Intermission: Norman Osborn

If you don’t mind, let’s have shorter articles this week.  I’m busy with stuff (and things), you’re busy with stuff (and things), and just like a rerun of your favorite TV show — sometimes it’s an off week.  So today, we’re taking one of the multiples stories told in Dark Reign: Made Men one-shot, written by Frank Tieri and drawn by Khoi Pham.

We jump back to the beginning of the Marvel event Dark Reign, where Norman Osborn has taken control of the nation’s security allowing him freedom to spread his corrupt and evil influence all throughout the country’s stuff (and things).  First order of business?  Petty revenge.  What kind of supervillain would he be if it wasn’t?  Oh, and meet Spymaster.

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As you can expect, his name pretty much summarizes everything you need to know about him.  He usually annoys Iron Man, he has no superpowers, and he mostly does espionage.  There.  You’re caught up.  And speaking of caught, Osborn has a few tricks up his sleeve to find his man.  And by that I mean the entire computer databases of all information in the United States.

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When Osborn asks you for a favor, you don’t have much of a choice.  Those lasers from earlier? Looks like Spymaster’s reenacting that laser dance scene from Ocean’s Twelve.  When it comes to refusal or failure, Osborn’s predecessors Nick Fury would yell and Iron Man would mope, but the former Green Goblin has no problem ruining.  Hell, we’ve seen what he did to his own son, much less a C-list supervillain trying to stay under the radar.  So the purpose of this job?  Remember how Osborn disgraced Iron Man to get his job?  This is called rubbing salt on the wound:

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On Wednesday, we’ll continue our Dark Reign short stories with Namor!  He wears his speedo.


Iron Man fights bureaucracy

The small piece of the arc we saw last time was amazing.  So much so that I want us to read a few more scenes from it, and hence the dilemma — to avoid whatever legal punishment comes from showing all the pages of a comic, I’d have to choose a specific angle and ignore the rest.  Iron Man and Mandarin face off in two separate, phenomenal clashes that highlight the beauty and eternal struggle of technology versus magic.  Oh, they’re great and one of the full-page spreads wows me each time I look at it.  But I know what my readers like.  They’re sick of punching.  They read comics for something deeper, like what they would see on CSPAN.  So, even though I protest, I’ll honor your requests.  Today we’ll cover all that wonderful political talk you crave so much using pieces from Iron Man #23-28, volume four, written by Daniel & Charles Knauf and drawn by Butch Guice, Roberto De La Torre, & Carlo Pagulayan.  You’re welcome.

Let’s pick up at the exact page we left off on, where Iron Man explains Graviton’s death to the Commission on Superhuman Activities.

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Notice anything odd from that conversation?  No, not Norman Osborn — he’s making his legitimate rise in politics by being slimy behind the scenes.  Plus, he’s needed in these meetings as an accurate portrayal of what Tony Stark would face if he had to talk to actual United States politicians.  It’s mostly odd that Stark met with the committee in full Iron Man armor.  He’s not going to repulsor beam anyone there and it’s not like he’s the Thing — he can take the armor off whenever he chooses.  But don’t worry, the government has noticed Stark’s behavior as well and they assign the Hulk’s therapist to the case.  Even though to be fair, he hasn’t really been too successful with the Hulk.

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This mainly serves to de-power Iron Man so he has to fight Mandarin using weaker, older armor. Raises the suspense a bit, y’know?  Because while Stark has totally been hallucinating and going crazy and probably could use a long vacation, he’s a superhero.  They’re always last to acknowledge their own faults.  Here’s a sidebar pep talk from Dum Dum Dugan before we get to more exciting politics talk:

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To save the country, Iron Man and SHIELD drop a nuclear bomb on Omaha, Nebraska.  Hell yeah, they do.  It’s called leadership, my friends.  As you can expect, they now have to answer for their decisions, especially since our country (and the world) prefer that Earth’s most powerful military force doesn’t launch nuclear weapons at their own country whenever it feels like it.  To each his own, I guess.

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Spoiler alert: I’m not going to tell you what happens to Jack Kooning.  That’s a side plot that I’ve completely ignored.  A lot of stuff has been going on, but I don’t want you to miss the committee meetings.  I have my priorities.  Watch Dum Dum imitate our own political system by making backroom deals and open threats before we continue our UN inquiries.

