Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Old-School Civil War, Day Two: Like Bull Run, But With the Silver Surfer

Dormammu and Loki, ostensibly working together but in actuality actively stabbing each other in the back harder than a clique of middle school-aged girls, have put the Avengers and Defenders at odds. Both teams are seeking the same McGuffin, a plot point from Fantastic Four called "THE EVIL EYE." Seems it blew up in its one appearance ever -but it is way too awesome to cease to be. Turns out the Evil Eye is the magical equivalent of a Russian nesting doll, with each part containing a slightly smaller version of the original. The parts then dug their way through the earth, with one each emerging in Osaka, Japan; Rurutu, French Polynesia; Ft Wayne frigging Indiana; LA; Monterrey, Mexico and Sucre, Bolivia. Good thing none of them ended up in Red China or Soviet Russia, or things could've got dicey.

Luckily for the Defenders, with the timely arrival of Hawkeye, there are now exactly enough of them to pick up all six parts in one trip. Even though one imagines the Silver Surfer could grab them all in about twenty minutes, but whatever; just roll with it - it's not the biggest leap your suspension of disbelief'll have to make, believe me.

Surfer and Namor head out "to the furthest shores;" with Namor hitting up Japan and Surfer heading to French Polynesia. Valkyrie gives Hawkeye a lift to Mexico on her way to Bolivia. In a truly brilliant bit of strategy, the team sends the Hulk to the middle of LA because people always respond so well to his presence. Even though Strange is the sole member of the team who could presumably just ask the Evil Eye nicely to teleport to his house, he takes the shortest trip, hopping from New York to Indiana. Today, we follow the Silver Surfer's trip to Rurutu, which was apparently drawn entirely without the aid of reference material.Note the gigantic volcano in the background, because the Surfer totally missed it when he searched the entire island. In fact, he wasn't aware of it at all until the implausibly-English-speaking him-worshippers call him the Volcano God.

At which time the Surfer does a full-on spit take."BWUH?! VOLCANO?! VOLCANO! OF COURSE!"

A guess flying through space for a few years, gazing upon the endless reaches of infinity with only genocide to break up the monotony would make me a forest-for-the-trees type guy, too.

Surfer begins searching the volcano the only way he knows how: with subtlety and tact. Hah, I'm just kidding - he actually just starts shooting at the lava with cosmic blasts. Since we're in a comic book, this almost immediately causes an eruption. Also since we're in a comic book, a Quinjet piloted by the Scarlet Witch is directly overhead when the volcano erupts. The Quinjet's blown straight to Hell - Hell is absolutely full of blown-up Quinjets, by the way - but Scarlet Witch is apparently only knocked unconscious.I'll argue that she used her powers to dramatically raise the odds that she wouldn't be, say, cooked to cinders. Still, she's falling at an alarming rate. Good thing her robot boyfriend can fly.

Vision saves Wanda's bacon and then proceeds to flip out.That? That is a mad face. Somebody is about to get beat up.

Abandoning his unconscious girlfriend on the ground next to an erupting volcano, Vision jumps the Silver Surfer in the name of Keepin' Your Hands Off My Woman, Motherfucker. It's a closer fight than you'd expect, as Surfer has no clue what the Hell is going on and Vision is really, really hard to hurt. They're more or less deadlocked until Surfer spots the chunk of Evil Eye he's looking for and inadvertently triggers it, chucking the pair out of the volcano. While both of them are grabbing for the device, Vision notices that the locals have put Wanda directly in the path of oncoming liquid hot magma as a sacrifice to their god. He veers off and saves her, leaving the Evil Eye in the hands of the Silver Surfer.Round one goes to the Defenders. Mark your scorecards accordingly.

What's that you say? No scorecard? No worries, baby; Jon is here to help:
That's right - I ranked them. There was a complicated system here that in no way involved pulling bingo balls from a rotisserie. I swear. Here's a helpfully filled-out post-round one scorecard, for you unconscionably lazy bastards out there:If you had the Vision going all the way, you lose.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Old-School Civil War, Day One: Like Fort Sumter, But With The Hulk

It's 1973. The actual Civil War ended some hundred and eight years ago. The current, more fictional one wouldn't start for thirty-two years. Steve Englehart is writing something like sixty percent of Marvel's output. Notes from the editor? Plentiful. Hulk? Charmingly stupid. Me? An ovum, negative ten years old.

