Friday, August 31, 2007

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

The story so far...
They're a group of despicable, ruthless, back-stabbing criminals -- and they're going to save the world in ways the heroes wouldn't touch. Or at least, that's the plan, when this ragtag group are sent into situations best described as: suicidal.

Headed up by Amanda Waller; the team are sent into the field for their first mission to infiltrate the headquarters of the terrorist group aptly named The Jihad, and use the intelligence gathered to systematically take them apart -- by any means.

The only problem with this team is that they're expendable, untrustworthy, and all too aware of their situation. Heading into Northern Qurac, there's a traitor in their midsts, and they'll gladly sell the team out if it means surviving!

Previous Form:
Deadshot, Manticore: Both making their Infinite Wars debut.

Tale of the tape...
Mmm, eighties hair!Strength: Manticore 5 (Super Strength)
Intelligence: Deadshot 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Manticore 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Manticore 5 (Marathon Man)
Agility: Draw 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting Ability: Deadshot 4 (Trained Fighter)
Energy Powers: Deadshot 3 (Explosives)

It might come as a shock, but this is actually the only issue of Suicide Squad I knowingly own. It's something of an abberation in my humble collection, and Captain Boomerang, Deadshot and Bronze King aside, I have little or no knowledge or affiliation for these characters.

That probably isn't such a big problem in the case of Manticore, as, well, put bluntly, he isn't long for this world. That might constitute a spoiler in other parts of the world, but if you haven't noticed, we're not usually terribly concerned by things that trivial. That, and I don't really care about dwelling or savoring details concerning the Suicide Squad.

So, Deadshot is an expert marksman and wears a funky costume that has in-built metallic underpants. He probably doesn't have the greatest depth perception when it comes to moving around a room, but if you point him in the right direction, that scopey thing (over the eye that isn't covered by metal mask) probably gives him the ultimate edge for sharp-shooting.

Manticore is a heavily armored cybernetic crazy man-monster.
Thinking back to the monsters and mythology I absorbed as a youngster during the very period this comic entered my posession, I dare say he has a tail, probably ready to do all kinds of nasty things.

The stats are open to interpretation, as these are two very different specimens.
On the one hand, Deadshot represents the consumate assassin, literally making his name on accuracy. If there's a weakness, he should be able to hit it.

On the other hand, Manticore is everything Deadshot isn't.
Strong, fast, brutal, powerful, Greek... He's got all the tools to take a Deadshot down, barring perhaps grasp of the tactical. Which is what will lead us to suggest Deadshot is the logical victor. As is the case in this issue, he would presumably opt for some sort of ambush or sneak attack, coming equipped well enough to fend off any misfortunes.

The Math: A draw
The Pick: Deadshot (There's a reason you don't know who Manticore is)

What went down...
With extensive intelligence on the threat and habits of The Jihad's members; Deadshot is practically spoon fed his opponent, with a direct teleport link to Manticore's elevator shaft lair.

The sleeping Manticore's keen senses detect the presence of the wall-clinging assassin. Deadshot tests the waters, flicking stones down at his unwitting, super-enhanced target.

Springing to life, Manticore makes eye-contact with the red-garbed Suicide Squader. Approaching the situation with a non-chalant tact, Deadshot ponders what holds an elevator in place -- finding the suitable cable to shoot out to turn the device from practical mode of vertical transporation into a plummeting weight of death!

Working against plan, Manticore leaps to meet the descending weight, using his reinforced super-body to smash through the base of the elevator, emerging through the top with a graceful flip.

Enticed by the challenge, Deadshot descends to meet his target head-on.

Deadshot fires off a few rounds from his wrist-mount gun with little or no effect to the menacing, man-beast. As Manticore continues to stalk through the fire, Deadshot ups the anti, firing rounds from both wrists.

Manticore's armour holds up, allowing him to stalk right up to Deadshot and take him down with a brutish strangling grip.
His superior strength pins Deadshot to the ground, prompting him to test whether or not the terror soldier's face is armoured.

It is not.

Despite a close call, Deadshot proves the validity of his name.
Not that Manticore is unworthy of the name, he's just... dead.

The hammer...
Your "win" in his debut appearance -- Deadshot!
I'm sure, once upon a time, I had some kind of varying quip to make the above declaration, but somewhere amidst all the stat-droning and ranting, it's been lost. If you happen to stumble across it, maybe you could let me know. It was last seen heading toward India with a lady in a red hat and matching trenchcoat. Like Scotsmen, no one is certain whether she's wearing anything under there, or not.

Some house keeping first up: Mugshots.
To add a bit of colour to the site we have those cute little avatars for all the characters that help you identify those you don't know by name, and instantly find out who won the fight when you scroll down to the bottom of the page.

Unlike the covers and panels, which are almost exclusively hand selected and scanned by my goodself; the mugshots are usually pinched from the internet.
Of course, these days that's easier said than done, today case-in-point.

Manticore you can forgive. Alive or dead, he isn't making any major appearances today, or any time soon, I imagine. No one expects to be able to find pin-ups, covers or scans out there that give us a clear look at his adorable little face.
Deadshot, on the other hand, has headed up series, including recent starring roles in Villains United and Secret Six series, written by the inimitable Gail "Fridge Suit Iron Man is HOT" Simone.

Yet, somehow, by some bizarre twist of fate, the best I can google up is tiny little images of a first issue cover so small: you couldn't even wallpaper Hank Pym's luxury condo, built out of lint and splinters from Wasp's underwear draw (which is incidentally also the condo's location).

If I can get any message out there, it's that you people need to start investing more time in artwork that reads like a character model. I want to see cheekbones, people. Cheekbones!

It's been a long month. I'm kinda tired. I did mention I'm not terribly connected to Suicide Squad, so there's a minimal amount of discussion here. As much a fan as I have been of Checkmate, the Suicide Squad and their appearances didn't exactly turn them into world wide phenomenons.

I've never really been into the self-aware fandom that I think has surrounded the property. It's legitimate enough not to be tongue-in-cheek, but there's something inherently silly about the approach of it all, that just doesn't quite sell as solidly as some other premises built around basic political concepts.

So, why include it? I think there was something I wanted to talk about, but after a month of some of the most lengthy and regular posts -- and continued work on writing/lettering/designing/sketching comics -- I'm tired and forgetful. Also, I cut my dirty golden locks, so I may have lost some of my powers...

Hopefully I'll snap out of it in time for tomorrow's punch-up!
Maybe Bahlactus will be the one to help me out of the fog of exhaustian, because he's bringing a twenty-hit combo of links to blogs featuring all things smackdown. Plenty of stuff in there, and even the occasional discussion!

And don't forget to check out the Broken Frontier review of The Kirby Martin Inquest #1. Once you're done with that, you can scoot over to Nite Lite Theatre dot com, and buy yourself a copy for the utterly affordable price of $2.99 -- it is a full-sized regular comic (not a mini-comic), so it's well worth the money!

The series is drawn by the ever-patient Pedro Cruz, who has a blog where I'm posting his art for him while he's away on a dangerous crusade on the planet Richard-97. You should check out his doodles and let him know what you think.

I've got to go tally up all the new stats from this month, and maybe even get some sleep some time. I've also been commissioned to assassinate Norman Osborn, but don't worry guys, I've got priorities.

The Fight: 3 The Issue: 4.5
[A solid story with an intriguing premise, but for some reason, a book I've just never been hooked on. Great seeing a criminal element treated to a developing agenda, but not the most intriguing new villains to hit 1987.]

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Black Reign (DC comics)
Hawkman #24 When: Late March 2004
Why: Geoff Johns How: Rags Morales

The story so far...
Having attempted to prove his redemption through serving with the Justice Society of America; Black Adam soon comes to realise that the effective betterment of the persecuted will not be achieved through the good intentions of the Golden Age heroes.

Gathering a band of the willing and likeminded, Adam sets about righting the wrongs of his time with the JSA, fighting and executing his way to his homeland of Kahndaq.

