 (Dec 1980)
- vs IRON MAN: Captain America Annual #9 (1990)
- vs WOLVERINE: Captain America #405 (Aug 1992)
- vs DOPPELGANGER: Captain America #408 (Oct 1992)
- vs BANE: Marvel versus DC #2 (Mar 1996)
- vs BATMAN: Marvel versus DC #3 (Apr 1996)
- vs THOR & LOKI: Avengers #1 (Nov 1996)
- vs HULK: Avengers #4 (Feb 1997)
- vs AIM: Captain America #6 (Apr 1997)
- vs DESTROYER: Thor #1 (Jul 1998)
- vs INVADERS: New Invaders #0 (Aug 2004)
- vs CROSSBONES: Captain America #4 (Apr 2005)
- vs WOLVERINE: Wolverine #25 (Apr 2005)
- vs RED SKULL & NAZIS: Captain America #5 (May 2005)
- vs SHIELD: Civil War #1 (Jul 2006)
- vs AVENGERS: Civil War #3 (Sep 2006)
- vs MASTER MAN: Captain America: Reborn #2 (Oct 2009)
- vs PUNISHER: What If...? #51 (Jul 1993)

There were a lot of competing top stories in the last 7 days that could've influenced today's Hero of the Week. For a while there I thought DC were finally going to crack 2016, but instead its the movies taking the backseat -- scooped by an announcement for the long awaited comic book restoration of Marvel's Captain America! 75 years young and still punching bad guys in the face!
 
Not as much Nazi punching as their used to be, but that's more about Uncle Walt getting squeamish at the sight of all those swastikas, rather than Cap getting soft. (Probably still sore about the unions).

The "return" of Steve Rogers was announced during a 75th Anniversary Special on ABC.

It's not often you get major comics news from the television, so that's pretty cool! Then again, there is a major movie sequel right around the corner, which is inevitably sharing a lot of the attention. We touched briefly on Captain America: Civil War in the last HOTW [01/1/2016], but since my money's on short odds for movie Cap departing the role (and life) - the comics are on the more interesting end of the cyclical game of costume swapsies.

In comicsland, Sam Wilson has been the man in the red, white and blue since 2014. For a while there, Cap did get a nasty case of showing his age -- all a product of his super-soldier serum being neutralized by the bad guys. Rogers naturally hand-picked his best pal at arms to keep the flag waving and shield throwing, while he slipped into a less physically demanding role as Avengers director - protecting his now frail, aged body from harm.

The switcheroo caused a minor uproar at the time -- Bucky Barnes had only handed the star-spangled plan back a few years earlier, in 2011. There have been several Captain Americas over the decades and it makes sense that many worthy Americans could carry the tradition forward, but the role will always be iconic to Steve Rogers, and so many change-ups in such a short amount of time was very bush league on Marvel's part. Par for the course, sadly, as the branding identity of Marvel's pantheon becomes increasingly meaningless. When everyone is Uncanny, Amazing, Secret, New - no one is.

Rogers's return was inevitable - it was just a matter of when. The 75th Anniversary was either going to be another return, or another death. We got the better of the two. Falcon will still soar as the secondary Captain America, carrying the original's shield [pictured above]. That too will almost certainly return to normal soon enough, as it has many, many times before. 1989's showdown between Rogers and John Walker comes to mind as just one of the shadows Marvel is playing in.

When Walker was Cap [the first time], Steve Rogers became the black clad ['everyone was doing it'], nationless Captain. In 2016, his new look is similarly of the times. US Agent adopted Cap's eighties black costume when the identity crisis was settled. When the fashion of Cap '16 finally wears out its welcome, I don't imagine anyone will want to use it again. You might be able to sell a Hollywood exec on the supposed "reality" of it, but around these parts we know movie Cap looks like a dork every time. A poor choice of inspiration, unless you're planning an officially licensed line of novelty rubber stress toys.

I'm sure Cap will get his groove back soon enough. For now, lets just be glad the iconic original is alive and well for a big 75th Anniversary! I know I am!

<< Hero of the Week 02/01: Superman       [Home]       Hero of the Week 01/18: Black Panther >> 

Friday, January 22, 2016

JIMMY OLSEN versus SUPERMAN
The Superman/Olsen War! (DC)
Where:
All-Star Superman #4 When: July 2006
Why: Grant Morrison How: Frank Quitely

The Story So Far...
A daring solar rescue mission has left Superman with a genetic death sentence! PROJECT think tank director Leo Quintum is in a race to find a cure for the Kryptonian's sun soaked cell degeneration, and while he's away, Daily Planet columnist Jimmy Olsen will step in as Director For a Day -- and what a day it will be!

Happy to help out with a wayward experiment, Superman finds himself accidentally exposed to a chunk of Black Kryptonite embedded in the perilous Underverse! The mysterious mineral appears to have no effect, but looks can be deceiving!

