Tuesday, May 31, 2005

CAPTAIN AMERICA #367 Marvel Comics, 1990

Does anybody love The Red Skull?

I don’t mean like, physically or anything. That would be gross.* I mean does anybody love The Red Skull the same way I love Dr. Doom? I don’t think so. The guy’s a fucking Nazi, for Chrissakes, he’s one of those villains that you actually want to see get their comeuppance. I don’t know about you, but I’m always rooting for Captain America to sock that creep right in his hideous kisser – pow! Take that, Ratzi!

And that’s why I love this issue so much: as you can see by the cover, it’s all about The Red Skull getting his ass handed to him by Magneto for being a dirty Nazi rat bastard. Simple as that.

I’ll save my diatribe about Magneto for another post – let’s just say that he used to be my favorite villain back in the day, when I thought his name was pronounced the way it’s spelled. Then I found out it’s pronounced “Mag-neat-o!” and my fickle affections drifted towards Victor Von Doom instead. I’m sorry, I just can’t get behind somebody named Mag-neat-o. I have my pride.

This issue (with solid art by Kieron Dwyer) takes place after the Acts of Vengeance! Storyline that ran through the non-mutant Marvel titles. In Acts of Vengeance! (you have to put the exclamation point in there, much like Viva Knieval!) a bunch of arch-villains were drawn together by a mysterious but powerful stranger (Loki) in a plot to destroy Earth’s heroes. The idea was they would switch the foes they normally fought and take the heroes off-guard that way. Great plan, you can guess how it worked out for the villains.

Two of the arch-villains brought together in this scheme were The Red Skull, a WWII era Nazi war criminal and Magneto, the survivor of the German concentration camps that killed his family. The writing was on the wall, a showdown had to happen, and leave it to Marvelous Mark Gruenwald to write the inevitable Butt-Kicking of Titans.

It starts off pretty simply: Magneto busts into The Red Skull’s fortified offices, and demands to know if he’s the real Red Skull – because if he is, the Pain Train’s comin’. Whoo whoo!

Captain America actually appears in Captain America #367, but his role is largely incidental. The real focus of the issue is just Magneto trying to catch The Red Skull and kick his head in. I loved this comic because it totally makes sense – the plot is a direct and inevitable result of the personality and psychology of the two main characters. Plus, you know who’s going to win. Come on, The Mutant Master of Magnetism versus a fascist in a Halloween mask? Magneto regularly takes on entire teams of superheroes – and wins. The Red Skull regularly takes on Captain America – and loses, unless he’s got a Cosmic Cube up his sleeve like the rotten Nazi cheater he is. Is there any doubt who wins here?

Gruenwald, who we’ve previously established as the Best Damn Cap Writer Ever, doesn’t play favorites or employ The Riddler Factor to give The Red Skull an edge. No, pretty much from the beginning the Skull is playing “D” while Magneto presses the offensive. No matter what defenses The Red Skull employs, Magneto keeps coming, until ultimately The Red Skull is just running for his life like a Crystal Lake camper. But before he runs screaming like a girl, The Red Skull throws everything at his pursuer, to no avail:

-Hidden floor gun? Ineffectual.
-Squad of Aryan goons with guns? They get blasted.
-Dust of death hidden in cigarette? Rendered harmless by force field.
-Plastic bubble? Slows Magneto down for like, a second.
-The Controller? Don’t make me laugh.
-Thermal blasting robot? Who sends a robot against Magneto?
-Squad of Red Skull robot look-alikes? Forget about it.

Nothing works.

Finally The Red Skull tries to escape on a subterranean railroad but Magneto catches up with him by magnetically fucking up the railway, warping the tracks. I guess next time you'll be making that shit out of plastic, eh Nazi?

The Red Skull wakes up a little later, and things don’t look too good for him. Check it out (click to enlarge):

That’s cold. Yep, Magneto leaves The Red Skull to rot in a dark tomb with little hope of escape. Notice I didn’t say “no hope of escape,” because of course The Red Skull eventually does escape Magneto’s cell, a few pounds lighter and even meaner than before. And that’s okay, because that just means we as readers get the pleasure of watching Cap beat him up again and again.**

However, if it were me writing and not Gruenwald, I’d have ended the book a little differently:

*Not because he’s a dude, because he’s got a frickin’ red skull for a face. Try some Oil of Olay, Skull.

** Until he gets his ass killed in Ed Brubaker’s current run on Captain America.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Off Topic: Medal of Honor Recipients

Okay, not to get all patriotic on your ass, but since this is Memorial Day Weekend I thought I'd share some stuff from one of my favorite sites, a complete list of all the Congressional Medal of Honor recipients. It's broken down for you by conflict, and then alphabetically by last name. Each recipient has a brief essay on the circumstances in which they received the Medal, written in the vernacular of the day. It makes for fascinating reading. Sadly, most of the soldiers who win this highest honor do so after sacrificing their own lives.

If you appreciate heroism and bravery as much as I do, set the damn X-Men comic down and head on over to the site and check out the exploits of some real-life bad-asses.

Here's an example:


Rank and organization: Sergeant, U.S. Army, Medical Company 223d Infantry Regiment, 40th Infantry Division. Place and date: Vicinity of Minari-gol, Korea, 14 June 1952.

Citation: ...As a medical aidman, [Sgt. Bleak] volunteered to accompany a reconnaissance patrol committed to engage the enemy and capture a prisoner for interrogation. Forging up the rugged slope of the key terrain, the group was subjected to intense automatic weapons and small arms fire and suffered several casualties. After administering to the wounded, he continued to advance with the patrol. Nearing the military crest of the hill, while attempting to cross the fire-swept area to attend the wounded, he came under hostile fire from a small group of the enemy concealed in a trench. Entering the trench he closed with the enemy, killed 2 with bare hands and a third with his trench knife. Moving from the emplacement, he saw a concussion grenade fall in front of a companion and, quickly shifting his position, shielded the man from the impact of the blast.

Later, while ministering to the wounded, he was struck by a hostile bullet but, despite the wound, he undertook to evacuate a wounded comrade. As he moved down the hill with his heavy burden, he was attacked by 2 enemy soldiers with fixed bayonets. Closing with the aggressors, he grabbed them and smacked their heads together, then carried his helpless comrade down the hill to safety. Sgt. Bleak's dauntless courage and intrepid actions reflect utmost credit upon himself and are in keeping with the honored traditions of the military service.

Did you catch that? He smacked their fucking heads together!

