Friday, March 23, 2018

Living Daylights (DC)
Action Comics Annual #4 When: 1992
Why: Dan Vado How: Chris Wozniak

The Story So Far...
The darkness of rage and vengeance is threatening to eclipse a world besieged by Eclipso! The ancient demon of vengeance has been returned upon the mortal world, exploiting the darkness within the mortal soul to possess an ever growing army of eclipsed souls!

With the situation growing more desperate as Earth's greatest defenders fall under Eclipso's control, what's left of the Justice League of America must work with Professor Emil Hamilton and Lex Luthor to devise a means of combatting Eclipso's plague-like influence!

Desperate to buy the heroes the time they need to enact a technological trap - Superman volunteers himself in exchange for the souls Eclipso has hoarded in a small fishing village. As he becomes a vessel for Eclipso himself, even Superman is unaware of the League's ace in the hole: The Power of Shazam!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Draw 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Captain Marvel 5 (Professor)
Speed: Superman 6 (Mach Speeds)
Stamina: Superman 7 (Unstoppable)
Agility: Draw 2 (Average)
Fighting: Draw 3 (Street Wise)
Energy: Superman 5 (Lasers)
Total: Superman 33 (Super)

They really ought to be the best of friends, but when one serves with the Justice League - the other often isn't required. They're two of the toughest heroes in the cabinet, possessing peak power capable of knocking planets off their axis!

The key differences that separate their basic similarity helps make this one of the most compelling super-heavyweight showdowns in comics history! It also doesn't hurt that they battled it out newsstands during the Golden Age, and went head-to-head in the courtrooms in the fifties!

Captain Marvel is Earth's mightiest mortal, endowed with a plethora of powers supplied by a pantheon of inspirations! By speaking the wizard Shazam's name, good young soul Billy Batson summons an acronym of abilities to his place:

Captain Marvel possess: 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! Together these sources spell the magic word: SHAZAM!

Superman was sent to Earth as an infant, escaping the destruction of his home world Krypton aboard a lonely rocket ship. Crash landing in Kansas, baby Kal-el was adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent. He learned to use the abilities gifted by Earth's yellow sun for the betterment of mankind. He possesses super-human strength, stamina & endurance, speed, flight, and heat vision!

Despite his amazing abilities; Superman can be stripped of his awesome powers by exposure to the mineral of Kryptonite. These irradiated remnants of his destroyed home planet, or close simulations, come with a variety of side effects. It remains Superman's best known and deadliest weakness!

Does he have an inherent weakness to magic? Around these parts we say - no.

Superman's abilities naturally leverage advantages over the material world. Phenomena deemed "magic" exists to subvert established understandings of material reality, and causality. Superman has no natural defense against this type of magic -- but he also isn't uniquely vulnerable to it.

Captain Marvel's strength and might may be supplied by magic, but it should be debated it has no unique effect on Superman. His isn't spellbound strength to be greater than others. It's merely an infusion unto Captain Marvel. That said...

In Kingdom Come #4, we saw how Shazam's magic lightning bolt could be weaponized in combat. Instead of receiving its transformative effects, Captain Marvel can narrowly avoid it at high-speed - directing it against an opponent. It was enough to give him an advantage over Superman, at least until he used super-speed to turn the tables, and silence Billy Batson.

In today's featured fight, Superman will be possessed by the wicked entity known as Eclipso. An Eclipsed Superman will fight Captain Marvel again a decade later, in Superman #216. The lightning ambush had a role to play in that struggle, but it was the intervention of The Spectre that secured victory.

Likewise, Captain Marvel relied on a tag team partnership with Hawkman to deal with his stalemate against Superman in Superman/Batman #4! Our records show this as a victory to Captain Marvel, but it's an asterisk where determining the winner of this classic rivalry is concerned!

Personally, I just have such a soft spot for Captain Marvel, I always go into the rivalry viewing him as a slight underdog determined to win. Will that be the case today? Eclipso's malice will add a significant twist to Superman's attacks, but it also means a less experienced hand, and a new spectrum for vulnerability.

