The Atom takes on the Titans

Size-changing superheroes don’t get the credit they deserve, like not being in the Avengers movie, for instance.  But we always forget that shrinking means more than cartoonishly running away from your own house cat.  If heart disease kills more people than any other cause of death, why would a superhero not fear a little man surfing a red blood cell into his aorta?  Today, one supervillain team learns this the hard way by going up against the Atom Ryan Choi in the controversial Brightest Day crossover Titans: Villains for Hire Special one-shot, written by Eric Wallace and drawn by Fabrizio Florentino.

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Major supervillains hanging out in your home never ends in coffee and Grey’s Anatomy marathons. Especially Deathstroke, who spends most of his time in comics fighting seven or eight Teen Titans at once.  And while Choi doesn’t know this yet, this issue’s Titans title implies a team effort.  So in a fight against Deathstroke that he may (slim chance) be able to win, it’s about to get exponentially harder.  Plus, lots of trips to Ikea to replace all the destroyed furniture.

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Some of the suspension of disbelief in superheroes remains in the usefulness of martial arts. Batman goes into combat armed only with batarangs and an overbearing sense of justice, but if he destroys a small battalion of soldiers, we don’t even bat an eye.  I wonder the effectiveness of kung fu against high-powered rifles and such, but I also don’t question when a man can shrink and grow at will, so my priorities may be lopsided.  But while a trained fighter like Cheshire (well, including Deathstroke to be fair) can totally karate chop Atom into a defeated mess, it’d help to have some extra muscle around.

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The size-changing powers make for some cool fight scenes.  Though I figure if a man can make his tattoos come alive, he’d have more than a mere handful.  Cover himself head-to-toe in laser guns and body armor and giant bears and pterodactyl wings.  But then again, the only thing a tattoo would bring alive in me would be regret.  I’m old fashioned, as in, I don’t know how I would explain my full Captain America back tattoo when I’m in the nursing home.

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The next step would be to go microscopic and leave the house through the floorboards.  Atom could gather up Superman to throw them all in space before they can attack again.  Size-changing seems to be a more defensive than offensive power, but then again so is Kitty Pryde’s phasing ability and she’s destroyed enough sentinels to fill a small city.  Unfortunately, Deathstroke survives by being evil Batman — being prepared for every possible situation no matter what.  That and a few more friends.

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I’m no scientist, but a few well-placed kicks in the brain should be enough to defeat Cheshire.  No amount of judo or karate can protect the brain from a small superhero climbing in your naval cavity to uppercut your noggin.  Especially when Choi keeps his normal strength even while tiny.

In one of the strangest twists, Deathstroke then does something noble.  I mean, he did break into Atom’s house and is currently attempting to murder the superhero, but like supervillain-level of noble.

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And with that, no innocent bystanders will be hurt as Deathstroke’s Titans claw and ignite the Atom. Also, can we talk about how ethnically diverse Deathstroke’s team is?  He’s an elderly man leading an Asian woman, an African-American man, and a woman made of lava.  Plus, let’s not forget the final member of his team: the Middle Eastern magic Superman:

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Poor Atom, he may be a member of the Justice League, but I can’t think of any Justice Leaguer who could solo the whole team now.  That and Deathstroke hasn’t lifted a finger yet.  Shouldn’t the man in charge have his moment in the spotlight?  He is, after all, the main jerk here.

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Choi loses.  It’s inevitable.  But we’re talking about a Brightest Day crossover — an event that’s own name implies a sense of happiness and relief.  Sure, superheroes get beaten up all the time, but we must trust that help will come for dear Atom — every superhero story builds suspense that way. Because while Choi lies bloody on his floor, we know that good will always triumph over evil, fate will always reward those who fight for justice, and bad guys fail every time they try to emerge victorious over the world’s true heroes.

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Oh.

Or not.  Say goodbye to Choi, who never shows up in a comic again after his unfortunate death here. What a total bummer, right?  I’ll try to find something more uplifting for Monday — or at the very least no superheroes impaled on swords.