Here's another:


Rank and organization: Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company B, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry, 196th Infantry Brigade, 23d Infantry Division. Place and date: Near the village of Hiep Duc, Republic of Vietnam, 7 June 1970.

Citation: ...S/Sgt. Murray's squad was searching for an enemy mortar that had been threatening friendly positions when a member of the squad tripped an enemy grenade rigged as a booby trap. Realizing that he had activated the enemy booby trap, the soldier shouted for everybody to take cover. Instantly assessing the danger to the men of his squad, S/Sgt. Murray unhesitatingly and with complete disregard for his own safety, threw himself on the grenade absorbing the full and fatal impact of the explosion. By his gallant action and self sacrifice, he prevented the death or injury of the other members of his squad. S/Sgt. Murray's extraordinary courage and gallantry, at the cost of his life above and beyond the call of duty, are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit on him, his unit, and the U.S. Army.

Unfortunately, there's more than a few Medal of Honor recipients who died by jumping on grenades to save their comrades.

Here's one last example:

HOWARD, JAMES H. (Air Mission)

Rank and organization: Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army Air Corps. Place and date: Over Oschersleben, Germany, 11 January 1944.

Citation: ...Col. Howard was the leader of a group of P51 aircraft providing support for a heavy bomber formation on a long-range mission deep in enemy territory. As Col. Howard's group met the bombers in the target area the bomber force was attacked by numerous enemy fighters. Col. Howard, with his group, and at once engaged the enemy and himself destroyed a German ME. 110. As a result of this attack Col. Howard lost contact with his group, and at once returned to the level of the bomber formation. He then saw that the bombers were being heavily attacked by enemy airplanes and that no other friendly fighters were at hand.

While Col. Howard could have waited to attempt to assemble his group before engaging the enemy, he chose instead to attack single-handed a formation of more than 30 German airplanes. With utter disregard for his own safety he immediately pressed home determined attacks for some 30 minutes, during which time he destroyed 3 enemy airplanes and probably destroyed and damaged others. Toward the end of this engagement 3 of his guns went out of action and his fuel supply was becoming dangerously low. Despite these handicaps and the almost insuperable odds against him, Col. Howard continued his aggressive action in an attempt to protect the bombers from the numerous fighters. His skill, courage, and intrepidity on this occasion set an example of heroism which will be an inspiration to the U.S. Armed Forces.

One guy in a P-51 against 30 German fighters? That's some ice-cold shit right there.

Anyway, hope everybody's enjoying their weekend. We will commence with our regularly scheduled mockery/adulation of comic books shortly.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle

Just a lame little post today - I'm just spent from that J.U.D.G.E. thing and I need to take it easy, recharge.

Here's the Evel Knievel stunt cycle, which my friend had. If memory serves, you launched Evel and his stunt cycle out of the "Rev-Booster" and tried to make him jump over shit. We soon escalated to launching Evel into brick walls, then swimming pools, then at piles of dog poo, until finally climaxing in a glorious kerosene-fueled blazing death jump off my friend's garage. Viva Knievel indeed! That little fucker was tough!

Plus, miniature Evel Knievel came with a swagger stick (see above) which was really big in British Colonial India back in the day. I believe those are called "pimp canes" now.

But even miniature Evel Knievel had his limits. For instance:

That's right, it could jump a standard encyclopedia set -- up through the letter "W." Jumping all the way to XYZ? That's insane, it can't be done! Don't do it Knievel! Somebody stop him, he's going to kill himself!

Thursday, May 26, 2005

J.U.D.G.E. #1 Image Comics, 2000

Hey, it's about time you grew the balls to tackle Greg Horn's J.U.D.G.E.
I dare you.
-Konstantinos Stamoulis

Challenge answered, my friend!

I think Greg Horn is good at what he does - let's just get that out of the way now. The guy's a talented artist who is mostly known for his cover work. Greg Horn specializes in photorealistic-yet-painted art of hot but curiously emotionless women. I'm sure his covers for Elektra and Emma Frost helped those books sell and were, um, passionately studied by male readers everywhere. Horn also has done covers for game magazines and some commercial art for big clients like Nike. Perhaps this is limiting of me, but I think of Greg Horn as a cover artist, like Alex Ross and Adam Hughes. Greg Horn is good at covers.

Unfortunately, Greg also created his own comic book J.U.D.G.E., published by Image. Horn wrote the book and did the art, which wasn't a great idea. The story is a weird downbeat mess full of shrill, screaming characters. The art is lurid and confusing, doing little to advance the scant plot. In my mind, J.U.D.G.E. is a classic example of a comic made by somebody who is good at creating covers and posters, but not so great when he applies his skills to the tricky world of sequential art. In other words, J.U.D.G.E. blows.

Seriously. It's Uwe Boll bad. That's right; this is the comic book equivalent of House of the Dead.

I felt like THIS when I was done reading it:

The key problems I have with J.U.D.G.E. #1 is that I don't like the story or the art.

I'm not saying that each individual panel of art sucks. Some of them do, but overall it's okay. It's just that the art doesn't visually tell the story well and it's really hard to read. I would bet that if you took a panel from J.U.D.G.E. and a panel of any Matt Wagner art and showed it to Johnny On-The-Street, they would say that Horn's art is better. And that's because people are stupid. It's also because Matt Wagner's art is designed as part of a narrative, existing to serve the story and work as part of a greater whole. (It's also because Matt Wagner fucking rules) That's not the case here.

Horn used models to attain his photo/painting look. I imagine he just took a lot of pictures of his subjects and used them as photoreference or something, I'm not really sure. As a matter of fact, a Dave's Long Box reader named Sam was a model for one of the characters in this issue. Here he is:

"I too look forward to your review, because I am IN J.U.D.G.E.!

Greg used a lot of the guys from his local comic shop as models (he had already killed the owner in Espers)... He does however have a shit load of money and is married to the girl on the cover."

Nice! I say more power to Greg. I still think this particular comic sucks, but more power to him. Sam, you'll have to tell us which character you were!

Or I should say, which mannequin? The characters in this book are as stiff and posed as the pirates at Disneyland. All of the annoying characters in the book are either yelling or wincing, and are often put together awkwardly in a frame in ways that seem to defy perspective. J.U.D.G.E. is like a fumetti - the strangely inert yet always fascinating photo comics that we all loved. Well, not all of us. There are a lot of floating head shots in J.U.D.G.E., too - when there's no room for a character in a panel, they get reduced to a tiny floating head in the background. Plus, the lighting! The characters are always the same vibrant flesh tones, regardless of setting; it's like the lighting in the circus tent is the same as the lighting in the cemetery. Horn also eschews the use of conventional comic book panel borders and gets creative, but the result is that some pages, particularly the ones that feature a lot of characters, turn into this big jumbled mess of colors with little distinction between panels. It's like an optic puzzle or something. Let's take a look. Click on the image if you'd like to enlarge.

