Friday, April 06, 2018

Man and Super-Man! (Marvel)
Fantastic Four #249 When: December 1982
Why: John Byrne How: John Byrne

The Story So Far...
On the outskirts of the Milky Way galaxy, a rickety Skrull space ship desperately flees a furious foe! The Gladiator navigates the cold of deep space on a mission to bring them to justice on the Shi'ar Empire's behalf!

In their desperation to escape, the Skrulls activate an explosive weapon that blows Gladiator across the solar system! His trajectory is monitored on Earth by the brilliant Reed Richards, concerned the celestial projectile is a piece of space debris hurtling towards the city!

Richards sounds the alarm, signaling to Thing and Human Torch to return to the Baxter Building to brace for emergency! Little does he realise, the debris is an unbeatable super-man who is about to encounter Thing on his way home!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Gladiator 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Mr. Fantastic 6 (Genius)
Speed: Gladiator 5 (Super-Human)
Stamina: Gladiator 6 (Generator)
Agility: Mr. Fantastic 6 (Rubber)
Fighting: Gladiator 4 (Gymnast)
Energy: Human Torch 7 (Cosmic Power)
Total: Gladiator 33 (Super)

The Fantastic Four are: Mister Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Human Torch, and The Thing.

Marvel's first family are cosmic adventurers facing the deadliest perils from deep space and beyond our spectrum of reality! Together, or as individuals, we've witnessed their battles with the likes of: Ego The Living Planet [Fantastic Four #235], Paibok & The Skrull Empire [Fantastic Four #358], Iconoclast [Fantastic Four #2], Super-Skrull [Fantastic Four #6], Annihilus & Defile [Fantastic Four #13], Ahab [X-Men Annual #14], and more!

With every impossible challenge, the FF achieved the fantastic, but today they face an opponent whose phenomenal strength is unlike any they've encountered before! He is both unstoppable force and immovable object, with an unwavering confidence and determination to complete his objective!

is Kallark of the planet Strontia. His earliest history is shrouded in mystery, but it's known he earned the title of Gladiator in a contest with nine others. In doing so, he became Praetor of the Imperial Guard to the Shi'ar Empire - sworn to serve whomever reigns as Emperor or Empress.

It was in this capacity he came to Earth in New X-Men #124, battling the X-Men amid the misdirection cast by insidious Cassandra Nova. During the struggle he effortlessly dealt with Beast and Wolverine. His march against the X-Men was only stopped by evidence of Nova's deception.

Gladiator's loyalty to the Shi'ar Empire is matched only by his impossible strength, stamina, speed, endurance, and unique powers. He can project laser-like heat rays from his eyes, blow gusts of air, resist psionic assault, survive the vacuum of space, and endure the most hostile of elemental onslaughts!

If these powers sound familiar, it's because Gladiator is very much analogous to DC Comics' Superman! He's even susceptible to a rare wavelength of radiation, but his powers can also be undermined if his confidence wavers. Rare is it that Kallark doubts himself, but if he does, his powers may begin to wane drastically!

Thing's boxed everyone from Doctor Doom [Fantastic Four #350], Captain Marvel [Captain Marvel #26], Ego [Fantastic Four #235], The Sentry [Mighty Avengers #10], The Adaptoid [Fantastic Four: Unplugged #1], and an Agamotto powered Luke Cage [New Avengers #2] -- but Gladiator is in a class of his own!

Mister Fantastic and Invisible Woman could probably conspired to convince Gladiator his powers are waning, but they'd need to be aware of the benefits of such a tactic to actually pursue it. Which spells trouble for the FF! Let's go!

The Tape: Fantastic Four Ranking: Mister Fantastic (#9)

What Went Down...
Touching down in Manhattan gridlock, the being known as Gladiator lets cry a frustrated roar! His Skrull target is lost, but the emergence of The Thing from a nearby New York cab inspires a classic case of mistaken identity!

Focused solely on his objective, Gladiator hoists a couple's car out of traffic and tosses it at Thing! It's all that he can do to catch the vehicle and return them to safety. A temporary condition as long as Gladiator believes Thing an opponent!

