Veshark's Top Ten Superhero Comic Artists

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It's currently 5AM in the morning, I've been awake for nineteen hours, and I'm buzzed off a cup of warm french roast. So I figured there's no better way to convert this caffeinated energy into something productive than to write yet another superhero comic-book blog list!

Now as some of you may know, I'm an amateur/aspiring comic-book penciller. It's something I've always wanted to pursue, ever since I picked up that fateful copy of Moon Knight Vol. 1 The Bottom as a kid--a decision I made solely because of the awesome David Finch cover. I loved to write (as evidenced by my many rambling blogs on CV), I had some modicum of artistic talent, and I loved superheroes. So drawing superhero comics always seemed like an ideal, no-brainer career path for me.

I've only recently started taking this dream of drawing superhero comics seriously. I've begun to do research on the business, to work on my portfolio, and the realization of just how difficult it is to break into mainstream American comics is definitely hitting me me hard. Truth be told, it's all a little overwhelming and I'm doubtful I'll ever reach a professional level. That said, it hasn't stopped me from trying yet, and a big part of improving my craft is to study the art of superhero comics...

Or rather, to study the superhero comic artists whose work I admire and appreciate; the creators who have brought some of the finest stories of our chosen genre to life with their panels and pencils. These are the artistic greats whose work I try to emulate, the guys who inspire me to pursue my creative passion.

Superhero comic artists aren't just artists, you have to realize. They're costume designers, and architects, and engineers, and directors...but above all else, they're storytellers. Here are my top ten favorite superhero comic artists of all-time:

10: Howard Porter

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In truth, tenth place could have been filled by any number of wonderful artists working in the industry today. Tim Sale, Greg Capullo, David Finch--I considered many of my longtime favorites. In the end though, I had to give it to Howard Porter just off the strength of a single book, Grant Morrison's defining 90s run on JLA.

I'll be the first to admit that Porter's work has many obvious flaws; he doesn't draw the best faces and expressions, his perspective and anatomy can be wonky, and his particular style of art has not aged like fine wine. But when paired with John Dell on inks, and given an insane high-octane script by Morrison, Porter shines. Howard Porter, for all his technical pitfalls, is a talented raconteur. With his art, he's able to translate the energy and excitement of Morrison's grand "big-picture" stories, and I don't think JLA would've been half as innovative and groundbreaking as it was without Porter.

Most of Porter's work outside JLA has been mediocre in my experience (Justice League 3000 from the New 52 comes to mind), but I think his work on the 40+ issues of JLA is enough to earn him the last spot in my shortlist.

9: Joe Bennett

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Meet the most underrated penciller working in the industry today. You may know him from Marvel's current Immortal Hulk book (for which he's doing fantastic work), but my first encounter with Señor Bennett came in #5 of a little-known series called Captain America and the Falcon. Now, while I loved the book's story by Christopher Priest, the art by Bart Sears in the first four issues were goddamn near-unreadable. That goofy giant Cap head that I use as my iconic ComicVine avatar? Bart Sears, ladies and gents. So when Bennett finally hopped on Captain America and the Falcon with the fifth issue, I immediately fell in love with the man's work.

Bennett is the definition of a no-frills artist. There's nothing overtly flashy about his art, which is probably why he never gets greater recognition, but the man can communicate a story to the reader with a clean, crisp style that is unmatched. Every little detail and shadow is right where it needs to be in service of the comic's plot. There's no redundant cross-hatching or clutter in Bennett's panels; he uses simple, strong lines and lighting to convey exactly what the script demands. Joe Bennett's art is a masterclass in how to draw comics efficiently, and why less is often more in this visual medium.

Bennett is frequently paired with Christopher Priest (aka the most underrated writer working in the industry today), and besides Captain America and the Falcon, other fine examples of this awesome creative team's work include Deathstroke (vol. 4) with DC and The Crew with Marvel.

8: Jack Kirby

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It might seem sacrilegious to put the King so close to the bottom of the list, but while I adore the man's work, his low rank is largely because his art is such a far cry from my own personal style. My pencils tend to veer towards photorealism and verisimilitude, while Kirby's throws all that out the window for the bombastic, uber-dramatic style that we all recognize and love. Jack Kirby is not necessarily an artist whom I emulate in my work (and really, who can truly copy the inimitable King?), but I've still included him on my list for one simple reason...

I learned how to draw comics from Jack Kirby. As an introverted nine-year-old (yes, we're doing the origin story again), I discovered a copy of Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 3 in my school library, and upon looking at Kirby's pencils, something immediately clicked inside me. It's like I learned the language of superhero comics from Kirby. Perspective: how to frame and angle a shot for maximum dynamism. Form: how to exaggerate and foreshorten figures to make them pop out the panels. It was like Kirby's art taught some primal part of my brain how superhero comics worked, and I'll always be indebted to the King for sparking that desire to draw comics of my own.

Kirby's work and legacy speaks for itself, and I doubt I need to recommend his work to any comic-book aficionado, but my personal favorite will always be his run on Fantastic Four (vol. 1) with Stan Lee. To me, that will always be Kirby's artistic peak, and reading cheap black-and-white reprints of his work on that book will always be a happy childhood memory.

Thanks to Jack (and Stan, as well!) for all the great stories over the years. You'll always be a hero to me.

7: Mike Mignola

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Speaking of Kirby, if there's someone with the most sui generis art style in the industry today, it's undoubtedly our man Mike Mignola. This man doesn't even have an art style, he has an aesthetic. Everything that he draws is so uniquely rendered that it resembles nothing else in mainstream superhero comics. Nothing about Mignola's pencils look like it should work; from his angular, distorted figures to his heavy expressionist shadows, and yet it does. Mignola is proof that there's room in superhero comics for art styles beyond your usual Jim Lees and David Finches.

Much like Jack Kirby, I don't see too much of my own art reflected in Mignola's. We're obviously poles apart artistically. But I read Mignola's Hellboy at an impressionable age, and I remember being so taken by his work that I even went through a phase trying to imitate his distinct, abstract style. There's no mistaking a Mignola piece. He effortlessly draws comics in his own uncompromising M.O., and it's not hyperbole to say that Mignola's art is likely 90% the reason why Hellboy has become one of the most popular indie superheroes today.

You really can't go wrong with any Mignola-drawn volume of Hellboy or B.P.R.D., but my personal favorite is a short story in the Vol. 3 trade entitled The Wolves of Saint August (pictured above). Hellboy fights a giant werewolf...'nuff said.

6: John Cassaday

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John Cassaday's artwork is just mesmerizing to look at. It is, in short, aesthetically-pleasing on every level. I can't count the number of times I've lost my train of thought in an Cassaday issue, all because I was so entranced by his art, I lingered on a panel long enough to disrupt the flow of the story. If I could summarize my take on Cassaday's art in one word, it would be balance. His work strikes that perfect balance between photorealism and sensationalism. Everything seems deceptively basic, but every line and shadow has been carefully crafted to give you a beautiful superhero story.

If Bennett is economic, Cassaday is minimalistic; not a single aspect of his linework feels wasted or vestigial. "Perfectly balanced," as the Mad Titan would say. Admittedly, Cassaday's work has hit a bit of a slump in recent years, but when he's on top of his game, there aren't many artists who can compete. He can do it all; from the loud, action-packed splash pages to the quiet, reflective character moments and conversations.

Cassaday's magnum opus is the beloved Astonishing X-Men (vol. 3) with Joss Whedon (goddamn, no one draws a finer Beast), but I've always loved his rendition of Cap in the Marvel Knights Captain America (vol. 4) run with John Ney Rieber too. I think later depictions of Cap's costume, with more practical features, owe a lot to how Cassaday drew Steve Rogers.

5: Steve Epting

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And speaking of Captain America artists...next up on my list is none other than Steve Epting, the Shark's favorite Cap artist himself! It goes without saying that Brubaker's Captain America run is one of my most cherished superhero comics in existence (I've written like three separate blogs about it, after all...), but Brubaker's tale of Cold War espionage would not have been possible without Steve Epting's gritty and real-world art style.

Epting's debut issue was the first Captain America comic I'd ever read in my life, and his art played a crucial role in establishing my lifelong love for Steve Rogers. I used to view Steve as your typical Silver Age boy scout. But Epting's pencils sold the character as a soldier to me, establishing the Living Legend in a realistically-rendered world that matched Brubaker's more grounded take on the Marvel Universe. To date, I still hold Epting as the artistic metric for all Captain America comics.

Naturally, I view Captain America (vol. 5) to be my favorite comic by Epting. The first ten issues of the Winter Soldier story-arc feature some of his tightest, cleanest work; I mean, just read that opening train hijacking scene. But I do have to give a special mention to Sara, Epting's recent six-issue miniseries with Garth Ennis about Russian women snipers in WWII. I realize it's not about superheroes...but Sara really might be the best damn thing Epting's ever drawn.

No surprise that he could draw a great WWII comic after all that time with Cap, eh?

4: Gary Frank

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Geoff Johns once referred to Gary Frank as the finest Superman artist of our generation, and I'm inclined to wholeheartedly agree. I first fell in love with Frank's art during his Action Comics run with Johns, specifically the Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes story-arc (pictured above). In it, Frank depicts all the titular action of Johns' narrative with artistic aplomb, but what really cemented Legion as one of my favorite comics was how Frank drew an icon like Superman.

It wasn't him referencing Christopher Reeve's face that solidified Frank's Superman as my definitive depiction of the character. Rather, it was how Frank drew Superman's face. Frank's pencils captured all the emotional range of Kal-El; from his confident inspiration, to his disarming warmth and charm, to even his righteous fury in battle. In essence, he made a godlike character feel relatable and human, and if that isn't the very definition of Superman, what is?

Frank has always done stellar work, from his early days drawing The Incredible Hulk (vol. 1) with Peter David, but his 2000s work is on a whole other plateau. His recent art has evolved into a precise style that's equal parts comic-book-loud as it is hyper-detailed-realism. Any of his Action Comics (vol. 1) or Superman work with Johns is superb (ha!), but I would also recommend his Supreme Power (vol. 1) MAX run with J. Michael Straczynski.

It's a damn shame that DC decided to can Gary Frank's Graphic Ink artbook, but best believe I'll preorder my copy if it ever comes out!

3: Alex Ross

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I mean, is there anything else that hasn't already been said about the archetypal Alex Ross? I don't think I even need to justify Ross' inclusion on my list, in all honesty. Short of Jim Lee, there's maybe no single modern superhero comic artist who has had this much of an artistic impact on our chosen genre.

It's not just that Ross can paint, because there have been painted superhero comics before him. But rather, it's that Ross' Rockwell-esque style is rendered so beautifully and authentically that these bigger-than-life superheroes become truly mythic. There's just a certain je ne sais quoi about Ross' paintings that elevates his subjects. His depiction of the Justice League and the Avengers, for instance, are some of the most iconic versions of these pop-culture icons. I'm sure that every superhero fan can think of at least one seminal Ross image off the top of their head.

Now I know Ross has faced criticism in the past about his characters being too akin to still-life, which doesn't translate well into the momentum and energy of superhero comics (a fair and sensible critique). But personally, I've always viewed that to be more of an artistic strength than a shortcoming. Ross' greatest asset is that he remains leagues above most of his contemporaries in terms of sheer technical draftsmanship. His mastery of the fundamentals (anatomy, lighting, depth of field, perspective etc.) is what makes his painted style so believable, after all.

And Ross' proficiency is hardly limited to pretty covers alone. Just look at any of his interiors, and you can see ready evidence that this is an artist who understands sequential storytelling. Kingdom Come with Mark Waid remains his crowning achievement (while also showcasing Ross' masterful eye for costume design), but Marvels with Kurt Busiek is a close second.

2: Frank Quitely

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Hoo boy. And now we've arrived at what I'm certain will be the most polarizing and controversial entry on my list. I know I'll get some flak for this (you know who you are) but I'm saying it anyway: I love Frank Quitely's art.

I understand that Quitely's idiosyncratic, quirky style is not everyone's proverbial cup of tea. Quitely is certainly the definition of an acquired taste. But goddamn, this man can draw superhero comics. His aesthetics are delightful (I love the way he uses detailed linework to layer the textures of clothing and characters, for instance), but what I'm talking about is his sheer mastery of the comic-book medium and what it can do. Notice the way he manipulates the medium's conventions; how he distorts panels to play with time and space in We3 or Authority, how he reshapes background elements into organic SFX in Batman and Robin, how he utilizes chicken fat to ensure not a single panel is wasted in All-Star Superman...

It's subtle and not immediately obvious to the unseasoned eye, but Quitely is clearly an artist who understands the comic-book as a storytelling format, as well as all the possibilities that it implies.

Suffice to say, my favorite superhero comic in this universe is also my favorite Frank Quitely comic: All-Star Superman. I truly believe that these twelve issues encapsulate not just everything great about the character of Superman, but also everything great about superhero comics on a technical and visual level. That said, almost anything drawn by Quitely is worth checking out; there's no such thing as a half-assed comic in this man's bibliography. Every panel is seamlessly planned and curated, and Quitely is a true artist in every sense of the term.

1: Bryan Hitch

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And finally, three hours after I started writing this blog post, we have arrived at the inevitable conclusion. I guess I won't bury the lede, and instead start with the obvious: Bryan Hitch is who I wish I could draw like.

Everything about Hitch's style and craft is exactly what I strive to accomplish in my own work. More than any other penciller working in the industry today, Hitch's entire art is built on one all-encompassing principle: verisimilitude. I.e., the belief that the more realistic and believable you make the mundane elements of your world, the more contrasting and larger-than-life your fantastical elements become.

Hitch takes zero shortcuts. He's taken a heavy bruising in the past for his slow rate of work, but I think the sheer quality of his pencils speak for themselves. Everything that Hitch draws is on point and as true-to-life as he can make it. Anatomy and figures and apparel? Check. Perspective and lighting? Check. Character work and facial expressions? Double-page spreads and large-scale action? Check, check. In his prime, Hitch never compromised his belief in verisimilitude for expediency, and there's a reason why this man is considered to be the progenitor of cinematic "widescreen" comics.

Much like Cassaday, I'll concede that Hitch's work in the last few years have not been up to par (although I have heard good things about his stuff in Robert Venditti's recent Hawkman book). But frankly, Hitch could have retired after Ultimates 2 and still cemented his place in the superhero artist pantheon. Words can't adequately convey how much of an artistic influence this man has been on my own amateur work. I remember reading The Ultimates in my younger days and being blown away page after page, always thinking that Hitch would not be able to top himself in the next issue, only to find he always did.

I can't tell you how many hours I've spent studying and poring over this man's pages in my own quest for comic-book legendom. How he draws detailed cityscapes and believable skylines. How he doesn't rely on SFX or speed lines to convey motion, rather relying instead on diegetic elements like debris or blood. How he combines photo-reference to ground mythic characters in a believable setting. I even bought Ultimate Comics Studio, Hitch's own how-to guide for comics, which has proven to be an immeasurable treasure trove of knowledge about his artistic style and work ethic.

I'm going to stop verbally fellating the man now at this point because I think I've gotten the overall sentiment across. But if you ever want to witness the greatest superhero art in the history of the medium (yeah, I said it), pick up Mark Millar's runs on The Ultimates (vol. 1) and The Ultimates 2 (vol. 1). While I love Hitch's work on earlier titles like Millar's The Authority (vol. 1) and Waid's JLA as well, Hitch hit his artistic pinnacle with his work on The Ultimates. It's a literal masterpiece.

Muhammad Ali was born to fight, Michael Jackson was born to sing, and Bryan Hitch was born to draw superhero comics.

With that said, I hope you guys enjoyed this blog and as always, thanks for reading my caffeine-fueled rantings. Sound off in the comments below about your own favorite superhero comic artists, or drag me about my undying love for Frank Quitely.

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Veshark's Sketch Sundays

Damn, it's been a while since I shared any art on here. Anyway, I decided to break out the notebook and pens for some practice sketches this Sunday afternoon. Apologies for the crappy quality, I didn't have a scanner so I had to resort to my phone camera, but any feedback is always appreciated.

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Veshark's Top 12 Asian Super-Men (Revised)

"Stop making my superhero comics so diverse!" - Deathstroke

Disclaimer

Asian representation in mainstream superhero comics has never been great. Shocker, right?

Quick, without looking at this list, name all the Asian superheroes or supervillains you can think of! Now remove all the characters who are ninjas, samurais, martial-artists, or other eyeroll-inducing exotic-Oriental stereotypes! Now remove all the characters who are attractive Asian women! Now remove all the characters who aren't hot trash! You see what I mean?

As an Asian male, I love to read about well-written characters who happen to look like me, and/or share my cultural background. So I waded through the numerous issues of superhero comics I've read, scoured through countless Wiki pages on Asian super-dudes (and believe me, there's a metric crap-ton of lame, uninspired Asian guys in the world of comics as this list I made proves), and gave great and considerable thought...

To bring all of you, what I personally believe, to be the Top 12 Asian Superhero and Supervillain Men in Comics!

The Super-Men on this list all fulfill the following criteria:

  1. East-Asian or Southeast Asian descent (Mixed heritage is acceptable)
  2. Characters who appear in superhero comics (So, no Tony Chu or Glenn from The Walking Dead)
  3. Characters who appear in print (No movies/TV, so no Big Hero 6 or Hiro from Heroes)
  4. Characters from mainstream superhero universes (So, no Filipino Citizen Steel from Earth-2)

I've tried to include as expansive a list as possible, drawing from a broad selection of publishers, and including both valiant heroes and dastardly villains. Some honorable mentions did not make the cut (e.g. Jimmy Woo, Kato, Shang-Chi, The Great Ten, Mister Negative, Green Turtle etc.), but if you have any suggestions and/or strong opinions, feel free to make your case in the comments below. I'm always willing to kill anyone with a different opinion than mine to uphold the honor of my noble family clan talk more!

Without further ado, let's take it away!

*Revised (10/7/18) to include Chaos King and Ben Daimio

12: Chaos King

Amatsu-Mikaboshi
Amatsu-Mikaboshi

Japanese (Marvel Comics)

I'm probably cheating a little with Chaos King since he's technically a deity, but hey, he's from Japanese mythology so close enough, right?

Before Gorr the God-Butcher, there was Amatsu-Mikaboshi, the Japanese God of Death. One day, my man Mikaboshi decided to destroy all of reality, and after wiping the floor with the Skyfathers and Galactus, succeeds in destroying over 98% of the Multiverse. It takes a Hercules empowered to near-omnipotent levels and a team full of gods to successfully defeat the Chaos King. And they technically didn't even beat him; they just tossed him in a dimension BFR-style.

So yeah...do I really need to give another reason for Chaos King's inclusion on this list?

Recommended reading:

  • Ares: God of War by Mike Oeming
  • Chaos War by Greg Pak & Fred Van Lente

11: Ben Daimio

Captain Benjamin Daimio
Captain Benjamin Daimio

Japanese-American (Dark Horse Comics)

A battle-hardened USMC veteran who serves as the field commander of the B.P.R.D., Ben Daimio initially appears as a generic, no-nonsense military guy that every team needs. But Daimio holds a dark secret behind his gruesome facial scar. I won't spoil it for anyone who hasn't read B.P.R.D. He's a were-jaguar, a WERE-JAGUAR! but that said, his secret adds a tragic element and depth to a character who, despite his lack of social finesse and tough-guy attitude, is a decent man just trying to do the right thing.

Also, Daimio will be portrayed by Daniel Dae Kim in the upcoming Hellboy reboot (s/o Ed Skrein for stepping down), so here's hoping the new film does this great character justice.

Recommended reading:

  • B.P.R.D. by Mike Mignola & John Arcudi

10: Super-Man

Kong Kenan
Kong Kenan

Chinese (DC Comics)

The newest creation on this list, Super-Man is the brainchild of critically-acclaimed writer Gene Luen Yang (one of the big names of Asian talent in the mainstream superhero comics industry alongside Jim Lee and Larry Hama). It's awesome to see the DCU expand beyond America's borders, especially as a non-American myself. And while the New Super-Man series can be uneven at times, I still love the idea of a Chinese member of the Superman family. Kong Kenan is a smart reversal of the typical Superman-type character; he's a bit of an immature douche-nozzle and a bully, but ultimately his heart is in the right place. Think: a Chinese version of Karl Kesel's Superboy from the 90s. If he weren't such a recent addition, I'd rank him higher on the list.

Recommended reading:

  • New Super-Man by Gene Luen Yang

9: Shredder

Oroku Saki
Oroku Saki

Japanese (IDW Publishing)

Watch out for Shredder! The perennial arch-nemesis of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Shredder is just mean. He's like a cross between Silver Samurai and Wolverine; he's devious, seemingly-unkillable, and he's usually able to trounce all four of the Turtles single-handedly. He also has an awesome design, and is arguably just as iconic visually as his turtle adversaries. I'll be honest, a big part of my appreciation for Shredder comes from his portrayal in the 2003 cartoon, but the recent critically-acclaimed IDW comics have done him justice too. It's incredible to think that a character who started as a parody of Daredevil's Hand clan (his armor was based on a cheese-grater, apparently...) would become such a memorable villain.

Recommended reading:

  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird (Mirage Comics)
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by Kevin Eastman and Tom Waltz (IDW Publishing)

8: The Atom

Dr. Ryan Choi
Dr. Ryan Choi

Hong Kong (DC Comics)

Gail Simone's All-New Atom series was a welcome shot of diversity to the DCU, and it featured an Asian lead who, despite being an academic, was still a ladies man and a muscular villain-puncher. It's a shame that DC decided to kill him off eventually, but Ryan always seemed like a character who should've hung around longer to me. Ryan Choi's recent introduction to the post-Rebirth Prime Earth is somewhat underwhelming (he's written as the nerdy understudy of Ray Palmer), but I'm still glad he's back to the DCU. I would love to see another solo Atom book, where we just have Ryan going on science-fiction adventures and clocking the Bug-Eyed Bandit in the gonads.

Recommended reading:

  • All-New Atom by Gail Simone
  • Justice League of America by Steve Orlando

7: Daken

Akihiro
Akihiro

Japanese/Canadian (Marvel Comics)

The long-lost son of Wolverine, Daken was always a personal villain favorite of mine. I loved the way he was generally written; he could jump from cultured metrosexual charm to vicious sociopathic killer in a heartbeat. And it's straight-up hilarious how he wanted to join the Dark Avengers in Wolverine's duds just to piss off his dad. But Daken was also a compelling character; deep-down he was just looking for the love and attention of his father, and Remender's work on the character is arguably one of the most heartbreaking depictions of a father-son relationship in superhero comics. There's a reason why Daken is unquestionably the best addition to Wolverine's rogues gallery in recent years.

Recommended reading:

  • Wolverine Origins by Daniel Way
  • Uncanny X-Force & Uncanny Avengers by Rick Remender

6: Storm Shadow

Thomas S. Arashikage
Thomas S. Arashikage

Japanese-American (IDW Publishing)

The only thing that's as cool as Snake Eyes? Evil Snake Eyes in all-white, of course! Storm Shadow is the Sabertooth to Snake Eyes' Wolverine. He's one of the most iconic characters in G.I. Joe canon, a longstanding member of Cobra, and an all-around badass. Nobody can say that ninjas aren't cool; Lee Byung-Hun's incredible action scenes as Storm Shadow were probably the only good things to come out of the G.I. Joe movies. But aside from that, Storm Shadow is also a nuanced character of shifting moralities. He has at times fought alongside his blood brother Snake Eyes, and isn't as simplistically evil as other Cobra villains like Cobra Commander. Alongside Destro, he's one of the most fascinating baddies in the G.I. Joe mythos.

Recommended reading:

  • G.I. Joe A Real American Hero by Larry Hama (Marvel)

5: Toyo Harada

Toyo Harada
Toyo Harada

Japanese (Valiant Entertainment)

The most powerful psionic on his Earth, and one of the biggest bads in the Valiant comics, Toyo Harada is in my opinion the finest villain the Valiant Universe. He's Lex Luthor meets Magneto, and he's traded blows with everyone; most of Valiant's heroes have personal vendettas with this Machiavellian mastermind. What makes Harada great (besides his terrifying scale of his telepathic powers) is that he truly believes he is the hero of his own story. Harada is an extremist, who genuinely feels like the world will only survive the future if he's in charge, and Harada's not afraid to manipulate people and whole nations to achieve his goals. Also, someone needs to cast Ken Watanabe in a Harbinger live-adaptation stat.

Recommended reading:

  • Harbinger by Joshua Dysart
  • Imperium by Joshua Dysart

4: Sunfire

Shiro Yoshida
Shiro Yoshida

Japanese (Marvel)

What makes Sunfire great (aside from his awesome mask) is that no matter how many times he gets knocked down; through sheer arrogance and willpower, he'll always get back up again to do the right thing. Shiro is honestly one of the most underappreciated X-Men in the mutant team's history. Sure, his powers are a little derivative (he's Japanese, so they must be atomic!) and he can have an over-inflated ego, but even after going through some dark kerfuffles (like being turned into one of Apocalypse's Horsemenm for instance), he still prevails. There's a good reason why Professor X recruited this hot-headed Japanese for his All-New X-Men. Here's hoping Sunfire makes a live-action appearance in the X-Movies in the near-future.

Recommended reading:

  • Uncanny X-Men by Chris Claremont
  • Uncanny Avengers by Rick Remender

3: Amadeus Cho

Amadeus Cho
Amadeus Cho

Korean-American (Marvel Comics)

One of the smartest people in the Marvel Universe (and now, one of the strongest!), Amadeus Cho is just a likeable guy. He averts East-Asian stereotypes by being a nerdy Asian while still being confident, snarky, and heroic; and he's essentially just a charming, well-written character. Amadeus has had quite the character journey since his introduction; he's gone from a Hercules and Hulk sidekick to being a hero in his own right; carrying on the Hulk legacy in his own solo title. I suppose it is debatable whether or not he makes a good Hulk (some might say that Bruce Banner's meekness contrasting with the Hulk's unrepressed rage is what makes the character tick), but I hope Amadeus stays at the forefront of the Marvel U in years to come.

Recommended reading:

  • The Incredible Hercules by Greg Pak
  • The Totally-Awesome Incredible Hulk by Greg Pak

2: Kamen Rider V3

Shiro Kazami
Shiro Kazami

Japanese (Toei)

Yes, technically he's a manga character, but Kamen Riders are the closest thing Japan has to conventional Western superheroes, so I think V3 qualifies. For those who aren't familiar: Kamen Rider is a franchise of cyborg-heroes who ride motorcycles and fight evil organizations in the name of JUSTICE. And V3 here is the best Kamen Rider there is. As a kid, watching the original V3 live-action show, I fell in love with Shiro Kazami. V3 had an awesome costume, he kicked ass, but what I loved most of all was that unlike the other more plain-bread Riders; he was also cocky and arrogant. He had flair and personality. Think Wally West vs. Barry Allen. All of the Kamen Riders are lone-wolf badasses, but V3 here is arguably the most badass of them all.

Recommended reading:

  • Kamen Rider SPIRITS by Kenichi Muraeda

1: The Mandarin

Name unknown
Name unknown

Chinese/British (Marvel Comics)

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: The Mandarin is the most-underrated supervillain in Marvel Comics.

You would think with all the great Mandarin stories that have been written, that someone would take notice, but apparently I'm the only one who reads Iron Man in this world. It's incredible how the Mandarin has transcended his origins as a generic Yellow-Peril Fu-Manchu-type antagonist...into one of the most complex, devious, and genuinely terrifying threats in the Marvel U. How a goofy Chinese stereotype with ten alien rings and a giant pet dragon can be written into the arch-nemesis of Iron Man just blows my mind. It's one of the reasons why I'm still disappointed with what Iron Man 3 did to the character, because I feel like the mainstream audience doesn't appreciate the character enough, and every great Iron Man run has at least one amazing Mandarin story. I don't even want to explain it, seriously just go and read the comics:

Recommended reading:

  • The Invincible Iron Man by Bill Mantlo
  • Iron Man by John Byrne
  • The Invincible Iron Man by Kurt Busiek
  • The Invincible Iron Man by Charles & Daniel Knauf
  • The Invincible Iron Man by Matt Fraction
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Veshark's Top 20 Superhero Movie Battles

Spoiler alert: This is #1 on the list.
Spoiler alert: This is #1 on the list.

Disclaimer

I guess I should preface this by saying that the title of this blog entry is "Veshark's Top 20 Superhero Movie Battles."

There's a 99% absolute certainty that many of you will have very strong opinions about where your favorite superhero fight scene ranks on this list. But even though your opinion is different and likely wrong and stupid, that's okay. Because one of the great things about the Vine is that we passionate fans of comics can disagree on our views, yet still have civilized and mature debates about superpowered dudes in tights.

So if you feel that there's a notable battle I left out, or one that you would've ranked higher, sound off in the comments below. I'm always interested in crushing inferior debaters with my Battles boards Hall-of-Fame skillzzz listening to different viewpoints. This list is simply the result of my personal biases and me spending way more hours thinking about CBMs than any healthy grown-ass man should.

Ahem. Anyway.

I think it's fair to say that we've come a long way since the days of Superman throwing a cellophane S-shield at Non, or Batman derailing shark conservation efforts with repellent spray. Comic-book movies are arguably at their zenith right now, and while elements like character, plot, world-building, costuming, and source-material-accuracy have all made huge bounds, it's the badass battles that I'm here to discuss in this blog.

Because despite all of our high-falutin' talk about Civil War being an allegory for gun control or The Dark Knight being a commentary of the War on Terror, at the end of the day, one of the best things about the genre is that we get to watch superpowered men and women punch the bejeezus out of one another. There's no denying that epic battles are one of the main reasons why we're all fans of these stories in the first place. From Superman vs. Doomsday to Wolverine vs. the Hulk - fight scenes are the bread and butter of the superhero genre.

And so even as we wait on the release of Aquaman, Avengers 4, and a host of other upcoming superhero films, we as comic fans have already been blessed with some fantastic fight scenes over the years. There are so many battles that I wish I could have included here; Hellboy vs. Prince Nuada, Spider-Man vs. Electro, Cap's Solange-esque elevator fight, Deadpool vs. Ajax, the Watchmen's slow-mo brawls et cetera. But in the end, I had to condense it down to the 20 superhero fights that were the best of the best.

These are the 20 battles that I consider to be the most iconic and memorable clashes in superhero cinematic history, battles that I still watch with the wonder and excitement of a four-year-old, battles that are the celluloid embodiment of a four-color superhero comic.

This is the stuff that we've all read for years on the comic-book page.

How lucky are we, to live in an era where we can see all these fights come to life on the silver screen?

20. Iron Man and Captain America vs. Thor

"Are we done here?"

Throughout the years, one of the core tropes of the Avengers team has always been the in-fighting and bickering among its members. From Galactic Storm to Civil War, Earth's Mightiest Heroes have always squabbled. I mean, hey, this is a team that had one of its founding members quit after like, the first two issues. So it's only fitting that the first meeting of the Avengers' Big Three in the MCU involves some snarky Stark quips, Cap being the only grownup, and Thor leveling an entire forest by putting the hammer down.

19. Superman vs. Justice League

"Kal-El - no!"

As disappointing a film as Justice League was, I gotta give it to 'em, it's probably the best depiction of Superman in the DCEU to date (admittedly a low bar, but I'm not complaining). The sheer overwhelming power that Superman displays here when he manhandles the entire Justice League is still a joy to watch. And that little sequence when Flash realizes the Man of Steel is as fast as him is still the crowning moment of the entire movie.

18. Batman, Catwoman, and GPD vs. Bane, Talia al Ghul, and Bane's Army

"No. I came back to stop you."

I think this battle was probably the most comic-book-y Nolan's Batman ever got. You've got two opposing armies of Blackgate's worst and Gotham's finest, charging at one another like some type of urban Lord of the Rings. You have Batman and Bane having their brutal rematch, in broad daylight, on the steps of City Hall. I mean, say what you will about The Dark Knight Rises, but you can't deny that it's probably the most epic entry (in terms of scope and scale) of the Nolan trilogy. In the relatively grounded world of The Dark Knight Saga, the final battle between Batman and Bane feels like a scene right out of a comic-book. And that's never a bad thing in my book.

17. Spider-Man vs. Green Goblin

"Peter. Don't tell Harry."

Jesus. What a harrowing and fitting end to the Spidey-Goblin rivalry. This climatic battle embodies everything I love about Spider-Man. The Parker luck of having your arch-nemesis turn out to be your best friend's father. The never-give-up mentality of Spider-Man, even after being beaten past an inch of his life. The moment when Goblin mentions hurting Mary Jane and Spidey finally realizes what he's fighting for, and turns the tide of the battle. I've said it before: the Raimi films are still the best Spider-Man movies for my money.

16. Batman and Commissioner Gordon vs. Joker and Goons

"Hit me!"

The Dark Knight, while undeniably my favorite superhero movie of all-time (what, I can't like other superheroes not named Captain America?), was more about themes and character development than CGI face-punching. Which is fine, because Nolan's grounded world was never meant to be Zack Snyder's DCEU. But Nolan never skimped on the action either, and this chase sequence was unquestionably one of the highlights of my favorite CBM. Seeing the Batpod emerge from the wreckage of the Tumbler still brings a giant smile to my face. But while I love the most about this battle is the fact that Gordon saves Batman for once. It's the one moment of true triumph in Batman and Gordon's bleak war against the Joker's anarchy.

15. Captain America and Winter Soldier vs. Iron Man

"So was I."

While this scene is undeniably a badass final battle for Civil War - with Cap and Iron Man finally going mano a mano - it's also the culmination of Steve and Tony's complicated friendship in the MCU. From the very first Avengers film, Steve's immovable beliefs have always clashed with Stark's unstoppable goals, with neither hero willing to back down. So while this battle is rife with cool moments like Iron Man adapting to Cap's H2H, or Cap and Iron Man recreating that Civil War #7 cover...the fight itself is rather heartbreaking and tragic to watch. It's like watching two of your best buds argue, knowing that their friendship will never be the same again.

14. Batman vs. Superman

"Men are brave."

Or should I say...Batman v. Superman? Sorry, bad joke. Regardless, I don't think this battle's inclusion on this list is something that I need to explain. It's literally two of the most popular superheroes in the history of the genre fighting one another, on the big screen, for the first time. Yeah, the use of Kryptonite was a little uninspired, and Batman kinda came across like a belligerent killer here (and that's a whole other discussion and proverbial can of worms)...but still. You can't call yourself a comic fan and not get a kick out of Zack Snyder gleefully adapting Frank Miller's magnum opus.

Also, MARTHAAA! WHY DID YOU SAY THAT NAME?!!

13. Wonder Woman and Wonder Men vs. Imperial German Army

"No. But it's what I'm going to do."

Gal Gadot sold all the honesty and vulnerability of a young Diana of Themyscira, but she doesn't really transform into Wonder Woman until this pivotal scene. This was the moment when Diana goes from warrior to superheroine. This was her Man of Steel Superman-flying moment, when Wonder Woman chooses to walk across No Man's Land to save innocent lives. And it only gets better when the Wonder Woman electric guitar theme kicks in, and Wonder Woman starts kicking the shit out of those pesky Huns. Like I said, superheroine.

12. Wolverine vs. Lady Deathstrike

"I used to think you were one of a kind, Wolverine. I was wrong."

Recycled from my old Top 10 Superhero Movie Scenes blog:

I remember being a kid when X2 first came out, and reading an article where Singer said that the scene where Deathstrike sticks her claws through Logan was one of the hardest sequences to film. Years later, the fight between Wolverine and Lady Deathstrike still holds up as my favorite battle in the entire X-series. This is easily one of the hardcore-iest (yes, that's a word) fights in the franchise, between two ruthless adamantium killers.

It's painful, it's brutal, and it's exhilarating to see Wolverine let loose with the violence for the first time. Logan stabs Deathstrike and looks genuinely flabbergasted when her wounds heal. Deathstrike pins Logan on the platform and stabs him repeatedly like some deranged acupuncturist. And that final coup de grace? Goddamn... Easily one of the most vicious death scenes in a CBM...bravo, Logan, bravo.

11. Superman vs. General Zod

"Where did you train? On a farm?!"

Superman neck-snapping jokes aside, if there's one thing Zack Snyder can do right, it's create entertaining disaster porn. Man of Steel's climatic battle felt like how an actual battle between two herald-level beings would go in the real-world. It's not so much BAM! POW! ZAP! as it is The Day After Tomorrow. For all the shit that this movie gets for its storytelling and character work (and rightfully so), Man of Steel elevated superhero fight scenes to an entirely different plateau, and this final throwdown between Kal-El and Zod is a prime example of where the DCEU shines brightest.

10. Batman vs. Bane

"You merely adopted the dark. I was born in it."

I know some folks aren't fond of this particular battle, but I've grown to appreciate it more with each rewatch. Enough that it now comfortably sits in the laurels of my Top 10. This fight is essentially the antithesis to Batman's final battle with Bane. It's not some grand encounter between a noble hero and a devious villain. It's a brutal and violent brawl between a broken Batman and the deadliest foe he's ever encountered. There's no inspirational music, no sound cues. Just painful punches being landed, and Bane monologue-ing, eulogizing the death of Gotham and its greatest champion. This is what it's like when a hero falls.

9. Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman vs. Doomsday

"I thought she was with you."

While seeing the Avengers' Big Three in the same frame for the first time was exhilarating, I don't think it even comes close to seeing the Trinity standing side-by-side during this battle. I'll admit, it's the main reason why this battle ranks so high on the list. After years of re-reading Morrison's JLA run and rewatching the DCAU cartoon, seeing the JLA Trinity together in live-action felt like the ultimate payoff. From Wonder Woman's badass entrance (thank you again, Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL for that indescribably awesome theme), to Superman's surprisingly touching sacrifice, gahhh....I don't even have words for this. Come on, it's the freakin' Trinity fighting Doomsday.

8. Captain America, Black Widow, and Falcon vs. Winter Soldier and HYDRA

"Who the hell is Bucky?"

Much as I adore The First Avenger, I'm also the first one to admit that its battles are forgettable for the most part. Captain America doesn't have a lightning hammer or a fancy suit of armor, and Steve's first cinematic outing didn't exactly sell him as the most entertaining superhero in a silver-screen fight. But that all changed with the Russos. Honestly, nearly any action scene from The Winter Soldier would be a solid contender for this Top 20 list, but this fight in particular deserves special recognition just for the one-on-one duel between Cap and Bucky at the end. I still get a little nerdgasm every time Bucky does that fancy knife-flip (Too much information?). Definitely my favorite action scene of my favorite MCU movie.

7. The Avengers vs. Ultron and Ultron's Army

"Like the old man said. Together."

I'm of the unpopular opinion that Age of Ultron is a superior and altogether more entertaining film than its predecessor. And I think the film's final battle is a good example of why I enjoyed it so damn much. This is about as classic as an Avengers battle can get. You've got the traditional Avengers roster, including Vision (whom I would never have guessed in a million years that we'd see a live-action version of)...fighting an army of Ultrons (one of their most iconic baddies)...on top of a floating city that's about to drop (which is literally the most Silver Age supervillain plot one can imagine). And when the camera pans around the Avengers in slow-mo like a bunch of comic-book panels, while Alan Silvestri's sweeping orchestral score plays...that is the single-most unashamedly comic-book moment in the MCU's entire catalog. Kudos to Joss Whedon for this one.

6. Batman vs. Lex Luthor's Mercenaries

"It's okay. I'm a friend of your son's."

What Snyder did for Supes, he did for Bats, too. In that, he finally gave us a cinematic Batman that not just looked, but also fought like the comic-book Bats that we all know and love. Yeah okay, Affleck's Batman is a tad more vicious than I'd like. But still, this is honestly my favorite battle from Batman v Superman. Which is saying a lot, considering the two other major battles of this film include Doomsday and Mecha-Bats, respectively. Affleck's Batman is like Arkham Batman on steroids, and watching him take down an entire warehouse full of goons never gets old.

5. Spider-Man vs. Doctor Octopus

"He's just a kid. No older than my son."

Recycled from my old Top 10 Superhero Movie Scenes blog:

I'll take Raimi over Webb any day, and when someone asks me why - I show them this scene and say, "Until the day an Amazing Spider-Man movie does a scene this good, Spider-Man 2 will remain my second favorite CBM of all-time". This is what Peter Parker is all about. Self-sacrifice, and never giving up no matter the odds. This train scene is the cinematic equivalent to Lee and Ditko's Amazing Spider-Man #33.

The moment when Spider-Man has shot off streams of web and strains with all his might to stop the runaway train...as the carriage metal bends and the windows shatter....as Spidey's costume rips and Peter's face is contorted in pain and determination...my eyes were glued to the screen at this moment as a nine-year old, and they still are now. And then the final bit when all the passengers lift Spidey's body over them and one New Yorker whispers in wonder: "He's just a kid. No older than my son." That right there. That's Spider-Man to me.

4. Superman and U.S. Military vs. General Zod, Faora, and Nam-Ek

"You think you can threaten my mother?!"

This is Superman's equivalent of the Batman saving Martha Kent scene. This is the first glimpse that Snyder gave us of a cinematic Superman who truly fights like comic-book Superman. We got hints of it with that beautiful first flight scene (which remains my favorite scene of any CBM till this day)...but when Superman blitzes Zod, pummels the General's face, and then flies him through a grain silo into a fiery explosion? That's the power level that we've always wanted to see from the Man of Steel. Superman isn't merely a man with superpowers. He's a force of nature. When he fights, it should be like witnessing an earthquake or a tsunami. We're talking about one of the most powerful beings of the DC Comics universe here, pal.

But what I also really love about this battle - besides Faora speed-blitzing the poor hapless U.S. soldiers of course - is that it highlights Superman's concern for his fellow man moreso than any other scene in Man of Steel. In this battle, Superman warns the civilians to stay indoors, saves the life of a falling soldier, and rescues Colonel Hardy from Faora. And that final bit where the Colonel finally says, "This man is not our enemy."...?

That's Superman, folks.

3. The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Panther, Dr. Strange, Winter Soldier and Wakanda vs. Thanos, the Black Order, and Outriders

"Bring me Thanos!"

It was almost as if the fans told the Russos and Marvel that there was no way they could top the sheer scope and spectacle of Civil War...and the Russos simply said, "Hold our beers."

This battle fulfilled the promise that began with Iron Man all those years ago. The promise of a fully-formed universe of 20+ superheroes, with colorful personalities and powers, going up against the biggest bad of the MCU. Nothing like this had ever been attempted before in any CBM. This was the final battle of an event comic come to life. I'm still not entirely sure how Marvel managed to fit this much awesomeness into a single sequence. Iron Man, Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, and the Guardians fighting Thanos on Titan. Captain America, Black Panther, and Hulk in the Hulkbuster fighting the hordes of the Black Order in the jungles of Wakanda. All that culminating with a final showdown that ended with a single snap. All I'm saying is: you gotta commend Marvel Studios for having the creative vision and the sheer guts to pull this movie off.

Captain America and Black Panther outrunning the entire Wakandan army. Thor's climatic arrival with Stormbreaker. Iron Man's final stand against Thanos. What a time to be alive, my friends.

2. Captain America's Team vs. Iron Man's Team

"We fight."

If you had told me a decade ago that I would ever see a superhero movie battle like this one...I would have asked you what drugs you were on and if you had any more to share.

Seriously. God. Damn. Captain America vs. Iron Man. Black Panther vs. Bucky. Ant-Man Giant-Man vs. freakin' Spider-Man. Nothing like this had ever been done before in the cinematic history of our chosen genre. This battle boasts nearly every superhero that the MCU has debuted since 2008 - an expansive cast with a dizzying variety of superpowers and unique personality traits. It's an incredible juggling act, and while Infinity War has since surpassed it in sheer scope, at the time it was probably the most logistically complex battle of any superhero movie. Yet somehow, the Russos and co. managed to pull it off. And it was fun. Dear God, was it fun. Watching it in the theater at the edge of my seat, with every audience member loving every minute of it, and with that stupid grin on my face the entire time...

All I'll say is, if you have any doubt that we're living in the golden years of superhero cinema right now, all you have to watch is that epic moment when Cap and Iron Man's teams charge at one another.

1. The Avengers vs. Loki and the Chitauri

"Puny god."

Ah, the Battle of New York. What else is there to say about this battle that hasn't already been said?

Honestly, if you deleted the rest of the movie and just showed this one sequence, I think the Avengers still would have made a gazillion dollars at the box office. That's how incredible this one battle is. And really, this scene truly earns the word "battle". An evil tyrant and his alien invasion army have come to take over the world...and the only thing standing in his way is a living legend, a couple of master assassins, and, well...you know the rest. It's a small team of Earth's Mightiest Heroes fighting against seemingly unbeatable odds. This is what the Avengers have always been about since day one. When there's a threat that no single superhero can defeat, that's when the Avengers assemble to battle evil. And what a battle this was.

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30 Thoughts on AGE OF ULTRON

*SPOILERS, OBVIOUSLY*

So I just watched Avengers Age of Ultron a few days ago. And in that time, I've let some of my feelings and opinions on the film simmer and crystallize a little. Judging from the length of this blog, I've also probably put in way more time thinking about this movie then any healthy person should.

Anyway, I remember feeling very ambiguous about Age of Ultron when I left the theater, and while I did enjoy myself, I did have a number of objective and subjective problems with the film. Do note that these are just my first impressions - opinions on films often change with fan discussions or repeat viewings, so maybe I might rank it higher (or lower) in the near future. But for now, Age of Ultron earns a 8/10 score from me. It doesn't really hit the heights of the MCU's finest like Iron Man or The Winter Soldier, but it does largely accomplish what it set out to do.

So without further ado, 30 Thoughts on Avengers Age of Ultron:

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1. Hawkeye

Oh Sweet Christmas, I loved Hawkeye in this. After the mind-control fiasco of the first film, Whedon did not disappoint with this one. The movie's first half foreshadows this with some jabs about Clint being a mere mortal, and then when we see his healthy well-adjusted family life (a nice inversion of The Ultimates 2), and all that dialogue about Clint being the heart of the team that keeps them grounded....God, it was all done so well. This is the first time I've ever felt like MCU Hawkeye was the 616 Hawkeye that I love. This is what makes Clint such a great character. Cap isn't the Batman of the Avengers; it’s Hawkeye. He's the mere mortal with a bow and arrow who can keep up with the demigods, who reminds the Avengers about who they're fighting for. And that speech he gave to Wanda about being an Avenger? Unbelievably awesome. Thumbs up to Whedon and Renner for finally doing Hawkeye justice, and for the character's best portrayal in the MCU so far.

2. Captain America

Speaking of characters whom I felt got slighted in the first film, Cap....was a motherf*cking boss in this film. I guess it might be because of Stark's (perhaps) villainous turn in the forthcoming Civil War, but I felt like Whedon gave more shine to Steve in this one. I think The Winter Soldier proved to Marvel that Steve could be a headline character, and making him the official leader of the team was great for both his character (all that stuff about him being a soldier who could never have a normal life) and finally made Cap feel like 616 Steve. I'll admit, I was a little apprehensive about Cap coming in to this film after the first Avengers film, and the fact that Cap seemed to constantly get his butt whupped in all the TV spots/trailers. But man, was I surprised. And the feats! Oh Lord, the feats! Throwing the bike, tossing that shield, taking on Ultron (which feels like a consolation prize after that Loki fight in the first one); Steve’s prowess just keeps getting more and more impressive with each MCU film. They really relied less on practical stunts and more on CGI this time round to showcase the impossible acrobatics that Cap can pull off. I also loved it whenever Captain America was in command and barked out marching orders. That "If you die, walk it off" line was absolutely killer (though morbidly ironic in the wake of Quicksilver’s death…). And also, it's not a MCU Cap movie if Chris Evans doesn't take off the helmet at some point in the final battle.

3. Captain America Pt. II

Chris Evans is the breakout character/standout performance for this movie, seriously. Thank God John Krasinski didn't beat him out. It's phenomenal to see how much Evans has matured in this role; from the grunt soldier in TFA, to his coming-of-age as a leader capable of independent thought in Avengers and Winter Soldier, and finally the top-dog boss in this film. He's basically taken Nick Fury's place. Interesting factoid: based off the success of the Winter Soldier, Marvel decided to list Chris Evans as #4 in the credits (his original place was #2), so that Evans' name would be front-and-center in the posters. I feel like Captain America might very well supersede Tony as the face of the MCU – all due love to RDJ, but as a Cap fan first before an Iron Man one, I'm a little biased. So far, of the Avengers’ Big Four, Cap has had the best track record in terms of the quality of his films.

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4. Global scale

The title of "Earth's Mightiest Heroes" never rang truer for the team than in this film. I honestly think we spent more time overseas than we did in the States, which is a nice change of pace for the MCU (barring obvious exceptions like Guardians, of course). We got Africa, Asia, Europe. Ultron was definitely threatening the entire world, and seeing the Avengers fight in different environments was a blast. That whole South Korea segment as a whole was gold, and Strucker's fortress is just some classic Marvel action. On a somewhat related note, I also feel like Joss Whedon has grown a lot as a director since his Buffy days. There were some scenes in the first Avengers where I wasn’t entirely convinced that the approach used was the best one – i.e. the directing and camera-work didn’t feel as crisp or as refined as something like Iron Man or Winter Soldier – but Age of Ultron looks fantastic for the most part.

5. Ultron's plan

I liked Ultron's plan, actually. I know some viewers didn't, but I thought it was ripped straight out of the pages of a kooky Marvel Silver Age story (and if you know anything about the Shark, you know I have a soft spot for that era). The film tried to make it more palatable to general audiences by selling it as an "extinction-level event", but I just kept thinking about Graviton lifting an entire town back in the 70s Avengers. I mean we had the Avengers fighting a robot army on a floating city. It's nothing too revolutionary in the long history of supervillain schemes, and I'll admit I wasn't exactly blown away by it initially, but the more I thought about it...the more it started to grow on me. I guess it might be the most-effective way of causing a mass-extinction event without the use of nuclear missiles too. Poor Sokovia, though.

6. Ultron

Okay, here's where we start getting into the iffier stuff. Ultron was a mixed bag for me. I like James Spader. He's a great actor with a wonderfully magnetic presence (Robert California!), but his Ultron never felt like...Ultron to me. There have been many occasions when I feel like Joss Whedon 'Whedonizes' a character too much, i.e. makes him/her a little snarkier than appropriate with the Buffyspeak, and Ultron is one such occasion. What makes Ultron so frightening in the comics is that he's a machine. You can't appeal to his humanity because he has none. He's intimidating because he's not some human opponent you can punch; but intangible lines of code and data. Now I get that Whedon wanted more characterization for the main villain, by trying to portray Ultron as this psychopathic man-child, but it just doesn't work. Ultron's actions were a threat to the team, but as a villain himself, I never felt that his personality had the menace that Ultron should have. This is a guy who soloes the entire Avengers on a regular basis, he should be terrifying. Instead it felt like we got a Netflix Daredevil done to Ultron (i.e. a softer/more human version of a traditionally heartless villain). I thought they should've played up the whole 'artificial intelligence' angle more...in the super-connected world that we live in today, think of how compromised global security could be with a sentient virus. Also Ultron's face is just...off. It is way too emotive than I like my Ultron to be. And Wanda tearing out Ultron's heart...wait does that mean her TK is able to tear through vibranium (a.k.a. Cap's shield), or did I miss something there?

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7. Quicksilver & Scarlet Witch

Sadly underutilized. I know that Whedon had such a large cast, and I get why he included them in the first place. You have Ultron, so you must have Vision, but you can't only have one new Avenger...so you include the twins because it's easy to tie them in to the whole "Ultron destroys a fictional Eastern European country" trope from Kurt Busiek's Avengers run. But I never got a full sense of their characters in this film - they just felt like generic heroes with powers. There's a slight hint of Quicksilver's arrogance and impatience, but not to the degree that he's usually portrayed with in the comics. The only thing I really dug were their accents, which I think we readers often forget they have, because that kinda thing doesn't really shine in print. The new "our parents were killed in a civil war" origin also strips away a lot that was interesting about these characters, though I suppose the whole redemption from villains to heroes that the 616 twins had is replicated with Ultron in this film. I mean I'm glad they were included, it's just that Whedon didn't really do much with them. And he killed Quicksilver off, so only Wanda gets future development. The problem here is that if you don’t sell these characters to the general audience, they become forgettable to them. As comic-book fans, we know Pietro and Wanda are essential to the Avengers team because we’ve read the source material, but most viewers won’t understand the significance of their inclusion here. Still, if nothing else, I enjoyed this Quicksilver more than the DOFP one (whom I maintain felt nothing like Pietro personality-wise).

8. Vision, and him lifting Mjolnir

I liked Vision. It was great that they included what was a very unworkable comic-book concept to the big screen, and you can't do an Ultron origin without throwing in the Vision, anyway. Paul Bettany also certainly feels like he was born to play the character. He's like green Doctor Manhattan. But again, same problem with Vision that I had with the twins - I felt like he wasn't developed too much. He was born, there was some exposition, he lifted Mjolnir, and then he became a part of the team. Again, understandable given the time constraints, but not ideal. He never felt like a smooth and natural extension of the film's plot, but more like a box that had to be ticked off. On him lifting Mjolnir: Initially, I was really shocked that they went that route. But then, it started to grow on me. For one, it adds a layer of characterization to Vision, a character whom desperately needs it. For another, I interpret it as him having been "born yesterday", which is why he's still pure of heart. And lastly, I don't think it takes too much away from Steve, as we saw that Cap could still budge the hammer. Whedon again, likely anticipating the fan flame wars, also left it ambiguous by suggesting at the end that it was because he's a machine. I'd have liked to see more of Vision's density-phasing powers though. I mean I guess he's technically using it when he punches things (Vision can increase his density too...though then again does he really need to with that vibranium body?), but I only recall one or two moments where he phased through enemies. I liked how they explained the cape/gloves of Vision's (admittedly goofy) costume by having him glance at Thor, though.

9. Expectations

You know, I only had two wishes on my fanboy list, going into this movie. The first was that Cap would lift Mjolnir, but as I covered above, I'm alright with that one not being (entirely) fulfilled. The second was that Cap would say "Avengers Assemble" in battle. And on that point, Whedon had to fudge it up with that stupid cut at the end. I enjoyed most of Joss Whedon's inversions in the film. He turned many classic Avengers conventions on their head to keep the audience entertained, and they mostly worked (e.g. the Widow/Hulk relationship, Vision lifting the hammer). But not giving the Avengers trademark battle cry its proper screentime...grr that really needs to be fixed in Infinity Wars. I know, I know, it's petty...but I've always loved that about the team. On a somewhat related note, have we heard Thor say “For Midgard” yet in the MCU? Also, where was my “We would have words with thee”, Joss?

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10. Callbacks

This movie had a lot of callbacks to the first Avengers film. E.g. Hawkeye being the one Avenger not affected by Scarlet Witch's voodoo, the first opening shot that followed all the separate Avengers before the team came together in the glorious slow-mo jump, Hulkbuster Iron Man giving that final side punch to the Hulk, Thor choking Tony, Loki's scepter, Cap and Thor using the shield + hammer tactic et cetera. Those are just the ones off the top of my head. For the most part, the majority of them worked, but I felt that some were a little too self-indulgent on Whedon's part. Like they came across as an egregious wink-wink to fans who had seen the first film. I did dig all the subtler references that only hardcore Avengers fans would catch though; like the crimson cowl that Ultron was rocking, the Invaders name-drop, the launch technician from Winter Soldier, or the “Roy Thomas Players” from Cap’s dream. The plot as a whole drew a lot of inspiration from classic Avengers comics too, as expected of Whedon, including: Avengers #16 (Pietro and Wanda join the team), #54-58 (Ultron and the Vision's origin), and Kurt Busiek's Ultron Unlimited story where an army of Ultrons slaughtered an entire Eastern European nation (sound familiar?).

11. A Larger Universe

One of the best aspects of Age of Ultron was that the film truly felt like it was taking place in a greater Marvel universe. Fans are, on occasion, irritated by MCU movies that don't explain why Hero X never showed up in Hero Y's movie when the entire world was being threatened, but this film makes full use of the other characters in the cinematic U. We get to see Falcon, War Machine (so happy they got rid of the fashion faux pas that was the Iron Patriot suit), Heimdall, Peggy, and Selvig. It was beautiful to get all these disparate characters from these different franchises come together in one movie. Helen Cho felt like a weird addition to the team, though. On one hand it's glad to see them throw in some diversity with an Asian woman...but on the other, it came across a little as pandering to the South Korean government, and I felt like the task of Vision's creation could have just as easily been passed on to Banner. Still, minor nit-picking. But the fact that no one's addressed Phil Coulson's existence still bugs me a little, especially given that Maria Hill is right there. I mean Coulson’s been going around on crazy adventures throughout the entirety of Agents; do the Avengers seriously still think he's dead? I've heard rumors that Renner might guest-star as Hawkeye in the TV show though, so who knows. I understand the time restrictions of dealing with Coulson’s resurrection too, so I can't really fault Whedon and crew for this one.

12. World-Building

Age of Ultron also spent a lot of time setting things up for future Marvel installments. I'm still on the fence on whether or not this was a good thing. The inclusions felt organically-integrated for the most part (Klaue sells Ultron the vibranium, loses his arm, and references Wakanda...the Mind Gem is used to power Vision...the preemptive war debate between Steve and Tony hinting at Civil War). There's even a reference to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. with the inclusion of List speaking to Strucker in the opening minutes. But a part of me wonders if the film was too constrained or steered by the necessary seeds for future movies that they had to plant in this one.

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13. Dream Sequences

Speaking of being on the fence about things: the dream sequences. On one hand, they gave great insights into the characters of each Avenger (thank heaven Cap's shield wasn't really shattered!), which led to some great moments down the line like the Bruce-Natasha conversation about how they're both incapable of having a family. On the other hand, they did feel too long at points, and an unnecessary plot contrivance to bring in side-characters like Peggy and Heimdall. Also, I still have no idea what the hell was up with that Thor in the Spirit Pool bit. What was he doing there exactly? Whedon revealed in an interview that Marvel Studios essentially forced him to insert that sequence, so it appears it might be an instance of the world-building being a negative. Presumably it's to set up Ragnarok and the Infinity Wars, as well as conveniently allowing Thor to explain the purpose of the Mind Gem and the necessity of the Vision, but it just felt so off-script, I was left confused.

14. Title Font

The Avengers title font still sucks hard. It bugged me in the first film, and it bugs me now. Why don't they change it to the far more aesthetically-pleasing font that they use in all other promotional materials? Why make it look like a weird Iron Man 1 font ripoff? Grr.

15. Costumes

I really liked Hawkeye and Cap's respective new looks in this film. Hawkeye's purple colors and the longcoat seem like a great mish-mash of the classic 616 Clint and the Ronin look. Glad they didn't give him the stupid sunglasses that current Hawkeye wears. Cap's new costume is this interesting merge of the usual Cap suit and the darker Super-Soldier look from Winter Soldier. I'm one of the few people on this planet who actually loved the Avengers suit, but this is a marked improvement. Even Whedon admitted so in an interview. The new helmet and the overall 'military' feel of the suit works much better; and Cap looks great in action (although I’m still a little iffy on the goofy arm-magnets inspired by the Lee-Kirby Avengers run). Thor and Hulk remained largely the same save for a few minor tweaks, far as I could tell. Hulkbuster was cool, but Iron Man's standard armors are starting to blend together a little after so many films. I get that this suit was a Bleeding Edge reference, but meh. Still cool to see that Stark has perfected the whole separate-parts-remotely-controlled aspect from Iron Man 3 though, but I am a little apathetic to the Iron Legion designs. I wasn't too keen on Widow's new costume either, it's a little too much color for me. I guess it fits the larger-than-life Avengers tone, but that and the escrima sticks just didn't jive with me. Pietro and Wanda were alright. It's understandable why they didn't have costumes, but Quicksilver did look a little goofy running around in a tracksuit and regular sneakers. Vision...well, whether or not he looks good is up in the air, but I'm just astounded/gleeful that they stuck so closely to the original kooky design. Kudos to Whedon and crew for that.

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16. Hulkbuster vs. Hulk

Okay seriously, is the suit called "Veronica" or is that the satellite platform that launches the suit? Either way, I get the Archie reference, but "Hulkbuster" just sounds way cooler. I enjoyed the fight for the most part. The trailers kinda ruined it a little for me, but it was still entertaining. They've significantly toned down the hero vs. hero fights in this sequel, but part of the fun for these types of battles is that you never know who's gonna win. I'm still surprised that Tony defeated Hulk without any additional help (can't wait to see the fallout from that on the Battles board). One thing that I didn't like too much about this battle were Tony's quips though. I felt it was one witty statement too many. Fighting the Hulk should be desperate and terrifying. But still, minor complaint. Interestingly enough: ILM revealed that Banner was supposed to turn into Grey Hulk after Scarlet Witch messed with his mind. That would’ve been too awesome for words, but I understand why they had to ditch the idea. And at any rate, we don’t want to see the Hulkbuster suit going up against one of the weaker incarnations of the Hulk, do we?

17. Civilian Lives

One of my favorite ‘types of scenes’ for the superhero genre is when the reader gets to see the civilian aspect of the heroes' lives. I really enjoy reading those issues where it's just the heroes having downtime – kicking back and doing regular-people things for a change. It's moments like these where the interplay and banter and individual character traits really get to shine. So even though the TV spots have pretty much spoiled the whole Mjolnir hammer scene, I still thought it was bloody brilliant. The party as a whole; with the Stan Lee cameo, Steve giving girl advice to Banner, War Machine's ‘story’ - I loved it all. Even the later scenes in Hawkeye's farm, and the conversations between the team then. Good stuff. One minor nitpick though: was I the only one weirded out by Cap calling Widow 'Romanoff' the whole time? Like I get it if Thor or Tony called Widow by her last name, but it just felt odd for Cap, considering all those missions that they did together with S.T.R.I.K.E., and the fact that Steve constantly referred to her as 'Nat' or 'Natasha' in Winter Soldier. Hmm.

18. Language

This running joke as a whole deserves its own section. I just find it hilarious how the first line of any Avenger in this movie was "Shit!"

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19. Iron Man/Tony Stark

I'm still a little confused by what they were trying to accomplish with Iron Man in this film. For a plot that hinges a fair amount on Stark, RDJ turns in a remarkably phoned-in and unmemorable performance as Tony in this one. We get some references to Stark building weapons with the twins' backstory, and Scarlet Witch's reference of his 'fear'. And then we get some hints to a future disagreement between Cap/Iron Man with the creation of Ultron, and later with the creation of Vision. But the film never really goes into how any of this reflects on Tony's character. So is Ultron technically Tony's fault? Is Ultron a dark reflection of Tony like Frankenstein's monster, and is Tony's idea of a protective shield around the world inherently flawed? This also ties into Ultron's motivations - I just don't buy it. His monologues were all really scattershot about how he wants to evolve humanity by causing an extinction...I don't know. Maybe a second viewing might clear this up, but for now, I'm really confused about what Age of Ultron is trying to say about the character of Iron Man. I mean in the end we have Tony and Steve hash things out, so presumably everything's kosher between them, but who's responsible for Ultron, then? Did I miss something? On a related note, did the film ever address the end of Iron Man 3 and the Clean Slate protocol?

20. The Action

The fight scenes in this film kinda range and jump between exhilarating to confusing/exhausting. I guess this might be because I watched it in 3D (of which I'm not a huge fan of), so maybe that's why it didn't come across as being that great. I loved the grand majority of the fights in this one. The opening raid on Strucker's fortress, the entire South Korea sequence, the Hulkbuster vs. Hulk battle. But there were times when I felt the whole 'bigger is better' mind-set was taken to uncomfortable extremes. A good example is the final battle in general. First, the whole bit with the Avengers protecting that vibranium machine from the Ultron drones was very jarring. In fairness, probably a 3D thing, but I just thought it looked messy and disorienting. Secondly, Ultron being pummeled by the Vision-Thor-Iron Man combo seemed anticlimatic in nature. And lastly, the battle felt like it kept starting and stopping - e.g. when Ultron came back with the Quinjet - so somehow the pacing just felt off to me. I might enjoy the final battle more with a second 2D viewing, but for now, the Battle of New York remains the standard for a great live-action superhero battle.

21. New Avengers

I'm a little saddened that we only got Avengers Tower for the span of a single movie (barring minor cameos in Daredevil). I thought it was a really kickass headquarters for the team to have (though I suppose the Tower could still be the main HQ, and the new compound is just a training facility...). Still, the new headquarters is cool too, and appears to be a homage to the West Coast Avengers compound from Roger Stern's run. It seems like the Avengers are just shooting through headquarters from the comics in these films...first the Helicarrier, then the Tower, and now the compound. Who knows, we might get Avengers Mansion next. Anyway, I'm surprisingly happy with the roster for this new Avengers team. Of course that's not to say the other members won't return in the future, and it's sad that we only got the classic team for two movies, but I still really like this new assembly. It seems like a reference to Cap's Kooky Quartet (which I love), and it's a lot more diverse too. Two women, two African-Americans, and an android in addition to Cap himself. And they've all been actual Avengers in the comics to boot. I'm excited to see where this takes us in the future of the MCU. If nothing else, at least the Quinjet will be less-packed, given that 4/6 members of the team can fly…

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22. Hulk/Widow Relationship

You know, I'm not as adverse to this 'pairing' as many fans and even critics seem to be. I don’t see how it’s ‘cringe-worthy’. I feel like it's almost deserved, given all the screentime they shared in the first film. And another reason why I applaud it is that it's a great departure from the standard Hawkeye-Widow relationship that most fans expected. Whedon also gave them some deep character growth with their discussion about having a family. All that said - one of the things that I've loved about MCU Widow till now was that she was never written as some male hero's romantic interest. She stood on her own. She never hooked up with Stark in Iron Man 2, or Hawkeye in The Avengers, or Cap in Winter Soldier - despite the fact that all of those pairings would be standard Hollywood logic for any female character. So I think her being in a relationship does take something away from the character (I've heard some reviewers complain about how it's another instance of a woman's value being solely associated with motherhood…food for thought). It does seem oddly counterproductive considering how much they emphasized Widow's competence in the first one (think the interrogation scene with Loki), that she becomes a love interest and a hostage in need of rescue in this film. Hmm. Still, they did axe it with that final (heartbreaking) scene of Hulk leaving, so that's that I guess. Hopefully Vision/Scarlet Witch will pick up the slack!

23. Saving Lives

One of the things I liked the most about the first film was that we were constantly shown how the Avengers tried their best to save innocent civilians and minimize collateral casualties. They weren’t able to prevent the loss of life entirely - it was an actual war after all - but it’s still fairly remarkable that only ‘hundreds’ were killed as opposed to the thousands one would expect in a battle of this scale. Age of Ultron continues that great trend. These films remind us that superheroes don’t stop the villain because of the villain’s actions…they do so because said actions threaten innocent people. Superheroes save. So when we got Cap’s adamant stand that everyone in that chunk of Sokovia had to be evacuated, or the Avengers helping the civilians into the Helicarrier’s Killzone-esque lifeboats, or Tony scanning for civilians before dropping the Hulk, or Quicksilver and Wanda stopping the train...it’s these little touches that had me beaming. Plus, if nothing else, at least it gives the street-level Avengers like Clint something to do in the scheme of the greater battle.

24. Music

I wasn't too impressed with Brian Tyler and Danny Elfman's score on this one, it just felt derivative of Alan Silvestri's. After the great scores from Winter Soldier and GoTG, the Age of Ultron one left a little to be desired. I don't know, maybe I'll give it a re-listen on YouTube or something. The original Avengers theme by Silvestri is still golden, though.

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25. Mid-credits scene

Ugh. It's starting to go from "Ominous setting-up for the inevitable Infinity War" to "Really, this again?" Seeing Thanos - even with the Infinity Gauntlet - has lost its luster by this point. I would've preferred another shwarma-esque scene to this one. I mean you guys have been teasing this since the first film...we get it. Also, and this isn't really a problem with this one film in particular, but what the heck is up with the "Infinity Stones". Gems. GEMS. They're called GEMS. Why do these films keep insisting on referring to them as Stones?

26. Dialogue

I suppose I understand why Joss Whedon might have turned the humor and quips up a notch with this installment. Because of the somewhat darker and grimmer nature of the film (that final battle in Sokovia alone looked less like a superhero battle and more like a terrifying urban war), the witty dialogue was likely used to counterbalance that, and remind the audience that yes, we’re still watching a superhero movie. For the most part, I think the jokes and quotable lines hit their mark. There were some bits that I wasn’t too huge a fan of (as aforementioned, I thought Ultron and Tony in the Hulkbuster had one crack too many), but scenes like the Avengers discussing Mjolnir, or Thor trying to console Banner, were very well-timed and executed. That said, I can understand if some viewers were a little irked by the humor levels in this one. The Winter Soldier was a prime example of healthy levels of humor mixed with more serious drama. Age of Ultron isn’t as bad as The Dark World, but there’s more wisecracking banter here than most.

27. Press Tour

This doesn’t really have much to do with the quality of the movie itself, but wow, the AoU press tour has been...let's be generous and go with 'eventful'. That Robert Downey Jr. interview (you know the one) was just awkward to watch. I’m on RDJ’s side on this one though…hes' promoting a superhero film and he's here to talk about the work he's done; why would you want to intentionally antagonize the actor by bringing up whatever sordid past he has? That just seems like exploitative journalism. Then there was the Renner/Evans comment about Black Widow being a ‘slut’ and ‘whore’. I thought it was appropriate for them to apologize for those comments, unintentional or not, and the fact that Widow is a fictional character (no duh) seems beside the point. Still, the less said about this the better, as we’ve already had more than enough debate about that kerfuffle on the Vine. But I did see a video which showed the cast touring the States, South Korea, China, and London…it seemed like the Avengers were really having a genuinely enjoyable (if exhausting) time.

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28. “Together”

This was one of the ‘arc words’ of the movie, definitely. The Avengers, moreso than say the Justice League, have always been plagued with bureaucracy, team politics, and in-fighting among their members. In a team that includes such powerful demigods and strong Type-A alpha male personalities, it’s only natural that they’ll clash on occasion. But what Whedon understands is that despite all their disagreements, what makes the Avengers so great is that true heroes are able to set aside their differences and unite when it counts. It’s a theme that was strongly established in the first film, and that carries over here. Yes, we get all the customary interpersonal drama throughout the sequel, but once Ultron gets his doomsday plan going – playtime’s over, and it’s time for the Avengers to suit up, act like grownups, and get shit done. That’s the whole premise of the team – that they’re there to fight the battles that no single superhero can win – together. And it was also great to see that the title of 'Avenger' held a lot of significance in this film. It wasn't just a nickname for our heroes, it was a badge of honor, and it meant a lot to these brave men and women to be part of something greater.

29. Cohesion

I understand why Age of Ultron wasn't as well-received as (perhaps) most of us were expecting. I think it comes down to the movie trying (or having to because of future MCU movies) to do too much in too little time. I love a lot of the individual elements and concepts of this movie, but it's the tying-them-together part of the process that the movie started to show its cracks, and as a whole it's not as foolproof as I'd ideally like it to be. I'll need to rewatch the film to confirm whether this is entirely true. Maybe the extended 3-hour cut that Marvel will apparently be releasing might make the movie more well-rounded (or even more chaotic, who knows)? But I will also note that many reviewers brought up the fact that Age of Ultron stumbles because superhero movies are becoming increasingly limited by what they can do. The spectacle will always be grand and incredible, but at the end of the day, the villains are starting to feel interchangeable as we know our heroes will always win. Comic fans will always dig these movies, but I don't know how effective Marvel's long-term business plain is going to be.

30. Thor and that final feat

I don't know, it seemed like Thor did all that under his own power.

And....fight!

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Captain America: The Definitive Reading Guide

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At ease, Cap Fans! The Shark has compiled a definitive reading guide for every major Captain America run in the character's history; listing the creative team involved, the year of publication, the issues per run, as well as the most comprehensive way of reading these stories in trade paperbacks/collected editions.

Hopefully, this guide will help current Cap fans who are interested in delving into more of the Star-Spangled Avenger's adventures, as well as any new readers looking to get into Ol' Winghead.

This reading guide only lists Cap's most noteworthy runs from his solo title, so if you're looking for team books like The Avengers or event books like The Infinity Gauntlet, I'm afraid they won't be included here (with the exception of some supplementary reading for various runs). That said, I have also included an additional section for miniseries that I consider essential reading for Steve Rogers.

If you have any questions, corrections, or suggestions for the guide--feel free to leave a comment below!

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Joe Simon & Jack Kirby (1941-1942)

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Captain America Comics v1 #1-10

The original wartime Captain America comic-book by the Living Legend's very own creators. Simon & Kirby worked on the first ten issues of the series, before the book was taken over by various creative teams in its later stories (including a young Stan Lee himself!). Read the very first adventures of Cap and his sidekick Bucky Barnes, as they go up against evil Axis villains like the Red Skull, Fifth Column spies, and....um, Orientals! It was a different time. A fun romp into Captain America's earliest days during the Golden Age.

This run is also available in Omnibus format (preferred, and cheaper):

Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, & Jim Steranko (1964-1969)

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Tales of Suspense v1 #59-99

Captain America v1 #100-113

After Cap is reintroduced in the Silver Age with The Avengers v1 #4, he begins starring in a co-feature with Iron Man titled "Tales of Suspense." The two Avengers would co-headline the book until its 99th issue, when both characters would split into their respective solo titles. These tales of Cap & Bucky, set in their WW2 days, were Lee & Kirby at their creative peak in the 1960s.

Kirby would eventually leave with #109, but Jim Steranko would follow with a classic stint that, despite being only four issues long (#110-113), would prove to be one of the most memorable arcs for our favorite Super-Soldier. Lee would continue working on the book until #141 (renaming it Captain America and the Falcon), but it's these select ones that are the real gems. These issues were also the debuts of several iconic elements of Cap's history including the Cosmic Cube, M.O.D.O.K., and Batroc the Leaper.

This run is also available in Masterworks format:

This run is also available in Omnibus format:

Stan Lee & Gene Colan (1969-1971)

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Captain America v1 #115-137

While certainly not as renowned as the runs that preceded it, Lee's subsequent arcs with Gene Colan are still worth mentioning, due to their historical significance in the Sentinel of Liberty's mythology. It was in the Colan issues that the Falcon was first introduced as Cap's partner, in a classic story-arc involving the Red Skull, the Cosmic Cube, and the Exiles!

With the introduction of the first major African-American superhero in mainstream comics, the book was retitled to Captain America and the Falcon, as the two heroes tackled more socially-relevant issues, Hard-Traveling-Heroes-style. Also, Colan was one of the finest Marvel artists of his day, and his work on Cap remains some of the man's best, matching the likes of his acclaimed work on Daredevil.

Note: The start of Colan's run (#115-119) is collected in Captain America Epic Collection Vol. 2.

This run is also available in Masterworks format (Note: #137 is the first issue of Vol. 6):

This run is also available in Omnibus format:

Steve Englehart & Sal Buscema et al. (1972-1975)

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Captain America v1 #153-186

In the early 70s, when America was faced with the weighty dilemmas of war and racial inequality, the comics of Captain America followed suit. Cap's adventures have always reflected the social era they were written in; but Englehart's run was arguably the first serious attempt to tackle real-world issues, and the American public's growing distrust of a post-Vietnam government.

With his partner Falcon, Cap would take on classic villains like William Burnside and the Red Skull, but also challenge more serious threats--like the Secret Empire, an analog for Nixon's infamous Watergate scandal. Cap's subsequent disillusionment with the government would eventually lead him to abandon the uniform (the first time of many times), and assume the identity of Nomad. Englehart's run was an important milestone in the growth of Captain America and his stories, and many of the concepts introduced here would serve as the blueprint for future Cap comics.