PROJECT is about to find itself with a bad case of bad Superman! Everything's going topsy-turvy in the Man of Steel's brain, which means Director Jimmy Olsen and the rest of humanity is enemy number one! Looks like desperate times will call for desperate measures -- but will Diretor Jimmy be able to survive what lies behind the door that says Do Not Open Until Doomsday and complete his column before deadline?!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Superman 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Superman 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Superman 6 (Mach Speeds)
Stamina: Superman 6 (Generator)
Agility: Superman 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting: Superman 3 (Street Wise)
Energy: Superman 5 (Lasers)


Not a hoax! Not a dream! Not an imaginary story! He may be his best pal, but Daily Planet photographer Jimmy Olsen is about to find himself in a set of circumstances where he'll have to beat down The Man of Steel: Superman!

This may sound like an absurd premise, but there are a few factors you need to know! For starters: Superman's got himself into a bit of a pickle!

During a rescue mission into the sun, Superman saturated his cells in so much solar energy they're bursting from within - slowly killing him! It sounds bad, but it means some unusual side effects that include new and increased powers. Believing one of them to be immunity to Kryptonite - Superman doesn't even suspect anything is wrong when he's exposed to a weird piece of Black Kryptonite extracted from the Underverse! Its effects? Gradual Bizarrofication of the brain! Superman's seeing things in opposite and it's making him a jerk!


The Underverse experiment is conducted by PROJECT - a super-science initiative monitored by dandy genius Leo Quintum from their base on the moon. Jimmy Olsen thought running PROJECT for a day would punch up his weekend column, but its meant he's the reason Superman was exposed to the Black K, and is about to become Superman's worst enemy - very literally!

How will Jimmy achieve that? PROJECT's origins are founded in the US Army's Cadmus Division -- housing experimental weapons of extremely hostile nature. One such formula contains a stem cell accelerator that'll turn a soldier into the ultimate living weapon! A dangerous mutation delivery system stored only in case of Doomsday! A super-charged Superman running amok is as good as - and PROJECT Director for a day: Jimmy Olsen is gonna pull out all the stops to bring his best pal in before he does something everyone will regret!

Can Jimmy possibly pull it off? As you'll soon see - the Doomsday gene weapon is no joke! With the risks attached, the real question may be - will Jimmy be able to come back, or is this going to be the death of Superman?

The Tape: Superman Ranking: Superman (#6)

What Went Down...
It started with a change in expression. An arrogant glance. A heat vision burned S shield on a table. Black Kryptonite has taken effect and it's making Superman bad! He fires a beam of heat vision at his pal Jimmy Olsen, before a final clear moment. He asks for help. What could Jimmy do? Nothing. He's going to Earth to do what ever he wants and Jimmy's going to do nothing!

PROJECT's Voyager Titans and Bizarro Clones are no match for the powered up Man of Steel. Director for a day Jimmy sounds the alarm. A contingency weapon of Superman's own design is inoperable. The Phantom Zone Cannon is taking too long and has no undo. The threat of an evil Superman is great, but Jimmy isn't about to give up on his friend. Option three it is - Doomsday is upon us!

In Metropolis, Superman touches down and disrupts traffic. Lifts a limousine. Still strong as ever. Looking for Lois Lane. Jimmy's on Earth, too. He won't let his hero embarrass himself because of a little poisonous radiation! Superman doesn't seem please to see him. Uh oh!


His mind slipping away; Superman hoists the limo above his head and peppers the street with heat vision. The car's heading his way any second now - Jimmy's gonna have to jump. Touch and go as PROJECT G-Type Agatha warns Jimmy of the dangers of the course he's about to take - the Doomsday option!


Superman spots the "gun" Jimmy's brought with him and gets real mad! He's gonna take the hand with a focus beam of heat vision - but quick thinking Jimmy uses the invincible signal watch Superman gave him to reflect it back to the source! Superman cops it in the throat and Jimmy commits to his plan.

The gun isn't for Superman! It's the Doomsday delivery vessel! Meek Mister Olsen puts the needle end to his neck and pulls the trigger! Say bye-bye bow tie, hello hulking mountain of muscle! "Oh, no." Oh, yes! Jimmy is Doomsday!


His skin greys and his muscles quadruple! Boney protuberances grow around his body. Still has the ginger on top! "Hurrr. Cool." he says. Not for Superman! Doomsday Jimmy leaps into action - driving Superman's head into the road with a brutal punch!

His mental state deteriorating: Superman is stunned to feel pain - confused even! No fun. He's gonna make Jimmy feel pain - a left uppercut to the jaw!


On the moon, PROJECT continues preparing the Phantom Zone Cannon. Jimmy's got thirty seconds before Doomsday overloads his nervous system and he's lost forever. Superman's punch didn't phase him. Thirty seconds is all he needs!

Jimmy sends Superman hurtling across the street with a blast of his own Doomsday heat vision! He smashes through a nearby storefront. The Man of Steel is getting weaker! Scared! He's losing the fight, losing his grip.


Doomsday Jimmy stalks toward his downed opponent. The moment is familiar. In his black kryptonite addled brain, maybe Superman thinks so too. He fears his death at the hands of this creature. He's scared. He doesn't want to die.

Jimmy won't let him die. His invincible Superman signal watch starts to sound. Not a bad substitute for a hypnotic trigger. Time's up! Doomsday is over!

