Saturday, March 31, 2007

Old-School Civil War Omnibus.

Day One: Wherein I recount the origins of the Defenders, as I am a wordy son of a bitch.

Day Two: Silver Surfer throws a volcano at Scarlet Witch and nearly saves us all from Disassembled.

Day Three: Hawkeye teaches us a valuable lesson about magnets - they do whatever the Hell a story needs them to.

Day Four: Dr Strange horrifically outclasses all comers while spooking livestock.

Day Five: Swordsman crosses the wrong creepy possible ex-Nazi.

Day Six: Sunfire sucks almost as much as the car he shares his name with.

Day Seven: Hulk and Thor slow dance, Los Angeles stands idly by, hoping the next dance - is their's.

Day Eight: The two-fisted conclusion.

Old-School Civil War, Day Eight: Like the Battle of Appomattox, But With Dormammu!

I'm reasonably certain that, with this post, I've written more about the Avengers-Defenders War than Steve Englehart. I don't know how to feel about that, but let's just say I'm drinking a little bit right now. Now then, if you haven't been keeping up with this ridiculously long after-action report of a largely inconsequential summer-long crossover written a decade before I was born, make with the clicky on the big picture and it'll dump you on the backlog.
All caught up? Rad. Okay, when we last left our heroes, they stood beneath an enormous flaming effigy of Dormammu. Which is a pretty common thing to see if you're Doctor Strange, but decidedly foreign ground for the likes of, say, Hawkeye. The world was going all evil and melty and topsy-turvy, like a threepenny opera gone horribly awry, and the assembled teams were given a deadline of "one earthian hour" before their entire dimension fell to the Dread Dormammu and all his ill-defined magics. And then civilians started turning into monsters.

Strange casts an unusually wordy ward of protection on the Avengers and his buddies in the Defenders so as to prevent them from turning into monsters before assuming collective leadership of both squads.Cap takes umbrage to this - he didn't single-handedly punch Hitler in the gootch by taking orders from guys in skirts with dainty little mustaches, after all - and votes to stick around this dimension and punch some damned monsters.He's concerned for the well being of the crazy monsterized populace - I mean, Iron Man's shooting the furry Nosferatu right in the chest not three feet away and he's one of the good guys - but Strange is gung ho about hanging out in the Dark Dimension. Which isn't surprising, considering he got himself a fiiiine bitty on one of his trips out there. Sure, it's a dimension of all-consuming evil, but it's got the odd foxy blond hanging around, and that's a definite plus when you're a faintly creepy mustachioed lifelong bachelor like Steve Strange.

Besides, like nine-tenths of the earth is now covered in monsters.

Cap's fears are alleviated when SHIELD rolls up in one of their many bafflingly 1960s modes of conveyance - in this case, some kind of submarine-looking helicopter situation.God bless the Nick Fury Stock Pose. That is a man forever striding directly at me, gun held high. Confident that things are now in reasonably good hands, Cap consents to wander off to another dimension to beat the living Christ out of a flame-headed demigod, and Strange busts out his second big teleportation spell in two issues.Once again, Strange banged out a quick memo to Englehart that said "the words to my teleportation spell are barely pronounceable in their native language. Let's not trouble the letterer with it, okay?" so we're treated to an elaborate handjive in the place of an elaborate spell.

Seconds later, SHIELD is rocked by one of its own turning into a lizard person and promptly getting stun-glocked into submission. Nick Fury - manly enough to self-narrate while his slampiece turns all scaly.

Meanwhile, in the Dark Dimension, Loki stands by while Dormammu wanks endlessly about how unceasingly awesome the Evil Eye is. As a sidenote, I'm utterly shocked I've gone this long without saying something about how the Evil Eye looks for all the world like a Fleshlight. Just throwing it out there.

Anyway, Loki takes offense to Dormammu's use of the term "behold" mid-rant, as he is still all kinds of blind. How blind? Brother don't even have irises. It's amazing how lenient those Comics Code guys were back in '73.

Dormammu, finally sick and tired of Loki's constant bitching, lowers the boom and drops a trump card so gigantic it doubles as a decor piece in the Goddamn Batcave - he knows the Avengers getting roped into this mess was all Loki's fault.That Evil Eye - what can't it do?

Dormammu's speechifying is cut short by the arrival of a decidedly chunky-looking Watcher, popping up to underscore this as A Very Important Event.Apparently, his policy of non-interference doesn't apply to trips to McDonald's.

Elsewhere in the Dark Dimension, Thor sees something that freaks him right the Hell out."Odin's blood" is a pretty weird exclamation of surprise, when you get down to it - I very rarely yell things about my dad's fluids, and for good reason, really. What's got Thor so shaken?

Well, see, the Dark Dimension's sort of like Canada. It's really big; it's full of vast, empty spaces; it's a bad idea to wander off the beaten path lest you get lost in some horrible backwoods; the Expos don't exist in either place; and it's protected by one doofy group of super-powered creatures that'll be up your ass ten seconds after you get there - Canada has Alpha Flight, the Dark Dimension has the Mindless Ones.

