Tag Archives: Crossover

Not Those Guardians, Not That War

Greetings, Legions of the Unspoken!  Dean Compton is back with you here to delve into some more 90’s goodness.  I am excited that spring is finally sprung, baseball is in full swing, and that some small indie film called Avengers: Infinity War has dropped.  You probably haven’t heard of it because it’s so obscure and there’s been almost no build-up.

OR IT’S THE BIGGEST FILM MARVEL HAS BROUGHT US YET! WHICHEVER!

We’re all very excited.  Those of us who braved the speculation crashes of the 90’s have been waiting for this movie for around twenty-five years.  If you had told me then that one day there’d be a movie based on Thanos’s exploits with the Infinity Gems, I would have thought you were Mephisto, prince of lies.  Or at least Zarathos or maybe one of those weird demons from Hellblazer or something.  Alas, here we are, though, on the precipice of what is hopefully a monumental moment for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

‘Round these parts we are more interested in the then, than the now, and one of the things that really interested me as I first started my deep dive into comic books some 27 years ago (it’s mega unfair that it has been that long) was the entire Infinity Gauntlet saga.  My first big exposure to superheroes outside of cartoons was the Impel Marvel Trading Cards, series 2 in particular, and the Infinity Gauntlet card captured my attention.  There was Thanos, basking in all the glory that comes with omnipotence.  I didn’t know what had happened, and sadly, I was too late to keep up with the original saga month to month.  Lucky me, though, as The Infinity War was about to break out!

One of the things that attracted me to Infinity War was the epic gatefold covers, many of which depicted the mightiest heroes in the Marvel Universe in a tumultuous struggle with sharp-toothed doppelgangers that looked like they had stepped out of a mirror universe from Tales from the Darkside or something.  What appealed to me even more was that the saga was so large that it burst out of the mini-series like the insides of a tomato hitting the ground, spilling out into almost every other Marvel title!  Most of you will brush this off as a lame sales grab, and, well, it was definitely a sales grab, but it was a sales grab in the best way!

Did you want to see more of Wonder Man’s inner struggle during the Infinity War? How would Sue Richards deal with the seeming death of her husband? Perhaps you wanted to see what happened to Sleepwalker during this struggle?  (Based on sales, you probably didn’t.)  The crossovers meant you could, and they meant that you could try out other titles you hadn’t really given a shot to before.  I know we’re all tired of them now, but this was still a new concept to me then.  Sort of how when I was 16 I was like, “GODDAMN, I CAN’T WAIT TO DRIVE!” but fuck, now I’d almost rather do anything else besides drive, like, y’know, writing crappy articles like this.

One team that I hadn’t gotten a handle on from the Marvel Cards I had seen was the Guardians of the Galaxy.  I don’t recall seeing any of the GOTG (yes, I’m lazy – this article is free, y’all) in the Marvel Universe Series 2 set (cue up dude in the comments proving me wrong), so when I saw the Infinity War crossover issues, I was intrigued.  Who were these guys?  They’re from the future?  Why does that Rambo-looking dude have Captain America’s shield?  (For those of you coming in here who aren’t big pads, big guns, no feet 90’s comic book fans, the GOTG were originally a super-team from a possible Marvel Universe future that eventually diverged.  You’ll see no Star-Lord, Gamora, or Rocket Raccoon here.  Get ready for Major Victory, Nikki, Charlie-27, Starhawk, and more!)

I had already picked up a GOTG issue where they fought a street gang of folks based on The Punisher (which is just as awesome as it sounds), but these issues got me very interested.  An added bonus is this is one of my first experiences with The Inhumans, one of the most underrated superhero groups of all time!

 

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I can’t be the only person who’s a sucker for superhero comics featuring sidebars of the faces of the characters located therein!

The issue takes off with Major Victory, the leader of the GOTG, berating the rest of the team for heading into the past on a mission of pure genocide against the Badoon.  The Badoon are the raison detre for the GOTG, as their attack on our solar system basically wiped out humanity, so the original GOTG united against them and their tyranny!  Somewhere along the way, though, Starhawk convinced them to go back in time and destroy the Badoon before they can destroy humanity.  Major Victory, being the guy with Cap’s shield, doesn’t think too much of this plan, but before he can thoroughly chew the team out, their newest member, Talon, stumbles in.  I’d say he seems sick as a dog, but he’s sort of a cat, so that seems wrong.

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Starhawk is giving Talon a death stare here; what’s he so mad at our cat pal about?

Talon collapses as the team tries to take him to sick bay, but as he does, he tells them to get him to the moon.  Specifically, he wants to go to Attilan, which is the secret city that is home to none other than the Inhumans and their royal family!

The GOTG speed off in that direction, but they have no way of knowing that one of the first blows of The Infinity War has been stuck.  The headquarters of The Fantastic Four (notably good pals of The Inhumans and in particular the royal family), Four Freedoms Plaza, has been blown up by unknown forces, and the fate of the FF and many other superheroes there is unknown!  So to say the least, it really isn’t the best time for a group of superhumans that The Inhumans have no idea exists to teleport into Attilan.  I know this is gonna shock you, but that’s exactly what the GOTG do!  Of course, The Innumans act calmly when Major Victory tries to explain their presence.

 

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Just kidding, y’all; these heroes are gonna fight!  MAKE MINE MARVEL!

The Inhumans and the GOTG punch on each other a bit while telling each other their names, which is legit my favorite kind of fight.  Major Victory is aware the fight is usless, though, and he unleashes a mighty psychokinetic blast that somehow convinces Black Bolt that the GOTG are the good guys.

 

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If the Care Bears were a part of the Marvel Universe, this is totally what their stare would be.

The Inhumans take Talon to the Randac Medcal Center, which, honestly, is what all medical centers should be called henceforth.  As he gets the care he needs, the other Inhumans explain to the GOTG about the explosion at Four Freedoms Plaza, and how they don’t have any idea what may have caused this tragedy.

