Friday, April 19, 2019

Hellboy in Mexico or, a Drunken Blur (Dark Horse)
Hellboy in Mexico When: May 2010
Why: Mike Mignola How: Richard Corben

The Story So Far...
On mission in Mexico in 1982; Hellboy and Abe Sapien take shelter from the heat in an abandoned villa. Inside, a wall of photographs and news clippings tell the weaving tale of various superstars of lucha libre, surprisingly, including a trio photographed in the company of Hellboy!

HB shares the story of a grim experience he had in 1956, when he and two rookie BPRD agents -- Hendricks and Murphy -- were sent to Mexico to make a dent in the dense supernatural activity troubling the desert. It was in one of these small towns that Hellboy first encountered the triplets on a tour of the wrestling circuit, where they earned food and money for alcohol.

The trios path changed when before a match they visited a local church, only to find the priest murdered by undead horrors that plagued the area. The brothers saw a vision of the Virgin Mary that told them to leave their life of wrestling, and turn their powers to the vanquishing of monsters. Thus, they teamed up with Hellboy, who had been abandoned by his BPRD colleagues, who were too disturbed by what they'd seen to remain with the organization.

The monster-hunting foursome made merry times as they dealt defeat to the devilish fiends lurking the desert, but their drinking would leave one of the brothers unstuck. Stumbling into the night, Esteban was attacked and abducted by the dark vengeful forces that lurked in the gloom. Hellboy and the remaining two enmascarados interrogated and tortured the night creatures for information, but turn up nothing until a poster of a horrific new wrestler emerges. A bloody challenge is painted in red over a photograph of an ancient temple: El le espera Hellboy. ¡Venga solo! He waits for you, Hellboy. Come alone!

Thus, Hellboy enters the ring to meet the challenge of his lost friend. Esteban is no more. Now there is only -- ¡Camazotz!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Hellboy 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Hellboy 5 (Professor)
Speed: Hellboy 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Hellboy 6 (Generator)
Agility: Hellboy 2 (Average)
Fighting: Hellboy 6 (Warrior)
Energy: Hellboy 3 (Explosives)
Total: Hellboy 31 (Super)

By now you probably know the story: Hellboy is the half-demon Anung Un Rama, born to a human witch, Sarah Hughes, and the demon Duke of Hell, Azzael. As his past unraveled, it revealed dueling destinies that would deem him the beastly bringer of the Apocalypse, or the rightful holder of Excalibur.

Summoned to Earth during World War II by Rasputin and the Nazis, Hellboy was found & raised by American Allies. He's not much for destiny, instead lending his stony Right Hand of Doom, and incredible strength, to pummeling monsters, righting wrongs, and investigating the strange as a parnaormal investigator.

Hellboy's been sorely underrepresented in The Comic Book Fight Club, but his lone appearance from The Corpse and The Iron Shoes, demonstrated impressive strength and fighting prowess as he vanquished the war monster Grom!

Esteban had once been one of three wrestling brothers who travelled Mexico, but when they discovered a murdered priest before a match, the trio were greeted by a vision of the Virgin Mary. She encouraged them to leave wrestling and become monster hunters, and so, they teamed with Hellboy, who had been sent by the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD) to investigate and combat rampant evil activity prevalent during the 1950s.

Baring a tattoo on his chest of a flaming heart wrapped in thorns, Esteban was the brother that befriended Hellboy the closest. After a night of drinking with the demon and his brothers, Esteban left the safety of their villa. Ambushed by the creatures of the night, he was transformed into a vengeful luchador beast with the head of a bat, and a serpent wrapped black heart where his tattoo had once been. He became Camazotz -- a corrupted beast clad in black, with the power to grow great bat wings during his battle in the demonic squared circle.

There are clearly emotional stakes behind this fight, but Hellboy knows when it's time to get down to business. He's more brawler than catch as catch can, and 1956 is reasonably early in his monster battling career, but he should be up to the test of the grappling Camaztoz. Let's see how it went...

The Tape: Hellboy Ranking: Hellboy (#228)

What Went Down...
With an audience of the undead watching in decayed anticipation, Hellboy enters the eerie arena without the company of Esteban's brothers - as ordered.

Green flames spew from the four turnbuckles of a ring already occupied by Camazotz. Hellboy enters, reaching out to his friend, probably knowing some of the truth that lurks beneath his new black fanged mask, "How you doing, kid?" Camazotz announces himself in response, rising with a muscled physique from beneath his black cape.