The Mindless Ones really dig fighting - it's all they're good for, really. Well, fighting and having one rectangular eye in the middle of their circular face region. But mostly fighting. Hulk knows a good target when he sees on - in this case a crotch the size of a municipal mailbox - but Strange is quick to point out that physical combat won't drop Mindless Ones; it merely excites them.

With that in mind, he grabs everyone he's got handy that can shoot some sort of wacky energy beam and scatters the Mindless Group with a concentrated beam of lightning and magic and repulsor beam and Vision-head-crystal laser and Swordsman's dumb trick sword.

Threat eliminated, Mantis chimes in thusly:This One feels that forty minutes have elapsed after glancing at her freaking watch. Way to be handy, you weird Mary Sue, you. Good contribution.

Back in the non-Dark Dimension, we're treated to a whirlwind tour of the Marvel Universe, where everything is going to crap in a hat.You know, considering Karnak's entire skillset is knowing the exact point at which to hit something so as to kill it frigging dead, Gorgon probably ought to listen. Or just ask Black Bolt to tell the monster a secret. Whichever.I like that Ka-Zar doesn't even think twice before throwing his sabretoothed tiger at a problem. Probably uses Zabu to open up cans around the house. And you've got to love the ego on Ghost Rider - Satan's never hassled anyone but you before? Not even, I don't know, Jesus? Cocky bastard. Is Dracula pageant-waving to me? I can't figure out what the Hell kind of hand gesture that is. Adam Warlock appears to have been besieged by an Eeyore-style personal storm cloud. Thanos was probably going to shoot the bejeezus out of that guy, monsterized or not, and now he's got an excuse.

The heroes in the Dark Dimension rush Dormammu, who uses a spell augmented by the power of the Evil Eye to knock all the Defenders unconscious in one fell swoop, including Hawkeye - which means the spell was pedantic enough to include a guy who wasn't even technically a member of the team. Thor, of all people, busts out an "Avengers Assemble" and the guys still awake continue their charge.

Dormammu turns the ground to quicksand, trapping everybody but Thor, Iron Man and the Scarlet Witch. Yeah, that includes the Vision.The guy who can turn intangible is stuck in the mud. Weird.

Swordsman busts out his sword's handy flamethrower to solidify bits of the muck for the team to hang onto, so as to not, like, die, and the three characters left standing press on.

Dormammu drops a whammy on the trio, turning them into their comparatively harmless civilian identities.Man, that's a bad shirt Stark's rocking.

The trick doesn't work on Wanda, as her powers are mutant in nature and thus innate. But how the Hell is she supposed to drop a guy with the powers of, like, three gods taped together?

Well, Loki finally remembers that he can shapeshift into a fly - a power not used since Thor #108,according to Rascally Roy Thomas - and he busts out of his cage and tags Dormammu from behind. At the same time, Wanda beans him with a hex bolt, which causes the Evil Eye to fall from Dormammu's grip, absorb the flame-headed prick and shoot Loki square in the kisser.WHICH DRIVES HIM INSANE. And also gives his sight back. You win some, you lose some.

Both villains successfully aced out and the world returned to normal, there's only one loose end left to tie off - why the Hell did Vision get stuck in the damn mud? Normally, that guy won't shut up about how awesome his powers are, and he's getting bogged down by some damn quicksand for no reason?

The Watcher asks him pretty much just that, and the Vision replies
Oh, come the fuck on! That's it? Did anybody No Prize that one? Because it's screaming out for some fanwank like "the quicksand was made of unstable molecules!" or somesuch.

I do like that Thor's clearly thinking "yonder robot doth be full of the refuse produced by mine own chariot-pulling goats."

And, aside from some needlessly dramatic poeticizing on the part of the Watcher, that's that - six months of abject madness birthed from the lunatic pen of Steve Englehart and a mod squad of pencillers and inkers, converted into 10,441 words by a man with nothing better to do.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Old-School Civil War, Day Seven: Like the Battle of Brandy Station, But With Thor

Back when this whole mess started, Dr Strange ran down the locations of all six pieces of the Evil Eye, including one in a largely uninhabited cornfield and another on a secluded, volcanic island. Others were in urban areas - it'd take finesse to get those, considering half of his team were part-time villains.

Strange, knowing full well his status as a source of entertainment to higher beings - I still think the only way to tolerate the way the guy's written most of the time is to assume he knows I'm looking and is acting accordingly - figures he'll hit up the big empty field and he'll send arguably the single most dangerous living being he has handy into the middle of Los Angeles. I suspect because he also has the power to flip ahead a couple of pages and found out Thor would be there.
And who the Hell wants to fight that guy, really?