The two superhero squads (See what I did there?  Now that theme is stuck in your head.)  don’t have a lot of time to discuss the explosion because just as the conversation starts, an array of doppelgangers of both the Inhumans and the Guardians rudely interrupts them.

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Regardless of who they are doppelgangers of, Doppelgangers are always rude.

These doppelgangers from the Infinity War are great.  The razor teeth look genuinely creeped me out back in the day, and to be honest, that look is still sort of unnerving now.  The Infinity War doppelgangers look like the people that are just like us that live on the other side of mirrors.  You can say they’re fake, but let’s be honest — deep down, we all believe in that world on the other side of the mirror, and it sprang to life in the Marvel Universe during the Infinity War.

The good news for the Inhumans and the Guardians is that these doppelgangers go down easy for now.  After Talon reveals a big secret about the future of the Inhumans to the Royal Family, the Guardians split for Avengers Mansion on Earth.  Major Victory has no recollection of these events, and if something has happened to The Avengers, then the Guardians are going to get to the bottom of it!

While the Guardians are teleporting down from Attilan, Doctor Octopus has assembled a ragtag group of villains together in the wake of the explosion at Four Freedoms Plaza.  Doc Ock has information that not only did Four Freedoms Plaza explode, but that nearly every superhero in the city was inside the building when it blew up!  He suggests the group (consisting of Doc Ock, Powderkeg, Jackhammer, Oddball, Titania, the Abosrbing Man, and Yellowjacket [Rita Demara]) attack and loot Avengers Mansion while the heroes are away.  Of course, he is just using these folks, and the good bad doctor plans to abscond with all of the advanced Avengers technology himself!

As this meeting is happening, the Guardians arrive at Avengers mansion, only to be met by the fiercest resistance possible from a slightly out of shape butler and his vacuum cleaner!

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This Jarvis is so much better than movie Jarvis. Fight Me.
Jarvis opens up to the Guardians that the explosion at Four Freedoms Plaza didn’t kill the assembled superheroes and that a task force of heroes has left Earth via mystic means.  Other heroes remain behind for now.  Charlie-27 suggests that the Guardians head that way, when a member of Avengers Mansion security bursts in to alert the Guardians and Jarvis about Doc Ock’s villain team just outside the mansion!  The Avengers security team beefs up with some weaponry while the Guardians of the Galaxy face off with what Jarvis is calling another incarnation of the Masters of Evil!  Talon points out this is a dumb name, but he’s a cat dude named after a bird’s foot, so I dunno that he is in a position to hurl that sort of insult.  Then again, Absorbing Man just calls his group that on the next page, so I guess it’s all fair game.

 

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It’s a rule in the Marvel Universe that anyone who has Cap’s shield is automatically in charge of the situation.

The Guardians spring into action with only Charlie-27 really having a lot of problems. Since he had to take care of the Masters’ most powerful member, I suppose we have to cut him a bit of slack.  Nikki has no issues with Yellowjacket, and she notes that Yellowjacket’s heart didn’t really seem to be in the fight.  There’s a lot of struggle elsewhere, and while the fracas is going on, Doc Ock sneaks off to engage in a contingency plan.  Starhawk, meanwhile, is being confronted by his doppelganger, and in what’s only a minor league asshole move for the guy if you have read a lot of GOTG, is looking forward to being absorbed by his doppelganger until he realizes that by doing so his own free will would be subverted.

 

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Starhawk is supposed to have new omniscience as “the one who knows” but he seems to be the only one during the entire Infinity War crossover who doesn’t know that getting absorbed by the doppelgangers is a really bad idea.

The Guardians take out the Masters of Evil, although they need the help of Yellowjacket’s face turn to get the job done.  Nikki and Yellowjacket take off during the battle for the inside of Avengers Mansion, and when the other Guardians finally catch up to them, they’ve been overcome by Doc Ock and a few members of the Masters of Evil we hadn’t seen yet!

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More intimidating fat dude: Kingpin or Doc Ock?

With that it’s on to Guardians of the Galaxy #29 to wrap up the Guardians involvement in the Infinity War, and this time the war comes home!  And by the war coming home, I mean a bunch of doppelgangers of both the Guardians and the Masters of Evil are gonna be such a big deal in the last part of this story that they are the only fucking thing on the cover.

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The one on the bottom left looks like a Morbius doppelganger.  RISE OF THE MIDNIGHT SONS CROSSOVER, Y’ALL!

Also, while we are looking at this cover, how could you even tell which one of those Shockers is the doppelganger?  Both have weird looking eyes, and neither have those sharp ass teeth that should have clued Starhawk in that merging with the doppelgangers is a bad idea.

Another bad idea would be to turn your back on any member of the GOTG, even one who you had previously thought defeated.  Doc Ock has no knowledge of the Guardians, so he and the other Masters of Evil are surprised when Nikki and Yellowjacket come back from their unconscious state and turn the tables on the Masters of Evil!

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Make your own “they shocked the Shocker” jokes here.

Both teams soon have bigger problems on their hands, and I mean this literally as Gargantua’s doppelganger teleports onto the scene.  Other doppelgangers of both the Guardians and the Masters of Evil start arriving left and right, leaving Doc Ock and Major Victory no choice but to have their teams join forces to attempt to repel these ungodly abominations, although Gargantua needs no encouragement to take the fight right to the razor toothed mirror men!

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Fucking Ouch

The fight seems endless, as more and more doppelgangers pour out of portals, threatening to overwhelm hero and villain alike.  Due to the actions of Galactus in another comic book, the doppelgangers all disappear like a bad memory.  Really, though, shouldn’t that be a good memory?  We forget the good stuff all the time, while we continue to torture ourselves with the bad memories late at night when we should be sleeping.  All apologies for that; it’s a tad morose to be in an article highlighted by an evil giant punching through the chest of his more evil doppelganger.  I won’t let it happen again, folks

Anyhow, with the day saved, Doc Ock is of the mindset that the Masters of Evil should take out the Guardians and resume with their plan to take over Avengers Mansion.  The Masters of Evil treat Doc Ock the way you treat your pal who just doesn’t know when the party’s over and turn on him faster than a new superhero universe popped up in the early 90’s!