 

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Kitty Pryde vs. Emma Frost

One of Cyclops’ lovers has once again become evil.  How sad.  That man likes a certain type of lady, I guess. With Cyclops out of the picture, today it’ll be Kitty Pryde who’s going to punch the crap out of Emma Frost.  As a quick reminder, notice the similarities between the famous panel from last article and today’s homage?

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Seriously, superheroes spend more time in sewers than sanitation workers.  Sit back today and enjoy some of the good stuff (though there’s nothing bad in the entire run) from Astonishing X-Men #15-16, written by Joss Whedon and drawn by John Cassaday.

Some quick back story if you don’t mind: Emma Frost always had ties to the Hellfire Club, the billionaire socialite evil X-Men-antagonizing club that shows up every now and then to annoy whoever’s currently at the school.  Actually, their premiere, which the last article touched upon, also introduced Emma Frost for the first time.  And now the White Queen’s betrayed the X-Men to side with her Hellfire Club buddies once more (well, it’s actually way more complicated than that, but I don’t want to spoil the twist).  As the baddies target the X-Men one-by-one, Kitty Pryde meets Negasonic Teenage Warhead. I didn’t make that up.  That’s her actual supervillain name.

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Shoving Kitty into the deep layers of the earth should take care of her for a while.  Not permanently, of course, as that would require something drastic like a gigantic planet-killing bullet.  Sadly, Emma Frost’s psychic attacks and creepy Hellfire buddies have successfully taken down the X-Men.  I know I’ve given you no context and zero scenes to appreciate him, but Victorian child Wolverine may be the best part of the entire arc.

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Just like her mentor Wolverine’s solo raid on the Hellfire Club, Kitty’s ready for her own lone wolf vengeance.  And this isn’t scared 13 year-old Kitty Pryde anymore either.  She’s a trained ninja (Wolverine-certified), tech genius (computer savant), professional dancer (Step Up 3D: Breaking Emma’s Nose), and possesses over a decade of in-continuity butt kicking.

The quotes below reference Astonishing X-Men #2, where Emma shares her feelings with dear Kitty.

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Now, Emma’s going to be punched in the face.

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See?  Told you.  Kitty’s fan appeal comes from the same place Dick Grayson’s does.  We’ve seen Kitty grow up over the years from inexperienced kid to established hero to bonafide leader.  In the DC and Marvel comic universes badgered by the ever present status quo, it’s such a rare opportunity to see real, lasting growth in the characters we love.  And I get it — young, sexy Batman sells far more issues than old, decrepit Batman.  Though both will be equally curmudgeony.

Look, Emma Frost shines as a fantastic character, and I enjoy every moment she shows up.  But she deserves this.  So badly.

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The White Queen stays down there for two more issues, thinking about what she’s done.  And just like all good superheroes, Kitty Pryde quickly puts aside her hatred and resentment of beaten Emma to once again embrace her as a teammate and a friend.

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Okay, maybe not.  But don’t feel bad for Emma, she really did deserve this.


Famous panels: Wolverine

So to summarize my ongoing series, I came across Comic Book Resource’s list of The 70 Most Iconic Panels in Marvel History about a year ago.  Every few months, I like to pick one of the panels and explain the stories behind it.  Think of it as a comic book version of Behind the Music, just with no music whatsoever.  In honor of Wolverine’s starring role in the new movie opening today, I picked Most Iconic Panel #4 that came from Uncanny X-Men #132, written by Chris Claremont and drawn by John Byrne:

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And truthfully, this panel (and the subsequent comic) has been analyzed by many people and websites far smarter and more credible than I am.  But like Wolverine says, it’s my turn.  And also like Wolverine, I’m writing this in a sewer.

The Hellfire Club, a secret organization of billionaires and other high society folks who enjoy pummeling X-Men — as some rich folks enjoy yachting or fine caviar, these socialites instead prefer to wreck superheroes — attacked our heroes and destroyed them.  A bad guy’s credibility depends on an initial success.

