Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Mix & Match Super Villains

It’s no secret that the Eisner Award-winning Invincible Iron Man is a pretty consistently solid comic book (or so the scoreboard would indicate). Matt Fraction’s writing is sharp, Salvador Larroca’s art is slick, my main man Alejandro Arbona edits the heck out of the whole shebang and Tony Stark has become a wonderfully complex and charismatic lead.

So it’s no surprise I dig the book as I do, but even I was a bit taken aback at how much I’m digging the current “Fix Me” arc in which Spider-Man archfoe—revealed to also be a former Stark peer in his younger years—Doctor Octopus is squaring off with Iron Man as he attempts to get Tony to cure his life-threatening physical ailments or at least admit his failure. It’s well-written, well-drawn, all that jazz, but honestly one of the biggest draws for me is simply seeing Doc Ock, generally an Amazing Spider-Man fixture, mixing it up with somebody new (and he brings Sandman and Electro along for the ride to boot).

Heroes trading their villains around is, of course, nothing new and has been going on since at least the Silver Age if not longer (I truthfully do not know if, say, The Red Skull ever appeared in Sub-Mariner during the 40’s or if Golden Age Lex Luthor fought that era’s Batman) and has been a fixture ever since. Particularly in the 90’s, if a villain was popular—Venom is the number one example that jumps to mind—you’d see them everywhere whether it made sense or not (A-listers like The Joker or Doctor Doom aren’t in the discussion here as part of what makes them great is that they can face off with anybody and it works).

In recent years, as restraint has returned to the medium, super villains have tended more or less to find a home title/hero and stick to it, so when something like “Fix Me” occurs it feels a little more special, as I’m sure it did the first time Magneto fought the Avengers back in the 60’s. More than that, though, if you find just that right “I can’t believe I didn’t think of that” pairing, it’s so sweet to see a bad guy out of the element you associate them with, but making such a perfect adversary for their unfamiliar dance partner. No matter how good “Fix Me” ultimately is, I’m sure Doc Ock will remain primarily a Spider-Man baddie simply because there’s such a rich history there, but developing a side feud with Iron Man can only up his profile and make for more great stories. I’m hoping for similar goodness in the just-announced “Storm Hunter” story this summer where Kraven goes after The Black Panther in another matchup that just makes total sense.

Following that train of thought, I wracked my brain for some shuffled hero vs villain showdowns I think have a lot of potential—and by the way, I fully recognize that as much as I know about comics I’ve got decades of continuity working against, thus I’m sure at least one of these has happened already and I look forward to hearing about it in the comments, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done again and even better.

(Also, I don’t have Photoshop at home, so I’ll assume you all know what the good guys look like and instead display pictures of the baddies)

First and foremost, Superman always needs more villains he can just get into punching matches with, because the rotation between Metallo, Bizarro and Parasite in between cerebral wars with Lex Luthor and Brainiac gets played pretty quickly. Realistically, maybe Bane isn’t in Superman’s weight class, but then again, neither are a lot of the guys he fights. Besides that, Bane is a lot smarter than your average musclehead (when he’s being written right), as he’s the guy who not only physically dominated Batman, but weaved the psychological web of destruction that allowed that to occur. The optimum time for this to happen would have been right smack dab in the 90’s when Bane could taunt Superman with the “I broke your best friend” card, but done right today, this could bump Bane up a level and give Superman a fresh sparring partner for when you just need an issue of Action Comics full of double page spreads.

It’s tough coming up with opponents for the X-Men particularly in the here and now as they are literally an army living on their own private sanctuary. However, the Deviants’ numbers dwarf even Cyclops and company, plus they’re an entire race bred more or less to go to war. Really there could be no more perfect threat for the X-Men to play against, as the Deviants are mutants gone down the worst possible scenario and any last remnant of Xavier’s dream torn to shreds: they’re an offshoot of humanity feared for their power, shunned for their differentness and driven to isolate themselves and lash out against the Eternals, Celestials and every either “normal” or “gifted” group that has been able to ascend into the light they’re denied, so of course they would really hate the X-Men. I’d love to see Cyclops’ strategic skills pitted against the likes of Warlord Kro and the X-Men forced to look into the dark mirror of what they could become—and are actually moving closer to if they really take a minute to think about Utopia—in the Deviants.

