All-New Moon Knight #1

Rated T+ for strong language and violence

In light of Moon Knight Month, I decided to stimulate those creative juices and pen a MK fanfiction tale. The following is essentially the story I'd write were I ever put in charge of the title (or a professional comic-book writer, hah). At present, I've finished up this first 'issue' with plans for about ten, but we'll see how the feedback goes before I start the next one.

Without further ado, introducing All-New Moon Knight, and the first part of a four-part 'Phases' story-arc:

“Would you like a cup? It’s not that drip-brew crap – this is the good stuff. Genuine espresso machine. Even’s got a bunch of Italian buttons on it…‘lavazza’…‘pronto’…I don’t even know what this one does, the names all end in vowels. Machine was donated during one of those events the brass holds every now and again. ‘Spector Corp’, was it?”

Detective Flint turned away from the chrome coffeemaker, and directed his attention back to the recipient of his offer for caffeine. The man-in-white was seated by Flint’s desk, imperceptibly still. He didn’t answer. At this late hour, the squad room was as soundless as the vacuum of space. Everyone else on night shift was out on rotation, and Detective Flint and his associate were the only living souls in Major Crimes.

Flint shrugged. The detective slumped back into his swivel chair and breathed a weary sigh. On his desk was a single case file marked ‘F.B.’, and just under those letters, his lieutenant had scribbled ‘Pass to Flint’. F.B. stood for ‘freak beat’; the Detective’s very own specialty. Other cops got the larceny cases, or the homicides committed by grown men who actively referred to themselves as ‘supervillains’.

But Flint…Flint had made a career out of cases like the one in that file. The ones that most of New York’s Finest would blink at. The freak beat.

“Right to business we go then. Sure, sure, business before pleasure. I can appreciate that. Y’know, your digs remind me of someone I work with…” Flint leaned forward in his chair, prompting a little squeak that was a cry for more WD-40, “You ever hear of the term ‘bad religion’? Well this one’s kinda like that. Not Jonestown, Scientology-bad - a little less so than that. But still…pretty messed up.”

Flint propped the case file open, and spread its contents on his desk like a poker player folding a hand. The evidence came pouring out. Forensic photos of the victims at various crime scenes across N.Y. – all of the corpses displaying extreme facial mutilation. Autopsy reports from the coroner; listing the details of the unlucky vics: names, DOBs, addresses. The separate pieces to a macabre jigsaw puzzle that would reveal the killer’s identity.

The man-in-white inched closer to Flint’s desk; moving for the first time since he’d sat down in the squad room. He perused the items before him in wordless inquiry. If the graphic images of mangled faces disturbed the man, there was nothing in his stoic façade that betrayed it. Detective Flint’s lower lip pouted in an expression of approval. The average Tom, Dick, or Harry would’ve lost their lunch by this point. For a civvie…

After a minute or two, the man retracted back to his original seated position, apparently finished with the file’s lurid contents. Flint had unwrapped a Weetabix; his long years of police work having made his appetite quite immune to rigor mortis. The detective shuffled the papers and photos back into their place. It seemed like the respectful thing to do. Eating in front of the dead was just like eating the dead – poor taste.

“Done, then?” Flint said between mouthfuls of processed wholegrain wheat, “If you want to break out the shorthand, now would be the time. Sex of the perp is male. Race’s unknown, though height’s supposed to be short – 5’7”, 5’8” maybe. M.O.’s all about the faces – real Jack-the-Ripper-Red-Dragon-type stuff. ‘Skinning of portions of facial epidermises’ was how the coroner’s report put it, I think. Motive, as aforementioned, appears to be religious.

“Most of this we got from this son-of-a-bitch’s last victim – the one that got away. The only one still breathing. ’Course now he’s got a plastic mask keeping the facial tissue to the bone…docs are talking about giving the poor prick pig-skin grafts. But I digress. Point being, he actually lived to tell the tale. Which brings us one step closer to IDing this perp.

“As for how Hannigan got away, and why MCU’s labeling this ‘religious crime’ - I’ll get to that in a bit,” Flint gobbled down the last of his late-night snack. The man-in-white remained as still as ever; listening attentively to the detective’s words with a Catholic schoolboy’s focus. Flint resumed, “But first: I’ve got to start at the beginning. In medias res just won’t do.

“Time for a flashback. Our story begins in Hell’s Kitchen – sometimes known as Clinton if you’re selling realty to yuppies – on a stormy night just two days ago. There’s the No. 4 victim Hannigan…the killer himself…and a vigilante who wears a white paper bag over his head…”

It was a stormy night in Hell’s Kitchen; or Clinton, or Midtown, or whatever other name they’d given to this watering hole of Manhattan crime. Build a couple of clubs, a gym; a cafe with some whimsical Irish name like ‘Kerry Castle’…it didn’t change the fact that these streets were all under Fisk’s grip. ‘A neighborhood by any other name’…it didn’t change the fact that this was a proverbial hell-on-earth. They even had their very own devil.

Marc Spector rarely ventured into the Devil’s turf. Every clown with a mask and Tae-Bo training had his own territory, one of the unspoken rules in this line-of-work. The Big Apple had plenty of slices to share. But now and again, one of Spector’s marks would cross borders. In an effort to elude vengeance, the mark would seek asylum in foreign lands. The mark would tell himself, “No way that fantasma’s gonna follow me all the way out here…”

And the mark would be wrong. Because no matter where you are on this planet – the moon always finds you eventually.

Tonight, the mark was known by Finn Hannigan. As the Mooncopter descended towards the Kitchen, the knight-with-many-names rappelled out of the craft, and landed on the rooftops. Most days, people called him Spector; or occasionally Grant, or Lockley. But come night, the city only had one name for him. He was the soldier of vengeance, the avatar of the Egyptian god of the moon, the guy who’d been in the West Coast Avengers that one time…

Moon Knight stepped up onto the edge of the roof. The downpour of precipitation made cracking sounds as it rebounded off his white investments. Before him, the nine circles of Hell stretched out to the horizon. Somewhere in this labyrinth of whiskey bars was the mark. Spector’s foremost C.I. – a criminal Profiler of sorts – had told him Hannigan could be found frequenting the Moench’s drinking establishment at this late hour.

A stakeout was in order, then. The war-on-crime reminded Marc of his private sector days: 10% life-and-death combat, with about 90% tedious waiting. Moon Knight leaped from the rooftop, a predator rearing to catch his prey, and bounced off a water tank with practiced ease. Behind him, the lightweight fabric of his silver cloak trailed after his fluid motions like a gymnast’s ribbon. There was vengeance to be served on this night.

Like every man in Hell, Finn Hannigan had sins to pay for. ‘Bombing’ was a dirty term in the modern American lexicon; right above ‘schoolyard-shooting’ and ‘unemployment’. A month prior, factions of the anti-nationalist group Ultimatum had been primed to do just that. An Eastern European embassy was ground zero. The explosives had been smuggled in. All that was left was to hit the radio detonator.

The only thing that’d averted this Fawkes-esque plot was Moon Knight himself. A handful of crescent darts, one or two cracked heads, and the day was saved. Twenty-eight Balts would see their families again and a diplomatic crisis deterred. All in a day’s work for the hero the Bugle had dubbed the ‘Lunar Legionnaire’.

But the Legionnaire knew that he had only stemmed the symptoms. The tumor was still festering, the real source of the terror still somewhere in Manhattan. And so the avatar of vengeance asked himself a question: “Who had supplied the fifty pounds of Semtex?” And then he’d asked, “Who provided the variable frequency receiver? Ultimatum had squeezed the trigger…but who gave them the piece and rounds?”

The answer to all those questions, as Moon Knight discovered, was a single man. Hannigan was what the underworld referred to as a ‘fundraiser’. The local equivalent of an arms-dealer. For a fee, Finn Hannigan could provide his skel clientele with everything from two-toned SigArms to salvaged Punisher hardware. He was the source of the sickness.

And he was the reason why Moon Knight found himself on the Devil’s turf tonight – in what the fuzz called a ‘target-rich environment’ – heading towards the tumor. How many bodies could be put on Hannigan’s head-all in the name of murder as commerce? Spector didn’t know. But since he learned of the mark’s name, Moon Knight had vowed there wouldn’t be any more. A month’s worth of hunting would end tonight at Moench’s, here in Hell itself.

The corner bar was brimming with patrons by the time Moon Knight arrived; mostly white-collar suit-and-tie professionals rushing to find shelter from the rain. It was a full-house night. Music emanated from the inside; the Buzzcocks with a little Pogues. From the roof of an office across the street, Moon Knight observed Moench’s behind the foggy lenses of his binoculars.

Sixty minutes passed as people entered the bar sober and dry, then left belting out the lyrics to Carrickfergus. Moon Knight studied the ebb-and-flow like an unwavering gargoyle. No sign of the fundraiser yet. But Marc knew fortune favored the forbearing. His time at Langley had taught him that; the disciplined hunter was often the one with the highest success rate.

And Moon Knight’s training paid off in time – when he glassed a tall man with a ponytail exit the premises. The BOLO papers provided by the Profile had come with snapshots. It was definitely the mark. Moon Knight watched as Finn Hannigan stepped out of Moench’s into the pouring rain, and the source of the virus was given form. The binoculars in Spector’s hands were swiftly replaced with a truncheon. The wait was over. Time for vengeance.

In the storm, Spector’s habit made him into a veritable Casper, his white ensemble blending seamlessly with the rainfall. Moon Knight trailed after Hannigan from up-high; stealthily keeping pace with him as the man turned into an alleyway. Already the soldier within Marc was counting down the ways to hurt Hannigan. There was a time for restraint, for leaving the unconscious offender hanging from a streetlamp with a cute note attached.

I have 12 oz. of crack up my ass-crack – arrest me please,” or something similarly glib.

…But then there’s also a time for leaving the offender in a full-body cast, and ensuring that the only words he thinks of for the next six months are ‘traction’, ‘physiotherapy’, and ‘inguinal hernia’. A time like tonight. A few broken bones and the whole ‘criminals are a cowardly lot’ shtick wasn’t going to work here. Finn Hannigan and his wares had to be taken off the streets entirely. The bastard needed to have the fear of God instilled in him.

Moon Knight had carbon-plated truncheons…and spiked knuckle-dusters…and all manner of objects that would never pass Customs. Hannigan’s fate was sealed the moment he left Moench’s. At this point, the best he could hope for was a phone to call the ambo he’d inevitably need. Up on the roofs overlooking the alley, Moon Knight closed in on his mark. It was time to fulfill his duty as an apostle of his god. It was time to be the avatar of vengeance.

Finn Hannigan! The God Khonshu cries for your blood!

Moon Knight blinked. That was his cue, and his line – but the words never had the chance to leave his lips. Who the hell just said…?

Spector’s eyes immediately scanned his surroundings; finding the source of the unexpected voice. A second man had appeared behind Hannigan in the alleyway. The newcomer was dressed in a grey goose-bubble, with the jacket’s hood disguising his appearance. Marc quickly backed from the roof’s edge. His zeal to break Hannigan vanished momentarily, having been replaced by confusion at the new man below. Who was this here?

“The god whooooo?” Hannigan said by way of reply, slurring his words in obvious inebriation. The arms-dealer began stumbling towards Mr. Goose-Bubble with an unsteady gait. Above them, Moon Knight viewed the two men from the shadows.

This new man was an unknown variable, and unless Spector heard him wrong, he was also another disciple of the God of Vengeance, or at least...he was claiming to be. Heliopolitan deism wasn’t exactly a popular belief-system. Could this joker be one of those Knight of the Moon fanatics, Marc pondered? After a quick weighing-of-the-options, Spector called an audible, and decided to watch the situation play itself out.

As the lumbering Hannigan closed the gap, the man in the goose-bubble reached into his pockets. In the rain, Spector thought he saw a firearm; before realizing the man had produced a Taser. 50,000 volts, 1.8 milliamps, and two piezoelectric probes later – Hannigan was supine on the alley floor, mouth agape and limbs shuddering. The man had come prepared. Even drunk, Hannigan was still built like an ox; the Taser was a smart call.

And if Goose-Bubble was trying to exercise his faith, Moon Knight had to admit the man was certainly on the right track. Khonshu’s gospel was generally less ‘Have you heard about the good news?’ and more ‘Let me cripple you for life.’ Evidently, this newcomer had just done Marc’s job for him. Though witnessing Finn Hannigan getting electroshocked brought up more questions than it did answers for Moon Knight.

Was this second man also aware of Hannigan’s sins? What was this man’s motive here? Moon Knight resumed observing the confrontation unfolding beneath him: watching as Goose-Bubble paced towards the prone Hannigan, watching as the man reached into his pockets for a second time, and waiting for some clue that would solve the mystery.

But all thoughts of 21 Questions vanished when he saw the knife appear in the man’s hand.

Aggravated A&B was one thing, cold-blooded homicide another. The question of the newcomer’s motive seemingly-answered; Moon Knight sprang into action through pure instinct and muscle-memory. The third-degree could come later – right now all Moon Knight was concerned with was preventing a one-eighty-seven. Spector wanted Finn Hannigan in the emergency ward, not on the cold slab of a morgue.

Moon Knight’s cloak blossomed into a crescent-shaped parachute as he dove for the alleyway below. Puddles erupted once his boots graced earth; the landing jolting the newcomer in surprise. The look on the man’s face as Moon Knight approached him was a familiar one. The Pope wore a mozetta and zucchetto, the rabbis had their kippahs. The Fist of Khonshu, on the other hand, was dressed like the Grim Reaper in photo-negative.

And that brief second of shock – that pause that a civilian who’s only seen super-people on Nightline makes upon meeting one in real-life – was Moon Knight’s opening. Marc didn’t hesitate. There’d be time for the Gitmo routine when Taser-Man woke up. Truncheon. Temple. Moon Knight’s arm arched back, readying itself to connect the two, when —

“Hkkk—Nggeeahhh—my! Head…!”

The truncheon slipped from Moon Knight’s grasp as the Silver Avenger keeled over. Pain! A sharp, searing pain went off in Marc’s head like a 40 Mike-Mike. Pain! Moon Knight felt his legs give way – what the hell was happening to him? Seizure? Stroke? Morpheus?! The pain overwhelmed all coherent thought, and Spector could only cradle his skull in agony.

Amidst the pain, Spector screamed in his mind. Screamed for his limbs to move, for his arms to respond. It took Moon Knight an excruciating five seconds just to glance up at the newcomer, who now stood above him. In the rain, and with the jacket’s hood, Marc couldn’t make the man’s features. But Marc knew – the shock had passed. All that remained was the man, a knife, and the helpless vigilante who’d just tried to assault him.

One stab wound probably wouldn’t do it. Moon Knight’s vestments came with magnesium composite-armor and SAPI trauma plates. Pectoral crosses tended to do squat vs. small-arms fire. But enough lacerations to the face or neck… After Bushman, and Knowles, and any number of Ravencroft alumni – tonight, a virtual unknown could succeed where every other thug or villain had failed.

Marc began to wonder if there was a cap on Khonshu’s resurrection policy.

