Monday, August 11, 2008

The Greatest Smackdowns of All Time

Here we are, at the end of this look at Smackdowns. Let's go out with a bang by looking at the greatest fights in comic history, and as an added bonus I wanted to throw in my comic book dream fight.

Sentry vs. The Hulk

World War Hulk. Some folks were down on this miniseries and thought the ending was broadcast way too early. I have to disagree. Knowing they were going to brawl only gave me something to look forward to. The Sentry taking on the Hulk was a fight scene that was different for a simple reason: The Sentry wasn't holding back, and the Hulk just got stronger as he got madder. No punches were pulled. Watching the Sentry calmly explain to Hulk that he was enjoying being able to let go in a battle while taking punches left and right really showed just how powerful the hero really was. Hulk was throwing everything at him, and he was just taking it with no problem. Then Sentry throws the punches and Hulk takes them as well. For one brief, shining moment we were allowed to see just what potential the character of the Sentry really had if Marvel would just use him as something besides a mental case.

They fought long and hard and destroyed a lot of property. Finally, Hulk utters the best line of the series: "Do it! Before I break the world!" Iron Man lets go with some laser from space and we see Hulk and Sentry de-powered and fighting man to man.

The Kingdom Come Finale

Alex Ross doesn't do interior art that often anymore, but there was a time when he was game for it. Kingdom Come was the story that put a new face on the DC universe. While Dark Knight Returns gave Batman a new look and attitude, Kingdom Come gave the entire lineup a new look and attitude. The ending of this massive story gave us the payoff it had all been leading up to. Hundreds of heroes and villains trapped in a specially-made prison break out, and it's up to Superman and his Justice League to stop them. They started losing in a big-time way until Batman and his army of super-folks show up to even things out a little more. It's a fight unlike any seen up to that point because people were hurt and actually killed during the battle. Comic book heroes weren't supposed to show pain, but this time they did. Alex Ross' realistic painting style in every frame made every moment like watching a movie. This was a brutal war between super-powered beings, and it got ugly.

And even though I mentioned the fact that they've faced off way too often in an earlier post, you can't fault this rematch between Superman and Captain Marvel. To me, this was exactly how a fight between these two heroes should have gone down. Captain Marvel used his magic lightning to tear Superman to little pieces before coming to his senses and finally deciding to give his life to stop a nuclear catastrophe.

This was one of the top moments DC has given the fans in the past decade.

Batman vs. Superman (The Dark Knight Returns)

This was the story that jump started the Batman storyline during a low point. Folks had pretty much given up on Batman, and suddenly Frank Miller showed us that the old bat still had some grit.

Throughout this brutal story we finally got to see the death of the Joker, we had a foreshadowing of Jason Todd's death, and we had the best fight between DC's Top Two that we'd ever seen. Superman is sent to stop this vigilante and put him back in his place. The confrontation in Gotham seems like it would be incredibly one-sided, but thanks to a Batman who isn't afraid to fight dirty and came to the fight prepared for battle, it's not what you'd expect. Batman didn't pull any punches, and soon Superman was fighting for his life. Let's give Supes credit here: he wasn't really trying to hurt Batman, just take him in. That being said, we'll never really know how it could have turned out if he'd really gotten into it. But as it stood, Batman gave him everything he had until this older Bruce Wayne's body finally gave out on him and he died of a heart attack in the middle of the fight.

It later turned out he'd faked the death, but it doesn't detract from what we'd seen. He faced down a hero who easily had him outclassed in power, and showed just how tough this hero actually could be.

Again, I know I mentioned in an earlier post how these two go at it way too often, but that's because they got it right this time and the writers have been going back to the well way too many times. This one still stands out as the best of their tussles.

Deathstroke vs. The JLA (Identity Crisis)

We knew he had it in him, but we'd never really seen his potential until this point. Doctor Light is scared to death the Justice League is going to kill him because Sue Dibny died, so he hires a bodyguard. The Justice League show up just as he'd thought, but they find out he's not alone. He's spent money to hire the best, and that's Deathstroke.

This fight was poetry in motion. Deathstroke has studied his opponents so well that he instantly knows their weaknesses. For a guy with no depth perception, Slade does pretty well.
This is not a long, drawn-out battle. It is over for most of the heroes in seconds, as Slade Wilson cuts off Hawkman's wings, sends a punch into Zatanna's ribs to shut her up, cuts Green Arrow's bowstring, and breaks Green Lantern's hand. The team that has faced threats of galactic proportions gets their tails handed to them by a relatively normal human being (with enhanced strength and reflexes, but still...). They do manage to dogpile him before it's all over with and take him down, but Deathstroke is able to hold his throughout the fight and the level of respect we have for him goes way up. As Green Arrow himself puts it: "Slade fights like Bruce . Everything is calculated." With a plan and purpose for every movement, Slade is able to do what even teams of villains have not been able to do in the past. The only way he loses is because he tries to take over Green Lantern's ring (and comes close to succeeding).

This fight set the stage for a later series of grudge match fights between Slade and Green Arrow. Why? Even though he didn't have his bow anymore, Green Arrow still found use for one of his arrows: he shoved it into Slade's bad eye. Ouch!