Thing readies for the Shi'ar Imperial Guardsman's next attack, but nothing could've prepared him for the unnatural strength of the spaceman's punch!

The force of the incredible blow sends Thing hurtling through seven cars before he comes to a crashing stop in the eighth! Both the nature of the impact, and the shock of his foe's power, leave him stunned and groggy!

Not yet satisfied; Gladiator snatches the rocky hero by the tatters of his clothes and surveys the surrounding cityscape. His penetrative x-ray gaze soon finds the Fantastic Four huddled in the Baxter Building. With a mighty toss -- he reunites Thing with the rest of his team!

The FF scramble as Thing makes an unannounced crash landing into Mister Fantastic's celestial scanning lab! He does his best to return to his feet, but falls dramatically face down! Invisible Woman barely has time to process the shocking sight before the entire team is shaken from their bearings!

Invisible Woman fills the impact hole with a force-field as the Baxter Building begins to tip. Even the brilliant Reed Richards cannot conceive of the tower being lifted from its foundation, but gazing to the street below - he believes!

The Human Torch springs into action - leaping into the void with a cry of "Flame On!" He sends spears of fire to surround Gladiator, creating a cage of fire as he reaches the street. Gladiator is not amused.

The alien powerhouse joins The Torch in the air -- colliding with him at super-human speed! The impact rocks Johnny Storm's body and launches it high above the New York City skyline! Somehow, he escapes injury!

Determined to test the limits of his foe's resilience, he turns up the heat and launches a nova-blast! It surrounds Gladiator in blistering fire, but he remains totally unfazed! He laughs and then expels the air from his alien lungs with the force of a hurricane! The gale snuffs out The Torch's flame! He plummets!

Fortunately, Mister Fantastic arrives just in time to catch his falling teammate!

With a universal translator gizmo in hand, Reed Richards attempts to understand and reason with Gladiator. For a moment, the Fantastic Four's shared grievances with the Skrulls tempt calm - but Gladiator is unconvinced!

Believing the Fantastic Four to merely be contrivances of the shape-shifting Skrulls -- he grabs the stretchy mid-section of Mister Fantastic and starts pulling! Unfortunately, the same tactics intended to expose a contorting Skrull are just as deadly to the cosmically empowered body of Reed Richards!

Desperate to save her husband before he's stretched beyond his limit - Sue Storm springs to action! She encases Gladiator in an invisible force-field bubble, but immediately feels the pressure of his phenomenal strength!

Every kick and punch strains the Invisible Woman with psychic feedback! The Gladiator senses her plight and presses his advantage! The pummeling of his impossible power finally overcomes her. She relents - falling to the ground!

The innocent eyes of young Franklin Richards witness his mother's plight. Naïve, yet not so long ago possessing powers to reshape his reality - he strikes at the alien's calf! Gladiator swats the small child aside with the back of his hand!

Still groggy, but regaining consciousness - Thing sees his nephew in danger. Now his protection instincts kick-in. He defies all expectation, rising to his feet to charge at the unsuspecting Gladiator! He tackles him out of the building!

Sadly, the battlecry of "it's clobberin' time" is just bravado. Gladiator takes control of their fall with the power of flight - and sends Thing on an accelerated plunge to the streets below!

In an instant - Gladiator joins Thing on the street. A passing bus provides the finishing weapon! Gladiator effortlessly lifts it into the air - only to bring it crashing down atop the already battered Thing!

The Hammer...
It's another combat classic from the Secret Wars on Infinite Earths as Gladiator delivers an alarmingly decisive defeat to the Fantastic Four!

Not even the indomitable Thing could defend against the sudden impact of Kallark's impossible strength! That's a particularly big deal when you consider 1982 was also the year he stood toe-to-toe with Champion of the Universe, in Marvel Two-In-One Annual #7!

The battle of Fantastic Four #249 has been a popular request for The Comic Book Fight Club in years gone by. Even my good old pal Pedro Cruz suggested I take a look at the titanic tussle, many moons ago!