Then, a first for Hell’s Kitchen happened. Every banger’s wet-dream: to have a cape at gunpoint (or knifepoint, as the case went), and at your mercy. But the man in the grey goose-bubble stepped away. Moon Knight would’ve felt relief if not for the inconvenient aneurysm. Until Marc saw where the newcomer was headed.

Moon Knight could only stare helplessly as the man returned to the prone and semi-conscious form of Finn Hannigan. The knife began a slow descent to Hannigan’s face. All Spector had done was delay the newcomer by a minute or two. Marc roared for his muscles to act, but the pain wouldn’t allow it. Marine, PMC, moon-themed vigilante – Spector was well-acquainted with pain, but this was something else entirely.

The carving began. Alcohol was a pale substitute for anticholinergics as it turned out. Paralyzed though he was, Hannigan could still feel the blade shaving chunks of his face off like orange peel. His screams were mercifully drowned out by the storm. Moon Knight watched in horror as blood splatters decorated the alley. Frustration bubbled beneath Marc’s pain…Hannigan was just inches away, but his body simply refused to budge.

The entire messy process of facial mutilation wouldn’t take long. And an inevitable coup-de-grâce would follow. You didn’t do something like that to another human being and expect him to live. Personal experience informed Moon Knight on that. If there was anything to be done – Moon Knight knew it had to happen soon.

With a silent prayer to Khonshu to grant him strength, Moon Knight’s left fingers sluggishly crawled their way to his right arm. For use in times-of-emergency, Spector’s gauntlets housed tear-gas darts; ideal for distracting a foe or making a quick getaway. And the present situation certainly qualified as a CODE 3. After a couple grunts and grimaces, Moon Knight managed to unclip a single weaponized crescent.

“Here goes,” Moon Knight muttered through gritted teeth, though with the pain, it came out more as ‘Hrrgghhh’. One press primed the chemical agent, a second one pulled the electronic safety pin. Hannigan was still shrieking. Now or never. Moon Knight flicked the crescent dart down the alley; turning away as the projectile exploded with a bright BANG.

80 grams of CS cyanocarbon shot out the dart in a violent cloud of white vapor. The tear-gas filled the entire alley within moments. Moon Knight heard a voice yell in confusion – either Hannigan or the second man – and saw a figure scrambling behind the smoke. Marc’s mask had filter-cartridges, but the dart’s contents wreaked havoc for its other recipients.

When the gas finally lifted, the man in the grey goose-bubble was nowhere to be found. On that stormy night in Clinton, in that grimy alley just across from Moench’s - the only souls left were a disfigured arms-dealer and a vigilante in filthy white tights. Moon Knight clambered awkwardly to his feet – the mystery pain apparently having left with the newcomer. He was still breathing, and he’d prevented the mark from being worm-food.

All things considered, Marc figured the night could’ve gone a lot worse.

Then Moon Knight remembered that Finn Hannigan was still bleeding out not more than two steps away. Hannigan had stopped screaming, but the fundraiser was falling into severe shock. Liquor, high-voltages, maiming, and chemicals could do that to a person. Moon Knight rushed over to the man’s side. The pool of blood around Hannigan stained Spector’s cloak, as the vigilante knelt down beside the fundraiser to inspect the damage.

“Jesus Christ…” Moon Knight whispered, when he saw what was left of Hannigan’s face.

“This was all that was left of Finn Hannigan’s kisser when Wedding-Gown-Man dropped him off at County Med,” Detective Flint said drily, as he extracted the horrific picture from the F.B. file, “Tell you, if there’s a more conspicuous mugshot of a skel out there, I ain’t seen it. March’s a little early for Thanksgiving, huh? Look at that. Our perp carved a clean chunk off Hannigan’s left temple-to-chin. Like a, a, well you look at it and tell me…

“And this was the lucky one. But we got lucky too – see, even though Hannigan was on-the-bottle, punk was still cognizant ’nuff to relate what he remembered. About ‘Khonshu’ – that’s the Egyptian god of falcons or some such, according to Wikipedia – which got me thinking this is one of those cult crimes. Religion. So Hannigan was the only wit. Well, him and my vigilante friend, but good luck preserving chain-of-custody with these cape types.

“Anyway. Nobody gives a rat’s ass about this case; Lew’s not even leaning on me to put it in black. The vics weren’t exactly Webelos, and that’s the only thread between them. No. 4: arms-dealer. No. 3: 66 Bridges, No. 2: child-pornographer, No. 1 a henchman for one of the Hobgoblins. For all we know, this perp could be a Punisher-lite, maybe that’s why he did this to Mr. Hannigan here. Carving into his face a…well, you look and tell me, it’s a…”

“A crescent,” the man-in-white answered. Flint gagged on his cereal upon realizing that the man actually had a voice. “The killer skinned a portion of Mr. Hannigan’s face off, leaving behind a patch of exposed tissue in the shape of a crescent,” the man explained, “Tell me, Detective: Have you noticed the pattern between these mutilations?”

Detective Flint felt his left eyebrow rise a slight millimeter at the word ‘pattern’. You didn’t trade your silver shield in for a gold one through felony arrests alone. Police go plainclothes with intuition, and Flint could sense his tingling. The man-in-white had noticed something. Flint cracked the case file open, and began sorting through the macabre puzzle, his brain buzzing with legit Italian caffeine, his fingers reaching for the autopsy headshots of each vic.

Finn Hannigan had a – what did the man say? – A crescent carved into his face. Flint found the picture of No. 2, the snuff-filmmaker, and immediately saw the connection to Hannigan. Two dots with a line between them. No. 2 was a mirror-image of No. 4; a crescent-shaped patch of skin was all that remained on the flayed face. Flint pulled out No. 1…Macendale’s accomplice had his whole face peeled off. And No. 3 had half his mug missing. Patterns!

Phases,” Flint said in a hushed whisper when the Eureka moment finally struck him, “Like ‘faces’! ‘Phases’ of the moon. Numero uno was a full moon – his whole face was skinned. No. 2 was waning; three-quarters of his face missing, leaving behind a crescent patch of skin. No. 3 was a half-moon, and Hannigan…Hannigan was supposed to be a crescent moon.”

“And Khonshu is the Ancient Egyptian god of the Moon,” the man-in-white concluded, “As well as the god of vengeance – hence the choice selection.”

God. Bit of cosmic coincidence that it was Moony who found him then, huh?” Flint leaned back in his chair, prompting another succession of squeaks. His mind was still reeling and coming to terms with the epiphany. Somewhere in New York – a town with no present deficit of madness – was a serial-killer who disfigured the criminal element in the name of a god mentioned solely on the History Channel.

The man-in-white simply smiled at the detective’s observation like it was an inside joke; making the first facial-expression save for ‘impassive’ since their exchange began. Then the man rose from his seat, shook Flint’s hand, thanked the detective for his time, and departed the station with speed. Detective Flint’s pupils were still lingering on the four headshots when he heard the click-clack of the MCU’s doors opening and closing.

Outside the precinct, Khonshu stepped into the open air. A storm was already brewing, and the falling drizzle stained the white garb of his mortal guise like runny watercolors. The god of vengeance and the moon let out a jaded sigh. His misgivings were confirmed. The ritual sacrifices, what his avatar had related about a sudden onset of pain, the sensations that he himself felt - tonight’s visit to Spector’s contact had simply cemented the god’s fears.

And anything that could make a god afraid was something to fear indeed.

Khonshu walked down the streets of New York under the glow of the night’s crescent moon. A little godly magic to the detective told him everything he needed to know. Within this modern-day Babylon; a second god of vengeance and his avatar were rising. The monopoly that Khonshu held in the market of cold-dishes was slipping. A new competitor was in town, and the man-in-white did not appreciate the fact one bit.

“Only room for one moon in the night sky,” Khonshu murmured, as the rain began to pour, “Only room for one moon."

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Veshark's Top 10 Superhero Movie Scenes

Disclaimer

This is the Shark's opinion, and the Top 10 scenes from CBMs that I felt were most memorable in my mind. There were several scenes that didn't make it into the list - Rorschach's death in Watchmen, the Nuada fight from Hellboy 2, the Raindrops scene from Spider-Man 2 among others...but these are the Top 10 scenes that I look forward to whenever I rewatch these films, and the ones that stay with me long after the end credits.

10. Superman - "Who's Got You?"

It would be remiss of me not to include at least one scene from the Donner films, especially one from the very first superhero feature film in cinematic history. Till this day, Reeve's Superman still holds up in a charming and quaint manner of its own. And this iconic scene where Superman makes his debut remains a CBM milestone - it must've been something to see if you were a comic-book fan back in the 70s.

Lois Lane's copter hangs off the edge of a skyscraper, and Clark knows that this is a job for his alter ego. After a cheesy super-speed-costume-change in a revolving door, Supes zips up and catches the falling Lois in his arms. Which leads to this gem: "I've got you." "You've got me? Who's got you?!". This is how Superman should be portrayed; noble, friendly, but with a glint of humor too.

9. Iron Man 2 - "Monaco"

Okay, you know what - screw you. Don't judge me. I can feel the hate emanating as your eyes gloss over these very words. Still, regardless of the actual quality of the entire film as a whole, I can't deny that I enjoyed the hell out of this scene. I remember watching it for the first time on the silver screen. My seat was right next to the wall speakers. Every time Whiplash lashed his whips, my eardrums ruptured. And I loved it.

But the real kicker comes when Tony puts on the suitcase armor. Sure, most of it is just fanservice - it was a callback to Silver-Age Tony keeping his suits in a briefcase, and the color scheme a blatant Silver Centurion reference. But that's one of the best parts of a CBM. The 'cool factor' that stems from Tony donning a new armor, particularly one as novel as the Mark V. The actual fight itself versus Whiplash was short, but still a satisfactory prelude for the action to come.

8. Batman Begins - "Backup"

Alright, so they basically cribbed took inspiration from Year One with this one, but don't pretend like you didn't pop a nerd boner with this scene. To be honest, I thought long-and-hard whether to put the DKR escape-from-the-prison scene on the list over this one. Both evoke the bat-cloud-symbolism so well, but in the end, I felt like Begins deserved the spot, as the bat cloud is a running motif throughout the entirety of the first film.

The cloud of bats begins as a representation of Bruce's childhood fear, and starts the core theme of the movie: Fear. When Bruce finds the cave, the cloud of bats reappear again as his baptism, when he first transforms his fear into the image of Batman. And as Batman, the cloud of bats come to his rescue in this scene, as a physical symbol of Bruce finally weaponizing the power of fear in his crusade against crime.

Also, the scene's f&^*%n badass.

7. X2 - "Lady Deathstrike"

I remember being a kid when X2 first came out, and reading an article where Singer said that the scene where Deathstrike sticks her claws through Logan was one of the hardest things to film. Years later, the fight between Wolverine and Lady Deathstrike still holds up as my favorite battle in the entire X-Trilogy. This is easily one of the hardcore-iest (yes, that's a word) fights in the franchise, between two ruthless adamantium killers.

It's painful, it's brutal, and it's exhilarating to see Wolverine let loose with the violence for the first time. Logan stabs Deathstrike and looks genuinely flabbergasted when her wounds heal. Deathstrike pins Logan on the platform and stabs him repeatedly like some deranged acupuncturist. And that final killing blow? Gawddamn... Easily one of the most vicious death scenes in a CBM...bravo, Logan, bravo.

6. X-Men First Class - "Rage & Serenity"

I'll admit, I had a lot of issues with First Class. The movie basically butchered the trilogy's continuity, the costumes were cringe-worthy, and there were pacing issues...but one thing I can't deny? The movie was spot-on with its casting of McAvoy and Fassbender. Just when you think the franchise couldn't get any luckier than with Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen...Matthew Vaughn and crew end up doing this.

McAvoy and Fassbender were definitely the highlights of the film, and every scene they had together was character gold...but there was none better than this one here. "Rage & serenity" - those three words connected these two friends for the first time, and it describes these two icons very aptly too. Before all the tragedy and violence to follow, this was a touching moment between Charles & Erik before they became Professor X and Magneto.

5. Captain America The First Avenger - "Compassion"

Instead of doing a write-up, I'm just going to quote myself. This was one of the earliest posts I ever wrote on the Vine, and I still feel the same way:

My favorite MU inspirational speech is probably the one that Erskine delivers to Rogers in Captain America: The First Avenger. It's short, and a little more casual, but this small bit by Tucci really gave more insight into Erskine rather than just a generic comic-book scientist. He is both humorous and sincere here. This small scene with the two of them, the night before Rogers becomes Captain America and Erskine is killed, really shows a great dynamic between the two.

My favorite bit is probably this part: "This is why you were chosen. Because a strong man, who has known power all his life, will lose respect for that power. But a weak man knows the value of strength, and knows compassion."

I think that line really states what Captain America is all about. He doesn't want to become powerful just for power's sake. He wants to become powerful so that he can serve his fellow man. That's some profound sh#t right there.

4. The Dark Knight - "Interrogation"

The Dark Knight was a superhero film full of Top-10-worthy scenes, and a movie that elevated the superhero genre into something far greater. Everything was pure cinematic magic with this one: from the action, to the themes, to the characters...it remains the pinnacle of Nolan's work, and it's easy to see why TDK takes the top spot in the minds of most comic-book fans. But in what is arguably the greatest superhero film ever made, the greatest element of the movie was undeniably Heath Ledger's Joker.

And while there's the opening bank scene, and the 'Why So Serious' scenes, and even the final epic battle with Batman...this interrogation scene remains my top Joker moment. For the first time since the Joker's reign of terror began, Batman & his opposite number finally get to sit down and have a chat. This is the deepest that the movie ever goes into the relationship between the Knight & his Jester...this is the Killing Joke scene, where the two guys meet in a lunatic asylum...and where the Joker first becomes Batman's archnemesis.

3. Avengers - "Assemble"

I'd include the entire Battle of New York if I could, but that would be cheating, wouldn't it? But damn...from the first time we saw this moment in the trailer, to actually seeing it on the big screen. This is the moment when the Avengers finally came together as the world's first superhero team, and the moment when we all realized, "Holy sh&t...it actually happened. Marvel actually made an Avengers movie...and people outside fandom actually give a damn!"

From the full-circle pan of the camera as it catches the entire Avengers team assembled and facing off against impossible odds...to the sweeping orchestral score by Alan Silvestri (which is on my iPod, incidentally)...this is the moment we'd all been waiting for. Over four years of hype, dreams, and aspirations came to a stunning climax. This was it. The time when the heads of Marvel fans all across the globe simultaneously exploded, and the entirety of DC Comics was put on suicide watch.

2. Spider-Man 2 - "The Train"

I'll take Raimi over Webb any day, and when someone asks me why - I show them this scene and say, "Until the day an Amazing Spider-Man movie does a scene this good, Spider-Man 2 will remain my second favorite CBM of all-time". This is what Peter Parker is all about. Self-sacrifice, and never giving up no matter the odds. This train scene is the cinematic equivalent to Amazing Spider-Man #33.