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Never mind that Shocker joke you made earlier; dude himself had it covered the whole goddamn time.

All’s well that ends well, and if the bad guys are gonna chase themselves off, I reckon it doesn’t get much better than that.  Yellowjacket also stays behind, and soon she’ll head back to the future with the Guardians and even join the team!  Before she gets to bask in the glory of being in Marvel’s premiere 31st century super hero squad, there’s just one more task to complete.  Jarvis takes his duties seriously, and he insists that the Guardians of the Galaxy become the Custodians of the Castle as Jarvis walks right up to them and demands they take part in repairs and cleanup!

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Did the Fantastic Four really start like what?  A janitorial crew?  I don’t recall that, but with all the retcons they’ve had, who fucking knows?

Jarvis getting the Guardians to clean up Avengers Mansion might be the greatest moment in the history of the Marvel Universe.  Fight me if you disagree.  Or better yet, fight my evil doppelganger.  The one with the teeth.

Hope everyone enjoyed this look back at Infinity War!  It’s definitely a fun part of the larger crossover, although it could have used a bit of Thanos or Warlock to really spruce things up and make it feel more like a part of the larger crossover.  It would have been nice, but it wasn’t really needed.  Other than that minor oversight, this is a great example of how a larger crossover should spill into a book.  No one who just read this felt ripped off because some of the events wrap up elsewhere.  If you were a regular reader of Guardians of the Galaxy, it developed characters further (some of which aren’t mentioned in this write-up.  Go read the book, people!)  These three issues also did a great job displaying the Guardians to a non-regular reader.  All in all, for all the flak that 90’s crossovers get (some of which is deserved), this shows you how that 90’s mega-epic could work in a spin-off crossover if done right!

Everyone, enjoy the movie.  It’s amazing that we’re gonna get to see this, right?  Just try and remember being a teenager in 1992, eyes wide open over Thanos’s shenanigans in the Marvel Universe then, and try and think about that young person would feel if they knew what they were gonna see.  We’ve got our tickets for Saturday!  I can’t wait!

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Because NO ONE Demanded it! – “Armageddon 2001” and the Adolescence of the DCU

“Don’t be sad, Kal-El. Please. Earth raised you, but you’ve grown too big for it now. It’s time you took your place in a larger universe.” – Maxima

This August the Unspoken Decade is looking back at some of our favorite Alternate Realities. The most enjoyable DC crossover event of that period is probably 1989’s Invasion! by Keith Giffen, Bill Mantlo, and, at least for a little bit (as is his modus operandi) Todd McFarlane, but that is outside the purview of our endeavor so I would like to turn your attention to the much maligned, but equally informative, Armageddon 2001 from 1991.

ARMAGEDD01
A House Ad for the series and the final page of the first issue. Was anyone going to be that upset if Monarch turned out to be “Hawkworld” era Hawkman?

Invasion! is in many ways the ideal crossover. Several different, established extraterrestrial militaries decide that Earth is no good. These obvious aggressors are then repelled by the vastly outnumbered, far more likable heroes of Earth. Panel space is even given to the everyday people of the world who rally behind them. It is cut and dry, a Grade School retelling of World War II and not the nuanced socio-political wartime drama of A Song of Fire and Ice.

Armageddon had narrator Waverider taking readers on a magic journey through a dozen or so “What If?” scenarios featuring the popular heroes of the day. He looked into each of their possible future to see which of them (he was sure that it had to be one of them) would kill all of their friends and conquer the world in the time between 1991 and 2001. Waverider is never revealed to be an unreliable narrator so this really is the story of a superhero who will murder the world.

Scripts are courtesy of Archie Goodwin and Denny O’Neil, the Old Guard. These are the guys the industry knew and who helped shape it during the preceding decades. It is penciller, and possible co-plotter Dan Jurgens (he usually receives credit for co-creating Waverider, golden-hued time travelers being his thing) who deserves special attention.

Not necessarily a newcomer (he had nearly a decade of professional experience at that point) Jurgens would act as one of the architects of the following year’s The Death of Superman story and penciled the comic you just imagined when reading the words “death of Superman.” It was a big deal and Jurgens was never shy about taking the reins of something he was passionate about.

Not saying that any of this was intentional but with phrasing such as that how can Jurgens not have subsequently turned Jimmy’s photographing Superman’s lifeless corpse into a plot point a year later?
Not saying that any of this was intentional but with phrasing such as that how can Jurgens not have subsequently turned Jimmy’s photographing Superman’s lifeless corpse into a plot point a year later?

Armageddon is a strange beast. It shows us sides of established characters that had to be, up until that time, considered out of character. There is a sense of hopelessness permeating our heroes’ potential futures. A mystery story (the identity of arch-MacGuffin villain “Monarch”) frames a series of “Imaginary Stories,” similar to the book-length ones from back in the day. Some are tragedies, some are triumphs, all are never mentioned again.

This series has a special place in my heart, it is the first crossover that I have any memory of. These annuals were the first I saw on the newsstand back when “2001” was closer to the present than it is now. It was a shock to find out, years later, that Waverider was not already an established superhero, peer of Superman and whoever it was they were calling the Titans at the time. I will be focusing on the three Superman annuals. Not to slight the others, but Superman was the only triple-dipper and considering that this was his last hurrah before the rest of the nineties, which were what could charitably be called “unkind” to him, maybe he deserves it.

Superman Annual, Action Comics Annual, and The Adventures of Superman Annual all had tie-ins for their third issues. The fourth “shield” book, Superman: The Man of Steel, (which would effectively make Superman a weekly character) was not yet around. All three stories deal with the inevitable death of Lois Lane, then fiancée to Clark Kent, and/or the Man of Tomorrow ruling the world. Apparently Superman is constantly walking a tightrope of not just doing everything for us regardless of the ethical or moral implications. Injustice was right! Who knew?

One of my oldest compatriots is dead? He deserved it! Anyone else getting a Howard Chaykin vibe from this art?
“One of my oldest compatriots is dead? He deserved it!” Also, anyone else getting a Howard Chaykin vibe from this art?