The whole thing just blurs to me, until it looks like this:

You see what I mean about floating heads? Well, not literally floating, but there are characters who are kind of just pasted into the background, barely tethered to their surroundings. And where is all this golden sunshine coming from that lights all the characters from every angle in this gloomy cemetery?

Moving on: the story is about a group of young, incredibly bitchy and high strung operatives for a secret organization called J.U.D.G.E. If they worked for a secret organization called J.U.G.G.S. I might have bought the second issue. This gang of petulant assholes receive their orders, visit the circus(wa-huh?), then ambush some bad guys in a cemetery, arguing and whining the entire fucking time. We learn important details like their names at the end of the book, in a little bio section. Why they put it back there, I don't know, but somehow I doubt I would have picked up any extra understanding of the material if I had known the name of the purple-skinned asshole. Anyway, the incompetent and bickering assholes spring their ambush in the aforementioned brightly lit cemetery, and Things Go Horribly Wrong. You guessed it, The Nice Girl dies.

So does my interest.

Horn may have hit his stride in later issues of J.U.D.G.E., but I stopped at number one. Can you blame me? I don't have money to spend on comics that suck.* As LL Cool J says, "you only get one shot at love."

*Obviously, this is not true.

Later, gator

Real-world unpleasantness has intruded on my planned post today, so I ask for your patience. I'll do a proper post later today/tonight, so fear not...

For now, I leave you with a picture of a lucky alligator and an unlucky deer, courtesy of Snopes.com.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Ready Rangers

Cough syrup with codeine is a wicked mistress.

I slipped into a micro-coma last night after a few teaspoons of "Canadian cough syrup" as we call it here in the sunny Northwest, and as a result I was unable to do my planned review/mockery of Greg Horn's J.U.D.G.E., which we'll get to tomorrow.

Today we'll just take a quick look at a dangerously misleading ad from Aurora toys, who want young minds to believe that all their wilderness survival needs will be taken care of by the Ready Ranger Omni-Pack, which has more gadgets than Batman's utility belt. No shark repellant, though.

This comic ad features the Ready Rangers, three stupid white kids who get cut off from civilization by a rock slide when they're off hiking in the wilderness by themselves. They have either forgotten to tell any adults where they were going, or they are neglected latch key kids whose absence won't be noticed by their workaholic or stoned parents - either way, these kids are on their own. Instead of food and water, the kids have their Ready Ranger Mobile Field Pack. One of the stupid fucking kids locates the North Star with the Starfinder -- you know, so they can know which way north is while they freeze to death. I think a compass would have taken up less room than the Starfinder, but what do I know? Another dumb-ass kid yells into a plastic "megaphone" for help - in case any rescue parties are twenty feet away. Finally, the lookout tower spots their Ready Ranger Signal Light and a helicopter is dispatched to winch the kids up to safety, costing tax payers thousands and thousands of dollars.

I say let nature take its course and let the strong and non-stupid survive.

All right, next post: J.U.D.G.E.!

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

THE CAT #3 Marvel Comics 1972

The Cat #3 features two fetishes common in the geek community: a) chicks in spandex with sashes/belts, and b) heroines in nets. But for me, it's all about Commander Kraken.

Everybody has that one villain or hero that they love regardless of logic, good taste, or popular opinion. For some, it's The Shaggy Man. For others, Clock King. Me? I'll take Commander Kraken. I was devastated - inconsolably devastated - when Commander Kraken was gunned down by Scourge in the Bar With No Name in Captain America #320 along with a host of lame villains. I guess I had been hoping beyond hope that there would be a Commander Kraken renaissance and my favorite villain would finally take his rightful place alongside Marvel's arch-villains. I mean, Kraken didn't deserve to die on the sawdusty floor of that nameless bar, his blood mingling with that of frickin' Bird-Man. He deserved more, damnit!

Commander Kraken was first a Sub-Mariner foe, but fought Iron Man as well. As you can see, his supervillain stock was falling in the early 70's because he ended up fighting The Cat - and losing. Ouch. I'll bet he didn't put that fight on his resume. Kraken was a malevolent metrosexual, a diabolical dandy, a gentleman pirate who committed nautical supercrimes with the help of a crew of buccaneer flunkies. In true pirate style he had a hook/claw thing on one hand that delivered electric shocks, and a boss Fu Manchu meets Dracula hairstyle. I'm so fond of him that I made a custom Kraken character for the PC game Freedom Force who was just ridiculously tough. Somebody made a Kraken skin for the game, so I can't be the only fan out there.

But enough about Commander Kraken. The Cat was a short-lived series about Greer Nelson, a feline crimefighter who wore a bright yellow outfit with blue accesories. Marvel's answer to Catwoman, The Cat never really took off, although she's been kicking around as a minor heroine in the Marvel Universe for years. These days she's called Hellcat (I believe)* and she still wears the same distinctive yellow bodysuit - you know, for stealth. I think a more appropriate moniker for her would have been "Day-Glo the Traffic Safety Werecat." She could teach kids the importance of wearing bright or reflective clothing while riding a bike. Of course, she'd have to lose the cat ears and wear a blue bike helmet, but I think she could pull it off.

This issue stands out to me because 3 out of 5 members of the creative team were female. Linda Fite wrote this torrid tale, with Paty Greer on pencils and Bill Everett on inks. Paty Greer was a fill-in penciller for this issue - I always thought that was a pen-name, but I Googled her and I guess I was wrong. I really like the art in this issue, particularly Everett's fine inking.

The story? The Cat investigates some strange sonar noises coming from the bottom of Lake Michigan, where she is captured by the unusually garbed occupants of a high-tech undersea lab that she assumes are members of the U.S. Navy. While she's captive, Commander Kraken and his men take over the lab. The Cat joins forces with her strange captors and drives the invaders away. Grateful for her help, the weird Navy guys let her go - only then does she realize that she's been helping aliens! D'oh!

Let's take a look at a page from the book. Kraken, who suddenly has lovely tangerine eye shadow, has taken over the lab. Unseen in her bright yellow costume, The Cat lurks above...