The moment when Spider-Man has shot off streams of web and strains with all his might to stop the runaway train...as the carriage metal bends and the windows shatter....as Spidey's costume rips and Peter's face is contorted in pain and determination...my eyes were glued to the screen at this moment as a nine-year old, and they still are now. And then the final bit when all the passengers lift Spidey's body over them and one man whispers in wonder, "He's just a kid. No older than my son." That right there. That's Spider-Man to me.

1. Man of Steel - "Flight"

Love it or hate it, there is no argument that this scene from Man of Steel encompasses all the wonder and adventure that the character of Superman represents. It builds slowly. Hans Zimmer's score starts off with the gentle theme as Superman launches for an uneasy climb, soars a little, and then crashes back down to earth. The music goes silent. You hear Russell Crowe's voice narrating the words of All-Star Superman...In time, they will join you in the sun. In time...you will help them accomplish wonders. The music starts to build again. The ground shakes underneath Superman's feet.

And then Superman launches into the air like the rocket that sent him from Krypton...a ballistic streak of red-and-blue that goes supersonic across the skies...across the mountains...across the seas...and then Superman shoots up into outer-space and flies across the entire Earth...the planet of his adopted home and adopted people. I can't describe how much I look forward to this scene every time I rewatch this movie, and how it always stirs up the same feelings of childlike awe.

You really believe that a man can fly with this scene, and in many ways, the ability to fly is Superman's most iconic and important superpower. It's not the heat-vision or the strength, but this culturally-universal image of an ordinary man in a cape soaring above the clouds. That's what people think of when you say the name 'Superman'. And this is the point in Man of Steel when Clark Kent first adopts the identity of a protector, as a symbol of hope, and his mastering of the power of flight cements the beginning of Superman.

38 Comments

Thor vs. Martian Manhunter (Three-Page Fights)

And the Shark has returned for yet another Three-Page Fight installment, featuring: Thor, the God of Thunder going up against the Martian Manhunter!

For those unfamiliar with the concept; the idea is to draw a three-page comic-book fight with zero dialogue, using visual storytelling alone. I use it as practice for improving both my artistic talents and sequential narrative skills.

I recalled a few Viners commenting that I should try drawing a 'high-tier' battle, and since every Three-Page Fight I've done so far has been street-level, I figured why not. The clash between these two powerhouses allowed me to draw on a larger scale, and also to change the scenery midway through the fight (Think of it as being a Level Transition, like from Injustice).

Overall, I dare say that this might be the best one I've done so far. The last panel of the fight itself is an Easter Egg for Thor fans, and any Thor fan worth his salt should be able to guess what I'm referencing there.

As always, constructive feedback of any kind is always appreciated. Enjoy:

To check my other Three-Page Fights, click on the links below:

Vote on the Next Three-Page Fight!

And if you have the time, feel free to leave a vote in a comment to decide which Three-Page Fight I should do next. I've thrown in one fight for each tier (high-tier, mid-tier, street-level), and whichever one gets the most votes will get the comic-book treatment.

  1. Green Lantern vs. Hyperion

  2. Aquaman vs. Black Panther

  3. Deathstroke vs. Spider-Man

Thanks for reading!

54 Comments

Rereading Ed Brubaker's Winter Soldier

Out of Time

In expectation of the upcoming Captain America: The Winter Soldier movie, I went back and reread the movie's primary source of inspiration - the original 13-issue arc by Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, & Michael Lark. It was basically a way of hyping myself up for the movie, and a chance to go through one of my favorite Cap stories, and look back to where it all started. Without this book here, we wouldn't have such an awesome MCU movie today, and the Marvel U would be poorer without the resurrection of Bucky Barnes.

I also took it as an opportunity to look at the story arc one last time, before the new movie comes out and changes everyone's expectations. Because let's be honest, once Cap 2 hits North America, and once the character of the Winter Soldier hits the 'mainstream'....there'll be changes. Now I've already seen the movie myself, but below are just some of my thoughts on this classic Cap story, that I wrote a couple of weeks back.

Enjoy.

Steve’s Personality

One of the first things I noticed when I first read this story arc was that this was a very different Steve then we’re used to. This isn’t the friendly, confident leader slash inspiring role model of the Avengers. As Red Skull puts it in #1 – this is Cap at his lowest point. Throughout the Winter Soldier arc, we hardly ever see Steve crack a smile or make a joke.

The Avengers have disbanded, Aleksander Lukin is constantly manipulating Cap’s emotions, and his oldest friend is now a brainwashed killer. We’re dealing with a very grim and furious Captain America here. Steve is basically at his breaking point, and I feel like his mood fits the darker tone of the arc to a tee. While Steve’s definitely still in-character, it’s a refreshing change to see a more human side of the usually-infallible icon.

Tone

And speaking of the darker tone…one of the best aspects of the Winter Soldier arc was definitely the more grounded approach that it took to Captain America. A lot of fans describe Brubaker’s run as being ‘political’ or ‘espionage’, and while those terms are accurate to an extent (though probably more fitting for say…Rucka’s Checkmate), I don’t think they paint quite the right picture.

Basically, what Brubaker did for Cap was what Fraction and JMS did for Iron Man/Thor. Remade the Captain America title’s identity with a more modern sensibility. Brubaker’s handling of Cap is very similar to his work on Gotham Central: he doesn’t neglect the more fantastical aspects of the superhero world, but he grounds it with a more real-world approach.

That’s why the Red Skull’s master plan isn’t treated like some insane supervillain scheme, but an urban terrorism plot. That’s why Cap is going up against bombs and assassins, instead of fighting Armadillo or Batroc. That’s why the Skull wears a suit, why Crossbones wears a vest, and why the AIM grunts carry rifles instead of sci-fi lasers.

The tone that the arc had was actually so consistent that I was jarred out of the story for a second when I saw the flying car in #3. Brubaker and co. don’t ignore or try to whitewash the goofier parts of the MU – in fact they even embrace it at points, like the giant mecha in #13. But they’re smart enough to maintain a tonal quality that both fits the story’s content, and gives the title its own unique setting.

Color of Cap’s Costume

Did anyone else notice that the coloring for the blue parts of Cap’s costume changed after about four issues? Cap’s uniform started out with a darker navy blue, but over time, the colorist began using a lighter shade that would remain for the rest of Brubaker’s run. The shift is subtle, and I didn’t notice it at first, but I have to say I actually far prefer the darker blue. It was a stronger hue that simply made Cap stand out more on the page. The navy blue gave off a more visually-striking impression of the character. Just read the train fight from #1, then compare it to the later issues, and you’ll see what I mean.

Red Skull

Outside of Steve Rogers, the next character that I think Brubaker has the most impressive grasp of is the Red Skull. Seriously, I feel like Brubaker’s depiction of Johann Schmidt is easily one of the best portrayals of a modern comic villain. This is how you write a hero-villain relationship, and this is how the Red Skull should be written.

Throughout the entire 13-issue arc, the Skull is just a complete asshole with his plan. He has a long-term goal to accomplish, sure; but every move he makes is just one more opportunity to mess with Cap. From unlocking Steve’s memories, to making him relive the day Bucky died, to vandalizing those graves…he knows his archenemy so intimately that he can push every single one of Steve’s buttons. He knows how to make Cap angry, how to make him lose his edge and fall for every trap.

And the best part is the reveal: you don’t even know that it’s been the Red Skull doing all these things all along until the last page! This arc (and the Death of Captain America) really exemplifies why the Red Skull is one of the most devious and dangerous plotters in the Marvel U.

Train Fight

Brubaker himself once said that the opening train fight in #1 was one of his favorites. And as far as first fights for first issues go – it doesn’t get any better than this one. I think this opening sequence really sets the tone for Captain America, and sells the book to the reader in a way. Right off the bat: we see that Cap isn’t going up against supervillains – he’s fighting a domestic terrorist cell.

One might say that the battle is too mundane or not flashy enough to draw a reader in, but I think that’s what makes it work. Cap fighting terrorists on a speeding train is like an action scene straight out of Die Hard, and you instantly get the sense of the kind of tone that this book is going for. Epting’s choreography is beautiful and perfectly-executed: from the opening panoramic shot, to that one panel of Cap’s gritted teeth…this is sequential storytelling at its finest. Every page flows so smoothly, and even with minimal speed-lines, Epting’s able to portray the dynamism of Cap. This is how Cap should be drawn: like a force of nature.

WWII Flashbacks

Every good Cap story has one of these. Now I know some might argue that tying Cap to this same war has become redundant at this point, but personally, I dig a good flashback to Cap’s time in the war. It probably helps that I have a bit of a historical interest in this time period, but really, it’s a fundamental part of the character. With Cap saving the world from the likes of Thanos and the Builders these days, it’s nice to get a reminder of Steve’s roots. This was where Rogers really became the icon that he is today – in the fires of the most important war in human history.

Michael Lark’s awesome artwork certainly helps too. And Brubaker is able to seamlessly tie these flashbacks into the larger story; he uses them to expand on the villains’ motivations, or to drop little Cap factoids to help newer readers along. Look at the brief flashback in #2, which instantly tells the reader what Cap’s relationship to the Skull is. Or the one in #4 where Brubaker fills us in on obscure Golden Age characters like the Patriot & Spirit of ’76.

But the best flashback sequence is definitely the one that fills up all of #5; which not only gives us the backstory on Vasily Karpov and Aleksander Lukin, but also marks the debut of Brubaker’s reinvention of Bucky as a trained killer. This definitely set the stage for what would later come in the Winter Soldier.

Brubaker’s Writing

At first glance, Brubaker’s writing doesn’t immediately strike you as being the most impressive. He doesn’t have the witty dialogue of Fraction, or the technobabble of Ellis. Or the summer-action moments of Millar, the prose-like detail of JMS, or the high-concept ideas of Morrison. I’ll admit, on my first read-through of Winter Soldier, I didn’t really understand all the acclaim that the writer was getting.

But as I read the same story arc over and over again, and pieced the entire picture together – I finally understood what Brubaker’s strengths were. Yeah, his dialogue is often blunt and to the point, and his characters tend to lack a certain comic-book panache. But where Brubaker really excels is in telling a focused story. Narrative is where Brubaker truly hits his stride.

Epting’s Covers

There are artists that can do great interiors, but are generally more underwhelming when it comes to covers (see: Bryan Hitch). And on the flipside, there are also artists with fantastic cover renditions, while their actual pages are lackluster (see: Don Figueroa). But damn if Steve Epting isn’t the best of both worlds. You could not have picked a better artist for Brubaker’s revamping of Cap – Epting’s pencils and chalk-like inks just have this fantastic air of verisimilitude that fit the tone to a tee. He’s certainly come a long way since his Avengers days.

But it’s his covers in this story arc that really stand out for me. Epting’s Winter Soldier covers are easily some of the most well-designed and eye-catching pinups for a superhero book. Look at the cover for #11 – a simple yet effective image of the Winter Soldier with a collage of old Bucky comics in the background. Or the two-cover combo of #6, where one cover has Cap while a variant has a mirror reflection of the same cover with Bucky.

But my favorite Winter Soldier cover is without a doubt, #4. I mean, just look at that. A dramatic shot of Cap standing over an Arlington grave, with his shield in hand and rows of graves for fallen soldiers stretching out to the distance. This cover is easily one of the most iconic Cap images; even to the point that it seems to have been the inspiration for a The First Avenger poster. Epting also goes on to do more top-notch covers for the rest of Brubaker’s run. Highlights include #16-17 with Crossbones & Sin, as well as the great three-page combo from #43-45.

Cap & France

I guess special mention should be given to the moment in #3, where Cap and Sharon have a night off in Paris, and he tells her about his time in France during WWII. The dialogue in question is when Cap talks about how it really galls him whenever his fellow Americans dismiss the French as being cowards. As even though their government capitulated, the French people and the Resistance movement never stopped resisting the Third Reich.

I always enjoy the integration of real-world history into comics. As long as the subject in question is treated with the appropriate respect; it’s a good way to drop some gems on readers, and also gives the comic a little more gravitas.

But I suppose what makes this moment so notable is the fact that it’s probably a direct response to the infamous ‘A for France’ moment from The Ultimates. Though this issue was released about a year after Ultimates #13, I think it was definitely a great way for Brubaker to illustrate the difference between 1610-Cap and 616-Cap. Ultimate Cap’s a soldier, but 616-Cap is an icon. Mainstream Steve is the hero you look up to, and a worldly man of many experiences. He’s a little more thoughtful, and perhaps more mature than his alternate-U counterpart as well.

James Buchanan 'Bucky' Barnes

And I guess there's no Winter Soldier review that's complete without a mention of the star himself - Bucky Barnes. I've always felt that Buck was the real protagonist of Captain America Vol. 5. Steve is only around for the first 20 or so issues, but from the start to the end of the volume, it was Bucky who was the constant centerpiece of each story arc. Brubaker's run began with the resurrection of Captain America's sidekick as the Winter Soldier, and came full-circle when Buck inherited his mentor's title.

To date, Bucky's resurrection is probably my favorite of all the death retcons in comic-book history. There used to be a saying that there were only three characters in mainstream superhero books that would never be resurrected - Uncle Ben, Buck, Jason Todd....so far, only Uncle Ben's still in the grave haha. But unlike Todd's comeback in Under the Red Hood, Bucky's resurrection fit in seamlessly into Brubaker's run, and he was really fleshed out as a character of his own overtime. It probably helps that not much was done with him in the Golden Age up until the 2000s, so there was a blank canvas for Brubaker to reinvent here.

Brubaker rewrote Buck's history, gave him an identity and a personality, and came up with a plausible reason for Buck to exist in modern times. Brubaker said that he nearly got cold feet at some points, and almost made Buck a robot instead, but I'm glad they stuck through with it. This was an idea that could've gone horribly awry. Dead sidekicks brought back as evil antiheroes have rarely been successful, and that Cable-esque arm could've backfired in a cheesy 90s way. But Brubaker and co. definitely pulled it off, and transformed Buck from just another part of Cap's origin tale into a hero in his own right.

Oh, and Bucky as Cap was a lot better than Dick as Batman :P

The Perfect Cap Arc

One thing I loved about Winter Soldier was that every issue built on an element of Captain America. It must have been awesome for a Cap fan to read in the monthly format; and it felt like Brubaker had a checklist of Cap tropes to tick off for the whole arc. You’ve got the classic WWII flashback issue, the SHIELD assault issue, and even the mandatory team-up between Cap and his two best buds: Falcon and Iron Man.

I’ve read that Brubaker has read every major issue of Cap in existence, and his knowledge of the character certainly shows with the entire story. You’ve got cameos from past Cap cast members like Union Jack, the Invaders, & Jack Monroe. And what Cap arc is complete without a flashback to the moment of his ‘death’ in WWII? To boot, we know that some of the best Cap stories always have two iconic elements: The Cosmic Cube & the Red Skull.

On a whole, it’s easy to see why Winter Soldier is often high on the recommendations list for new Cap readers.

Conclusion

Well I hope this blog post has inspired some of you out there to reread (or pick up) Brubaker's run in anticipation of the upcoming movie. Feel free to share your own thoughts as well, and if you agree or disagree with my points. Thanks for reading.

29 Comments

Cyclops vs. Deadshot (Three-Page Fights)

The Shark has returned with his third Three-Page Fight: featuring Cyclops going up against Deadshot in a forest!