The Marvel Universe is twelve years old, gradually moving into an awkward puberty marked by gangly ridiculousness and over-the-top drama, as most things going through puberty are wont to experience - though most things eventually grow out of it. The Defenders, a frankly absurd team of total loners inexplicably thrown together by either the fickle hand of fate or the result of a bar bet between Stan Lee and Roy Thomas, had recently formed in the wake of a ludicrously drawn-out conflict involving beings from another dimension. And by "ludicrously drawn-out," I mean "took place over the course of five different books and something like four years, even though the whole story was only something like seven issues long."

Dr Strange recruited Namor and the Hulk in an effort to defeat The Undying Ones, a battle that ended up stranding a turncoat cultist name of Barbara inside of some kind of wacky interdimensional torture device. The team left her behind apparently because they are gigantic jerks. Oh, okay; evidently, somebody had to stay inside the wacky interdimensional torture device or very bad things would happen, as is customary in alternate dimensions with crazy pseudoscience rules. Barbara had sprung Dr Strange, leaving her trapped in his place. Normally, one would rightly expect a good Comic Book Hero to work out a way to get her out, but there was only one page left in the issue. That page was used to give Dr Strange a send-off, as his own book was canceled at this point.

Strange then called up his former allies to deal with a giant computer designed to end the world. They punched it a few times before the good doctor decided the wisest course of action was to use his powers to slow time down around said computer in an effort to delay its countdown clock. He then cloaked the whole mess from view and forgot about it. Strange is a very laissez-faire super hero.

Months later, the non-team inexplicably reformed to combat the threat of Xenmu the Titan, a character salvaged from Marvel's pre-superhero monster books, who possessed an astronaut and hosted a children's television show in an effort to abscond with as many kids as possible so as to repopulate his planet. He was punched by the Hulk so hard it reduced him to a bodiless entity. The Hulk is strongest there is, people; don't you forget it.
Those first couple panels have some dialog that reads like bad slash-fic, if you have a dirty enough mind. God knows I do.

After another baffling adventure involving the Undying Ones, the team tries to circumvent Galactus' shield, which prevents Silver Surfer from leaving earth. Strange reasoned that the shield couldn't exist in every dimension, so they all head off to God knows where. Thanks to the magic of comic book coincidence, they end up in the dimension where Strange and the Hulk had previously abandoned Barbara. Because, damn it, that's why.

The team figures, "eh, we're here already; may as well save the girl," but it turns out she's, like, totally into chilling with the Undying One (or "The Nameless One;" he basically went by whatever over-dramatic moniker Roy Thomas felt like saddling him with in a given month). How into it, you ask? Why, she attached her head to his body!That's commitment, is what that is.

The team beats up the giant bird/monkey/whatever god and Strange uses his magic powers to separate Barbara from its grim visage, at which time she goes absolutely bugshit crazy. They return to their home dimension, having failed to get Silver Surfer home. And they drove a girl insane. Strange doesn't have a terribly good track record, really.

Surfer emos off to wherever it was he'd go to when he was down on mankind, leaving the team outside of Dane Whitman's castle. Again, because. Heading inside, they find the place empty, but leap into the Black Knight's Brazier of Truth thanks to the Hulk's over-exuberant protection of the now-insane Barbara. They end up in another dimension, where they're promptly thrown in jail by the Executioner. They find that the Black Knight and the Enchantress are also in the brig, Enchantress uses her powers to turn Barbara into the Valkyrie, and the whole lot of them bust out and take down the evil queen of the dimension.

As a reward for helping her out, Enchantress turns the Black Knight to stone. For some reason. Heading back to earth, Strange makes it his mission to fix the Black Knight, and magically seals Whitman's castle off from any interlopers. For some reason.