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So Wolverine had been in the X-Men for about 30 issues at this point.  It hadn’t been a terribly successful run for him, to the point that his destiny lied nearly in cut-from-the-team obscurity.  Until this issue.  He propelled to stardom because of this issue.  The Hellfire Club, a shadowy group with the worst facial hair in comics, just took down the whole X-Men with gloating ease.  Well, one man survived.  One man’s willing to take on the entire bad guy team by himself.

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Full disclosure: Wolverine never actually solos the Hellfire Club.  Not even close.  Actually, he gets his butt kicked almost immediately upon reaching them.  But the lead up ranks among one of the great Wolverine moments, just for the sheer pants-wetting honesty he delivers to the poor henchmen who cross his path.  Though he first has to slash some of them up.

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Besides his natural musky odor of beer sweat and unwashed back hair, you figure the added sewer drenching would cause the henchmen to gag as soon as they walked in the room, much less allow Wolverine to ambush the squad.  And I know they’re all going to die, but the Hellfire Club’s wealth and status must be the Google of companies to hench for.  They spend all day in air-conditioned mansions eating hor d’oeuvres, listening to Beethoven, and working with bosses who don’t mind doing their own dirty work.  Or growing mutton chops, apparently.

For the last baddie, Wolverine asks him the most important question the dude has ever been asked. Even more important than, “Are you sure this is a good career choice?”

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On a related note, Jean Grey premieres as Dark Phoenix in this same arc.  She’s the redhead in the dominatrix outfit on the far left.  Still, only Wolverine would bust into the room wearing henchmen like scarves, giving the X-Men that vital distraction to begin round two.  I love that little man.

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You can buy the book for the rest of the story.  It’s worth it.

On Monday, we’ll look into the Kitty Pryde vs. Emma Frost fight from Astonishing X-Men.  Not just because it’s totally great and I can’t stop talking about it, but it’s an arc about the Hellfire Club attacking the X-Men, leaving only a battered Kitty Pryde capable of saving the entire team from certain death.  A familiar plot, right?  Very familiar:

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The end of the Hood’s reign

Loki died during the Marvel event Siege.  But he died in that Asgardian god way, as in he came back to life a few issues later.  Unfortunately, Loki’s demise meant the loss of the supervillain Hood’s (real name Parker Robbins) evil magic wizard powers as they were tied to/gifts from the evil magic wizard Loki.  Bad news for the Hood.  Luckily, the Avengers spent most of the battle thumping other supervillains and the Hood manages to escapes with his girlfriend Madame Masque (real name Whitney Frost).

As the end Siege brought forth the beginning of the Heroic Age, it’d be a terrible ending if the former kingpin of New York City flees his crimes to live a happy life in Latveria or Madripoor or other seedy bad guy-friendly places.  So for their final mission as the New Avengers, our protagonists join forces one more time in New Avengers Finale #1, written by Brian Michael Bendis and drawn by Bryan Hitch & Stuart Immonen.  Oh, and while I sort of spoiled it already, I figured I’d leave in the warning — have you read Siege #4 (or looked up what happened on Wikipedia) yet?

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Count Nefaria (a name that obligingly forces him to be a supervillain like his peers Mr. Sinister and Doctor Doom) possesses the superpowers capable of solo-ing Thor.  He’s pretty much invulnerable, and since he lives in Los Angeles which only had one superhero at about that time — the insane non-powered Moon Knight — he rules Los Angeles’ crime unhindered.

Yet to save his daughter, he’ll have to go up against the full New Avengers roster: Luke Cage (team leader, unbreakable skin, no longer wears a tiara); Ronin (Hawkeye pretending to be a ninja); Captain America (the metal-arm’d Winter Soldier); Mockingbird (super gymnast); Ms. Marvel (energy blasts, flight, super strength); Spider-Woman (energy blasts, flight, gross pheromone spray); Wolverine (small, hairy, drunk); and Spider-Man (a requirement that he joins every team during the 2000s).