For those unfamiliar with the concept; the idea is to draw a three-page comic-book fight with zero dialogue, using visual storytelling alone. I use it as practice for improving both my artistic talents and sequential narrative skills.The aim that I had with drawing this battle was to experiment and push my skills to their limits. For this fight, I tried to draw poses and angles that I'd never done before. I strove to make the fight as dynamic as possible, with every panel trying something new.

The results are...mixed, I feel. There are some panels that I'm really happy about, but some that I felt turned out somewhat mediocre. Regardless, here is the entire Three-Page fight for your enjoyment, and as always, comments and criticisms are highly welcomed:

Page One
Page Two
Page Three

To check out my other Three-Page Fights, click on the links below:

And as always, let me know what you think. Have I improved? Is this one crappier? Which panels did you like - which could use more work on? Did I represent both characters well? Feedback is always appreciated!

51 Comments

Ultimate Fight Night #1: The Ultimates vs. The Hulk

Ultimate Fight Night #1

Let's get ready to RUUUMBLLEEE

Welcome, ladies and Viners, to the very first installment of Ultimate Fight Night!

The gist: RisingBean and myself (Veshark) are both huge fans of the Ultimate Marvel Universe. This alternate-world has given comicdom some of the finest stories and best modern incarnations of the classic Marvel world - and some of the greatest battles ever put onto the comic page.

In each installment, @risingbean and I will be discussing a classic fight from an Ultimate book. We'll cover the battle itself, the characters involved, whether there was PIS and CIS - and basically get into an in-depth exchange on some of our favorite Ultimate fights.

We hope these posts will generate interest in the Ultimate U - especially since it seems like this fantastic alternate world will soon be having its curtain call. Hopefully, our discussions will motivate some of you Viners out there to pick up these great titles, or maybe just be entertain you enough to read our thoughts and enjoy the scans.

As always, comments and feedback are always appreciated! So without further ado...let's get to the battle...

Ultimates vs. The Hulk (Ultimates #5)

Written by Mark Millar

Art by Bryan Hitch, Andrew Currie, & Paul Mounts

Veshark (VS): To start off: let's look at a little background first for all you readers out there who haven't got around to reading Millar's Ultimates (And if you haven't, shame on you. Now go stand in that corner and think about what you haven't done).

At this point in time, the Ultimates have just been formed as the United States' superhuman defense force. After Magneto attacked the White House and with the emergence of Spider-Man and his villains, the U.S. felt that they needed their own super-soldiers to protect the home of the brave. So, Black Nick Fury went around to recruit a new superteam, and he got:

  • Captain America, WWII super-soldier recently-resurrected from a deep freeze
  • Iron Man, genius who invented a power armor, but has a fatal tumor
  • Giant-Man, giant douche and wife-beater
  • Wasp, tiny Asian chick
  • Bruce Banner, nerd whose sole purpose is to unlock the Serum from Cap's blood and make more Super-Soldiers

The team opened to an eventful public gala, and even got a spanking new island as their headquarters. But the problem was...the Ultimates didn't have anyone to fight. At this point in time, superhumans were still a relatively new phenomenon in the Ultimate world, and Magneto alone was the only notable 'supervillain' in its history. It seemed like the new team didn't have a purpose.

Until Bruce Banner decided to inject himself with a mix of the Hulk serum and Cap's blood.

Yeap. That's exactly what he did. Why? Because everyone was making fun of him, his girlfriend Betty was having dinner with actor Freddie Prinze Jr (yeah, I don't remember him either), and he constantly failed at cracking the Super-Soldier Serum. In short, Banner was an absolute and insecure failure, and in an attempt to give the Ultimates 'someone media-worthy to fight', he became....the Hulk!

And so, the Ultimates were mobilized for the first time to stop the Hulk - who was rampaging across Manhattan - and the first battle of this world's version of the Avengers was about to begin...

RisingBean (RB): Alright, Veshark set the table with the facts and I'll add my two coppers.

The Hulk has been tearing apart Manhattan for roughly ten minutes and it looks much like Washington D.C. via Fallout 3. Hulk has killed a bunch of folks, killed a fat man for his pants and quenched his thirst en route to killing Freddy Prinze Jr. and Betty by drinking a truck full of beer. The point is this isn't your usual jolly green giant of the standard Marvel Universe. This is the dark repressed side of Banner unleashed.

How are a guy draped in a flag, a guy who can grow, a gal who can shrink and a dude in an awesome set of futuristic armor ever gonna beat this guy? Funny you should ask, true believer. We're here to tell you:

You tell 'em, Cap!

RB: First up, Giant-Man:

VS: To start this off, I just want to take note of that beautiful first page. It's a great, loud, orchestral note to start an epic battle with, and Hitch draws the scene spectacularly. Right off the bat: when you see that fleet of copters swarm in, carrying Giant-Man over the burning borough of Manhattan...man, I immediately feel like I'm in the action sequence of a summer blockbuster.

VS: But the point that I feel this page really nails home is this: It feels real. A running theme in Millar's Ultimates run is to reimagine superheroes as though they were in the 'real-world'. They would be deputized by the state, they would wear tactical gear, and Giant-Man would enter the battlefield being carried in by a formation of helicopters.

If this was any other superhero book, we'd have the Ultimates swooping in by supersonic jet and probably jumping out guns-blazing. Giant-Man would likely have turned into full-size in the middle of a fight.

But Millar and Hitch firmly establish the tone of the book by having Giant-Man slowly flown in by helicopters, after having grown to full-size and slipping into his 60-foot long costume. Even in the next page, we have the rest of the team arriving into the battle by helicopters with conventional military support.

It's a really subtle decision, but it's also one of my favorite things about the Ultimates. When you see these superheroes entering the theater of combat like this...with the troops and logistics...you really buy into the illusion and idea of super-soldiers. It really makes you believe and think, "Yeah, this is how I could see it happening if superheroes did exist in our world'.

RB: Indeed. One of the things I really like about the Ultimate Universe is that superheroes are not just autonomous entities that exist without any connection to the real world. Fury knows who Spider-Man is, the X-Men at one point were under the umbrella of S.H.I.E.L.D., and the government reacts much like they would in the real world.

VS: Definitely - I loved the early days of the UU when every title was interconnected with one another in little ways. It was like the 616-verse without all the muddled years of continuity, and it felt fresh and accessible. And yeah, the government was always watching over the super-people. What do we want? ACCOUNTABILITY! When do we want it? NOW!

Er-hem. Sorry.

RB: Hitch definitely makes this read like a top tier summer blockbuster. He rocks pretty hard in making this feel so big. And speaking of big, Giant-Man is the first to face the grey skinned Hulk. Sadly he tried to subdue him against the wall of a skyscraper. The Hulk overpowers him and threatens to tear his head off. It really looked like he could do it too. Thankfully, Iron Man was there to save him with a flying tackle into Grand Central Station.

VS: Oh Hank Pym, you're such a tool. It's not enough that you're a wife-beater, but do you really have to suck at being a superhero too? You get your butt handed to you by the Hulk in one page here, and later on in the next arc, you get whipped by Cap. Sigh. Either way, yeah, Hank Pym gets downright embarrassed here, and it's partly because of his defeat here that he gets physical with the Wasp in the next issue.

But Tony steps in to save the day. Damn, I love the Ultimate Iron Man armor. I used to think it was an eyesore, but after a while I realized - that was the whole point. The suit was supposed to look clunky and functional - the Ultimates was supposed to be a 'realer take'. It even has less reds-and-yellows, and more grey, making it look like a military craft.

VS: I wonder if Hitch's design was responsible for inspiring the newer, more 'practical' designs of 616 Iron Man. In the past, 616 Tony's armors always looked like superhero outfits, but after the Ultimates came out, his suits began looking more like actual armor, starting with the Secretary of State one.

But yeah, Iron Man slams the Hulk into Grand Central, but he is hopelessly out-muscled. Hulk nearly kills him (threatening to eat him, actually), but Tony hits him with powerful thought-scramblers that stun him for a while.

RB: Hey, Veshark, let's not be so hard on Pym. Up to this point he wasn't beating much of anything. Certainly not the Hulk. As per Iron Man and design: You and I know that the Ultimate U. has had far and reaching sway with other aspects of Marvel. Hell, the MCU is almost the Ultimate U. on film.

So Hulk nearly gets blasted out of the city after the Hulk threatens to eat him. I like this sequence because Stark goes on to complain about how the silos jammed and his launch was behind schedule. Much like the real military: any warfighter surrounds himself with other tech folks, Iron Man doesn't just kick on a suit and fly off. He needs help to get strapped in.

I also like the effects of Tony's sonic thought-scramblers and Hitch draws a beautiful Grand Central. What I don't like about this sequence is Tony is having his head palmed like a basketball at one point, after the Hulk tears off his armor's helmet like cardboard, and yet he lives. It broke my suspension of disbelief to a degree.

VS: Ha, true enough.

Regarding Tony's head getting palmed by the Hulk (that sounds kinky) - I think it was more of a case of the Hulk 'threatening before killing' so to speak. He could just be gripping Tony's head lightly, and the Hulk mentions eating him, so it could be just to see his reaction. Whatever the case, it makes for good dramatic tension.

Anyway, with his power reserves down, Tony packs one final punch and sends the Hulk flying onto Manhattan's streets again. At which point one of the funniest sequences of the series occurs when Wasp lures the Hulk...by using her 'assets'. I always love it when Millar pulls stuff like this - this is the kind of almost-stupid-yet-hilarious moments you get in summer movies.

RB: Hooboy. The Hulk looks like a drooling college frat boy when the Wasp titillates him with her goods.

VS: We are very punny individuals indeed, Bean.

RB: Distracted from pursuing Betty and Freddie Prinze Jr., Wasp is able to lead the Hulk into the ambush Captain America has set up. It's not quite Wile E. Coyote and a boulder, but it makes me chuckle nonetheless.

VS: Basically, Ultimate Cap's idea of an ambush is to drop a tank on the Hulk.

VS: ...And finally, the MVP of the Ultimates steps into the battle! Only Cap would think that dropping an armored vehicle on the Hulk is a reasonable tactic. See, this is the kinda stuff you don't get to see in the Avengers. Now - if what a childhood of FPS games have told me is true - this appears to be a M2 Bradley. It's interesting to note that Hank Pym actually mentions this vehicle two issues ago when he said that he designed a 'Captain America tank'.

RB: The tank does seem to be a "modified" Brad, or as we used to call them, a "baby tank." The fact is, this one has been gutted and modified to allow Cap to ride alone instead of utilizing a crew. Too bad he breaks it here, because soon Pym will be booted from the team (in a most spectacular fashion, mind you) and Cap never gets to use one again. It goes to show that you should take care of your toys.

VS: Ladies and gentlemen, our military advisor: The Bean.

RB: The next page is what brought me back into comics after a hiatus. Captain America unloading on the Hulk, and kicking him in the stones. If you tell me that isn't awesome, I'll tell you that you don't like comics. This is definitely my favorite exchange of the fight. A guy with a discus vs a raging behemoth. Cap dropped the Hulk for a moment, and this would have ended it if plot didn't demand more excitement!

VS: Now I know a lot of people b!tch and moan about this sequence - ooh it's PIS, ooh Cap shouldn't be able to hurt Hulk, but you know what? This beautifully-choreographed sequence right here? This is the start of Ultimate Cap's awesome track record. Seeing Cap absolutely blitz the Hulk; even kicking him in the balls - this is the first time we've ever seen Cap in action. There are plenty of moments throughout the UU's history that show Cap absolutely dominating superior opponents, but this is where they all began.

This is the start of Ultimate Captain America's reputation as a badass.

Now, Cap has dropped the Hulk, and is about to stick the Hulk antidote in him when....surprise surprise, Hulk gets back up! I still maintain that Cap could've stopped the Hulk right there-and-then had he not yapped so much, but eh. This is what makes a good battle: just when you think the fight is coming to a close, the writer throws in another curveball.

In this case, the curveball is the Hulk crushing the antidote needle and preparing to eat Cap...until a flash of lightning appears from the sky - tossing the monster aside and saving Rogers.

RB: Now we get to move onto the classic match up of Hulk vs Thor!

VS: Finally, Ultimate Thor joins the battle in spectacular fashion when he puts Mjolnir down right onto the Hulk's face. Now at this point in time - Thor is not a member of the Ultimates yet. In fact, he views them as being government stooges of the military-industrial complex.

At the battle's start, Thor said that he would only join this fight if the President doubled the international aid budget (which sounds kinda dickish and counterproductive to saving lives but eh); and POTUS eventually does, so Thor has come to save the day. Well, somewhat. He hammers Hulk multiple times (not what I meant), creating multiple shockwaves and breaking several bones, but Hulk is completely unperturbed and recovers quickly.

RB: Veshark, I agree that Thor is a jerk to put innocents at risk before he will lift a finger to help, but it adds a layer of characterization. Thor is political and he isn't just a guard dog. He's a bad mofo with a big hammer who isn't looking to just beat up bad guys. He wants to better the world on a whole.

Thor was hitting the Hulk so hard he was overturning cars with the impacts and turning the ground to rubble. What this shows is that Thor is a powerhouse, but Hulk is just something else. I'd say he is raw destruction given form and structure. He simply fights through, batting Thor aside.

Hulk then moves onto batting around Iron Man and Cap again as he looks for Betty. Currently she is being flown out to sea by helicopter, so tactical nukes can be brought into play if they have to be. Of course that is only if the other three plans Captain America is setting up don't pan out.

VS: Very true. Thor is probably the most radical revamp of any of the Ultimates. While the rest of the team share the same relative concepts as their 616 counterparts, Thor is a very different character here. He speaks in casual English (pre-Loeb at least), hangs with a bunch of New Age followers, and is an activist and campaigner. He's still Asgardian of course, but it's definitely a more modern take on the character, and one that works very well.

RB: Also it may be worth noting at this time that Thor was being shown to possibly be a fraud. There were people thinking he had a tech hammer or was a mutant. He definitely was stated to have had a nervous breakdown and spent time in a psyche ward, so radical revamp, indeed.

VS: After thrashing on Tony and Cap, Hulk starts chasing after the helicopter that Betty is in. Cap has used the helicopter as bait, and the Hulk latches on to the helicopter, screaming for Betty to not leave him. But luckily, tactical genius mastermind Captain America has prepared for this scenario, and has cooked up a winning plan involving the Wasp:

VS: Little Jan has covertly planted into the Hulk's brain and stings the one part of the monster that is still human. One thing to note about Millar: is it just me, or do you notice that whenever he writes the entire team vs. one menace, it always ends with one hero putting the final move. The Thor battle in Ultimates 2 springs to mind, as it was Quicksilver that saved the day in the end.

RB: As for the final move, it may just be you. Somebody has to get the final hit in. Now the Hulk is down and Banner is sitting in a crater. Captain America is first on scene. And he closes out the battle with a bit of dialogue and a boot to the face. Banner never had a chance.

So there you go, true believers. The Ultimates vs. the Hulk.

VS: Ultimates-1. Hulk-0.

