Sep 1, 2014

The Supervillain Hall of Fame, Part Five: Three's Company

Part Five – Three’s Company
Ben Smith

It’s the odyssey that began with a single step. The most glorious of quests. A life’s calling if ever there was one. An arbitrary list of the world’s greatest supervillains, created by a person with far too much spare time and a questionable need to share useless knowledge without compensation, and oftentimes, validation.

We’ve arrived at the pinnacle of four-color evildom and heinous acts of villainy. A three’s company of despicableness, only without the singular force of nature that was Joyce DeWitt. As an aside, I would totally watch a sitcom with these three sharing a small Los Angeles apartment.

As I’ve said before, changing the arrangement of the words to form different yet similar sentences each time, this list was devised using a pre-established set of pointless categories (which can be easily located using the web browser of your choice) each of which was assigned a point value ranging from one to ten, which were then divided blah blah math, and then completely disregarded so I could rank Dr. Doom third.

(I hate introductions. Introductions are like talking raccoons. You might have thought it was a good idea, but next thing you know they’re stoned and taking a nap in your trash can, and they rip up the garbage bags and make you feel really self-conscious toward the garbage collectors.)

Despite garbage collection anxiety, we’ve made it to the end my friends, let us not delay any longer.

3. Dr. Doom

Resume: movies, cartoons, Secret Wars, Emperor Doom, Silver Surfer, Morgan le Fay

Dr. Doom is the single worst case for the ghettoization of villains to specific heroes. Dr. Doom deserves better than Reed Richards. While Doom gets used plenty across the Marvel universe, he will always return to the Fantastic Four, a book that has always seen its better days in the rear view.

One of my earliest exposures to the greatness of Doom, was in the maxi-series Marvel Superheroes Secret Wars. Despite what you may want to say about the quality of that particular project (anything other than “it’s great” is frankly, ridiculously incorrect) you cannot argue that it wasn’t the perfect representation of Doom as Marvel’s greatest villain. As the rest of the petty criminals play the Beyonder’s games, Doom has his eyes on bigger prizes, making Ultron his butler along the way, before stealing the power of Galactus and then the Beyonder himself. Doom places himself front and center as the final bad guy in the first and most epic of company-wide crossovers, a position he truly deserves to be in.

Secret Wars was but one example of Dr. Doom proving himself to be the baddest of the bad. There were the times he fought Iron Man in Camelot, introducing the greatness that is Morgan le Fay, which represent the best Iron Man comics ever made pre-Warren Ellis. Don’t forget the time he was dissecting Asgardians and fought Thor wearing a version of the Destroyer armor, or the time Luke Cage famously followed him to Latveria to get his money, honey. Stealing the Silver Surfer’s power, teaming up with Doctor Strange, or kidnapping Flash Thompson as Spider-Man, Dr. Doom has faced off against every single Marvel hero, and it’s almost always spectacular. Last, but far from least, is all the times Doom has actually succeeded in taking over the world, the best example of which being Emperor Doom, an underrated classic that you should immediately track down right now. Go, go now.

However, despite his success in the world of Marvel comics, he’s been less than impressive when adapted to other media. One of the things that makes him look so cool on the printed page, his armor and face mask, is much harder to represent in live-action or animation. It doesn’t help that he’s relegated to Fantastic Four cartoons most of the time, which are almost always awful. The movies miscast the part, with an actor that doesn’t have the commanding type of voice that Doom needs to have. His best showing in animation, was arguably at the beginning of season two of Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, where he shrugs off an attack from the Avengers like the annoyance it would be to him.

Dr. Doom is the greatest villain in Marvel comics, but he still couldn’t top these next two.

2. Lex Luthor

Resume: Superman, Justice League Unlimited, cartoons, movies, synonyms, John Byrne, Smallville

I never cared much for Superman (as long time readers are aware) so I never cared much for Lex Luthor. I recognized that he was basically pop culture short-hand for arch-villain (“he’s my Lex Luthor”) but I never much cared for anyone that didn’t have powers, and especially a villain. What would be so scary about a bald guy that doesn’t even look like he’s all that formidable? (He’s the Clyde Drexler of super villains.)

All that changes once you get to his appearances in multi-media adaptations. Look, the Richard Donner Superman movies were pure garbage, and Hackman was a horrible Luthor, but that’s the worst it gets for Luthor. Smallville may have been wildly inconsistent, arguably an abomination, but Michael Rosenbaum was positively magnetic as a young Lex Luthor. He carried the show, offsetting Tom Welling’s pathetic mewling about the burdens of having really awesome powers, and the never-ending annoying romantic dance between Clark and Lana Lang. Rosenbaum was everything good about that show, so it’s really no surprise it went completely off the rails the moment he left it.

Similarly, many of the greatest episodes of the Justice League animated series involved Lex Luthor, memorably portrayed by Clancy Brown. From Amazo, to his (series peak) partnership with Brainiac, and the entire last season of the series, Luthor provides the good stuff throughout. He arguably saves the day against Darkseid in the very last episode. For the first time, you could honestly believe a man with no powers could be a valid antagonist for the ridiculously overpowered Superman, and that has never been portrayed better than in the Timm-verse.

Most of my Luthor comics knowledge is limited to the classics; Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow, Superman vs Spider-Man, Public Enemies, the Byrne reboot. Byrne was the one that rebooted Luthor as a fat businessman, instead of the evil mad scientist. I can’t say which one I prefer over the other, but I can say I’ll never not love the purple and green battle armor. It’s the ‘80s in me.

