Steel vs. Lex Luthor

As we end our week of fights and hope that the gooey romance aura of Bill and Kelda has fully washed off (though we’ll be covering Amadeus Cho and Delphyne Gorgon’s love story next week), rejoice in a new milestone for this blog: both our combatants today are bald.  You should probably sit down and stop clutching your heart in excitement.

You know Lex Luthor already.  He’s the egotistical billionaire who may be the most influential and important supervillain in the DC universe.  His megalomania and insatiable greed aside, I admire a man who’s battle outfit’s a well-tailored suit.  But it’s okay if you’re not familiar with the superhero Steel.  Let him introduce himself from Steel #1, written by Joe Bogdanove & Louise Simonson and drawn by Chris Batista:

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Steel (John Henry Irons) premiered in 1993 following the death of Superman.  Please take a moment and soak in those cartoonishly large ’90s muscles.  Anyway, four Superman replacements showed up in Metropolis, Steel being one of them.  He has no superpowers, just a genius technical mind and a metal suit of armor.  He’s Iron Man with a hammer.  Also, Shaquille O’Neal played him in a movie.

So we cut to 52 #40, with all the credits given in the first page I’ll show you below.  I loved the idea of 52.  Following the DC event Infinite Crisis, the big three (Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman) took a year off from fighting crime.  Unfortunately, supervillains still enacted their dastardly schemes and 52 covered what happened during that year.  Like Black Adam fighting every single superhero in the known DC universe.  At once.  By himself.  But in our issue today, Luthor has kidnapped Steel’s niece.  Rescue time.

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Steel brings the Teen Titans with him.  Luthor and Steel have been antagonizing each other the whole series, by the way.  Our bald bad guy discovered technology that gave normal dudes superpowers and then caused a whole bunch of death and destruction, so our bald good guy has been punching him every ten issues or so.  Now it’s time for the finale.

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In a fight that can only happen in comic books, Steel’s about to lose his armor.  I think it’d be better if you saw it than if I explained it.

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James Bond doesn’t fight shapeshifting giant crabs.  That’s a superhero thing.  Most importantly, in a world filled with spandex and unnecessary cleavage, it’s wildly refreshing to see Steel wearing jeans under his armor.  And though he possesses no superpowers except some justified rage and a sledgehammer, that should be more than enough to take down Luthor, right?  It’s not as if Luthor’s a Muay Thai champion or can pop out adamantium claws.

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I know that Luthor’s immune to sledgehammers, but Steel didn’t realize Luthor’s durability was that high when he attacked.  Which means that if everything went according to plan, Steel’s best case scenario is Luthor’s head popping like a watermelon at a Gallagher show followed by Steel and his niece walking triumphantly out of the building with Luthor’s organs around their necks as a disgusting gold medal.  Or maybe he figured Luthor’s laser eyes meant full-strength hammer strikes would just bruise or something.  Either way, let Steel’s very Superman-esque words ring forth:

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Keep in mind Luthor did outright murder dozens of people he gave the Everyman superpower serum by having them fly in the sky and then suddenly turning off their superpowers.  Luthor’s bad karma has reached astronomic levels, and Steel, even with fecal matter leaking into his small intestine, is the only chance of cashing in those karmic chips.  I mean, not immediately, because Luthor’s currently invincible.

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We’re all friends, so I can admit that my research failed to mention how he lost his hand.  For Steel at least, it’s a solid conversation topic for Aquaman and him if they bump into each other at the JLA Watchtower.

Luthor’s ego’ll always bring about his own self-inflicted fall, even if Natasha Irons wasn’t a scientific super genius like her uncle.  Because though Steel can’t win against a superpowered Luthor, he can totally wipe the floor with a normal Luthor.  Lex really should have learned Muay Thai.

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Next week: more minor characters fall in love/fight monsters.


Livewire attempts crime

Harley Quinn didn’t emerge onto the comic book scene alone.  A bunch of other less popular, non-solo series starring supervillains joined her in the print medium.  It isn’t as great for them as you sound — Superman and his buddies tend to be far more powerful when you read them.  Leslie Willis (now the supervillain Livewire) finds this out the hard way, than finds it out three more times with other superheroes.  I know supervillains are destined to fail, but this poor girl suffers embarrassing losses. Y’see, much like the Wicked Witch of the West, our electric-themed baddie possesses a debilitating weakness to water — which as you know is like 70% of the planet.  And thus, her crime sprees remain short-lived.  Very short-lived.