The bell rings, sounding the beginning of the match!
Camazotz wastes no time launching himself at Hellboy's corner, giving HB only a hair's breadth to maneuver out of his way! Camazotz' powerful fist shatters the flaming ornament atop the turnbuckle behind him -- a fact that will have grim significance later.

Hellboy strikes Camazotz in the back with his right hand of doom, but the lucha shows great grappling skill, turning Hellboy's momentum against him with a toss to the ropes.

HB charges angrily off the ropes, but catches an elbow to the brow for his trouble! The point of the elbow busts him wide open!

A seated senton bomb furthers the punishment to a floored Hellboy!

Hellboy staggers to his feet and tries to reach out to his friend with words, but they are again met with contempt. Camazotz takes HB unawares with a head scissor leg lock from behind that flows smoothly into a modified frankensteiner!

Hellboy lies on a mat garnished with his own demon blood, struggling to rise to his feet. While does, Camazotz peels away his black mask to reveal the snarling head of a bat! It is a fate that twists the spirit of Esteban into a vengeful creature without mercy for a friend who failed to save him!

A single bodyslam is not enough to satisfy Camazotz' misery, resulting in a second punishing slam that returns HB to the mat an instant later!

Camazotz poses for the decrepit crowd that chants his name. He sprouts the wings of a bat in place of human arms. It is a decision that turns the bout, giving Hellboy the space he needs to deliver a shocking diving uppercut with the stoney right hand of doom!

A mournful Hellboy takes a boot to the face, accepting responsibility for his absence that fateful drunken night. He grabs a handful of black singlet tights. With the knowledge that there is nothing more he can do to save Esteban, HB uses his leverage to bring Camazotz thundering down over the jagged turnbuckle destroyed at the beginning of their bout!

Impaled on the post, Camazotz reverts to the gentle, but bloodied form of Esteban. The eerie smoke-filled arena goes dark and empty as Esteban utters his final grateful words, "Gracias, mi amigo. Grac--"

Hellboy is there to the final moment, holding his friend's hand through the ropes when the fire and light finally goes out.

The Hammer...
The winner of this bout as a result of a knock-out: Hellboy!

It's a somber, emotional finish to an otherwise fun and over-the-top high-concept special from the Hellboy universe! A very nice treat for anyone celebrating Cinco de Mayo [in 2010], which is something I wouldn't usually expect from American comics. Pretty cool, guys!

As a longtime fan of comic books, pro wrestling, and mythology, I was probably always going to have a pretty good time reading this book. Even so, it's as a Hellboy fan that I felt it really triumphed, overcoming some of the displeasing aspects that had led me to shuffle the character down in my priorities by 2010.

I found some of the short episodes of the mid-to-late 2000s a tad souring. It's always exciting when Mike Mignola takes up dual writing and art chores, but at times the 2005 two-parter The Island crossed a threshold beyond his fine, atmospheric stillness, into something that felt a tad under written. Although, I do wonder if I need to go back and give this another look...

Hellboy in Mexico sees Richard Corben assume art duties, and he does a very fine job indeed. I wonder if he's a wrestling fan. The match itself doesn't ask a whole lot of the artist, favouring a more cartoony impression of wrestling, but he has some legitimate moves in there.

Corben's Hellboy looks uncannily consistent with the Mignola model, especially in the journey leading up to the fight. Scenes of quiet menace radiate with a slightly different look to Mignola's, but a very similar energy. It's all good stuff!

You cannot under estimate the importance of colorist Dave Stewart to the Hellboy production. The sense that this story is consistent with earlier volumes can almost certainly be credited with to Stewart's influence. I love the way his colours remain vivid against muted backdrops of faded yellow desert and blue nights. His colours are evocatively textured, but never get too dry. A personal preference. There's a graininess that reminds me of Mexican movies and print.

The world of lucha libre is a rich and colourful mythology unto itself, possessing many of the costumed charms of comic superheroes, as well as the myths and legend that typically populate Hellboy stories. I love the way Hellboy effortlessly visits this world as seamlessly as he does European horrors. It's a lot of fun!

The myth of the giant bat is something I remember reading in a previous Hellboy story, I don't remember which. It doesn't really matter. There's a sense that all of these stories relate to a bigger tapestry of recurring and overlapping ancient traditions, and that's good enough. Sometimes it's better when these stories retain some of their mystique. Sometimes it's nice to learn things along the way. I would say this is true of comics in general, but it can be especially enjoyable in the weird, shadowy realms visited by Hellboy.