Which character could possibly beat out the original sketchy bald guy for the title of top villain? The answer, I think, is obvious.

1. The Joker

Resume: Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger, cartoons, Alan Moore, coulrophobia, Batman, The Joker’s Five Way Revenge, Arkham Asylum, The Killing Joke

I am Jack’s complete lack of surprise. The Joker takes the top spot because the Joker is the top villain in all of superhero comics. People are scared of clowns. People are scared of clowns that want to murder you by poisoning the water supply. People like Batman. People like Batman preventing clowns from poisoning your water supply.

I’m not going to go into great detail about all the factors that make The Joker the top villain in comics. He’s been around nearly since the beginning (Batman #1 to be exact; fun fact: he died in his first appearance, and had to be resurrected due to, I assume, fan demand) and he’s been maiming and killing ever since. There’s the Joker’s Five Way Revenge, and the Killing Joke, and Ledger’s brilliance as a character named the Joker in The Dark Knight.

Instead, I’m going to recommend a couple of books for you. First is a book I’ve probably bought at least a half-dozen times (one of the aspects of me growing up as a comic fan, is buying and trading books that I didn’t think I’d ever want to read again, only to buy those same books again later) The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told. Back in olden times, before trade paperback collections in book stores, and online digital libraries with comics for purchase, you actually had to find and buy old comics in order to read them. Being able to afford Golden Age Batman comics on a 12-year-old’s allowance was impossible, even back then, and that’s if you could even find any in the first place. That’s what made these collections of great Batman and Joker stories such a brilliant idea, released in the wake of the 1989 Batman major motion picture. With stories by legends like Dick Sprang, and Neal Adams, it’s still a fantastic collection of comics, and I recently re-bought it yet again a few months ago.

Second, is a book of prose stories named The Further Adventures of The Joker: All-New Tales of the Clown Prince of Crime (edited by Martin H. Greenberg). This book has probably been out of print since I first got it as a seventh grader, but it should be simple enough to track down used (we live in the glorious age of Amazon, and here it is - Cranky Editor.) and it contains some of the most twisted short stories of crime and horror by a talented lineup of writers. My personal favorite is a tale from the Joker’s youth named On a Beautiful Summer’s Day, He Was by Robert R. McCammon. Here’s an excerpt:

There were over a hundred. Constructions of wire and small skeletons – birds, kittens, puppies, chipmunks, squirrels, lizards, mice, snakes, and rats. Junior had not killed all of them himself; most of the carcasses he’d found, on his long solitary treks. He’d only killed maybe forty of them, the kittens, puppies, and some birds with broken wings. But the skeletons had been reformed, with wire and patience, into bizarre new shapes that did not resemble anything that had ever lived. There were birds with the skulls of kittens, and kittens with wings. There were comminglings of rats and puppies, squirrels with beaks, and other things with eight legs and three heads and ribcages melded together like strange Siamese twins. There were things freakish and hellish, constructed from Junior’s imagination. And here, on these wires, was the result of the only thing that excited Junior and made him truly smile: Death.
“I … think … I’d better go home,” Wally said, and he sounded choked.
Junior’s hand closed on the boy’s wrist, and held him. “I wanted you to see my toys, Wally. Aren’t they pretty?”

Things only get worse for dear Wally from there.

Besides the mysterious past, the violence, the horrific rictus smile, what makes the Joker such a great character is that he’s basically a blank slate, much like his arch-enemy, Batman. The Joker is easily adaptable to any kind of story a writer wants to tell, thanks to the built in malleability that is insanity and unpredictability. Or I could be overthinking things, since the fans love violence and murder. Plus, he put Jason Todd out of his misery for us, a debt which can never be repaid.

That concludes matters. Top heroes, top villains, best weapons, there’s nothing else that could possibly be added to this ever-growing fictional Superhero Comic Book Hall of Fame I’ve concocted in my coffee-addled brain.

What’s that you say? The greatest vehicles of all-time...

I hate you.

Aug 25, 2014

Supervillain Hall of Fame, Part Four: Villains4Life

Supervillain Hall of Fame, Part Four 
Ben Smith

When I started this journey to identify the top heroes and villains in superhero comic book history, and induct them into a fictional hall of fame, I knew it would be challenging, I knew it would be special. What I couldn’t have known is that it would change lives, and that is because it hasn’t done that at all. For a second there you thought I was going to tell you an inspirational tale, but there is no room for inspiration in the despair that is my life now that I’ve made the decision to do this. What a terrible, terrible decision. Enjoy!

As I’ve said before, changing the wording slightly each time, this list was devised using a pre-established set of categories (which can be easily located using the internet device of your choice) each of which was assigned a point value from one to ten, which were then divided yada yada math, and then completely disregarded so I can rank the villains however I please.

(I hate introductions. Introductions are like apes on horses firing machine guns. You might have thought it was a good idea at the pet store, but next thing you know you’re living in the woods trying to rediscover fire.)

Apes packing heat aside, we’ve made it to the top 10 villains, so let’s get started.