Livewire vs. Batgirl
Batgirl #4, written by Bryan Q. Miller and drawn by Tim Levins & Lee Garbett

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But that’s not totally fair to Livewire.  The Bat-people always over-prepare.  That’s the number one trait that keeps normal humans with zero superpowers alive when facing supervillains who can fry cars and zap batarangs.  Worse, there’s nothing subtle about screaming demands and basically lighting an electric flare gun into the sky for all vigilantes to see.  Mystique often gets away because she can sneak out as a security guard or whatever — Livewire’s escape plans involve staying away from sprinklers and praying for an alien invasion to distract the Justice League.  So what about those opponents who don’t have suits packed full of rubber?

Livewire vs. Supergirl
Supergirl #30, written by Will Pfeifer and drawn by Ron Randall

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Look, Livewire has the same problem as Captain Planet.  The dude fights pollution but that’s his weakness as well.  He can explode garbage barges but he passes out when a banana peel flies out and hits him in the chest.  Livewire thrives around technology that she can exploit, but technology also includes sewer systems, pipe lines, faucets, squirt guns, etc.  And while I don’t know what creatures of pure energy smell like, she can’t smell terrific without being able to clean herself.  Still, I should give her some due — she totally gave Superman some trouble back when she first premiered.  Some trouble, as in just a little.

Livewire vs. Superman
Action Comics #835, written by Gail Simone and drawn by John Byrne

This one’ll probably need some back story.  Livewire’s half-brother kidnapped Lois Lane, knowing full well that Superman shows up to save her every single time.  The same Superman that can bench press the moon.

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Notice that even when you smack Superman with enough electricity to power a small village, he still takes the time to address you politely.  The bootastic Livewire knows full well what Superman can do, but supervillains always have to find out the hard way.

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When even children aren’t scared of Livewire, what chance does she have against the Man of Steel? But the best part of this fight?  Besides Lois Lane’s upcoming pun?  Superman wins using that wonderful brain of his, like Batman does when his hands get sore from all the punching.

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Gail Simone writes the best dialogue in comics.  I miss Superman and Lois Lane as a couple, though Wonder Woman does have the same wild abandonment of fear combined with a delightful sense of humor that we enjoy in our superheroes/supporting cast.  Plus, swords and lassos and invisible planes and stuff.

But I still may be treating Livewire unfairly.  So she can’t go up against the A-listers — very few supervillains can.  How about a challenge more on her level?  Someone she can battle that’ll gives her a chance at actually winning?

Livewire vs. Jimmy Olsen
Superman #711, written by J. Michael Straczynski & Chris Roberson and drawn by Eddy Barrows

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Never mind.


The further animated love of Mr. Freeze & Nora

To summarize last article, Mr. Freeze’s love for his former wife, then popsicle, then ex-wife Nora bleeds so deeply that the supervillain would rather see Nora happy with another man than settle for the robot head he is currently.  But the heart wants what the heart wants, even when one doesn’t actually have a heart. We pick up with the second half of today’s love story in Batman: Gotham Adventures #51, written by Jason Hall and drawn by Brad Rader.

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You may think Nora’s husband D’Anjou as petty or jealous (of which he’s a twinge of both), but can you blame him?  We assume that Nora knows Mr. Freeze faked his death.  Mr. Freeze hangs out in Arkham Asylum and anytime a supervillain gets punched by Batman, I bet it would make the papers. Though it has to have been years since they’ve seen each other.  Surely, Nora doesn’t feel the same way about Victor Fries nowadays.

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Love re-ignited!  Just going by how many women Beast and the Thing have dated, women rarely get turned off from a horrible physical condition (blue fur, rock skin, icy robot bodies, etc.).  But if Mr. Freeze has an arch-nemesis, I’d argue for the status quo.  Because any character that’s entire motivation revolves around pining for his star-crossed wife, it’ll have to return that way.  Like with this shocker:

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But instead of a radical change to the comic book universe, Mr. Freeze gains character development, usually the plot device used in place of permanent changes.  I’m not being negative either — we as readers feel the same satisfaction with the added benefit of expecting an infinite more stories.  Plus, I have a soft spot for Gotham City’s goo monster:

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Okay, so I lied.  I wrote a hundred words of nothing.  Y’see, comics based on the animated series aren’t subject to the same strict rules of canon the “main” universe is forced to abide by — such as Earth 2, Ultimate Marvel, and any comics where superheroes go into the future.  So the two’s love story comes to an end in Batman Adventures #15, written by Hall and drawn by Kelsey Shannon.