I have to say, Linda Fite's script doesn't make The Cat seem very bright. She gets knocked out not once, but twice, and she assumes the aliens are working for the Navy because as she's sneaking around the lab she finds a closet full off Navy uniforms. WTF? After Kraken has been run off she asks the aliens, "Why didn't you just tell me you're working for the U.S. government?" That's the kind of assumption that you'd make on a sitcom, where characters are required to be dumb in order to advance the plot. At the end of the book, she watches the subaquatic laboratory blast out of Lake Michigan - it was really a spaceship! At least The Cat realizes how dumb she's been: "I let my pride rule me... assuming that I knew all there was to know... and -- I don't." I think I spoke those very words after a history mid-term in college.

The Cat #3. Not a great comic, but it had a lot going for it: Commander Kraken, nice inking, and a superheroine with a sash around her shapely hips. I think modern comic book creators could learn a lot from this issue. Where are the sashes? Where are the heroines in nets?

And most importantly, where is the love for Commander Kraken?

*Correction! Patsy Walker is now Hellcat, in Greer Nelson's old outfit. Greer Nelson is now Tigra, formerly of The Avengers. My bad. Thanks to Prof. Fury for the save!

** Update!!! Thanks and praise be to Milo George, who pointed out that this issue has a fan letter from none other than Frank "The Tank" Miller, circa 1972. Here it is:

"Dear Marvel,

Wonderful! At last, a woman character with character. I, for one, am sick of the helpless female types which have cluttered up comics for so long. While I do think they are necessary and nice to look at, they don't have to be the only kind.

The writing is good; the art, excellent. Keep it up!"

-Frank Miller

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Thanagar rules. Rann? Not so much.

The comic bloggers of Earth-1 have been pressured to take sides in the ongoing Rann/Thanagar War, and I am no exception. After 30 seconds of careful consideration, I have decided to throw my support behind the hawk-winged fascists of Thanagar. Why?

Because Rann sucks.

Bigger and better geeks than I have made the argument for Thanagarian superiority. Thanagar has Nth Metal and the Absorbascon. Rann does not. Thanagar exports heroes to other planets. Rann's only hero is from Earth. Thanagar is a society that values order at all costs, enforced by their jack-booted winged secret police. Rann values xenophobia and cowardice. Thanagarians know how to dress and take care of their hair. On Rann, that's just not a priority.

The Rann/Thanagar War (BTW, on Thanagar they don't even call it a war, it's known as the Rann/Thanagar Police Action) reminds me a lot of the Peloponnesian War. Rann is ancient Athens at its most fickle and capricious, whereas Thanagar is ancient Sparta, a stratified warrior culture that values martial prowess and victory - and we all know how the Peloponnesian War turned out, don't we?*

Plus, check out the picture above. How many people dress up like Adam Strange for conventions? Answer: none. You'd dress up and even among your fellow geeks nobody would even know who you were supposed to be.

Plus, my favorite Hawk-man is solidly behind Thanagar:

I don't think I need to go on. Thanagar rules, and victory is assured. Back the winning team.


*Sparta kicked Athens' ass.

Friday, May 20, 2005

DAREDEVIL #305 Marvel Comics, 1992

This comic book sucks.

Daredevil #305 is the sucky first part of a suck-ass two-issue storyline written by D.G. Chichester with pencils by Scott McDaniel and inks by Chris Ivy. As you can see by the sucky cover, Spider-Man teams up with DD in this issue to fight the menace of The Surgeon General. I’m not including the second part of this gripping saga because – you guessed it – it sucks too.

I don’t mean to be cruel, but I have to call it like I see it. All parties involved have created comics that I enjoy, particularly Scott McDaniel, whose work I generally like. However, the art on this one sucks. Look at the cover, above. Where are they fighting, M.C. Escherland? The fence thing is just a visual mess. Daredevil is placed very strangely on the cover so it looks like he’s standing on the fence, creating the illusion that the fence is in the background – an illusion that is shattered by Spider-Man’s arm wrapping around the same fence. The angles of the fence are all fucked up, too. Plus, one of the spikes is jabbing into Daredevil’s bathing suit area. The whole cover just makes my head spin.

The interior art is not so good. McDaniel’s work has really evolved since the year 1992, during the Dark Age of Comics. The characters in this book all look like buff blow-up sex dolls with creepy glass eyes. Chris Ivy’s inks don’t work with McDaniel’s pencils – the whole thing has a scratchy, sloppy vibe. The coloring mistakes don’t help, either. All in all, the art sucks.

The story makes no damn sense, either. Lest anyone call me to task for making unreasonable demands of a superhero comic, I assure you that I’m judging Daredevil #305 by its own standards. There’s a certain level of realism established in Daredevil and generally speaking, the stories make sense, so I’m not being unreasonable, here.

The plot involves Daredevil and Spider-Man hunting the Surgeon General, a psycho who picks up young men in Manhattan clubs and then removes their organs for sale on the black market. The Surgeon General is a foxy young woman who changes from her clubwear into her surgeon costume before killing her victims – for effect, I guess. Hornhead finds a guy in the Park whose liver has been removed. He brings the dying man to a local hospital, where we’re treated to a scene in the ER that I am guessing would make the good doctor from Polite Dissent cringe:

“Life turns cheap, then it turns up in the emergency room.” “God’s got nothing to do with it, not if this ultrasound’s right!” Those are some poetically jaded doctors! I think Daredevil stumbled into Raymond Chandler Memorial Hospital or something.

The chief flaw of this story – this two-part – story is that it relies on The Riddler Factor to succeed. The villainess Surgeon General has no powers whatsoever and no formidable skills aside from a medical degree - she just has a bandolier full of scalpels and bone-saws and a head full of crazy, yet she’s more than a match for our two seasoned heroes. Shit, it takes two whole issues for Daredevil and Spider-Man to stop her. How is this possible?

The Riddler Factor is that combination of luck, moxie, and plot contrivance that allows lame villains to survive when they are hopelessly outclassed by their superhero opponents. Basically put, the writer is on the villain’s side. It’s how The Riddler manages to survive 22 pages against Batman – sometimes even longer! It’s how Turner D. Century doesn’t get pounded to dust by Spider-Woman. It’s how tons of minor villains actually manage to hurt or annoy Superman. The Riddler Factor is like a big invisible Cloak of Lucky that protects the villain – until your 22 pages is up, that is. Then you get knocked out with one punch.