10. Thanos

Resume: powers, popularity, The Infinity Gauntlet, Infinity, movies, Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy

Thanos is the best of the big apocalyptic bad guys, capable of taking on entire teams because only an entire group of heroes could possibly defeat him. Even then, they frequently need Thanos to subconsciously sabotage his own plans for galactic conquest, giving them the opportunity they need to stop him. The reason Thanos does what he does is to appeal to the personification of Death itself, so that she will love him the way he loves her. Clearly, young Thanos was in need of some serious therapy. Thanos has appeared in a certified classic storyline, The Infinity Gauntlet, in which he wielded one of the all-time great cosmic weapons in comic history. He’s headlined other entertaining series such as The Thanos Imperative, Avengers Assemble, and Infinity, as well as playing a huge role in the Annihilation era of the Marvel cosmic universe. Thanos had a jaw-dropping (literally, my jaw dropped in complete shock) mid-end credits scene in The Avengers motion picture, and promises to play an even larger role in Marvel movies to come.

(I hate Thanos. Despise him. His whole schtick, self-sabotage, is lame. The idea that only he can beat himself just negates any valiant efforts by heroes of the stories. The only character more annoying than Thanos is that moron, Adam Warlock. -Cranky Editor Man.)

8. (tie) Doctor Octopus

Resume: cartoons, Spider-Man 2, Superior Spider-Man, The Sinister Six

The Green Goblin

Resume: Gwen Stacy, Spider-Man, cartoons, Dark Avengers, Dark Reign

The battle between Otto Octavius and Norman Osborn for the undisputed top position as Spider-Man’s greatest enemy, is one of the greatest debate in the history of the human race. As the Green Goblin, Norman kidnapped and killed Peter Parker’s first love Gwen Stacy. Doctor Octopus was able to mind-swap with Spider-Man, dooming him to death in his terminal body, and then taking over his life as Peter and Spidey. Ock handed Spider-Man his first defeat as a hero, but the Goblin was the first villain to discover his real identity as Peter. Otto founded one of the all-time great villain teams, the Sinister Six. Norman founded an equally villainous ensemble in the Dark Avengers. Norman Osborn had the entire Marvel universe running in terror during Dark Reign. Otto Octavius terrorized the city as the Superior Spider-Man. Norman had sex with Gwen (no, that never happened) but Otto had sex with Aunt May (ah, even worse!). Both have had prominent roles in every Spider-Man cartoon that has ever been created. The Green Goblin was the villain of the very first live-action Spider-Man movie, and Doctor Octopus headlined the second (and was much better). The Green Goblin effectively ended the Silver Age of comics, but Doctor Octopus gave the world Aunt May’s sex face, there’s nothing more evil than that. I can’t decide, it’s a tie.

7. Shredder

Resume: movies, cartoons, costume, origin, popularity, Turtles Forever

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are one of the most popular comic book properties in the world, and the Shredder is the unquestioned arch-enemy of the heroes in a half-shell. His personal attachment to Splinter provides the gravitas needed to make him a memorable foe. Like the Red Skull and Magneto, he’s essential enough to have a constant presence in every single iteration of the popular franchise. From his very first appearance in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1, to the ‘80s animated series, to the live-action movies of the ‘90s. The cartoon of the early ‘00s established added some much needed credibility to his villainy, culminating in the three-part Turtles Forever, where he nearly destroyed the entire multiverse (seriously, go watch Turtles Forever). The new cartoon that launched on Nickelodeon in 2012 established him as a force to be reckoned with, easily defeating the turtles in their first encounter. Shredder will once again menace the big screen in the upcoming Michael Bay live-action movie. No matter the medium, if the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are involved, Shredder is not far behind.

(No, seriously, go watch Turtles Forever. Here's a link. You have no excuse now. -Cranky Editor Man.)

6. Catwoman

Resume: Batman, Darwyn Cooke, popularity, costume, cartoons, movies, love interest, Halle Berry

Catwoman is one of the most popular villains in the world, when she’s not spending time as Batman’s primary love interest. She’s headlined her own comic book series on several occasions, including a much beloved run by Ed Brubaker and Darwyn Cooke. Her legendary costume is especially spectacular in live-action, as evidenced by Julie Newmar, Lee Meriwether, and Eartha Kitt in the ‘60s television series and movie. Not to be outdone, Michelle Pfeiffer filled out the costume quite well in the 1992 film, Batman Returns, providing a legendary performance. (The less said about the Catwoman movie starring Halle Berry, the better.) She’s had a major role in every Batman cartoon, including the massively influential Batman the Animated Series, and the insanely fun Batman The Brave and the Bold. However, Catwoman’s greatest achievement was in jump-starting puberty for entire generations of young boys, thanks to the aforementioned ‘60s TV series. For that alone, she will always be remembered as a true American icon.

(Half of you are asking, right now, why Ben broke his "no Deadpool/Black Cat types" rule. The other half of you are happy I posted that picture of Julie Newmar. -Cranky Editor Man.)

5. Loki

Resume: immortality, Tom Hiddleston, movies, cartoons, The Avengers, Tom Hiddleston

Probably no character has had their profile raised higher by his appearances in movies than the God of Mischief himself, Loki (the only other contender would be Iron Man). As Thor’s half brother, he’s been a thorn in the side of the God of Thunder almost from the very beginning of the comic series. The only other comic that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby worked on longer together was the Fantastic Four, and their Loki was an evil and conniving fiend. The first Thor movie gave him an identifiable point of view, kidnapped from his people to be raised in the ever present shadow of the more beloved Thor, with all the rejection and jealousy that comes with that. Loki’s popularity would soar into the stratosphere with Tom Hiddleston’s transcendent performance in the blockbuster Avengers movie. Like in the comics, Loki would be the driving force behind the formation of the Avengers as a team of heroes, which probably was a bit of a backfire on his part. He’s had recurring roles in every modern Marvel animated series, to include Ultimate Spider-Man, Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, and Avengers Assemble. All that, and according to my Facebook wall, Hiddleston is like way handsome.