Remember a few pages back when Nora’s husband D’Anjou hid Mr. Freeze’s letters?

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To be fair to her husband, Mr. Freeze does have hundreds of comic issues where he’s been a homicidal maniac.  Like most Gotham supervillains, he kills more of his henchmen than the Bat family knocks out.  He has really no hesitation in killing all sorts of innocent and not-so-innocent people. Kinda hard to root for the guy.  But he did spend his entire life trying to perfect Nora’s — and it cost him everything.  A part of me really does want him to win, at least until whenever he pops up later and turns a bank vault into an ice rink or whatever.  For now, watch for that solitary tear about to roll down your cheek:

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While Mr. Freeze may have attempted to start over far away from anyone he could hurt, the Dark Knight doesn’t forget crimes past.  Or forgive.  Or anything that doesn’t involve a batarang to the skull. Enter the roadblock to love, the one man who abstains from killing everything but romance

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Robots don’t count as murder, so Batman can fly home with a clear conscience.  Look, while you can no doubt figure out this story doesn’t have a happy ending, it does have end hopefully.  Batman can perform miracles, but even with a utility belt full of deus ex machinas, he can’t roundhouse kick true love.  And despite Mr. Freeze’s body count (all fictional people so we let it slide), don’t the two deserve a second shot?

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The animated love of Mr. Freeze & Nora

Since comic book characters are fictional characters, there can be many different versions of them running around at once.  Thank goodness too, because that just means more Batmen chucking batarangs at bad guys.  And so while the animated shows don’t classify as the canon stories, they still tell stories.  Good stories.  Like the romance between animated Mr. Freeze and his wife, animated Nora Fries.

The tragic origin of Mr. Freeze premiered on the cartoon and then transferred over to the comics, where if you don’t know — meaning you’re most likely my parents — Victor Fries’ wife fell into a deep illness.  To save her life, Victor cryogenically froze her.  An accident followed and Victor Fries’ body chemistry altered to only allow survival in below freezing temperatures.  Hence the suit he now wears. But in the animated world, Victor (now the supervillain Mr. Freeze) and his obsession with curing his wife comes to an end in the movie Batman & Mr. Freeze: Sub Zero, setting up a much different dynamic in future stories.  An adapted version of the film came out in comic book form in Batman & Robin Adventures: Sub Zero, written by Kelley Puckett and drawn by Joe Staton.

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You can argue morality or ethics, but threats tend to work fairly well in the comic book world.  And while superheroes and supervillain roll through the revolving death/resurrection door like it’s a Sunday brunch, civilians don’t have that luxury.  Basically, Gregory is totally going to find an organ donor.  As I skip the entire plot and jump right to the finale, the status quo changes forever:

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Dear Nora now walks among the living fully cured.  Though Mr. Freeze remains one of the most brilliant scientists and powerful bad guys in the DC universe, I’m more impressed he befriended two polar bears.  Off topic, but just so you know, Mr. Freeze and Nora’s relationship isn’t the only one that warmed up during the movie/comic:

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The next part of our story lies in cartoon form only.  Here’s where my stash of images can’t help you. Check out The New Batman Adventures episode “Cold Comfort” for the full version, but I’ll spoil it now if you wish to save twenty minutes (YouTube has it if you want to watch it).  So Nora totally waited for her dear Victor to return to her outstretched arms.  He did not, but his reason is valid — y’see, spending every single moment of his time searching for Nora’s cure neglected his own condition.  He was doused in experimental chemicals after all.  So now he has no body, just a head that runs around on adorable spider legs.  And to make a bad situation even worse, with no word from Victor, Nora gets sick of waiting and marries her Wayne Corp doctor instead.  

We pick up soon after that in Batman: Gotham Adventures #5, written by the wonderful Ty Templeton and drawn by Rick Burchett.

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This moment melts my heart, because for all the evil and apathy that Mr. Freeze claims, it’s a selflessness that drives his love for Nora.  He doesn’t care that Nora’s happy with him — he simply cares that Nora’s happy.  It’s beautiful, and something endearing we don’t normally see in supervillains.  I mean, I don’t think the Joker wants Harley Quinn to be happy, much less happy with him.  Lex Luthor’s only love is that smug face staring back at him in the mirror.  The list goes on, though you should know that on the hero side, Supergirl once dated her horse.  That’s a DC fact Flashpoint can never erase.