RB: Alright Veshark, what shall we talk about first? The art? The characters and what could have occurred in slightly different circumstances? PIS? The fact Hulk wanted to use Giant Man's head for a toilet bowl? I'm sure that last one may leave a bad taste in our viewers mouths, though. Not as bad as in Hank Pym's, but moving on...

VS: Hah. Well why don't we cover the art first, then maybe the premise and dialogue, and then we'll rundown one character after the other and nominate a MVP for the match.

Being a huge Hitch fan, I've reread and studied these pages a lot. Hitch may have drawn more spectacular and epic-in-scope battles with the later story arcs, but I've always thought that this was his most aesthetically-impressive fight. A big reason for that are the inks. Now I know inkers don't usually get a lot of shine; so I'm taking note of this: The first six issues of Ultimates have the best inking of the entire book. Andrew Currie gives smooth, clean lines and deep blacks for the entire Hulk battle.

If you look at the later issues, where the inks are done by Paul Neary, they look a little sketchier and rougher, at times even looking rushed and messy. But Currie's inks in this battle are just superb. Every line feels necessary and well thought-out, the figures are fully-formed. I always felt that Currie's smoother inks fit Hitch's hyper-detailed art a lot better.

RB: And I won't argue with any of that!

I'm not going to add on the art other then say a grey Hulk is a scary Hulk.

As per the premise, it works if you don't mind the Hulk being a bad guy. Banner got stomped on emotionally to a point where he was pretty much committing suicide by superhero. He let out his inner beast knowing going through with it was a bad and stupid idea, and boy was it. Over 800 deaths are attributed to his rampage. The Ultimates didn't have much choice but to put him down.

If there is a problem with the premise it's that this moral ambiguity is glossed over. Rather then feeling bad for having to fight Banner he is condemned and nobody on the team has an issue trying to take him out. I still feel that a truer reaction is that of sadness though, because this guy was once a part of the team. Of course the Ultimates are known to be jerks and Banner did just kill a crap ton of people so there is that.

VS: "Committing suicide by superhero" (or villain as the case may be) is actually a really astute way of putting it, RB.

I'm gonna have to disagree about the moral ambiguity though. I really don't see any of that here. I get that Bruce constantly fails in cracking the Serum, he's made fun of by the entire team, and his girlfriend's a total b-word. But none of that is an excuse or gives any right for him to Hulk out and intentionally choose to put civilians at risk. He should be rightly condemned - Ultimate Banner really is just a terrible guy.

And I don't think there should necessarily be any sadness on the team's part. Remember, these guys have only been together for several weeks. They're not friends like the Teen Titans, or family like the X-Men or FF. They haven't even fought side-by-side and formed a battlefield bond like the Justice League. These are guys who are - at best - co-workers in a federal department. And when one of them essentially goes homicidal, not only threatening the Ultimates' entire reputation but all of Manhattan - I'd imagine they'd be pissed.

RB: Banner is a villain in the sense he is self-absorbed and selfish. It was all about his pain, his loss, his failures. But I think he failed to realize just how much his choices rippled. I won't say what he did is OK, but what I will say is that it is a shame it ever got to that point.

As per the time frame, it's actually months. There is a panel showing just how boring it got waiting for the next threat big enough to warrant the team. Although I do agree with the rest of your assessment, Veshark. I just happen to think that the team could have asked "What if I had been nicer to Banner?" It would have not been out of place and it would have upped the emotional stakes because now the heroes are caught in this no-win situation. It would have added a wrinkle.

VS: Fair enough, I can see it being somewhat tragic that it escalated to this point. Banner still sucks, but I see where you're coming from.

Ah yeah, good catch. I got thrown off by a caption that read 'Weeks Later', I forgot that an earlier issue mentions that the team's been formed for about a month prior. I still don't think that any of the heroes would be even regretful though. I'm just trying to put myself in their position: I think Bruce crossed any line of sympathy when he Hulked out. It's sort of like: yeah, you know, maybe if we weren't such d*cks, this wouldn't have happened. But at the same time...it was still Banner's own conscious decision to go Hulk, I don't think the blame can be put on anyone else.

In fairness, Millar does have Betty being somewhat regretful in the next issue. Though this being Betty, it doesn't exactly last long.

RB: Betty. I don't have the words to describe her. What kind of world do we live in where J.Jonah Jameson is a better person morally then Betty Ross? Alas another topic for another thread.

Dialogue. I think that the low point for me was Fury saying "Repeat" over a radio. ARRRRRGHHHH! That is a big no-no. Bad juju. It's not "Repeat" it's "Say again" and that is a big pet peeve of mine. Rant over.

I liked Stark talking about the blondes flashing before his eyes and the Cap/Banner talk of the "gash on his cheek" but the dialogue didn't have too much magic in it for me. It wasn't memorable. But that is ok because the visuals were more then enough to wow me over.

VS: Yeah, Betty Ross is pretty unlikeable. But speaking of dialogue, I liked the bit where Hulk talks about how much he wants to tap Betty. "Hulk hornier than a..." and then he gets covered by Hank Pym, who goes "Oh for God's sake, shut up, Banner. You're giving science a bad name". That was a pretty funny one-liner. Though you're right, the dialogue is largely just perfunctory for the most part.

VS: Let's move on to each individual character - and let's start off with the Hulk, since he's the starring attraction so to speak.

I'm really glad that they went with a grey look for the Hulk here. It really fits in with the 'realer' take of the Ultimates, and a bright-green Hulk would be too jarring I feel. Ultimate Hulk is essentially the manifestation of everything dark and ugly about Bruce - unlike Savage Hulk or even Joe Fixit, both of whom are at least semi-heroic - this Hulk is just a horny, cannibalistic turd.

But this fight really establishes the Hulk as a credible threat for the Ultimates - and it really shows why it would take an entire team of superheroes just to put Hulk down. No one can physically stop him - not Giant-Man, not Iron Man, not Cap - hell, not even Thor. The sheer power that he shows here justifies why Cap decides to use Hulk as a weapon of last-resort in the next arc. And the team only beats the Hulk by outsmarting him, not through brute force.

RB: I am in agreement here. the dark grey tone screams monster. And while the Hulk is a terrible person (or aspect thereof) let's not judge him too harshly. He is the id that just wants sex, violence and pleasure. Luckily most of us build ourselves up past that. The Hulk is a beast. We don't blame a bear for acting as such, though we may have to drop them when they go too far.

VS: True enough; can't deny your argument when you start using Freudian psychology! Now let's discuss the Hulk's Oedipal complex and how Betty represents his surrogate mother...

Kidding kidding. Brrr, that's a train of thought you don't wanna ride down.

RB: I am in agreement that the Hulk is a strong threat too. He is a teambuster and deserves to be. At the end of the day the Hulk definitely was the strongest there is.

Moving onto Captain America. This guy isn't the happy look-for-the-best-in-you 616 version. Nope, this is your grampa who fought in the war, prejudices and all. I know he gets a ton of flak for that and many pass him off as a jerk. He is definitely a man of his time. It is just that his time was over ages ago. Personally I like this guy. He's a hard head, but he'll do what he feels is right and stands up for what he believes in. And best of all?

He'll kick the Hulk in the stones.

VS: Yeah, he's just a complete badass in every appearance. 616 Cap represents the American Dream - the best of the land of the free. He's an icon. Ultimate Cap? He's just a soldier wearing a uniform with a killer hook.

I know everyone likes to label Cap as some unlikeable jerk, but honestly, you have to see that everything he does is motivated by good intentions. When he beats up Hank Pym? Sure it was a stupid and careless way to handle the problem, but one can't deny that he only did it because of the rage he felt when he saw Jan in the hospital. And later on, Cap even apologizes to Jan for interfering with their marriage. The racial thing is a little more justified - he does seem to hate Germans and the French - but to his credit, Cap has no problem with Americans of any ethnicity (Nick Fury, Wasp etc.). So points for selective prejudice!

But what did you think of Ultimate Cap's performance in this battle? I'd say his was the most entertaining - arguably the most effective. He actually put the Hulk on his butt, semi-unconscious, and was ready to stick the needle in. And while Wasp was responsible for defeating Hulk, it was technically Cap who came up with the strategy, plus he had the idea of using Betty as bait.

RB: Whoa whoa whoa! Cap beating up Hank Pym wasn't stupid or careless. It wasn't legal, but I for one say it was the right thing to do. Heroes stand up for those who can't stand up for themselves. But that is a fight to discuss another day.

As for his battle with the Hulk? It was the coolest sequence, but hardly the most effective. Thor actually did a lot of damage if he wasn't just hyping himself up. As he seemed to show some mild psychic abilities in a conversation with Banner at one point earlier in the series, I don't think it was hyperbole personally. So broken ribs and a punctured lung via dropping a hammer trump Cap's damage.

But I would be lying if I didn't say that Cap was more fun to watch. I'm not joking when I say that sequence is what led me back to comics after some time out.

VS: You won't have any disagreement from me there: if I was in Cap's position, I would've done the exact same thing. I thought Ultimate Cap did the right thing too. But I meant careless in the sense that...well, it didn't seem like the most sensible or level-headed approach. I don't want to get into a tangential discussion about domestic violence but...eh, just my two cents.

Well remember, like I said, I'm also counting Cap's strategic input. Fair enough that Thor did indeed do more raw damage (though they both temporarily stunned Hulk), but from an overall perspective, I don't think he was the most effective participant of the battle. Cap managed to not only stun Hulk single-handedly and nearly neutralized him with the antidote - but was also responsible for the finishing strategy that won the battle. I'd say Cap contributed the most to their victory (Favoritism? What is this favoritism you speak of?).

RB: Don't sweat it, Veshark. We'll have a whole conversation on it when we discuss Cap and Giant Man.

In that case, I agree with you. Cap had a hand in the fight from beginning to end, using the other members as proxies. Only Thor was not in the plan, and his role was only a small part.

So anybody else that we should mention, Veshark?

VS: Why don't we end this section with Iron Man - just to round off the Big Three in the Ultimates. Thoughts on Tony's performance here?

RB: Tony has a bunch of great advantages that are leveled out by his equally great disadvantages. He is the most durable of the group outside of Thor, and yet he may as well be made of cardboard so far as ol' Hulk is concerned. He has versatility and energy output and the ability of flight. Then again he has no combat skills and is a functioning alcoholic.

VS: Liquor makes everything better. Even fights with failed Super-Soldier experiments. *cheers*

But it should be noted that this is an older version of the Iron Tech armor. Tony mentions the suit has problems like its sights, and the power drops to 25% after just a brief tangle with the Hulk. Tony even mentions in the next arc that this suit has let him down a number of times. So while this armor isn't as effective as the Ultimates 2 one; to it's credit - it still puts up a great performance for its first combat engagement. And as you mentioned, he did save Giant-Man.

Interesting side note: I like that one panel where Tony' ground crew services his suit after his first brush with the Hulk - Hitch added in one of the crewmen holding what appears to be a canister full of green liquid. It's the same slush that fills the inside of the armor, supposedly as a shock-absorbant fluid. Interesting little detail that again, adds to the 'real-world' feel of the book.

RB: I took the sights as an issue from the combat. As in getting knocked around tossed off the alignment from his blasters to his optics. As for the power drop, he had probably lost power with the Hulk tearing his armor up like an angry nun tearing up a Playboy magazine. The final shot that knocked the Hulk back a few blocks was impressive too. If I had some advice for Tony it's don't bring out your tinker toys when you have better stuff in the garage.

VS: Mm indeed, the impact might've thrown off the sights, hopefully Tony's cushioned whatever targeting systems he has in the future. As for the power drop - I don't know, the Hulk only tore off his helmet - I don't think there's really any reasoning beyond the armor being new and having some energy kinks. Though I think we can safely conclude that Stark's fixed the power problems by the next arc - considering the Iron Tech armor is able to not only shield the Ultimates from a h-bomb, but still have enough power to push aside a giant Chitauri craft.

RB: Oh by the next arc, Tony is a definite heavy hitter. He is arguably the toughest Ultimate in that arc.

He definitely saved Hank Pym's life so we need to give him a big nod there. He also was one of only three members of the team to give Hulk any real struggle. Do you find it amusing that the other two are Cap and Thor, The Avengers Trinity?

VS: Well I'd say everyone on the Ultimates put up a good fight against Hulk...save for Pym. Cap dropped a tank on him. Iron Man punched him into Grand Central. Thor broke his bones. And Wasp delivered the coup de grace. Hank made a witty quote and then proceeded to destroy an entire building when he fell. I'll say it again: you stink, Hank.

Let's step on to discussing about any possible PIS or CIS. Do you think there were any questionable sequences that you felt were only there to service the plot or a particular character? I actually think this Hulk fight is one of those rare battles where I can't find much fault with it - solely because Millar was responsible for creating these characters, and this is their first battle. In a way, this fight set the standard for everything that followed.

RB: As far as PIS is concerned, Veshark, I found little of it myself. The two exceptions is that Cap arguably could have jabbed the Hulk with the needle in the time it took to say as much as was put into his text block. I assume he was probably getting the needle set, as this is a medium where you need to imagine motion, so it doesn't bother me too much. But I am sure some will feel that Cap should have ended it there. The second bit was the Stark head-palming incident. But I am glad Stark lived so I won't whine about it.

I agree with you that this battle set a great standard for the Ultimates. It also raised a bar in the rest of comics as a whole. The Ultimate Universe was nothing if not trendsetting.

Alright Veshark, tell the true believers reading this who had the best dialogue and what the best fight sequence was. Hell, you may as well throw in your MVP for fighter of the night.

VS: Well, RB, let's break down our favorite moments:

Best Dialogue: I can't really say that any one character stood out - they all had one or two good lines sure, but nobody was consistently entertaining. If I had to nominate a character, I'd probably give it to Ultimate Hulk. Yeah, his dialogue was silly as hell, but at least it was funny in a morbid sort of way. "Hulk hornier than a..."

RB:

Best Dialogue: Hm. I can't say I agree with your choice in dialogue. It was a bit creepy to me, even if that was the intent. I personally have two. I liked when Hulk threatened to use Pym's skull as a toilet and I liked the bit between Cap and Banner about the gash in Banner's cheek.

VS:

Best Fight Sequence: I don't think it'll surprise anyone when I say that Ultimate Captain America's sequence was the best of the team. Right from the get-go, it starts with a bang as Cap just drops a freaking tank on the Hulk. This is the type of summer-action vibe that Millar excels at. And the second page that follows has some of the best sequential work that Hitch has ever done on the title - absolutely marvelous storytelling. Four panels of zero dialogue - with Cap just brutalizing the Hulk from every angle - and in the fifth panel Fury goes "You just take down the Hulk?". Perfect moment right there.

RB:

Best Fight Sequence: I think it's safe that you knew I would agree with you here. I don't have anything to add so I'll just repeat Cap kicked Hulk in the junk! That never gets old.

VS:

MVP: Oh, now you're probably guessing that I'm gonna give the nod to Steve Rogers again, yes? Sadly - and I don't think this is even debatable - I've gotta nominate the Hulk for this. Now I don't know if we're talking MVP of the Ultimates...or just MVP of the entire battle, but either way, heavy props to Ultimate Hulk. He absolutely dominates in the entire match - taking down Giant-Man, shrugging off hits from Iron Man and Thor...he might have even killed Cap if not for the timely intervention of Thor. The Ultimates felt like they were going up against a force of nature here, and so I'm gonna crown Hulk as the MVP of this awesome battle.