Writer D.G. Chichester does whatever it takes to keep the Surgeon General out of our hero’s clutches, like making DD and Spidey incredibly incompetent – just for this storyline. Seriously, in Spider-Man’s books he fights Dr. Octopus and The Rhino, cats like that. Here he can’t catch a regular, non-powered woman with a scalpel – and if memory serves, both he and Daredevil get captured in the next issue! Come on, she wouldn’t last two seconds against Spider-Man! I call bullshit on that.

Anyway, to catch the Surgeon General before she kills again Daredevil talks Spider-Man into dressing up like a member of the Village People and hitting the club scene. Sure enough, it only takes one night before she takes the bait, which is convenient. Either that, or the art depicts Peter Parker going out night after night in the same outfit. The Surgeon General lures Spidey out on to an empty penthouse bar, where she’s stashed her costume and paraphernalia. While her potential victim conveniently has his back turned, she changes into her work clothes and sneaks up behind him, making menacing innuendos.

Let’s look:

Village Person Peter Parker (new from Mattel!) is saved at the last second by Daredevil, who tosses him off the edge of the roof before he can get stabbed. What the hell kind of medical instrument is she holding anyway, is that like a Klingon scalpel? Daredevil engages the Surgeon General in combat and promptly gets his ass kicked. In this very issue Daredevil defeated two armed thugs with fancy acrobatics and fu, yet he is suddenly, inexplicably unable to fight this slender woman.

Here’s Daredevil going down like a sucka:

What a chump! The same guy who fights The Hand and Bullseye can’t stop this woman from gassing him into unconsciousness. That’s the Riddler Factor in play right there.

Of course, Spider-Man intervenes before the Surgeon General can use the bonesaw, but he, too is unable to catch this wily unpowered woman. She makes good her escape through a crowded dance club, slashing and stabbing people as she goes while our heroes pursue, apparently in slow-motion. The “horror” of the scene is undercut by the dialogue of the panicked club-goers. Stuff like: "Holy--! A doctor! Somebody get a real—" and "—ain’t worth no cover –" and "Marcus Welby with an attitude!" Reading those lines physically pulls a deep agonized groan of agonized agony from my body.

The Surgeon General jumps into a waiting getaway van driven by her similarly garbed nurse/thugs. Daredevil pursues, but as he jumps inside the van, the invisible hand of The Riddler Factor intervenes once again. The Surgeon General throws an icy cold organ transport case at Daredevil, knocking him out of the van. Fortunately, Spider-Man saves him with a web, but Daredevil is s-s-so cuh-cuh-cold…

What the fuck? Does that make any sense? When the Surgeon General hits DD with the case he thinks, via narration caption: “Sudden searing cold against my abdomen, burning. Chill spreads outward, an icy wildfire locking up my limbs.” Yes, as far as I know human organs are carried in special cold containers, which are probably kept chilly with dry ice or liquid nitrogen or something. How would that make the outside of the case freezing cold? How exactly would anybody carry such a case if it was that fucking cold? You’d have to have special cold-proof robot couriers dressed up like monkeys to carry that.* Yet the case that hits Daredevil is so cold that it instantly incapacitates him, much like the gas earlier.

Either Daredevil is a big wuss, or the writing is just bad. I’m going to choose “b” in this case.

Daredevil #305 is so bad that it makes my soul die a little bit when I read it. Truly it is deserving of “The Pain” award.

*I don’t know, it sounds like a cool idea: Robotic Organ Courier Monkeys.

The REAL Fantastic Four

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

GRIMJACK #3 First Comics, 1984

Grimjack was a comic book and character that really appealed to my adolescent need for hardboiled dialogue, dark storylines, and brutal anti-heroes. Published by First Comics, Grimjack was created by writer John Ostrander and artist Tim Truman, two GIANTS of the comic book world if you ask me. It ran from 1984 to 1991, and is now being published again by IDW, which can only be a good thing.

Grimjack is the street name of John Gaunt, a tough private investigator who works in Cynosure, a huge interdimensional city made up of a patchwork of different realities, each with their own physical laws. Gaunt was always getting mixed up in sordid and violent schemes that were often best resolved with the slash of a broadsword. I liked Grimjack because he was hardcore; unfettered by the Comics Code Authority that other so-called bad-asses like The Punisher and Wolverine labored under, Grimjack could really, if I may use the vernacular, fuck shit up. The violence in Grimjack is graphic and brutal, and John Gaunt always had a nasty trick or a grenade or two up his sleeve for the exotic enemies who always underestimated him. Plus, Grimjack is ugly; he's the Lemmy of comic books. You gotta love him.

This is one of the earlier issues of Grimjack, and Truman's art is a little crude at this stage of his career, but then Cynosure and Grimjack aren't supposed to be particularly attractive. In this issue our hero teams up with Blacjac Mac, who is a blacksploitation character cast in the Isaac Hayes mold and staunch ally. Here, the two meet:

"I speak a little jive myself."

The two team up and the mayhem begins. Multiple shootings, a hand gets chopped off, multiple deaths by grenade, stabbings, beatings, people get crushed by heavy machinery, and people generally not treating each other with respect. This is an average issue of Grimjack - just what a growing boy needed. Wolverine just wasn't hard enough for me when I was a kid. My heroes growing up were Snake Plissken from Escape from New York and Mad Max, not these sissies who pull their punches and shoot to wound. Besides, I didn't have all the violent video games that you punks have these days, I had to get my gratuitous violence the old-fashioned way: through comic books and on VHS.

And look: I turned out okay! Sort of...

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

FANTASTIC FOUR #350 Marvel Comics, 1991

I'm slammed with work today and coughing up a lung, so I'll make this a short one:

Fantastic Four #350 is a GIANT-SIZED issue from Walt Simonson's run as writer/artist on the book. The big deal in this issue is that Ben Grimm, who was human again, gets turned back into The Ever Lovin' Blue-Eyed Thing once again. Bummer for Ben, but good for readers. Who doesn't love The Thing? North Koreans. Aside from that, nobody.

I love The Thing, but for me the big draw for this issue is the return of the original Dr. Doom. I am going to write a huge love-letter post to Dr. Doom some day, so I'll refrain from a lengthy discussion of why Dr. Doom is The Ultimate Super Villain here and just say "I Heart Doom" and leave it at that.

Because I love Doom so much that I want to marry him, I have been disappointed with many appearances of my favorite villain in FF and other comics. Doom should inspire awe and dread in all who cross his path, and too often he has been plugged into stories as a generic arch-villain for lame superheroes to fight. I can handle the Fantastic Four or The X-Men fighting Doom, but there's no way Dazzler or the fucking Micronauts should be fighting Doom. They would DIE, and quickly. Doom should be a legendary figure, a real-life boogeyman that heroes pray they never run across. He should be used for big event storylines, not throw-away one shot issues. Anything less does not honor Doom.