4. Magneto

Resume: origin, powers, costume, Ian McKellen, Michael Fassbender, cartoons

Magneto probably would have challenged for the number two spot, except for the fact that he spends half his time as a hero (and because I like Victor Von Doom more). He’s also surprisingly absent for some of the X-Men’s most historically beloved classic storylines, at least as a villain, which is surprising. The Dark Phoenix Saga and Days of Future Past had nothing to do with him, and he was on the side of angels for The Age of Apocalypse. Therein lies the appeal of Magneto, because he kind of has a point, when he’s not murdering innocent people and hijacking nuclear weapons. The movies have done a brilliant job of highlighting his ideological differences with Professor X, who both only have the interests of mutants in mind, but then he tries to mutate Congress with a radiation spewing hadron collider (I have no idea if that’s what that machine was, but it sounded correct right?). Magneto has appeared in every single live-action X-Men movie, first portrayed by Ian McKellen, then by Michael Fassbender (and then both in Days of Future Past). As you can guess, the cartoons haven’t had any shortage of Magneto either. I’ve said it several times before, but villains like Loki, the Red Skull, Shredder, and Magneto are engaging enough to serve prominent long-term roles in the comics of their respective enemies. Most villains show up, battle the hero, lose, and then go away for a while before they can wear out their welcome. Not villains like Magneto, they stick around, and they should. They’re that good at being bad (except when he’s being good). Don’t forget about the sweet helmet either.

That’s it for now. Come back next time to see who made the top three, because three is … well, not the loneliest number, but it’s close. Damn close.

Aug 21, 2014

Review: Supreme: Blue Rose #2

I can't really say I know what's going on in Supreme: Blue Rose, but two issues in, that feeling of confusion has been part of the fun. Longtime Warren Ellis fans will recognize some of his favorite themes, such as the in-depth discussion of systems and alternative realities. The discussion regarding these scientific concepts gets quite technical in the second issue and I suspect it'll make itself clearer on rereads or as the series goes on.

The characters remain engaging, with Diana Dane being the main character, our eyes into this new world. I had thought that being familiar with Alan Moore's Supreme mythos, I could figure out what was going on just because of nominally familiar characters like Diana, but that hasn't been the case. What we've gotten has been better than anything "familiar," as the air of mystery and the general aura of the unknown has heightened my curiosity and engagement with the story.

Blue Rose does some, while not incredibly elaborate, involved world-building. There's a scene that just pans across a certain street, and I wouldn't be surprised if any of the landmarks we were shown appear in the series later. But my favorite world-building element is the Professor Night series that Diana is watching on her tablet. Right now it seems disconnected from the main narrative and is just a functional interlude, but like the rest of the other elements in the series, I'm fairly certain it will all tie in together.

This feeling of having all the balls up in the air, however, might be less engaging if the art were anything less than aesthetically pleasing, but Tula Lotay's art, still new to me (and I imagine most of you) is as pretty as it gets. The cover alone is a thing of beauty, harkening to old-time movie posters, but the design within the book itself, with its ethereal strokes and color holds and choices (Lotay is assisted by John Roshell in terms of design), continues to give the book an ephemeral quality, just removed from the real world.

So I've got no idea what's going on in this book, but it sure is gorgeous. Go read it!

Aug 18, 2014

Supervillain Hall of Fame, Part 3: Straight Outta Apokolips

Supervillain Hall of Fame, Part 3
Straight Outta Apokolips
Ben Smith

Sometimes in life you make decisions, decisions that you have no choice but to follow through to completion. Having children, getting a pet, killing a chicken, writing a comprehensive series detailing the greatest heroes and villains to house a fictional comic book hall of fame of your own devising, and ranking each and every single character on an escalating scale of deserving inclusion, based on a set of pre-established categories of distinction also of your own devising. Some might call this a mistake, a lapse in judgement, a colossal waste of time. I am one of those people. (Just kidding! I am in no way being forced to complete this at gunpoint by my editor-in-chief. Psst, please send help.)

As I said, this list was devised using a pre-established set of categories (which you can easily locate by using the internet to locate the previous chapters ) each of which was assigned a point value from one to ten, subsequently divided to create an overall average score per character, and then completely disregarded so I can rank the villains however I want.

(I hate introductions. Introductions are like glitter, once you use any you can never get rid of it. The one and only reason I know that is because Mrs Back Issue Ben calls glitter the herpes of art supplies, and not because I have ever applied glitter to my face and/or body. Let’s move on.)
Herpes and glitter aside, let’s continue this colossal burden with part three.

17. Apocalypse

Resume: Age of Apocalypse, Archangel, powers, origin, movie, cartoons

Apocalypse is one of the primary villains that fans probably like in concept, if not always execution on the comics end. He was the title character of the popular Age of Apocalypse event, but barely appeared (from what I’ve read, and I admittedly haven’t read it all yet). His most entertaining storyline, was his original appearances by co-creator Louise Simonson, when he altered Angel into the much more interesting Archangel. (As big a Walt Simonson fan as I’ve become, it’s weird that I only recently realized he was the artist on a lot of these issues, especially the iconic cover to X-Factor #24.) Apocalypse has appeared in almost all X-Men multimedia adaptations, including the influential 90s cartoon, and teased at the end of the first season of the highly underrated Wolverine & the X-Men animated series. Bryan Singer has already revealed he will the villain of the next live action X-Men movie, which has me genuinely psyched.