So the stage is set - Strange has four of the pieces of the Evil Eye chilling on a no-doubt incredibly powerful end table in his town house; the fifth piece is on the way, in the hands of Namor, who now has the Avengers in tow thanks to an uncharacteristic spurt of diplomacy on his part; Hulk's in downtown LA, getting mystical guidance as to where he should be looking for the damned dirty McGuffin.Hulk's been left more or less to his own devices for six or so issues, after leaping off towards LA way back in part one. This marks one of a very few times in early Defenders stories that Hulk didn't get bored and bugger off to parts unknown a couple pages in, presumably because the team was so freaking powerful that it was impossible to write - seriously, one of the big gun members is absent for the duration of almost every fight. Either Hulk's about to get rounded up on a submarine and he recalls that he's been on one before and "didn't like it" before bounding up out of the panel and into our hearts or the Silver Surfer loses faith in mankind again before flying out stage left and onto LiveJournal where he'd post his innermost thoughts as excruciating poetry or Namor'd flip out and swim away because nobody's the boss of a True Prince of Atlantis, baby.

Hulk wanders over to the spot that he's been mystically guided to and yells some insane stuff about how humans would need tools to dig there but HULK STRONG and DIG GOOD before ripping up a chunk of pavement and finding the final section of the Evil Eye not five inches underground. Unluckily for him, before he can grab it, he's overflown by a prettyboy with a hammer.
You know, narrator, I'd think Odin'd be the most powerful Asgardian god. But that's neither here nor there, as Thor goes from zero to pseudo-Shakespearian in the space of two whole panels and it all hits the fan.I will never understand why Marvel Norse gods talk like dorks at a Renn Faire. They aren't British, they aren't nerds; so how come they say things like "mayhap" and drop "thous" and "thees" like they're about to punch King Arthur? Is it because Stan Lee is insane? Probably? Okay.

Point is, I'd totally want to punch somebody who told me that they would have words with me. And I'm not even a freaking gamma-irradiated brute with limitless strength and a short fuse.

Hulk reacts to Thor in pretty much the only appropriate way - he punches him in the entire body. Thor beans Hulk with his mighty hammer while pointing out that, based on their last battle, he doth be superior. Which is the last thing Hulk wanted to hear.Come on, if faced with such pompous asshat-ery, wouldn't you punch the ground so hard it launched said asshat skyward, were you so able? God knows I would.

Thor responds in kind, eventually knocking Hulk to the ground, where the green monster gets hold of his cape. Hulk tugs so hard that the laws of physics absolutely collapse and the comic shifts locations to a world where Warner Brothers cartoons are taught in science classes, because Thor is set to spinning at such a speed that he drills himself into the ground.

Which makes perfect sense.

Hulk, ever confident, looks directly at me and announces out loud his only two character traits that really matter:1.0: Hulk beats everybody.
1.1: Anyone who says different is crazy.
2.0: Hulk is the strongest there is.

Hulk's revelry is short lived, as Thor launches himself free of his pavement prison, announcing that he is, in fact, stronger than Hulk. Which flies in the face of Hulk's belief that he is the strongest there is, putting him further into a fugue of hilarious green rage. So he picks up a car with which to wail on the god of thunder, but Thor blows the vehicle apart with his hammer. Hulk, furious that Thor copied him ("Hulk thought of throwing something first!"), decides that Thor won't get his hammer back. 'Course, nobody can hold that stupid thing unless He Be Worthy, and we descend into hijinx. Hulk is then deemed worthy by Odin himself, sick of his son prancing about like he dost owneth all of Midgard, and becomes a green-gened god of thunder so awesome Ronnie James Dio just airbrushed him on the side of a panel van.Hulk shalt smash yon puny mortal.

Okay, fine, maybe that didn't actually happen. But it would've been way cooler than what did.

Thor punches Hulk while the latter's down and the two exchange a couple of quick blows before locking into the traditional professional wrestling Test of Strength position. For a really long time.They keep this up until the assembled might of the Avengers and the Defenders show up about ten feet away and tell them that they've been beating the crap out of each other for nothing.

It seems Namor rolled into Strange's pad with the Avengers after his chat with Cap and the two teams worked out what was up. You know how many mistakes I'd blame on Loki had I any association with the Avengers? Something like all of them. The toilet seat's up? Curse thy vile trickery, god of mischief! Bounced a check? I'll get you for this, Loki!

There's a full-page shot of the two teams making smalltalk - Iron Man is totally school-marming a surprisingly contrite-looking Hawkeye; Cap and Vision chat while Silver Surfer looks at Scarlet Witch with a facial expression that seems to say "so she's hitting a robot? That's freaking weird as Hell"; Strange seems to be saying "sorry about that magic spell thing a couple issues ago. It's just... it's my shtick, you know?" to Mantis while she stares at his crotch while thinking "why is he wearing a skirt? And a sash?"; the narrator breathlessly assures us that this is "one of the most stirring sights in modern heroic fiction."

