Friday, March 24, 2017

Trial By Fire (DC)
Suicide Squad #2 When: June 1987
Why: John Ostrander How: Luke McDonnell

The Story So Far...
To the outside world: Belle Reve Federal Prison is just a hive for holding incarcerated scum and villainy. Within those walls reigns Task Force X Agent: Amanda Waller - taking her pick of the litter for an expendable covert ops group codenamed The Suicide Squad!

In their second field mission The Squad are headed to Northern Qurac. Their target: Jotunheim -- the cliff-side stronghold of an emerging terrorist organization known simply as The Jihad.

Task Force X has inside intel on the super-human terrorist group, who've been hired to commit an attack on the United States within the week. That means the know exactly who they're up against, and how to take them down! Now it's just a matter of wrangling their reluctant forces long enough to take them down!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Draw 3 (Athlete)
Intelligence: Draw 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Draw 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Draw 5 (Marathoner)
Agility: Draw 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting: Draw 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy: Draw 1 (None)
Total: Bronze Tiger 25 (Champion)

The Suicide Squad are headed to Northern Qurac for their second field mission against a terrorist organization known simply as The Jihad (later Onslaught). We've already seen Deadshot take on Manticore. Now Bronze Tiger has drawn a perfectly matched opponent as skilled in the deadly arts as he is!

Tiger was along for the Squad's first mission against Brimstone in Legends #3, but as we ultimately saw, his deadly hands were mainly present to keep Enchantress in check [also in Legends #3]. He was out of his league against a giant beast of Apokolips, but this time Benjamin Turner is in his element!

In his youth, Turner left the crime-ridden streets of Central City to seek the path of a master martial artist. In Japan, he studied under O-Sensei alongside fellow student Richard Dragon. They fought side-by-side as agents of GOOD and the CBI, until Turner was captured and brainwashed by The League of Assassins!

For a time Bronze Tiger became one of the world's most notorious assassins, famous for besting Batman! A rescue mission led by Rick Flag eventually brought him back to the side of angels. He volunteered for the Suicide Squad as penance, never certain that the programming he received is totally gone.

Ravan's path to murder was decidedly more willing. He's one of the last of the Thuggee: a real-life cult of Indian thieves and murderers known to insinuate themselves into the lives of travelers, gaining their trust in order to kill them. Experts on the subject estimate the sect to be responsible for somewhere between fifty thousand, to two million deaths over a span of 150 years.

With every murder, Ravan believes he delays the coming of the Kali Yuga for a thousand years -- an age of chaos wrought by the demon Kali. He applies his religion to a modern context, making assassination his trade. He's a highly skilled hand-to-hand martial artist, with a particular penchant for the garrote. A charming playboy who delights at the contest of a worthy opponent -- and boy has he found one!

The Tape rates our two fighters statistically evenly matched -- but I give the overall advantage to Bronze Tiger. His training seems to be a bit more diverse, more expert, and his reputation far exceeds that of Ravan. I'm also tipping my hand a little with knowledge of their subsequent encounters. What happened the first time Bronze Tiger fought Ravan? Let's find out!

The Tape: Draw Ranking: Bronze Tiger (#135)

What Went Down...
His fourth tier quarters are described as "part shrine to Kali, part playboy mansion." There, Ravan rests -- until his peace is interrupted by the sound of exterior gunfire against the facility. Jotunheim is under attack, but as the skilled Thuggee martial artist quickly realizes -- so is he!

The master combatants share honorable introductions as they square off, each admiring the obvious skill of the other. It isn't often either man meets an opponent they can consider a worthy challenge.

is it Bronze Tiger's shoulder or fist that collides with Ravan's jaw as the fight gets under way? It's hard to say. The two fighter's legs tangle. The second blow is decisive: Bronze Tiger's right arm raining down with a tomahawk-like chop!

Ravan throws his arm up - staggering the Bronze Tiger enough to cost him a vertical base! The Thuggee fighter swings his right leg, but Bronze Tiger leans down and blocks the head-high kick!

Their masterful moves have been a successive flow of strike and counter-strike. Devastating in their precision, and chess-like in the consequence of their commitment to the most efficient response. The conclusion is an inevitability already decided several moves in advance.

The blocked kick forces Ravan into a vulnerable open stance. Bronze Tiger wastes no opportunity capitalizing -- thrusting a kick into his opponent's spine!

Ravan drops to the floor. He knows in an instant that he's defeated. His back is broken. He cannot defend himself. With resignation, he accepts his fate: "Kill me". Bronze Tiger turns his back. Ravan will not die this day.

The man once programmed to kill by The League of Assassins should have no trouble executing his opponent, but to what end? He was ordered to neutralize Ravan. In this, he has succeeded. He has no memory of his past life as a killer, and sees no reason to incite it. To Ravan's fury - he leaves with his victory.

The Hammer...
A broken back is a pretty definitive way to defeat your opponent! Bronze Tiger is undeniable winner.

Ravan lives to fight another day, and indeed, vows to find the means to take his revenge. He swears so on Kali - so you know he means business! Comics being what they are, you can probably guess he'll eventually return. The rematch - to be visited at some stage in The Comic Book Fight Club's future!

For now, we dwell on the past. Not for any negative contrast, but to reassess the fine works of John Ostrander and Luke McDonnell.

I haven't always appreciated them the way I should, but I've found my fandom along the way.

We were a little scattershot when Secret Wars on Infinite Earths featured the Suicide Squad last August. That meant short shrift on the series itself, and to Bronze Tiger, in particular. Nice to be back to pick up the tab!

If I remember correctly, Suicide Squad #2 fell into my lap some time around 1989 or '90. I was young. Very young. Too young to be responsibly handed a comic book about international terrorism, and/or military suicide missions.

It came in a show bag with an issue of MAD Magazine and a novelty whoopee cushion. A mothers group's nightmare, I imagine, but such were the times. It hardly mattered. Celebrity caricatures and faux-flatulence were good for a few laughs, but the Suicide Squad was a tough sell to a young reader. If a parent had been aware enough to be concerned about the impact of the subject matter, they would've been relieved to know it was largely lost on a small child. There was plenty going on in the issue, but there were too many generic folk without exciting costumes. No competition for the four-colour laugh riot of the then contemporary Justice League, or so I thought at the time.

For the most part, super-powers always made side arms seem pretty lame to this young reader. Punisher and Nick Fury lacked the charm of their pulp era forebears, and guys like Rick Flag and Nemesis didn't even have the decency to wear a fancy bodysuit! Blokes in t-shirts and slacks weren't exactly cutting it in a world dominated by Spider-man, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the like.

I don't mind saying that the reader was definitely the problem.

With wiser eyes, I've found the joy in Suicide Squad, and even the members of The Jihad that once seemed so plain. You'll note that the super-villain group was redubbed "The Onslaught" a decade or two later, when the meaning of their name became a more sensitive subject in The West.

As it turns out, Suicide Squad was the kind of comics I actually loved all along. If I'd only investigated beyond an initial childhood bias, I would've seen it was far more than a mere modern take on war and spy comics.

The series is and was a joyous melting pot of disparate concepts sourced from old comics, new comics, forgotten comics, and the real world of global culture, politics, and events. Heck. With more reading and awareness of the world, it turned out the war stories were pretty good, too! It's just nice that it has a kick of kung-fu heroes, Kirby Fourth World, and other super-hero mythology, too.
Most major characters weaved into the tapestry of Suicide Squad offer a thread of tangents explored over the course of the series. They provide a bank of natural stories that flow effortlessly around the missions, and DC crossover events that occur throughout. At times it seems as if Ostrander has more ideas than he can possibly find time for! Their simmering builds a lot of effective tension in the series, and makes every new story a well earned change of pace.

Bronze Tiger is a unique thread to the kung-fu comics of the '70s, and The League of Assassins, who are famous by association with Batman. Some time we'll take a closer look at Bronze Tiger's fight with Batman, which is frequently referenced in Suicide Squad to establish his credibility as a combatant.

Tiger's history isn't focused upon until much later in the run, but he adds a lot of spice to the mix as one of the team's few heroic figures.

Benjamin Turner is a man with conviction putting his troubled past behind him. A contrast to Rick Flag, who spends the early part of the series putting his troubled past in front of him. Their connection through backstory makes the Suicide Squad stronger.

Flag was the man who pulled Bronze Tiger out of The League of Assassins, and helped deprogram him with Amanda Waller. The retrieval mission was initiated because of Bronze Tiger's history with the Central Bureau of Intelligence (CBI), and King Faraday. A rich tapestry of DC references that lend a strong sense of verisimilitude to the world of the Squad, and surrounding intelligence agencies.

It was fascinating to learn that Ravan is a character who appropriates a real life criminal concept. The Thuggee (said tug-gee) were apparently a genuine cult of bandits and murderers found in India. As noted in The Tale of The Tape [above], they're attributed by scholars with responsibility for somewhere between 50,000 and 2 million murders. A clan whose primary intent was to kill without remorse. A scary concept. Very effective in its context of comics!

Ravan eventually becomes a member of the Suicide Squad himself. I'm looking forward to examining more of those stories. His relationship with Bronze Tiger will remain antagonistic, but they establish a curious rapport around mutual respect. I mightn't have appreciated Ravan as a youngster, but his unique brand of suave assassin is a lot of fun as it develops!

For now, we update the rankings and press on! March is a month of martial arts mayhem inspired by the Netflix release of Iron Fist! The Marvel heroes have been taking over The Comic Book Fight Club, so I thought I'd take this last opportunity to show some DC love. We've got one more martial arts showdown to go, but as you'll soon see -- it comes from neither of the "Big Two".

Can't get enough Suicide Squad or Bronze Tiger? Ready to read the series for yourself? Use the Amazon purchase link provided [right] to get this battle and more in collected edition! Doing so helps support the site at no extra cost to you!

Use links littered throughout this entry to discover more exciting corners of the comic book universes! You can also dive into the Secret Archive Index to check out every previous feature fight referenced by publisher, series and issue! Or follow on Facebook and Twitter to get daily fight links inspired by current topics! A like and share make all the difference!

Winner: Bronze Tiger
#77 (+58) Bronze Tiger
#826 (new) Ravan

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