I think Walt Simonson must feel the same way, because this issue is just a big middle finger to those appearances of Dr. Doom in the Marvel Universe that weren't worthy of him. Basically, in this issue Dr. Doom returns from a lengthy extra-dimensional sojourn to find his country run by his own creations, the Doombots, robot replicas who act and fight just like Doom and even believe they are Doom himself. He quickly disposes of the extra Doombots, puts his ward Kristoff in his place, and takes charge again.

Dr. Doom mentions that he has only occasionally returned over the years to Earth to handles his business, but for most of the time he has let the Doombots run the show. Doom's a big-picture "blue sky thinker" kind of guy; he doesn't get hung up in micro-management.

Here's an exchange that Doom has with The Thing:

Basically, Simonson is saying to the readers: "Have you ever read a lame Dr. Doom story where the Master wasn't getting his props? Don't worry - it was just a robot!" The reader can decide for him/herself whether each appearance of Doom was a robot or not. If you like a particular Doom story - cool, that was the real Doom. But if you just can't stand the way Dr. Doom was portrayed in, say, Dazzler? Just a stupid robot.

I love that. In one fell swoop, Simonson returned Dr. Doom to his true mythic greatness and gave the big finger to all those suckers who have written bad Dr. Doom stories.

Dr. Doom reigns supreme, and so does Walt Simonson.

Monday, May 16, 2005

DAREDEVIL #115 Marvel Comics, 1974

Check out that cover.

They don't make covers like that anymore. Not to get all old-timer on you, but it seems like these days mainstream superhero comics are interested only in generic, iconic covers that don't really indicate what the interior contents of the comic are. The days of word balloons on the cover are long gone, my friend, and that's a damn shame.

Daredevil #115 is one of those comics that I clearly remember reading when I was a little kid. My family used to make the long road trip from Glendale, California all the way up to Yorkton, Saskatchewan, for a few weeks of summer vacation. I'm really quite fond of Saskatchewan and would recommend it as a vacation destination to anyone interested in grain elevators and mosquitoes.

One of the highlights of the summer trips to Yorkton was a visit to the cabin on Crystal Lake of our family friends, who had three daughters. My sister and our friends and I would go swimming and waterskiing and eat and play cards and pick leeches off our feet and it was great. There was this great old drive-in theater up the hill from the cabin where we'd watch bad 70's movies under a big northern sky full of stars. The whole thing was like a Norman Rockwell painting, only different -- Canadian. It was here, at the lake, that I found Daredevil #115 in a box full of toys outside the cabin.

I had never heard of Daredevil before. I knew who Spider-Man and The Hulk were, but who was this guy? When I was a kid I remember being a little scared by Marvel comic covers, and this was no exception. I mean, Daredevil is clearly in trouble on the cover above -- "Looks like this is the death-trap I don't escape!" All the Marvel covers of the 70's were like that; they all showed the hero about to get killed or otherwise being handled roughly. It kind of freaked me out. I think I wanted to see more upbeat covers, wanted to see the hero kicking some ass.

Having said that, I was hooked by the scary cover. So I sat down on the deck and I read it. I had to know if this Daredevil guy made it, who this Death Stalker guy was, and why that bald guy was shooting at him.

The Death-Stalker is one of the coolest villains ever. Let's just get that out of the way. My judgment is clearly swayed by the heady fumes of nostalgia, but I'm amazed that nobody has brought him back. Have they, and I missed it? Death-Stalker was this sinister guy in a hat who... you know what, this splash page says it all. (Click to enlarge for better reading.)

"He is the demonic Death-Stalker -- and his mission is murder!"

Man, Death-Stalker freaked my shit out! As a kid obsessed by Dracula and The Nazgul, I thought he was brilliant. Death-Stalker could become intangible at will, his touch was death, and he had a really evil laugh. Plus: cool hat. What more do you need?

This issue was written by Steve Gerber, with solid 70's art by Bob Brown and inks by the iron hand of Vince Colletta. Steve Gerber is best known for creating Howard the Duck (and Doctor Bong), but he's written tons of stuff. I'm not sure if he created Death-Stalker; I'm too lazy to look it up. Gerber's Daredevil is consistent with the pre-Frank Miller take on the character as a wise-cracking acrobatic swashbuckler. It's actually kind of funny; Daredevil doesn't seem to be remotely afraid of the sinister Death-Stalker in this issue and remains pretty upbeat despite his enemy's apparent invulnerability.

I read this comic dozens of times that summer. I poured over the letters page, the in-house ads, every panel of art - it was a fascinating glimpse into a vast fictional world that was apparently much more complex than just Hulk and Spider-Man. It kindled my interest in comics. Regrettably, that particular comic and I had to part ways, but as you can see, I tracked it down.

I did that with all the old comics I remember reading as a kid. I've pored through back issue bins over the years until I've collected them all. It's like capturing a certain smell or a sound in a bottle. Wouldn't you do that, if you could? Go back to that winter when it really dumped snow on your neighborhood and capture the smell in the air? Or go back to summer camp and capture perfectly the sound of the frogs at night and the snoring of the kid in the bunk next to you? Or capture the sound of traffic and the city drifting in through an open window as you try to sleep on a hot night in July? Well, I did it. I went back and captured all those memories, those feelings and now I have them in acid-free polybags.

There are only about six of them, comics that I have that connection with. The rest are just comics. But when I open Daredevil #115, I can smell the sunscreen and Deep Woods Off, I can feel the warm prairie breeze, and I'm back at Crystal Lake, Saskatchewan.

Oh! Added bonus! Check out this in-house ad for their wild new character - Wolverine! But is he hero -- or the most dangerous new super-villain ever? That makes me feel very old.

Friday, May 13, 2005

ACTION COMICS #761 DC Comics, 2000

"If a woman sleeps alone it puts a shame on all men. God has a very big heart , but there is one sin He will not forgive: if a woman calls a man to her bed and he will not go ."

-Zorba (Anthony Quinn) from Zorba the Greek (1964)

Action Comics #761 is a romantic mini-epic from writer Joe Kelly's run on the book, during that brief period in 2000 where it looked like DC was going to start putting out good Superman books on a monthly basis. Alas, it was not meant to be, although there were a few nuggets of superhero goodness during this period - mostly Joe Kelly's stories, now that I think about it.