Hawkeye goes off on a tear about how the Avengers were being such dicks to him before this whole war started, so he was totally within his rights to assume that they were villains before being interrupted by the still-injured Swordsman.Seriously, how the Hell do you go any length of time failing to notice the absence of a seven-foot green behemoth in a reasonably sized drawing room? It's really no wonder Loki can trick these jackasses every couple of months.

Strange assembles both teams outside, where he uses the power of sunlight to create a teleportation spell, bringing them all to Los Angeles. You'll note he earlier made Hawkeye and Valkyrie ride a flying horse to Bolivia but he rolls out the teleportation red carpet when the Avengers show up. Dick.

Upon hearing the explanation that the two teams had been tricked into fighting each other over pieces of a magical device from a back issue of Fantastic Four by a blinded Norse god of mischief, Hulk speaks for all of us:"Hulk understands none of this." That sounds about right.

Strange gets the last piece of the Evil Eye off of Hulk, who reluctantly gives it up, repeating his usual vow of "Hulk not listen to stupid magician ever again" and sulking. Once all six pieces are placed on the ground, Asti The All-Seeing flies out of nowhere and eats them.

Yep. Dormammu'd been waiting for some idiot to lay out all six pieces in a straight line so his doofy-looking face-shaped bird-thing familiar could bust into our dimension and eat the damned things. This, obviously, causes all Hell to break loose. Everything starts turning all ridiculous and evil, random people turn into monsters, and Dormammu's big giant fire head appears in the sky over LA.Things, as they say, do not look good.

Next time: Monster people! Monster SHIELD agents! Quickie guest appearances by like half the Marvel universe! The Watcher, for God's sake!

(Oh, no scorecard this time - the fight was not only lame, but a draw. And that's like kissing your damn sister. Which is gross.)

Freaking Superfriends, man.

Me: OH GOD, you should've seen the Superfriends that was on LAST night.

Me: Holy wow.

Caroline: Haha, why?

Me: Like, they should burn it to disc and shoot millions of copies into space to teach aliens what "RAD" means.

Caroline: hahahahaha

Me: Spacemen hired out the Legion of Doom to make the earth's environment more like Venus'.

Caroline: It always makes me giggle when you say rad, mostly because I haven't heard anyone say it in years.

Me: And the Legion of Doom's scheme hinged on the Superfriends being total retards who half-ass everything.

Caroline: Hahahaha.

Caroline: Oh man.

Me: So Black Manta sets the ocean on fire. Don't ask me how, because the correct answer is, "who the fuck cares? The ocean is on fire."

Caroline: ahahaha!

Me: Aquaman puts out the fire by creating a tidal wave. Which then hits, by his own admission, "every city on the Pacific coast."

Me: Captain Cold freezes a bunch of cities with a giant freeze ray, and Flash melts all the ice by... I don't know, running fast.

Me: This makes steam.

Me: So you've got extra water and steam handy.

Caroline: *snorting*

Me: Sinestro then throws five or six yellow comets at earth.

Me: Green Lantern's all, "'sup, bitches; I got this one," and flies up into space.

Me: 'Course, his ring doesn't work on yellow stuff. So he moves the earth out of the way.

Me: And then doesn't. move. it. back.

Caroline: ROFL

Me: He gets back to earth and the Justice League computer pretty much tells him he's an asshole and that he just raised earth's temperature by like a billion degrees.

Me: And then the Fearions from Venus put the Superfriends in a forcefield.

Caroline: oh my god. i'm seriously actually laughing. this is hilarious.

Me: Meanwhile, the Legion of Doom is replacing all the world's leaders with robot doubles that'll only follow their evil orders.

Me: Which is actually a pretty fucking boss evil scheme, when you get down to it. I don't know why they wasted it mid-other-scheme, but, I mean, the plan was pitched by a robot with no pants on.

Me: So they probably took it with a grain of salt.

Caroline: Oh my god. Crying.

Me: Anyway, Green Lantern uses his ring to make the team invisible - which I don't think his ring can actually do, but who cares at this point - and they use their computer to call up the Fearion.

Me: The Fearion's like, "aw, nobody was supposed to be able to get out of my forcefield!"

Caroline: Haha!

Me: So he turns the damn thing off, at which time he's rushed by the Superfriends.

Me: The alien's ass kicked, the team gets down to saving the world.

Me: So Flash runs really fast and plants disappear and Hawkman lifts some jungle growth off a bridge and the more useful members go out and fix stuff.

Me: Then they find the Legion of Doom in the Capitol building and beat the living shit out of them.

Me: But the Legion escapes by flying away in the Capitol fucking rotunda.

Me: WHICH CAN APPARENTLY FLY.

Me: Superman yells something about how he'll catch them all one day and nobody around him goes, like, "dude... dude, you can totally catch them right now.

Me: "You can fly. Asshole."