Waverider and Monarch are two bits of the story that were added to the canon of the DCU. You may have heard that Monarch was supposed to be one hero and ended up being another and that a few decades later DC editorial tried to repair that. None of this matters because honestly I would not recommend reading the core narrative. I am sure you can find a version of this story, which amounts to 1984: DCU, done better other places but the tie-ins are not without their charm. For a major crossover the first issue is surprisingly devoid of action or big name supercharacters. The story of a family man dealing with a government he does not care for is not quite the status quo changing shake-up that you would expect from a comic with a cover using that much shiny silver ink.

Matt Ryder (see what they did there?) is a salaryman with two grown daughters, a wife he loves, and the only spine left in his totalitarian, freedomless future. Because this is 2030 and not Apokolips this makes him the only man who can help the ruler of the world and not, for some reason, the first one gunned down in a hail of generic energy blasts. Matt has apparently cracked time travel and regardless of the fact that he is constantly hinted at having “anti-social” tendencies he is assigned the project leader to get Monarch what he wants.

None of this matters because as Waverider all Matt does is watch and wait. He does not interact with the world nor team with the Justice League (such as it was in the days before Grant Morrison) to deal with the threat before it arises. Part of this is because he does not know who to trust. This is an interesting angle as it was expressly within the text that one of our beloved heroes was going to become bad, and stay that way.

Waverider is essentially the main character from the movie
Waverider is essentially the main character from the movie “Brazil” except super-science makes his daydreams real. I think this may mean that Terry Gilliam should be appointed Executive Editor of DC.

This is an odd instance of growing pains that the superhero genre went through back then. Heroes and villains had routinely switched sides but here we have a Possible World where a good person, a hero, will eventually ruin things for everyone because if the world of the future is heroless then the King of High-Collars must have murdered them all. The identity of Monarch is eventually revealed to be Hawk. It was not Captain Atom, the already military themed, wound-too tight super solider who not only had experience time traveling but was constantly shown to be one more bad day away from just wiping out all bureaucracy, beginning with you.

Both Hawk & Dove and Captain Atom were created by Steve Ditko. Even Ryder has a similar name to Ditko character “The Creeper,” Jack Ryder. The villain of Armageddon is called “Monarch,” which is pretty close to “King.” Ditko was one of the founding fathers of Marvel along with Jack Kirby. Kirby adapted the film 2001: A Space Odyssey into a successful comic that spawned Machine Man. The identity of which hero turns out to be Monarch is unimportant because I imagine “Sturdy Steve” wearing him as a fiction-suit just so that he can beat the snot out of all the DC characters he never cared for. Kirby was the basis for most of the characters that have remained fan favorites while most of the time I have trouble separating the Question from his creator.

Monarch’s war, his crusade, to rid the world of other superpowered people is not only wildly successful (I always thought that he contributed more than a little bit to Mark Waid’s Empire especially the look of the primary antagonist) but it takes place during the 1990s. The story may be set in 1991 but by 2001 the world as we know it will be unrecognizable. A major part of the ensuing Superman stories would revolve around the, at the time, fictional 2000 US Presidential election (no, Lex Luthor is not shown to be a candidate, that was probably considered too outlandish).

One of two times Superman is underwater in these issues, but not the one where he uses sunken treasure to support the Gold Standard.
One of two times Superman is underwater in these issues, but not the one where he uses sunken treasure to support the Gold Standard.

The world may have been different if Ditko had donned super-armor and conquered the world but seeing as how the actual Presidential Election turned out in 2000 I am not sure we would have noticed. Armageddon would have little impact on the broader DCU but one thing it did do was introduce us to a major destructive force whose presence is continued to be felt today. Not Monarch, though. That guy does not make it through.

Dan Jurgens’ Zero Hour was DC’s defining, continuity rewriting event of the nineties. It had major implications up and down various timelines and features Hank “Hawk” Hall as the world’s most generic looking, nineties’ supervillain (Google “Extant” and tell me that he should not be fighting Ultraforce or Bloodstrike). He then wipes the Legion of Superheroes and the surviving members of the Justice Society of America from continuity. He takes the parts that do not belong and removes them from existence by absorbing Waverider into himself and acting as the Editor of the DCU publishing line.

When you consider this in the context of what was going on in the titles themselves (Reign of the Supermen, Knightfall, and the arrival of Ed Benes to name a few) it becomes apparent that whatever direction the people in charge at DC wanted for their comics was not what had come before. Much of this awkward, teenager-acting-out transition can be seen in Armageddon.

Superman needs a Hairy Chested Love-God phase. Blowing up entire starships with ease, closer to Sterling Archer than James Bond.
Superman needs a Hairy Chested Love-God phase. Blowing up entire starships with ease, closer to Sterling Archer than James Bond.

Goodwin and O’Neill’s names appear on many well-regarded classics and I cannot think of any horror stories I have read about them. They are not Frank Miller or John Byrne, they do not make you ashamed to enjoy and appreciate superhero comics. Even Waverider has an old school, ironic name. He has a family, he has built something that that has the trappings of a true tragedy waiting to happen. The fall of Captain Atom, or whoever it is that is “destined” to become Monarch, was never supposed to be about how it “cool” it would look if one superhero killed all the others. It is about the pressure put on each of our lives and how change is not only possible but inevitable.

Some of this is left is left unsaid as Hawk is revealed to be the Big Bad (a story I urge you to look up, imagine how impressive it was that such a colossal plot point was leaked in the days before the internet). Back to Superman, his three annuals, read in the order listed above, form a kind of single story, united by themes more than plot. Waverider continuously informs the reader (he is just thinking to himself but I prefer to imagine him more akin to Ambush Bug or Deadpool: He knows he is “fictional,” he just does not always know what that means) that no one should be able to remember the events he helps them see. Superman does. Twice.

