Monday, January 24, 2022

Death & Texas! Chapter 9: Moon Knight vs Black Knight (Marvel)
West Coast Avengers Annual #2 When: 1987 Why: Steve Englehart, Mark Gruenwald & Tom DeFalco How: Al Milgrom

The Story So Far...
A day of baseball under the Houston Astrodome becomes a game of life & death when the second contest between coasts ends with The Silver Surfer smashing through the ceiling -- and the sudden deaths of the East Coast Avengers!

A cosmic bolt sent by The Grandmaster appears responsible, but in the realm of the dead, the deceased Elder apologetically informs them it was only as a means of summoning them to thwart The Collector's mad scheme for immortality.

The Avengers could yet be returned to life, but first they must subdue their West Coast counterparts, who, under the guidance of The Collector, have joined them in the afterlife by taking a poison elixir. It's a seven-a-side contest between two teams of Avengers, but what are the true stakes of their clash?

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Moon Knight 3 (Athlete)
Intelligence: Black Knight 3 (Straight A)
Speed: Moon Knight 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Moon Knight 5 (Marathoner)
Agility: Moon Knight 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting: Moon Knight 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy: Draw 2 (Projectile)
Total: Moon Knight 24 (Champion)

Why does this feel familiar? Under the gaze of The Grandmaster we have two teams of Avengers facing off! Perfectly matched with seven on each side, they split up into one-on-one contests between West Coast and East Coast rivals.

Here we observe a study in contrast! Moon Knight shines bright in Khonshu's lunar light for the West Coast, while Black Knight stands darkly under the curse of the Ebony Blade from the East. They're hard fighting heroes with superficial similarities, but the differences run much deeper than cosmetics!

Marc Spector was a freelance mercenary before he was left for dead in the Egyptian desert and became the "Fist of Khonshu". He's highly skilled in hand-to-hand combat, wielding a small array of handheld and throwing weapons, some even designed by his fellow West Coast Avenger of the time: Hawkeye.

Dane Whitman was a physicist when he inherited his uncle's castle, and discovered his true identity as the villainous Black Knight. Taking up the Ebony Blade, Dane chose to use its cursed legacy to infiltrate the Masters of Evil and work to defeat them from within.

Black Knight quickly became something of a master swordsman, able to use his cursed blade with considerable skill and precision -- but a magic sword won't intimidate Moon Knight!

Moon Knight's comics debut was stalking The Werewolf, and his adventures have continued to feature supernatural enemies such as Demogoblin, who blurred the lines of his life as a mercenary and occultist in Marc Spector: Moon Knight #32.

MK also tidily handled the villain Taskmaster by using extreme shock & awe tactics in Moon Knight (Vol.5) #6. Taskmaster wields a variety of weapons & styles mimicking The Avengers, including Black Knight's sword style -- but it proved a non-factor in his unusual exchange with Moon Knight.

Today's fight could really go either way. Moon Knight is a faster, more agile and proficient fighter, outfitted with useful projectile weaponry. Black Knight is a savvy swordsman with strong defense and close-quarters preference. Each believes they're fighting to save the others' life. Let's see what that brings out in them...

The Tape: Moon Knight Ranking: Moon Knight (#351)

What Went Down...
Black Knight confronts his opponents with intense determination. He doesn't know why Moon Knight is there. He isn't privy to impending membership with the West Coast team. He only knows he must win their battle to defend everyone's lives.

Brandishing the Ebony Blade wielded by his ancestors; Black Knight demonstrates the risk of its bloodthirsty curse by effortlessly slicing through nearby rock.

Moon Knight jokes that his opponent's elaborate explanations will 'talk him to death' before the sword strikes. A taunt that prompts Black Knight to action!

Again the dark metal makes light work of rock as Black Knight's weapon chases its target across the battlefield. Moon Knight keeps a step ahead of the mighty swing, vaulting over an arching protrusion that rises out of the barren landscape.

Even in evasion the "Fist of Khonshu" recognises a kindred spirit with the swordsman, and the risk of his sword's accursed ties with "the nightside".

Though sympathetic, Moon Knight seeks a quick end, making a nimble landing while reaching for a pouch at his back filled with throwing spikes!

His aim with the Hawkeye-designed projectiles is true -- but Black Knight blocks their path with a deft swing of his sword.

