Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Super-Blog Team-Up, "Versus" Edition:

Civil War time and Super-Blog Team-Up #8 showcases the BEST in Hero on Hero battles. Prepare your senses for the most pugilistic punch-fests ever presented as my fellow bloggers and I bring you 

Check the links at the bottom of this page for more super-person slugfests and smackdowns than you can shake a stick at as well as a special mention about today's featured author

Rom #12

"Toe-to-Toe Titanic Tussling"
"Jack of Hearts? More like Jerk of Hearts!"

Imagine if all your interactions with people in your daily existence were built around the model of how characters in the Marvel Universe reacted to each other.

If that were so, you would end up punching a person in the head 90% of the time upon first meeting them. Work, school, out at a bar…doesn't matter,...although that last one might be the same anyway. 

Soon as you see them, some simple misunderstanding and you develop a "shoot first-ask questions later" mentality. 

Definitely that bar example is the exception.

DC didn't do this in the silver age, by the way. The idea of heroes bouncing each other around on a regular basis was wholly a Marvel thing. 

Before Marvel's innovation, comic book heroes rarely fought one another. They had few rivalries and lived in a world of perfect information exchange. Heroes always knew about other heroes, even relatively obscure ones. Upon first meeting, they were less likely to throw down and more likely to throw in together to beat up the bad guy du jour.

It was a simpler time, both in the comic world and the world outside it.

But Marvel's arrival on the scene in 1961 changed a lot of that. The stories springing forth from Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steven Ditko and Larry Lieber were very much products of a Cold War culture that wasn't quite sure who you could trust. Between that and the need to tell superhero stories with a slant toward realism rather than moralistic fantasy, produced a climate in the Marvel Universe where mistrust was the order of the day.

It all started off with Marvel's first family basically being giant bags of dicks to everyone that came along. I'd previously let them off on a technicality when in FF #4 they bump into Sub-Mariner, one of the heroes of WWII. He did seem a bit unstable and was threatening to destroy New York or get all rapey with Sue. So a little smackdown might have been in order. That one gets a pass.

But then we move on to issue 12 and the foursome being duped by the Wrecker (not the guy with the crowbar) and the United States Military (Trust No One!) to tackle the Hulk under false pretenses. I'm almost willing to give this one a pass too, since the Hulk wasn't really considered a "hero" by anyone at this point. They did have to trek cross-country to confront him though. That's gotta count for something.

The true "third strike" which defined the Marvel Age of hero interaction was recorded in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man #1 where down-on-his-luck Peter Parker decides to apply for membership to the FF as a way to help his Aunt pay the bills. 

It goes about as well as can be expected.

Spider-Man shows up unannounced.

The merry band is downright uncivil to him.

Then they attempt to bash him like his namesake and/or set him on fire.

Finally, Mr. Fantastic tries to talk sense into everyone (after trying unsuccessfully grab Spider-Man too).

And it ends with Spidey leaving in a huff after being turned down.

So FF: kind of an exclusive club full of jerks. Way to go, first family of Marvel.

After the majors got to know one another, these things became less and less frequent. They did still happen though.

Usually it was mind control. 

That's a reliable excuse. Or robots or life model decoys or something impersonating heroes, although one could argue that neither of those were real battles between heroes.

I would agree those don't count.

To have a real "Versus" battle between heroes, you need what Rom #12 has: mistaken identity. In the expanding universe that Marvel had become in 1980, there were dozens of superheroes running around, most of them incognito and many of them with dubious reputations.

The Rom title was only a year old when this mano y mano brouhaha takes place. Rom's mission on Earth to remove the shape-changing, identity stealing Dire Wraiths was just barely underway. It was necessary for him maintain the secret of his enemy's existence, as banding about that an unnumbered multitude of Earthlings were secret pod-people would create mass hysteria and perhaps allow the Wraiths to escape his clutches.

But it is really the other side of the card in this title-match that proves to be the instigator: Jack of Hearts.

Let me break down Jack of Hearts' history for the unenlightened in our studio audience. Created by writer Bill Mantlo and illustrator Keith Giffen, Jack was born Jack Hart and ugh! That's just too convenient, am I right? His mother was secretly an alien and his Earthling father was a scientist who created an energy source called "zero fluid" and neglected proper safety procedures.

One little oopsie and his son took a bath in said energy source.