With the aid of his fellows; many connected to the Justice Society themselves; Adam wages a coup against the oppresive rulers of the once proud and ancient Middle Easter country. Their militia no match for brute super strength, Adam liberates the Kahndaqi people, who are none too happy when the JSA, led by Hawkman, come to interfere in the rule of their new hero.

Previous Form:
Black Adam (#13): Undefeated over Four Horseman of Apokalips, Freedom Force & Psycho-Pirate.
Captain Marvel (#201): Mixed results in battles with Thor, and an Eclipso posessed Superman.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Draw 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Captain Marvel 5 (Professor)
Speed: Draw 5 (Super Speed)
Stamina: Draw 6 (Generator)
Agility: Black Adam 3 (Athlete)
Fighting Ability: Black Adam 7 (Born Fighter)
Energy Powers: Draw 3 (Explosives)

Most recently it was Sabretooth/Wolverine [Wolverine #50], and arguably again with Batman/Ra's Al Ghul [Batman Begins]. The clash of arch-nemesis'. The inevitable blows waged by hero and villain, described-so conversely through the perspective of each character's eyes, a thin line seperating their differences.

While Black Adam has shot to the top as one of the most improved players to come out of DC's year-long 52, his heroic counterpart, Captain Marvel, has suffered the squalor of low priority mini-series, and loyalist interests. Not even the lofty intervention of Bone's Jeff Smith was enough to breathe the life that Judd Winick's contemporary revamp probably should have.

So, what does any of this have to do with the fighting potential and prospective chances of winning a battle? Well, if that's all this section were about, we'd run even shorter on discussion than we ordinarily do; but of course, it also does have a lot to do with our protagonist's predicament -- for you see!...

Yes! Captain Marvel, despite a massive power boost and long overdue starring role in a mini-series, struggles to endure in the contemporary market in the way his elf-eared, windows peaked, black and gold counterpart does.

There are a lot of fair theories about why that is. They do, afterall, describe luck as the process of motivation meeting opportunity, but then again, how many on-going series have They starred in recently? I think there's a direct link with the character's distinct potentials that has contributed to one success: The killer instinct and drama of good pathos.

Black Adam beats out his SHAZAM-ing sucessor in the tape for the simple reason that he has evolved to be a fully realised warrior, with no qualms about turning his strength to tasks such as face removal, one-way heart transplants, and drawing and halving of evil doers.

Captain Marvel; a character who reached even greater heights in his time than the massively successful Superman, in many ways, represents the Golden Age more than any other character. I mean, you've got old timers who had an edge that made their transition into the more violent and conflicted contemporary landscape simple. Batman, The Phantom, Hawkman... The list is much longer than I would have you believe, here.

Other characters were fantastical enough, or had enduring successors that allowed their torch to be carried to a time where they were out of the picture long enough to be interesting prospects again. Many of the JSA elite fall under that category, and it's to an extent applicable to Adam cum Captain Marvel.

[Captain] Marvel; despite the best efforts of a Winick or an Ostrander; cannot seem to escape the obscured view of his squinted eyes. Eyes that view the world through the refracted rosie glow of his big red chest.
He's a character that represents what is referred to as a "simpler" time, and therefore suffers the characterization of grinning, dim-witted stupidity -- despite possessing the mighty wisdom of Solomon.

Black Adam has the killer instinct, and he knows how to use it, and despite hovering above and blow the strength level of Cap, is the safe bet that reflects the times in which we live.

The Math: Black Adam (Super Class)
The Pick: Black Adam (Because it isn't forty years ago...)

What went down...
Upon entering Kahndaq airspace, the JSA find themselves in a freefall as their plane is ripped asunder by a sneak attack launched by Black Adam! Most of the super powered heroes find ways to land, each finding their own antagonised welcome at the hands of the Kahndaqi people, but Captain Marvel stays behind with an injured Wildcat to search for survivors in trouble.

Black Adam, orchestrating the containment of those he has dubbed invader, employs the aid of Brainwave to prepare to face his Shazam powered counterpart, Captain Marvel.

Content to find no bodies amongst the wreckage, Marvel is shocked when Wildcat is knocked out with a piece of the plane. He becomes aware of the unceremonious entrance of his fallen arch-nemesis, suffering a similar fate as he's swatted acrosh the crash site by Black Adam.

The Captain recovers with the stamina of Atlas, striking Adam furiously with a solid left. Black Adam, with his own impressive strengths, returns the favour with an uppercut that tosses Marvel airborne until he lands in nearby ruins.

Marvel joins Black Adam in the sky, the two coming to blows with explosive results. Every strike echoes with thundering booms no doubt heard across the land, the magical energies bursting from their bodies in sparks of lightning.

Marvel presses the advantage, riding Black Adam through rubble and wreckage face-first into the ground he so viciously claimed as his own.

Having mocked Marvel's perception of the modern world, Adam rises from the crater created by their impact to taunts concerning his strategic alliances.
With bitter efficiency, Adam makes psychic contact with the waiting Brainwave, giving the order to act upon his "lock" on Captain Marvel.

Having telepathically maneuvered his way around Solomon and the other influences in Marvel's mind; Brainwave forces the hero to utter the magic keyword that calls down the lightning of the wizard Shazam, and transforms him back into his pubescent alter-ego, Billy Batson!

With the cold determination to do whatever is necessary to pursue his goals, Black Adam raises his hand in the air and strikes Batson with a swift backhand. The boy is knocked through the air, helpless against the super strength provided by the sun god, Amon.

Adam's attack not only puts the punctuation on a strategic assault on one of the JSA's most powerful allies, but also comes with the bitter verbal slap to the Wizard from whom each man derives his fantastic power. Adam declaring, "The wizard abandons you, Billy. Just as he did me."

Victorious, Adam learns from the psychic of Batson's growing affections for Stargirl. As a future contingency, he orders the capture of the girl, playing a card all too personally recognisable to the dark monarch, whose own beloved was once lost in battle.

The hammer...
Your win, and still undefeated 2007 MVP -- Black Adam!

I mention MVP, because if you've been with us over the past eight months, you'll be familiar with the previous entries that have sponsored Black Adam into our 2007 top five rankings.

With the last entry [Marvel Zombies #5] looking to turn the top rankings into a Civil War promotional shot, it seemed like as good a time as any to revisit the slowly fading anti-hero, whose recent rise to prominence has been pretty well documented, with the exclusion of the beginning of that path.

To really get the full picture we should ideally go further back still, to earlier in the rebooted JSA series where Black Adam made his return, and gained membership to the Justice Society, before slipping from their views. It was in tiny background scenes that Adam's indescretions were detailed, as he gathered and led his band of allies against foes like Kobra.

These actions culminate in full-fledged war waged on Kahndaq in the pages of the Hawkman/JSA crossover - Black Reign. It's here, as already described in the recap, that Adam swiftly takes control of the nation, and as we would see through the end of this story, remains in power to the chagrin of the JSA.

Through Infinite Crisis we then saw Adam's story continue, as he threw in with the mounting powers of the Secret Society of Supervillains. Much like a Dr. Doom styled figure, his motives were largely in the interests of the betterment and protection of his nation. He proves an unwitting pawn in Alexander Luthor's plot to power a device that will allow him to control and reshape the multiverse as he desires it.

Adam aids in the defeat of vital characters like The Ray [Infinite Crisis #1], but is eventually revealed as a potential target himself. When The Society betray him, needing a Shazam powered here, Black Adam turns readily on the mob of evil, brutally defying the empathic influence of Psycho-Pirate [Infinite Crisis #6].
Black Adam continues to battle on the side of angels until the ultimate defeat of the alternate Luthor, before returning to his duties in Kahndaq.