You might be interested to know the name Camazotz is drawn from Mayan mythology. It's a bat god, or demon, whose name roughly translates to mean 'death bat'. There's a story of twin heroes who enter the bat's underworld domain, only for one of them to lose their head to Camazotz. It doesn't exactly foretell the fate of Hellboy's Esteban, but lends weight to his possession, enmeshing ancient myth with iconography of vampires, black turkeys, bootleg pop culture, and lucha libre wrestling. The best kind of comic book melting pot!

I particularly liked the little touches, like the wrestling and movie memorabilia that appears at the beginning and end of the twenty-eight page issue. Mexican cinema's version of Lobster Johnson is a real hoot, capturing the pulpy vibe of the region's original and bootleg culture that the masked Camazotz feeds into.

There's just something about discovering this kind of stuff from other cultures that can be fascinating. I dig the way Hellboy accommodates and gravitates toward these sometimes forgotten pulp realms. Indeed, as much as I was excited to read continuing adventures when BPRD became a monthly on-going series; Hellboy in Mexico is a great example of a truly satisfying one-shot that offers variety without the need for any continuity with last month's issue.

Anyone with a fondness for the traditions of the material will probably have a good time, like I did. It's a heartfelt story from Hellboy's past, but I'm reluctant to say that it's an issue for everyone. At the end of the day, it lacks the broad appeal and variety offered by some Hellboy tales. At the same time, as an introduction to all the material, it's also a pretty soft and genuine start point.

For me, this was exactly what I wanted in a big week of comics. Indulgent in all the right ways, but still a very friendly and fun one-shot special. Great stuff!

I'm told Camazotz makes an appearance in the new Hellboy movie - now in theatres. It looks like it's still a far cry from the Hellboy movie I'd like to see, dipped in black Mignola shadow and stylish visuals, but still. It's nice that they seem to be cramming in more of the comic book monsters!

The movie was also a great excuse to exhume today's featured fight, which was mostly salvaged from a draft originally written back in 2010! It's shameful that there's been so little Hellboy on the site to this point. Hopefully we can get back to the Right Hand of Doom a little sooner! Perhaps I'll get a chance to give The Island a second look some time, to see if I need to give it a rethink!

If you'd like to think more about Hellboy's lucha libre adventure in Mexico, you can find today's featured fight included with several other stories in the Hellboy In Mexico or Hellboy Vol. 11: The Bride of Hell and Others collections!

Navigate using the embedded purchase links provided and you'll incite ancient Amazon rituals that will bless Secret Wars on Infinite Earths with good tidings -- at no cost to your soul!

Explore links throughout this post, or dive into the Secret Archive to uncover an arcade index of infinite realms and warriors! Venture beyond the DC and Marvel listings to reach offerings from other publishers and characters, such as Dark Horse Comics and Hellboy! You can also get daily links to fights inspired by the topics of the day by subscribing, like, and sharing via Twitter and Facebook!

Winner: Hellboy
#93 (+135) Hellboy [+1 kill]
#880 (new) Camazotz

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The movie Shazam! has brought a little magic to the big screen's DC Extended Universe! By now you may've seen the lightning strike - so what's next? This time Cover To Cover is spotlighting some of the legendary battles featuring Captain Marvel (aka; Shazam) and The Marvel Family!

By hitting the covers below you'll witness battles featuring: Black Adam, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Marvel's Thor, The Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, Doctor Sivana, King Kull, Ibac, Mister Atom, Mary Marvel, Captain Marvel Jr, Shazam, and more!

Behind The Covers
1. CAPTAIN MARVEL vs CAPTAIN SIVANA: DC Comics Presents Annual #3
3. CAPTAIN MARVEL vs SUPERMAN: Action Comics Annual #4
4. JUSTICE LEAGUE vs CAPTAIN MARVEL: Underworld Unleashed #3
5. MARY MARVEL & IBIS vs BLACK ADAM: The Power of Shazam #11
6. THOR vs CAPTAIN MARVEL: Marvel versus DC #2
7. CAPTAIN MARVEL vs SUPERMAN: Kingdom Come #4
10. SUPERMAN vs CAPTAIN MARVEL: Superman #2166

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Seduction of the Innocent (DC)
Underworld Unleashed #3 When: Late December 1995 Why: Mark Waid How: Howard Porter

The Story So Far...
What is the price of the heart's desire? The devil Neron has waged a campaign of temptation and corruption in an effort to amass immortal souls. With his growing power he seeks the ultimate prize: the corruption of a pure soul!