16. Professor Zoom

Resume: costume, powers, origin, killing Iris Allen, The Return of Barry Allen, New 52

One of my personal favorites, the Reverse-Flash is the one villain the close-knit Flash villains “the Rogues” will not accept into their ranks, because he’s too crazy. He’d be a favorite of mine for the bright yellow costume alone, but when you add in his bonkers origin as a jealous psychopath from the future that purposefully replicated the Flash’s powers, well, you have a villain straight after my heart. He most famously and shockingly killed Barry Allen’s wife Iris, and was in turn killed later on by Barry before he could murder his new fiancé. The Flash would then go on trial for the murder, before sacrificing his life to save the planet during Crisis on Infinite Earths, but all three of them would eventually get better, because it's comics (and because Geoff Johns was way too into the Super Friends as a kid). Zoom was the primary villain of Flashpoint, and therefore was at least partially responsible for that storyline being responsible for resetting the DC universe for the New 52, so that alone keeps him out of the top 10.

(Shameless plug for my favorite Zoom story. -Cranky Editor Man)

15. Two-Face

Resume: Tim Drake, cartoons, Tommy Lee Jones, The Dark Knight, origin

I know I’m alone in this, but I really don’t find the majority of Batman’s villains all that interesting. Just because they’re famous doesn’t make them great, but I could be wrong. It’s happened before. Two-Face is one of the more painfully obvious Dick Tracy-esque examples of Batman’s rogues, with his name and shtick extremely apparent based on his physical appearance. He’s been a major part of every Batman adaptation, most noteably in the mega-hit The Dark Knight. Tommy Lee Jones chewed so much scenery as the character in Batman Forever, you can see bite marks on the sets. I’m also alone in this, but I preferred the last “season” of Batman the Animated Series, with all the character revamps, which Two-Face had a memorable story as the villain partially responsible for Tim Drake becoming the new Robin.

14. Venom

Resume: popularity, costume

There’s not any characters I can dislike as much as Venom, but there’s no denying he’s arguably Marvel’s most popular villain. (I got into a discussion with friends about this once, and I think the only one that could possibly be more popular is Magneto, and even then, I think Magneto might only be more well-known. But the difference between well-known and popular is nebulous at best.) Venom has never been the centerpoint of a good comic book storyline, and is actually responsible for purely awful ones more often than not. He’s the epitome of style over substance, as his popularity is solely based on his cool costume and appearance (not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s as good a reason as any to like something). Venom has had some success as a supporting player in the Thunderbolts and Dark Avengers, and is serviceable in his current incarnation as a heroic vessel for longtime Spider-Man pal Flash Thompson (even though I personally don’t like Flash as a superhero). Venom was the worst part of the worst Spider-Man movie, Spider-Man 3 (Tobey’s laughable crying scene aside), and the worst Spider-Man cartoon, Unlimited, which is quite an accomplishment. The Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon was excellent, but gets points deducted for far too many “bros” on the part of Eddie Brock, each one steadily more annoying than the last. In summary, I hate Venom.

(Okay, I think Ben is just wrong on this one. Venom isn't popular; the visual of an evil Spider-Man, or the black Spider-Man costume, is popular. Venom just happens to be wearing it. With absolutely no data to back me up, I'd be willing to bet that the name recall for Venom is significantly lower than the people who remember the costume.-Cranky Editor Man)

13. Red Skull

Resume: origin, “costume,” the Cosmic Cube, Captain America, movies, cartoons, Agent Smith

The Red Skull is another one of the few unrepentantly evil villains in the Marvel universe. His origin as an evil bellboy is up there with the greats, and he’s always seeking to acquire the Cosmic Cube, one of the all-time great weapons (I could be biased based on all the time I spent drawing transparent cubes during class). (The Cosmic Cube gave the greatest comics-related website its name. -Cranky Editor Man) He’s been a major part of most of the classic Captain America runs, including the superb Brubaker tenure. He’s as integral to the character of Captain America that I don’t mind if he’s a constant presence in the books, like a supporting character (same with Magneto and the X-Men). Currently, he’s running around with Professor X’s brain in Uncanny Avengers. Red Skull was the big bad of Captain America: The First Avenger, serviceably played by Agent Smith (I could look up his real name, but he’s Agent Smith). Agent Smith (okay fine, Hugo Weaving) is almost always very good, if not great, whether he is playing an elf lord or a vindictive vigilante named V. Weaving is basically the Karl Malone of the acting world. He’s always going to give you the same solid performance, if not ever breaking into transcendent. That’s as good a description of the Red Skull as anything.

12. Darkseid

Resume: The New Gods, Jack Kirby, The Great Darkness Saga, cartoons, popularity

Despite his relation to the criminally overrated New Gods, Darkseid is one of the top villains of the DC catalog. I always have a fascination with the big cosmic bad guys like Apocalypse and Thanos, but for some reason Darkseid isn’t as fun. The main reason being is that instead of being an unstoppable force that the heroes can barely overcome, he’s frequently beat down by the likes of Superman, or even (pathetically) by Batman. During Final Crisis, DC thought that the ultimate embodiment of evil would look especially menacing while inhabiting the form of dumpy Mel Turpin, which is a microcosm of why DC continues to fail us all as of late. The Great Darkness Saga stands as his only evergreen comic book story (okay fine, The New Gods Saga counts, but it sucks, admit it, you only like it in theory). (What's Wrong with the New Gods? -Cranky Editor Man) When Darkseid truly shines is in cartoons, where he’s more often treated appropriately as the scariest and most dangerous being in the universe (the Superman/Batman animated movies excluded). He was the perfect bad guy to serve as the capper for the Timm-verse, and when Luthor reconstitutes him instead of Brainiac in the penultimate episode, it is a legitimate (figurative) fist-pump moment. Too bad his comic appearances almost always suck.