Resuming his political duties, Adam swiftly deals with villainous elements attempting to trade through Kahndaq. His public execution of villains becomes the international catalyst of fear and loathing, while prompting criminal element Intergang to attempt to buy his favour with a female offering.
Adam deals with Intergang harshly, while becoming romantically involved with the girl, who is eventually slain by the incursion of a new Monster Society [52 #44], funded by the neighbouring nation of Bialya, and created by Dr. Sivana and the Intergang employed scientists of Oolong Island.

Azraeuz, the only surviving horseman of the Monster Society, escapes to Bialya, where the government is abandoned by their villainous allies in the wake of Black Adam's arrival.

Furious and suspicious of everyone, Adam devolves into a rage that sees him slaughtering Bialya's government, and millions of their innocent citizens in the pursuit of Azraeuz. Though the mass casualties empower the horseman of death further, Azraeuz is ultimately defeated and tortured by Adam [52 #45].

Methodically pursuing those responsible for the deaths of his adopted family, Adam immediately travels to Oolong Island off of the intelligence gained from Azraeuz. There, he is surprisingly defeated by the super-sciences of the sinister thinktank. Before he can be auctioned off as a living weapon, the Justice Society are able to intervene, freeing him with the unsuccesful intent to take him into custody.

BLACK ADAM: Woulda gotten away with it too, if it weren't for that meddling kid and his pesky Justice Society!With Adam's bloodlust explicitly crossing the line from harsh justice, to intolerable genocide; the heroes and political powers of various nations are maneuvered into position for the events of World War III. Though inter-political turmoil slows the process, the American heroes of the Justice League and Society eventually defeat Black Adam. Though unable to strip Adam of his powers, it is with the aid of several other mystics that Captain Marvel returns Adam to his human alter-ego of Teth-Adam, and changes his magic trigger word before he can again utter the cry of "Shazam!"

If you're reading Countdown or the just released mini-series, Black Adam: Dark Age, you'll know that he has since discovered his new word - sorry - and has taken refuge in the Kahndaq embassy in Gotham City, where he has corrupted Mary Marvel.

It looks like post-52 Black Adam's path is more explicitly evil, which I think is a real shame. The character, whose bitter pathos made him one of the most exciting new stars of DC's lineup, was something I regard as quite refreshing and global, responsible for pushing him away from the stagnant disappointments of the developing Shazam branding [discussed in the tape].

As a Sub-Mariner/Dr. Doom style monarch, Black Adam had the opportunity to stand out as something more than many other heroes or villains in the DC Universe. Keeping his motivations more ambiguous and personalized (like the best Dr. Doom stories) meant the character could become broadly relevent, interacting with political agencies like the currently superb Checkmate, but also other superheroic and villainous elements that would cross his path.

Projecting their solicitations quite far into the future, we can see DC comics alluding to a return to more straight evil for Black Adam in the pages of JLA. The cover to issue #13 suggests a renewed association with much the same collective that turned against him in the Society, this time operating under the branding of a new Injustice League.

It's too soon to scowl the turn of events too certainly, but it seems like a potentially disappointing downward turn for the character in the final quarter of 2007. A bitter conclusion to what has otherwise been the culmination of a story that began small, but was brilliantly steered into the spotlight and beyond, largely by original contributor Geoff Johns, who made his name on titles like JSA and Hawkman, and with this story, Black Reign.

It was here, having received this issues personally from Johns, that I certainly became hooked as a fan not only of these characters in the modern age, but of his competence as a writer accepting of things oft dismissed. A writer who brought Black Adam to the prominence he now seems to be leaving behind.

With that, we wrap up our informative slant on this particular conclusion.
The DC Nation, whom I know is still watching, should take some faith out of this. It seemes, dare I speak too soon, that there are a couple of DC entries coming our way in the Infinite Wars, as our discussion spins out of the Batman Begins review. I'll probably see you again Friday, before the September punch-up.

Remember to check out the smashing review of The Kirby Martin Inquest at the reputable review site, If you haven't already, you should think about heading over to Nite Lite Theatre, and picking yourself up a copy via online purchase through the good people at ComixPress! Cheers!

The Fight: 5 The Issue: 6
[An absolutely brilliant storyarc, best read in it's entirety. Hardcore superhero fun filtered through the pastiche of contemporary political concepts. The first major step into the modern rise of Black Adam as a neo-political conqueror. A must-read for fans of the character, particularly out of the pages of fifty-two.]

Monday, August 27, 2007

Marvel Zombies Conclusion (Marvel comics)
Marvel Zombies #5 When: June 2006
Why: Robert Kirkman How: Sean Phillips

The story so far...
Earth 2419: A frightening twisted version of the Marvel Universe, infected by the decay of an alien virus that turns all infected into decomposing, viracious zombies.

With the Earth's population decimated by the super powered zombies, food supplies begin to run low.
Failing to follow their zombified Fantastic Four into a parallel universe, the zombies finish the last active snack, Magneto, before the heavens present a miracle.

His arrival affected by unknown elements of this universe, the Silver Surfer shows up in present-day to assess the viability of the Earth for consumption by his master -- Galactus: Devourer of Worlds.

The Surfer's defeat paves the wave for the wrath of Galactus, but the devourer who knows no satisfactions appears to have met his match. Having ingested portions of the Silver Surfer's cosmically powered carcass, the Marvel Zombies have absorbed his cosmic power, and prepare to turn it against it's master!

Previous Form:
Marvel Zombies [#5]: Victories over Magneto and the Silver Surfer.
Galactus: Making his first appearance in the Infinite Wars.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Galactus 7 (Omnipotent)
Intelligence: Galactus 7 (Infinite Wisdom)
Speed: Spider-man 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Galactus 7 (Unstoppable)
Agility: Super-Skrull 6 (Rubber)
Fighting Ability: Sabretooth 7 (Born Fighter)
Energy Powers: Galactus 7 (Solar Power)

Okay, we should probably clarify the mass of characters interacting in this particular fight. Actually, we have a bit of a unique situation, given that there's a distinctly seperate fight in the middle of this one. We're going to conclude that the battle against Galactus is a singular fight in this particular saga, and leave the in-fighting between the two factions interesting in G-man to another day.

There are two groups who do battle with Galactus.
While the "heroes" are figuring out how to use the defeated Silver Surfer's cosmic energy [Marvel Zombies #3] against Galactus, the zombified villains of this world emerge to take their own shot at the world devourer buffet on offer.

The villains are, in no particular order: Super-Skrull, Green Goblin, Dr. Octopus, Stilt-man, Juggernaut, Rhino, Sabretooth, Venom, Dr. Doom, Red Skull and the Moleman.

Conversely, we welcome back many of the core zombie heroes from previous issues; Colonel America, Hulk, Luke Cage, Iron Man, Spider-man, Wolverine, and the brains behind the development of the weapon that harnesses the deceased Surfer's power, Giant-Man aka Hank Pym.

Though far from peak conditioning, this collective of heroes and villains is one impressive unit by any standard. Decomposition may undermine their physical strengths, but never the less, the challenge of the likes of Super-Skrull, Dr. Doom, Venom and the strategic assist from Hank Pym makes for a compelling argument. Then again, they are up against Galactus.

The world devourer represents one of the most powerful active presences in the Marvel Universe. His wealth of cosmic energy has spawned many herald off-springs, while still sponsoring his own space faring reputation built on the destruction and consumption of worlds. This is no guy to sneeze at!

Though made famous for a retreat, it should be noted that the Fantastic Four's defeat of Galactus in his first appearance was more of an agreed upon treaty than any kind of combative triumph for the FF. Such is the power of Galactus, that he has the luxury of living a life bound by his own strict rules, and not the whims of defeat in battle.

Though defeat is feasible (re; Annihilation), the zombie weaknesses of this mass is the most glaring factor undermining their potential for victory. On their best day, the combined minds of Dr. Doom and Hank Pym might represent hope, but otherwise, they stand ready to be mowed down by cosmic energy.