HULK SMASH!

RB:

MVP: I agree on many levels with you on this. Hulk took on the team and didn't do badly at all. He definitely isn't a guy I can argue doesn't deserve your favor. However my nod is for Captain America. He was arguably the most important here with planning and was involved in the battle on multiple levels. He also had the distinction of being the winner here:

RB: All in all I'd rate this battle a 4/5. It's damn good and one of my favorites. You really can't go wrong with monsters tearing up major cities.

VS: 4 out of 5 is a fair number, I think I'd give the same rating as well. The thing about this battle is that I don't necessarily find anything wrong about it, but it lacks that certain je ne sais quoi to stand out, though it's still a fantastic fight. I'd even venture to say that this is my favorite Ultimate U battle - simply because of how concise and well-choreographed it is.

As each Ultimate has their turn against the Hulk, the battle just transitions very well from one sequence to the next. There are plenty of blockbuster moments, and even the occasional witty line of dialogue. Millar is at the top of his game here in crafting an entertaining and epic brawl that lasts an entire issue, and Hitch is also at his best form in the art department. This one battle perfectly set the mark for the widescreen tone that the Ultimates goes for.

So we've looked at the battle's story and choreography, we've addressed the art, looked at each participant of the fight, debated the battle's good and bad points. Do you have anything else to add before we close this off, RB?

RB: I have nothing to add except that it's been a pleasure getting to speak on this fine battle. I hope we get some people interested in the old Ultimate Universe. It's been a (mostly) fun ride.

Also CV'er's, don't hesitate to toss in your two cents.

VS: Absolutely. I genuinely feel like those that haven't read the Ultimate U are missing out - the earliest days of this universe are still some of the freshest and most-entertaining takes on Marvel characters. The Ultimate experiment will always be the best parallel-universe in comics.

For those of you who might be interested, you can find this awesome battle in trade with The Ultimates Vol. 1 Super Human, which collects The Ultimates #1-6. Alternatively, you can also get Ultimates: Ultimate Collection - which collects all thirteen issues of the first series.

As always, pleasure discussing men-and-women-in-tights with you, RB, this is Veshark signing off.

RB: And this is Rising Bean saying Shop Smart, Shop S-Mart.

Until next time true believers! Oh, and the first ten Viners to respond in the comments section get no-prizes!

TUNE IN NEXT TIME! Same Fight-Time! Same Fight-Channel! The next in-depth, comprehensive, and we-really-should-be-doing-something-more-productive discussion of an Ultimate battle will be...Ultimate X-Men vs. Proteus!

25 Comments

CV's Top 25 Battles in DC Comics History

So after three days of nomination and voting, we are finally done. The Top 25 Battles in DC Comics History - as voted by (some) Viners - is complete!

For those just joining us, this list was created in response to IGN's own Top 25 list, which many Viners felt was somewhat underwhelming. This list aims to improve upon that by getting rid of any fluff, and only including the most iconic clashes in DC's history, as voted in by the community.

The results are fascinating. It's missing some notable fights like Infinite Crisis (which made nomination) and the Anti-Monitor conflict (which didn't even get nominated!). But on the other hand, we've got some really awesome and different choices too. The list only shares about 40% of the battles with IGN's list, and we've got a nice balance of different characters here as well.

It's really interesting to see what the CV community, collectively, considers to be the most memorable and noteworthy battles in DC's 75-year history.

So without further ado, let's start with Number 25:

*For any battles that share the same number of points - I've given the higher spot to the battle that was closer to that number first

25: JLA vs. Hyperclan, Final Battle (JLA #4) - 153 points

1997: Grant Morrison is put on the JLA title and reunites the Big 7 of the League. Right from the start, the Earth comes under attack from a group of White Martians, and it takes the League and the entire world to save the day. This battle here launched the (arguably) greatest JLA run of all-time, and also firmly established why Batman can hang with superhumans. Because he's Batman.

24: Deathstroke vs. Justice League (Identity Crisis) - 154 points

A somewhat controversial battle from a controversial book - in this memorable fight, Slade is hired by Dr. Light to take on a good portion of the League. Using prep time, he manages to subdue most of the team, trouncing powerhouses like Zatanna, Wally West, and most notably - Kyle Rayner. Though Deathstroke is eventually defeated, this fight will still remain....that one battle everyone brings up in any Slade thread.

23: Superman vs. Doomsday (Hunter/Prey) - 155 points

R-R-R-REEEMATCCHHH! Superman goes up against Doomsday for the first time since the Death of Superman, and this time he comes packing heat and wearing a new XTREEEEMEEE costume. It's the vicious Round 2 of one of Superman's most iconic fights. In the end, Supes - with the help of Waverider - uses a device to BFR Doomsy to the edge of time, winning the fight.

22: Justice League vs. Ocean Master/Atlantis (Throne of Atlantis) - 156 points

In the first New 52 Justice League-Aquaman crossover, the United States comes under attack from an undersea Atlantean invasion. Led by the Ocean Master, the surface world's only hope lies in the Justice League, and the heroes mobilize their entire roster to stem the tide. In the center of it all is Aquaman, who is trapped between the League and his people....and forced to choose to between his adopted world and his kingdom.

Damn, I should write trade blurbs.

21: JLA vs. Amazo (The Second Coming) - 156 points

The League goes up against Amazo for a second time in this brutal three-issue rematch. This is Amazo at his most powerful - with the speed of Flash, the magic of Zatanna, and powers from about ten other characters. Inhabiting a new Red Tornado body, the android wreaks havoc and decimates the entire team. In the end, only BFRing Amazo into a star ends the battle.

20: Emperor Aquaman vs. Wonder Woman (Flashpoint) - 157 points

Well that escalated quickly. In this alternate reality, Aquaman and Wonder Woman go to war after a bad breakup, and the entire planet is thrown into chaos by the conflict between Atlantis and the Amazons. The war finally comes to a head on New Themyscira, where the former lovers and their respective armies clash. Though Barry Allen is able to retcon this war, there's a moral here: Don't cheat on your spouse!

19: Wonder Woman vs. Superman (Wonder Woman #219) - 159 points

It was bound to happen. The Man of Steel falls under the control of Maxwell Lord, and the only one who can stop him is Wonder Woman. The two most recognizable powerhouses of the DCU go at it in a bloody brawl that threatens the entire planet. But the most memorable moment of the fight happens in the end...when with no alternative left, Diana kills Maxwell Lord on global TV. The fight would have long-lasting repercussions, and led to the disbanding of the League.

18: Batman vs. Mutant Leader (The Dark Knight Returns) - 161 points

Beat Batman once: good for you. Beat him twice: Not gonna happen. After barely surviving a vicious loss at the hands of the leader of the Mutants gang...an old Batman returns for a rematch. This time, Bats doesn't hold back, and in a brutal and messy fight, the Caped Crusader trumps his foe. This win here not only makes Batman the alpha male of the Mutants gang, but also proves to himself that he still has the skills.

17: Batman vs. Joker (The Killing Joke) - 164 points

Though this fight may not be as awe-inspiring as some of the other fights on this list, it's still one of the most memorable encounters between the knight and his jester. After the brutal crippling of Barbara Gordon, and the subsequent torture of the Commissioner, Batman and the Joker have one final fight. It's a vivid exploration of their violent relationship, and the ambiguous end is still widely-debated today.

16: Superman vs. The Elite (What's So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?) - 178 points

In a not-so-subtle criticism of the popular anti-heroes of the time, The Elite - a team of 'no-nonsense' heroes is challenged to a duel vs. Superman with the world watching. Supes seemingly 'kills' the team, shocking the world and the Elite's leader, but it's all just revealed to be a ruse on his part, to show everyone why heroes don't kill. It also led to one of the greatest Superman speeches ever put on paper.

15: Armored Batman vs. The Talons (The Court of Owls) - 180 points

In one of the best parts of Snyder's Court of Owls saga, Batman dons a giant mech suit to defend his home against the Talons. Batman is pissed, his suit is loaded, and the Talons are f&*^%ed. Let me repeat. Batman WEARS A GIANT ROBOT SUIT AND FIGHTS OWL NINJAS. If that sentence alone doesn't get you pumped for superhero comics, you're probably reading the wrong medium.

14: Batman vs. Superman (The Dark Knight Rises) - 185 points

It's the battle of the century...the Dark Knight goes up against the Man of Steel himself. DC's two alpha males finally come to blows in this iconic clash. Even with a suit of armor and kryptonite to aid him, Batman still doesn't definitively beat Superman, though he does give him a brutal whipping. But then again, as we all know, Bruce always has a plan...

13: Batman & Catwoman vs. Superman (Hush) - 187 points

Two Bats vs Supes fights in a row? Huh. What are the chances of that. Either way, in this clash, Batman fights a Poison Ivy-controlled Superman with nothing but a kryptonite ring. Even then, Batman barely hurts Superman, and it's only when Catwoman puts Lois' life in danger that Clark snaps out of it. The fight was written by Jeph Loeb so...take it with a pinch of salt, but at least it gives us the awesome image of Bats decking Big Blue.

12: Nightwing vs. Jason Todd (Battle for the Cowl) - 199 points

The two of Batman's oldest 'sons' have one final fight to determine who deserves to take on the mantle of Batman. It's a battle of brothers, and though the end is somewhat predictable, it's still an awesome fight between Nightwing and Jason Todd. Even with his prep time, Todd is soundly beaten by Nightwing, and Dick would eventually go on to be Batman for a while.

11: Superman vs. Brainiac (Brainiac) - 200 points

Superman finally comes face-to-face with the 'real' Brainiac, and with the aid of Supergirl, has to stop the crazy Coluan computer. This battle is noteworthy for not only leading in to the New Krypton saga, but also for the (spoiler alert) death of Jonathan Kent.

10: Superman vs. Darkseid (The Supergirl from Krypton) - 200 points

After saving Kara from Apokolips, Superman gets ambushed by Darkseid - who has returned for one last vengeance. The New God seemingly kills Supergirl, and he brawls with Supes for a while, before Clark BFRs Darkseid into the Source Wall. Later, it's revealed that Supergirl survived, and that Superman duped Darkseid into thinking she was dead so he would leave her alone.

9: Cassandra Cain vs. Lady Shiva (Batgirl #73) - 206 points

In this final issue of Batgirl, Cassandra Cain goes toe-to-toe with her mother - master assassin Lady Shiva. Two of the DCU's finest martial artists tangle with brutal hand-to-hand in this rematch. In the end, Cassandra triumps over Shiva in this rematch, and snaps her neck. But our Batgirl shows mercy by placing her mother in a Lazarus Pit, in return for giving her life.

8: Batman vs. Red Hood (Under the Red Hood) - 218 points

Batman's greatest failure has always been the death of Jason Todd at the hands of the Joker. And in this emotional encounter, Bats comes face-fo-face with his own prodigal son. Their fight comes to a heady conclusion when Todd forces Batman to make an impossible choice: kill me, or I kill the Joker. Though Batman finds a solution and Todd would return, this battle still remains one of the Bat's most memorable moments. And it spawned a kickass animated adaptation, to boot.

7: Superman & Friends vs. Mongul (For the Man Who Has Everything) - 220 points

It's Superman's birthday, and Mongul has a gift for the Kryptonian. Trapped in a fake reality created by his heart's deepest desires, Superman is immobilized while Batman, Wonder Woman, and Jason Todd try to stop Mongul. When Batman eventually frees Clark, his fury at being ripped from a world where Krypton lived is unmatched, and Superman clashes with Mongul in one of the most iconic fights of his career.

6: Wally West vs. Zoom (Blitz) - 224 points

In Zoom, Wally West finally has his archnemesis. No Flash villain has that level of personal connection with Wally, or the threat level that matches Zoom's. This is the one guy that only Flash can stop, and he only has one depraved purpose: to create a tragic loss in Wally's life. Though Wally does end up stopping Zoom by borrowing the powers of his fellow speedsters, this battle still causes Linda to miscarry, making it a Pyrrhic victory indeed.

5: All-Star Superman vs. Lex Luthor (All-Star Superman) - 231 points

A dying Superman at his weakest goes up against a superpowered Lex Luthor at his strongest! And though things seem at their worst, the irony of the battle is that their roles are reversed. Luthor has all the power that Superman usually does, but Supes wins the fight with the one advantage Luthor usually uses: science. With a gravity gun, Superman is able to warp Lex's physiology, causing his superpowers to run out. And with a final punch, Superman KOs his archnemesis one last time before flying to the dying sun to save the world...one more time.

4: Sinestro Corps War Final Battle (Sinestro Corps War) - 238 points

And this right here, ladies and gentlemen, is the event that cemented Geoff Johns' Green Lantern run as one of the best superhero runs of our generation. Sinestro has assembled his own army, and the final battleground is Earth. Ion Sodom Yat vs. Superboy-Prime! Anti-Monitor vs. the Guardians! The superheroes of Earth vs. the Sinestro Corps! Parallax! Cyborg-Superman and the Manhunters! This crazy last battle amps the stakes and has it all, and in the end it's the collective efforts of the GLC and other heroes (with a boost from Coast City's residents) - that win the war.

3: Blackest Night Final Battle (Blackest Night) - 244 points

Two Green Lantern epic battles in a row - what are the odds? This time, the Earth is threatened by the dead, as heroes and villains are revived from the grave by the Black Lantern Corps. The final battle has the Black Hand summon Nekron - the personification of death. And the only way the heroes win is with the entity of life - the White Lantern. It's a smorgasbord of colors and actions as heroes of every color (not what I meant) go up against a legion of the unliving.

2: Superman vs. Doomsday (The Death of Superman) - 266 points

No other death in the history of the medium will be as iconic as Superman's - when he went up against the unstoppable monster that was Doomsday. In a long, drawn-out, and bloody fight - the two powerhouses traded blow after blow, before finally killing one another in their last punches. The haunting scene of Lois Lane holding a dead and bleeding Superman will forever be a visual milestone in this genre. Doomsday's role as one of Superman's greatest rogues would be forever cemented with this fight, and the Death of Superman would be a landmark battle among the Man of Tomorrow's many memorable encounters.

1: Kingdom Come Final Battle (Kingdom Come) - 266 points

And here we are....numero uno. The Number 1 battle in the Top 25 Battles of DC's history. The running plotline of the coming apocalypse and the planet's superhuman problem comes to a head in this titanic clash. When the Justice League's gulag is split open, the heroes have no choice but to get into a brutal battle to contain the supervillain breakout. And the one man who can contain it all - Superman - is unable to because he's busy in a fight against his own physical equal...Captain Marvel!

It's a battle that is epic in every sense of the word, and even the arrival of Batman and his own group of heroes is unable to end the fight decisively. Superman and the mind-controlled Cap go at it, while Wonder Woman and Bats do the same in the skies. In the end, the Trinity realizes that the UN has ordered three warheads to be dropped on the battle to contain the superhumans before the entire world is destroyed.