Anyway, as the story above wraps up, one important detail about Victor and Nora’s relationship remains unchanged:

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New husband with Scorsese eyebrows aside, Nora will always love Victor.  Always.  We’ll pick up with the second half of the love story next time complete with a real ending and everything.  You’ll be wiping that single tear off your cheek as you close this tab on Monday, so make sure you have a Dido CD ready for full effect.


Sportsmaster’s reign of terror

While I read old comics that Sportsmaster (real name Lawrence “Crusher” Crock) appeared in, I came across one that deserved its own article.  A comic from 1965 that’s silly, goofy, and loaded with horrific never-ending sports puns.  Today, enjoy select scenes from The Brave and the Bold #62, written by Gardner Fox and drawn by Murphy Anderson — an issue that wanted to be serious, action-packed, and loaded with horrific never-ending sports puns.  If we can forgive superheroes for wearing underwear on the outside of their clothes, let’s also give puns a pass.

I know that if I wrote an article cataloging every time Batman and Catwoman made out instead of covering a fifty year-old comic starring a supervillain with only twenty appearances under his belt, I’d receive 30x the hits this one’ll get.  I regret nothing.  I have a soft spot for the weirdos.

Oh, and before we begin, I stated last article that I didn’t look too deeply into Green Lantern Alan Scott’s weakness to wood.  Aside from not wanting to scan Wikipedia for the answer, I think my real solution will be to stop writing these things at 1 AM.  Luckily, my dear friend Reid Vanier explains it for us.  Thanks buddy!

Alan Scott – his weakness to wood is a result of the Starheart (the green flame that gives him his power) deriving its power from green, living things. So employing the “you can’t defend against yourself” logic, the Starheart cannot defend Alan Scott against anything made of plant matter, specifically wood. This comes up a lot in his early battles with Solomon Grundy, who is largely composed of plant material. Also, see: http://modernmythologies.com/2013/10/02/diametrically-opposed-golden-age-green-lantern-solomon-grundy/.

Let’s take a look at our cover today.  Behold a small preview chunk of this delightful cake:

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Sportsmaster flying on a single ski as he chucks the other one at Starman?  Promiscuous Lady Tarzan swing-kicking into Black Canary?  A special super-star comeback for Wildcat?  How can anyone be more excited?  Starman (real name Ted Knight) premiered in 1941, two years after Batman and nine months before Wonder Woman.  Using his cosmic rod, Starman operates exactly like Green Lantern except without that pesky wood weakness.

To fully understand the criminal undertones Sportsmaster possesses, feast your eyes on his opening heist.  While he may not turn thievery into an art form, he can at least do the opposite.

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Take a moment.  Breathe in and out.  Let’s count the insanity we all just witnessed:
1) Sportsmaster dresses like a fisherman when using his fishing rod.
2) He wears his actual supervillain costume underneath the plaid and vest.
3) He does the above after hiding for hours inside a statue.
4) He escapes on rocket skis.
5) After all that, Sportsmaster only planned to steal a trophy.
6) Old mustard is not sport slang for “fighting spirit.”  I checked.

Thankfully, to stop Sportsmaster from stealing twenty bucks worth of metal, Starman and Black Canary volunteer to battle our dangerous antagonists.  But first this happens:

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Sportsmaster’ll totally protect and his partner-in-crime-and-marriage Huntress.  No morals doesn’t mean no heart.  Commence round one.  Game on.  En guarde.  Touchdown.

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You’re about to witness one of Black Canary’s most humiliating moments.  That includes dating Green Arrow for decades.

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That’s no way for a superhero to bonk their head on a tree.  Her feet flail high in the air as she slams her skull much in the style of an unconscious skydiver.  The two supervillain masterminds escape to rob another day.  Will their next plot be as dastardly as the first one?  Will truth, justice, and the American way prevail against such evil?  Will Sportsmaster wear an appropriately themed outfit?

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If you don’t fully follow the newest scheme, Sportsmaster and Huntress plan to steal $100,000 by knocking out every single golfer in the tournament with a ball to the noggin.  While riding a magic putting green.  Sometimes I think I missed out on something enchanting back in the ’60s.  Especially the potential of sky battle golf.

Finally our superheroes give these baddies the beatings they deserve:

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A happy ending!  Thankfully the trophy returned to its owner, saving an intern from making a single awkward phone call.  But before we finish our journey, I’d be remiss for us not to read Wildcat’s story within this issue.  After all, his name and face appear on the cover promising his special super-star comeback:

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Never mind.