The Math: Marvel Zombies (Total) Galactus (Average)
The Pick: Galactus (Cosmic Class)

What went down...
Having returned from a strategic retreat, the Marvel Zombies gain the attentions of the world devouring Galactus with a massive burst of cosmic energy harvested from the Silver Surfer's broken body, and focused through a weaponized cannon.

Various villains, having engaged Galactus in straight combat similar to the heroes' previous efforts, spill as the blasted Galactus begins to lurch and fall to the earth.

Flat on the mat, Galactus is left in a more vulnerable position for the earth-bound villains to make their frenzied attack -- but the heroes, whose efforts toppled the mighty cosmic warrior, intervene to stake their claim to the fresh meat.

After a drawn out fight that sees the destruction of the villains, and the loss of Colonel America, the cosmic powered Marvel Zombies turn their attentions back to Galactus.

Having recovered from the previous attack, Galactus crackles with power cosmic, rueing the futile efforts to defy his might.

Stunned that Galactus survived the two focused beams of energy fired from Pym's cannon, Spider-man and the other cosmic powered Marvel Zombies regroup to take the fight back to the originator of the power cosmic.

The heroes launch a savage physical attack, pinning the devourer to the Earth as he spews cosmic energy like a massive battery.

The enhanced zombe heroes rip and tear at Galactus' perceived armor, finding the apparent evidence of the flesh and meat they so desire.

Unrelenting, the heroes pursue their attack, giving the cumbersome Galactus no opportunity to stay their efforts. Like a man being eaten alive by ants, Galactus has no choice but to lie and accept his fate -- death on Earth.

Like a pack of pirhanas, the zombies tear Galactus apart, devouring him and subsequently absorbing all his cosmic energies have to offer. It is a feast the likes of which has not been seen for quite some time. Bloody victory, is theirs.

The hammer...
With full bellies and even more power, the Marvel Zombies find themselves victorious once again, against overwhelming odds.

While I think we could question the validity of the victory, you cannot deny the result. Which I guess provides us an immediate segue into the contemplative discussion usually housed in this final section of our regular posts.

I have a fairly general complaint about this series, which manages to blanket much of the action, and conceptual development in this series.
The numbers, the lists, the tape. You've seen my work. I like to process things like simplistic, mathematical formulas. The idea of creating a tangential universe is ripe ground for this kind of thought process, and it's the lack of consideration in it's development that is the source of my disappointment.

Recent additions to the Marvel Zombies branding have revealed the process by which the plague spread through the community. While we were privvy to interesting and cute methods; like zombie Mystique posing as Scarlet Witch to infect the otherwise inaccessible Quicksilver; it essentially spent very little time on the numerical spread of the infection, content with vague specifics that alluded to widspread infection. Consideration for characters with unique defenses and counter abilities were largely overlooked -- we mentioned this in a previous entry, featuring Wolverine under threat of vampirism. [Blade #5]

During the original mini-series, and this issue in particular, we then have similar glossing of points, like the very nature of Galactus. There's a shakey relationship between Galactus as an abstract anomoly, and a physical threat to worlds.

The theory is that Galactus appears however a subject perceives him on an individual basis. Presumably this means there is more to Galactus than a giant man, and certainly more than the purple mini-skirt and tricked out pope-hat.
So, as cute and clever as it is to have the insatiable hunger of the zombies satisfied by the famous world devourer -- it undermines the unique nature of Galactus as a cosmic manifestation.

In some vague twist of fate, I've always liked the notion of Galactus existing as a sentient cloud, something like an autonomous gas giant. I would use the Stephen Soderbergh Solaris remake as a prime example, but it bares startling resemblence to the teased Galactus in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.
As a true manifestation, it is nicely conceivable that a cloud of formless sentience could be perceived as many different things, including the familiar Kirby designed character we know and love.

Ultimately, Marvel Zombies represents the hook fairly well.
Continuing to be a source of revenue for Marvel comics, the concept overstays it's welcome, reflecting the kitschy fascination with broad thematic archetypes that has clogged internet humor and cutesy comics. It's big, broad, dumb fun, that potentially overstays it's welcome, even at five simple issues.

With several one-shots, a crossover mini-series, a current crossover arc in Black Panther, and an upcoming sequel mini that parodies Marvel's Civil War, Marvel proves one fascinating thing: Zombies can be defeated by destroying the brain, severing the head, or hammering them into the ground.

Believe me, if there's something we know, it's hammers.

It's not all negative though. Though underhanded, it is a genuine compliment when I say this is dumb fun. It's maybe just a little dumber than World War Hulk, featuring far fewer moving parts, but a similar penchant for big superhero battles. Magneto, Silver Surfer and Galactus each provide the sparring opposition, while there's also an underlying story about Black Panther and the surviving Acolytes, who return from space at the end of the series.

This does nicely to leave the thread which is ultimately picked up in the current Fantastic Four-centric arc in Black Panther.

The zombie hunger is recharacterized, as Galactus gives way to the collective Galacti. Having absorbed his energies through consumption, the zombie survivors take to the spaceways, seeking out planets to quite literally devour, putting a more personal touch on Galactus' old job.

Having slipped into this parallel universe; Black Panther and the current FF find themselves face-to-face with the zombie Galacti in the current story. However unlikely, this actually serves to be perhaps the most impressive use of the device since Mark Millar's original introduction in Ultimate Fantastic Four.

Speaking of hammers, I once again find myself hunched over keyboard in the dark of the AM, losing my train of thought in a maelstrom of words and critical analysis. Fitting then that I should be the subject of such scrutiny!

The Broken Frontier's Bart Croonenborghs has the special honour of being the first out of the gates on the KMI front. His review of The Kirby Martin Inquest #1 [availble online @] proves to be an astute and receptive look at the series, with a pleasantly polite outlook.

A few misconceptions aside (the book's timeframe, and format), it's a good opportunity to test the water if you've been as yet undecided about your purchase of the title. Particularly useful for the Infinite Wars faithful, who might have misconceptions about my range as a writer.
Although, even if this somehow doesn't tickle your fancy, I'd emplore you to support independent comics by buying it anyway. You can always use it to line your bird cage, or wrap around a back with a threatening message written on the bold white of the mask picture on the cover.

Before we close, it would be remiss of me not to get in the obvious dig about the Marvel Zombies cover, which was no doubt comissioned with glee by editor-in-chief, Joe Quesada.

See what I did there?...

The Fight: 3.5 The Issue: 4.5
[A fun concept, perpetuating Robert Kirkman's association with zombies, and slightly mediocre writing for Marvel properties. A concept that overstayed it's welcome, it might be a matter of choosing this, or the Evil Dead crossover.]

Sunday, August 26, 2007

(DC comics)
Batman Begins When: June 2005
Why: Christopher Nolan & David Goyer How: Christian Bale & Liam Neeson

The story so far...
Having witnessed the murder of his parents by a desperate armed robber in a theatre back alley, Bruce Wayne grows into a man of great guilt and anger.

Channeling his rage, he uses his inhereted fortune to traverse the globe, escaping his celebrity status as a Wayne to face the criminal element on it's own terms, and take it on one man at a time.

During his time abroad Bruce Wayne is confronted by a man named Henri Ducard, who promises to foster his power and hone his efficiency to become a true force of justice. Representing Ra's Al Ghul and the League of Shadows, Ducard eventually reveals a plot to use Wayne as a pawn in the destruction of Gotham; something Bruce Wayne, now Batman, will do anything to stop.

Previous Form:
Batman (#2): Has been an indomitable force for DC, featuring the highest win percentage of characters featured in more than twenty reviews.
Ra's Al Ghul: Making his first appearance in the Infinite Wars.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Draw 3 (Athlete)
Intelligence: Batman 5 (Professor)
Speed: Draw 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Draw 5 (Marathon Man)
Agility: Batman 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting Ability: Ra's Al Ghul 6 (Warrior)
Energy Powers: Batman 4 (Arsenal)

Sunday night, two warriors step onto the field.
One of them; the Dark Knight Detective and protector of Gotham -- Batman. Consumate strategist, obvsessive profiler, grim and unrelenting fighter.