Having empowered an army of villains who accepted his offer, it seems Neron has achieved his goal when Superman disappears, and evil sweeps the Earth. Thus, a team of heroes volunteers to descend into the depths of Hell itself!

Guided by Blue Devil, the heroes face increasing challenges as they descend through each layer. Only their mightiest make it to the underworld throne of Neron himself, but in doing so, they face the greatest challenge of all: the darkness that dwells deep within them!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Captain Marvel 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Captain Marvel 5 (Professor)
Speed: Flash 7 (Light Speed)
Stamina: Captain Marvel 6 (Generator)
Agility: Martian Manhunter 7 (Unlimited)
Fighting: Wonder Woman 6 (Warrior)
Energy: Green Lantern 7 (Cosmic Power)
Total: Martian Manhunter 36 (Cosmic)

The Justice League are: Wonder Woman, Warrior, The Flash, Green Lantern, and Martian Manhunter.

We know that Captain Marvel's no stranger to fending off the challenge of a wayward hero, or two. The classic meta-rivalry with Superman has played out in battles from Action Comics Annual #4, Kingdom Come #4, Superman #216, and Superman/Batman #4. They've always been fairly equally matched.

That last one was a tag team tussle that also featured Hawkman and Batman, but even that's just a taste of what the big red cheese is up against today! We're talking Captain Marvel alone against five of the Justice League's heaviest hitters -- all driven to extremes by the corrupting influence of Neron, and the naturally corrupting environment of the lower depths of Hell!

Fortunately, Captain Marvel's innate good proved uniquely resilient during the group's trek through the many layers of Hell. He's passed the darkest trials with flying colors, despite having his left arm in a sling. The stamina of Atlas will be stretched to its limit, but he has a natural edge against the evil of this realm.

Wonder Woman poses a physical challenge approximate to Superman, but the strength of Hercules & power of Zeus have always proved up to the challenge. Marvel has nothing to fear from the lasso of truth, but it might be useful against the corrupted heroes. Wonder Woman won't give up the lasso without a fight, but we saw Storm defeat her with a lightning strike in Marvel versus DC #3.

As long as the wizard's magic lightning can reach him in Hell, Marvel has the option to dodge it, frying nearby targets with the "lightning ambush". Against this group it might only work once, but once is all he'll need.

That trick probably won't work on The Flash. His phenomenal momentum will require Captain Marvel to push the speed of Mercury to its limit if he's going to keep up. If he can anticipate the speedster's attacks, he should be able to shut him down easily without needing to sacrifice the lasso, should he have it.

Warrior and Green Lantern have the biggest firepower of the five corrupted heroes. As Warrior: Guy Gardner could possibly go hand-to-hand with Captain Marvel, but his Vuldarian powers mean he can just manifest energy weapons from his body. Couple that with Kyle Rayner's Green Lantern ring -- and Cap's probably going to take at least a few hits. Hopefully the courage of Achilles will help him face it down with the savvy to turn their fire against one another.

That just leaves Martian Manhunter, whose presence at the lower levels probably means Hellfire hasn't slowed him down too much. As we saw in Green Lantern #44, the combat potential for a corrupted Martian Manhunter is chilling! However, that weakness to fire means Cap may be able to stall him relatively easily by directing Warrior's plasma blasts, or resorting to the lightning ambush.

Temporarily neutralizing Martian Manhunter prevents him avoiding the lasso of truth. If Marvel can use that, he might be able to lift the haze of darkness and set Martian Manhunter the task of telepathically helping the others.

Identity Crisis #3 remains one of the great examples of how a lone fighter can use clarity and tactics to turn the numbers advantage of the Justice League against them. Captain Marvel has the necessary skills to make it happen, but he's fighting hurt against overwhelming odds. Let's see what happened...

The Tape: Justice League Ranking: Wonder Woman (#15)

What Went Down...
In the depths of Hell itself, at the foot of Neron's throne, the Justice League's souls lie bare. The darkness draws their very worst selves to the surface, leaving only Captain Marvel unaltered -- besieged by his corrupted allies!