Caroline: Hahahahahaha

Me: And that about did it. Earth saved, Legion at large, status quo maintained.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Old-School Civil War, Day Six: Like the Battle of Santa Rosa Island, But With Namor

You know what's probably a bad title for a story involving two World War 2-vintage characters fighting each other for the first time since the Golden Age*? "Holocaust." Just sayin'.

*For longer than a single panel in Cap's first Silver Age appearance, anyway.

This time around, we open in Japan, where we find Captain America in the midst of a hostile local audience, separated from one of those mobs that rushes Frankenstein only by their comparative lack of torches and rake-things.

They want no imperialists in their fair nation, says the mob (in English, yet), to which Cap replies that he's not there as a representative of the American government, but as an Avenger. One would think that the fact that he's, you know, dressed as an American flag would sort of trip up that argument, but that's neither here nor there, as Namor interrupts him with his trademarked douchebaggery.

We're eight chapters into this monstrosity, and Englehart has utterly given up on writing the portions of the story wherein our heroes find their piece of McGuffin. Namor's already got his chunk of the Evil Eye when we first see him, and even though he could have left ten times over already - I mean, all he has to do is dive into the ocean that sort of surrounds the entire country he's currently in and he's pretty much scot-free - he's stuck around. Why? Because Namor likes to fight.One of the central conceits of a shared universe is that all the characters are ceaseless gossipers.
They're like a damned church group. Nobody ever runs into somebody and thinks "who the Hell is this loser in the bug suit?" It's always "why, that's the Beetle! The Human Torch told me of his amazing sucker-fingers! He's a real world-beater!" Cap had super-strength for, like, six weeks in 1973; Namor lives in the ocean and socializes with maybe three people who live above water, one of whom is the mildly retarded Hulk - how'd he hear about Cap's slight modification in powers? Did Cap tell Iron Man who told Reed Richards who told his wife who then mentioned it at the point of climax when she went to visit the one true prince of Atlantis?

I like thinking that after every fight, a super hero's life devolves to The Telephone Hour from Bye Bye Birdie, where they call up a friend who then calls up a friend who calls up another friend and before you know it, the Puma's debriefing Rocket Racer on Terrax the Tamer.

Yeah, that's right - a Bye Bye Birdie reference. We're classing this joint up.Fun science fact: Namor has no nipples. It's like he's wearing a furless Giant Gonzales bodysuit. Roy Thomas once classified Namor's species as "homo mermanus," which translates roughly to "Roy Thomas didn't think this one through" or, more specifically, "merman man." Either way, homo mermanuses? Don't have nipples. Probably their non-mammalian halves.

(Okay, fine, Michael Turner draws him with nipples, sue me.)

Anyway, Namor leaps off his rooftop perch down to Cap's level, calling the Avenger out. Cap backhands Namor in the face with his shield, leading to perhaps the most character-appropriate sound effect I've ever seen: "CLAM." Namor responds in kind, punching Captain America so hard that it results in a racial epithet.Yeah, that's right: Namor hit Cap so hard it made the letterer hate Italians. Here's a more politically correct version of the above, so as to stave off complaints.There. I think we all feel better.

After smashing some municipal property over Cap's head, Namor makes a beeline for the ocean, talking to himself all the while about how he hates everybody and should quit the team he isn't even officially a member of anyway. Cap can't let Namor make it to the water, so he sidearms his shield upside down and Namor lands on top of it. Namor then makes like Potsie and sits on it, patiently waiting for Cap to dive off the shore and punch him in the face.

Namor, see, is immeasurably tougher in the water, so it's not the best idea to let the guy get wet. Cap's already at a huge disadvantage, treading water and trading punches, when the pair is interrupted by a blast from above.Another central conceit of a shared universe is that the country producing the story is pretty much the only place with more than a couple superheroes. Everybody else gets a single team or one guy dressed up as something approaching a national symbol. Marvel Ireland gets Shamrock, DC Ireland gets Jack O'Lantern; Marvel Australia gets a mute Aboriginie, DC Australia gets Tasmanian Devil; Marvel Holland no doubt has a mutant who shoots tulips out of his hands, DC Holland's probably got a guy dressed as a windmill who used to be a member of the Global Guardians. Thing of it is, no matter how big the country or how small the infarction, that single guy or team is totally going to roll up on you if you happen to cross their borders for more than five minutes. You fly into Soviet Airspace, the Rocket Red's are going to be up your ass two seconds later. You litter in Canada and Alpha Flight's going to punch your head off your body before your Starbucks cup hits the ground. It's just a fact of life.

Sunfire was more or less the only name hero in Japan for twenty years. He shoots fire and hates America because his mom totally died from getting a-bombed in the Big One, which is as good a reason as any. He also has warn three of the five ugliest costumes of all time.