Superman may not turn out to be Monarch (that name, really? I keep imagining pre-Hook Hand Aquaman going up against the Queen of England) but he proves that the rules do not define him, he defines them. Why is it so important that Superman be viewed three times as opposed to everyone else’s once? Because he is the greatest, most powerful, or overall best? Sure, but more than likely it was because he had three ongoing titles.

Ad from an issue of
Ad from an issue of “Armageddon.” Someone up the food chain knew the target demographic were old enough to be chain smokers.

Roger Stern writes the middle issue and it is the one I would recommend to you over the others. A former editor of mine, at a different site, steered me towards it many years ago and I never regretted picking it up. What would happen if Superman were elected President of the United States? Many weird things, apparently, including the world’s most tedious two page discussion of trade deficits. Reading these I had a better appreciation for why I would grow up believing this character to be so eminently uninteresting: He is constantly being portrayed as the only adult in the room.

In 1980 Stern scripted Captain America #250 where the character considers a run for office. It tells you as much about the modern national political system as it does Steve Rogers. This Superman issue could be considered its thematic successor except for the fact that here you see that maybe things actually would be better if an all-powerful alien being ruled over us. It goes to some strange places (Stern’s an Old Leftie and while Oliver Queen does not make an appearance there is a focus on international nuclear disarmament that swaps ICBMs for the Justice League of the World) but it helps me understand why Superman works, if and when he does.

Two other two? In one Superman bangs Maxima and in the other Batman murders him.

At one point this is referred to as ‘battle armor.’ Almerac really is a strange, alien world.
At one point this is referred to as ‘battle armor.’ Almerac really is a strange, alien world.

Louise Simonson wrote the former, Jurgens the latter. The industry was only a few years out from The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, Marvelman, and anything else you can name that “forever changed everything.” These stories are about raised stakes and the dark paths that have apparently always been open but never walked by our heroes. The first inkling that the mainstream companies paid attention to what the new kids were doing but maybe did not understand it.

Crossover events, such as Armageddon, are unique to the genre of superheroes. Until maybe Marvel’s the Avengers they were unique to the medium of comics as well. What are they really? An excuse to shake things up, plug some holes in a month with an extra Wednesday, and hopefully raise the profiles of a few intellectual properties. A crossover event is a cross section of a given publishing line at a specific time. It is not a capstone, most if not all of what we are shown will continue. Reading 2001 in 2015 I can see where the other titles were at the time.

Imagine a tree, a big redwood, lying on its side with its stump cut off. Each ring tells a story. Imagine a core sample pulled from deep within the Earth. Geology and archaeology and the way it all fits together. Crossovers offer that to us. My favorite is probably Civil War. That has reality television and too much Government oversight as major plot points. You can easily see what was affecting the writers who pulled it together. The original Secret Wars? Someone needs more action figures and we want to sell them to you! What does Armageddon tell us about DC at that time?

I will never tire of seeing Guy Gardner as the Right Wing’s version of Green Arrow.
I will never tire of seeing Guy Gardner as the Right Wing’s version of Green Arrow.

A version of Superman that is not as well-oiled and put together as we would have believed a decade before. He has let Lois in on the secret and they want to be together. Except now they worry about the logistics of having kids, growing old together, and Ma Kent’s potential Alzheimer’s. This is a 2000 AD version of the World’s Greatest Super-Heroes except without the extra level of satire. Creators making heroes less iconic and more as what we have in our world.

Waverider only wants to save his family and free the world. He is granted, as people in comics often are, unfathomable power to do just that. In his case, he is destined to fail. Even if Monarch does not come to power in 2001 he will become Extant and cause the Legion to still have continuity problems two and a half decades later. Extant was the Superboy-Prime of his day except he took responsibility for his actions and did not allow for the writer to just blame the people on message boards. Much of what would come later, both culturally and technically, begins with Armageddon.

We see assumptions made about what the Man of Tomorrow actually wants (a world that runs with the efficiency of a watch) and we see fan reaction drive the people behind the stories to make a rash decision that ultimately shoots backfires (changing the identity of the main villain halfway through). We see Jurgens emerge as a creative force. Stories and characters were sometimes billed as “not your parents X, anymore.” Those stories are not directed at children, who have no problem with escape or adults themselves who have realized that they will never escape the crushing monotony of their lives, but teenagers. People young enough to not have the responsibility to do anything more than reject what they perceive as beneath them. Stories that are dark for the sake of it display powerlessness.

ARMAGEDD02

ARMAGEDD03
This is literally the fight from “The Dark Knight Return” that someone is having a dream about (notice the scale).

I am not against any particular type of storytelling but when a character goes the bulk of his career being successful by being a good person (even with occasional instances of Super-Dickery) it is disappointing to watch him be slowly forced into a mold where he is actually one bad day from taking over. Superman perished less than a year after this story wrapped. That story provided the type of high that certain parties would be chasing, to the industry’s detriment, for longer than they should have.

I am not saying that Armageddon caused any of the dark tragedies that came after but it is the first time we see a major story change the nature of a headline character in such a way. It would not be the last. Except instead of the fundamentally disposable Captain Atom they will use someone more well-known, and instead of avoiding the spoiler they will just bake it into the advertising. The rules changed, bit by bit, so that no one noticed until it was too late.

Crossovers are a great way to check in with the way things were at a particular time. This one shows us the effect of numerous, smaller, much darker stories coalescing into one large continuity jump. What opens with a quest to save the world ends, in a roundabout way, with someone in charge thinking that it was within the bounds of the character to turn Green Lantern into Parallax.

ARMAGEDD13

Two Wrongs Making a Right-SBTU-Punisher Meets Archie!

Hey, folks!  I hope you have enjoyed the last couple of weeks as Sparky Ryan brought you the history of the Marvel UK incursion into the states from the early 90’s.  I had a great time with some of those books back in the day, and his work was a great trip down memory lane, but now your good 90’s comics aficionado and pal Dean Compton is back, and I am back just in time for one of my favorite elements of this blog…THE SUPER BLOG TEAM UP!!!!!