In this book, Kelly thinks up a kind of sweet way of exploring the depths of Superman's love for Lois Lane while still meeting the need for superheroic violence. Superman and Wonder Woman get magically teleported to Asgard, where they're both recruited by the DC version of Thor to fight in a Ragnarok-style apocalyptic battle against hordes of demons and whatnot. While Superman and Wonder Woman are off planet, Lois stews a little, jealous of the bond Superman and Wonder Woman have together. I can't blame her, it'd be tough if your husband's "work wife" was Wonder Woman.

Here's Lois, stewing:

Although very little time is passing on Earth, Superman and Wonder Woman battle in Asgard for a thousand years. I don't know if Joe Kelly really means for us to believe a thousand years have passed, or if he's being fanciful. Anyway, a really long time passes for our two heroes, who battle with the Asgardians day in and day out. There's a great sort of montage in the middle of the book that depicts the passage of time really well, and there's a clever series of panels that depicts Superman and Wonder Woman sleeping in the Asgardian camp around a campfire. They start on opposite sides of the fire, but as time passes, in each panel they move closer together until Superman and Wonder Woman are sleeping in each other's arms next to the campfire. He's torn between his devotion to his wife and his powerful bond with Wonder Woman. Superman can no longer remember Lois' middle name, and "Diana smelled like orchids and fire..."

Finally, their epic campaign reaches an end, and on the night before the final battle, a battle weary Clark and Diana meet in his tent:

Superman, dude! Wonder Woman is coming on to you! What are you going to do? Are you going to stay loyal to the chance - the hope - that you and Lois will be reunited, or are you going to give in to the passion, the intimacy of the moment?

He says no. To Wonder Woman.

Superman, you must be out yo mind.

It's the tent scene that snaps my already stretched suspension of disbelief. I mean, I can believe that Superman can fly, or that he has heat vision. I can even believe that he has super-ventriloquism and can turn back time by flying around the Earth really fast. What I cannot believe is that under these circumstances Superman would not have sex with Wonder Woman. It's just not physically possible. And let me tell you, if it were me, it wouldn't have taken a thousand years to get to that point, either. I'd last maybe six months and then I'd be all, "Hey. Wonder Woman. How you doin'?" His millenium-long chastity doesn't make me think he's a noble hero, it makes me wonder if he's not mentally ill.

The whole scenario is so implausible that it mentally pains me, and therefore receives my new "The Pain!" banner which I shall award to things I think are painfully stupid.

Okay, I'm settling down a little. I confess that despite my histrionics I actually like this issue quite a bit and I think Kelly deserves points for his unabashed sentimentalism and the fact that he wrapped the story up in one issue. And of course, I understandwhy one wouldn't want Superman and Wonder Woman making sweet Asgardian love, but I think they should have, it would have been more interesting. So despite my mockery of Superman's lame decision making, I think it's a swell comic.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Armor: never cool

Web of Spider-Man #100 Marvel Comics, 1993

You know what's stupid? When super-heroes get high-tech, armored versions of their regular costumes. Even if it's only for a short time, it's still doopid. That's right, it's doopid. I'm making up words here.

Where was I? Right; stupid armor. One of the lamer trends in comics, stupid armor was a spasm of collective uncoolness that really took hold in the mid-nineties, the modern dark age of comics. For some reason, in the nineties heroes were upgrading to more "extreme" and "radical" versions of their regular costumes.

As near as I can tell, this cliche manifests itself in three ways:

1) POWERING UP The hero is "powering up" to face a certain threat or compensate for a certain weakness. Check out Spidey's gnarly armored costume above, or Captain America's hardcore battle armor, below for examples.

Captain America #440 Marvel Comics, 1995

2) DESPERATION The hero is getting a costume overhaul because sales are lagging or the character is inherently goofy and needs help badly. The new armor lasts for as long as the creative team that made it lasts, and then the next guys come in and change the hero back again. One advanatge of this approach is that it makes readers appreciate how cool, say, Classic Booster Gold was in comparison to the new Radically Rad Armored Booster Gold. Then when you switch back to the old Booster Gold, everybody's happy again.


Justice League America #87 DC Comics, 1994

"I gotta hand it to you, Ted, this new version of my armor looks pretty cool!"

Booster Gold is high. That armor is anti-cool - if it came into contact with real cool it would explode. He looks like one of those big inflatable superhero/lumberjack/gorilla ballons you see in front of car dealerships. I was around in 1994, and I remember most of it, so I can say with some certainty that Booster's armor wasn't pretty cool then, nor has it ever been pretty cool.

3) SPECIAL 50TH OR 100TH ISSUE! For some reason, big landmark issues seem to be really good times to bust out the radical new armor. The Spidey Armor above was from the 100th issue, and the Cat Armor below is from the special 50th issue of Catwoman. You can't tell from the scan, but the cover is all shiny and metallic. Can you see? Can you see why the nineties nearly killed us all? Did we need a special shiny 50th issue of Catwoman with extreme new armor?


Catwoman #50 DC Comics, 1997

The Az-Bat Armor is also a good example of celebrating a publishing landmark in the history of an enduring, iconic character by totally burying everything enduring and iconic about the character under three feet of crap. The Az-Bat thing is worthy of it's own post, so perhaps I'll refrain from any fanboy histrionics just yet.

I present to you as evidence of the suckiness of the nineties exhibit a), Az-Bat:

Batman #501 DC Comics, 1993

...and exhibit b), the infamous Daredevil armor from that run of DD that everyone pretends didn't happen:

Daredevil #332 Marvel Comcis, 1994

I think I've made my point: armor for superheroes is never cool.*

*Unless you're Iron Man or somebody like that, in which case, go nuts.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

THE MIGHTY THOR #362 Marvel Comics, 1985

There are two – only two – comic books that have made me cry, and this is one of them.

The other one? Daredevil #232, the penultimate chapter in Frank Miller’s Born Again storyline. There's a big shot of Matt Murdock at the end of the book, back in the Daredevil costume again, backlit by a raging inferno – man, that really gripped my shit. You know which one I’m talking about? I can still give myself goosebumps thinking about that page.

But we’re not here to talk about Daredevil, we’re here to talk about Thor. Specifically, The Mighty Thor #362, the last stand of Skurge the Executioner, which made Young Dave Campbell cry. I wasn't weeping uncontrollably or anything, like when I read Prince of Tides, but I misted up a little, sure.