The group rushes the stunned hero before he can act. Warrior pours on the power, blasting at Captain Marvel's mighty mid-section, while Wonder Woman throws an uncompromising left across his exposed jaw!

The Captain desperately tries to put some distance between himself and his friends, narrowly flying above the path of a rampaging Flash! He appeals to the heroes' better nature and the greater good they're there to serve -- but it's for naught. Neron laughs, feasting on Captain Marvel's despair as he tempts a fight.

The demon Blaze watches the fight unfold, shackled at the side of Neron's throne. Her presence there is meant to weaken Captain Marvel, but she quietly launches an act of defiance, restoring his full powers!

Without warning: Captain Marvel feels his broken arm mend -- a miracle in the pit of Hell! He doesn't stop to question the unexplained stroke of luck. With Wonder Woman on the ropes, he curls her lasso of truth around a stalagmite and pulls it taut -- clotheslining The Flash and Martian Manhunter in mid-flight!

Suddenly a spiked mace clobbers Captain Marvel from behind -- a weapon manifested by Warrior!

The frustrated hero doesn't want to fight his friends, but their aggressive attacks are leaving him little choice. Warrior fires a double barrel blast from twin arm cannons, but Captain Marvel manages to duck it, leaving the friendly fire to take out Green Lantern!

Neron plays with the besieged Captain Marvel's mind, needling him to fight back -- to kill! Marvel throws his arms out at the surrounding Leaguers and takes down the Martian Manhunter with his hands around his throat!

Earth's mightiest mortal pins the Martian to the floor while Neron eggs him on to get mad - to end it - to kill! For a moment, it seems as if Captain Marvel may actually succumb to rage. Yet, even in the depths of Hell there is still hope!

Blue Devil explodes from the ground seeking vengeance against Neron! The distraction inspires the demon's guest, James Jesse - The Trickster, to take action! He sees an opportunity to end Neron's tyrannical rise and rushes to Captain Marvel's side. There, he relays something overheard, that Satanus knew of a single word that could bedevil the devil that is Neron.

With Martian Manhunter still in his clutches - Captain Marvel stops to think, and then he smiles. With The Trickster urging him for an answer, the big red cheese whispers the wizard's name and summons his lightning!

The mystic bolt rips through the infernal domain with an all mighty BOOM!

When the dust and electricity settles - the veil has been lifted from the Justice League! Wonder Woman just barely remembers Captain Marvel fighting to save them, as if it were a distant nightmare. With Billy Batson hiding in the dark, the Justice League regroup and ready to take on Neron!

The Hammer...
Under scrutiny this isn't necessarily a straight forward result! Captain Marvel didn't really want to fight his friends, and spent most of the battle in evasive maneuvers. He ultimately did use muscle to put them on the ropes, ending it relatively peacefully by calling down Shazam's lightning. A tactical victory!

It might've gone a much darker way if The Trickster hadn't provided a moment of clarity for Captain Marvel. Blaze also supplied the assist via a power boost that healed Cap's busted arm, and helped turn the tables. Head to the bottom of this entry for a complete update to the Fight Club Rankings.

In last week's feature I mentioned I've been getting a little tired of hero-on-hero violence. Kind of amusing that we'd rush straight into Captain Marvel vs The Justice League. I actually meant the problem more so from the perspective of current publishing trends, but I admit it seems like a bit of an about face

Underworld Unleashed #3 partakes in its fair share of clichés, including the temporary possession of heroes for a good guy melee. It also just so happens to support another of last week's points, though. Namely, the depiction of Captain Marvel as a staunchly good-natured individual in a world of modern moral greys.

It's important to remember the nineties were a pretty grungy time in comics. Look no further than the fact that DC were publishing a major line-wide event that sent its greatest heroes into the pit of Hell as proof-positive of that!

Underworld Unleashed was a crossover created in the years following the Death of Superman, breaking of Batman, and fall of Hal Jordan. It provided a stylistic response to the explosion of a new wave of anti-heroes coming from Image Comics and Spawn, while also continuing the trajectory begun by its hero-killing headlines. In a world that had already seen Superman pummeled to death, it only made sense a banner event would focus on the empowerment of villains.

This wasn't quite the type of role reversal we're seeing regularly in current issues from DC and Marvel. Issues like Steel #21 showed how villains were being powered-up by Neron, but most of the tie-ins kept to the standard dynamic of hero defeating villain. It was all about Metallo getting a modern update -- not Lex Luthor becoming a celebrated member of the Justice League.