The adventures of Sportsmaster

I’m still utterly delighted reading about the supervillain Sportsmaster.  He has no superpowers, just a baseball bat and delusional dreams.  While you can imagine a man named Sportsmaster has no place in modern superheroics (ex: the New 52), his past journeys and battles will always have a place in our open hearts.  Seriously, think Mark McGuire if he turned to a life of crime.

Today, we’ll be checking out in order:
Detective Comics #786, written by Ed Brubaker and drawn by Patrick Zircher
Batman: The Brave and the Bold #11, written by J. Torries and drawn by Carlo Barberi
Batman Adventures #6, written by Ty Templeton and drawn by Rick Burchett
Final Crisis Aftermath: Run! #2-3, written by Matthew Sturges and drawn by Freddie Williams II
Infinity Inc. #35, written by Roy & Dan Thomas and drawn by Todd McFarlane
JSA Classified #5, written by Jen Van Meter and drawn by Patrick Olliffe

So have you heard this story before?

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Y’see, the first Green Lantern Alan Scott, who wore less of a uniform and more a gaudy Las Vegas magician’s outfit, has a secret weakness.  Only one weapon can defeat the man wielding the most powerful weapon in the universe: wood.  I don’t know why, and I didn’t do enough research to get a satisfactory answer.  But when you have superheroes created in the 1940s, you just tend to accept the silliness without many questions.  Plus, I like the idea that a supervillain’s weapon of choice includes exploding baseballs.

Lawrence “Crusher” Crock, the original Sportsmaster who had the honor of fighting the first wave of superheroes — Green Lantern, Starman, etc. — shows up sporadically throughout comic history. Luckily for Crock, when DC cashed in on their animated shows by releasing counterpart comics, Sportsmaster did receive some ink, like when he gets his butt kicked by Huntress:

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Yes, you had to suffer a lot of sport puns.  Did you notice this Sportsmaster uses a trophy as his weapon?  He attempts to knock out Huntress by flailing around the Stanley Cup.  His humiliation doesn’t end here.  He also gets wildly emasculated by Batman:

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I figure Sportsmaster just throws darts at a sporting goods catalog to put together an outfit, because he wears something different every time he shows up.  Though nothing can beat his Green-Arrow-as-a-minor-league-cyborg-baseball-player look.  Check out this beauty:

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As you soon purge Sportsmaster from your memory, which you have every right to do, know that his legacy continues.  We can make fun of him, tease him, joke about his stupidity, but we do have to think him for one important addition to the DC universe — Artemis Crock, Sportsmaster’s daughter.

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Artemis later changes her identity to Tigress:

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And if you’ve seen the Young Justice cartoon, then you know her as the female Green Arrow:

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On a final note, as I searched the depths of comics for everything Sportsmaster related, I came across a brilliant gem from 1965.  It highlights everything so insane about a sports-themed bad guy that you’ll be blinded by the simultaneous shock and admiration that this is an actual comic book story bought by actual comic book readers.  But I don’t want to hype it up — you’ll see all its glory on Friday.


Wildcat vs. Sportsmaster

That’s the real name of a supervillain — Sportsmaster.  He’s been around since the 40s, and really the only decade he could have possibly been invented during.  Here’s one of his earliest appearances in Green Lantern #28, volume one:

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So it’s like if Olympic athletes decided to fight superheroes using only equipment currently in their hotel room.  The Sportsmaster’s ego truly amazes me, especially when he’s talking trash and waving around a tennis racket against Green Lantern, who has a weapon that makes literally anything the user wants with enough force to bring down Superman-level supervillains.

Today, we’re focusing on the second Sportsmaster — oh yes, more than one of these guys have existed.  In JSA Classified #26-27, written by Frank Tieri and drawn by Matt Haley & Gordon Purcell, our featured bad guy Sportsmaster (real name Victor Gover) gets to brawl with Wildcat (real name Ted Grant), who possesses all the superpowers of a 60 year-old boxer.  But first, let Wildcat reminisce:

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I’d like to build up this battle as a thrilling back-and-forth as the Justice Society-er Wildcat scraps with the agile hockey stick-wielding Sportsmaster, but even a comic book reader’s suspension of disbelief only goes so far.  Wildcat beats the ever-loving crap out of Gover.

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Though Wildcat savagely crushed Sportsmaster’s bones and spirit, he did it out of tough love, y’know? Sometimes, that’s the only way for a fighter to realize the truth, or else they’ll never stop making Rocky movies.  Though this mentioned superhero betting place?  Genius:

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While I’m no expert on addicts, I imagine the bad behaviors continually re-surface, especially when scary mob bosses offer Sportsmaster another chance to erase all those outstanding betting debts. And I’m sorry for spoiling everything today.

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Remember how Sportsmaster lost horrifically to an elderly man with no superpowers wearing a cat costume?  Now he gets to do the same thing, just against Hourman, Mr. Terrific, Power Girl, Damage, and the Flash.  It must be a helluva trump card held by Joe the Slob, because exploding soccer balls won’t even scratch Power Girl, much less the other four powerhouses.

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Ma Hunkel’s an old woman serving as the JSA’s Alfred Pennyworth-figure.  So now the JSA has to either throw the match or lose their dear chef.

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There seems to be a trend in supervillains that the fewer powers one has, the more arrogant one acts. I imagine mainly for comedic effect, but when the Flash can circle the entire planet and hit you with a punch hard enough to blast your organs across the continent before you’ve even finished your first egotistical sentence — why all the cockiness?  Trump card aside, Sportsmaster should at least shake hands and thank the JSA for their participation.  Y’know, or else this could happen:

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Poor Sportsmaster just realized that superhero problems tend to get solved with violence rather than a discussion or vote.  It’s the default problem solver for those that wear spandex and capes.  One doesn’t spend a decade learning martial arts and crafting their twelve-pack abs to simply chat about their disagreements.

Hopefully this experience has been educational for Sportsmaster.

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admire Wildcat’s brand of tough love.  He takes the Batman method of pounding opponents until they’re human goo, then threatening them to go straight or next time he’ll batarang their spine.  Gover never shows up again, but he does get to be a permanent mark in the win category for Wildcat, sadly living in a world plagued by the ever repeating status quo.

Sportsmaster should fight Superman.


Nothing romantic about Harley Quinn & Joker

In an effort to scrounge up some inspiration/desperately hope something triggers an article idea, I googled “best superhero couples.”  Three results on the first page have Harley Quinn and Joker on their list.  I googled “best DC couples.”  Two results on the first page have Harley Quinn and Joker on their list.  What’s going on?  Why are they on those lists?  One can’t justify anything sexy about a psychopathic abusive manipulative violent egotistical supervillain dating anyone, much less the emotionally-shattered and deranged Harley Quinn.  I don’t want to judge the readers’ personal preference, but tell me, what’s romantic about this?

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Harley Quinn has only existed for a little over twenty years.  And while comic books haven’t always been kind to women (though they’re definitely getting better), is it romance we feel for Harley’s affections?  What about uneasiness?  Frustration?  Anger?  Even if the Joker’s capable of love of any sort (which is highly debatable), it’s Batman who has his heart, not Joker’s bubbly sidekick.  Look, I love the Joker.  I love Harley Quinn.  Those two endlessly fascinate me and both are such rich, bold characters.  But we shouldn’t celebrate the two of them being together.

I’m going to use the following issues today:
Batman: Harley Quinn, written by Paul Dini and drawn by Yvel Guichet
Gotham City Sirens #19, written by Peter Calloway and drawn by Andres Guinaldo
Gotham City Sirens #21, written by Calloway and drawn by Guinaldo
Batman #13, volume 2, written by Scott Snyder and drawn by Greg Capullo
Suicide Squad #14-15, volume 3, written by Fred Glass and drawn by Fernando Dagnino

After her huge success in Batman: The Animated Series, it was only a matter of time before she premiered in the comics.  Her first appearance took place right in the middle of the Batman event No Man’s Land, where like pretty much every appearance Harley Quinn and the Joker have together, her dear boyfriend attempts to assassinate her:

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Be honest, do you feel romance or pity for poor Harley?

I’ve posted these next series of images before (also because Gotham City Sirens constantly delighted me), and any comparison between the Dark Knight and Joker’s obsessions (each other, essentially) hits a nerve we don’t like to admit.  Superman’s the perfect one, Batman’s as wildly emotionally damaged as the Joker.  Though without the murdering.

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After this conversation where Catwoman and Harley Quinn both realize they love emotionally unavailable men, Harley Quinn figures she should solve her lingering kryptonite the ol’ supervillain way.

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To be fair to Catwoman, Batman has never tried to explode his paramours.  And while we constantly wonder why Harley Quinn goes back to that psychopath, it’s important to know that the dear girl’s just as messed up as her remorseless boyfriend.  Or at least as delusional.

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This scene may be one of the finest I’ve read in a long time.  You see all that anger slowly fade to a mush of only the happy memories to give us a small glimpse as to why she returns infinitely to his open arms.  Thankfully, I think the Batman event Death of the Family that recently took place ended the two’s rendezvouses for a few years.  Status quo’ll demand she’ll eventually get smacked by a giant axe or suffer severe acid burns at the hands of Joker, but trust me — Harley came out of this event with some serious trauma.

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Skinned face Joker is super scary, right?

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While some critics complained of too many lengthy, philosophical Joker rants filling the pages, I’ve always been a sucker for insane supervillain speeches.  This new Joker feels that any PTSD main course must come with an appetizer of a lecture.  Sure, everyone from Nightwing to Batgirl to Robin to Red Hood to Batman received their Joker speech, Harley Quinn’s hits especially hard as she’s spent half her life making out with that dude.

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I don’t think we’re witnessing any revelations here.  Harley’s almost certainly the first and only one, as Joker pulled similar stunts with the Batkids.  If you like, pick up Harley Quinn #1 released a few weeks ago.  I’m really hoping for success with her new solo series.  Fictional as she may be, I’ll always be rooting for Harley Quinn.

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Martian Manhunter vs. Despero, Pt. 2

After his assist from Aquaman last article, Martian Manhunter has to brawl his way to victory by himself today.  The two aliens who both wear clothing that makes any lady superhero costume look Amish, have far more differences than their appearances give off.  Martian Manhunter, the tragic final survivor of his ruined planet, fights valiantly to protect his adopted home from suffering the same fate. Despero, the naked tyrant from the well-populated planet Kalanor, only wishes to seek vengeance on and destroy that pesky Justice League.  Commence the punching.

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So why Gypsy, you ask?  She helped take down Despero during his “mad god” phase last article. The mid ’80s to early ’90s were a strange time for comics, where diversity meant loading up on gimmicky characters with slightly racist names.  Though we should still at least half-heartedly applaud the efforts of the publishers.  Diversity before then meant adding a Martian to a team of white dudes. In the fight we’re currently seeing, we finally get some of that good ol’ telepathy clashing.  Psychic fights translate well into comics, where the visuals can highlight the subconscious better than other forms of literature.  Not to unashamedly plug my own stuff, but remember this fight between Professor X and Emma Frost (and Cyclops)?  Brain battles tend to get both weird and emotionally painful.

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That kind of attack can even bring Batman to his knees, who like Martian Manhunter, wears his tragic past like a waving flag to remind himself that his quest to prevent innocent deaths’ll never end.  Also, to chuck batarangs at criminals.  But for the sake of argument, let’s compare Martian Manhunter and Despero to the Marvel sorcerers.  Yes, Doctor Strange would totally beat Doctor Doom in a head-to-head magic battle, but even he’s not immune to ambushes and surprise spells.  More importantly, I’ve been reading a lot of Fantastic Four recently.  Our protagonist today can certainly overpower Despero in a telepathic brawl, but not if Despero sucker punches.  Though, round two on the other hand:

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And now we jump twenty years into the New 52.  Not much has changed for Despero, as he’s still a nude, angry, mauling psychopath who enjoys gloating as much as crushing pitiful humans.  But Martian Manhunter has definitely changed.  Our Choco-loving friend nowadays scares the bejeebees out of anyone who contacts him.  He works in the shadows.  He wears a collar.  If you say his name three times, he pops out of a mirror.  Think less Casper the Friendly Ghost and more Casper the Violent Ghost Who Can Punch Through Walls.  But first, let’s admire how far artwork has progressed in two decades:

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I always thought Despero needed an accessory.  If not underwear, a ring would be a close second. Look, Despero has no idea what he’s dealing with — Martian Manhunter has gone full badass these past few years.

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Remember that telepathy fight from the beginning of the article?  Turns out like Superman, who has to hold back his attacks to avoid turning every single bad guy he encounters into a pile of supervillain goo, Martian Manhunter does the same thing with his mind powers.  Despero never stood a chance.

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I liked the sentimental Martian Manhunter of the past, but I don’t mind the new frightening Martian Manhunter.  While I’d love to see a rematch sometime soon, I’ll settle for Despero to get some pants. Make it a mini-series.


Martian Manhunter vs. Despero, Pt. 1

When you consider the sheer number of supervillains running around on Earth (Batman and Superman alone have about 230 each if you count the one-timers), it’s only a matter of time before the baddies have to come from space.  Only so many chemical vats drip into prison cells and gives murderers lava arms or whatever.  Despero’s created to be one of those pesky extraterrestrials who invades our planet to mess with the do-gooders.  Specifically Martian Manhunter.  Something about them both being aliens.  Plus, like Martian Manhunter, Despero’s also a scary monstrous being who wears very little clothing:

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Over the next two articles, we’re going to see a few of their clashes throughout the 50+ years of combat.  To save time, here are all the articles I’m using in the order I’m using them:

  • Justice League of America #38, volume 2, written by James Robinson and drawn by Mark Bagley
  • Justice League of America #1, volume 1, written by Gardner Fox and drawn by Mike Sekowsky
  • Justice League of America #178, volume 1, written by Gerry Conway and drawn by Dick Dillin & Frank McLaughlin
  • Justice League of America #253, volume 1, written by Conway and drawn by Luke McDonnell
  • JLA #116-118, written by Geoff Johns & Allan Heinberg and drawn by Chris Batista
  • Justice League America #39-40, written by Keith Giffen & J.M. DeMatteis and drawn by Adam Hughes & Jose Marzan Jr.
  • Justice League #19-20, written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Ivan Reis, Zadder Cannon, Gene Ha, Andres Guinaldo, & Joe Prado

Despero’s first appearance also marks the first issue of the Justice League series (the team appeared before then in the The Brave and the Bold series).  You’d think the first issue would feature an world-destroying threat that can only be solved by the combined team’s power of friendship, but the stakes remained far lower.  As in Despero played the Flash in action figure chess.

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Note one of the very few times Despero’s wearing clothes.  As the years passed, so did his muscle growth and thus he started wearing just a cape.  Not even underwear.  Just a cape.  But we have a few issues before we get to that (unfortunate) reveal — though for all the complaints about women’s costumes being too sexy, how about some male Despero skin for you?  Especially if you like evil red aliens.

Despero, besides possessing super strength on par with Superman (which puts him a few pegs above Martian Manhunter), also gets a genius intellect and a third eye capable of mind control, illusions, telepathy, and all that jazz.  His rivalry with the Martian superhero begins a few issues down the road — I’m jumping around for the sake of storytelling.  Mainly, early Despero really loved playing action figure chess.

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Soon their relationship evolves (devolves?) into punching each other into unconsciousness, but nothing like a little sporting game to get revenge.  I understand that our featured supervillain doesn’t exactly make readers grip their chairs in suspense.  DC understood that as well, so in 1986 (in a story that’s very ’80s), Despero gets a power/ego upgrade.  We’re down to half clothing and I’ve included the best part of any supervillain reign of terror — the gloating monologue.

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I don’t think it’s an accident that Batman’s in a Jesus pose.  Despero becomes a real threat, and not just because summon he can dragon statues.  To clear up any misgivings though, Despero’s not a god.  Not even close, because he’s eventually taken out by Vibe — the former breakdancer who holds the honor of being the first Justice League member killed in action.  That guy had a soul patch.

But let’s get to the meat of today’s first half.  Back when Zatanna mindwiped all the supervillains, things became hunky-dory until the bad guys all showed up one day with their memories returned and a justifiable chip on their shoulders.  Who could possibly possess the power to reverse the effect of such a powerful magic spell?  Hint: his name is in the title of the article.

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There’s the nude Despero we know and love.  More importantly, this’ll firmly establish Despero as a major part of Martian Manhunter’s rogue gallery.  We go back about twenty years on Wednesday (see the middle panel on the bottom row of the first page below for a preview), but I figured we could all enjoy some modern day naked punching before all that.

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We know Martian Manhunter doesn’t end this fight with a crushed skull and a giggling Despero.  But with the Justice League busy dealing with other immediate threats and Martian Manhunter unable to contact any of them, who’ll come to his rescue?  Hopefully someone of immense strength.  Someone who inspires fear in the heart of evil.  Someone whose strength is only matched by his immeasurable willpower.  Martian Manhunter needs a hero, gosh darn it.

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We joke about Aquaman’s silliness.  You don’t have to convince me otherwise, I already know he’s a badass.  Truthfully, Aquaman can totally be useful, especially in a construction site filled with sharp rods.  Still, Martian Manhunter can’t take on this massive nude threat alone, so time to combine his powers with a tidal wave and a shark-tamer.

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Right?  That’s a lot of primary colors battling it out.  Though the two eventually lose the fight, they at least win my heart.  Next time we get a lot more beatdowns and open threats.  Aliens really don’t like each other.


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