Captain Marvel comes into the fight with the element of surprise. Let's find out if that's enough to secure a victory over his compromised legendary rival!

History: Captain Marvel (1-0-2)
The Tape: Superman Ranking: Superman (#5)

What Went Down...

Steered by the malice of Eclipso; The Man of Steel looms menacingly over Fire, preparing to finish her with intense beams of Kryptonian heat vision!

Suddenly -- an unseen force strikes like lightning! With the swiftness of Mercury; Captain Marvel collects the unsuspecting Eclipso Superman - rocketing him through a surrounding wood to a slamming halt in the dirt!

Apparently unaware of Eclipso's possession, Captain Marvel wonders what's gotten in to his usually heroic contemporary. The compromised Man of Steel replies by leaping from the dirt to uproot a mighty wood -- turning it into a giant bat with a single swing at the mighty Marvel!

Eclipso Superman immediately closes the space between them - following with a devastating left cross to the Captain's chin! The big red cheese absorbs the blow, firing back with his own punch that sends Superman hurtling away!

The villainous entity is thrilled by the prospect of facing an opponent worthy of Superman's strength, but Captain Marvel is reluctant to cause him harm.

Earth's mightiest mortal makes peace with his predicament, flying at Superman like a big red battering ram! The awesome blow launches Superman careening across the small town conquered by Eclipso - sending him into nearby water.

Remorse overwhelms Captain Marvel as he skims the water, failing to find an emerging Superman. The villain's gambit pays off. He explodes from the liquid veil directly below - catching Marvel unprepared with a flying uppercut!

This time it's Captain Marvel's turn to get wet! He lands in another section of water, but Eclipso Superman is immediately upon him! A bicep of steal wraps around Marvel's throat, tightening to choke the air from his body!

Cap desperately pushes the fight to the surface - breaking for air. Now hovering above the water, he breaks Superman's chokehold and delivers a point blank blow direct to the face!

The mighty Marvel catches up with Superman back on land. The docks provide Eclipso's grounded vessel with plenty of weapons. He hoists a massive part of the pier above his head and hurls it at the apologetic big red cheese!

In an effort to dispel the misunderstanding that he's still Superman - Eclipso quickly catches Captain Marvel by the throat and slams his hammering fist onto the top of the mighty mortal's skull!

The vicious assault convinces Marvel of his mistaken. He swats Eclipso Superman's hand from his throat and sends him involuntarily airborne with another all mighty punch to the jaw! This time Supes' trajectory takes him into a nearby silo that immediately explodes!

Just when Marvel thinks he's finally slowed his rival down - a flaming fist tugs at his collar and sends him flying with an epic, full swing haymaker!

The power of Zeus ensures the landing doesn't destroy Captain Marvel - but it's hard luck for the tanker his body cut through!

Doused in leaking gasoline - he can do nothing but dread the burst of igniting heat vision that causes the tanker to explode!

Marvel lets out a roar as his body is engulfed in flames! Fortunately, he soon recovers - standing across the burning battlefield to face-off with Eclipso again!

The two super heavyweights collide! Eclipso wants the mighty mortal's death - but there's no quit in the big red cheese! He swings the back of his right fist across Superman's face! Eclipso signs his work - firing back with his own fist!

The vicious counter-strike sends Captain Marvel hurtling into a construction site across town! The impact destroys a large crane, but still he refuses to stop. He hoists the massive machine above his head and greets Eclipso Superman by hurling it at him!

Eclipso attempts to reduce the machine to slag with a blast of heat vision, but it doesn't stop the mangled metal's trajectory toward him!

They head for the sky, but Captain Marvel follows the shrapnel with a devastating right hand that forces Superman earthbound! His impact causes the balanced house of girders to come crashing down upon him, as well!

Again, Captain Marvel makes the mistake of believing the fight is finally over. Again, the Eclipsed Superman rises from the rubble. He does so to a glimmering of hope from high atop an overlooking mountain!

The light signals the activation of a solar trap devised to wash away the taint of Eclipso with a cleansing light! The untested device was designed by the brilliant Professor Emil Hamilton and Lex Luthor - but its demand for power is too great!

Marvel locks Superman in a full nelson and points him towards the flickering light. Eclipso cannot escape the hold, but he may not have to. The solar trap returns the darkness of night, much to Captain Marvel's dismay!

Buoyed by the near-miss, Eclipso frees himself with a mighty flexing of Superman's muscles - and a thrust of his elbow! He topples Earth's mightiest mortal anew, looming over him with designs for a killing blow!

Another flicker of the solar trap curbs Eclipso's murderous intent. Unwilling to risk losing control of Superman's power, he opts instead to fight another day, leaving a bruised and battered Captain Marvel to contemplate his fortunes.

The Hammer...
All in all it was a fairly straight forward slugfest, but boy! There was plenty to recap! It probably deserves its place as one of the less celebrated fights between Superman and Captain Marvel, but it has its sneaky moments...

The over-sized Action Comics Annual #4 can roughly be divided into two main fights. The other half is a battle between Superman and a ragtag JLA trio who will help him combat Doomsday later the same year [see; Superman #74].

The issue generally suffers from inconsistent artwork throughout, but the moments involving Captain Marvel produce some of the best looking pages of the issue. That panel late in the fight [above], when the two are flying straight at each other, has a particularly well rendered Captain Marvel!

Chris Wozniak is penciller, but there's a small army of inkers contributing: Karl Altstaetter, Trevor Scott, Karl Kesel, and Steve Mitchell are all credited.

If you've ever wondered how much an inker can affect an artists work, this is a pretty good study. There's considerable variance from page to page. Even the character models vary a surprising amount.

I can't confidently identify which inker contributed to which pages, and I'm not sure I'd want to judge too harshly. I imagine the Eclipso: Darkness Within event -- featured in various DC Annuals in '92 -- threw a lot of extra work into the mix. Deadlines probably had an influence on a lot of what we see.

As a matter of quality and personal taste: I obviously prefer the smooth, simply rendered panels containing Captain Marvel. It seems like those images show a genuine affection for the classic version of the character, who'd been slightly betrayed by his post-Crisis integration into the DC Universe through Shazam: The New Beginning, Legends, and Justice League.

This appearance may be one of the earliest indications of walking the character back from contemporary trappings, for a more deliberate, classically tinged, slightly anachronistic vision. Jerry Ordway launched a strong new vision in graphic novel format in '94, launching into the Power of Shazam series in '95.

The dueling styles in Action Comics Annual #4 remind me of the growing pains DC Comics seemed to go through in the early nineties.

The considered cool of DC's post-Crisis relaunch seemed to prolapse into pretty slapdash reactions to the rise of Image, nasty revamps, and of course self-flagellating stunts informed by Death of Superman. They navigated their way to a pretty strong 2000s, but the identity crisis that gave way to some real trash feels all too familiar in the 2010s.

Eclipso: The Darkness Within clearly left an impression on someone - and not just my friend who was quite enamored with Eclipso's wanton destruction of second-tier characters, and gimmick "real gem" cover.

Revamping the villain as a high-concept precursor of The Spectre made for some memorable return appearances, including the better remembered Eclipso Superman rematch of 2005 [see; Superman #216]. Geoff Johns mined some lower stakes fun from the possession angle in the pages of JSA, as well.

I've found myself with a curious taste for Eclipso, so we may just find our way back to the villain sometime in the near future. For now, we record another draw in the classic rivalry between Superman and Captain Marvel!

[Note: Eclipso Superman may've been trending toward the upper-hand, but he left the fight to avoid defeat. Captain Marvel may be worse for wear, but he's still trucking. The record will show that this result is an inconclusive draw.]

If you'd like to find more from any of these characters, be sure to follow links throughout this post, or in the labels listed below. You can also dive into the Secret Archive for featured fights index by publisher, series, and issue number.

You can also follow Secret Wars on Infinite Earths on Twitter and Facebook to get daily links to fights inspired by the topics of the day! A like, share or retweet is a nice way to support the site and bring the fight to your friends! Shazam!

Winner: Inconclusive (Draw)
#5 (--) Superman
#112 (--) Captain Marvel
#534 (+40) Eclipso

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