Golden & Silver Age morality was pretty well out of fashion, but against all odds, DC had a pocket of pure retro nostalgia in The Power of Shazam!

After a few aborted attempts, it was Jerry Ordway who set about re-defining the post-Crisis realities of Captain Marvel and the Shazam Family, spawning a series in 1995 out of the success of a Power of Shazam one-shot, from the year prior.

Ordway and artist Pete Krause took Captain Marvel forward with a modern sensibility, but it was all infused with a defiant sense of retro charm. By the end of the first year, the series established the Marvel Family, Tawky Tawny, and a Fawcett City encased in a literal magic bubble that gilded it with a 1940s sheen.

For all the foibles of the nineties, it was a decade that allowed for occasionally drastic deviations of individuality. So while the other DC heroes were delving into various shades of darkness, Captain Marvel's squinty eyed view of the world was able to take center stage in the main Underworld Unleashed mini-series.

Captain Marvel's aw shucks, 1950s innocence was positioned as the exception it really was, making it the ultimate prize for a devil like Neron, as well as the perfect weapon against him. When the other heroes succumb to corruption, Captain Marvel remains a reminder of heroes who were (and are) pure of heart.

It's a wonderful, almost subversive idea piloted by writer Mark Waid, who I have to imagine was a major supporter for this type of Captain Marvel, if not the actual source for it. He flipped the script with Cap's portrayal in Kingdom Come, but that functioned both as a deliberate in-story betrayal of the character's ideals, and a larger warning against the pitfalls of violent anti-heroes.

A fake out that the "pure soul" Neron seeks is actually Superman's is a little less successful when you recall a similar dynamic already played out a couple of years prior, during The Darkness Within story. I wouldn't fault them for being consistent with the two heroes' point of difference, though.

Ultimately, in the modern age, perhaps a corporate-owned icon as big as Superman can't afford to live up to the reputation of being comics' ultimate boy scout. However, Underworld Unleashed and The Darkness Within both show us how satisfying it is when Captain Marvel does, as narrative and characterization.

Furthermore, when a guy like Zack Snyder, clearly scarred by the darkness prevalent in our times, insists its a fantasy to believe superheroes can exist without lying, embezzling, or killing, the example of Captain Marvel becomes all the more important. This is a fantasy, and after 80 years of reinforcing a stand against cruelty and injustice, I can't think of anything more "grown up" than accepting that. To presume there is no alternative to corruption - even in a fantasy - may be the very reason so much of this world has succumbed to it.

For all the talk of Shazam! bringing levity to the DC Extended Universe (now in theatres), I can't help but be disappointed that it lacks the unique, singular vision of Ordway & Krause's Power of Shazam, and the incorruptible innocence that sets Billy Batson & Captain Marvel apart from the rest.

Underworld Unleashed seems to be currently out of print, but you can navigate to Amazon via the purchase link provided to seek out current alternatives. If you do find something you like, you'll help support Secret Wars on Infinite Earths!

Seek and discover more interesting corners of the comic book multiverse by diving into the Secret Archive! There you'll find every featured fight indexed by publisher, series, and issue number! You can also subscribe on Twitter and Facebook to get daily links inspired by the topics of the day. Be sure to like, share, or retweet your faves!

Winner: Captain Marvel
#45 (+30) Captain Marvel
#555 (new) Trickster
#556 (new) Lady Blaze
#16 (-1) Wonder Woman
#28 (-2) Martian Manhunter
#30 (--) Flash (Wally West)
#75 (-6) Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner)
#128 (-7) Warrior (Guy Gardner)

Sunday, April 07, 2019

"With One Magic Word" (DC)
DC Comics Presents Annual #3 When: 1984
Why: Roy Thomas, Julius Schwartz, Gil Kane & Joey Cavalieri How: Gil Kane

The Story So Far...
Captain Marvel may've thwarted the wicked designs of Doctor Sivana hundreds of times before -- but this time the mad scientist has a plan to even the playing field!

Years of research have uncovered a way to mesmerize the Wizard Shazam, granting Sivana full license over The Rock of Eternity, and the magics that power Captain Marvel! Thus, he is able to invent a device capable of splitting the mystic lightning that transforms Billy Batson -- siphoning its pantheon of powers for himself!