11. Sinestro

Resume: Sinestro Corps War, mustache, popularity, origin, fear, colors, space Hitlers

I tried my best to get Sinestro into the top 10, but I just couldn’t do it. He’s been one of the most consistent and entertaining characters since his return in Green Lantern: Rebirth, with Geoff Johns even infusing him with an understandable point of view. He’s also a purple space Hitler, which is a bonus along the lines of evil bellboy. The Sinestro Corps War is one of the most satisfying storylines of the new millennium, and his fear corps led to the introduction of even more colored corps, which can be a negative or positive depending on the fan (positive for me, I love it). Blackest Night, and all the subsequent Green Lantern internal epics, have maintained the remarkable consistency of the Green Lantern line, and Sinestro is right in the center of that. He’s currently headlining his own series, which has been promising so far. Unfortunately, all of the Green Lantern adaptations have been disappointing, to include the animated movies, cartoon, and the live-action movie, so Mark Strong in particular didn’t get a chance to shine as an evil Sinestro. That’s a shame, because with all the (overly done) backstory out of the way, a second Green Lantern movie would have had the chance to be pretty good, based around a conflict between Hal Jordan and the purple space Hitler.

(Sinestro sucks. -Cranky Editor Man)

That does it for the also-rans, next time, we’ll delve into the top 10 most diabolical villains in superhero comic book history. I’m sure you’re all holding your breath in anticipation.

Aug 11, 2014

Supervillain Hall of Fame, Part Two: The Second One

Supervillain Hall of Fame, Part Two
The Second One
Ben Smith

Due to overwhelming fan demand (ha!) I’ve decided to continue what is destined to become my life’s work, creating an all-encompassing fictional Comic Book Hall of Fame. I’ve completed the inaugural superhero class, as well as the special room housing the greatest weapons ever conceived, and now I’ve begun arguably the most important wing of these hallowed halls of history, the villains.

As with the previous chapters, this list was devised using a pre-established set of categories, each of which was assigned a point value from one to ten, thusly divided to create an overall average score per each character, and then completely disregarded so I can rank the villains however I want.

(I hate introductions. Introductions are like the human appendix, everyone has one, but they’re useless. From time to time one blows up and kills somebody. I may or may not have lost control of that analogy, I’m not sure what the burst appendix is analogous to, except maybe the death of human decency that’s certain to follow reading this.)

Painful body functions aside, let’s continue with part two.

25. Black Adam

Resume: powers, Geoff Johns, popularity, Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam

Unlike his arch-nemesis Captain Marvel, Black Adam has fit in seamlessly into the modern DC universe. While DC has never seemed to have much use for a second heroic Superman since acquiring the characters in the ‘70s, you can never really have enough villainous versions, and Black Adam fits that bill perfectly. He also benefits from a modern day Magneto-like update of him having an understandable point of view, he just wants to protect his people, even if he sometimes slaughters entire opposing nations to achieve it. Geoff Johns has seemed to have a particular affinity for the character, which is the quickest way to popularity for a DC character over the past 10 years. Black Adam was one of the title characters of one of DC’s animated movies a few years ago, and has made appearances on Batman: Brave and the Bold.

(Do you realize Black Adam appeared in one — ONE — Golden Age story? How many people show up once in the original material and then just take off decades later? -Cranky Editor Man)

24. Kingpin

Resume: Born Again, Spider-Man, Daredevil, movies, TV, cartoons, girth

Kingpin has pulled one of the rarest tricks in all of superhero comics, he’s become one of the top villains of two different high profile heroes, Spider-Man and Daredevil. Kingpin debuted in the classic Amazing Spider-Man #50 (famous for Peter quitting and throwing his costume in the trash, as he pensively walks away) and served for many years as one of the many mafia stand-ins in the Spider-Man comics. He was eventually snatched away by Frank Miller, who wanted to create as near to a crime comic as he was allowed at the time (it was a more regulated era) as the writer and artist on Daredevil. Kingpin became the arch-enemy of Miller’s Daredevil, culminating in the Born Again storyline, one of the most famous storylines in Marvel history. He has been a fixture of the Daredevil comic ever since, while still showing up in Spider-Man, and eventually any other Marvel books that need an imposing mob figure. He maintained a prominent role in the early ‘90s Spider-Man animated series, which was as atrocious in quality as it was influential in attracting a whole new generation of fans. Michael Clarke Duncan was suitably cast as Kingpin in the live action Affleck movie, but underserved by a lackluster overall film. Hopefully, Vincent D’Onofrio can revive the Kingpin’s prominence in the upcoming Netflix Daredevil series.