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Now, if there’s anything I know about politics, it’s that they always make the right decision.  They use logic, evidence, and an unbiased agenda to properly act in the interest of the people.  Right?  No? Look, we know what’s going to happen.  Mandarin still plans to release his 97.5% human fatality rate bomb onto the world and only Iron Man can save the day — it’s his arch-nemesis after all.  So in a scene that could only happen in pop culture and not in real life, we get a small slice of how bureaucracy could work if everyone involved was insane instead of just sociopaths.

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So what happens next?  Sorry, that’s the last bit of bureaucracy in this arc so we have to end here. But I’m not a monster, I’ll be happy to give you a taste of what you’re missing out on.  Don’t fret, it’s nothing special.  See?

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Go buy lots of Iron Man comics.  Don’t you deserve it after this long week?


Iron Man and the Graviton problem

You like murder mysteries?  Of course you do, but rarely does Tony Stark get involved in an ol’ fashioned whodunit.  He’s far too busy tinkering or shooting lasers or trimming his goatee or whatever he does with his time.  But after the Marvel event Civil War and before the Marvel event Secret Invasion, Stark served as Director of SHIELD, obligating him to do stuff like find out who killed his operatives.  Get ready for a bummer today from Invincible Iron Man #21-23, volume four, written by Daniel & Charles Knauff and drawn by Roberto De La Torre & Butch Guice.

Each state in the USA gets assigned one superhero team.  Nebraska gets Paragon, Gadget, and Ultra. I don’t know who they are either.

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That’s right, I called this a murder mystery when it seems obvious Graviton totally murdered Gadget. As the pieces unfold, Stark’s mental state gets slowly unraveled to the point of apparent schizophrenic hallucinations.  He’s only human.  But to make you feel even worse about this murder, here’s some personal information about the victim.

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See what happens to superheroes without name recognition?  They get used by writers to show how strong supervillains are.  And Graviton gets a special “Class A” ranking that SHIELD uses to put threats into groups or whatever.  As you suspect from his name, he can manipulate gravity and whatever science mumbojumbo powers that gives him.  Most importantly, like Stark soon becomes, he’s also crazy.

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So you can tell there’s a bunch I’m skipping.  Like Stark’s hallucinations.  And a side plot with Maya Henson (who created Extremis, better known as that fiery thing bad guys could do in Iron Man 3) and Mandarin, both of whom are supposed to be dead.  Spoiler alert: they are not.  I’ll be honest with you, besides me writing this way too late to really form a cohesive narrative with my commentary, my eyes tend to glaze over when stories get too technical or time travel-y.  Iron Man’s all technical (and sometimes time travel-y), but the past ten years of his comics have been really, really good if you want to get caught up on the (iron) man.  Here’s what I would do if you time and funds are limited: start with Invincible Iron Man volume five written by the genius Matt Fraction.  It’s well worth it.  Then go back and read everything else.  Stark has been sober since 1979.  You have a lot to catch up.

Oh yeah, and the murder mystery.

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We’re only on issue two of this arc, so you can imagine the plot takes a sharp turn.  Like say, through a hospital wall into the aesthetically-moody night time rain.  Oh, and Paragon’s reasons for betraying/killing his ally are doused in Mandarin lies and manipulation.  It’s one more thing I’m skipping but it has to do with all the normal motivations of having superheroes turn into supervillains.  If you need further proof of Paragon’s instability, he follows Mandarin’s order despite Mandarin being an old man with a very prominent ponytail.

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Paragon’s gone.  But luckily for our protagonist, he comes right back — like a plot boomerang.  Also luckily, Iron Man doesn’t have to fight his own battles either.  It’s nice to take a break from breaking faces every now and then.

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I told you this would be a bummer right from the very start.  I enjoy happy endings far more than these bleak ones, but if it’ll make you feel better, we’re only halfway through the arc.  Doc Samson hangs around, Iron Man fights his arch-nemesis, all that good stuff.  So while you’re about to witness the end of Graviton’s tale, if you have Netflix, he has a super awesome two episode part in Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes where he fights the entire Avengers team at once for a good thirty minutes of show time.  Bring your elementary schoolaged niece or nephew with you in case you get caught watching a Disney show.

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The roast of the Fantastic Four, Pt. 2

Let’s read the rest of the issue!  I still don’t have an angle, but I can improvise my way through this.

Last time, we experienced all those groaner puns we’ve come to expect in old school Marvel.  It’s delightfully conducive with the time period.  Or not.  I don’t really do a lot of research.  But besides far more puns and wordplay than you can shake Thor’s hammer at, we also get stories.  Learn from past members, allies, more villains, etc. about the Fantastic Four’s history and life up to this point.  I mean, you probably know it all, but have you heard the Avengers tell the story?  No.  No you haven’t.