Batman and Wonder Woman disarm two planes, but a third bomb manages to be dropped. Superman then tells Captain Marvel that because he is both human and superhuman...only he can make the choice whether or not the bomb should be stopped. In the end, Marvel gives his life to stop the bomb, and while many die as a result....many do live, and the world of Kingdom Come becomes a better one as a result.

It's a dramatic conclusion to a superb story, and will always remain a classic in superhero history. The detailed artwork of Alex Ross shines through as we see literally hundreds of both old and new characters fighting. And it's the final moment, where we realize that Captain Marvel...the one man from both sides of the war...is the only one who can make the decision on who wins. And Cap realizes that the only right choice is life, proving that the distinction was not what mattered.

We Are Done!

And that's it, folks! I'd like to thank all the Viners who participated in the nomination and voting process, and feel free to leave your thoughts on this list below. These were some very fascinating results indeed; I notice a lot of Superman and none of Batman's battles even cracked the Top 10. Overall, I think we accomplished what we set out to do - that is to make a more dynamic and interesting list than IGN's, as well as a good celebration of DC's eventful history.

33 Comments

Bane vs. Batman (Three-Page Fights)

So, nearly three months after my first Three-Page Fight post, I've finished my second! Basically, the general idea is an effort to improve my comic-drawing skills. I do these three-page fights between characters using zero dialogue and visual storytelling alone.

Here we have Batman going up against the Venom-enhanced Bane on the rainy streets of Gotham:

Page One
Page Two
Page Three

I think from a technical standpoint, this one looks a lot better overall compared to my first one.

As always, comments and criticisms are always welcome.

34 Comments

Top 10 Greatest Utimate Magneto Quotes

For those of you who know me (where ma peeps at?), you'll be aware that I'm a huge fan of the Ultimate Marvel universe. And no supervillain from this universe surpasses the sheer villainy and power of my favorite Ultimate baddie...Ultimate Magneto!

But aside from his magnetic mutation and awesome storylines, what makes me love Ultimate Mags is the fact that he's just an unforgivable, power-hungry bastard. Ultimate Mags is like 616 Magneto with the dials turned up to eleven - everything sympathetic about Max Eisenhardt has been torn away and replaced by a far more malicious take on the character.

Even the worse of villains like Doom or Luthor have some humanity, but Ultimate Magneto is just evil in every sense of the word. Every person, be they man or mutant, is just a pawn for him to manipulate - and his ego and self-worth eclipses even Kanye West levels.

Now Ultimate Magneto was created by Mark Millar, and Magneto was just tailor-made for Millar's darker, cynical writing style. Under Millar's pen, Ultimate Mags was at his best, just an unstoppable monster with a superiority complex...and he had some of the best supervillain lines in comic-book history EVER.

Compiled below are the Top 10 Greatest Ultimate Magneto Quotes for your reading pleasure....enjoy.

p.s. If any of you are itching for a high-tier CaV debate, I'd love to do one using Ultimate Magneto. /end shameless plug

10. “Chromium machines to kill a master of magnetism? No wonder we call ourselves homo superior.”

9. “It feels ridiculous, like conversing with a toad or common earthworm.”

8. “Disobey and you will be categorized as mutant food-stuffs.”

7. "As the more intelligent species, one might even say that it's our moral responsibility."

6. “I don’t kill humans out of hate. I kill them out of love."

5. “We agreed just last night that we wanted elaborate toilets for the new mutant order.”

4. “The creature you regarded as the most powerful man alive has just licked my boots clean.”

3. “Oh but your punishment is quite straightforward, my little Wanda…you get to watch.”

2. “Like I said. Inconsequential.”

1. “If Quicksilver is around tonight…would you do me a favor and address me as 'Father' when we’re standing in his presence?”

20 Comments

Veshark’s Comic Reviews: Captain America, Gotham Central, Nova…and more!

Too Cheap for the Intro

So recently I dropped by a local Borders sale, and had the fortune of coming across a bunch of old trades sold at low prices. All of them were still in great condition and shrink-wrapped, each at 75% off. So being the thrifty Chinaman I am, I went ahead and splurged on seven books.

Which probably doesn’t sound like much for you Westerners with your cheap Amazon shipping, but it was a pretty sizeable snag, personally. Long story short, the seven TPBs rounded up to about 32 USD, and I was one very happy comic-book fan. So in the spirit of my happiness, I decided to do these reviews for each trade I bought.

These comics are all books that I probably wouldn’t pick up if I was perusing bookstores with wide selections, but I like to broaden my reading horizons. Every now and then, I enjoy dropping by a spot without reading online reviews, and buying whatever strikes my fancy.

So these are the trades that I ended up spending dime on, and I’m gonna (try) to keep my thoughts short and sweet because we know how annoying long blogs can be (and that ship has saiiilleed by this paragraph…). Who knows, I might even convince one of you to pick some of these up.

So without further ado, leggo:

Captain America: Road to Reborn

Story by Ed Brubaker & others

Art by a crapload of people; there are more artists here than an Army of the Pharaohs song

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Breakdown

Road to Reborn is a prequel of sorts to the Reborn miniseries. Basically Steve Rogers died after being assassinated by Crossbones and a brainwashed Sharon Carter. His sidekick Bucky took over for a while. But then Marvel decided to bring him back (didn’t see that one coming), and so commissioned the Reborn series. Road to Reborn was supposed to lead up to Steve’s return.

But….meh, this trade doesn’t really accomplish that. Now, to be clear, I’m a big fan of the Baker’s run on Captain America. But after the epic Death of Cap trilogy, the series kinda meanders as the momentum begins to slow. Reading this, I was left largely bored, and the entire book just screams ‘filler’.

Story

Road to Reborn collects the ‘Sentinel of Liberty’ one-shot, two issues of the ongoing Cap series, the #600 anniversary issue, and #601 – which is an one-off flashback to Cap in WWII. Now the first problem with this TPB, which might be evident by now, is that it has a wide variety of stories – many of which have little relation to one another.

So the quality of this trade goes up and down more than moods at that time of the month. And it also lacks a unified tone; it’s just a filler trade before Reborn, where they throw in a bunch of issues to be collected. The first one-shot, ‘Sentinel of Liberty’, is essentially just a retelling of Cap’s history and accomplishes nothing (aside from pretty art).

Issue 49 of the ongoing Cap series focuses on Sharon Carter, and the grieving process after the Death of Cap. It’s character work I suppose, but I found it completely non-engaging. Issue 50 fares a little better as it deals with Bucky’s birthday and flashbacks to his past birthdays, but again, it doesn’t feel worthy of the page ink. It doesn’t suck, but it’s just…there.

The #600 anniversary issue is probably the best of the bunch, and reunites several classic Cap writers for an anthology of six parts. The first story is just a two-page origin retelling by Alex Ross and Paul Dini – and looks gorgeous. Following that is Brubaker’s ‘One Year After’, which covers every Cap-related character’s reactions in the one-year anniversary of Steve Roger’s death. It drags on for far too long I feel, but makes good use of Cap’s cast and history.

Next up is probably my favorite story in this entire trade – and that’s a short story by Mark Waid, and involves an auction of Captain America memorabilia. And here we get to see all the lives Cap has touched in the bidders – from a soldier who served with Cap, to a police officer from Steve’s time on the beat. But my favorite is the man who buys Cap’s first Avengers ID – something that I won’t spoil for you.

Concluding the issue is a short letter by Joe Simon, which provides some interesting background to Cap’s creation, as well as short strip entitled ‘Passing the Torch’…which references some obscure Cap story. Finally, the trade ends with Issue #601, which has legendary Gene Colan drawing a WWII flashback where Cap fights vampires. It’s a serviceable horror yarn…but nothing memorable.

Art

The art here ranges from great to meh. Great comes from Marcos Martin on ‘Sentinel of Liberty’ (which despite the gratuitous nature of the story, does offer some splendid layouts). As well as Dale Eaglesham on the Waid story, and Alex Ross (as always) on ‘Origin’ (which again, while unnecessary, looked very pretty). Everyone else was kind of meh.

But the one artist that I was kind of conflicted on was Gene Colan on the vampire story. His style here is very different than his usual one – with murky tones that fit the horror-vibe of the issue. At the same time it works, but his art here also gets pretty messy and unappealing. I sense I would’ve enjoyed this one more had Michael Lark been on the art. I realize this issue won an Eisner Award but…ech.

TL; DR

Some gems in this Cap anniversary filler, but there’s a lot of dirt to sift through. It would probably be more enjoyable for a Cap fan.

Rating: 3 Shark Bites out of 5

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Fantastic Four: Books of Doom

Story by Ed Brubaker

Pencils by Pablo Raimondi

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Breakdown

I’ve always been a big fan of Doom, so this pick was pretty much a no-brainer for me. I’ve been hearing a lot of good feedback surrounding this TPB, and being a fan of the Baker too, I gave it a go. For the uninformed, Books of Doom is basically a six-part miniseries retelling Doom’s past; from his birth to his eventual rise of power in Latveria. It’s a supervillain origin story and framed in the style of an interview with the doctor.

So how does this most recent retcon fare? I’ll be upfront with you – it’s not going to blow your mind. But it is a solid comic-book that I would wholeheartedly recommend, and does justice to the greatest Marvel baddie (Yeah that’s right, Magneto fans, I said it!). If any of you Viners want a crash course on the Doc or have even the slight interest in him, Books will not disappoint.

Story

Even though we know how the story is going to conclude, and it hits a lot of familiar beats, Books of Doom is still an enjoyable trip from start to finish. You know how motivational speakers always talk about ‘the journey, not the end’? From Doom’s accident, to him building his armor, and then taking over Latveria – it’s got enough fleshing out to merit reading this trade.

The first thing the Baker does right is making Doom a sympathetic main lead. Despite what Breaking Bad fans might have you believe, an entirely-evil protagonist doesn’t click with audiences. Oh we all know Doom’s a colossal asshole (seriously, Doc, the FF wedding issue? Have some standards, mate). But he has enough humanity to make you support him here.

And it’s not just Brubaker making Doom into a more nuanced character, but he really draws you into Doom’s life, making you understand the Doc’s motivations, and why he does the things he does. His villainy is a mix of nature and circumstance. And how one man went from gypsy, to scientist, to sorcerer, to revolutionary, and finally – king.

The whole yarn is told like a History Channel program (sans the coma-inducing voice-overs), and flows well from start to finish. Brubaker throws in a few curveballs here and there to spice up this familiar tale, and almost all of them work (Doom fights a Yeti!). But the story’s genius twist ending is what really ties all six issues of this story together; and gives a satisfying end to it too. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but if you’re really curious:

Doom becomes a woman. No, that’s not what really happened. Buy the book if you really want to know, you turd.

Art

And I’d be doing a disservice to the book if I didn’t mention Pablo Raimondi’s fantastic pencils. I’ve never heard of the guy before, but his work here is superb. Raimondi’s art is similar to Carlos Pacheco on Ultimate Avengers; smooth lines that are both cartoonish and realistic. There’s one particularly detailed panel of Doom walking down an Eastern European street that would make a Bryan Hitch fan blink twice.

And another notable bit where Doom is climbing the Himalayas, and wearing a green hooded parka while his scarred face is bandaged in the style of his future metal mask. Can you say, ‘visual foreshadowing’? Raimondi’s work is solid, and I’d love to see more of him.

Credit is also due to Brian Reber for subdued colors that give the story another added layer of realism; and to Paolo Rivera for some gorgeous painted covers. It wouldn’t be too hard to imagine these paintings hanging in Castle Doom itself

TL; DR

Great supervillain origin story for Marvel’s best baddie, with a clever twist ending and strong artwork.

Rating: 4 Shark Bites out of 5

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Gotham Central Book 2: Jokers & Madmen

Story by Ed Brubaker & Greg Rucka

Pencils by Michael Lark & others

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Breakdown

You’re starting to see a pattern in the first three trades I bought, aren’t you? No, it’s not that they all have superheroes in them, you dolt. They all have the Baker! This was actually an entirely unconscious decision on my part – I didn’t even notice it until the checkout counter. Either way, we’ve seen Bru miss on Cap and hit on Books of Doom, so let’s find out how well he does here.

Spoiler alert: This is the best damn comic of the bunch.

Gotham Central was the ridiculously critically-acclaimed book which focused on the eponymous city’s underfunded and corrupt police department. It features the everyday lives of ordinary Gothamite po-pos living in the shadow of the Bat, and having to deal with both normal crimes and those of the costumed psychotic variety.

A stark contrast to the rest of the DCU, Gotham Central is an extremely gritty tale, mixing depressing police procedural tales with supervillains. In this second trade, we have the GCPD going up against the likes of a sniper-rifle-wielding Joker, a violent Harvey Bullock, and the Mad Hatter, in some of the best comic-books DC has ever put out.

Going into this trade and having never read the first volume before, I suspected it was going to be as mind-blowing as all the reviewers claimed. Now I know I’m years late to this particular party…but damn, Gotham Central does not disappoint.

Story

Brubaker on noir is like Jay-Z on a soul-sampled beat. Like Michael Bay in the heart of an explosion. Like Kate Upton in a revealing outfit. He’s in his element, in his zone. And while I haven’t read much of Rucka, his writing here is definitely on par with the Baker’s. The series is after all, the brainchild of these two. It’s not hard to see why the Eisner nominations came pouring in.

The first thing I felt was that this series was very much less CSI, and more ‘The Wire’. Every panel and every scene just screamed ‘HBO Original Programming’ to me. I could imagine this comic-book being adapted for cable. But at the same time, Brubaker and Rucka remember to keep it grounded in Gotham and the DCU. Batman makes like two short appearances in the ten issues collected here, but the GCPD characters and the city’s villains are all put to good use.

Gotham Central features a large ensemble cast no doubt, and the two writers do a fantastic job of balancing each character’s life stories and personalities across different story arcs. There’s an (extremely) helpful roster guide for new readers such as myself, and before long, you’ll easily get what makes each police tick. And each character feels real, and fully-realized.

They’re dressed in mundane clothing, they’re fallible, they have human problems…but at the same time, underneath all their baggage, a good number of them are cops who just want to do good. And this is the best part of the series – that the ‘good guys’ are both likeable leads, yet human. Harvey Bullock, Renee Montoya, Crispus Allen, Stacy, Ron Probson, Dagmar Procjnow…they all feel more than just names and faces. They feel plausible in a world of implausibility.

And that’s before we even get to the crimes and the villains. There’s a great Mad Hatter yarn towards the end of the book, but what is without a doubt, one of the book’s most memorable arcs – is the four-issue ‘Soft Targets’. In it, we have the Joker using a sniper rifle to gun down a number of civilians, all in the name of creating a sick, twisted game for the Bat. It was a definite inspiration for TDK.

And what makes ‘Soft Targets’ so excellent from this book’s PoV is that it doesn’t try and focus on the Joker’s psychology, as ever bloody Joker guest appearance attempts. No, Gotham Central homes in instead on the effects that such a terrifying villain as the Joker causes in the civilian populace, and how the cops are just collateral casualties in the ongoing war between the Knight and his Jester. It’s a chilling look, to put these human characters into such a situation, and we see some of the trade’s strongest character works in this arc.