Meanwhile, Hawkeye quits the Avengers chiefly because he can't get any, though he claims it's because he wants to make a name for himself as a solo hero. He ends up running into the Hulk, who he follows to Dr Strange's Greenwich Village bachelor pad. The Avengers end up at Whitman's castle, looking him up to see why he didn't reply to a distress call, or somesuch, and find the joint empty, magically sealed off and full up of inbred British freakshows squatting the grounds. It was that kind of day.

In Yet Another Other Dimension, Dormammu hooks up with a recently-blinded Loki and hatches a scheme to trick the Defenders into assembling the Evil Eye, a one-off plot point from an issue of Fantastic Four. Loki, being Loki, decides to rope the Avengers in, too, convincing them that the Defenders are evil chiefly by pointing out that Dr Strange has been using a stone Black Knight as an accent piece in his apartment. And also the fact that the Avengers have come to blows with four of the team's five members at least once. That didn't help.

So we have battle lines drawn - in one corner, the Defenders: Dr Strange, Namor, the Hulk, the Silver Surfer, Valkyrie and Hawkeye - four of the most powerful individuals in the Marvel Universe and also a girl with a sword and a guy with a bow. In the other, the Avengers: Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Vision, Scarlet Witch, Black Panther, the Swordsman and Mantis - three of the most powerful individuals in the Marvel Universe and also three guys that are good at hand-to-hand fighting, a girl with the vaguest powers in comics and Steve Englehart's pet project. One side's fighting to save a d-lister from a stony fate, the other thinks they're fighting to stop a bunch of jerks from taking over the world.

Buckle down, because the first shot in the Avengers-Defenders War is about to be fired. Straight into your brain.Next time: Silver Surfer versus Vision and Scarlet Witch! And also a volcano!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

They don't come much more slick than you; I'd drive your car if you This Week's Reviews - said "the boy's not right in the head."

Thunderbolts #111: I wonder how the interview for Norman Osborne's gig went. "What's this fifteen year gap between jobs?"
"Oh, I was... well, it turns out I wasn't dead. And I think I kidnapped Spider-Man's kid and then totally forgot about it."
"It says here you were briefly a theatrical agent?"
"Of a sort. I had to hire an actress to seamlessly take over the life of a geriatric woman from Queens."
"...why?"
"So as to trick my son's best friend into thinking she was dead, obviously."
"Oh. Of course. Under 'Computer Skills...' does this just say 'Peter Parker is a douche'?"
"It... yeah, probably. He totally is, though."

Anyway, Jack Flag actually gets put over as being a capable fighter, not that it makes an enormous difference, considering who he's fighting. This team's pretty well stacked - two flyers (three, if Swordsman still flies), a guy that used to be able to deflect Thor's hammer with Stan Lee's dubious understanding of radiation, Venom, Emo Speedball (who has gotten an epic two words of spoken dialog so far, thank God) and Bullseye.

There're still gigantic leaps one's suspension of disbelief has to take for this to make sense - Norman Osborn getting a government gig, the necessity of keeping the team all handcuffed and such while in transit (it makes sense for Bullseye and Venom, I suppose, but Songbird and Penance aren't going anywhere), the baffling level of establishment the team already has in a fairly short amount of time (they can't have been together all that long, but there are toys and a base inside of a mountain and a gigantic staff) - but it's an entertaining read. Even with Sadball in it.

Astonishing X-Men #20: has a very lime green cover. Things blow up in space, Beast's costume is still amazingly awful, whomever happens to be standing in front of Cyclops when his powers unexpectedly come back is screwed, Wolverine stabs a young Asian girl (a word of caution to Asian girls - if you are anywhere near Wolverine, you're in grave, grave danger. History teaches us such), a planet is in peril. There's a gigantic part of me - let's call a spade a spade and say "my entire being," really - that doesn't give a damn if some stupid alien planet is going to die. This is because it happens, oh, bimonthly. If you live on any planet other than Earth, your world is totally forfeit. Galactus is going to eat you. The Shi'ar are going to blow you up for vaguely defined reasons. The Kree and the Skrull are going to punch your house to death while swinging at each other. If you live on Tamaran, you've been blown up two or three times this month already. Face it, your world should be called "Plotdevice."