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I like my superheroes with faults.  But Thor, besides being super good-looking, super-strong, super-tough, and everything else associated with super-stuff, he’s also super-funny.  It’s not okay.  The man’s the total package of the fictional Marvel universe.  He’s unfaultable.  Seriously, have you seen Thor in the past month or so?  Without his hammer, the former thunder god just stops wearing a shirt and his abs alone are enough to “shock” his opponents.  See?  I can make puns too.

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Cyclops’ Nightcrawler joke may be the only Hitler joke the X-Men leader ever made.  Or the only joke he ever made.  The dude’s humorless, but then again, so’s Wolverine and Colossus and Storm, and most of the mutants.  Do you know how much Iceman has to talk just to get the humor index for the X-Men back up to neutral?

But this roast also houses a darker scheme.  Someone’s trying to kill the Fantastic Four!  It’s a mystery with a silly answer I’m not going to show you, but I think it’s important you see the seriousness of this threat:

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Let this be a lesson from Thundra and Tigra: no matter how ugly you are, if you can punch through a car then women will always fall for you.  Or She-Torch, a character that has definitely never existed, but Frankie Raye is real.  Well, real for a world drawn on paper.  Raye briefly served as the Herald of Galactus and called herself Nova.  And to be fair, she also served as a replacement Human Torch for a while.  So I guess She-Torch would work.  I take back what I said previously, but I still won’t forgive Moon Knight for his joke.

And like all good roasts, it’s time for the Fantastic Four to repay their friends for their barbs all evening.

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Cross this off your bucket list, you can sleep easy tonight.


The roast of the Fantastic Four, Pt. 1

We celebrate comics here, but you know that superheroes aren’t real right?  They’re drawings on paper, and that’s the beauty behind comic books — characters can be anything.  Batman can be dark, brooding, silly, fun, Asian, etc.  That’s the best part about fictional characters: there’s a version of every character for every personal taste to enjoy.  And why not?  We’re not making Nelson Mandela into a cyborg, that never happened.  But Batman?  He can be anything.  If you don’t like it, too bad. Learn to share your favorite characters.  And today, with some built up negativity floating around my website, it’s time we took a break and enjoyed the lighter side of comics.

Let us have cartoonist Fred Hembeck explain what’s going on in today’s article:

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That’s right, kids.  In 1982, Marvel published a one-shot called Fantastic Four Roast, written by Hembeck and drawn by pretty much everybody.  It’s over thirty pages of mostly horrific puns and I love every page of it.  So take a deep breath, let go of your anger, and read the strangest comic book since the LSD days of the ’70s.

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Get a good idea of how this issue will turn out?  If you’ll allow me to be honest here, I didn’t think this article through.  I have no idea what angle to take with commentary.  No one wants to read a “that joke is funny!” thing every two or three pages.  For now, I’ll give you a taste: here’s the first few pages I can show without commentary that probably won’t get me in trouble.

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I have about fifteen more images I want to show you.  Give me the weekend to think of something. This comic is too delightful not to share.


Spider-Man and Wolverine’s sleepover

We’re jumping to the Ultimate universe, where Spider-Man’s in high school and Wolverine hasn’t discovered all those juicy secrets about his past yet.  But just like the delightful “normal” Marvel universe, hordes of unnamed people still want to murder the immortal Wolverine for whatever mayhem he caused in the past/present/future.  Luckily, Ultimate Wolverine has no problem hoisting his unfortunate situations upon other costumed heroes — as long as the heroes aren’t the X-Men or anyone with relevant experience in stopping covert military operations.  I’m only going to show one scene in this arc today from Ultimate X-Men #34, written by Brian Michael Bendis and drawn by David Finch, but it’s a good one.  I promise.

First, the set up:

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Cue three pages of Wolverine taking a hail of bullets and barely escaping with his life.  Ultimate Wolverine isn’t quite as invincible as his normal universe counterpart.  But a group of assassins are definitely out to kill Wolverine for reasons that aren’t revealed until the final issue of the arc.  It’s six issues long and I’m only showing you twelve-ish pages from the first issue.

So with the ability to run or walk or do anything but pathetically crawl away, poor Wolverine has to go someplace safe.  And by that, I mean the nearest place.