Sunfire grabs the Eye from Namor and flies off, claiming that the artifact is Japan's property. Taking off in pursuit, Namor is grabbed by Captain America and the two continue their fight, now in mid-air. Cap's convinced that leaving the Eye in the possession of anyone other than the Defenders is a pretty good idea, but Namor breaks the cycle of idiocy by actually explaining the situation. Before chucking Cap into the ocean.

Namor catches up with Sunfire, dodges the Japanese mutant's attacks and then drops him with one punch. The Eye falls to Cap, but Namor confronts the Avenger, giving Cap the option of either peace or further violence.If I'd said at the outset that Namor would end up being the voice of reason here, would any of you have believed me? This is a character whose chief trait is "sometimes goes crazy and straps devices to the back of whales so as to throw tidal waves at Manhattan because he is grumpy."

But here we are.

Let's update the ol' scorecards, shall we? Next time:One more fight before everything goes absolutely bugshit crazy. I have no idea what "MARVEL MOVES OUT!" means, but it sure does sound exciting!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Old-School Civil War, Day Five: Like the Battle of Secessionville, But With The Swordsman

I'd be remiss if I didn't check in with the prime movers in this whole ridiculous slap fight, so let's see what the Dread Dormammu and the Currently Blind Loki are up to in their Honeycomb Hideout, which is a rock floating through one of those weird dimensions that looks like a planetarium some foolish curator hired Steve Ditko to design. Maybe they're rolling on a kidney stone inside of Eternity, I don't know.I always found it weird that Dormammu yells out his sister's name plus an alliterative accompanying insult as his go-to exclamatory ejaculation. I guess it's no stranger than half the Superfriends busting out a mention of their city of origin whenever something caught them by surprise, like they were Mick Foley out for a cheap pop - like a bystander's going to go, "woo! I'm totally from Gotham, Batman! And you're right, it is great! OhGodtheJoker!" - but it still strikes me as a stone bitch thing to do. Which might be the point, now that I think about it.Dormammu's scheme here, such as it was, was to trick the Defenders into getting all the chunks of the Evil Eye together so he could grab it and do horrible things to our dimension. Loki's only in on it because he somehow went and got himself blinded - and won't quit bitching about it - so he's looking to have Dormammu fix his divine eyes up. Dormammu needed Loki's absurdly ill-defined powers to aid him in the initial tricking-the-Defendersery. It'd be mutually beneficial if they weren't, you know, villains.

Dormammu pretty clearly has no intentions of actually helping Loki, but Loki can't see that - you see what I did there? With the blind joke? - so the god of mischief is forced into a position of constant whining. But that's beside the point; Loki worked out that if Dormammu got the Eye, Asgard'd be hosed along with earth, which is what prompted him to trick his usual crew of unwitting flunkies, the Avengers, into this mess. Because all his stuff is in Asgard, see.

Anyway, Swordsman's rolling to Bolivia to grab a section of the Evil Eye. He chose to head down to South America because he "owed them a debt." Thing is, up until, like, a day and a half before this story started, Swordsman was a bad guy. Not even a particularly good bad guy, if that makes any sense. He first popped up right after the Avengers reformed as a team of three former villains and Captain America, and promptly joined the team as a plant for the Mandarin. Initially, it was generally agreed upon that Swordsman had trained Hawkeye back when the two of them were both carnies - of course, that's insane, as one of them is the world's greatest swordsman and the other is the world's greatest archer, and those ain't exactly overlapping skillsets. Later on, a guy named Trickshot (real name: Buck Chisholm. In his spare time, he appears in romance novels and upon paper towel packaging. Seriously, what a fantastically manly name. I bet he shaves with a blowtorch. Or just leaves himself stubbly and uses his face as sandpaper) was retconned into Hawkeye's origin so the whole circus backstory would make a hair more sense, but when you're dealing with a dude who shorts arrows at Iron Man for sport, how much logic are you really looking for?

Swordsman's deal was that he made the already angsty Hawkeye, like, orders of magnitude angstier - Hawkeye had to prove that he'd surpassed the master and all that - but, eventally, Clint beat the living Hell out of Swordy, and Swordsman was left as hired muscle for Captain America to beat the crap out of every couple of months.

Eventually, Swordsman fell back in with the Mandarin, who had an astonishingly stupid plan to do something evil that required the aid of the then-entire Avengers rogues gallery - Enchantress, Executioner, Living Laser and Power Man. This is where Bolivia comes in. Swordsman was dispatched there to score some diamonds, so he held a city that looked like it was made of giant juke boxes hostage.

With a giant flying scimitar. Seriously. I wasn't kidding about the flying sword.

I offer visual proof because I'm reasonably sure I wouldn't believe it if somebody said, "dude, and then the Swordsman busted a giant flying sword out of nowhere! And then threatened to drop it!"

Oh, don't worry about the city - Iron Man ended up catching the giant sword with his repulsor rays. Because he used to do heroic stuff, see, instead of being an epic douchebag.