To find the missing Hood, the New Avengers’ll have to do some ol’ fashioned detective work.  Since none of them are Batman, it mainly involves threats of physical harm.

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With that, the team heads to Los Angeles — the city of Brotherly Love or whatever it’s called — to punch the Hood and Madame Masque until they cry tears of submission.  John King, the Hood’s cousin and current captured fugitive, brings up a fantastic point in the next scene: why bother?  No seriously, why go to all this trouble?  It won’t even take a full scroll across the TV news crawler announcing the Hood’s imprisonment before another flamboyant supervillain takes command of New York’s underground.  But Luke Cage answers John’s simple “why?” with a simple response: because, gosh darn it.

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With Marvel’s sheer amount of mad scientists running around, you figure every person in the Marvel universe would be equipped with a full supply of magic powers to shoot lasers or teleport around, but apparently much like good healthcare, the possibilities only go as far as the cash available:

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Note: it’s not sunset.  With the intensity and bravery that only the powerhouses like Magneto and Doctor Doom can match, Count Nefaria fights all the New Avengers.  At once.  By himself.  Wearing a suit and tie.

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You can click the above picture for a larger version.  Supervillains must really hate the Avengers.  They show up usually with hordes of government vehicles and toys.  There’s always a ton of them, and that sometimes includes Thor who can mop the floor with Spider-Man’s entire rogue gallery in a single hammer swing. Then there’s all the pre-fight trash talking, mid-fight trash talking, and post-fight rubbing-salt-in-the-wound trash talking.  I mean, at least the Fantastic Four take time off to explore the Microverse or Negative Zone.  The Avengers just hang out specifically waiting to roundhouse kick the next disaster.  Count Nefaria doomed himself the moment his daughter poorly chose her new boyfriend.

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Goodnight, sweet count.  May your dreams be filled with not getting clawed open by Wolverine before Ms. Marvel smacks you with the explosive equivalent of a nuclear blast.  As for the Hood, he eventually gains one more shot at supervillain stardom — until he gets hit in the face by a Hulk.  It happens to the best of us.

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The end indeed.


Green Lantern and the Fatality problem

It all started in 1988’s Cosmic Odyssey.  Green Lantern John Stewart, in a moment of weakness, chose ego over help and doomed the planet Xanshi to destruction.  It’s a long story and I’m sure we’ll cover it soon.  But one sole survivor still traveled the stars — Yrra Cynril, now known as the warrior named Fatality.  And when you name yourself Fatality, you’ve pretty much resigned yourself to supervillainy.  Now she travels around and slaughters Green Lantern.  That’s her entire life plan.  While it’s totally Stewart she should be hunting down, she’s fought Kyle Rayner far more.  Here’s one of those times (and my favorite battle between the two) in Green Lantern #177-178, written by Ron Marz and drawn by Luke Ross.

After a really bad day for Rayner, where he loses both his girlfriend and apartment, he must have realized what was about to happen next — every bad day for superheroes must contain a certain quota of bloodshed.

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This is their fourth or fifth fight which Rayner has won every time, including two separate fights she loses one of her arms and replaces it with a robot version.  I guess like if you hit a tree with an axe enough times, it’ll eventually fall over.  Fight Rayner enough times and hopefully you’ll win one. Maybe get robot legs too.

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I always admire the arrogance of supervillains.  They never win.  Not once.  Yet every time they meet their respective superhero, the man or woman or alien who has defeated them in the dozens of encounters they’ve faced over the years, they still feel like they should gloat and talk trash.  In a way, I’m jealous of that wildly high level of (albeit fictional) self-esteem/delusion.

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Poison.  If a battleaxe won’t work, try a subtler method.  Or maybe a battleaxe made of poison.  This is probably why I’m not asked to write comics.