When the villain threatens to vaporize every major city in the United States unless Captain Marvel faces him -- the trap is sprung! While Captain Marvel unwittingly leaps into action with a brand new set of feeble foibles, his usual sextet of legendary abilities now powers Captain Sivana!!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Captain Marvel 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Dr. Sivana 6 (Genius)
Speed: Captain Marvel 5 (Super-Human)
Stamina: Captain Marvel 6 (Generator)
Agility: Mary Marvel 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting: Captain Marvel 3 (Street Wise)
Energy: Dr. Sivana 4 (Arsenal)
Total: Captain Marvel 30 (Super)

A classic case of super-human brawn against a malevolent mind? Not this time!

Captain Marvel's usual powers have been replaced with some of the most unflattering traits described in myth and legend! He's now burdened with: Solomon's love of luxury, Hercules' bad judgment, Atlas' rebelliousness, Zeus' arrogance, Achilles' wrathfulness, and Mercury's mischievousness. Bad news!

The closest example we have of anything similar is the time Mary Marvel was subverted by the sinister influence of Darkseid and the evil New Gods. This was merely a plot to corrupt her, meaning she was still strong enough to defeat Wonder Woman [Final Crisis #3], and match Supergirl [Final Crisis #6].

In today's battle Captain Marvel has actively been weakened, while Doctor Sivana receives the full benefit of his pantheon's legendary powers: 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.

Dr. Thaddeus Bodog Sivana is already a brilliant scientific mind whose acumen was shunned by the science community of his age. He used his incredible inventions to leave the Earth, but returned with a vengeance, developing a particular hatred for "big red cheese" Captain Marvel, and his heroic allies.

We saw Sivana combine magic and science to successfully infiltrate and capture the Marvel Family in Convergence Shazam #1. He wielded a dangerous ray gun against Tawky Tawny, only clearly defeated when the battle with his Monster Society of Evil allies brought the underground lair in on itself.

Captain Marvel emerged triumphant from the rubble in that encounter, but this time it's Sivana will have the strength to escape any such circumstance!

Cap's no stranger to fighting the might that usually empowers him. As a former champion: Black Adam has notoriously used the powers of Shazam for selfish and violent ends. We saw Adam and Marvel come to blows in Hawkman #24, where the tyrannical Adam relied on telepath Brainwave to break the deadlock.

The odds are seemingly stacked against our hero! Sivana has the element of surprise and command of high-level strength and devious brilliance! Still linked to his mighty pantheon, there's hope Captain Marvel might be able to access the virtues that've been stripped of him. If that doesn't happen, it'll take a mighty miracle to stop the self-proclaimed Captain Sivana. Let's see what happened!

The Tape: Captain Marvel Ranking: Captain Marvel (#69)

What Went Down...
Unaware of the events that have already transpired -- Captain Marvel leaps out the Whiz Station broadcast building to confront his threatening arch-nemesis. When he meets the megalomaniacal menace in the skies above Fawcett City, he's introduced to a very unexpected opponent: Captain Sivana!

Unimpressed by the Doctor's new self-appointed title, Captain Marvel stays the course to challenge his foe's show of power head-on!

Captain Sivana is not only willing to accept the challenge, but also more than capable of backing up his boasts! Their fists clash, but it's Sivana who breaks the stalemate, following his blocked two-fisted swing with a stiff jab!

More shocking than Sivana's sudden increase in strength is the pain now aching through Captain Marvel! He wonders if Alas' stamina has begun to fail him, only to have the theory tested with a devastating right hand!

Captain Sivana taunts his foe, swiftly catching up with his hurtling body to deliver a knock-out uppercut! The blow sends Captain Marvel plunging toward the busy streets below as onlookers watch in stunned horror!

Unable to correct his course, Marvel wonders where the speed of Mercury is in his time of need. It soon finds him -- as Sivana uses it to swoop in and prevent his foe's untimely demise! He catches Marvel by the belt with the promise of more punishment to come -- an action witnessed from the street by Mary Batson and Freddy Freeman, aka; Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr!

With his arch-nemesis slung over his shoulder; Captain Sivana sees the Marvel Family duo and sends his hi-tech flying ship on a nosedive toward the populated city. They have no choice but to abandon chase to save the public below!

Meanwhile, Doctor Sivana carries his nemesis on a journey to the one place his friends won't look for him - The Rock of Eternity! Once there, Sivana revels in revealing the unconscious Wizard Shazam and the details of his grand scheme.