If you weren’t around last time or haven’t had the chance to look at the Super Blog Team Up subpage here, the SBTU (I ain’t gonna keep typing that out folks; I ain’t getting paid by the word.  Hell, I ain’t getting paid at all!) is a quarterly gathering of sorts where many blogs publish on the same day about the same topic.  At the bottom of my random meanderings, make sure you click the links and take a gander at what all the great folks have shared in SBTU.  We all work really hard, and we all appreciate every view and comment we get.  Except for the ones from spammers.  It’s really sad how excited I will get when I get a notification for a comment, only to find it is poorly written spam imploring me to spend some money on something to filter out spam comments.  As an aside to this aside, I think I’d like spam comments better if their grammar was correct.

But I have digressed so far that one might believe this not to be a blog about comic books at all!  You’d be sorely mistaken!  As I was saying about SBTU, the concept is that all of these blogs look at the same subject on the same day.  This time, the subject is Team Up, Tear Down, and from the second I heard that, I could not help but think of the team up that never should have happened, but somehow tore down every preconceived notion one would have about this comic working or being good.  I am talking about the time comic book hell froze over.  I am talking about Punisher Meets Archie…

That's the most honest blurb in the history of comments; many, myself included, dreaded this one.
That’s the most honest blurb in the history of comments; many, myself included, dreaded this one.

The dread was punctuated with the entire “why are they doing this?/oh my god, they’re ruining everything/they don’t know what they’re doing” mentality that seems to permeate every fanboy’s good sense at some point.  This time, though, our cynical malaise seemed justified (to the max, as we would say in the 90’s) because how could this be readable, let alone good?  I mean, it’s Punisher Meets Archie, for Christ’s sake!

The answer to the question of how could it be readable or good can be found on the  credits page:

Punisher Meets Archie - When Worlds Collide #435 - Page 3

Indeed, that is the fine talent of the late John Buscema and the late Stan Goldberg combined with one of the best inkers of all time, Tom Palmer, to bring you this tale.  You see, the first element of this endeavor that would have doomed it to disaster, would have been seeing the character drawn in a style dichotomous to what we usually see with them.  Punisher in the Archie style would have made all the Punisher fans angrier than Hulk driving a compact car while he is stuck in rush hour traffic.  Now try getting that image out of your head!

Conversely, seeing Archie done up all grim and gritty would have made Archie fans feel angry and betrayed as well.  I’d come with some metaphor or simile for the anger of Archie fans, but based on their choice of comic fare, I am unsure that they get angry.  I mean, nothing in that world can’t be solved with just a waltz down to the choklit shop, right?

So that solved one problem, but the elephant in the room would have to be how one would mesh such strikingly disparate worlds without compromising the integrity of either, or in Punisher’s case, without compromising what was left of the integrity of an emotionless and psychopathic mass murderer who was being used as a guest in seemingly every book at Marvel to increase sales.  We talked about his ubiquity here at The Unspoken Decade when we covered Darkhawk.  I mean, who could possibly bridge this chasm?

Punisher Meets Archie - When Worlds Collide #435 - Page 6

According to both of the publishers involved, enter Batton Lash:

Punisher Meets Archie - When Worlds Collide #435 - Page 4
If they had gone with the whole metal detectors story that Victor mentions, it would have been a debacle on the level of the Segway, a vehicle that PEOPLE STILL RIDE.

Batton Lash concocted a premise that would work for both universes, and the only caveat that any Punisher fan might have a quarrel with is the fact that Punisher is working with the feds in order to bring in our villain, and he has agreed to bring this quarry in alive.

Being the gigantic Punisher fan I am, I understand their point.  Frank Castle ain’t known for playing nice with the feds.  It’s basically the real world equivalent of teaming up Kruschev and Kennedy.  That’s something that just won’t and should not work; however, if one thinks about it, Punisher is always compromising.  I have seen numerous Punisher team-ups with Spider-Man, Daredevil, and Captain America where Castle agrees not to kill anyone (one example being The Omega Effect).  I think too often, folks think Punisher=murderer, and while yes, he is indeed a serial killer, what one should really think is Punisher=Force of Nature.  While Punisher would greatly prefer to murder his adversaries, it is much more important for him to achieve his goals.  This means making temporary alliances, such as the ones I named earlier (or even the times he makes temporary alliances with criminals, such as in Punisher:  P.O.V. ) in order to get done whatever it is that Punisher needs to get done at that time.  That’s what makes him a force of nature to me; he allows nothing, not even compromise, to stop his forward progress.

So to me, this isn’t a big deal, although again, I get why some Punisher fans cannot sign off on it.

The twist of the story, though, is almost 100% an Archie gag, and man, it is a good one.

No character in an Archie comic book has ever looked sleazier, and that's saying something because REGGIE MANTLE is an Archie character.
No character in an Archie comic book has ever looked sleazier, and that’s saying something because REGGIE MANTLE is an Archie character.

So Punisher heads for Riverdale in search of the mookiest doppelgänger in the history of mooks, doppelgänger, and mooky doppelgängers.  Of course, this leads to trouble due to our mook’s resemblance to Archie.  Also, call Guinness and let them know I just set the record for more uses of mook in a paragraph.

Are these the first crosshairs in the history of Archie?
Are these the first crosshairs in the history of Archie?

Could it really end this quickly?  Nope.  This is a crossover folks, and you don’t need ‘ol Dean Compton to let you know that crossovers can’t end this fast, especially not when there are 48 PAGES!  NO ADS!  to fill!  So in what is the biggest swerve since Vince Russo ran WCW (WARNING: WRESTLING JOKE), Archie was only shot by a water gun.  In true Archie fashion, though, this instance leads him into a disagreement with Veronica!

Punisher Meets Archie - When Worlds Collide #435 - Page 11
What does Archie mean about his costume being ridiculous? Isn’t that what he always wears?

So, in true Archie fashion, having already asked one of the ladies out, Archie goes with his second choice, Betty.

I feel really badly for Betty here; who likes being second best?  Betty is a pretty lady; she’s nice, she’s funny, and she’s smart.  Why does she just wait for Archie to call her AFTER he has ruined his chances with Veronica?  Betty should play second fiddle to no one, and neither should anyone reading this.  Learn from Betty, folks!