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Willpower’s a tricky concept, it being an abstract concept and all.  Sure, a bad guy could null Green Lantern’s willpower, but that’s the same idea as Scarecrow’s fear gas.  Anything that doesn’t have a numerical value can be changed or manipulated back to normal at any time.  All it takes is a writer to have his or her character announce, “I’ve overcome these feelings!” and we buy it because we don’t have a choice.  Anyway, Rayner gets smacked around a bit more.

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Have you noticed Rayner’s constructs lean on the cartoon-ish side?  Former artist turned space cop cliché.  Oh, let’s talk a bit about Fatality.  Soon, she joins the Star Sapphires, the New Guardians, and totally began a real relationship with Stewart — the Green Lantern who genocided her people.  If I’ve gotten messages from match.com girls who won’t date me because I’m Jewish, how the hell does she get over her boyfriend killing all of her people?  Sure, it was an accident and we’ve forgiven him for it, but for me, I’d find it’d hard to look past his faults and develop any romantic feelings for, say, someone like Hitler.  Like full-on making out in public with the Führer — it would never happen and his mustache would tickle.  Look, I get the symbolism of their coupling and I’m totally willing to suspend disbelief, but we all agree it’s a bit weird, right?

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Victory once more goes to Rayner, as it always will.  Truthfully, I picked this article mainly because of the giant cartoon throwing an airplane at Fatality.  I made a good choice.


Moon Knight’s opening scene

I have a soft spot for Moon Knight, much like the soft spots he leaves battered and bloodied in the criminals he fights.  If you don’t mind me stealing an earlier paragraph for a previous article I wrote, allow me retell his origin:

Marc Spector, soldier and master martial artist, stumbled upon the Egyptian moon god Khonshu who then gave him super powers.  Though you don’t have to remember all that jazz, because nowadays he’s a non-powered rich guy in a gadget-filled costume.  Maybe that’s why he gets unfairly labeled as Marvel’s Batman.  For one, Spector’s superhero career isn’t born out of an unquenchable quest of vengeance.  Plus, the guy’s a major schizophrenic, making Moon Knight the poster boy for positive (albeit fictitious) role models succeeding despite mental illness.

There you go, except we step into the full throes of Dark Reign, where Norman Osborn reigns over the superhero masses with all the crazy manipulation you expect from the equally-Moon-Knight-levels-of-insanity Green Goblin.  But today’s not going to be a character study — though his self-loathing alone could fill a week’s worth of articles — instead, we’re going to focus on the opening scene from Vengeance of the Moon Knight #1, written by Gregg Hurwitz and drawn by Jerome Opeña.  Why? Because it’s awesome.

As we start, Moon Knight had been exiled to Mexico by Osborn after being framed for murder (though he did kinda murder, it’s a tricky subject).  But we know the border towns can’t keep Moon Knight for long, plus a full-body armored costume must be hell in that Mexican sun.  So he returns to New York City, where he can patrol the streets and stop bank robberies.  Criminals never seem to learn that crimes rarely succeed in a city with legitimately hundreds of superheroes flying, swinging, and running around.

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Much like Batman, Moon Knight’s personal fortune allows him to purchase a never-ending supply of soaring mechanical eggs that unfold into motorcycles.  Notice the gun?  He got ran out of the city because of his murder tools last time.  Superheroes don’t mind massive life-ruining property damage or permanent crippling injuries, but killing is still unforgivable.  Y’know, because it’s a line that one can’t uncross (but mainly because it takes a few years before that supervillain can come back to life and be used in stories again  — and okay, morality and stuff).

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Moon Knight reveals later that his armor’s made of carbonadium — a poor man’s adamantium.  It’ll totally block bullets and explosions and probably a knife or two.  Also, Spector never really dodges attacks — pain equals redemption and whatnot.  I didn’t actually think of this until now, but walking into bullets makes bad guys far more fearful than wild acrobatics.  Daredevil can hop over rocket launchers and do triple axle grinding backflips (probably not a real thing) off flagpoles, but criminals treat him like the lottery — he can’t possibly forward spinning leaping somersault over every bullet; they’re bound to win eventually.  But Moon Knight treats gunshots like they came from Super Soakers and the bad guys wet their pants.