The other; the head of the demon and master of the league of assassins -- Ra's Al Ghul. A man who has endured the test of time through the revitalising properties of the mysterious chemical Lazarus Pits littered across the globe.

For Batman, his life is a direct response to crime. His view of the world is simple, black and white, and though he would intervene by methods denied to law enforcement officers, he is essentially reactionary.

Ra's Al Ghul's mission is to save the world from itself through an obscure, controlled, slant on Darwinism. His view is hypothetical, and intends to stem the damage caused by man, and avoid cataclysm.

Each is as obsessive and well trained as the other, but there is a distinct clash of codes between these two men. For Batman, the line is drawn where lethal force is concerned, and he would never willingly sacrifice one man to save another. For Ra's, no cost is too great in the name of the greater good, and his training is in the deadliest of arts. He is conditioned to capitalise on Batman's restraints, no matter the respect he may have for him.

Seperating these two is difficult. Batman, in my opinion, has a physical edge, but Ra's Al Ghul's willingness to do what is necessary gives him the same edge many of Batman's lesser foes have. It's a killer instinct like this that keeps Joker a yard infront every time he goes on a killing spree, leaving Batman to chase him as a response.

The Math: Batman (Meta Class)
The Pick: A draw

What went down...
Having already confront Ra's Al Ghul; who intends to spread a fear inducing toxin by vaporizing Gotham's underground water supply; Batman defeats several members of the League of Shadows, and escapes peril at the hands of escapees of Arkham Asylum. With the use of a pneumatic propelled grappling hook, he finds himself dangling by a line beneath the monorail carrying Ghul and the microwave emitter vital to his plan.

Enduring obstacles beneath the rail, Batman manages to swing himself into an arc ending with a window of the train. Below, the tumbler Batmobile follows along, driven by Lieutenant James Gordon, who has orders to blow a section of the rail to prevent it reaching the hub of Gotham's water supply.

Inside the train, Batman confronts his mentor, Ra's Al Ghul.
Disappointed in his pupil's defiance, Ra's launches an attack, armed with an extendable asp baton. Recalling his training, Batman uses the spiked prongs of his gauntlets to defend the blows, and tie the weapon up. Ghul challenges his student to show him something new, prompting Batman to slide the asp with the ultra durable spikes fashioned into his costume.

The Batman follows with a stiff kick, and heads for the conductor's controls on the rail. Stunned but by no means defeated, Ghul pursues the caped crusader into the cockpit, attacking from behind with little regard for chivalry.

With the broken off asp, Ghul stabs wildly, staking the sharpened edge into the train console. The controls sparking, Batman turns back to his opponent.

Taking advantage of the confined space, Batman reaches up to the train handrails and kicks Ghul with both feet, pushing him back into the train car.

Falling back into the microwave emitter, Ra's falls thoroughly on the backfoot.
Batman uses his momentum against him, launching his own body to send Ghul toppling backward over the bulky machine.

Despite the offensive, Batman's brutal gambit backfires, giving Ra's the opportunity to recover first and throw a solid punch to the gut from the rising position. Using Batman's own response, Ghul spins him around, sending him to a shattering blow head-first into one of the speeding rail's windows.

The advanced design of Batman's cowl protects him from mortal injury, allowing him to absorb a bone breaking elbow to the arm, before launching into his own brutal attack. A combination of short, stiff punches to the face, and a whip toss that pushes Ra's Al Ghul off balance the assault of choice.

Again Ghul uses his defensive predicament to launch an attack, moving from the crouching position to strategically attack points in the leg and mid-section. Brutish, clubbing fists pound the Batman's legs, attempting to spasm the the musculature into undermining his stance.

LIAM NEESON: Can make you hurt with seven shades of jailhouse rock, uuh-huh.Ghul rises to stand at the ready, having toppled Batman with a rising knee to the face; blissfully unaware that on the streets, Gordon was arriving in the position of no-return. The user-friendly weapons system provides Gordon with an all too simple method of blowing out the rails.

Ra's engages Batman, taking an elbow in the name of maintaining focus on an offensive that sees him opening Batman up with a barrage of short, aggresive elbows and fists. Batman lets loose a few sloppy wide shots, giving his teacher the opening to unleash several knees and kicks that again send him to the floor. Ghul pursues it this time, taking a mount position.

He wraps his hands around his former pupil's throat, strangling him whilst taunting his inability to overcome his limitations. Batman turns the tables on his boasts, revealing a plan that did not involve stopping the train; while below, Gordon succeeds on his third try to eliminate the supporting structure of the targetted portion of rail.

Distracted by the explosions ahead, Ghul is susceptible to an offensive switch. Batman rolls him over, turning the mount around in a fashion mirroring the conceptual battle waged by the two strategists.

CHRISTIAN BALE: Sturdy looking teeth.Batman reveals a taunt of his own, repeating the belittling teachings of his former master to, "... mind your surroundings."

Ra's Al Ghul challenges Batman's intent, questioning whether or not he had finally learned to do what was necessary to achieve his goals. Batman denies his philosophical opposition such satisfaction, slanting his actions on the stance of leaving Al Ghul to his destiny, rather than ending his life wilfully.

Batman shatters the windows and tosses explosive batarangs that seperate the car from the rest of the train, providing him an exit. Using the malleable memory cloth of his cape, he exits in grandiose fashion, fully living up to his branding.

With a zen-like acceptance of his impending doom, Ra's Al Ghul faces the front of the train and closes his eyes, the wind blowing against him.
With nowhere to run, Ghul sits as the front cars careen over the portion of the broken rail, plummeting into an underground parking lot. The overloading microwave emitter explodes, presumably obliterating any life within, and the threat to Gotham City.

Batman glides to the street below where Gordon is waiting by the tumbler, responsible for saving Gotham from a scheme that would have decimated Wayne Tower, and exploded the main hub of the underground water maines.

The hammer...
The winner with an implied death -- Batman!

Y'know, I don't know what I'm going to do when The Dark Knight comes around next year, but since I'm following my whims, I've had to add this one to the to-do list recently. Actually, it was after browsing some 'leaked' photography from the set of the sequel that really got me in the mood. That's some great looking sequel!

So, regular readers will no doubt notice that this is a site of subtle nuances. Well, okay, we feature lengthy, clumsily repetitive summaries of comic book superhero fights, but I like to think there's a little something more here.
It's a thought that helps me sleep at night, so humor me, if you will.

Out of some of the subtleties we can learn some interesting things.
We've learnt that if comics were anything to go by, most superheroes are south-paws, with many pencillers favouring left punches over the more traditional right.
We've also learnt, if you're paying attention, that more often than not the villain is the aggressor (usually reflected by being the first name listed). Making Batman not the only hero to attack his foes head-on, but certainly one of the most prominent. You could look, most recently, to a Wolverine for another example of a hero confronting, or even initiating conflict. [Wolverine #50]

So, statistical interests aside, there's also the interesting matter of Ra's Al Ghul's apparent demise. Comic book readers are no doubt well aware of his close association with the Lazarus Pits, which allow the mortally wounded to heal their wounds by bathing in it's mysterious fluid. They are even known to revive the dead, although such a decision comes at the cost of the subject's sanity.

Still, given Ra's Al Ghul's steady calm when facing certain death, you have to wonder if it might not be a little nod to a potential return for the character in future Bat-films. I guess that fact remains one of the most persistent interests of this new, creatively triumphant series of Batman theatrical releases.

In a world where film series rarely out-do the likes of the twenty-eight Godzilla features, or twenty-one 007 James Bond movies, one has to wonder how the enduring serialzed adventures of comic book heroes will adapt into series of major motion pictures.

Certainly Batman rates among the most enticing characters for such a series, representing a franchise essentially anchored by one major character, with a wide variety of successfully proven working parts that can be plugged in and out of the formula. Batman's rogues gallery of villains is widely regarded as one of the best, rivalling groups boasted by Spider-man and the X-Men.