Punisher in the meantime, heads for Riverdale, very unaware of it and very prepared for it to be a cesspool.  Even his super genius partner, Microchip, apparently has never heard of Riverdale, despite it being a suburb of New York and how, with a name like Microchip, he is required to know EVERYTHING.  That’s one of the few things I learned from 80’s movies.

Punisher Meets Archie - When Worlds Collide #435 - Page 13

Of course, it takes little time for Archie’s doppelgänger to insert himself into Archie’s circle in Riverdale, and of course, what would an Archie comic be without Veronica (or possibly Betty) making Archie jealous via the most emotionally devastating weapon in the history of mankind:

THE DATE WITH ANOTHER GUY!

Punisher Meets Archie - When Worlds Collide #435 - Page 14

Punisher Meets Archie - When Worlds Collide #435 - Page 15
How did Mr. Lodge and Veronica miss Melvin’s act of child abuse that occurred right in front of them?

Emily and I often watch this show, American Greed, on CNBC that focuses on how folks scam rich people, and we both find it shocking how easy rich folks get scammed.  Like, it seems that the only thing required to scam a rich person is to know one and to then ask them for money.

Mr. Lodge is no exception, as it seems that Melvin just SHOWS UP and tells him of his business exploits, and Lodge cannot unlock all of his safes and vaults fast enough.  Also, doesn’t it seem like acquiring a business would be small potatoes to Mr. Lodge?

Speaking of safes and vaults, wouldn’t you like to see Uncle Scrooge and Mr. Lodge have a crossover?  I have seen Mr. Lodge do regular swimming in one of those old timey swimsuits that are always hilarious, but I bet he could swim though coins just like Uncle Scrooge.

BAM!  There’s the premise!  They can have a coin swimming race.  You.  Yes, you.  Call Archie and Disney and let them know about my idea and tell them to GET IT BOOKED.

Still, fun times are happening, at least until Punisher shows up and has the emo Punisher moment he always has that we all love him for. It is the one shred of humanity that makes us feel compassion for everyone’s favorite skull-chested psychopath…

Punisher Meets Archie - When Worlds Collide #435 - Page 16

Punisher’s last shred of humanity causes him to pass over a malt, which would have led him to those guys in the corner, something I believe would cause even Riverdale denizens to take notice.  Alas, Pop’s dedication to the dollar and fear of government overrides his sense of danger, and those shadow punks take Archie, who is apparently upset that his second choice for a date dared not to wait for him to see if he called her.  Well, Archie is about to have bigger troubles anyhow.

Punisher Meets Archie - When Worlds Collide #435 - Page 18
Archie’s patriotism is not be questioned, but neither is Jughead’s insatiable power to mooch.

I wonder what Pops is hiding that he doesn’t want to be audited.  Maybe Riverdale ain’t so squeaky clean after all!

While Archie’s life is in danger, the faux Archie shows up at the dance with Veronica.  He quickly shows the biggest difference between him and Archie is that he’s such a giant dick that perennial dick Reggie Mantle is put off by him.  If Reggie Mantle thinks you’re a creep, you must be a creep on a galaxy level.  Or at the very least, the type of person Punisher likes to kill catch for the feds.

Reggies smile as he puts his arm on Melvin always makes me smile.  It is the best creepy smile in the history of comics, and if you disagree, you can start your own blog and talk about it.
Reggie’s smile as he puts his arm on Melvin always makes me smile. It is the best creepy smile in the history of comics, and if you disagree, you can start your own blog and talk about it.

Man, Betty is awesome.  She’s the only one who wonders where Archie is and what’s going on.  Archie is making our crossover complete, as Punisher follows the criminals who kidnapped him.  Get ready Archie, because you are about to meet The Punisher.

Punisher Meets Archie - When Worlds Collide #435 - Page 20

Yes, Archie, The Punisher.

Punisher Meets Archie - When Worlds Collide #435 - Page 24

That may be the image that makes the book.  Also, Punisher would probably have had an easier time differentiating Melvin and Archie if he had, you know, OPENED HIS EYES.

Of course, no matter how ominous that panel may look, Punisher at some point decides that pointing a gun is just a smidge safer if one opens their eyes, and he realizes that Archie is not his prey.

Archie manages to get away with an assist from his pal Jughead, which I love.  In the face of imminent death, Jughead and Archie are best friends, and he finds a way to help his pal.  We’d all like to be that person; perhaps you can find the Jughead in you.  I have done so via massive consumption of fast food.  You’ll have to find your own path, however.

For real though, this is an incident that exemplifies what I spoke of when I sad that Batton Lash showed us these characters together without violating the integrity of either set of characters, and this little bit with Jughead helping Archie speaks volumes to that.

Archie does exactly what America’s favorite whitebread teen would do, or also what most sane folks would do, and that is telling the cops that Punisher is loose in Riverdale and that some mob guys have kidnapped him.

Hopefully, you have not been as big an idiot as Mr. Andrews has when he has called the police in the past.

I am not sure that Archie blew that undercover cop's cover so much as the uniformed cop did when he informed the entire world that this guy wasn't a spy, but rather he was an undercover cop.
I am not sure that Archie blew that guy’s cover so much as the uniformed cop did when he informed the entire world that he was an undercover cop, not a spy.

Why are Archie and Jughead winking like they got over on the cops?  I mean, not only are the cops obviously not going to help, but you asked them for help.  You didn’t fool anyone.

I do enjoy the touch here where Archie’s concern is for his parents, not himself.  Again, Lash shows us Archie’s character simply and naturally.

Also, that is the worst undercover cop ever.  He looks like every stranger I was warned about in elementary school, and he would fool no one into believing he is not with the fuzz.

Of course, once we see Punisher interact with Riverdale’s finest, we see that maybe they don’t know much about policing, possibly because they have no crime.

Punisher Meets Archie - When Worlds Collide #435 - Page 29 Punisher Meets Archie - When Worlds Collide #435 - Page 30

Riverdale cops don’t put up with anything.  They hadn’t even run the tags and they were already demanding that Microchip get out of the van!  Where’s Occupy Riverdale to deal with this?

Archie goes to the dance where his doppelgänger is, and that’s when we see some gunplay and some great infiltration skill displayed by Punisher.   Also, Archie and his pals are sharp, except for Jughead, who has more courage than brains, it seems.

Do they really need Reggie to warn Veronica?  Wouldn't that really just take one of them?
Do they really need Reggie to warn Veronica? Wouldn’t that really just take one of them?

Punisher gets emo again during his infiltration of the school, and he also stumbles upon the reason that Betty tolerates so much from Archie.  Graffiti.

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The way he is looking at that sign, I feel as though Punisher would murder a litterbug to maintain Riverdale’s innocence.

Melvin proves he is not Archie in another way, but the really fun thing is the little Easter Eggs stuck in everywhere.  One of my favorites is a conversation between Katy Keene and Millie the Model!

But let’s not make light of Veronica sticking up for herself, or the cluelessness of Mr. Weatherbee.  How can folks really confuse this guy for Archie once they are up close?

Punisher Meets Archie - When Worlds Collide #435 - Page 34
Mr. Weatherbee’s response to being physically accosted is to make sure his tie is cool. That seems appropriate.

Punisher’s infiltration works like a charm, maybe too charming, as Miss Grundy basically offers to marry Frank Castle on the spot, while Flutesnoot gives Castle the cover he needs to continue to monitor this dance, as Riverdale High is expecting a new gym teacher.

Also, the caterers now have guns and are after Melvin, but you’ll have to read that to find out how that happens; I can’t give it all to you, folks!

Punisher Meets Archie - When Worlds Collide #435 - Page 35
Mr. Weatherbee know that if the food ain’t out for the guests, a party will die.

Miss Grundy knows what she wants when she sees it!  You have got to like that!  Miss Grundy is also a woman who would never let you down and definitely carry her fair share in a relationship (probably more, as my beloved Emily does.  Check out some of her work under the Archives!)

Oh Moose, you want to help so badly.

Punisher and Archie finally find themselves able to sort out their identity crisis, and they pool their resources, which leads to what s, in my mind, the funniest moment in the book.  Archie’s War Journal.  To think of it is to chuckle, but to read it is to laugh until one’s ribs ache.

Jughead apparently managed to pay off his tab, as he is waving that hamburger around like that drunk guy at 4th of July parties does.  You know the one.
Jughead apparently managed to pay off his tab, as he is waving that hamburger around like that drunk guy at 4th of July parties does. You know the one.

There’s lots more, but if I keep going, I am just going to wind up ruining the entire book for you!  The last image I shall leave you with is one of the best Easter Eggs in the book, that being the Spider-Man/Shield crossover!

Note that I said Shield, and not S.H.I.E.L.D.  Shield, for anyone who doesn’t know, is an old patriotic Archie character, and I believe he is the first patriotic superhero, predating even Marvel’s Sentinel Of Liberty, Captain America himself!  At this point of the 90’s Shield had been in limbo since the end of DC’s Impact Comics line (which we will definitely be covering here at The Unspoken Decade and soon!).  I don’t known when the next time after Archie Meets Punisher we would see him, but I do know it would be a while.  We also have Sonic the Hedgehog, which Archie licensed and published.  If memory serves, it was quite successful for quite some time, and it had appeal to multiple markets, as kids like my cousin would buy it, even though they did not care for comic books in general, because it had Sonic, Tails, and all the characters from that universe in it.

It only happens in balloon form, but it happens, kids.  It totally happens.

Punisher Meets Archie - When Worlds Collide #435 - Page 45

To find out how Archie, Punisher, and the gang save the day, you’ll just have to read the rest yourself.  Normally I have no qualms about spoiling comic books published twenty years ago, but in this case, I don’t want to reveal all of the magic.

There’s a true art to combining franchises that is usually done in a heavy-handed manner and appears clumsy.  Take a gander at the first Aliens vs. Predator movie if you need to reminded.  Actually, don’t.  I don’t want to ruin movies forever for you.

In this case, the amalgamation of the Archie/Punisher universes is done so effortlessly that one almost instinctively knows that this was a lot of hard work, as nothing so slick could ever be easy.  Lash, Goldberg, J. Buscema, and Palmer are to be commended over and over for taking these two wrongs and making them into something right.

I also cannot help but believe that this was the genesis for Archie publications like the Afterlife with Archie zombie stories or the recent death of Archie in Life with Archie.  Hell, without this comic book, we might not even have had the adult Archie stories in Life With Archie that preceded his demise.

I think this is the first time in a long time that Archie Comics stretched what an Archie comic could be, and while it may not have paid immediate dividends, it did impact the line in the future.  For Punisher, not so much, as he dove right into another crossover right after this one.  In fact, despite my saying that was the last image earlier, here’s one more.  Check out the rest of the Super Blog Team Up at the links under the pic, and thanks for dropping by the Unspoken Decade!

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Super Blog Team-Up 4:  Team Up, Tear Down

  1. Bronze Age Babies:  FF/Doom, Red Skull/Cap, Joker/Batman
  2. In My Not So Humble Opinion:  Solomon Kane and Conan!
  3. Between the Pages:  World’s Finest Couple: Lois Lane/Bruce Wayne
  4. Flodo’s Page:  Green Lantern and the Little Green Man
  5. Superhero Satellite:  Superman & The Masters of the Universe 
  6. Longbox Graveyard:  Thing/Thing
  7. Superior Spider-Talk:  Spider-Man and the Coming of Razorback
  8. The Daily Rios:  New Teen Titans/DNAgents
  9. The Middle Spaces:  Super-Hegemonic Team-Up! 
  10. Chasing Amazing:  A Once in a Timeline Team-Up
  11. Retroist:  Dr. Doom/Dr. Strange
  12. Fantastiverse:  Superman/Spider-Man
  13. Mystery V-Log-Avengers #1