But that's neither here nor there. Point is, Swordsman, post-villainy, became sort of half-hearted wishy-washy hero for a while, popping up in Avengers Mansion and hanging out with team before getting whacked by Kang, and then sort-of-kind-of getting resurrected as a plant that looked like him before marrying Mantis, fathering a child and disappearing into Comic Book Limbo. Spoiler alert!

Swordy, back on topic, apparently feels guilty about that time he almost cut a city in twain, so he pops off to Bolivia in a Quinjet, which gets whacked out of the air by Valkyrie and her appallingly named flying horse, Aragorn, right after Swordsman had spotted a great big castle from the air.

Pulling in for a miracle landing, Swordsman heads off, as mustachioed rogues armed with blades are wont to do, to the castle. Here is a list of people that you, under no circumstances, should trust:
  • Any man with a wispy mustache, a panel van and a love of Disney movies
  • Politicians
  • Owners of abandoned Nazi castles in Bolivian jungles who "cherish solitude"

Just keep that in mind, because Swordsman didn't.
Sew buttons, bitch, 'cause it's ON.

Now, the problem with these two in Code-approved comics is that swords are sort of a playing-for-keeps weapon. They're not Wiffle bats; these things cut people parts right off, and they're all described as being, say, "impossibly sharp" or "able to carve the electrons off an atom." So they're always limited to doing that super-lame "I am now hitting you with the flat of my blade, rendering you unconscious, instead of dead!" Hell, Black Knight's sword, were it to draw blood, would turn all curse-y, so he may as well have been fighting with a length of pipe or a snowshovel or something.

Same thing happened with the Ninja Turtles - I have friends who (mistakenly) believe Donatello was the best turtle solely because he was the only one that ever really got to use his weapon on the show. But come on, that guy had a stick. Screw that noise; Raphael's the best. Because he's cool but rude, damn it.

Anyway, what this means for us is that this fight? Is going to suck. I may as well link you to a clip of a bunch of LARPers duking it out while literally hundreds of Cheetos go uneaten, because these two could very well be armed with similar Nerf and it wouldn't make a lick of difference.Since we have to keep the conceit of "the Avengers think the Defenders are evil" going, Val casually mentions that she's carrying the Black Knight's sword, which immediately tweaks Swordy's evildar, as he knows the Knight's currently serving as a pigeon roost back in Steve Strange's bitchin' bachelor pad. He's apparently so incensed that he forgets that his sword has all sorts of neat Mandarin-added crap in it - it spits hot fire and shoots rays and stuff, so as to render Swordsman not-entirely-useless - so he just parries and thrusts and leaps about like Errol Flynn while Val internally-monologues about whether or not she can actually die.

The pair flip about in a weird bit of business involving hanging from a tapestry before falling a good distance into a room outside a vault, which the castle's owner immediately tries to lock so as to keep the heroes out. Val beans Swordsman with the handle of her thrown sword - because that's how swordfights work when you can't use the Goddamn blade, see - before rushing Creepy McNaziCastleOwner. She spots the Evil Eye, but a conscious Swordsman dives for it first, prompting the story to fall in line with that whole "if you've got a creepy Nazi castle owner over the mantle in act one, it'd better fire in act three" rule.What a surprise! Twists like that usually only come on roller coasters!

Dispatching the unnamed gunman, Valkyrie checks on Swordsman's wound - she decides he's okay enough to leave in the hands of crack Bolivian paramedics who use psychic powers to determine when people are injured in the depths of the jungle because she sure as Hell doesn't seem to call anybody. Luckily for Swordsman, magic jungle cops in full America-style police regale pop in not a half-page later.She lifts his section of the Evil Eye. But at least she salutes him as a gallant foe.

I almost scored this a push, since the clear winner is the guy with the weird sci-fi pistol who capped Swordsman in the back, but for the purposes of bracketing, it's another victory squarely in the Defenders column.Kinda starting to look like a trend, isn't it?

Friday, March 02, 2007

Old-School Civil War, Day Four: Like the Battle of Fort Donelson, But With Dr Strange

Were we to look at the Avengers/Defenders War rationally - and, honestly, why in the Hell would we want to do that? - it'd become apparent pretty quickly that we're not dealing with a particularly level playing field. The Avengers have got Thor, sure, and Thor's pretty awesome, all things considered. But the Defenders... I mean, Dr Strange really doesn't need any help, when you get right down to it, and he went and teamed up with the Silver Surfer and the Hulk. I don't think the Silver Surfer is even quite sure of his entire list of powers; God knows I'm fuzzy on them.

Anyway, we join Dr Strange as he flies over an Indiana cornfield, apparently the location of a chunk of the Evil Eye.
Now, Doc didn't head out at the same time as the other Defenders - he elected to hole up in Greenwich Village until somebody got back, so as to keep an eye on the statue of the Black Knight. Because I guess it was Wong's day off. And Clea was shopping. I don't know, I just roll with this stuff.