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Despite Marline being Moon Knight’s ex-girlfriend, what woman wouldn’t attracted to a caped man riding an overturned van down the road?  Best part of this scene is Moon Knight’s seemingly nonchalant body language, as if sliding around on vehicles is just his preferred mode of travel in New York City. Some people take the subway, Moon Knight surfs on sideways cars.

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So have you thought about checking this series out?  How could you not?

 


Hal Jordan vs. Guy Gardner: first blood

My wonderful friend furyoffirestorm78 mentioned another fight between the two in the comments of Wednesday’s article.  So I went to check it out and — holy crap — it’s amazing.  Together we’re going to read this crazy, way higher stakes, way more action-packed brawl from Green Lantern #25, written by Gerard Jones and drawn by Tim Hamilton, Joe Staton, & M.D. Bright.

We go back to 1992.  Hal Jordan spends a while in space recruiting for the Green Lantern Corps, which I assume means hanging out with a sign up sheet outside alien grocery stores or whatever. Guy Gardner, totally rocking his bowl cut, protects Earth and the surrounding sector in his place.  Y’know, until Jordan finishes his mission and goes back to claim what’s rightfully his.  You read the title of this article — it doesn’t go well.

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Notice the gray streaks in Jordan’s hair?  Originally, it represented his actual aging in the DC universe. He wasn’t a young man anymore, and comics like to show that with a single gray streak above the ear.  Later, Geoff Johns retconned it as the cosmic being Parallax’s influence, but this time Jordan’ll be facing a younger, stronger, and faster opponent (which he actually says later in the issue). Commence round one, where the two fight using their imaginations.

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I know Gardner’s wildly irritating this issue.  He’s mellowed out slightly and eased coolly into his likability in the modern comic age, but for the sake of this issue, he’s the bad guy.  So much so that all the other superheroes and Green Lanterns who show up to watch the fight cheer openly and unashamedly for Jordan to win.  In Gardner’s face.

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Round two: fist fight.  Check out the celebrity spectators watching their battle.  Even Superman has shown up (in panels I’ve skipped).  But because of apparent tradition — Green Lanterns punch each into unconsciousness to determine who keeps their jewelry — no one’ll dare intervene.  Plus, Gardner holds a serious advantage when it comes to normal dude fighting.  Sometimes.

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You know that famous one punch story, right?  Gardner challenged Batman’s leadership of the Justice League International by provoking and belittling Batman, so the Dark Knight knocked him out in a single punch.  Even the bowl cut can’t contain Gardner’s ego, especially when he has to relive that embarrassing moment.  That and Gardner’s strength seems to go mother’s-child-trapped-under-a-minivan strong when he reaches a certain rage level.  Oh, if you want to know just how long this fight goes on for, I’m skipping four pages between the first and second pages shown below:

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You see that look on Jordan’s face.  That’s the half-smile and raised eyebrow of a champion.  It’s too bad Gardner doesn’t know MMA, or else he would just straddle Jordan like a perverted merry-go-round and bash him in the ears until the pity gets overwhelming.  But instead, he figures he’ll play the numbers game on his former partner.  He loses the bet.  Sleep tight, Guy Gardner.

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I do feel bad for Gardner, despite his obvious personality faults.  Jordan arrives at Gardner’s dingy apartment, tells him that he’s out of a job, and bids him adieu.  And to make this whole ordeal even more humiliating for poor Gardner?  Besides him teaming up with Lobo in issues after this?

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Within a year, Jordan’s hometown of Coast City explodes causing the Green Lantern to go full supervillain, get possessed by Parallax, and wipe out the entire Green Lantern Corps.  So, Gardner kind of has the last laugh.  Though after this depressing defeat, it’s probably more of a subdued chuckle.