That John Cassaday, though; he is good.

Justice Society of America #3: How many people do you need to kill off to put Nazis over as villains? They're Nazis. By dint of existing, they are the bad guys. "Nazi" is shorthand for "villain." You don't need to have them, I don't know, graphically murder a family reunion for me to get that just because they're wearing brightly-colored spandex they aren't nice. Because they are Nazis.

Cyclone is wearing perhaps the most impractical (and hideous) costume I've seen on a female character not designed in the mid-nineties. Red Tornado doesn't wear a kilt. You know why? Because that would end in crotch shots. Because of the, you know, wind. Also, solid idea to throw her on a superteam like three weeks after she found out she had powers. No better way to train than to throw her at a pile of picnic-killing Nazis, I guess.

I have a terrifying suspicion that Geoff Johns' copy of Kingdom Come has pages stuck together.

52 #41: Being blind hasn't seemed to've done too much damage to Adam Strange. It's kind of weird, now that I think about it, that he's pretty much the only person suffering from any sort of consequences from that whole teleport screw-up thing at the end of Infinite Crisis. Sure, Alan Scott's out an eye - and I still don't understand that one - but everyone else looks to be more or less okay even though there hasn't been a single update as to their conditions since, like, week six or so. Cyborg was apparently down for the whole year, even though he was looking fairly conscious in one panel of the Christmas issue, but Hawkgirl's no longer gigantic and even Red Tornado got fixed.

But whatever. The best Green Lantern ever appears, so I can't complain. Even if the cover totally blew the surprise.

Oh, this seems as good a place as any to bring this up:
Here's Gabriel Ferry's first appearance, back in week 22.
There he is a few weeks later.
And ten weeks after that. Now, as near as I can tell, he went from a slightly overweight African-American to Sam Guthrie to Max Lord in the space of about three months. The whole Luthor story arc has been rife with really weird inconsistencies - the powers have an expiration date and can turn off on their own (as was the case with Johny Henry Irons, and I still don't fully understand why the Hell Luthor gave him powers in the first place), the powers can be shut down or modified at range (as was the case with the speedster in Infinity, Inc, the new Blockbuster, Natasha Irons two weeks ago and all the people Luthor offed for no readily apparent reason on New Year's), the powers can be shut down by way of an electromagnetic pulse (as was the case with Luthor himself), the powers apparently have dire side effects that have been mentioned in passing exactly once (Irons to Luthor, last week) - but the fact that a bit character's totally changed appearance three times is totally awesome to me, for some reason. I know the reason's probably closer to, say, "nobody made a model sheet for Gabe Ferry," but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the earth in 52 is still rotating through the multiverse, timelines and continuities merging and breaking constantly, and minor details are changing without anyone even noticing. Poof, black guy loses like eighty pounds and turns white. It's his Earth-S counterpart.

NextWave #12: is the best thing Marvel has ever published. Ever. Anyone telling you otherwise does not appreciate being alive. It's true.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Horrible confession time.

My roommate and I... we... we might've started playing Heroclix. Like, a whole lot. We have piles of the damnable little things all about the apartment, from the totally boss - Zombie Captain America! Korvac! Bizarro! Blue Devil! - to the mind-breakingly lame - a Kobra Fanatic! The Weather Wizard! Echo! - to the At Least They Have Neat Sculpts - Hydro Man! Manhunter! Charcoal! Piles.

The roommate, he knows absolutely nothing about comics beyond things I've explained to him - he now has a bafflingly complete knowledge of the Fourth World, which will never, ever, ever come in handy - but he does love Risk. And Heroclix is pretty much just Risk without the weakness of the Ukraine. Okay, not really at all, but whatever. It was actually him that wanted to play this, ostensibly to master the game and then use said mastery to beat the Hell out of little kids. That hasn't paid off, as I've never seen a little kid playing. And I'm pretty sure that the first time I try to play one, it'll be some kind of seven-year-old Heroclix w√ľnderkind who'll murder my crack squad of, like, three different Jokers and Deadshot in half a turn.

I bring this up because I figure whatever random stragglers of an audience this only-occasionally-actually-updated trainwreck still has may well have a better collective working knowledge of this game than I, and I've run into a problem.

See, the roommate, he's assembled possibly the most annoying team in ever. Kang. A Science Police. Blackfire. Starhawk. For those keeping score, that's three guys who either have Running Shot or Hypersonic Speed their first couple clicks and a support figure that ups their already totally absurdly high attacks by one when they're shooting from range. Starhawk has a range of frigging twelve on top of a speed of ten, meaning he can shoot damned near across the map on his first turn. Both Kang and Starhawk pick up Probability Control at least once each over the course of their dials. Starhawk has Support for a while. The point is that they're bastards, they're hard to hurt, and they do comical amounts of damage. And he pretty much just has them hide behind a building, only to peak out to shoot my dudes in the face.

Basically, the only solution I've found to the problem of winning against this damned wrecking crew is to gangbang Starhawk to death with cheap characters and win on points. My usual team consists of Blue Devil - the Mystics team ability is the cheapest, most annoying power in the game, I think, plus he's got a couple clicks of Regeneration, making him tough as Hell; the Joker - the one in the Killing Joke get-up, so he's got Stealth, Poison, Outwit and Perplex for a click; a DEO Officer - gets me the Police team ability, one click of Support and one of Perplex for, like, nineteen points; Deadshot - really short-ranged Running Shot, but he's got Ranged Combat Expert for a couple clicks. He's terrible once he gets a little banged up, but in the early going, coupled with the DEO Officer Perplexing his damage and upping his attack and Joker Outwitting that Goddamn Energy Shield power both Kang and Starhawk start with, he's a total murderer; and then a cheap flyer to round it out and carry Blue Devil up front - usually the mid-level Starfire or Kid Quantum wild-carding the Mystics TA.

That team could perform fairly admirably in the face of Kang's guns from the fucking future and Starhawk's vaguely-defined Marvel Space Guy Powers (let's see; he can see the future, fly at the speed of light, survive unaided in space, is invulnerable and he's got that old standby power for characters that aren't thought all the way through, "energy manipulation." Was he created by me, age nine?), especially since they'd get hurt every time they managed to hit Blue Devil for damage. Joker, holed up in a bush, can outwit at least one of the Running Shots or Hypersonic Speeds on the board, which cuts the team's mobility down a bit, but even then, Kang and Starhawk? Hard to kill. Blue Devil punching Kang in the face with a motorcycle helps, but it's still a tricky proposition.

I finally got pissed at getting plunked by a freaking half-man/half-woman in heavy AFI-style eyeshadow Guardian of the Galaxy douche and threw Darkseid in. Because nothing stops Darkseid. I mean, if I'm getting nailed with cheap space bastards, I'm going to respond in kind. Darkseid's backup consisted of Cheetah - from the Icons starter. High attack, Blades/Claws/Fangs, stays alive forever but kind of sucks once she loses Charge; Joker - also from the Icons starter. Really high attack for somebody so cheap, Stealth for a bit and a bunch of Perplex; my bitty, the DEO Agent; and the Scarecrow. I don't know, I figured I could park him next to Joker and the DEO Agent, use the Batman Enemy and Police TAs at the same time to up his attack to 11 and hit Starhawk with Mind Control. I never really got a chance to try that out, but it was an idea, anyway.

Cheetah got her ass good and kicked. Scarecrow got wailed on for a bit and then ran and hid, only to be healed up later on when the DEO Agent picked up Support. Joker parked in a bush, after I realized I was an idiot - he has Willpower, so I couldn't just push him to get to his far more useful Perplex on click two (he did manage to hurt Blackfire enough that she no longer had the capability to move and fire in the same turn, which is nice). But it didn't matter, because Darkseid cleaned house. Well, at the very least, he killed the Science Police and the much-hated Starhawk, which gave me the win on points.

But there has to be a better way to combat a team of high-speed run-and-gunners than to just throw the Rock and the Chain and the Lightning at them, right? There must be some superlogical strategy that I cannot think up through my haze of blind rage and frustration. Anything?