Upon the Surfer's return from his fight with the Vision out in the Pacific, Strange took off for Indiana. This gave Black Panther and Mantis a head start, which they wisely used to aimlessly and fruitlessly search a cornfield.

Black Panther's no slouch in the fighting department - he ate the plant equivalent of the Super-Soldier Serum, pretty much - and Mantis, well, the guy writing the book certainly thought Mantis was cool. He brought her with him to three other companies, after all. But these are two strictly physical characters fighting a guy that hangs out with Eternity. It's not really fair.

I have a longstanding theory that Dr Strange knows he's in a comic book and acts accordingly. He knows somebody's watching, so he explains everything he's doing out loud, mutters the more boring incantations he has to make quietly enough that they don't make it into speech bubbles, and purposefully does stupid things in the middle of fights to make things more entertaining for his observers.

I don't have much proof, mind, but watch what happens here and tell me that doesn't make a tiny bit of sense.Strange lights off a flare over the location of this section of the Evil Eye, but the two Avengers handy can see it, too. Strange beats them to it and then buggers off to parts unknown. The pair follow his trail through the cornfield and come to a bus stop, where some unassuming honkies stand idly waiting for their conveyance and tell the Panther (after briefly confusing him with The Cat. Because of their names. I guess. Because one of them is a man of good size dressed all in black and the other is a woman in a blue and yellow outfit, so God knows it wasn't a physical resemblance) that no strangers have passed that way in at least twenty minutes.

This doesn't satisfy Mantis, however:Mantis, see, has the power to be a generic Oriental mystic-type. She's got no actual magic powers, but she can sense vibrations. And also has antenna. Maybe they help with the vibration-sensing. Or maybe they're like the Tick's, and enable her to properly balance. Anyway, her vibration-detection abilities come up here something fierce.I wonder how many chicks can say they've felt the vibrations of Dr Strange?

(Incidentally, no one is happier than me that nobody uses the word "vibrations" in the Beach Boys sense anymore. God, I'm giddy that I didn't exist in the seventies. Though the comics were pretty boss.)

Now, back on my Dr Strange-knows-he's-in-a-comic theory. After Mantis punts him-disguised-as-an-portly-lass under a bus, Strange could've maintained the illusion and been all "heavens! That inscrutable Asian kicked me, an unarmed civilian, for no reason! Hicks, descend upon her like locusts! So speaks Doct- uh, Miss Carpenter!" and then ran like Hell in the ensuing ruckus. Or he could've turned invisible. Instead, he thinks "to Hell with it - we've got pages to fill" and blindsides Mantis with a bolt of God knows what fired from under the bus and then takes off towards parts unknown.

Strange figures he's got to lose his pursuers or they'll just tail him back to New York in their jet. Why doesn't he just turn invisible? Invisibility screws with his ability to control his cape, that's why. Screw you, potential No-Prize winners; Dr Strange knows you're out there, and you aren't getting shit on his watch.

Panther jumps off of various and sundry farm background elements and pounces unto the escaping master of the mystic arts, leading to some rather impressive acrobatics.BP had a pretty clever plan, there, all things considered. I mean, who expects gaudy jewelry to shoot you in the face? I know I'll be ducking and covering whenever a sweaty Italian guy in a mostly-unbuttoned shirt rolls into the bar tonight, let me tell you.

Strange saves Panther from a Wile E Coyoteish fate of making a him-sized shape on some guy's back forty, but Panther returns the favor by kicking the good doctor in the head.

Meanwhile, in a farm house, a man with a thoroughly baffling hairline concocts a sinister scheme:I'd love to see what the Hell kind of livestock this guy raises that's scared of guys fighting but totally cool with gunfire.

Mantis uses her incredible martial arts mastery to push Strange and T'Challa out of harm's way, at which time she decides it's high time for some high karate all up on Doc's mustache.

Strange casually mentions that he'd picked up some bad ass kung fu when he was learning sorcery (he's also an expert chef and the world's third-greatest bass guitarist) before ducking Mantis' first punch, which freaks Mantis right the Hell out, as only three people had ever done that before.

At this point, Doc figures "screw it" and decides to bust out his trump card: Magic. Duh.You think he ever invokes some extradimensional ability that doesn't feel like helping him out? Like, the billionth time he calls out Ikonn to get some illusions happening, you think Ikonn's all "Steve. STEVE. I don't know what time it is on your little retard planet, but some of us have jobs to get to in the morning. Stop calling me, or I'll tell Agamotto where you are. He keeps asking about 'that asshole what got his eye.' Good Goddamn NIGHT, Steve"? I kind of hope so.

Point is, Steve could've done this on page, like, two and called it a day. But he didn't. You know why? Because he knew you were reading and wanted to see a fight, that's why.

What's Panther think of all this?Ants! Nothing but ants!

And a breathless Next Month caption - maybe the Hulk/Thor match won't end in a draw! It's the shocker of the century.

Here's your updated scorecard, nerds: