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.


Guardians of the Galaxy vs. Angela

Brian Michael Bendis writes the best dialogue in comics.  Don’t try to convince me otherwise — I’m very biased.  But I read once that someone had the gall to claim Bendis “tells” stories instead of “showing” them.  That’s crazy talk.  His genius extends far beyond the written word into the second most important part of comics: the fights.  Have you read this week’s issue of Miles Moralies: Ultimate Spider-Man #4 yet?  Brilliant battle between Spider-Man and Green Goblin.  It flowed, it made sense, and the art shines.  So keeping with our theme of Guardians of the Galaxy, how about another example of Bendis’ fight scenes from Guardians of the Galaxy #5-6, drawn by the equally phenomenal Sara Pichelli.

While the movie focused on a select five superheroes, the modern team has had a rotating roster since its creation in 2008.  We’ve already mentioned Phyla-Vell and Adam Warlock previously, but characters such as Bug, Jack Flag, Mantis, Moondragon, Cosmo, Captain Marvel, and Venom have also occupied slots on the team.  In our story today, Iron Man has joined our dear quintet for a few issues for a little vacation (that ultimately shatters everything he knew about his past and forever changes the status quo, but that’s another story for another day).

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Meet Angela.  She replaces Iron Man on the team later on.  She first appeared in Image’s Spawn series.  As you know, the other comic book companies aren’t too fond to share their characters — something about profit or whatever.  Todd MacFarlane, who wrote Spawn, asked Neil Gaiman to write an issue during which the two of them worked together to create Angela.  Cue some legal fights over who actually owned the character and in 2012, Gaiman gained full ownership.  Thus when Gaiman returned to Marvel (and hence Marvel buying Angela from him), she could re-spawn (sorry) with a brand new company.  Now she’s Thor’s sister, so she’ll be around for a while.

Oh yeah, and the Guardians of the Galaxy battle her.

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The dialogue on that last panel reference an off-panel scene between Star-Lord and Thanos.  They’re doing their own thing somewhere else right now.  But Angela and Gamora are pretty well-matched, with our antagonist having a slight advantage.  Gamora’s the most dangerous woman in the universe, right?  Angela’s like that, just with a more Xena: Warrior Princess-ish touch.

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That last panel’s great.  You see the oncoming Guardians through the sword’s reflection.  More importantly, see the Star-Lord costume?  No Iron Man today, as the Spartax empire (led by Star-Lord’s dad) wrecked the suit in an earlier issue.  Tony Stark has to slum it as a replacement superhero.

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I want you to click the last page to see a larger view.  Pichelli’s art sparkles here and Bendis’ layout of the page allows a 2-D medium to show the many different moments going on at once.  But the Guardians of the Galaxy aren’t complete without their grumpiest, most shirtless member of the crew. Just remember that Tony Stark wears a highly-evolved metallic armor into combat for him to be effective — not this guy:

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I know we should probably talk about Uatu the Watcher observing the fight with eyes like he just came from an anime convention, but it’s irrelevant to our brawl today.  Look, Angela didn’t exist in Marvel comics before a few issues ago.  She legitimately popped in from nothingness, much like how Batman and Superman exist in a separate DC universe that never interacts or even knows about the Marvel universe unless Jubilee wants to make out Robin or something.  Of course Angela’s entrance would get the Watcher’s attention — that’s most of his job description.  By the way, I know this article will be incredibly out of date in a few months, but here’s my guess on who killed Uatu: Fin Fang Foom. I’ve seen How to Train Your Dragon enough times to know how dangerous those winged lizards are. Especially dragons that wear short shorts.

Anyway, Tony Stark just shot Angela with a space gun.

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For more Angela stuff, read volume three of Guardians of the Galaxy or the ongoing Original Sin miniseries Thor & Loki: The Tenth Realm to see her battle Thor, another superhero with equally gorgeous hair.  Also, when you finish that, go read everything Bendis has ever written.  I adore him.


Punisher vs. Thor

For a man like Punisher who’s so grounded in human limits and reality (to a certain extent), he’s more similiar to Thor — a Scandinavian thunder god who can fly and shoot lightning — than we think. Thor’s hammer isn’t for carpentry, after all.  Ever since Punisher’s teenage years and when Thor was an adorable godling, these two have been entrenched in the soldier lifestyle.  Hell, I bet Thor’s killed more people than Punisher could dream of.  But today, they have to fight, as (are you sitting down for this?) the Punisher is currently on the run from the law.  Time for Avengers to take care of this matter, hence our upcoming conflict from Punisher: War Zone #3, written by Greg Rucka and drawn by Carmine Di Giandomenico.

Frank Castle currently hides in Nicaragua, and by hides I mean wrecking havoc on every weapons trader he comes across.  For a man wanted by every enforcement agency in the known world, he leaves quite a mess everywhere he travels.  So, after the Punisher bested Spider-Man and Black Widow, a more powerful force needs to be called in.  All that’s left is for Thor to find his prey.

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We can be honest here, right?  The Punisher doesn’t stand a chance against Thor.  Not a freakin’ chance.  No weapon or device in his arsenal can even scratch Thor, much less take down the strongest Avenger.  Seriously: Castle could shoot with him with every bullet, rocket, grenade, mine, and whatever alien guns he’s using — it wouldn’t even make Thor bleed.  So being the smart soldier, knowing his time with Thor holds only one conclusion, he’ll have to use the thunder god for something useful instead.  After all, Thor’s better against these weapon traders than every bullet, rocket, grenade, mine, and alien gun the Punisher possesses.

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You remember that scene from Avenging Spider-Man #4 where Hawkeye explains to Spider-Man that he can never, ever miss an arrow shot, because on a team with gods, wizards,  Iron Men, super soldiers, and more, a single missed shot would only make him a normal man instead of a superhero capable of competing on the same level as his other teammates?  It’s relevant.  Punisher most likely spent weeks tracking these men down, finding their weaknesses, engaging in long firefights, watching out for flanking, etc. — and Thor takes down the whole camp in seconds with a single lightning strike. Damn right Hawkeye never misses.

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Now comes the philosophy part of our battle.  I guess the “vs.” in the title is misleading, huh?  No more punches get thrown, but we do get a very revealing moment as we all realize that of course Thor understands everything about Punisher’s mission.  Captain America understands the horrors of war, and Wolverine understands the necessity of killing, but Thor gets why he fights.  While our thunder god may not be on the same intelligence level as Tony Stark, he has a wisdom gained in his thousands of years that the others occasionally lack.

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I’ve made it my personal mission in my own life to never take advice from anyone wearing a cape, but Castle will just have to obey.  It’s not like he can run away.  And that al-Qaeda beard of his won’t let him book any escape flights anyway.  Let Thor rant about war for a while, because it’s most likely the topic he knows the most about anyway.  That or mead.

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“I fight in a war,” the Punisher states, but how amazingly poignant is Thor’s response to that line? “No, you have made a war so that you may fight.”  Just as that exact same reasoning can apply to a multitude of heroes (Batman), we know the end result.  The Punisher’s comics must continue and thus any sense Thor makes will be thrown to the wind.  And oh my goodness does it.  Two issues later and Castle fights Iron Man, Spider-Man, Black Widow, Captain America, and Thor all at once. It’s an eight page battle, which is seven pages longer than Superior Spider-Man lasted when he tried to same thing.

Thor’s plea falls on deaf ears to the Punisher.  As Plato puts it, “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”  That’s more Punisher’s style.


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