(You guys ever try figuring out which villains and supporting cast members should migrate from one superhero to another? Kingpin, for example, debuted as a Spider-Man villain, and then went nowhere until Miller moved him over to Daredevil. Sabretooth was an Iron Fist villain until they moved him over to Wolverine. I think Poison Ivy would make a great Wonder Woman villain, and Michele Rodriguez should be a permanent fixture in Daredevil. -Cranky Editor Man)

23. Deathstroke

Resume: costume, Arrow, Identity Crisis, The Judas Contract, social security benefits, Teen Titans Go

Slade Wilson, also known as Deathstroke, was the most prominent villain created by Marv Wolfman and George Perez for their seminal run on The New Teen Titans, which was one of the only DC books selling like a Marvel comic in the early ‘80s (Marvel dominated the era). Deathstroke has an appealing skill set and a cool costume, and luckily for him, you don’t need much more than that to become a popular comic book character, because there’s not much else to him. (Just like Doomsday, I think that one run should have been Deathstroke's run. Read the whole thing; his story ends right there. -Cranky Editor Man)  He was a major player in the classic Teen Titans storyline, The Judas Contract, famous for introducing Dick Grayson as Nightwing. He had a memorable fight scene alone against the Justice League, in the abominable mini-series event Identity Crisis("Abominable" is being generous. -Cranky Editor Man) In other media, Slade Wilson was the top villain of the early seasons of the underrated Teen Titans animated series, and has also been a standout character on the first two seasons of the TV show Arrow. However, his greatest achievement was inspiring the creation of Marvel’s Wade Wilson, better known as Deadpool. (Deadpool is neither a full hero or villain, hence his exlusion from both of these lists. Same with Black Cat, Larfleeze, and Galactus. Go ahead and consider all of them inducted in a special category. You can even make up your own name for it.) (Well, I'm not doing it! Make your own list! -Cranky Editor Man)

22. Sabretooth

Resume: Wolverine, movies, cartoons, Mutant Massacre, powers, popularity

There’s really no mystery as to why Sabretooth is popular among fans, he’s an evil Wolverine. The interesting thing about Sabretooth is that he was introduced in an Iron Fist comic, was primarily a Power Man and Iron Fist villain in his early appearances, before finally being drawn into the X-universe and finally facing off against Wolverine for the first time following the Mutant Massacre crossover event (yes, disgruntled internet fans, despite what you may choose to remember, there were crossovers back when you were a kid also). (Sabretooth NOT being created for Wolverine is kind of mind-blowing. It's like if General Zod wasn't created for Superman, or if the Wrath wasn't created for Batman. -Cranky Editor Man) Their status as arch-enemies was sealed for good in the classic Wolverine #10, in a flashback story that shows how Sabretooth murdered Wolverine’s lover Silver Fox. That story was adapted for a standalone Wolverine episode of the early ‘90s X-Men cartoon, a cartoon as influential for creating new fans of the concurrent Batman the Animated Series, only much much more awful to watch. Sabretooth is popular enough to warrant a role in the very first live-action X-Men movie, but unfortunately being played by a pro wrestler is surprisingly not the best way to make a lasting impact on an audience, and he was mostly forgettable. Liev Schreiber delivered a much more memorable performance in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but the movie was decidedly average overall.

21. Ultron

Resume: Age of Ultron, origin, powers, cartoons, movie, Ultron Unlimited, Next Avengers

Ultron represents the comic book version of the tried and true sci-fi concept of the artificial intelligence trying to wipe out humanity and take over the planet. Ultron has an ongoing oedipal conflict with his creator, Hank Pym, and a lineage involving The Vision, Jocasta, and Victor Mancha. While he’s had a consistent history of entertaining appearances, the only one that could be considered a standout is Ultron Unlimited, during Busiek and Perez’s Avengers run. The Age of Ultron crossover event was uneven at best, and largely disappointing for most fans that don’t love anything having to do with Hank Pym or Ultron. My personal favorite is Ultron’s role as the central villain in the Marvel cosmic event Annihilation: Conquest, which produced history’s greatest superhero team, the modern Guardians of the Galaxy. His biggest drawback is that he’s essentially unbeatable, thereby making it difficult for writers to keep coming up with new ways to defeat him. Ultron has made appearances in all Avengers cartoons, and was the villain of the very underrated Next Avengers animated movie. I expect Ultron to take a significant leap in popularity and significance following his starring role in the upcoming live-action Avengers sequel.

20. Mystique

Resume: powers, look, movies, cartoons, Rebecca Romijn, Jennifer Lawrence

Mystique was a present element of the X-books for a long time, mostly as the leader of the government sponsored Freedom Force team, and surrogate mother of popular X-woman Rogue, but she was not considered to be on the same level as top evil mutants like Magneto or Sabretooth. All that changed when supermodel Rebecca Romijn covered her naked body in blue paint and scales, and had a star-making turn as Mystique in the first two X-Men movies. Following that, the popularity and prominence of the character increased dramatically in the comics. When Fox rebooted the X-Men movie franchise with X-Men: First Class, they cast young up and coming actress Jennifer Lawrence as a younger Mystique, which would turn out to be one of the all-time casting coups when she would win an Academy Award for Best Actress just a few years later. She would reprise the role for X-Men: Days of Future Past, with Mystique having a central part in what is probably the best X-Men movie yet. All that aside, she is one of the more interesting mutant villains, with constantly changing motivations and loyalties based solely on what is best for her, and complicated parental dynamics with Rogue and Nightcrawler.