I am a sucker for last stands; desperate, doomed battles against overwhelming odds, the ultimate expressions of valor and manly sacrifice. As a history geek, I have always been drawn to stories about warriors who gave their all, struggling against hopeless odds. The Spartans at Thermopylae. The defenders of The Alamo. The French Foreign Legion at Camerone. Rorke’s Drift. Spock at the end of Star Trek II.

And of course, Skurge at Gjallerbru in The Mighty Thor #362.

Written and drawn by comics legend Walt Simonson, with krak-a-doooom! sound effects and lettering provided by John Workman, this issue proves once again that the Eighties were the True Golden Age of Comics, when masters of the craft like Simonson were producing their best work every fucking month.

A little background: Skurge (aka The Executioner) is a Thor villain from back in the day. He first appeared in Journey Into Mystery #103 in 1964, and had bedevilled our Asgardian hero and The Avengers for decades. Despite being a complete bad-ass, Skurge could never catch a break. The bastard offspring of a Storm Giant and a goddess, Skurge was never welcome among the giants because of his relatively small size. He was held in thrall by Amora the Enchantress for years, doing the bidding of his cruel lover. Skurge got no respect.

In The Mighty Thor #362, Skurge is finally fed up. He just found out that he had been duped by a magical Asgardian vixen again, and he's tired of being everyone's patsy. So when the opportunity presents itself for Skurge to redeem himself, for Skurge to decide his own fate, for Skurge to get a little fucking dignity -- he goes for it.

In this issue, Thor has succesfully raided the Hel, the Norse underworld, to rescue a bunch of mortal souls the evil goddess Hela stole from the Mortal Realm. Now Thor, Balder the Brave, Skurge, and an army of mounted Asgardian warriors armed with swords and M-16s have to bust out of Hel - but it's not going to be easy.

Led by Thor on his kick-ass chariot (pulled by his giant goats Tooth-Gnasher and Tooth-Grinder), the Asgardian army breaks through Hela's undead horde and heads for the bridge Gjallerbru at the boundary of Hela's realm. The hordes of Hel are in hot pursuit, and Thor intends to buy the retreating army the time to escape by holding off the enemy at Gjallerbru. But Skurge knocks Thor out and takes his place - he wants to go out honorably.

Then - and man, I loved this - Skurge stands fast before the bridge as the undead army thunders towards him. He levels a pair of M-16s and grimly waits as his death, his destiny approaches.

Is that macho or what?

Now that is some classic Walt Simonson stuff right there.

Skurge holds the bridge, allowing Thor and Co. to escape, but at the cost of his life. He fades into legend, redeeming himself in one final act of bravery and selflessness. That really resonated with Young Dave Campbell. There was a sense of permanence and gravity to Skurge's death because it felt real to me, but at the same time it felt like a story from Norse mythology - only with M-16s.

Here's the page that made me all misty:

If you don't think that's cool then you are my enemy and I must crush you.

Skurge rules. End of story.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

THE AVENGERS #196 Marvel Comics, 1980

Taskmaster kicks ass.

I should just leave it at that and have that be my post in entirety: Taskmaster kicks ass.

Taskmaster is an Avengers villain who first appeared in The Avengers #195, way back in the day. Taskmaster (damn, I keep on typing “Taskhamster!”) has a unique super-power: he has photographic reflexes which enable him to mimic any physical ability that he witnesses. If Taskmaster watches say, Night Thrasher from the New Warriors getting rad on his skateboard, Taskmaster would then be able to get rad on his skateboard with equal skill. He carries a number of different weapons, like replicas of Captain America’s shield, Daredevil’s billyclub, and Hawkeye’s bow and trick arrows, which he uses to great effect. Put simply, Taskhamster kicks ass.

Here’s the man himself explaining his powers:

The thing I like about The Taskmaster is his pragmatism. He decides there’s no money in being a regular super villain, so he decides to use his unique talents in more creative ways. “[…] I learned me something else: that while bein’ a super villain could be real lucrative, it could as get to be real painful!” says Taskmaster in this issue. “I decided that it’d be safer to set up a string of academies, schools where I could train crooks an’ social misfits t’be goons for the frontline baddies. An’ for years my operation ran smooth an’ secret…”

…until you meddling kids and that blasted dog came along!

And no, I have no idea why he talks like that. I think it’s supposed to make him a sort of “working class” figure or something.

This issue of Avengers was written by David Micheline with solid super hero art by George Perez and Jack Abel. This is the second of two-parts, in which The Wasp, Yellowjacket, and Ant-Man are all captured by Taskmaster while investigating strange goings on at a sanitarium. It seems that one of Taskmaster’s criminal scientists has a heart problem, so he uses comic book technology to clone himself, with the intention of stealing the clone’s heart. The clone escapes, alerts The Avengers, chaos ensues.

You know, I should probably do a whole post on this, but what’s the deal with the shrinking heroes? It’s such a lame power to begin with that if I were chairman of The Avengers I would get smart like the JLA and limit the team to one shrinking hero at a time. Really, shrinking heroes are like that annoying friend that you have that you’re constantly making excuses for, but you don’t want to dump the poor chump because you’ve been friends for so long. They’re like that. “You know, The Wasp is hilarious, and she throws really great parties. Plus, she helps the team out a lot. Well, sometimes. When she’s not getting captured. She’s been on the team like, forever, and she doesn’t take up much room…”

I digress. The Avengers dope out what’s going on and bust into Taskmaster’s secret base, where they do battle with Taskmaster’s “Cyber-Squad X,” a bunch of disposable goons who exist only to get their heads kicked in by our heroes.

Here’s a pulsatin’ panel of Marvel mayhem:

Wait a second, check out the Cyber-Squad X guy at the bottom of the panel! The Vision is blasting him with eye beams, apparently burning his face pretty badly. “M-my face!” he screams. That’s pretty cold. Everybody else on Cyber-Squad X gets pummeled into unconsciousness, but this poor bastard gets his face melted.

And look, Ms. Marvel (not Warbird, thank you) is yelling "Hala!" as she punches some goon. I never understood that, either. That's like you or me getting in a fight and shouting "Earth!" as we hit somebody. Whatever.

Anyway, The Avengers beat the living bejeezus out of Cyber-Squad X, then turn their attention to our villain, who does exactly what I would do if I were him: he runs away! Ahh, Taskmaster, ever the pragmatist. Unlike most villains, Taskmaster knows when to hold ‘em, knows when to fold ‘em, knows when to walk away, knows when to run…