As Superman curls up in a weak and frightened ball, the boney protrusions begin to retract. Jimmy's bulging muscles start to shrink, and the color starts to come back in his skin. Still has the ginger on top! No clothes, though. It isn't weird, though. Just another day in the life of Jimmy Olsen - Director of PROJECT, Daily Planet weekend columnist, and Superman's best pal!

The Hammer...
Woo! Did you see that one coming? The winner by knock out, submission, and unanimous decision is: Jimmy Olsen!

I feel like I'm a winner, too! I thoroughly enjoyed that! It was a last minute switcheroo. Probably the only opportunity we'll have to talk about this issue before a similar concept finds its way to theatres in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

I like this issue because it's how Superman comics should be. A definitive mix of elements, juggling contemporary savvy with the wonderful wisdom of accepting Silver Age imagination. When some writer/artist teams dip their quill in the past, it's pure nostalgia. When Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely did it - it was the future we never got. A rollicking good time like the good old days, with a layer of sophistication that exploits madcap sci-fi and fantasy to a fuller extent.

I wish this was the Superman Warner Brothers chose to show the world in their high rolling attempts to build a superhero movie universe. It is not.

In All-Star Superman, the hero and his world are at the height of their powers -- an accumulation of gains assumed over almost seventy years of adventures. Anything is possible! In 2013's Man of Steel - nothing was possible. Time and its fruits are the enemy. There is no miracle of science, daring, or imagination to save the day. It's kill or be killed. Base instincts. A simplistic level of storytelling equal or greater to what moviemakers, and even conditioned audiences, would consider hokey, old fashioned "comic book" style.

Watch your back, 21st century. The future waits to judge you harshly.


We first opened the vault to Doomsday during last month's 10th anniversary of Secret Wars on Infinite Earths. It was a left-of-centre flashback to the definitive, Death of Superman incarnation of the original character [Superman #74].

While acknowledging the lasting significance and intrigue of the villain-as-event, I also lamented the limit to its impact. Doomsday as he was conceived makes sense to me. I like the idea of a mindless, unstoppable, brutal monster whose mere appearance signals a major event. It's just a shame the best idea gets less interesting the more you see it. Or does it?..

All-Star Superman #4 really challenges my notions about the best way to get the most out of Doomsday. Repurposing the evolutionary concept of his origin into a stem cell, super-soldier mutation is a cool idea. It is helped along by the subtleties of the entire series, though.

Frank Quitely's lumpy naturalistic lines walk a curious line of credibility and fantasy. For all intents and purposes, the figures are all wonderfully expressive, slightly puffy human beings. The streets of Metropolis are consistent and real. Yet the fantastic is right around every corner. Jamie Grant deserves a lot of credit for his inks and colors. Colors go a long way to grounding All-Star Superman's dancing feet in realms of reality and fantasy, from bubble gum brightness all the way back to Kansas as nature intended. No place like home.

This blanket of color simply helps to sell the bouncy, unabashed playtime of classic concepts laid out by Morrison. It's like playing hopscotch with reduced gravity. From the 50s, to the 60s, to the 90s, and beyond. It all has integrity, but it breezes by effortlessly like clouds of fun. Jimmy's Doomsday injection is an event of protein pill proportions. Superman's best pal in his worst enemy's clothing, carrying his death shroud. The world stops just like the first time, but only for a few minutes. It's as serious as hell while it lasts, but all fun and games in the end. Do American teeth grind? Puritans need not apply. This ain't pretention - it's interesting and cool!

Like the original concept; injecto-Doomsday could get real old, real fast if abused by creators with less finesse. Does Morrison know that? It's too dangerous, Agatha says. Jimmy's seconds from disaster as the doomsday clock counts down. They would've had to Phantom Zone him (and Superman) had his plan failed. Do you think Scott Snyder and Jim Lee have anything to worry about? 2014 was a while ago. Maybe the cannon's still warming up?

I hope you enjoyed this one as much as I did. If you're waiting to make the All-Star Superman jump - I strongly recommend it. Expect nothing, accept everything. Amazon purchase links are provided for your convenience [embedded right].
 
I'm sure we'll revisit the series in the future. Next Friday - a fifth week spectacular with an unstoppable villain making a return!

Winner: Jimmy Olsen
(--) #6 Superman
(new) #276 Jimmy Olsen

Monday, January 18, 2016

HERO OF THE WEEK: BLACK PANTHER (Marvel)
Real Name: T'Challa
First Appearance: Fantastic Four #52 (July, 1966)
Fight Club Ranking: #124

Featured Fights:
- vs Super-Skrull: Fantastic Four #6 (Apr 1997)
- vs Dr. Doom: Black Panther #19 (Oct 2006)

The biggest news coming out of last week was Creed director Ryan Coogler - confirmed to helm 2018's Black Panther! The Panther will get his jumpstart into the Marvel movie universe as a feature attraction of May's Captain America: Civil War -- but it's nice to know there's somebody solid at the receiver's end to take the character forward!