Moon Knight keeps up the offensive -- looking to test Black Knight with the fast follow-up of an expertly thrown boomerang.

Once again Black Knight counters with his enchanted sword -- cutting the boomerang out of the air!

Concerned Khonshu has failed to enchant his own weapons - and fearing the "crazed" advantage of the Ebony Blade; Moon Knight digs deep into his bag of tricks and unleashes all of them in a single all-out offensive!

Winged darts are met with the black steel of the Ebony Blade, but a snaring bolo passes beneath the zigzagging sword and wraps tightly around Black Knight's knees. He falls!

Moon Knight seizes his opportunity -- brandishing an ornate axe as he launches himself at the grounded knight!

The cursed sword is once again there to defend the Black Knight, blocking the golden axe with room to spare. He boasts about the weapon's supremacy, but Moon Knight vows to persevere: "I won't quit trying--!"

Black Knight uses his opponent's determination against him, releasing the block and swinging his legs up so the falling axe cuts through the binding bolo cord.

Free to move -- Black Knight quickly returns to his feet and cuts the head from the Egyptian axe while knocking it out of his opponent's hands!

Moon Knight dashes backward, retreating deep into the enveloping folds of his white cape as he farewells his final weapon -- but refuses to yield!

Tempting the curse of the Ebony Blade -- Moon Knight lunges toward his opponent with sword drawn!

The black steel pierces through Moon Knight's cape as the hero's words suddenly choke in his throat. The deed appears done, but all is not as it seems...

Beneath the veil of his flowing cloak -- Moon Knight positioned his body askew to avoid impalement and trap the sword firmly under arm.

Locking the stunned swordsman at close quarters, Moon Knight swings a golden ankh from beneath his cape -- and delivers a knock out blow!

The Hammer...
The battle of the knights produced some dangerous gambits, but in the end it was Moon Knight whose daring won the day! His victory levels the scores for the West Coast Avengers at 3 all, but the final result doesn't really matter yet...

The only purpose served by this rumble between Avengers is to demand the attention of Death herself, so The Grandmaster can steal her power -- and use it to start a new game by completely rebooting the universe with his own rules!

It was a feat achieved by Grandmaster's willful submission at the end of The Contest of Champions, which earned the resurrection of his co-conspirator, The Collector, and ultimately allowed him to personally observe Death within her natural environment, gaining the privileged knowledge to ensnare and defeat her.

West Coast Avengers Annual #2 therefore becomes one long con: a prelude to the real sport of Avengers Annual #16, and a formal contest that will pit The Avengers against Grandmaster's "Legion of Unliving" for the fate of the universe.

That high-stakes battle sees Avengers face an all-star line-up of heroes & villains who were considered dead in 1987. An all together delicious scenario that pits Black Knight against his predecessor, and Moon Knight against Green Goblin -- who hadn't yet been deemed living in a retcon to his famous glider impalement!

Those will all be fantastic battles to spotlight sometime in the future, and once they are, you'll be able to find them in the Secret Archive. For now we must dwell further upon today's featured fighters and their apparent extremes.

Were these characters really ready to kill each other? As committed as they might be to their respective efforts to save the Avengers' lives -- I don't think so.

Although Black Knight speaks of his Ebony Blade's curse as though he were ready to take a life: he expresses stunned disbelief when the apparent killing blow is finally rendered -- without his deliberate involvement.

He also seems to have forgotten that they're both already dead. A fact Moon Knight is far more prescient of, having experienced his own dance between life & death in the desert, when he was claimed by the Egyptian lunar deity Khonshu.

Although this might inspire Moon Knight to cavalier efforts with his axe -- even he manages to conclude the battle without a lethal strike.

Moon Knight wields his weapons with respect and recognition for Black Knight's obvious fighting prowess, using them tactically to apply pressure without genuine murderous intent. These men remain heroes, after all, and their reluctance to kill -- even an opponent who is already dead -- seems self-evident.

Moon Knight is leveraging his relative obscurity as a recent submission to the West Coast Avengers, leaving Black Knight to interpret his measures as genuine hostility. He believes him a "madman": an interpretation that might ring true to modern readers, but is coming long before writers had fixated on characterizing Marc Spector as a man prone to mental instability.

Although this Moon Knight is a far cry from later interpretations, there is an interesting consistency between his tactics here, and the extreme measures used in later iterations. Risking laceration in the afterlife is a little less wanton than crashing a plane and taking arrows to the body, but such were the mid-2000s.