With the recent announcement that Fantastic Four is finally coming back to the Marvel Comics publishing schedule; I figured it was the perfect time to dig through the back issues to take in a famous fight with a cosmic connection!

It seems like the superhero space-ways are becoming the next big frontier sweeping through pop culture. Thanos takes the big screen next month in Avengers: Infinity War, with Gladiator now re-scheduled to arrive in FOX's X-Men: Dark Phoenix some time in the first-half of 2019.

I've been a Fantastic Four fan for about as long as I can remember, but I wasn't always so hip to the X-Men. The odd issue, like Uncanny X-Men #143, made an impression, but I wasn't consistently invested until the 1990s. By then, their earthbound adventures battling Magneto, Apocalypse, Ahab and bigots made a great deal more sense than seemingly ill-fitted travels into space.

Jean Grey's turn as The Phoenix had an obvious appeal, and the Dark Phoenix saga's terrestrial moments are legendary, but alien characters like Gladiator and the Shi'ar Imperial Guard were a tougher sell away from the FF's space origins.

The Mohawk, color palette, and generic triangle symbol made Gladiator feel less Star Trek meets Marvel, more 'indistinct dollar store knock-off'.

On the surface, his beat-anyone super-strength only feeds into the impression he's a less legitimate Marvel character than, say, Silver Surfer or Annihilus. He sure looks like something a kid would scrawl with a box of crayons, and a little too much sugar. The portmanteau of "Kal" and "Clark" for Kallark (from Superman's Kal-El and Clark Kent) doesn't help, either. Yet, there was one undeniable thing the character had going for him: genuine mystique!

Much like Juggernaut; there was a consistent indulgence in Gladiator's strength and character that built a more substantial whole than the sum of parts. Issues like FF #249 made the unbeatable Gladiator a school yard legend. He became a character worth paying attention to -- especially when he showed up in unexpected places!

The addition of a confidence-based weakness was a novel way of layering a so-called Marvel weakness into the character. Heroes with problems, has always been the theory of Marvel. Psychological flaws a favourite when transposing the archetype of Superman to the House of Ideas [see also; The Sentry].

We'll inevitably find our way to the Dark Phoenix Saga sometime in the future, but there's a short story by Len Kaminski and Don Heck I hope to get the chance to share in the future. It's a forgotten curio from 1990, but it just had a certain something that added to that sense of mystique, as a younger reader.

As for the work of John Byrne? We just looked at Action Comics #586 last week, where he was having the chance to redefine the real Superman for a modern, post-Crisis audience. Both issues are a little wordy, and a tad inconsistent with their layouts. There's no denying the man knows how to draw a fight scene! He can sure deliver the definitive rendering of a superhero, too!

In FF #249, I was particularly taken with Byrne's Thing. [All right, all right. Stop giggling!]. Pencillers approach the character different ways, and some of these Byrne panels really look right. The size of plates and depth of crevices looks real good in some of these panels.

I'll bet it was inspiration for Mark Bagley's flashback scenes in Mighty Avengers #10. More good Thing, with a few swings and blows that recall the fight with Gladiator. I suspect that's also Byrne's influence on Bendis being referenced.

If you want to see more of this issue and fight for yourself, I recommend you check it out via collected edition! Shopping via Amazon links provided [right] will not only get you a solid deal -- but helps support the site at no cost!

Want to find more famous fights like this one? Journey into mystery by following the various links found throughout this post, or in the labels below. Or dive straight into the Secret Archive to find past battles indexed via publisher, series, and issue number!

You can also follow and subscribe on Twitter and Facebook for daily links to fights inspired by the topics of the day! A like, retweet, or share is another fantastic way to show your support so the wars remain infinite!

Winner: Gladiator
#162 (+281) Gladiator (Kallark)
#9 (--) Mister Fantastic
#10 (--) Thing
#11 (--) Invisible Woman
#13 (--) Human Torch (Johnny Storm)
#325 (-111) Franklin Richards

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