Still, at such an early junction of reinvention, much of Batman's cinematic future likely hinges on the consistency of the material. Struggling to breakaway from the less than satisfying downturn of the previous films, The Dark Knight has already exhibited the first casualty of filmstars, removing Katie Holmes' Rachel Dawes, for the switch of Maggie Gyllenhaal.

One would have to imagine a change to any more crucial a principle, particularly one stemming from the comics, or previously represented in film, would be a severe blow to the franchise's future. A frailty that suggests it might require the commitment of the stars to a fourth feature, to really believe in the on-going pursuit of these films in the current timeframe.

Regardless, I for one am positively silly over the coming sequel in 2008.
Sure, it has it's potential disappointments. It seems like the film has spun down a spiral reminiscent of the previous franchise, suffering toy selling inclusions of "Batpod" motorcycles and unrefined costume changes. There's also the matter of my beef-headed countryman, Heath Ledger, taking up the mantle of the usually svelte clown prince of crime, the Joker.

Batman Begins was by no means one hundred percent, undeniably perfect, but what it was was a triumph for the Batman branding, and superhero films in general. It was a pure and well envisioned take on the character, that clearly drew on many of the most prominent sources, while still injecting a unique streamlined and vaguely commercial interpretation of the material.

In the same way the Tim Burton feature of 1989 helped define the benchmark of superhero films, Batman Begins returns the character to the pinnacle of major motion picture success, both financially, and more importantly, critically.

At first there were many details I was unsure about, but ultimatley Begins has endured the test of time. I rank it among the most watchable of the recent flock of superhero adaptations, stoically detailed, yet diverse in it's economy of characters, themes and locations. Truly a well rounded origin film and story.

One of these days I'll get around to returning to the movie, to summarize another of the fights, and maybe talk a bit more about the content of the film. In all likelihood, a retrospect may come sometime around the DVD release of The Dark Knight, where we can talk a bit more about the film in it's new context.

Until then, let's enjoy what is always a special occasion, a movie entry!
A DC movie entry, no less, something we've been neglecting not only in film reviews, but in reviews in general. Maybe now I can face the DC Nation!

The Fight: 5.5 The Film: 7
[The Keysi style makes for a grounded battle that provides an anchor to the exciting conclusion, but isn't quite worthy of supreme accolade. Even so, Batman Begins is a must-see for action fans, setting an impressive, mature benchmark for future films with similar characters. Believeable fantasy, sublime.]

Friday, August 24, 2007

Demon (Marvel comics)
Uncanny X-Men #143 When: March 1981
Why: Chris Claremont & John Byrne How: John Byrne

The story so far...
It was long ago that the grounds of Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters saw the sprouting of a demonic totem connecting to the world of the N'Garai -- a Cairn, the bridging gateway for these demonic creatures to spew forth into our world and wreak havoc.

Storm and her fellow X-Men were able to overcome the N'Garai who attacked them, but months later a N'Garai demon emerges once more on the grounds on Christmas eve, seeking to bring misery to the mutants of the X-Men mutant academy.

Alone in the mansion while the other X-Men spend down time with their loved ones, Kitty Pryde decides to direct her misery toward training in the Danger Room. Her session is interrupted by an alarm alerting her of the intrusion, and her investigation leads her to the greatest workout of her career -- one-on-one battle alone against a N'Garai demon!

Previous Form:
Kitty Pryde (#51): Involved in defeats of Wolverine, Nimrod, Punisher & Mr. Sinister.
N'Garai Demon: The N'Garai have not been featured before in the Infinite Wars.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Kitty Pryde 2 (Average)
Intelligence: Kitty Pryde 3 (Straight A)
Speed: Kitty Pryde 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Kitty Pryde 4 (Athlete)
Agility: Kitty Pryde 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting Ability: Kitty Pryde (Trained Fighter)
Energy Powers: Kitty Pryde 1 (None)

So, it's around about the right interval to encounter another face-changing Infinite Wars rule that will reinvent the way in which you look at our rankings system. Okay, maybe not, but it's worth noting, none the less.

In the case of non-specific characters representing autonomous entities or groups (like The Hand), we do not recognise individuals. The only statistical impact made by characters like these is if they appear as a group, thus affecting result in the team rankings, or traditionally, by reflection on their opponents.
Exceptions to this rule are represented by The Doom Denouement Decree.

Because he isn't represented as a singular entity, and the chances of revisiting the N'Garai are fairly slim, the stats above only represent Kitty Pryde. These are not indicative of the total dominance of the Shadowcat character in combat.

Quite the contrary could be said of this example.
Kitty Pryde has suffered fairly an ebb and flow in characterization, being expanded as a SHIELD agent trained heavily in martial arts, to returning again to her perpetual inprisonment in pubescence. Because of that constant constraint on the character, I have no choice but to recognise the limitations set upon her by the many writers who have handled her -- to a degree.

As it happens, this particular encounter is quite early in her career, back when she was progressing through the teen years to earn her place on the X-Men. In the same way Jubilee faced a right of passage [Adventures of the X-Men #7], this story represents a turning point in the character.

Never the less, we're getting a little ahead of ourselves.

A N'Garai Demon is nasty stuff, and considering Kitty Pryde's mutant gifts are essentially defensive in nature, it's difficult to mount a logistical argument for her victory in this situation. Her fighting skills, in our opinion, are moderate, although at this stage in her career, yet to be developed.

One would even question her tactical capabilities, although in a more contemporary setting that would be a far less relevant issue. I'm afraid, for all of the Pryde pride, I just can't come up with a reason to tip Shadowcat on the merits of her abilities on paper.

The Math: Non-Applicable (Footsoldier Non-Entity Clause)
The Pick: N'Garai Demon

What went down...
Not wanting to alert the police to a false alarm, Kitty Pryde takes it upon herself to investigate intruder alert, despite protocols put into place by Professor Xavier and the senior X-Men.

Exploring the mansion, she finds a broken skylight in Storm's indoor conservatory where the plants all appear to be dead. Her curiosity aroused by the speed of the plant's decay, Kitty Pryde's suspicions based on goop on the floor are soon realised when she finds herself face to face with the hideous form of a N'Garai demon!

She narrowly avoids it's long, slashing limb, using her phasing abilities to flee through the floor. Unfortunatley for her, the taloned claw of the demon rips effortlessly through the mansion floor, following her into the hall below.

Using her powers of intangibility, Kitty flees through the improbable space of the X-mansion's reinforced walls, but they shred like cardboard before the might of the demon's grasp. His claws, as sharp as adamantium, allow him to make chase regardless of where the young mutant runs.

Hoping to use intelligence in the face of brute strength, Kitty uses evasive tactics designed to fool even the keen senses of Wolverine. She drops through the stairs into storage space, waiting patiently to see if the creature is aware enough to deduce where her disappearing scent could go.

Just as she decides to brave the vacuum and reach for the telephone, the demon appears to give her the fright of her life! With tactical precision it smashes through the door behind her, trapping her in the ultimate sneak attack!

It's claws slash through body and she screams, "but does not die."
Phasing at the last moment, Pryde lives, but is shocked to find herself in pain from the attack. The result leaves her right arm numb and hanging lifelessly, now more an inconvenience than part of her potential arsenal.

Unable to escape injury in her ephemeral state, Pryde heads for the most accessable weapon available to her, the aptly named -- Danger Room!
She punches in the input commands for the most dangerous setting she knows, just as the demon proves it's intelligence, bursting through the reinforced doors of the Danger Room command centre.

The lunging creature pushes her back over the console, through the apparently unbreakable viewing glass. She lands on the training room floor with a thud, leaving herself open to the killing blow prepared by the vile creature.

Ready for a main course of Sprite, the demon finds itself walking into the wile plans of the young mutant, instead, a mouthful of pneumatically launched metal rods!