18. (tie) Harley and Ivy

Resume: cartoons, popularity, cosplay, Batman, The Joker, Arleen Sorkin

Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy are the peanut butter and chocolate of supervillains, they are pretty great on their own, but even better together. Harley Quinn is the crowning achievement of the groundbreaking Batman the Animated Series, created specifically because Paul Dini liked Arleen Sorkin, and quickly becoming popular enough to transition over to the comics, where she has remained extremely popular ever since. Poison Ivy had a largely forgettable history as a lower tier Batman villain before being revamped and highlighted on, again, Batman the Animated Series. Many villains benefitted from the hugely influential cartoon series (expecially Mr. Freeze) but when Harley and Ivy teamed up in one of the best episodes of the entire show, one of the all-time great comic book duos was born. Any comic book convention is as guaranteed to have Harley and Ivy cosplayers as it is to have vendors selling comics, proof positive of the pair’s enduring legacy as two of DC’s most popular characters. Unfortunately, neither character has provided quality comic book stories on a consistent basis, despite regular fan demand.

That’s a good a place to stop as any, with a one-two punch of Harley and Ivy cosplayers, and naked Jennifer Lawrence. That should help to wash the bad taste of Black Adam, Deathstroke, and Marv Wolfman out of anyone’s mouth. Only I’ve just ruined it all by using Marv Wolfman and mouth in the same sentence.

Next time, it never ends.

Aug 7, 2014

Why Not Sif? A Look at Immonen, Schiti, and Bellaire's Run on Asgard's Shieldmaiden

Why Not Sif?

From the new Captain Marvel to the always entertaining She-Hulk to the new and exciting Angela, we have more female-centric Marvel books at this point than I can remember ever having in my comics-reading lifetime, which is almost as long as my actual lifetime. With this increased focus on female-led series, though, there is one character for whomI have to wonder why Marvel isn’t pushing as much as they could.

That’s right, that’s Lady Sif, one of Asgard’s greatest warriors and certified true badass. Created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee (at this point, someone will want to comment with “Stan and Jack didn’t create Sif; the Vikings did,” which, congratulations, you people have mastered the nuance of semantics) to be Thor’s traveling companion and second girlfriend, after Jane Foster, Sif has a pretty strong central concept: she is the fiercest female warrior in all of Asgard, and next to Thor, the best warrior who doesn’t run in a pack. She’s also had a fairly simple history despite being around since the 60s. Ignoring an unfortunate stretch of time when she and Jane Foster shared a body (we will never speak of this again, ever), Sif’s just a warrior. Sometimes she dates Thor, sometimes she doesn’t, but her priority is the safety of Asgard.

There hasn’t been much effort in the way of solo Sif stories, which is surprising to me because she seems to be a character rife with possibility. (To be fair, we could say this about Thor’s entire supporting cast, which is arguably the richest supporting cast next to Batman, in terms of being able to stand on their own without the lead character. Not much effort has been made to do much with them.) But last year, Kathryn Immonen, Valerio Schiti, and Jordi Bellaire used her for a short run to end the Journey Into Mystery series. And they knocked it out of the park.

Starting with the premise that Sif wants to be a better warrior, we follow Asgard’s premiere fighter as she gets cursed with a spell that triggers her berserker rage. Hooking up with a bunch of other warriors who all fell for the same curse millennia ago, Sif has to save the Earth from a bunch of monsters. Along the way, she gets to show off her fighting skills.

She also gets hit on by the Superior Spider-Man, which is how I realized how buried in Marvel’s lineup this run was. I was buying Superior Spider-Man at the time and still wasn’t aware of this appearance until almost a year after it happened.

Here’s a cute Easter egg. Spot the South Park residents!

Schiti really took it to a whole new level in the next storyline, “Seeds of Destruction,” in which Sif teams up with Beta Ray Bill to save Gaea and Bill’s girlfriend, Ti Asha Ra. He pulls off a neat trick here with polyptychs that give a sense of movement throughout the page while being able to zoom in on Sif’s expressions.

Schiti’s just a master of expressions in general. He’s like this generation’s Kevin Maguire, only without the inexplicable need to have everyone mug for the camera all the time. (Seriously, did anyone fall into the “I shall become my brand” trap any more solidly than Kevin Maguire?)

And look at that color palette too. Just vibrant and bold color choices by Jordie Bellaire throughout the entire run.

Kathryn Immonen’s dialogue brought out an innocence in Sif that balanced out her aggressive personality, and a kind of naivete about human dynamics and the way things work. At the end of the day, Sif’s as simple as her concept. She wants to fight to protect Asgard, and she’ll… fight to… keep fighting, I guess.

This run was cancelled after “Seeds of Destruction,” and giving Sif more chances seems to be an issue of marketability. It’s not really a cool name. I know “Thor” is just a name, but there’s an oomph factor to it that “Sif” doesn’t have. It’s kind of like how in basketball, the best guys always have cool names. The number 1 pick in the 1996 NBA draft was Allen Iverson, a guy who had many shoes, a rap album, and changed NBA culture as we know it. The number pick in the 1995 NBA draft was a dude named Joe Smith. Names have power.

But wait, you say. Loki has his own series, and Angela will soon as well. They both have subtitles: “Agent of Asgard” and “Asgard’s Assassin,” respectively. Why not give Sif a new title? I don’t know what it would be, but now would be the time to do it. We’ve got an actress in Jaimie Alexander that loves playing the character (her guest shot on Agents of SHIELD was the best part of an otherwise mediocre season). The multimedia profile of the character will likely never be higher than this. So as a company overall, why not push Sif along with everyone else?

Is money really a reason? Can we really say Angela is going to absolutely make more money as a lead? Maybe before the movies, sure, but now I don’t think you can make that claim. The Immonen/Schiti/Bellaire Sif comics were as good as any superhero comics in existence, and proves that the character is rife with possibility. In Marvel’s entire catalogue, it seems like a shame to overlook her.

You can get the two Sif books (very affordable) here:

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