With the unknown comes a great sense of attraction. In my mind, Black Panther's currently ahead in a contest of most anticipated with Doctor Strange. As noted in a prior Hero of the Week [04/01/2016]; there's a lot to be curious about in Marvel's magical expansion - but not all of it good. The positive of both is their potential to do what so many Marvel movies have struggled to: be satisfyingly different.

During the much discussed search for a creative lead, there's been a narrative of handwringing over the colour of the director's skin. It speaks to the flaw in pop culture's racial rhetoric, which so frequently overlooks the common principle that unites all Americans: barking self-interest that shows little regard or awareness for the rest of the entire planet.

The movie may be American made with a focus on American domestic markets, but it pays to remember this is a character who is not American - a hero of the world! The experience of American social politics is of very limited relevance. T'Challa calls the fictional nation of Wakanda home - an insular African country that views the petty squabbles of the outside world with considered distance.

Fortunately, Ryan Coogler brings two observable skills with him that should be of great credit to a Black Panther movie. In Creed, he's shown an ability to treat an established fictional universe with great reverence and understanding -- the Rocky spin-off is replete with warm nods to past films. That said, he also created an identity of the film's own, which is exactly what Marvel will need to get the most out of their expansion!

Of course, Creed was also close to the Rocky formula - and it's formulaic story structure that's dragged many a Marvel movie down. The more this movie invests in the unique culture of Wakanda, the more it can stand apart from other films in the franchise -- especially crown jewel Iron Man, with which the genius inventor Black Panther will be most readily compared to.

The way I see it, Reginald Hudlin's wildly underrated 2015 opening arc "Who Is The Black Panther?" has a lot of material that could perfectly transition to a superb Black Panther movie. Of course, the Panther/Captain America face-off will probably come a lot sooner - assuming it comes at all. If I can leave-off with one note about the visuals, I'd also love to see them incorporate the gold of the late 90s, Mark Texeira design into the movie costume.

Captain America: Civil War officially hits theatres - and Iron Men - May 6th. Black Panther is currently slated for a July, 2018 release. There's a very good chance there'll be fresh Cap & Panther action right here on Secret Wars on Infinite Earths later in the year, so stay tuned!

<< Hero of the Week 01/25: Captain America     [Home]     Hero of the Week 01/11: Punisher >> 

Friday, January 15, 2016

SUPERGIRL versus MARY MARVEL
How To Murder The Earth (DC)
Where:
Final Crisis #6 When: January 2009
Why: Grant Morrison How: JG Jones

The Story So Far...
The Anti-Life Equation has been unlocked! Orion is dead! Gods walk the Earth as men! This is the final crisis!

The prophesized death of Darkseid could only be but a passing moment - the beginning of something new! The New God of evil could never truly die as he was already reborn in a mortal shell! Embedded as mortals, the evil gods wage their war on the Earth unopposed by their heroic rivals. Anti-Life justifies humanity's enslavement!

Possessed by Desaad; Mary Marvel fights on the front line as a super-soldier against the heroes of Earth. Their numbers dwindling to the Anti-Life Justifiers, the heroes coordinate as best they can against the greatest threat they've ever faced! Targeting the darkened Mary Marvel is a hero every bit her equal. Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird... It's a plane... No - it's Supergirl!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Draw 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Draw 2 (Average)
Speed: Draw 5 (Superhuman)
Stamina: Draw 5 (Marathoner)
Agility: Supergirl 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting: Draw 3 (Street Wise)
Energy: Supergirl 5 (Lasers)


The fight fan in me loves this match-up! Two junior heavyweights - each with a 1-0 perfect record on The Comic Book Fight Club. We've seen their forebears go head-to-head in Superman #216, where Captain Marvel grappled with an Eclipso possessed Superman. It took outside interference to settle that battle. Will it be different here? Let's see if we can separate the men from the girls.

Like their counterparts, both characters are statistically very evenly matched. A certain amount of versatility gives Supergirl a slight edge in the tape, however.

Like her younger cousin, Kara Zor-El's Kryptonian genetics are enhanced by the solar energy of Earth's yellow sun. She possesses super-human strength, speed, endurance and stamina, as well as a range of amazing abilities: flight, heat vision, x-ray vision, super breath and enhanced senses. Arriving much later on Earth than the infant Superman, Supergirl remains youthful and less battle tested. Her only recorded battle on the site is a shared victory with the Green Lantern Corps & Justice Leagues during the Sinestro Corps War [Green Lantern #25]. Not a lot to go on, but showing she can hang with impressive company.

Mary Marvel isn't exactly herself at the time today's feature fight takes place. Typically she possesses the acronymic powers of SHAZAM: The wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury. As seen in her takedown of Wonder Woman in Final Crisis #3: the heroic virtues of her pantheon have been perverted by the influence of Darkseid and the evil New Gods. That's the Mary we're dealing with here. Sadistic, unrelenting - evil!

Trickery and the element of surprise were keys to Marvel's victory over Wonder Woman. Supergirl knows what she's flying into at this late stage of the Final Crisis, but can that prepare her for the brutality that awaits? Ordinarily I'd say Mary Marvel has the edge, but there are a lot of x-factors flying around. Earth may have been conquered by Darkseid's Anti-Life Equation, but hope prevails. Lets find out how it went...

The Tape: Supergirl Ranking: Mary Marvel (#139)

What Went Down...
sickly grey sky hangs over desolate streets. The city is become a war zone. High above the skirmishes - titans clash. Supergirl and Mary Marvel are unlikely opposites of good and evil. Their aerobatic struggle cuts a line of demolition through a skyscraper. The corrupt Marvel has the upper hand.


The pair smash through the roof of a parking tower. Supergirl sends Mary back the way they came with an unseen feat of super-human strength! Mary crash lands amongst abandon traffic. Faster than she can avoid - Supergirl flies overhead with a bus. The hero spikes it down at full force, crushing the Marvel beneath and silencing her wicked tongue - at least for now.

Enraged, the dark Marvel explodes through the wreckage leaving an inside-out mess of twisted metal! Lightning surrounds her, but she no longer serves the thunder of the Wizard Shazam or his successor. She's a play thing for Desaad now!


Skyward; Mary flies into the path of a devastating blast of Supergirl's heat vision! It sends the smouldering Marvel immediately falling back to Earth. This time, somebody is waiting -- the battle damaged Black Adam!

Shazam's original fallen disciple has also been weakened by the incursion of Darkseid's forces. Once fuelled by the ancient gods of Egypt - Black Adam hears only the vile prattling of evil New Gods as his powers fade. He catches Mary in a leg hold and seeks answers, only to be brutally kicked in the face! There is no mercy left in Mary Marvel.

The moment provides sufficient distraction for Supergirl to glide unnoticed with a street light. She swings the post toward Mary, but Mary's able to manoeuvre out of serious harm. She drives her left knee into Supergirl's chin - first blood!


Supergirl retaliates - filling her lungs with air and letting it out in a mighty gust of wind! She blows Mary Marvel across the battlefield as Captain Marvel watches on. The new mighty mortal Freddy Freedman isn't much better off than Black Adam, but thinks he has enough magic left for one final gambit!

Supergirl launches herself at Mary Marvel - pinning her to the road with a bent lamp post. Possessed Mary Marvel taunts Supergirl as the heroine contemplates extreme measures to stop the out-of-control Marvel. As she does, a mob of innocent citizens consumed by the Anti-Life Equation descend upon them. So does Captain Marvel!


The young Captain Marvel swoops in and snatches Mary away from Supergirl! He's fought his surrogate sister in this condition before, but now he has an end game! Summoning the last of his magic he shouts the magic word: "SHAZAM!"


When the flash of lightning fades, a scared young girl replaces the demented agent of evil. In the arms of her friend Freddy, Mary Batson swears to do no more harm. For now, this fight is over.

The Hammer...
For coming in late with a crafty strategy to save the day, I've got to split the victory between Captain Marvel and Supergirl!

As you'll note, this was the period when Freddy Freeman dropped the boy and upgraded from Junior to big red cheese. If you're here for facts, you won't want to confuse this one for the classic Captain. He was replacing the Wizard Shazam as guardian of The Rock of Eternity at the time.

That's all well and good, but Cap Jr is an interloper in today's feature! As noted in a dropped reference during the last Hero of the Week post, there's a whole lot of superheroes on television! NBC are reportedly prepping the DC Universe B-list for their upcoming comedy Powerless, which sounds very interesting, but the show that stands high above them all right now is Supergirl!

Of course, if you told me five years ago there'd be TV shows based on Green Arrow, The Flash, Gotham City PD, Hellblazer, and a DCU mixed bag featuring Atom, Hawkman & Hawkgirl -- I would've been sceptical. If you told me Supergirl would be far and away the most compelling of the lot - I might have actually laughed in your face. Coming out of 2015: the joke's on me!

Like Arrow and The Flash; Supergirl shows signs of a lineage of previous productions. Where the other two harken back to the clumsy, unflattering fears of Smallville; Supergirl recalls the airy prime time drama of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. Unlike the Dean Cain/Teri Hatcher vehicle of the 90s, or even 2015 contemporaries, Supergirl seems to go far bolder into the realm of superheroes, representing characters like Red Tornado, Son of Saturn, and Martian Manhunter to thrilling effect!

Everything I've seen from the show has felt like a breath of fresh air. From the Devil Wears Prada flavoured office drama, to the glowing heroism of the lead character -- it all feels pretty on point! Some of the TV diehards may have convinced themselves a handful of references, or CG gorillas and sharks make The Flash the most 'unashamed comic book show' around - but Supergirl is the show that seems to mean it. Cape and all!

The superhero visual has been a running theme on the site in movie & TV influenced updates. The CW's efforts in Arrow, Flash and Legends of Tomorrow fall well short, in that regard. I find the half-in costume design typically much more embarrassing than the looks they're avoiding. It screams the next step in cosplaying for the Smallville kids. No such problem in Supergirl, though.

Melissa Benoist looks every bit the Supergirl in classic red and blue, with gold belt. The basic pattern echoes 1984's Supergirl film, with an upgrade in materials so everything looks a bit sturdier. It's pretty much the definitive Supergirl look, showing up inconsistent designs in the source material, including 2009's exposed mid-riff and blue skirt.

It's not often live-action adaptation gets to show comics how to do their business. That says as much about DC Comics having struggled to really do much of note with the Supergirl character. Attempts to modernize have varied - usually forgettable, or cringe worthy.

Jeph Loeb and the late Michael Turner gave us the streamlined Supergirl seen in Final Crisis, introduced as Kara Zor-El in a very awkward Superman/Batman re-introduction in 2004. Turner probably wasn't the artist to set the right tone, but the general streamlining of the character's origins and relationships helped once it was an accepted moving on. That may be a story to look at another day.

I'm sure we'll revisit more from Final Crisis, as well. If you'd like to get the jump on the full epic and see all of today's feature fight, take advantage of Amazon links provided [embedded right].

Winners: Captain Marvel & Supergirl
(+157) #89 Supergirl
(+218) #99 Captain Marvel Jr
(-149) #288 Mary Marvel
(--) #17 Black Adam [+1 Assist]
(-9) #481 Desaad

Monday, January 11, 2016

HERO OF THE WEEK: THE PUNISHER (Marvel)
Real Name: Frank Castle
First Appearance: Amazing Spider-man #129 (February, 1974)
Fight Club Ranking: #64

Featured Fights:
- vs Daredevil: Daredevil #65 (Nov 2004)
- vs Rhino: Punisher War Journal #3 (Mar 2007)
- vs The Syndiate: Punisher #5 (Jul 2009)
- vs Deadpool: Deadpool: Suicide Kings #2 (Jul 2009)
- vs X-Men: What If...? #24 (Apr 1991)
- vs Captain America: What If...? #51 (Jul 1993)

The notion that we're living in a new "golden age" of television begs serious review, but for fans of live-action superheroes on TV, it's clear to see there's never been a more fertile time. The medium in its varied forms -- including subscription based streaming services -- has become the new battleground for bulging licenses already spilling out of overbooked theatres. One of the rare characters making the crossover from big screen to small is The Punisher -- upcoming in Netflix's Daredevil Season 2, March 18th.


Where DC's properties have exploded through sprawling quantity across various networks; Marvel and Netflix are favouring a deliberate pace of premium subscription content. Daredevil's second season is the third produced by the unique partnership. This week's Friday Night Fight [The Pulse #14] was inspired by late last year's breakout addition: Jessica Jones. Each featuring Marvel's "street level" urban heroes; all Netflix series are planned to converge in an Averngers-esque crossover using The Defenders banner. Heroes for Hire Luke Cage and Iron Fist are next in line for shows.

With the four pillars of these grand designs announced back in 2013, it was no certainty any of the individual heroes would receive more than one series. The thought that there'd be room to accommodate new feature players like The Punisher seemed a bridge too far. That's exactly what's promised of DD Sseason 2, though. The Walking Dead's Jon Bernthal becomes the fourth actor to step into Frank Castle's world weary combat boots. He'll establish an antagonist for what's been described as the "Daredevil vs Punisher" series. It's a tantalizing concept for fans of the comics.

Casting choices seems to be the through line of conversation for 2015-2016. Bernthal made an immediate impact on announcement - not just for his fan courting comic-based credentials, but for his suitability for the role. The dark hair, cold gaze, and busted nose have the obvious tough guy trappings of Marvel's militant vigilante. The hard work will be in the creative direction, and a character rooted in the aftermath of the Vietnam War always poses adaptation challenges.

As noted, there have been three Punisher feature films in the past - The Punisher (1989), The Punisher (2004), and Punisher: War Zone (2008). They've all had their virtues and pitfalls.

Dolph Lundgren's '89 Frank Castle was a violent ex-cop meditating nude in the sewers when he wasn't gunning his way through the criminal fraternities of stand-in city Sydney, Australia. A low budget, turn of the decade action vehicle, it was pretty much everything you'd expect: monosyllabic, cheap, but not without its charms. Punisher's iconic skull emblem was infamously absent from wardrobe, but tonal echoes from the comics make it a uniquely enjoyable guilty pleasure. Castle's war on the mob has left them unable to defend themselves from incursion by Lady Tanaka and the Yakuza. Even organized crime couldn't escape fears the Japanese were going to buy the world! What you get is the only Punisher movie to deliver dockside ninjas, a high rise full of training assassins, and a drunk out of work stage actor turned informant called Shake (as in 'Speare).

2004's do-over bumped Thomas Jane's Frank up to Desert Storm veteran turned FBI Agent whose entire living bloodline is wiped out by the mob -- not just his wife and offspring! Jane didn't have the pencilled and inked look of Lundgren's Punisher (who's visually underrated) -- but accepted a death's head t-shirt into his life, and embarked on a one-man war that keeps the film mostly tethered to a tightly packed series of events set in Tampa. Some saw location as a major drawback, but it worked.

No Yakuza assassins in 2004, though. Only a comic-inspired turn by pro wrestler Kevin Nash as "The Russian" that's nicely over-the-top in its stripey, seven-foot absurdity. As opposed to 2008's War Zone, which fumbles its many impressions of the violent comic world to finish with an unpleasant, unengaging mess inspired by Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy if it was a fraction of the budget and on suicide watch. Which was a shame, because Ray Stevens nailed the character in a great many respects - and Seinfeld's Wayne Knight completed dream casting as Microchip. It also gave us the first name-villain: Jigsaw. No gains to note from that.