To put the cherry on top, the Joker using a sniper rifle to gun people down at Christmas draws a lot of similarities to real-life crimes, and the more pragmatic nature of his plan here (compared to his laughing fish ones), just nails home the hardboiled noir tone of the series. Superb.

Art

Michael Lark does most of the pencil work on this series, and I first encountered his work when he drew the WWII flashbacks for Brubaker’s Cap run. I liked his style then – it was gritty and rough, but his pencils work so much better on this series than Cap. The heavy inks, the true-to-life expressions – they all feel so real. In the sense, they’re aesthetically ugly like real-life, but also beautiful to look at. His renditions of the Joker and Mad Hatter are grounded. Every panel Lark draws just drips with verisimilitude (look it up, don’t be lazy), and I can’t think of a better artist for this title.

Special mention to Lee Loughridge on colors, his subdued tones work very well with the nature of Gotham Central.

TL; DR

Go. Find. Buy. Read. Realistic police stories in the DCU, with incredible character work and very real tales of crime and morality.

Rating: 5 Shark Bites out of 5

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Kobra: Resurrection

Story by Greg Rucka & others

Pencils by Joe Bennet & others

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Breakdown

I bought three Brubaker books unintentionally, and also bought three villain-oriented trades too (Doom, Kobra, Thunderbolts). Patterns, patterns. Alright, back to the review. Kobra Resurrection was a book I picked up because the cover looked sweet, and I’ve always thought this dude had potential. He’s the leader of a cult, and the first man to solve the formula for the Lazarus Pits.

So I was hoping for a more in-depth view on Kobra ala Books of Doom…but sadly, I was disappointed. Now that’s not to say this is an entirely bad trade, but the truth is that we learn very little about Kobra as a character. Resurrection is more a collection of the last few Checkmate issues in Rucka’s run, with a few Kobra stories tacked on.

Story

From what I gather, Rucka’s run on Checkmate was well-received. Now maybe I’d appreciate the first three issues in this trade more were I to read the series from the start. But I found the Checkmate issues to be cool, though not particularly noteworthy. Basically, Kobra has planted mutated sleepers across the world, and Checkmate and the JLA/JSA are at war with the cult.

It’s a thriller type story with enough beats to keep you interested (and a really nice twist ending, actually), and also deals with tensions between the organization and the DCU’s superheroes as a result of Maxwell Lord going nuts. Nothing to write home about, but none too shabby either.

In addition to the main story though, the book also includes Kobra’s original appearance. Following that is a Batman issue where Bats teams up with Kobra’s brother to bring down the cult. Then we have the Faces of Evil issue, where Kobra is dead…and his brother takes his place as the cult’s leader. I won’t go into detail on these three; they’re just boring filler, really.

Which is a shame because the initial three Checkmate issues are really not bad, but the following Kobra-related stories just drag this book down into mediocrity. I get it’s to justify putting this out as a trade, but it feels like a waste of dime. They do throw in Kobra’s Who’s Who entry at the end of the book though, which I will admit, is a nice touch.

Art

One of the reasons why I even picked up this TPB was, as aforementioned, the awesome trade cover by Andrew Robinson and Greg Digenti. Seriously, just look at that. A sneering Kobra emerging from the darkness – now that’s how a villain should look. Cover aside, the interior art was done by different pencillers across multiple eras, so results are varied.

The three Checkmate issues are by Joe Bennett, and the pencils here are quite well-done, if lacking a little in polish. But it’s understandable for a monthly book, and I can’t complain. It certainly looks like most DC art of the 2000s though. The Kobra issue was done by the King himself, but I’m not afraid of admitting that it’s a far cry from his Marvel work. Kirby’s art here is stiff and lacking dynamism, though he apparently shared the art chores with others.

The Batman issue was done by Mike Nasser and Joe Rubinstein, and is definitely from the 70s, with Bats looking very Neal Adams. Not much to say here. The final Faces of Evil issue was done by a Julian Lopez, who has a rougher style, but overall still functional. I think, overall, Bennett’s pencils were the most intriguing, while everyone else was kind of meh.

TL; DR

Isn’t really a ‘Kobra’ book focused on the character, and the weaker issues bring it down. But the Checkmate issues are an interesting-enough espionage yarn.

Rating: 2 Shark Bites out of 5

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Nova Vol. 6: Realm of Kings

Story by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning

Pencils by Andrea Divito & others

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Breakdown

I’ve always had a passing interest in Nova. Maybe it was the kickass costume, or the idea of an uber-powerful war hero that appealed to me. Richard Rider came across as cosmic Captain America, and I looked forward to adding new blood to my roster of favorite heroes.

Now I’ve dabbled a little with DnA’s critically-acclaimed cosmic stuff before, like War of Kings, but none of it really struck me as memorable. It wasn’t that the stories were bad, but more like I didn’t really feel much of a connection to the characters. See, I’ve always been a little wary of space-oriented comics like Green Lantern. When superheroes spend more time in space fighting aliens than on Earth fighting villains, I don’t know, it just doesn’t draw my attention.

So suffice to say, I went into Nova Vol. 6 with both excitement and apprehension. On one hand, he seemed like a really fly character to get into, but on the other, ‘cosmic’ books have always left me apathetic (Don’t believe me? I read Sinestro Corps War and was bored). Not to mention that I wasn’t even starting from the first volume of the run, but the last!

So how’d it go? Well, Nova fans…you officially have a new member in your ranks.

Story

Right off the bat, I just want to say that I enjoyed myself throughout all the volume’s eight issues. This was a fun, exciting Marvel read, and even being thrown into the deep end, I could still follow the story fine. Nova Vol. 6 is what a solid superhero book should be – a mix of action, humor, insane concepts, inventive use of continuity, and charming characters.

The first thing that struck me about Nova though, was that despite the fact it was a ‘cosmic comic’, it felt more like a classic superhero tale that any other book I’ve read in a while. Back on Earth, Marvel was putting out nonsense like Secret Invasion or Dark Reign, vapid ‘political’ allegories that just felt trite. But here in space, Nova was battling bad guys and saving lives.

In this volume alone, Nova fights drug-dealing Mindless Ones, a giant crocodile, and Ego the Living Planet. He meets his old ally Darkhawk, before being caught in a conflict between his arch-nemesis Sphinx…and a younger Sphinx from the past. Both Sphinxes summon five champions each, with the older Sphinx choosing Nova, Mr. Fantastic, Namorita, Black Bolt, and Darkhawk to battle five villains chosen by the younger Sphinx.

If that previous sentence alone doesn’t get you pumped, then superhero comics probably aren’t your preferred reading material!

Another thing I got a good sense of was the character of Richard Rider. He comes across as a Peter Parker who grew up – a teen hero who became a war hero. In this way, he seems to have more nuance than Hal Jordan. Nova is a likeable lead, and I definitely look forward to picking up the earlier volumes of the series to delve deeper into the character and his world.

Art

On the matter of the artwork, I won’t say that it’s particularly unique or noteworthy, but that it definitely services the story well above-average. You know how many comics have rushed ‘monthly comic art’? Well Nova does look like a monthly book, but there’s also enough detail in its panels to look better than most monthly titles.

Bruno Hang’s (No, I did not make that name up) colors pop off the page with Silver-Age excitement, and Divito’s pencils really do convey a sense of scope with some of the high-concept stuff that goes down in this book. The panels with the Sphinx being a god are especially awe-inspiring, and the action scenes are a blast to read. I had no issues with the art at all.

I will say though, that the Brandon Peterson computer covers were a little weird. I’ve never been the biggest fan of his work and they were kind of hit-and-miss here.

TL; DR

Classic superhero action at its finest, with awesome villains, great fight scenes, and cool characters.

Rating: 5 Shark Bites out of 5

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S.H.I.E.L.D.: Architects of Forever

Story by Jonathan Hickman

Pencils by Dustin Weaver

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Breakdown

The f*ck is this sh*t, Hickman?

Story

Okay, that was a joke, S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t that bad. But here’s the thing…it’s not that good either. But I don’t think that on an objective level – I think that on a personal level. See, I picked up Architects of Forever because I recall many reviewers gushing about this series. I’m also a fan of much of Hickman’s Marvel stuff (FF, Ultimates, New Avengers), so this looked promising.

What I ended up with was one of the dullest reads I’ve ever had the misfortune of enduring. At first glance, this felt like Hickman at his worst. Self-indulgent over-dramatic narrations, with scientists and smart men talking vaguely about high-concept ideas, characters that you could barely care for, and lots of bloody diagrams. It felt like the predecessor to Manhattan Projects.

I love Hickman when he infuses some character work in between all his high-falutin’ science. His best runs are when he manages to find a balance between the two. But this trade here just reads like a dry documentary with links to the Marvel Universe, and lots of historical figures being superheroes. A secret brotherhood of scientists have some hazy destiny or something.

All that being said…I can understand why this series received its critical acclaim. Here’s the thing, I feel like this story is not for me, but I can understand if some people like it. If the ambitious mix of historical figures and science-fiction appeals to you, and its style of not being a traditional Marvel book is something you dig…by all means.

And another thing about Hickman’s stuff is that sometimes it often takes me longer to gravitate to it. I didn’t understand all the nuances of his FF run at first, but as I reread and delved deeper, I started to appreciate it more. So perhaps the same will happen here with Architects of Forever – possibly in a future reread. I’m not ruling out that possibility.

But damn it, this book isn’t even about Nick Fury’s S.H.I.E.L.D.!

Art

Dustin Weaver’s art though, I will admit, is immaculate. The level of detail he puts into the panels is awe-inspiring, as is his unique European-ish design sense of steampunk and mechanical gods. The epic scenes he draws of Apocalypse and the original Moon Knight fighting the Brood in Egypt, the Celestial in China, and Galactus in Rome…jaw-dropping with detail and scope.

But the inking can get a little scratchy and ugly at points – kind of reminiscent of Pete Woods’ inking actually (though no disrespect to Woods, his pencil work is great). Credit is due to Christina Strain on Justin Ponsor (one of my favorites) on colors though, as they use a realistic palette that enhances the pencils.

TL; DR

Not for me, but a history/science buff might enjoy it. Gorgeous art; and ambitious story of science and history that falters under the weight of its concepts.

Rating: 2 Shark Bites out of 5 (But…I might change my mind)

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Thunderbolts Vol. 2: Caged Angels

Story by Warren Ellis

Pencils by Mike Deodato Jr.

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Breakdown

You know, for a guy who doesn’t really care for superheroes, Warren Ellis actually writes them pretty well. His work on Iron Man, Authority, and Ultimate Marvel are some of my favorite comics to date. Now I’ve heard good press regarding his Thunderbolts run, and reading it, you can tell that Ellis is just having a good time.

For the uninformed, this Thunderbolts team was organized post-Civil War to arrest unregistered superhumans. They’re led by Norman Osborn, and are basically Marvel’s Suicide Squad.

In this six-issue arc, four telepaths surrender themselves to the team’s custody and are held in Thunderbolts Mountain. But it turns out they wanted to get captured, and plan to use their TP to drive the entire team crazy and shut down the whole Thunderbolts operation. At the same time, superhero psychiatrist Doc Samson comes in to pay Robbie Baldwin a visit.

Needless to say, sh*t goes down.

Story

Even having not the read the first volume (another pattern you see with all the trades I picked up, though not an intentional one), I could follow the story with ease. Basically, the Thunderbolts’ PR face is at an all-time low, as a result of a mission where Venom ended up biting the arm off an unregistered superhuman. And which gives the motivation for the four telepaths to willingly get thrown into Thunderbolts Mountain; in an attempt to destroy the team from the inside.

It’s definitely an intriguing premise, and Ellis gets to run wild with the characters. The pressure slowly builds as the telepaths force one Thunderbolt after the other to lose control. Swordsman sets off a bomb, bribes a few Thunderbolts guards to aid him, and starts killing everyone. Venom goes full-on cannibal. Moonstone attacks Doc Samson. And Osborn…oh lord, Osborn.

Bendis’ Osborn is the only version of the character where I can believe that he replaced Stark. Fraction writes him as an incompetent dolt. But in this book, pre-HAMMER, Ellis gets to go psychotic with Osborn, as Goblin rampages through Thunderbolts Mountain. I won’t spoil it for you; but let’s just say we get a naked Osborn monologuing and a horrific fight with Swordsman.

At the same time that all this carnage is going on, we also have it juxtaposed with an ongoing therapy session between Doc Samson and Penance. Their conversation really provides some fantastic insight into Robbie and the nature of superheroes. And though these two eventually do get embroiled in the fighting, their side story offers some great character work.

Art

I’ve always found this incarnation of the Thunderbolts to be the most visually-interesting team. From Goblin’s suit, to Swordsman’s purple armor, Radiation Man’s hazmat suit (his best look, by the by), and Venom (which Deadato excels at) – they all look very intimidating. And Deadato’s overly-dark shadows suit this violent TPB very well.

I will say that Deadato’s pencils do appear rushed at some points, but they’re all still very nice to look at. His tendency to use slanted panels just adds to the claustrophobic tone of the story, and he pulls off some of his best action work here. The panels of giant Venom tearing through innocent guards and devouring them? Good times.

TL; DR

Intense ‘trapped in a cabin and everyone slowly goes nuts’ type story between crazy supervillains, mixed with solid character work and nice art.

Rating: 4 Shark Bites out of 5

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So, How’d I Do?

Tallying up, I’ve got two books scoring 5/5, two books scoring 4/5, one scoring 3/5, and two scoring 2/5.

As my Shark Bites might imply, I would thoroughly recommend Gotham Central and Nova Vol. 6. The former is a fantastic Wire-esque crime tale that mixes police procedural and noir with supervillains. It’s gritty Brubaker at his best. And Nova is just a straight-up kickass superhero tale, involving time-travelling villains and hustling Mindless Ones. Cosmic heroism at its finest.

Books of Doom and Thunderbolts: Caged Angels are also highly recommended by yours truly. Books is a solid history of Marvel’s greatest villain and a great character piece, coupled together with attractive art. Thunderbolts has an insane premise and pushes its cast to their extreme, with villains tearing each other apart amid some good characterization. It’s just violent fun.

Captain America: Road to Reborn and S.H.I.E.L.D. are mixed bags, personally. Road to Reborn reads like unnecessary filler, but there are some gems in here for Cap fans to enjoy, though I don’t imagine general readers would. It just doesn’t seem worth the money. As for S.H.I.E.L.D., it’s not for me, but I can understand the acclaim. If high science-fiction and an ‘intelligent’ comic is up your alley, by all means.

Kobra: Resurrection is deservedly the worst of the bunch, but it really has more to do with the nature of the TPB. It’s clearly meant to reprint the three Checkmate issues, but with that not being enough to merit a trade, they’ve thrown in a few more terrible Kobra-related issues that are definitely not worth purchasing. So unless you’re a Rucka Checkmate reader, I’d pass on this.

Thanks for reading, and let me know if you’ve read any of these and if you agree/disagree with my thoughts, or if my reviews have convinced any of you to try these trades.

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