The mutagenic change caused by the zero fluid gave Jack the ability to project concussive energy from his body and fly. It was also somehow killing Jack, even though we never saw any indication of said imminent death by zero fluid poisoning. After his father was killed by a mysterious corporation called…the Corporation, Jack embarked on a mission of vengeance…mainly by mistakenly fighting every superhero he happened to bump into.

First it was the Sons of the Tiger in the Deadly Hands of Kung Fu book. But that was a oversized black and white Marvel magazine, so I'm not even sure if that's canon.

But then he met the Hulk and got into a fight with him…

He later encounters Iron Man and gets into a shooting match with the Avenger…

After a brief stint being the armored Avenger's trainee, he learns his lesson. Learns it well enough that when he later comes across the Thing, he can't help but….get into a battle with him.

Then of course there is the Rom book I hold in my hands…

After which he chanced upon the Silver Surfer, who he smacked around…

And met up with Quasar, which resulted in…

You know, I LIKE the character of Jack of Hearts a bunch, yet even I'm wondering if he shouldn't take some anger management classes or something.

 I discovered Jack of Hearts in Iron Man #107 (also helmed by Bill Mantlo. Sheesh. I'm beginning to think I wouldn't have had a pleasant childhood had it not been for him). It was the final showdown between Iron Man and the villainous Midas, a super-baddie with the exact same power as that of his mythological counterpart: the ability to turn anything to solid gold. 

This issue of the book cemented my love of Iron Man, and it endeared me to the Jack of Hearts character as well. Iron Man gets turned to solid gold (or so we think) along with all his superhero friends. In truth, he had sealed off his armor, but we were none the wiser. Even though he is alive, he is trapped inside this golden shell UNTIL….

The very zero fluid radiation that gives Jack of Hearts his power, reverses Jack's golden state. As Jack flies off (enraged, of course) to confront Midas once again, he knocks over Iron Man, shattering the golden armor and giving Stark one more chance at the fat man with the deadly touch.

Jack's plucky overconfidence and reckless disregard for his own safety made the character unique in my opinion. Although it wasn't until much later that I realized how those character traits combined with a lack of restraint might not be the BEST qualities for a superhero to have.

But best or worst, he's the superhero we have in today's story, so after this long intro let's get down to business. In this corner, ladies and gentlemen I give you Jack of Hearts:

We begin our tale with Jack flying around while training at a SHIELD agent facility, lamenting his lot in life a bit. 

Is it just me or should all of us be worried that the hero with the least stable personality is also the one who's body could accidentally detonate with a force that would destroy a large portion of the county? Just me? Okay then…moving on.
And in this corner, having just dispatched a BUNCH of possessed humans dressed up to look like respectable scientists at this laboratory that is both heavily populated and open to the press, I give you ROM!

Looks like round one will be a warm-up round for Rom, as he takes on some MORE dire wraiths outfitted like Kirby shock troopers. 

Art in the book is by the magnificent Sal Buscema, who deserves his own article in the Crapbox. Perhaps another time though as things are about to go very, very wrong…

Due to Rom publicly wasting the dire wrath impersonating Dr. Rachel Sweet, a signal is sent to nearby SHIELD facility informing them that there's a Killer Alien Robot walking around the labs. Which prompts Jack to swing by to render assistance.

Meanwhile, Rom is taking out any dire wraiths he encounters and enduring being zapped by the human guards who are unknowingly protecting them. The battle is pretty one-sided, but all that changes when Jack makes an appearance.

Stop right there, Jack…If you don't know who he is or where he comes from…maybe you should give him an opportunity to explain himself….you know what, never mind. 

It's just not in your nature, kiddo.

This is Rom's first encounter with a superpowered human and it makes him wonder if he has underestimated humanity's ability to defend itself or if this is dire wraith sorcery at work. In an effort to defend himself, Rom shoots Jack thinking the hero can get as well as he gives.

Then Rom pulls out his Analyzer and makes a startling discovery.

Jack is made of pure energy and is NOT a dire wraith. Subsequent shots will KILL Jack, so Rom's main weapon is out unless he wants this Earthling hero's death on his cold, metal hands. Rom's not that kind of guy, so he's going to need an escape plan.

And yeah, definitely will do a piece on Sal Buscema soon giving the man props. Look at the line art of all those radiating spikes. Such a great pose too. But for now back to the festivities. Rom needs to get away before he accidentally kills Jack or before Jack purposefully finds a way to kill Rom.
Unfortunately Jack has other ideas:

Which leads to some old-school fisticuffs and energy transference

The results of which leave Rom so charged up that he has to expel all that excess energy or risk burning himself out. Or worse: Exploding!