Ok, maybe pairing off the two specialized weapons guys is a bit cliché, but just because it’s sensible doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be fun. Awesome arrow vs boomerang dual aside—and once they get to the gimmicks it would be seriously amazing—the personalities would be an interesting mesh as well. Going after Green Arrow would be a sensible move for Boomer, as he’s one of those villains constantly trying to prove he’s better than his reputation and targeting the perceived “weakest” member of the Justice League falls right in line with his character. For Ollie, looking at Boomerang would be—as with a the X-Men/Deviants pairing I just discussed—a glimpse at the road not travelled but that could still be. Digger is a guy who has let arrogance and his vices consume him and lost his family because of it; Ollie isn’t that far off from that. Both guys are arrogant and snarky and would have I suspect a spirited battle of wits, words, fists and projectiles.

This may be my personal favorite. I have already read the amazing Captain America & Batroc one-shot by Kieron Gillen and Renato Arlem headed to stores this Wednesday, and it only renewed and strengthened my affinity for “Ze Leapair,” a truly fantastic pseudo-villain and just fun character. I’d love to see Batroc gain a higher profile in the Marvel Universe, and Spider-Man is the perfect opponent for him. Captain America and Batroc always have cool dustups, but at his core, my favorite Frenchman is an acrobat, not a scrapper, so Spidey would be a great opponent for him just from a physical and fighting style angle. Batroc is also a guy who leads with his pride, preferring to prove himself against Cap rather than beat him or even pull off the big score and he’s all about the honorable opponent, so you know he and Spider-Man would start off trading barbs, but the Wallcrawler’s ceaseless banter and deprecating sense of humor would ultimately drive him—no pun intended—up the wall. And yet, underneath the surface, Batroc and Spidey actually have more than a little in common: both are underdogs, both seek and generally don’t get respect, and both stand by their morals at the end of the day (seriously, read any good Batroc story and he’s not really a bad guy, more of a thrill junkie and swashbuckler). Put the right artist on this and it would be an instant classic fight sequence, but the correct writer could also forge a cool rivalry/friendship in the end—paging Mr. Gillen and Mr. Arlem!

Probably the best Legion of Super-Heroes story ever is The Great Darkness Saga, with Darkseid emerging in the future, and a modern highlight of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s run came when Ra’s al Ghul showed up as the out-of-nowhere mastermind trying to take over the United Planets. Long story short: Present day villains are gold in the 30th/31st century. Black Adam is immortal and this could certainly still be around somewhere in a thousand years or so, plus he’s one of the few figures who simply on his own could present a viable physical challenge to a fighting force as vast and diverse as the Legion. I’d love to see Captain Marvel’s toughest opponent lock horns with Mon-El and Ultra Boy, trade sparks with Lightning Lad and Lightning Lass or match magic with The White Witch. Black Adam is an unstoppable force and some of the Legion’s greatest battles have come when they go up against that type of threat; I’d love to see Cosmic Boy or Brainiac 5’s battle strategy, but I’d also like to see what happens when BA shrugs it off and ignites the tempers of Legion hotheads like Wildfire and Timber Wolf, leading to the inevitable dog pile. Throw in Isis and Osiris as well and this is a slobberknocker for the ages for sure.

I’m biting a little on the Iron Man-Doc Ock feud I started the post talking about, but if anything, that story has shown me that Tony Stark up against other smart guys makes for quality stories. For years and years The Leader has been banging his giant head against the wall trying and failing to put mind over muscle against The Hulk, so it would be interesting to see him step up to somebody of his own intellect. Conversely, I don’t think Iron Man has ever gone against anybody with the brain capacity of The Leader, so it would be a different kind of challenge for him than battling The Mandarin or one of his numerous armored rivals. I don’t hate The Leader’s chances here, as a guy who has come within inches of putting The Hulk down despite no physical abilities can surely give Iron Man a run, while Tony would be in the uncomfortable position of not being able to necessarily fall back on his knowledge, having to opt for finesse and firepower instead.


Zach said...

Iron Man's gone up against Doctor Doom, who has greater brain capacity than the Leader. Unless you meant in the volumetric sense.

Ben Morse said...

I dunno, Doom is crazy smart just like Tony, Reed, etc., but Leader is unique in that being super smart is literally his one power. It's like how I don't think Superman should be faster than The Flash, since that's his thing, or anybody should be able to talk to fish as well as Aquaman.

Aaron said...

I think The Leader in general needs to step up his game. So I think him crossing over into Iron Man or FF would be cool.

Ben Morse said...

FF was indeed my other thought for The Leader and I'd like to see that too. I considered Intelligencia vs both the FF and the X-Men, but since we kinda saw both in World War Hulks, albeit it briefly, I went a different direction.

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