Batman vs. Bane: New 52

Do you enjoy Batman and Bane beating on each other but prefer the newer artistic techniques of modern day comics?  Well, I’m not going to let you wallow in early ’90s self-pity.  Today, we’ll cap off our five weeks of Batman-related articles (or we’ll keep going, I haven’t decided yet) with Batman and Bane’s newest battle in the responsibly titled Forever Evil Aftermath: Batman vs. Bane one-shot, written by Peter J. Tomasi and drawn by Scot Eaton.  As with many things in the New 52, the venom-riddled Bane we know and love is back.  No recovery, no speeches about weakness, etc.  Just Bane’s veins pumped full of that delightful neon drug and a desire to pummel the Dark Knight until he has a permanent bat symbol stained on his fists.

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Did you read the DC event Forever Evil?  All the superheroes disappeared, the Crime Syndicate (evil Justice League) took over, and the bad guys briefly won if only by default because of no good guys were around to stop them.  Bane used his time wisely.  He took over Gotham City.

By the way, I love this issue — both speak in such grandiose terms and broad metaphors in between hitting each other with statues and stuff.

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I get that the venom makes Bane superpowered, but for all his bravado, even he wouldn’t survive a thirty-ish story fall onto Gotham City pavement.  And he’s a large man — it’d be a lot of mess to clean up.  Sadly, Bane’s Kingpin of Gotham status lasts exactly until Batman shows his face again. Marvel’s Kingpin still traverses New York City with his ninja army and drug mules no matter how many times Spider-Man, Daredevil, or Punisher take him down.  Hell, Daredevil and Punisher left New York months ago — the Kingpin outlasted even the superheroes.  But poor Bane, because Batman’s far scarier than Spider-Man could ever be.

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Beautiful movie action hero line by Batman.  Has Bane thought about wearing sleeves or a helmet maybe?  I’m no strategist, but when Batman ambushes him, he’ll almost certainly aim for the parts that aren’t protected by clothes.  Batman certainly adjusted.  As Batman’s costume has slowly evolved into armor over the past decade or so, we accept more readily that the Dark Knight can take a hit and bounce back.  As you read these next pages, could you really see spandex Batman walking away from blows like these?

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Obviously Bane has to lose this fight.  It’s part of the downside of being a supervillain.  But if we can give him credit, he took a fall from a skyscraper, four batarangs, innumerable punches and kicks, and a stone child to take him down.  I’m just saying the Riddler would have been out by the first batarang. So while Bane hasn’t shown up in the New 52 since this issue, at least he went out like a man.  A delusional man ranting nonsense and addicted to drugs.  But still.

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Batgirl’s daddy issues

Cassandra Cain’s daddy issues.  Because despite whatever problems Barbara Gordon has with her loving cop father or Stephanie Brown has with her minor supervillain father, poor Cassandra received the short end of the family stick.  Her mercenary/assassin father David Cain raised her as a small child without stuff like language, toys, fun, happiness, etc. to essentially make her into a perfect body language-reading weapon.  Perfect assassin upbringing, perfect assassin genes (her mother’s Lady Shiva), perfect plan — except for Batman.  Now, our dear girl can talk, but all those lingering psychological traumas still exist wedged deeply in her psyche.  Until Batgirl #5-6, volume two, written by Adam Beechen and drawn by J. Calafiore.  Time for some daddy problems to be solved. By punching.  Always by punching.

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Think of David Cain as a duplicate of Deathstroke without the obsession of battling large groups of teenagers.  Actually, Batgirl (and Ravager) fought Deathstroke a few issues back, but that’s for another time.  Batgirl stopped Cain from killing Oracle, and now she has to take out her father one final time.  Recently, Cain and Deathstroke drugged her and made her kill dudes again, causing a rift in the Batfamily, so Batgirl figures one more death won’t add much to the pile.  Also, Cain deserves it.

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I want you to know that while Cain’s about to murder his daughter that he trained/raised since a child, it still hurts him.  Like it would hurt us if we had to shoot children, y’know, assuming we’re all insane evil sociopaths.  The whole arc includes themes about the idea of right versus wrong when it comes to killing.  It’s an idea that pops up in every other Batman issue and also, truthfully, can only exist in the fictional world of comic books.  But one thing we can’t argue: Cain gave Cassandra a terrible childhood.

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Turns out old mercenaries can learn new tricks.  As in Batgirl needs to give her father a stark dose of reality (mixed with attacks because of superhero law), and what better environment than on top a lonely rooftop building in the pouring rain?  If only a solo cello player on the rooftop next to them could crescendo his sad song during these next few moments.

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Those last three text boxes also made up the last moments of Batman Begins. Let movie Batman do what he wants.  We know comic Batman would have saved Ra’s al Ghul, partially out of his moral code and partially so writers can reuse the supervillain at a later time.  But Cassandra has grown since her first appearance in No Man’s Land roughly ten years before this.  She’s a bonafide superhero with superhero principles and morality.  And yes, Batman’s influence strikes much harder than having henchmen pee themselves when he crashes through a skylight.

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Okay, so this last page is heartbreaking.  Bruce Wayne never adopts her.  He dies soon after this, the DC universe reboots, and Cassandra disappears from continuity.  But that’s the way the comic book business goes sometimes.  Go buy this miniseries, you should treat yourself.


Batman vs. Azrael: round two

One more fight!  We jump forth about ten years from our last article, as Azrael’s solo series begins to wrap up.  Luckily, the years haven’t calmed down the hallucinating, post-traumatic suffering, fanatical religious superhero too much.  With everything poor Azrael has worked for spiraling out of control — including his sanity and friendships — only one person can bring Azrael back to the light one final time.  Using his fists.  In Azrael #98-99, written by Denny O’Neil and drawn by Sergio Cariello, Batman misinterprets Azrael’s current situation and reacts poorly and violently, like all good superheroes.  And what did Azrael do to incur Batman’s wrath?

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To be fair to Azrael, it was a criminal dressed as Santa Claus, but I have a feeling Batman has been looking for an opportunity to justify his takedown of Azrael for a long time now.  Attacking St. Nick just broke Batman’s back of tolerance, unlike Bane who broke his normal back.

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To Alfred’s benefit, I looked up African Rooibos and it’s a real tea.  It contains no caffeine and offers many different health benefits — Alfred’s no liar.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t prevent Azrael from clawing Batman open over an obvious misunderstanding.  But I may be giving too much credit to Azrael — the dude’s struggling.  Like right before Batman shows up: he’s having a sword fight against a ghost:

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The spirit of St. Dumas talks to him, commanding him to do all sorts of terrible things or suffer the severe punishments caused by disobeying.  So he swordfights the ghost.  It’s complicated.  And while Batman slapping Azrael around wouldn’t be so bad to snap our protagonist into a dose of sanity, the Dark Knight’s arrival sparks another global superhero problem: Azrael really doesn’t have time for this — and the time it would take to discuss their feelings or even push Batman’s opinion one way or the other would ruin other far more important plans.  Plus, Batman tends to be a bit stubborn, to put it mildly.  Note the similarities in the beginning talk from their initial fight last article.  Oh, and the yellow text boxes are Batman’s narrations.

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Yes, Azrael becomes the rare exception to Batman’s vigilante group — our buddy has actual superpowers because of the schizophrenic genetic doohickies the Order of St. Dumas fetuses receive. Comics were weird in the ’90s.  More importantly, this isn’t the whacked-out Azrael wearing the mecha-Batman costume.  I mean, he’s still certifiably crazy, but he won’t be goaded or tricked like last time.  Batman has to win this fight the old fashioned way: batarangs and kung-fu movie poses.  How beautifully cheesy was that double jump kick in the moonlight panel in the picture above?

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I am by no means a carpenter, but Google tells me oak’s a tough wood to break, which I assume Batman has punched through cabinets and coffee tables to surprise the bejeebies out of bad guys before, most likely on the other side of the wall right after the henchmen proclaims to his buddy that he thinks they’re finally safe.  If Batman has an actual weakness, his own reliance on using physical strength against stronger, more durable supervillains like Bane, KGBeast, etc. could definitely count up there with his other weaknesses like healthy relationships and smiling.  Let’s learn something valuable today: if you want to battle anybody, it’s always better to battle superheroes.  They’re far kinder in the embarrassing aftermath.

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Azrael, finally free of Batman’s influence, has one final issue of his solo series before it ends — so his freedom’s not terribly lengthy.  On Friday, we’ll delve into more Azrael but with something mushier and heartwarming.  And punching, but that’s always implied.


Batman & Azrael: KnightsEnd

Batman’s replacement Azrael eventually goes crazy.  To be fair, Azrael (real name Jean-Paul Valley) was always a bit crazy, but allow him to build a mecha-Batman suit fueled by delusions and hallucinations, and the fall happens far quicker than Bruce Wayne expected.  Remember the DC event One Year Later when Batman, Nightwing, and Robin traveled the world for a year and he left Two-Face in charge of Gotham City?  As brilliant as Wayne is, his decision-making skills occasionally need some adjusting.  In Detective Comics #677, written by Chuck Dixon and drawn by Graham Nolan, as well as Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #63, written by Denny O’Neil and drawn by Barry Kitson, our original Batman attempts to correct his mistake of allowing Azrael to inherit his title.

Azrael’s father religiously brainwashed him in the assassin cult of St. Dumas, so his insanity isn’t really his fault.  Still, a crazy Batman is a bad Batman.

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A short list of what Azrael needs to answer for: he let a murderer fall to his death, he let a hostage die, he almost strangled Robin to death, he stopped working with the police, he blocked off Wayne Manor, and other general brutality.  Except that all that has happened lies solely on Wayne’s shoulders — Batman should never have picked him in the first place.  So, in quite possibly one of the calmest Batman moments, he confronts his Gundam successor, talking to Azrael much like one would an unruly preschooler.

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Like all good superheroes, words fail as fists must be raised.  And as insane as Azrael acts, no one has more experience dealing with insane people as Batman.  I mean, Arkham Asylum exists solely to house the entirety of his rogues gallery.  Though it should be noted that Batman also solves crazy people problems less with therapy and kind words and more with punches and batarangs.

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Batman doesn’t hate Azrael, he just feels bad for him.  Less growling and more pity.  I know discussing “power levels” of fictional characters amounts to arguing about whose imaginary friend is stronger, but Batman holds a firm advantage in speed.  And if Nightwing teaches you anything, speed usually matters more than power.  That and how can the traditional, disciplined Batman possibly lose to the ultimate ’90s version of himself?  Seriously, stop drawing Azrael’s feet and give him a mullet and we’ve just created the perfect ’90s superhero caricature.  He has spikes on his legs.  How can he drive the Batmobile with spikes on his legs?

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I like the dual meaning behind Azrael keeping his mask on.  Obviously, he uses it to see in the dark, but it’s a beautiful representation of Azrael’s desperate identity.  When we ask whether Batman needs the existence of Bruce Wayne, here’s the perfect example of the emotional drain-circling that comes from an identity wrapped solely in fighting crime as a giant bat.

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Religious symbolism!  I’m saying Batman is DC’s Jesus.  But this Aryan madman’s quest has just begun.  His solo series branching out of this event lasts for a 100 issues.  I’m always a sucker for redemption stories, and Batman lets Jean-Paul Valley find his own peace.  Just far away from Batman.

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On that note Batman leaves Gotham City again, letting Dick Grayson take over the Batman for the first time. If you wonder why Wayne chose Azrael instead of Nightwing to fill his costume’s shoes, so is Nightwing.  You can read that awkward conversation in a previous article.  Next time, more Azrael!


Azrael & Bane: Knightfall

With Batman out of action (broken back and whatnot), Bruce Wayne assigned Jean-Paul Valley, the vigilante Azrael, as the new Batman.  It was the only reasonable choice.  Robin’s 5’5″ and in high school.  Nightwing — as Wayne believes — wants to be his own man and not in the shadow of Batman.  Batgirl and Huntress are girls and thus can’t accept that last half of that Batman title.  So it’s all Azrael, the religious crazy person that they doesn’t know that well.  We’ll definitely explore his story in a later article.

Azrael loses his first fight against Bane badly.  Embarrassingly badly and in front of many Gotham citizens.  So for round two, he creates his own Batman suit, that Gundam Batman you’ll see below in Batman #500, written by Doug Moench and drawn by Jim Aparo & Terry Austin.  We’ll finally be able to sleep at night as we find out if the meaner robot Batman can stand up to the might that brought down a tired and sick Bruce Wayne.

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Only Bane would enter the battlefield by dangerously jumping through an electrified billboard.  Azrael’s strategy involves stepping into the dark side — the same plan that worked so well for Anakin Skywalker.  If only Azrael can dirty himself down to Bane’s level, then the fight becomes the fair fistfight it needs to be.  Robin doesn’t approve, Bruce Wayne doesn’t approve, Nightwing doesn’t approve, but one can’t argue with three batarangs impaled in Bane’s forearm.

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Let’s be fair: Bane’s way physically stronger than Azrael even without the venom.  But Bane also doesn’t have projectiles, claws, armor, or the support of the entire Gotham police department. Look, I’ve played Injustice: Gods Among Us.  Bane’s tough, but I can’t win with him if Batman’s on the other side of screen spamming batarangs.  So ever the master strategist, Bane uses his genius tactical mind to formulate a new plan: run really fast.

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Train fight!  As far as battles inside transportation goes, train definitely tops the list.  Notice that both combatants enter the fight the same way: unnecessarily bursting through materials not supposed to be burst through.  If Azrael wants to stoop down to Bane’s level, then he has no choice but for property damage.

I imagine by this point you may be confused as to Bane’s cowardice.  Allow me to attempt to justify Bane’s fear.  Up first, he definitely didn’t plan for Mecha-Batman.  All the new sharp stuff throws wrenches in whatever idea Bane thinks the fight will go.  Also, no more venom.  He even fought super weak Bruce Wayne pumped full of venom, a man who didn’t stand a chance against Bane even if the big guy took a nap halfway through the fight.  And most importantly, the story demands Bane loses. Azrael begins his official reign as Batman as the event Knightquest starts and we can’t have Bane ruling the underworld if that’s to happen.  Plus, it always feels good when supervillains get what’s coming to them.  Like this:

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The future of Batman begins here.  Will Azrael fully dump himself permanently in Bane’s cesspool of murder and violence?  No, of course not.  That’s a silly question.  But for a city (and Robin) that just witnessed a wild brutality not representative of the old Dark Knight, they must question his superheroic motivations.  Can the city feel safe with Bionic Batman patrolling its streets?  Most importantly, note Bane’s acknowledgement of this new Caped Crusader.

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Next time, Azrael no longer earns the right to the costume!


Bane & Batman: Knightfall

Friday’s my 400th article, so if you don’t mind, I’d like to take a moment and talk about my favorite topic: myself.  If I average 600-700ish words per article, that means I’d have written a thousand page book in these past two and a half years.  And as I start the slow climb to my next 400, know that every article and every topic I cover is something I love.  If I don’t like a comic, I don’t talk about it.  So as we continue our comic journey, please remember these two things: negativity is soul-crushing and a celebration of comics will always be superior to a criticism.  That said, you have every right to judge, etc. etc., and I adore every one of my readers — especially you.  Oh, and before we begin, have you visited my dear friend’s comic book blog The Speech Bubble?  He works far harder than I do and deserves more acclaim than he’s seeing.

Okay, so you know about Bane breaking Batman’s back during the Knightfall event.  It’s super famous.  But have you ever actually read the comic itself?  If you have, then you can skip today and go watch YouTube videos.  But for those of you who haven’t, it’s amazing.  Like a brilliant diamond in the midst of the mullets and extreme ‘tudes that littered the 1990s.  We’ll read it together, because like WatchmenThe Dark Knight ReturnsAll-Star Superman, and others, it’s just something you should have to read to be a well-versed comic book fan.  Today, enjoy Batman #497, written by Doug Moench and drawn by Jim Aparo as well as Detective Comics #664, written by Chuck Dixon and drawn by Graham Nolan.

To fully appreciate this story, you have to know some of the backstory.  Bane first appeared in 1993, about six months before our story today.  Psychopathic, certified genius, and incredibly strong (even more so on his venom stuff), he decides he wants to destroy Batman.  Y’know, because if Batman’s the strongest, then that’s who he has to beat.  But instead of just jumping down from a warehouse rafter for a surprise fistfight, he unleashes Batman’s entire rogue gallery to play in the streets of Gotham.  The Dark Knight spends months hunting down each of his supervillains getting weaker and weaker with each new baddie takedown.  When Batman finally re-captures them all, at his absolute worst physically and emotionally, then Bane ambushes Batman.

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I’m not spoiling anything by saying Batman loses.  And it’s not the sheer brutality of the beatdown that makes this fight worth reading.  Batman knows he holds a major disadvantage.  The beauty comes in him re-living these disadvantages (along with the poetic text boxes) as Bane punches the everloving crap out of our dear hero.  That even for Batman’s unbreakable morality — good always triumphs over evil and always will no matter how bleak or desperate — he’s still just a man.  And this issue comes less than a year after The Death of Superman.  If Superman can lose, what chance does our poor Batman have?

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Bane is Batman’s Doomsday.  He represents the basic idea that despite every push we make to eternally fight evil, something or someone will always rise up to shatter our collective efforts and show us our own futility.  Or in other words, the summary of every major news story of 2014.  I’m not being cynical — Superman never loses to Doomsday again and Batman defeats Bane in every encounter after this.  It’s just that sometimes we need to be reminded that evil packs a wallop and just like Batman, we have to rise up time and time again, no matter how many stalagmites we’re thrown into.

Sorry for the sermon, I’m not religious, so superheroes fill that void in my life.  And by that I mean I pray to Spider-Man every night.

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Each flashback goes back to another issue and another bad guy Batman had to subdue in the chaos Bane let loose.  On a very much unrelated note, a few issues from now, Scarecrow sprays his fear gas on Joker to determine his greatest phobia.  The answer?  Nothing.  The dude’s fearless.  And then he beats Scarecrow with a chair.

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I’ve always wondered — how did Batman get that huge penny into the Batcave?  He can’t call movers or anything and it’s not like it’ll fit in the trunk of his Batmobile.  The T-Rex too, while we’re at it.  But then again, I accept without question that a middle-aged man spends his whole life in a blue and gray bat costume while leaping from rooftops to karate chop giant alligator men and clay monsters.  Also, and on a more important note, does Bane claim the title of the supervillain rockin’ the most back hair?

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They fight for a few more pages, and by fight I mean Bane savagely wrecks Batman while trying to avoid getting blood on his luchador outfit.  Eventually, we come to this super famous moment:

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A broken bat may be damaging enough, but Bane goes a step further.  When wrestlers win the championship belt from their opponents, they don’t just shake hands and walk away.  No, now comes the gloating.  Let all of Gotham City know that they answer to a new authority — a hairy, venom-addicted, monster of a manbeast.

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On Friday, it’s Azrael versus Bane!  Our Knightfall battles continue!


Nova vs. Nova

In Nova’s solo series, he contains the entire power of the Nova force — like the Hulk of cosmic laser blasters.  So how can the stories create a challenge for him?  Easy.  Make him evil, then have someone else fight him who’s way weaker.  The stakes have risen!  Unfortunately, like all Marvel universe robots, the group called the Phalanx is using the post-Annihilation Wave chaos to take over the galaxy.  They inject mini-robots into any living thing and boom — instant ally.  We pick up in the middle of that with Nova #5-6, written by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning and drawn by Sean Chen & Brian Denham.

Richard Rider, the Nova we all know and love (unless your Nova is Sam Alexander — it’s like the Robins, it’s fun to pick sides), sustained some major damage during his last fight and now lies unconscious on a destroyed Kree outpost.  How sad.  But Worldmind, the super computer living inside his helmet, realizes the Kree can’t protect Nova on their own.  If Rider dies, so does Worldmind. Figuring if something isn’t broke don’t fix it, the computer just makes another Nova.  Meet Ko-Rel, the Kree medic who became a Nova despite Worldmind not doing the whole asking-for-permission thing.

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I know the Cosmic Marvel alien species can be confusing.  Here’s a quick reminder of the big three: Skrulls are green, Kree are blue, and Shi’ar sort of look like human birds.  I know there are exceptions — the Skrulls can change into anyone, some Kree are pink, and the Shi’ar Empire is a collection of hundreds of weird alien groups.  But as a basic rule of thumb, it’ll work.  Oh yeah, and that whole protect Richard Rider thing?  Robots can’t get to him, but it’s not terribly hard for the deadliest woman in the galaxy.

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Now they’re both Phalanx-infested evildoers.  Also, Gamora’s classic costume borders on wildly sexist.  High heels, and essentially a voodoo prostitute’s swimsuit with a cape.  If we’re going to dress the women like that, Rider should be showing one of his balls.  That’s only fair.  Anyway, poor Ko-Rel is tasked with taking down the fully-Nova-powered evil Nova.  If Nova’s the Hulk, then Ko-Rel’s Bruce Banner.  And I’m talking Bruce Banner with all science doohickeys.  It’s more like Rider vs. a Ko-Rel/Worldmind team up.

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Let’s admit it, a rocket chase through the city in a 2D, panel-format is tricky.  Comics do many things better than movies, but chase scenes aren’t one of them.  That said, I applaud this one.  Also, if you want to know why AIs cause so much trouble in the Marvel universe, they have all that ruthless calculating mumbo that we slow emotional humans can’t complete fast enough.  More importantly, remember that scene from The Avengers movie where Black Widow gets trapped in the bottom of the helicarrier with the Hulk?  That same look of fear on Scarlett Johannson’s face applies here for poor Ko-Rel.

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Did I mention Ko-Rel has a son named Zam?  This probably isn’t the best time to bring that up.  But related to the fight, just like how Spider-Man defeats the tougher, bigger opponents, he uses the stuff around him.  Like the technologically-advanced city that’s somehow powered by a volcano or something.

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See Ko-Rel’s proper moral standing?  A inspirational force of good in the infinite darkness of space’s abyss!  As the Phalanx virus corrupts Nova, an ally comes forth who understands and enacts the righteous goals and love of the proud Nova Corps.  Rider doesn’t die, as he still has 30 issues of his solo series left, but how much better will his adventures be with this interesting, complex new Nova at his side?  And of course, by now when I go on long pseudo-poetic tangets of what should be, it’s always the opposite.  Always.  It makes the storytelling plot twist stab-in-the-back far more dramatic, and in this case, literally.

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Luckily, her final words start the slow beginning of freeing Nova from Phalanx’s control, but you can buy the books for that.  So what do the Nova Corps and Green Lantern Corps have the most in common?  Definitely the fatality rate.


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