This time he manages to make good his escape with Jack in hot pursuit. Rom's headed for space, the only place he can expend all that power without hurting anyone. Jack is fully locked in on to Rom in a kill or capture mode. Doesn't look like this will end well.
Glowing with enough energy to take out a few square city blocks, Rom makes it to space. Jack is closing in though…

Jack makes a grab for our hero spaceknight. Rom bats him away, trying to knock Jack back far enough so he's out of the blast radius. He's unable to warn the younger hero of the danger he's in due to the airless void they now find themselves in. Jack typically misinterprets this and fires a final shot of zero energy.

…which causes Rom to hit the afterburners, get as far away from Jack as possible before he blows. Which he does, with enough force to have detonated Jack had he been any closer to the spaceknight. 

Jack has a moment, one single second, of clarity before falling back on his misconceptions again. While Jack flies back safely to Earth, Rom plummets through the atmosphere, a second Earthfall for the spaceknight…only this time his landing is a splashdown.

And that's where we leave him: at the bottom of the ocean. Jack is heralded as a hero, but the real heroes are listed below, specifically every member of the "Versus" Super-Blog Team-Up crew. Go give their links a clicky-clicky. 

While you are at it, Just Below is a link to help support care for Bill Mantlo, a personal hero of mine. Hit the link to pick up a copy of his biography Mantlo: A Life in Comics and give something back to a guy who brought all of us a great amount of joy.

The Bill Mantlo Support Fund website:

Info: Bill Mantlo was struck by a car while rollerblading in 1992. He suffered severe head trauma and spent over two weeks in a coma. He has since been institutionalized and is not expected to fully recover. 

Mantlo: A Life in Comics is filled with interviews of Bill and other Marvel luminaries of the time plus an unreleased story by him. All proceeds of the book are donated toward the costs of maintaining Mantlo’s daily care. Available now is the 2014 UPDATED EDITION, which contains new information, photos & afterwords by both DAVID YURKOVICH & MICHAEL MANTLO.  This edition brings the reader up to speed on ALL the MOMENTOUS EVENTS in Bill Mantlo's life that took place in 2014. 

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  1. This was a very enjoyable review and assessment of Jack of Hearts' history. You hit on two of my favorite issues along the way. Iron Man 107 is an underrated book in my opinion. That arc was filled with plenty of tension and intrigue. I thought Mantlo was at his best here, making Midas a reasonable threat. The use of all of the secondary characters from Jean DeWolff to Jack to the Wraith was a lot of fun.

    ROM 12 had me from the start. The Michael Golden cover was what made me buy this issue off of the rack. I have to say in this issue I felt Jack's reason for fisticuffs was relatively reasonable as ROM was perceived as killing people, but Jack was often a bit too quick on the trigger as you so clearly show. Sal's art is of course worthy of accolades and is among my favorite artists of the era. As a side note I would say Jack's costume is among the best from the Bronze Age. But it had to be hard to draw all of that detail in every panel.

    That is a nice tribute to Bill Mantlo, who was surely prolific and talented from examples here to Micronauts which was incredibly enjoyable. Cheers.

    1. I'm a huge Mantlo fanboy. I attribute my early love of Marvel to him almost as much as Lee/Kirby/Ditko. His fingerprints are on so many stories that I would read and reread a hundred times over. Then I didn't care who wrote them. Now I see how big an influence he was on creating a love of these characters and Marvel in general.

    2. Tee-hee. Sorry. In 107 remember when the girls psychic beam hits Midas and we got the shot of him getting his brain fried and then falling to the ground like a toppled fence post? Man how I loved that issue. Just had to add that.

  2. Loved the history lesson, especially the early Silver Age research. Great article -- really fun with all of the art.

    Excellent post!


    1. Thank you, good sir. I appreciate the classics when they fall into my clutches. As well I love the rougher edged stuff in a "so bad, it's good" kind of way.

  3. Nice to see some appreciation for the talented and often-underrated Sal Buscema here. The first year and a half of Rom Spaceknight when he was doing both pencils & inks contain some of the best work of his entire career.

    I'm a long-time fan of the Rom series. Bill Mantlo, another underestimated creator, did an amazing job taking a rather silly toy and coming up with a complete mythology for it, writing some entertaining stories.


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