Hulk vs. The Ultimates

Marvel's Ultimate universe was jump-started by Ultimate Spider-Man and X-Men, but it wasn't until "The Ultimates" came out that the universe really showed potential. A new version of the Avengers, but this one much darker than anything before it. Iron Man was a drunk, Thor might be crazy, Hank Pym was a wife-beater, and Captain America was...Captain America. But it was the Ultimates version of the Hulk that really stood out. He was an absolute nut-job. He killed without remorse, had some crazy hormones going on for Betty Ross, and took on the entire Ultimates team alone. In a world of rip-off battles, this was a fight that was breathtaking.

Hulk tore into them all without stopping. It is a fight through Manhattan that leaves everybody bruised and beat down. While you might not think Captain America would stand much of a chance against the Hulk, you'd be wrong. This Cap fights dirty! And it's action that will blow your mind.

Eventually, they are able to take the Hulk down. And when he turns into Bruce Banner again, Cap is there to kick him in the teeth. They put him away and finally execute him (or so they think), and everyone breathes a collective sigh of relief that the monster is dead. Of course, he isn't really, and makes a return appearance in our next major battle. As a matter of fact, he's a key player!

The Ultimates vs. The Liberators

To have two battles coming from the same series on such a short list, they would have to be doing something right. Despite the fact that the title has the most erratic publishing schedule ever ("When's the next issue coming out?" "I have no idea."), the title managed to end the second volume with a blockbuster. While the battle with the Hulk to end the first volume had been awesome, this took it even further.

Cap is in prison as a traitor. Thor is in a straitjacket. Hawkeye has been captured and tortured. Hank Pym has turned traitor. It is not a good time for the Ultimates, but it's the best time for a villain to strike. Enter Ultimate Loki and the Liberators. Soon, the United States is crushed under their control, but Hawkeye escapes, Cap escapes, and Thor is rescued by a shining light...and you know it's gonna get good.

There are so many "Wow!" moments in here I can't begin to cover them all. Hawkeye kills a room full of baddies by pulling his fingernails off and using them like throwing knives. Quicksilver kills an opponent by running with them so fast their skin literally comes off. Thor pounds Loki into a sidewalk with his hammer. Captain America finishes off a villain in a way our Cap never would have considered. All this and the return of the Hulk, but this time he's fighting for the Ultimates instead of against them. And we finally find out once and for all if Thor really is the son of Odin or just a crackpot with a hammer (hint: he doesn't come to this battle alone). The major moment in this battle comes in an 8 page foldout battle scene! Trust me, this tops the list for a reason.

Now was it worth the 4 1/2 years it took to get these 12 issues out? Not really. There's no excuse for the lazy publishing schedule beyond an artist with a poor work ethic and a lazy editor that wouldn't push for deadlines. It's one of the main reasons this title will be canceled this year after "Ultimatum", but it was fun while it lasted.

All in all, this is one of those rare iconic moments in comics. It's like the ending of some major motion picture, and it pays off for those who have read the series up to that point. If you haven't read this, I highly recommend it.

And before we finish off this look at comic smackdowns, I just wanted to throw in this "I'd love to see this but probably never will" moment:

Dream Fight: Sentry vs. Superman

I know I've been hard on Superman through this trilogy of posts, but the fact is he can be cool in the right circumstances. A Sentry versus Superman battle could be amazing if handled properly. By "properly", I mean "not the regular writers of either hero". Marvel has spent so much time showing Sentry is flawed and weak, while DC has spent all their time showing just how ultra-powerful Superman really is (while letting him get his tail handed to him by Batman every year or so to keep him humble), so it could end up being a rather short fight. Superman makes Sentry cry by calling him crazy and Sentry runs home to his tower and cries himself to sleep.


Robert really gets the chance to cut loose and we see an even better fight than we saw with the Hulk. Superman throws everything he has at Sentry, who calmly tells him the whole time how glad he is to finally have another foe he can just cut loose on. Then he punches Superman into outer space. Supes comes back mad and slams Sentry into the Earth's core. All in all, it could be an incredible battle because these two are pretty even. In the real world, Sentry would win because he'd just need to find some Kryptonite (he could borrow some from Batman, who keeps it in his utility belt) and Superman would be weak enough to beat down. Or, Superman could keep hitting him until he went down (Sentry actually bled during the Hulk fight, so it's conceivable he could be defeated).

Or, Batman stops by and beats them both up just to prove he's still the toughest hero on Earth.

Any way you look at it, it would be worth the price of the book!

And that's my look at Smackdowns! I know I missed some major comic moment somewhere, but these stood out to me. Do you have a favorite I didn't mention?

Don't forget to check back on Wednesday and Friday this week. We'll be looking at DC's greatest ongoing failure in recent years, and then look at the latest on the Skrull invasion!

And next Monday we'll be looking at the best plot-twist moments in recent comic history!


Rick said...

The best plot twist in RECENT comic history. That won't take long to write. There aren't many of them. Maybe just one. That one to me was that Atom's wife killed Sue Dibney.

Brian said...

Believe it or not, that one's on the list! Hopefully you'll agree about a couple of the others I mention as well. :)

Jonathan Nolan said...

Hulk vs Superman rocked, Sentry- I can't stand. Retconned rubbish and totaly ill suited to Marvel. And it shows. The guy in the cape who is ultra powerful in the Marvel U... Is Thor.

All this Kirby nostalgia and marketability, and they diss Thor for a decade.

This is why fanboys from the indies must never never never again get control of Marvel. After the current (relative) implosion occurs in the comic line.

Anonymous said...

You forgot about The Authority vs "The Avengers"

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