Quick to temper with the wrathfulness of Achilles and arrogance of Zeus, Captain Marvel threatens his nemesis - but it's for naught! Sivana effortlessly lifts him off the ground with one hand and takes flight around the rock face!

Spiraling downward they come to The Rock of Eternity's base, where all it takes is a single swipe to carve a hole big enough to imprison a man! Sivana tosses his hapless nemesis in to the makeshift cave -- sending the back of Captain Marvel's head into the rocks with a sickening impact!

Then the villain replaces the rock -- trapping the weakened Marvel inside!

The Hammer...
A convincing win for a dubiously promoted-in-the-field Doctor Sivana -- but by no means the end of the story!

As soon as "Captain Sivana" succeeds in beating and imprisoning the disoriented Captain Marvel -- the Rock of Eternity is set upon by Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr! A Marvel Family melee to be revisited in a future featured fight.

It should be noted, there are several skirmishes throughout the entirety of this action-packed issue! DC Comics Presents Annual #3 is well known for Sivana's theft of Captain Marvel's powers, but it's also one of a handful of crossovers between the then-separate Earth-One and Earth-S. That means a meeting between "Earth's Mightiest Mortal" and "The Man of Steel" Superman!

We've looked at the storied rivalry between Captain Marvel and Superman in a handful of battles taken from: Action Comics Annual #4, Kingdom Come #4, Superman/Batman #4, and Superman #216.

Similarities between the iconic pair -- who were the subject of real-world litigation and countless fan debates -- makes it a great match-up! That said, I've got to admit to feeling some serious fatigue for heroes fighting heroes. It's become so common place it's passé, coupled with a glorification of villains that's contributing to the increasing sense that nothing in comics really matters.

In 1984's DC Comics Presents Annual #3, fans are still treated to a clash between the Power of SHAZAM and Superman. It's just through the more palatable prism of Superman fighting a powered-up Doctor Sivana.

I really enjoy the inventive way the "SHAZAM" acronym is subverted for this story. It's slightly trixy to have the mystic lightning bolt split so easily, but if you give them that one conceit, it's worth it for the effortless mining of classic myth.

We know Captain Marvel draws strength from ancient legends. It makes sense that Sivana would draw from stories that didn't always show the heroes and gods in such positive light -- while taking their real power for himself.

Sometimes it's easy to be dismissive of villains who fulfill a direct reflection and counterpart role to a hero, but this is an example of their value. We get to explore the inevitable fantasy of one hero's power against another, but aren't required to shatter a sense of verisimilitude through clumsy justifications for a misunderstanding, or similar cliché. Better still, subtle differences in a villain's personality offer a slightly new perspective, removing the restraints necessary of hero-on-hero violence. Sivana is already brilliant -- what happens when he adds the wisdom of Solomon and the strength of Hercules to his cruelty?

As I've explored in other recent entries, I prefer a Captain Marvel who remains relatively unchanged by time. As Superman drifts through changing attitudes and styles, it can only be to the benefit of Captain Marvel to hold true to warm, simple values that inform an increasingly unique personality, as time goes on.

As SHAZAM! reaches worldwide release in theatres this week, I find myself drained of enthusiasm for a project that should've been a layup. An underlying mean-spirit, and direction away from things that make its characters unique, belie a defiantly amusing and good-natured DCEU entry. It won't succumb to being completely generic, and in today's super-hero movie slate that's usually enough. It's never-the-less disappointing to see it aim so low.

Fans who haven't read DC Comics Presents Annual #3 may be familiar with its premise thanks to an adaptation for the Batman: Brave and the Bold animated series. I not only think it was a great episode of one of the greatest DC Comics cartoons of all time! I would also suggest their earnest take on Captain Marvel (and Billy Batson) stands as one of the best in recent memory!

If you do want to read today's featured issue in your hands you might have to do some digging. At the time of this writing, collected editions are getting scarce, but you will find the relevant issue collected in the Amazon links embedded here [to the right].

Follow links throughout this post or just dive into the Secret Archive to discover more from the worlds of DC Comics and beyond! Every featured fight is a window to something new! You can also get links to battles inspired by the topics of the day by following Secret Wars on Infinite Earths on Twitter and Facebook! Be sure to hit those share options!

Winner: Doctor Sivana
#339 (+222) Doctor Sivana
#75 (-6) Captain Marvel
#42 (--) Captain Marvel Jr [+1 assist]
#110 (--) Mary Marvel [+1 assist]