With Marvel back in charge of their gun toting maniac, the hail of bullets has the opportunity to hit targets they've missed to date. Throwing the character into the world of Daredevil is a great chance to both define the character, yet do something all together new. If successful, the feature player could develop into his own starring character, either in series or another shot at movies. I'm hopeful this can be a great new outing for the character, and that hope makes Punisher the Hero of the Week.

If you were a fan of the original HOTW run on 1up.com, or just want to see who was featured in past instalments, you can now use the links below to track back chronologically through the entire archive. The unwritten rule is no hero will be repeated in a year, so there should be some nice variety. There'll be more variety during this Friday Night Fight, but I think we'll see the influence of more superhero TV. Hope to see you then!

Friday, January 08, 2016

KNIGHTRESS versus OWL
Finale (Marvel)
Where:
The Pulse #14 When: May 2006
Why: Brian Michael Bendis How: Michael Gaydos

The Story So Far...
Married life has been good for Luke Cage and Jessica Jones. With a new born child, the pair are reminiscing about the good old days - like the first time they met!
 
Jessica was in a dark place at that time in her life. Her ordeal with The Purple Man had left the former Jewel despondent and clinging to life as a costumed protector by the thread of her need to hit something.
 
Adopting a grim new identity for her final shot at being a superhero, Jones became Knightress! Prowling the city by night, she sets her angry fists on the criminal called The Owl. Little did this bird of prey know, his deal is in danger from a pair of Heroes for Hire as well!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Jessica Jones 5 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Draw 3 (Straight A)
Speed: Jessica Jones 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Jessica Jones 5 (Marathoner)
Agility: Draw 2 (Average)
Fighting: Draw 3 (Street Wise)
Energy: Draw 1 (None)


There's a slim chance you might be wondering who this Knightress character is. If you are - you may know her better as Jewel aka; Jessica Jones.

After a very nasty run-in with The Purple Man; Jones turned her back on a brief career in the superhero game, but not before taking one last stab at it under the guise of Knightress. This was her dark and moody eighties period, inspired by similar costume changes of the time, eg; Spidey's black threads.

How'd she become a superhero? Oh, you know how it is. An accident involving radioactive chemicals killed her parents and put young Jessica in a coma. A while after she woke up - she discovered the accident also gave her super-strength, endurance, and the ability to fly. Flight never quite worked out so well, but her other powers have meant mixing it up with super-villain bruisers has never been a problem. Bad news for The Owl!

Leland Owlsley once lived large as "The Owl of Wall Street", but a penchant for criminal dealings ended his days in trading, and spawned a career as a would-be master of organized crime! To facilitate these criminal aspirations he invested in a serum, which granted him a limited ability to glide.

Continued body modification and self-inflicted mutations have given The Owl increased gliding ability, sharpened teeth, lighter bones, improved reflexes, greater strength and physical resistance, keen hearing and vision, and a taste for mice. The Owl also favors wrist-mounted talons as his weapon of choice.


Neither character has had an overwhelmingly stellar career, but it's fair to say The Owl has had significant staying power as a player within the urban criminal underworld. It's the very domain Jessica Jones turned her back on, but she wasn't out of the game at the time of this encounter -- and she's looking for somebody to hit!

Jones' impressive strength puts her in a class above The Owl. To combat that, Owl's best bets are relying on goons, environmental hazards, and dirty tactics. Since it's hard to find good help any day, and this fight's taking place during a meeting with tetchy rivals, Owl is on the back foot. Jones is emotional here, which could make her reckless. Lets see if that's an equalizer...

The Tape: Knightress Ranking: Draw (Not Ranked)

What Went Down...
Stalking the night for something to hit: Knightress follows the sirens to a high-speed chase with The Owl. He may have given the cops the slip, but his secret rendezvous will never the less be interrupted! Knightress favours the warehouse skylight as a means of entry. Owl's contacts blame him for the trouble. Both sides look for a way out while Knightress starts swinging at goons.

Power Man & Iron Fist crash the party to hold down the fleeing crooks. In the commotion, Knightress doesn't notice The Owl sneaking up behind her from within the shadows...


Blade drawn, Owl slashes Knightress across the back! A dirty move, but effective. For a moment, she drops to her hands and knees. Owl orders his men to stop fighting and run. His opportunity has past. He shouldn't have poked the bear. Now he's going to get the claws!


As Owl attempts to make his getaway - Knightress catches him by the hair. The swooped look may have worked for Wolverine, but Owl's probably regretting it as he's tugged and launched into the air by his fanned follicles!

Owl comes back down to earth safely - presumably thanks to his gliding abilities - and throws a forearm in Knightress' direction. She blocks it and lets out a blood curdling roar of anger. Owl is running so scared, he doesn't even notice he's charging headlong into the waiting fist of Power Man!


Good thing he's called The Owl, 'cause his face is gonna be flat for a while!

