Thursday, February 04, 2010

Hero vs Hero

Back in the 1960s, it was a cliche that any time two Marvel heroes met, they had to fight, first. Digging through some of Marvel's Digital Comics, I looked up some examples and I can remember some others.

Marvel started small, adding one character or group at a time. Stan Lee was a genius at cross-promotion. As new heroes were created, they met well established heroes. This exposed the new characters to a wider audience with the idea of increasing sales. It also laid the foundation of the Marvel Universe. DC had a wide variety of characters. Most of them never crossed paths outside of the JLA. At Marvel, most of them lived in New York City so they often made cameo appearances. Spider-Man might be knocked off a lamp post by Thor's jet stream.

My focus here is the more formal appearance. Some of them were straight guest shots. Ant Man was called in when the FF faced a microscopic enemy. More often they were fights.

The Hulk's first appearance with the FF was an obvious cross-over. It happened near the end of the run of the Hulk's original comic. By that point, Bruce Banner would run to his hidden lab and expose himself to gamma rays in order to turn into an intelligent Hulk. In this case, the FF was called in to investigate acts of sabotage. General Thunderbolt Ross was sure that the Hulk was responsible but Banner and Rick Jones insisted that someone else was. After a rocket sled was wrecked (while the Thing was riding it), the FF found a series of caves and tunnels. In one of these they ran into the Hulk and tried to capture him. The battle was pretty evenly matched until a hidden ray knocked out the Hulk. The FF tracked it to Banner's assistant who was a communist saboteur (he even carried a membership card in a subversive organization in his wallet).

A few months later the Hulk was added as a backup to Giant-Man in Tales to Astonish (several early Marvel comics started out as science fiction/horror comics and it was easier to keep the original name and add the hero). The issue before the Hulk was added, he fought with Giant-Man. Here's a bit of trivia for you - this issue was the first time the Hulk said, "The madder I get the stronger I get."

Not a lot happened in this issue. It mainly introduced the cast and set up that the Hulk was now changing when he got angry. Giant-Man and the Wasp went looking for the Hulk to see if he wanted back into the Avengers. Banner assumed that they were hunting him, got angry, and changed into the Hulk. An old Giant-Man villain, the Human Top (now known as Whirlwind) orchestrated the fight and arraigned for the military to fire a nuclear shell at the Hulk, not knowing that Giant-Man was also present. The Hulk caught the shell, threw it in a different direction, and vanished.

When Captain America was added as a backup feature with Iron Man in Tales of Suspense, they had the prerequisite fight. Iron Man was testing the underwater capability of his armor and stumbled across Kraven the Hunter and the Chameleon. He captured Kraven but the Chameleon escaped. Shortly after that, Captain America appeared at Stark's office in a torn costume. He said that he had been captured by the Chameleon who absorbed his memories and planned on attacking the Avengers. Iron Man rushed to the Avenger's mansion to confront the imposer. Of course, the guy in the torn costume was the Chameleon and Iron Man was fighting the real Captain America. Eventually Giant-Man and the Wasp broke up the fight.

Spider-Man ran into the Hulk during his first fight with the Green Goblin. The Goblin convinced a movie director to make a movie in the southwest featuring a fight between Spider-Man and the Goblin along with a trio known as the Enforcers. It was all a trap. Spider-Man and the villains went off to rehearse in a cave. The Enforcers blocked the entrance and attacked. They were quickly subdued but during the fight with the Goblin, the Hulk appeared. They had chosen his cave to fight in. Spider-Man tricked the Hulk into unblocking the cave and escaped, carrying the unconscious Enforcers with him. The Goblin escaped. The most notable thing about this issue was that it clearly established power levels. Spider-Man hit the Hulk as hard as he could and nearly broke his hand. The Hulk wasn't fazed.

The biggest fight/launch was Avengers #1. Thor's enemy, Loki, saw the Hulk and decided that he had a chance of killing Thor. This was during the Hulk's smart phase. Loki use an illusion to lure the Hulk into wrecking a train. The Hulk's friend, Rick Jones, tried contacting the Fantastic Four with a ham radio but Loki changed the frequency of their message to one that Thor was listening to. As it happened, Iron Man and Giant-Man were also listening to the same message. They converged on the Hulk and fought with him until Loki was revealed. Then they decided to form the Avengers.

In Avengers #2, a shape-shifting alien came to earth an assumed the forms of different Avengers, causing them to fight each other again. At the end of the issue the Hulk quit the group. In a later issue joined forces with the Sub-Mariner to fight the remaining Avengers.

The X-Men fought the Fantastic Four. This issue was special to me. It was the first Fantastic Four comic I read and my third Marvel comic. This time the Mad Thinker and the Puppet Master joined forces. Under the Thinker's direction, the Puppet Master took control of Professor X using a radioactive clay doll. The Professor convinced the X-Men that his telepathy had uncovered a plot by the FF to take over the world. He sent the team to approach the FF then attack them. Under the Professor's direction, the X-Men captured Sue and brought her to an island the Thinker had already prepared. The X-Men were clearly outclassed but the Thinker's traps gave them an edge. After the FF was subdued the pair revealed themselves and the Puppet Master used the Professor's telepathy to render the X-Men unconscious. The Beast resisted long enough to crush the Puppet Master's doll. The FF was released and the Thinker and company had to flee.

Thor and the Hulk fought in an issue of Thor. This was a straight "who's strongest" knock-down, drag-out fight. It was actually an extended flashback from a two-panel fight the two had in an early issue of the Avengers (see above). The two got separated from the main fight and Thor wanted to prove who was the better warrior. He asked Odin to be able to fight without his hammer. Odin gave him five minutes. The battle was still going on when the time ran out and Thor recovered his hammer. The implication was that the hammer gave him an edge but the flashback trailed off there. The Hulk and Sub-Mariner vanished before the fight could conclude.

1968 started what I think of as Marvel 2.0. Reed and Sue got married. The Avengers got a new line-up. Tales of Suspense retired the Human Torch and the Thing for Nick Fury, agent of Shield and Tales to Astonish swapped out Giant-Man for the Sub-Mariner. As the lead-in for this, the Sub-Mariner fought Daredevil.

When the character was revived, the Sub-Mariner found that his people had abandoned the city of Atlantis. In FF Annual #1 he found them but they abandoned the new Atlantis because of Manor's divided loyalties. He found them again and assumed his role as ruler. He decided to settle his dispute with the surface world in court and ended up with Matt Murdock (Daredevil) as his attorney. The court ruled that his suit was out of their jurisdiction. At the same time, Namor was informed that there had been a coup. Warlord Krang had seized control of Atlantis. Namor tried to escape. Daredevil fought him and lost but out of respect for a valiant foe, Namor departed peacefully.

When it was decided to give the Silver Surfer his own book, Stan felt that he was too powerful. In an issue of the FF, the Surfer decided to unite humanity by giving them a common enemy. He attacked the Earth. A special missile was sent after him. It was supposed to drain his power then use it to explode, killing him. The FF saved the Surfer from the missile and he called off his attack but was left weakened.

One last fight deserves mention. The Sub-Mariner and the Hulk shared Tales to Astonish for some time. Before they got their own comics, they had one last fight. This one actually had a winner. The Sub-Mariner beat the Hulk by creating a whirlpool around him.

Marvel heroes would continue to fight but this marked the end of promotion through cross-over fight.

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