The demon looks to mount a defense with the Danger Room itself, ripping at the floor to create a sturdy shield. Unwittingly the move interferes with the room's settings, potentially affecting the safety settings. It soon finds out just how much, suffering under roasting fires reminiscent of it's home.

Kitty Pryde realises the mounting danger fingers her, too, and notes that while phasing will protect her from the physical threats of the Danger Room, it will leave her still developing mind fatigued and vulnerable to other attacks.

The room's attack systems go AWOL, unleashing a wide array of cannons, explosives and energy rays!

Kitty Pryde tries to lure the determined demon into the line of fire, where her intangibility would protect her from the full brunt of fatal injury.
She successfully brings it to the centre of the action, but a random energy pattern forcefield wall puts an end to her plans. It's complex design requests great concentration from her, a luxury she does not have.

Narrowly avoiding the demon's wild slashes, Kitty plots an evasive course, again narrowly escaping certain doom at the menacing touch of the demon.

She navigates her way to a more vulnerable area of the wrecked Danger Room, feeling the effects of the draining chase, unsure of the level of injury sustained by her opponent - it's cries, easily born of rage, as much as pain.

Sprite drops through the floor, and stumbles her way toward a monocar that leads to the X-Men's hangar room. She gets barely halfway when the demon, still in hot pursuit, bends the track and forces her car from it's rails.

Making the rest of the trip on foot, the exhausted mutant takes full advantage of her phasing abilities, entering the Blackbird aircraft via shortcut directly through it's base. Inside, she prods at the controls which she had relcutantly received training for. Struggling to recall her training under such intense pressure, it's at the very last minute that she finds the means of ignition!

With no time to spare, the demon lurks with menace behind the ship, walking directly into the blast of flame produced by the immensly powerful turbines that power the incredible craft! Having been improperly started, the stress destroys the craft, ending the offensive-defensive maneuver.

Emerging from the plane, Kitty searches for the remains of the N'Garai, only to find herself staring down a clawed hand reaching from the resulting flames!
Lucky for her, it is the last exertion of energy, before the creatures burns to nothing.

The hammer...
The winner, by Blackbird infernal toasting - Kitty "Sprite" Pryde!
She's able to have herself a relaxing shower, before greeting her returning teammates, who bring with them her parents! Though a little stunned by the state of her attic plants, and the rest of the room, Storm is very proud of the young student.

And with that, we conclude our look at young women coping with invasions of the X-Mansion. I don't know if there's anything to really conclude from this, but it's certainly been an interesting theme to pursue.

You might wonder exactly what it is about these damsels in genetic distress, who seem find themselves regular targets of home invasion. If you've just joined us, you might want to go back and revisit the Jubilee/Sabretooth [Adventures of the X-Men #7] and Rogue/Sinister [Ultimate X-Men #49] entries, where we featured following infiltrations of the X-Mansion.

In the case of the Jubilee entry, if you have keen senses like the lupine Wolverine, you can literally smell the Claremont and Byrne all over Macchio's script. It's a none too subtle homage that builds on story from the cartoon series, featuring similar points of entry for the villains (Storm's skylight), a Danger Room trump card, and a last minute claw-scare, reaching from the final flaming frame of the villain's defeat.

While lacking the direct references, Brian Vaughan's Ultimate X-Men story comes full circle to reaffirm the validity of the concept, which in truth, has probably been seen even before examples like Juggernaut storming the mansion in the earliest adventures of the original team. Home invasion is by no means a new invention of the mutant menace.

Certainly, when dealing with children of any age or gender, a major milestone is the decision of leaving them home alone. It's no small wonder that the X-Men, built on gifted youngsters, have revisited this theme time and time again. It's a logical way of really bringing the test of readiness to the students, and is a dramatic device infinitely relatable to both those who have experienced such scares, and those who have only imagined it.

For female characters, it is perhaps an even greater proof of worth.
These are characters almost universally characterized as weak and timid through their formative years, events such as these providing the opportunity to force the characters to make their stand in a believable transition. The homeground advantage is the crutch which facilitates the next step of combative credibility.

I like this story. I like the simplicity of it's design, and the effectiveness with which it employs a specific spin on the technique of using a character's credibility to put another character over. I think this is deserved of it's reverence in the history of Uncanny X-Men stories.

It was actually among the very first X-Men stories I was exposed to.
Far more interested in the brightly coloured escapades of Spider-man, Batman, Superman or the Fantastic Four, this issue always stood out as an abberation.

It didn't make an X-fan out of me. Actually, I was never really much of an X-Men fan until the nineties and the explosion surrounding the cartoon and reinvention of the branding. Even so, despite all the things working against it, like the distinct lack of more prominent characters, this story managed to work it's way into my young psyche. This single, done-in-one, Kitty Pryde, "Sprite" story.

Of course, just to spoil the emphasis of that point, I have little to no interest in the Kitty Pryde character today, and could not feature the character without slipping in a note of distain for the furor surrounding Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men. A title so thoroughly dependent on this era of Claremont/Byrne comics, that it reads thoroughly redundant, with that extra special slice of wanting to be too cute for it's own good, that only Whedon can bring.

Nominations of Astonishing remains the acid test for the corrupted credibility of the Eisner awards. You maniacs. Damn you. It was Earth.

It's not all negative though. Whedon deserves credit for at least recognising what works about the characters, and pushing the positive presence of Kitty Pryde. I don't know if he quite does it in the best way, putting a spin on the character distinct from Buffy, the character he's famous for, but still a little bit... young for my liking. It has been twenty-five years since this tale, afterall.

With that bombshell, I think it's just about closing time!
I am, as always, quite exhausted, but enjoying continuing working on new projects. If you haven't already bought yourself a copy of The Kirby Martin Inquest, you should dart over to Nite Lite Theatre where you can get yourself an affordable copy on online order! Rich L, along with a couple of other sites, will hopefully be carrying some reviews of the book very soon.

Speaking of plugs, it is Friday, which means it's the chance for all of us to wave our flags in the name of Bahlactus! He was pretty slack last week, forgetting to include our Christmas sweetening feature [Powerman & Iron Fist #66]
Let's hope his cosmic awareness is on the game this week, ready to devour the Infinite Wars as featured from the secret earth! electricalgoldfish was ready, and we have to throw thanks out to her! Cheers!

Now, I have to go rid myself of this damned demon ripping up my architecture, and get some sleep before coming back for more Infinite Wars!

NOTE (Nov 29, 2007): The purchasing public should be informed that Marvel Essentials collect black and white versions of reprinted materials. Though this issue is contained within, it will appear different to that which is featured here. Consider yourself informed!

The Fight: 4.5 The Issue: 5
[A classic Claremont and Byrne X-tale of single issued proportions! A ham like me could miss the presence of Colossus and Wolverine, but it's undeniably one of the great tales. Newbies would do well to check themselves for a lesson!]

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Evolution Chapter One: First Blood (Marvel comics)
Wolverine #50 When: March 2007
Why: Jeph Loeb How: Simone Bianchi

The story so far...
They used to be friends, but over the decades the bloody feud between Wolverine and Sabretooth has grown to be one of the most bitter and thoroughly twisted conflicts in comics.

Having carved his way through lies and deceptions, Wolverine knows he isn't Sabretooth's son, clone, time travelling counterpart, or any other relation -- but he still just can't put his finger on what is true.

With glimpses of an ancestral history as a backdrop, Wolverine confronts Sabretooth at Xavier's Mansion, where he's staying as a member of the X-Men, not for the first time. Wolverine's mission? To finally put an end to the bitter hatred that inevitably brings these two monsters together, time and again.

Previous Form:
Wolverine (#4): Solo victories over Silver Samurai, Blade, Punisher & Winter Soldier.
Sabretooth (#341): Suffered defeats against Iron Fist & Jubilee.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Sabretooth 4 (Steroid Popper)
Intelligence: Draw 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Sabretooth 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Wolverine 6 (Generator)
Agility: Wolverine 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting Ability: Sabretooth 7 (Born Fight)
Energy Powers: Draw 1 (None)

There are just some classic feuds that get a fanboy all kinds of tingly, and damned if this isn't one of them! As far as brutal, scrapping throwdowns go, Wolverine and Sabretooth produce among the best. Maybe it's because they're such efficient fighters, or maybe it's because their healing powers allow them to go all-out, but together they always promise fireworks!

The way I see the tooth and claw debate is something like a good Japanese hero, because I like to think Sabretooth just has a bit of edge, and certainly our numbers reflect that. He's stronger, he's a little faster, a little bit more feral, a little bit more vicious -- but a whole lot more evil, too.

Like those great Japanese superhero styled archetypes, I like to think it's the good in Wolverine's heart and his determination that always gets him across the line against the odds. It's that inexplicable fire inside of him that pushes him to defeat the more powerful Sabretooth time and time again.

We could bounce it around a lot of ways, but when it's all said and done, it's going to be Wolverine. On paper, I'd love to be objective to the point where I could honestly expect Sabretooth to win, but history just doesn't suggest that.
I'd love to have access to every Sabretooth/Wolverine clash just to test that theory, because I'm sure Sabretooth's gotten plenty of licks in there, but for now, this one will have to suffice.

The Math: Sabretooth (Meta Class)
The Pick: Wolverine (Meta Class)

What went down...
Having snuck his way into the mansion, Wolverine bypasses small talk with X-Men leader, Rogue, heading straight for Sabretooth, who's watching television and scoffing beer from the comfort of a couch. Something that clearly doesn't sit terribly well with Wolverine, what with the murderous past, and all.

Wolverine tosses Sabretooth out the window of his room, forcing the fight onto him in the snowy cold of the Mansion grounds. Determined to put an end to things, Wolverine pops his claws and the two raging beasts go at it!

They each tag each other with gashing swipes, but it's Wolverine who comes out of it with the first attack bonus. He knocks Sabretooth back with a shot, following quickly by burying his claws deep in Sabretooth's shoulder.

Sabretooth uses the close quarters situation to his advantage, turning his superior strength and leverage on Wolverine. Like a human hammer toss, Sabretooth swings Wolvie around, sending him on an unsolicited fast ball special with malicious intent!

Wolverine comes back with a diving drop kick, throwing himself boots-first at his arch-nemesis to smash him through a tree.

Using his speed and agility, Wolverine's quick to his feet. Moving in once again for the claws, Sabretooth, equally as fast, turns Wolverine's momentum against him, driving him fast first into another tree with bloody results!

Sabretooth presses the advantage, wrapping both of his mighty, clawed hands around Wolverine's throat.
Squeezing increasingly tighter, he manages to push Wolverine's healing capabilities to the absolute limit, choking the life out of the smaller mutant scrapper.

Wolverine fades into memories of the sordid past shared with his blonde counterpart, before coming back out of it as his mangled throat begins to repair itself.

Wolverine quizzes Sabretooth on details of the past, while resuming his attack with a clawed fist to the face, bridging into a combination. Another slash to the jaw, finished with a diving knee to the jaw.

Sabretooth strikes back, digging his own finger-tipped claws into Wolverine's defensively exposed chest. Explaining the words that have haunted Wolverine from his past, "Quod Sum Eris," Latin for, I am what you will be.

With Sabretooth holding on tight, Wolverine defiantly shoves his fist beneath his jaw. Sabretooth warns against popping his claws, but ever the rebel, Wolverine pops them with a "SNIKT!" to conclude this installment of the fight.

The hammer...
There might be an argument on points here, but given that we don't actually see the fruits of the closing sound effect, I'm going to have to call this one a draw.

This fight, of course, infamously continues over five excruciating issues, all of which have not been purchased by my good self.
Right now that isn't really much of a statement, but you can rest assured, these are not purchases to be made in the near future. Well, maybe #55 for the decapatative conclusion, but otherwise, it sounds like some very disappointing filler from Loeb.

We've alluded before to the ire Jeph Loeb's name can inspire [Superman/Batman #14] whenever he's tackling a new story. Having reached noteriety with work like The Long Halloween, more recent, simpler works have come under heavy, oft questionable criticisms. Superman/Batman is a good example of a title that has suffered heavy criticisms from fans, regularly criticising it under terms outside of the work itself. Many seemed to approach those stories with a discomfort or distain for fun, four-colour superhero stories without broad consequence.

Here, we have a very different situation, and I'm afraid many of the defenses I would have thrown up for his recent DC works are completely irrelevent.

Wolverine suffers from several immediate setbacks, largely inherent to the publicity received for both Loeb's involvement, and the character itself. The major offender here is the promise to deliver the definitive, be-all-end-all conclusion to the Sabretooth/Wolverine feud, closing the lid on many of the unanswered questions, putting their hatred to bed once and for all.

Audio and print interviews expanded on that, really building up the expected granduer of the event, which promised not only to deliver a major milestone in the history of this story, but also the reunion of two beloved characters.

Unfortunately, this first issue meanders it's way through page after page of scripted scenes of under achieving battle between these two. Simone Bianchi, painted style artist on the book, and also a point of promotion, really doesn't do anything spectacular with these pages, cramming in a lot of brown, similarly set scenes in a lot of awkwardly shaped panels.

With the exception of the utterly disappointing further complication of their history, introducing an ancestral history of feral-humanoid creatures, the first issue reads entirely inconsequential. While that was entirely acceptable in something like the Superman/Batman stories, here we've already been promised consequence.

It seems to be a case of giving the story the stage it deserves - six complete issues - without actually expanding the materials in a way that builds and honors that grandeuer. It's a case of a stage without a fitting show, instead delivering six unfortunate issues of boredom and spite.

Bianchi certainly doesn't do a lot to help. I'm sorry to say it, but introducing a painted finish to a comic is not a ticket-to-ride. If that were ever a novelty fitting of an instant top ten seller, it's been well warn out by the many contributions that have come and gone in an era of the iconic works of Alex Ross, and gritty stylized books by Alex Maleev.

The fairly uninspiring artwork fails to justify the story in a way that, perhaps, even Ed McGuinness might have. Of course, Ed McGuinness pencils would've struggled to justify such large wastes of panel space, and hopefully encouraged a denser approach to the content by Loeb.

This story was supposed to do what so many others haven't, clearing away all the muddy, garbled confusion and misinformation surrounding these characters, boiling it all down to a final confrontation. Instead, this story seems to add to the list, screaming out for any excuse to ignore, revive, and do it right another time, with another creative team. Hopefully without killing Sabretooth.

I'm not about to condemn Jeph Loeb and jump from the ship screaming, but I think it's safe to say that on the merits of what's between the front and back covers, this is a monumental embarassment and failure to produce. Ed McGuiness, who pencils a bizarre fantasy dream-tale with Wolverine, shows up his contemporary with shocking results.

So, getting away from all the negativity, I should throw some shout-outs.
I've got to give thanks to Rich @ ComicByComic, for the mention of The Kirby Martin Inquest, which has a second issue I've been hard at work lettering.

Pedro Cruz, artist on KMI, is doing some regular sketches that you can check out there, and we're talking about maybe working on a mini-comic side project, which should be a lot of fun. While KMI is a paced, character-driven crime/superhero story, this side project might be a bit more up the Infinite Wars alley.

Before we go, you'll notice I copped out and just went with the post today.
Rather than waste time stalling behind, we'll just play the entries I'd like to do by ear. Tomorrow, as always, we'll have a great review, and then who knows!
Keep hitting us up, read through some of the archives, follow your favourite characters through the tags, and stay tuned!

The Fight: 2.5 The Issue: 3.5
[An unfortunate misfire from Loeb! The score average is brought up by the back-up story, which is the only justification for the price of admission here. Sorry to say, but it's definitely the worst read of the year. Disappointing!]