The Hammer...
With a surprise one-two finish, I'm calling the winners Power Man and Knightress!

Iron Fist isn't chopped liver, but he'll have to wait for an unlikely spotlight on his and Power Man's secondary struggle (with the other mob goons) to pick up any stats. It ain't easy being green (and yellow), man.

Meanwhile, did anybody enjoy that as much as I did? Wow! There's just something about going back to the Marvel streets that really hits the spot! I love a good recurring B-grade villain and Owl is about as B (or C) grade as it gets. Hope we can get back to him again.

My selection is, of course, inspired by Marvel's big year of Netflix series - specifically Jessica Jones. The breakout 2015 live-action show stars Krysten Ritter as today's featured heroine, with Mike Colter making his first appearances as Luke Cage. Cage is next on the slate for his own Netflix serial, with Iron Fist somewhere not far behind, so there's some nice symmetry to it all, even if Ritter never appears as Knightress.

As is (sadly) customary, the live-action version differs from the original in a variety of ways. It's interesting casting. I like Ritter in general, but she strikes me as a significant departure from the everywoman of the comics. Ritter seems to bring a natural 'tude that's just a bit too punk for the Jessica Jones of the comics. She isn't a traditional beauty, but has a striking quality that makes her stand out from a crowd. Even her hair tells a very different story.

Casting comic book characters in live-action is almost always a divisive exercise. Comics are an indulgently visual medium. Visual codes and iconography are valuable tools. The image holds a great deal of importance. No matter the justification, this doesn't change in the conversion to the so-called "real world". Sometimes it's just a matter of whether or not the new idea is good enough to subvert the old. Audiences have become very forgiving toward the formula. We used to loathe Hollywood for its lacklustre representation of our characters. After decades of distortion, some now demand this approach.

For me, the appeal of Jessica Jones relies a lot on the superhero world that movies still aren't fully comfortable with. Creator Brian Michael Bendis has earned a bit of a reputation for the things he destroys, or tears down, but in Jessica Jones, he made a worthy contribution.

The character as originally conceived was nearly a revamped Jessica Drew. That could've been a valid relaunch for a languishing character of limited appeal. As I write this, I wonder if the raven-haired Krysten Ritter wouldn't look more at home in Drew's skin. It hardly matters. The two Jones are different sides of the same scenario -- a resistance to superheroes. In live-action, the character is a budget conscious, unintimidating, costumeless figure that asks a minimum of the audience's suspension of disbelief. In the comics, Jones is a failed superhero of no consequence, who's been provoked to reclaim her humanity. She exists to confront the superhero concept from another perspective. At once wanting to escape the Marvel Universe, yet constantly finding it thrust upon her.
 
The Knightress persona seen in the final issue of The Pulse represents one of the interesting little flicks of the wrist that allow Jones to participate in the very world she comments on. Always just a bit ordinary, her costume choice looks like the kind of Kitty Pryde tribute cosplay a well meaning adolescent might come up with. That sash, screaming of a touch of Phoenix. Dorky cosplay ala; John Byrne. A sly comment on an era, fans, and creators who're somewhere overlapping the three.

I see a lot of Phil Sheldon (Marvels) in the basic concept. Created in 2001, Jones was stitched into Marvel's history through a series of secret events. She had a high school crush on Peter ParkerTony Stark was indirectly responsible for her Daredevil-like origin. The coming of Galactus impacted her recovery. Spider-man influenced her career as a superhero. Another view, somewhere beyond and more lasting than Sheldon's Eye of the Camera. More individual, too.

I also can't help but think of another character with a 'secret history' created just a year before Jones: The Sentry. Readers of Bendis's New Avengers know the hoax hero for his bumpy "return" to the Marvel Universe, but long before that he was presented as a lost Stan Lee creation unearthed in 2000. In truth, it was a high concept gimmick by Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee, which spawned a string of one-shots and a mini-series detailing the lost adventures of Marvel's answer to Superman.

The Sentry differed from Jessica Jones in Alias in that he was the opposite end of the spectrum - an escalation of the superhero universe. His secret history had a similar array of ties to established figures, but his connections were presented in senior terms. He was an inspiration to, or best friend, to the likes of: Hulk, Mr. Fantastic, Spider-man, and the X-Men. Dr. Doom's better, the ultimate hero - save for his 'Marvel headache' of mental illiness and a villainous alter-ego called The Void. It was a lot of fun in isolation, but doomed to fail without the finesse, characterization, and social commentary that buoyed Jessica Jones to lasting significance beyond the initial Marvel MAX series.

Bendis has said using Jessica Drew in the MAX series would've condemned Alias to be non-canonical. Were it not for the quality of work and the balance of ideas -- I think that could've been the case, regardless. Instead, Marvel gained an interesting, well realized new character introduced the right way, who endures to this day. A still recent example to be taken note of, particularly if you're the type concerned about gender politics.
 
The Pulse #14 was the final issue in the Alias follow-up. You can find it collected via the Amazon link provided [right].

Winners: Luke Cage & Knightress
(+2) #14 Luke Cage
(new) #275 Jessica Jones
(new) #767 The Owl