We really have the "Event" comics of that era, such as Civil War, to "thank" for the now ubiquitous circus of death that befouls most modern comics.

Today's feature reminds us that death has been a part of superhero comics for a very long time, but it also clarifies that the notion of heroes haphazardly killing each other with any impression of permanence is a much more recent cliché. One that seems long overdue retirement as a flimsy, self-defeating cry for attention.

Of course, this is not the forum that's going to completely deny the innate appeal of seeing which hero comes out on top from a good battle. A premise that the team of writers behind these twin '87 Annuals exploit to fast and furious appeal in their unofficial sequel(s) to the less star studded Contest of Champions.

I notice I've been on a bit of an Al Milgrom kick lately, and dare I say it -- today's fight is actually one of his weaker efforts in the West Coast book. His layouts are a little repetitive here, owing in part to the detailed minutiae driving the battle between Knights. It's good and clear, but I look forward to exploring some of the other Avengers in-fighting that produces more varied results.

To see more of that type of thing you can follow links throughout this post, or explore more than 650 featured fights, ranking over 1,000 characters, in the previously mentioned Secret Archive.

You can also check out the issue in its entirety in Avengers West Coast Epic Collection: Tales to Astonish or Marvel Super Hero Contest of Champions. Use the Amazon purchase links provided to do any of your shopping and you'll not only score a good deal -- you'll help support the site!

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Winner: Moon Knight
#122 (+229) Moon Knight
#968 (new) Black Knight

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Red Death (Marvel)
X-Men Adventures #4 When: May 1994
Why: Ralph Macchio How: John Hebert

The Story So Far...
At a snow-covered base near the Black Sea, somewhere in the Caucasus region between Ukraine and Georgia, a sudden power surge disrupts a signal relay, which in turn causes critical failure of complex computer circuitry designed to contain a living weapon!

With this subtle act of electrical sabotage a sleeper is awoken: Omega Red is unleashed upon a former Soviet Union to be a tool of military hardliners committed to restoring their empire.

Omega Red's violent path of conquest takes him towards a small farming region once home to Russian expatriate and mutant Piotr Rasputin. Having sought the aid of the X-Men - but only found Jubilee - Colossus accepts a desperate flight to his homeland in the hopes of rescuing his beloved family!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Colossus 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Omega Red 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Wolverine 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Wolverine 6 (Generator)
Agility: Rogue 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting: Wolverine 6 (Warrior)
Energy: Storm 5 (Lasers)
Total: Wolverine 26 (Metahuman)

The X-Men are: Wolverine, Storm, Rogue, and Jubilee, with Colossus.

Fans of the animated series will know Colossus wasn't a full-fledged member, but an acquaintance of the X-Men, who befriended him after a case of mistaken identity in Series 1 episode "The Unstoppable Juggernaut", which was also adapted as X-Men Adventures (Vol.1) #8.

Otherwise he's the hulking hunk of Russian organic-steel you know and love, and although he initially only has Jubilee to rely on, a note left at the mansion quickly gets the attentions of the other X-Men - particularly one who knows what they're up against!

Arkady Rossovich was a murdering scumbag even before he developed a mutant "death factor" that protected him from execution for his crimes.

The disgraced Spetsnaz GRU agent fled to Europe, but was soon reclaimed by the KGB, to be submitted to the Cold War era Soviet Super-Soldier program. Mutant healing abilities would allow Soviet scientists to implant cybernetic enhancements, as well as retractable, prehensile tendrils made of carbonadium: a Soviet alternative to the more costly and difficult adamantium metal.

Carbonadium is radioactive, but Omega Red could resist lethal poisoning with his mutant ability to absorb life force from other humans. He also possesses super-human strength, stamina, durability, and can emit "death factor" pheromone spores capable of weakening, or killing, anyone in his close proximity.

Colossus out muscles Omega Red, having stood toe-to-toe with the likes of the Juggernaut, Apocalypse, and Ord. He'll be a good compliment once Wolverine is on the scene, bringing past knowledge of Omega Red from his days with Team X, and razor-sharp adamantium claws that've cut plenty of cyborgs down to size!

Wolvie's healing factor is also useful when resisting Omega Red's life-draining, but it's unclear if he can inflict enough damage to negate a stale-mate similar to Wolverine (Vol.3) #50. We've also seen both Colossus and Wolverine taken out of the fight by having their energy absorbed in Uncanny X-Men #194.

Who did they willingly turn their essence over to? The power-absorbing Rogue, of course! She too could resist Omega Red's life-draining if she can get her hands on him and take his power. Making it all the easier for her and the rest of the team to put a serious hurt on! Will it happen that way? Let's find out!

The Tape: X-Men Ranking: Wolverine (#5)

What Went Down...
Having learned of the imprisonment of Colossus' parents from his sister Illyana -- the mighty metal mutant, and Jubilee, follow her to a Stalin era gulag reopened under the commission of Omega Red!

Jubilee channels X-Men leader Cyclops to consider a strategic option, but Colossus has no patience for looking at "angles" while his blood boils at the raw sight of injustice.

He quite literally "steels" himself, activating the natural-given skin that allows him to fearlessly charge towards the gulag -- welcoming the oppressors to fire at will!

The soldiers' bullets ricochet harmlessly off Colossus' metallic hide and even an artillery shell fired from a tank cannot stop the righteous Russian!

He runs all the way to the heavy machine, and tackles it head-on, turning the weapon against its masters by tossing the tank straight through the gulag gates!

Jubilee begrudgingly joins the charge, blasting plasma fireworks at any incoming soldiers as she storms the gate. "Okay -- looks like we'll save the subtlety for another day! Thanks for listening, Petey! You dork!"

Colossus does not respond, or join Jubilee in her dash. Instead, he is transfixed by the horrifying presence that has cast its shadow behind him -- Omega Red, with one of his coils of death wrapped around the young Illyana Rasputin.

The second coil snakes around Colossus' body, lifting him off his feet as his strength is slowly drained and he fights against the tendril's crushing squeeze.

It seems Colossus is alone to face his fate, but salvation arrives not a minute too soon. The X-Men are here -- and Wolverine has come to settle an old score!

Omega Red immediately drops Colossus and turns his attention to the voice from his past -- sending his wrist-tendrils looping around the charging Wolverine!

They tighten before the X-Man can reach his target and make good on threats.

Wolverine struggles to resist, but machismo gives way to a fading spirit as the coil begins its deadly draining of life energy. Omega Red taunts.

"Perhaps I shall have your corpse stuffed -- mounted in Red Square... A symbol of my triumph over... Eh? That shadow! What can it be?"

Wolverine is no more alone than Colossus! Rogue arrives overhead with a tank in hand to bring it slamming down on Omega Red's body!

The X-Men regroup under the scornful eye of field leader Storm. She worries for the recklessness of Rogue and Jubilee, while Wolverine clues Colossus and the team into his long history with the "Soviets' Super-man".

At that moment, Omega Red pushes the tank off his body!

Colossus and Wolverine race to meet him, but once again Omega Red's long reach holds the mighty Russian at bay and snatches Wolverine into the air!

The X-Man desperately tries to rake his claws across Omega Red's eyes, but his futile efforts aren't for nothing!

With his tendrils occupied, Omega Red is wide open to the flying figure of Rogue!

She drives her shoulder into his back like a battering ram, and he drops his weakened prey to instead wrap both deadly coils around her!

To the Soviet Super-Soldier's shock -- Rogue is completely unfazed by the life-draining attack! Her own mutant power to absorb life force appears to completely cancel out Omega Red's deadly ability!

Unaffected, Rogue is able to shrug the binding cables off with her super-human strength, but before she can resume the attack -- Darkstar arrives in the sky!

Omega Red orders his flying comrade to take care of Rogue, but Darkstar does not share his violent vision for Russia's future.

Having observed Storm's apparent command of the weather, she implores the X-Woman to summon the deepest cold if she's able and direct it at Red.

Rogue obliges Storm with a full nelson to hold Omega Red in place while the weather goddess directs the arctic winds to blast a bitter cold directly at him!

The villain can only shout broken dreams of glory as his body temperature begins to cool and he's returned to the icy frozen state that held him before saboteurs ended his suspended animation. The terror on the Caucasus is ended.

The Hammer...
The intervention of Darkstar not only handed Storm the means to end Omega Red's rampage, but also ensures his collaborators in the attempted coup will be brought to justice by modern Russia.

You may've noticed a colouring error [above] that makes it seem as if Storm is shouting to herself. The center panel is obviously intended to be a close-up of Darkstar, who I always wished could've had a more active role in the story, but is reserved for a final act twist.

Everyone has a bit more to do in the animated episode, which spreads the action over two separate battles, allowing Darkstar to get involved much sooner and witness everyone's abilities, to more intuitively suggest an outcome to Storm.

If you thought it was a little off that Rogue's powers would cancel out Omega Red's without any contact to her skin -- you won't be surprised to find that she actually does succumb to the life-draining coil in the animated version. Granted, this only raises further questions about how the tendrils actually work.

In this instance I'm not sure the source material is entirely helpful at clearing anything up. 
The exact details of Omega Red's abilities generally feel a little slippery in the mainline comics, as well.

The Cold War inspired villain had immediate appeal on the strength of a bombastic Jim Lee design, but a hodgepodge of oh-so nineties invulnerabilities and death-dealing powers have arguably made the character unwieldy in a narrative context, leading to inconsistent conclusions throughout the years.

Putting him back on ice was a clean way to wrap up a robust done-in-one story, but the way it comes about feels a little bit dubious. Maybe if Iceman were on the team it would be an easier sell, but even that speaks to the difficulty of leaving Omega Red in play.

There are a lot of interesting differences between the November 1993 broadcast episode and its X-Men Adventures comic book adaptation.

Despite the episode name appearing on the cover, the comic story is titled "Red Death", wielding that most taboo of words as far as Saturday morning cartoons of the era were concerned. An otherwise trivial difference -- especially for a series that dealt with death in its very first plotline! This one's for you, Morph!

More substantial is Omega Red's release from suspended animation: an act of sabotage in the comic, while in the animated series, anonymous hands confidently manipulate the controls. A deliberate escalation contextualized by scenes of tanks and storm troopers invading a city already under siege.

The comic version also flirts more specifically with the geo-politics of the story, establishing a slightly more deliberate locale than the ambiguous Russia of the cartoon. We still don't quite know which "sovereign nation" Colossus and the Rasputin family come from, but the comic-given geography of a "small city in the Caucasus" of the former USSR seems to imply it's probably Georgia, or Armenia.

Despite the narrative-driven change to Colossus' Siberian comic book upbringing; trifling with the specifics of Communist politics probably wasn't high on anyone's agenda. The Cold War had ended a few years prior, and Rocky IV was almost a full decade behind us. American comic books will always love a good Russian villain, but most people were probably hoping to just move on from the looming threat of mutually assured atomic destruction.

That might be the reason Omega Red is ultimately depicted as hostile to almost everybody -- including the Soviet Generals he's supposed to be serving!

This version of Arkady Rossovich is harder than hardline. He intends to install himself as the iron ruler of a new empire. An expressed delusion of grandeur that seems to be a catalyst for the reserved Darkstar to finally reveal her true allegiance, and act against her military superiors. Russians aren't all evil, buddy!

All in all, both the comic and cartoon do a good job of cramming a whole lot of stuff into a pretty succinct story. 
There are things I like about both versions. The Series 2 episode was always a memorable favourite, but I think the twenty-two page comic does a good job of amending some of its pacing issues.

Marvel's Ralph Macchio [not THAT one] always did a good job on the various Adventures titles, and the intensity of John Hebert's pencils really helped push back against the innate second-class status of a book adapting a cartoon. His work, with its straining tendons and broad muscle, feels right at home with the look of the show, and contemporary X-artists like Lee, Andy Kubert, and maybe even Leinil Yu, while also being very identifiable.

Macchio later took the series into original stories in Adventures of the X-Men, and bridged the animated shared universe with Marvel Adventures. Continuations well worth your time, especially while you're eagerly anticipating the upcoming revival of X-Men '97 on Disney Plus -- which recently added definitive Wolverine voice actor Cal Dodd!

Dive deeper into your favourite characters by following links throughout this post, and discover more from the multiverse by exploring the Secret Archive for a complete index in order of publisher, series, and issue. You can also catch up on the 2021 Rankings Recap and Top 20 Fights of Season 2021!

Secret Wars on Infinite Earths has featured more than 650 battles and ranked well over 1,000 characters! If you like what it's all about you can help keep us in the fight by becoming a patron on Patreon. The fight club has always been free, but as a thank you you'll receive bonus updates, customizable articles, and more.

Get more daily links to superhero smackdown inspired by the topics of the day by subscribing on Twitter and Facebook. Don't forget to like, fave, and share posts, and keep your eyes peeled for the week's top trending battles every Sunday!

Winners: Storm & Rogue (w/ X-Men & Darkstar)
#34 (+4) Storm
#46 (+26) Rogue
#446 (+5) Darkstar [+1 assist]
#5 (--) Wolverine [+1 assist]
#435 (--) Colosssus [+1 assist]
#369 (+23) Jubilee [+1 assist]
#361 (+9) Magik (Illyana Rasputin) [+1 assist]
#967 (new) Omega Red

Friday, January 07, 2022

Breakin'! (Marvel)
Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #100 When: March 1985 Why: Al Milgrom How: Al Milgrom

The Story So Far...
An agreement to delay their joint attack on The Kingpin sends Black Cat and Spider-Man into the lion's den alone in simultaneous, uncoordinated attempts to infiltrate Wilson Fisk's Manhattan stronghold by night.

Spider-Man is delayed by The Spot in a rooftop battle that leaves him unaware Black Cat has already confronted The Kingpin, and learned the cruel twist of the super-powers that threatened to force her into his criminal employ.

Spider-Man can hardly believe his lover has already negotiated her release from The Kingpin's influence, but with her bad luck powers already spreading to those closest to her -- can Spidey survive his own run-in with the furious crime baron?!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Spider-Man 5 (Super-Human)
Intelligence: Spider-Man 5 (Professor)
Speed: Spider-Man 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Spider-Man 5 (Marathoner)
Agility: Spider-Man 5 (Cat-Like)
Fighting: Kingpin 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy: Spider-Man 2 (Projectiles)
Total: Spider-Man 29 (metahuman)

As The Kingpin of crime in New York City: Wilson Fisk rarely needs to get his own hands dirty, but don't let his clean white suit and army of assassins fool you into thinking he can't or won't.

Behind Fisk's bulky façade is a powerful and skilled fighter who worked his way up from the streets, and became an adept hand-to-hand combatant. We saw that when he single-handedly fought a horde of Hand ninja in Daredevil #116!

The Kingpin stays fighting fit with frequent private sparring sessions, always ready to personally dominate criminal rivals, or arch-enemies who might visit upon his legitimate headquarters, such as Daredevil, Punisher, Echo, or Spider-Man.

Our Tape shows Spider-Man ahead in most combat categories, but Kingpin is close enough in strength & speed to exert physical dominance over the slight, but super-human Spider-Man. His intelligence, though not quite as academic, also has tremendous application in complex tactical strategies, and psychological warfare.

In this battle we'll see Kingpin wield his secretive manipulations of Spider-Man's lover of the time, Black Cat, as a means of pushing the web-slinger's buttons. His superior fighting skills are ready to take full advantage of a reckless foe.

Spidey may've outlasted an opponent as powerful as The Juggernaut, and will take down super-strong mobster Tombstone, but as we saw in Marvel Team-Up #63, he came completely unstuck against the martial fighting skill of Steel Serpent. He'll also be unceremoniously ejected from Mister Negative's private criminal headquarters in the much later Amazing Spider-Man #621.

Kingpin's exploration of the same darkforce energies linked to Negative have an indirect influence on the battle, given Spidey had to fight through The Spot on his way to Kingpin's office.

Fisk's investment in developing manufactured super-human abilities is also the root of his hold of Black Cat, who received the unnatural ability to inflict bad luck, which could be starting to effect Spider-Man. Will it cost him now? Let's find out!

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

What Went Down...
Standing alone in a darkened office: The Kingpin is still basking in a psychological victory over the Black Cat when his doorway is suddenly filled with the tumbling bodies of half a dozen hired guards.

Following close behind is the one responsible for their defeat -- Spider-Man!

The spider descends from the ceiling, hanging upside down at the room's entrance from a line of webbing. He exchanges small talk with the disingenuously accommodating host, discovering his hopes of negotiating a release of Black Cat's obligations to the crime baron has already been achieved.

The Kingpin gloats of the private rendezvous, which in truth occurred mere moments before Spider-Man's arrival -- unbeknownst to her wall-crawling lover.

With his spider-senses warning him of potential danger; Spidey shifts from disbelief to anger, swinging overhead to surprise Kingpin with a rear assault. He pays dearly for resorting to such an impulse act!

Trained in the martial arts and deceptively fast for a man of his size -- The Kingpin immediately throws his arms back to secure a firm grip of Spider-Man's arms, then vaults him overhead to spike him violently into the ground!

Spidey endures the impact, using educated limbs to lock his ankles around Kingpin's head and turn the tables by launching his mighty adversary off his feet!

The momentum sends Fisk vaulting overhead and crashing into the wall, but he too proves capable of absorbing the punishment.

Rising to one knee, The Kingpin compliments his nemesis for his strength and agility -- then he charges!

Spider-Man meets his towering adversary with a rising uppercut, but The Kingpin simply takes it on the chin and then uses his height advantage to bring two massive fists slamming down on him like wild sledge hammers!

A straight kick launches Spider-Man's limp body across the room!

The wall-crawler twists his agile body in mid-air, landing first with a handstand press to The Kingpin's desk, before springing immediately onto the adjacent wall!

Spider-Man gloats that strength means little when he can cling to any surface, but The Kingpin challenges the claim by grabbing his desk and ramming it into the wall-crawler!

A spiral staircase provides refuge for Spidey as he's flung through the air and grabs hold of the center pole. This too proves a temporary reprieve, however, as The Kingpin grabs hold of the metal railing and rips the staircase out of the wall!

The incredible feat of strength backfires as the weight of the staircase keeps Fisk's hands busy, while Spider-Man directs himself to plummet feet-first directly into his head!

More painful than the hit itself is the indignity Wilson Fisk feels. Furious, he vows to kill his enemy in the name of his ailing wife.

The enraged crime boss charges once more at the wall-crawling hero, but Spider-Man meets him with another well timed uppercut!

He follows with a wild swinging kick to the face, then uses his web to swing from the wall into a high velocity double-foot kick that launches Kingpin off his feet!

Fisk lurches off the floor, wiping at his mouth while his other fist is clenched. He furiously vows to crush Spider-Man, leaving the hero no choice but to act on his warning: "Don't try it, Kingpin. I'm warning you..."

Clasped fists, swung with a polish hammer punch, knock The Kingpin back off his feet and send him flying into hi-tech security computers.

Sitting amongst the broken technology, Kingpin gathers himself and returns to a cold and deliberate tone. "I-I lost my head there for a moment, Spider-Man! Forgot the true direction I wanted my vengeance to take! To kill you would be too quick. Too merciful!"

He reaches for a glowing red button that will summon the police to the building: private New York City property that Spider-Man is trespassing upon -- even if they both know the supposedly "clean" businessman is the true crook.

Though physically defeated, Kingpin finds some small way to hold it over Spider-Man, opening a window and inviting him to leave. A leap Spider-Man is happy to take as Kingpin reaffirms his commitment to releasing Black Cat from his roster.

The Hammer...
A fight-filled milestone issue concludes with an exciting face-off between arch-enemies! Spider-Man may've bested Kingpin in the physical arena, but the battle of wills continues, with Spidey slinking into the night to the sound of police sirens.

You and I may know Wilson Fisk as the figurehead of organized crime in New York City, but to the rest of the world his record remains clean. A fact he takes great pleasure in gloating about as he shows Spider-Man to his office window.

It's a fight that feels worthy of the one hundredth issue of Spectacular Spider-Man -- especially given the shadow Kingpin had cast over the crime-ridden series.

There were crooks and gang wars throughout the Spider-Man titles in the 1980s and 90s, but I will always associate Spectacular, in particular, with its street-level crime. That's thanks largely to the grand plans of Kingpin, his entanglement with Black Cat, and the later Tombstone issues. All a very good time!

It's nice to be reminded that Kingpin remained a thorn in Spider-Man's side, even after the epoch making work of Frank Miller permanently associated the villain with Daredevil just a few years earlier. That rivalry wouldn't quite go semi-exclusive until much later, although it feels as if Al Milgrom dances stylistically between a classic Romita Kingpin, and the shadowy figure of DD.

Kingpin battles Spider-Man having already exacted revenge upon Black Cat for her prior indiscretion of stealing a nuclear detonator from him. An act that allowed the weapon to fall into the hands of Doctor Octopus, and inspired an unlikely plot to grant Black Cat the unnatural power to inflict misfortune upon others: useful in a fight, but inevitably isolating as it slowly effects those she holds closest.

It's a bit of a convoluted way for Black Cat to gain super-powers of her own, but I'm charmed by the character-driven motivation for Wilson Fisk to avenge, not the theft, but the consequence of it, which left him totally helpless to defend his city when Doc Ock threatened nuclear annihilation.

It isn't much good being a Kingpin of Crime if your turf is blown sky high, but beyond the simple business of organized crime, I also appreciate the tinge of Napoleonic civic pride a character like Wilson Fisk might feel towards his city. The same sense of place that drives Spidey and DD to defend their chosen zones.

In the "Tape" section we list Spider-Man as the stronger of the two combatants, but that reflects both a peak of power available but only occasionally accessed by Spider-Man, and the necessary dual role that Strength serves in the absence of a Durability stat. A measure of offensive and defensive potential.

The number certainly shouldn't undercut the narrative feat of besting Kingpin, who is a powerful and imposing figure, whose baseline strength borders on the super-human, and could easily overwhelm even Spidey.

The office-dismantling details of todays featured fight should serve as a good example of Kingpin's strength, but I hope to explore his abilities further. Though best known as a general overseeing an army of assassins and thugs, Kingpin has always been characterised as a very capable combatant.

I'd also like to expand our reference portfolio for more of Spider-Man's classic foes, and perhaps return to Spectacular Spider-Man #100 for some of its other conflicts, such as the emergence of Kingpin's unwitting creation: The Spot!

If you'd like to support further entries into the Secret Wars on Infinite Earths you can become a backer on Patreon. Your kind contribution will help make regular updates like this possible. As a thank you you'll unlock additional commentary, customized article options, and maybe even some early access bonuses.

You can also help the site while getting your hands on your own copy of today's featured issue collected in Essential Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man Volume 5 or Spider-Man: The Complete Alien Costume Saga - Book Two! Do any of your shopping via the Amazon purchase links below and you'll not only get yourself a good deal -- you'll ensure the kingpin of online supports the site!

Secret Wars on Infinite Earths has featured more than 650 featured fights and ranked well over 1,000 characters! Catch up on the 2021 Rankings Recap and Top 20 Fights of Season 2021 -- or discover more from your favourites by following links throughout this post, or by diving into the complete Secret Archive!

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Winner: Spider-Man
#2 (--) Spider-Man
#1005 (-6) Kingpin

Saturday, January 01, 2022

Happy new year, true believers! Season 2021 of the Secret Wars on Infinite Earths has officially come to a close! The full Featured Fights Recap is available now, but we gather here with the benefit of your votes & views to rank the Top 20 Best Battles of 2021!

You can click the covers below to discover the battles behind them, or scroll through for a list of links with each battle and their corresponding ranking based on the people's vote! This year's favourites featured: Spider-Man, Venom, Carnage, Wonder Woman, Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Superman, Captain America, Falcon, Batman, Daredevil, Loki, Invincible, USAgent, Peacemaker, The Suicide Squad, and many more!

You can also hear more of my off-the-cuff thoughts in a Patreon exclusive video update, flashback to the best fights of 2020, or return to the main page where Season 2022 is already underway!

Behind The Covers
2. TEAM VENOM vs CARNAGE FAMILY (Spider-Man #35)
4. MAGNETO vs QUICKSILVER, VISION & SCARLET WITCH (Vision and The Scarlet Witch #4)
5. WONDER WOMAN & SUPERMAN vs QUEEN CLEA & BLOCKBUSTER (Justice League of America #135)
6. CAPTAIN AMERICA vs THE CAPTAIN (Captain America #350)
7. CAPTAINS AMERICA vs TASKMASTER (Avengers: The Initiative #34)
8. FREEDOM FORCE vs AVENGERS (Avengers #312)
10. SUPERMAN vs BLOODSPORT (Superman #4)
12. SUPERMAN vs DEATHSTROKE (Superman #68)
14. RAZORFIST vs WOLVERINE (Marvel Comics Presents #4)
15. APOCALYPSE vs LOKI (X-Factor #50)
16. DEATH-DEALER vs SHANG-CHI (Master of Kung Fu #118)
17. INVINCIBLE vs TITAN (Invincible #1)
18. SPIDER-MAN & SILVER SURFER vs CARNAGE (Amazing Spider-Man #430)
19. SENTINEL A7 vs FALCON (Falcon #2)
20. CARNAGE vs NEW AVENGERS (New Avengers #2)