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I get scared when I think I see a bug run across my carpet, much less the bloodcurdling fear I’d experience if I discover an unknown man hiding behind my boiler.  Spider-Man has the right idea, screaming like a little girl, when he discovers this monstrosity bleeding all over his floor.  Plus with Wolverine not being a threat, Spider-Man’s Spidey-sense didn’t activate, no doubt leaving a small amount of pee in Peter Parker’s underwear.  Luckily, Wolverine explains the situation with all the verbosity and patience we’ve come to expect from the angriest and hairiest man who’s ever flirted with a teenage Jean Grey.

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Let’s give Mary Jane Watson a break.  She’s seen plenty of superheroes and supervillains up close by this point in her Ultimate Marvel universe life, but never the charred, bullet-ridden, almost-corpse of a half-yeti/half-man.  Most importantly, she has to faint so Spider-Man can make that fantastic cinematic dive to catch her.  Lucky for her, her lack of censorship when Wolverine wakes up makes up for a little of her fainting embarrassment.  Also, she’s the only fifteen year-old to wear overalls who hasn’t just farmed for sixteen hours straight.

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Problem solved.  The two can go their separate ways and Spider-Man can call Wolverine whenever Doctor Octopus needs a good clawin’.  I think I can see the building blocks of a beautiful friendship being born, especially now that the danger has long past and Wolverine’s safe and out of harm’s way from all those evil military people.

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So goes the superhero life.


Batman and Superman switch powers, Pt. 3

Before we begin, have you seen the cover for Superman/Batman #56?  You should.  It’s the issue we read today.  Plus it includes Superman’s Batman-esque costume he received from Alfred last issue.

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Right?  Isn’t that awesome?  For those who don’t know iconic pictures of American history, artists Rags Morales and Nei Ruffino recreated a super famous boxing photo of Muhammad Ali standing victorious over Sonny Liston back in 1965.  Here’s the original:

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I know, it’s great.  Let’s get to the issue.  Our big finale!  It’s well worth the wait, to which you should go buy the arc as soon as you finish this article because your friends will be impressed and women will be attracted to you.  Probably.  Look, let’s not beat around the bush, you know what’s going to happen: lots of angry punching.  But remember last time when Nightwing exposed a Superman-vulnerability to our Dark Knight of Steel?  Mainly the dark part.  Superman gets his powers from our yellow sun, much like Birdman.  So constant exposure to sunlight keeps Superman at 100%, something to keep in mind coming up.

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Batman brings up a good point.  If Superman can take hits far beyond the ability of a normal man, our secret aggressor no longer has to hold back.  Meaning in the 75 years of Batman history, you just witnessed Batman taking the most powerful, brutal, no-holds-barred punch ever in his entire history courtesy of Superman’s girlfriend (and feminist icon, strong solo character, and everything else associated with the most recognizable female superhero in comics — please don’t flame me).

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Spoiler alert: Batman does it the hard way.  So if the Dark Knight’s hard to beat in his normal squishy form, then the Justice League’s about to have their butt handed to them.  As he mentions and as we know, Batman fights dirty and you’d have to be crazy to go up against him in a fair fight (like most of his rogues gallery).  And for reference, yes, this is the mentally unstable Batman they’re facing — the one we’ve seen in the previous two parts consumed and pushed over the edge by the major superpower surge.  Though it doesn’t make these next few pages any less satisfying.

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So let’s talk about this scene.  Let’s admire that the Justice League straight up stops the fight because they know three pages in they won’t be able to win.  But those crazy voices?  Besides being a scene I’m going to skip?  It’s one of the most effective ways to stop Superman: mess with his mind.  Use illusions, fight emotionally instead of physically, use truth bombs, etc.  Superman may be a Man of Steel, but he has a paper-thin heart.  We’ll skip Batman crying about his parents, but indulge in Batman’s final maniacal monologue (though on a small level, it is correct) before Clark Kent and Zatanna play their hand.

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Don’t despair, you know this is what Batman really wanted.  We saw how the venom made Batman into a similar monster.  He simply doesn’t cope well with superpowers no matter how much he claims otherwise, much like me and a bottle of wine.  Look, I adore Batman and we all knew the status quo would force the two’s switch to reverse itself.  But as readers, writers, and Batman himself have pointed out constantly, the only real difference between him and his rogues gallery is that Batman’s obsession is justice as opposed to anything evil.  And honestly, it’s my favorite thing about him.  After batarangs.

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Bittersweet endings still qualify as happy endings.


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