This run is also available in Masterworks format:

Jack Kirby (1976-1977)

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Captain America v1 #193-214, Annual #3-4

Captain America's Bicentennial Battles

After leaving Marvel to work for the Distinguished Competition in the early 70s, the King would eventually return to the House of Ideas in 1976, and to one of his finest creations. Kirby was given free rein on the title, and produced one of the kookiest and funnest (yes, that's a word) runs in Captain Rogers' history.

Gone were the heavier themes and ideas of Englehart's work; replaced instead by killer roller-derbies, a tiny mutant who lived inside a wristwatch, Cap fighting on the Moon, and the insidious Arnim Zola! No, none of that makes any sense without context, but that was the fun of Kirby's run. He even had Cap travel through the different eras of American history in the action-packed Bicentennial Battles one-shot.

An over-the-top, energetic, and entertaining Captain America run from the King of Comics himself.

This run is also available in Masterworks format:

This run is also available in Omnibus format:

Sal Buscema et al. (1978-1979)

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Captain America v1 #218-223, 224-237

Sal Buscema's second artistic tenure on the title of Captain America isn't really a "run" per se--as his art is the only unifying aspect of three short runs by writers Don Glut, Steve Gerber, and Roger McKenzie--but I've included his work here for posterity's sake.

Aside from Buscema himself being one of Cap's most iconic artists, this run includes several of Ol' Winghead's most notable arcs including the introduction of Ameridroid, the Red Skull's Helicarrier hijacking, and most importantly, Dr. Faustus and the Grand Director's brainwashing of Sharon Carter, and their attempts to spark a race war. That last storyline in particular would be used by Ed Brubaker to great effect during his seminal Death of Captain America arc. Historically speaking, Buscema's work on the title is definitely important reading.

Note: While these issues remain uncollected in Masterworks or Omnibus formats, they are available in the black-and-white Essential trades as Essential Captain America Vol. 6 and Vol. 7 (which collect Captain America v1 #206-230 and #231-257 respectively).

  • Uncollected (#218-223, 224-237)

Roger Stern & John Byrne (1980-1981)

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Captain America v1 #247-255

It was a short-lived but beloved run. Stern would eventually leave Marvel over creative disputes, but his nine-issue tenure with John Byrne stands as some of the man's best Marvel work--right up there with his Spider-Man and Avengers catalogs. It was one of those special runs; a great writer and artist with superb chemistry, telling fantastic Captain America stories.

Stern's brief run was packed with various character-defining moments for Steve, including: Cap running for President, the greatest Batroc the Leaper story ever told, the introduction of one of Cap's most compelling love-interests in lawyer Bernie Rosenthal, and the infamous issue where Steve was forced to kill the Nazi vampire Baron Blood. Stern and Byrne finished their run with a heartwarming #255, a modern retelling of Cap's origin and history that served as an important touchstone for the Sentinel of Liberty.

J.M. DeMatteis & Mike Zeck et al. (1981-1984)

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Captain America v1 #261-264, 267-270, 272, 275-290, 292-300, Annual #6

DeMatteis' run is perhaps the most underrated era for the character of Captain America, as it was unfairly interrupted by various other writers, but this a hidden gem in Steve's illustrious history. DeMatteis was responsible for building on Cap's supporting cast: 50s Bucky aka Jack Monroe was brought back as Nomad, Sam Wilson was more prominently featured, and DeMatteis also introduced Steve's childhood friend Arnie Roth--who was quite possibly the first recurring gay character in Marvel Comics history.

Plus, DeMatteis capped his run off with an epic final struggle between Captain America and the Red Skull--as the two lifelong foes fought to the death in Cap's 300th issue. Most of the run remains sadly uncollected, but portions of it have been released in trade paperbacks, though many of these are pretty dated and may be expensive to obtain.

Note: DeMatteis' first four issues (#261-264) are collected in the Dawn's Early Light Epic Collection, along with Stern's run.

Mark Gruenwald & Ron Lim et al. (1985-1995)

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Captain America v1 #307-443, Annual #8

This is it folks, the big one. The longest run on Captain America is surprisingly not Brubaker's, and that enviable award goes to the late veteran Marvel editor/writer Mark Gruenwald. Gruenwald wrote Cap for over a decade, and I don't even know where to begin when it comes to his influence on Steve Rogers.

Look at the roster of characters he introduced to the Cap mythos alone: Crossbones, U.S. Agent, D-Man, Diamondback (and most of the Serpent Society), Scourge of the Underworld, Flag-Smasher, and the always-awesome Armadillo. Or the classic stories he penned like The Bloodstone Hunt, the iconic Cap/Wolverine team-up Annual, and Captain America No More--the latter being the highlight of Gruenwald's run, when Cap took on the identity of "The Captain," a prescient precursor to the events of Civil War.

Sure, there were some stinkers towards the end of the run (think Superia Stratagem, Man and Wolf, or the ridiculous Cap-armor), and Gruenwald's insistence that Cap didn't kill anyone in WWII is a little silly, but you can't deny the man's influence. Gruenwald's work on Cap was straight-up superheroics mixed with a solid message of heroism. In an era of Punisher and Venom, Gruenwald's Captain America proved that honorable and compassionate heroes could still make for great comic-books.

Rest in peace, Mr. Gruenwald: thank you for all the Cap stories you penned, and for all the future Cap stories you'll inspire.

Mark Waid & Ron Garney et al. (1995-1999)

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Captain America v1 #444-454

Captain America v3 #1-23

Captain America The Legend

Captain America Sentinel of Liberty v1 #1-12

And here begins Cap's adventures in the modern era of comic-books. Ignoring the fuckery that was Jeph Loeb and Rob Liefeld's Captain America vol. 2 during Heroes Reborn, Waid and Garney brought Cap back to his former glory with the fantastic Operation Rebirth story-arc. While "extreme" titles dominated Marvel in the 90s, Mark Waid's work on Captain America was a gem of quality and old-school superheroics in a sea of gritty mediocrity. Waid essentially did what Waid does best: he proved to us that you don't need to reimagine or rework Cap to make him relevant and engaging for the 21st-century reader.

This run is also available in Omnibus format:

Dan Jurgens (2000-2002)

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Captain America v3 #25-50, Annual 2000, Annual 2001

Another lesser-known gem in the Captain America canon--Jurgens took over after Waid's departure for a two-year stint, and perhaps the reason why it's not as renowned as other Cap tales is because it really doesn't offer anything too new. It's just fun Jurgens action with straightforward superheroics. Jurgens' Cap work is an all-around solid if unremarkable comic-book, with it's most memorable storyline likely being the introduction of the Super-Soldier-gone-wrong, Protocide. The entire run has recently been collected by Marvel in three trade paperbacks:

John Ney Rieber & John Cassaday et al. (2002-2004)

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Spoiler alert: This volume isn't great. This was the Marvel Knights relaunch for Captain America; an attempt to write a serious, grounded reinvention of the character for a post-9/11 United States. It's not even a "run" per se, but more of a collection of arcs by writers John Ney Rieber, Chuck Austen (yup), Dave Gibbons, and Robert Morales. The volume ends with Robert Kirkman of Invincible fame saying "screw it" to any attempt at any political commentary, and just having Cap fight powered armor Red Skull. Anyway, I've included this here just for completion's sake, and if nothing else, at least we get some glorious John Cassaday art.

Christopher Priest & Joe Bennett et al. (2004-2005)

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Captain America and the Falcon v1 #1-14

This is arguably not the most exemplary run in Steve Rogers' colorful history, but I've included it here because it's a personal favorite, and also because Priest is the most criminally-underrated writer in the industry today. The run was severely hampered by editorial and behind-the-scenes issues, but I still think it's a solid attempt to create a Cap story for a post-9/11 America. Priest crafted a political thriller that revolved around a Navy SEAL-turned-Super-Sailor named Anti-Cap, and also wrote arguably the best and most interesting take on the character of Sam Wilson. While not quite as sublime as his work on Black Panther or The Crew, I still think Captain America and the Falcon is worth checking out, especially since it has been recently reprinted in a nice trade paperback:

Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting et al. (2005-2013)

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Captain America v5 #1-50, 65th Anniversary Special

Winter Soldier Winter Kills

Young Avengers Presents Patriot #1

Captain America v1 #600-619

Captain America Reborn v1 #1-6, Reborn Digital Prologue

The Marvels Project v1 #1-8

Captain America Who Will Wield the Shield?

Steve Rogers Super-Soldier v1 #1-4

Secret Avengers v1 #1-12

Captain America Book of the Skull

Fear Itself 7.1 Captain America

Captain America v6 #1-19

Captain America and Bucky v1 #620-628

Winter Soldier v1 #1-14

Don't lie, you probably just skipped ahead and scrolled straight to this run, didn't you?

I don't think I need to say anything more about this particular run that hasn't already been said. This is arguably the most celebrated and critically-acclaimed run in the history of the character of Captain America--I mean Ed Brubaker got three freaking Eisners for Best Writer off his work on this title alone.

Brubaker's time on Cap may not have been the longest, but it's certainly the most well-known, and served as the entry point for many readers to the character of Steve, myself included. I've said enough praise about Brubaker's run already. I even wrote a whole blog on the first story-arc alone, after all, so go read that if you're interested.

All I'll add is that Ed Brubaker's story was revolutionary for reintroducing the long-dead sidekick of Bucky--and making him into one of the finest characters in Marvel's roster. In the long history of crappy resurrection/retcon/replacement hero storylines, Bucky's eventual assumption of the Captain America mantle after Steve Rogers' assassination is what makes this run so iconic in my mind. I've already posted an extremely detailed reading guide for collecting all of Brubaker's trades, but I'll repost it here too for completion's sake:

Optional content (All material is written by Brubaker, it's not necessary but it is recommended):

This run is also available in Omnibus format:

Rick Remender & John Romita Jr. et al. (2013-2015)

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Captain America v7 #1-25

Uncanny Avengers v1 #1-25, 8AU, Annual #1

Winter Soldier The Bitter March v1 #1-5

AXIS v1 #1-9

All-New Captain America v1 #1-6

Uncanny Avengers v2 #1-5

Hail HYDRA v1 #1-4

Avengers Rage of Ultron

I don't think there's been a greater 180-degree flip in the history of Captain America's comics than in Rick Remender's run. Trading in the realistic espionage of Brubaker's Cap for the kooky science-fiction of the Kirby era, Remender has Cap going up against the hordes of Dimension Z, the children of Arnim Zola, and the madness of Dr. Mindbubble and the Iron Nail. But what makes this run so memorable comes later...when Sam Wilson aka Falcon, adopts the mantle of Captain America. While your mileage may vary on this run's quality, it's no denying that Remender definitely left his own unique mark on the character of Steve Rogers.

Optional content (All material is written by Remender, it's not necessary but it is recommended):

Nick Spencer & Daniel Acuña et al. (2015-2017)

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Captain America Sam Wilson v1 #1-24

Avengers Standoff Welcome to Pleasant Hill #1

Avengers Standoff Assault on Pleasant Hill Alpha #1

Avengers Standoff Assault on Pleasant Hill Omega #1

Civil War II The Oath #1

Captain America Steve Rogers v1 #1-19

FCBD 2016 Captain America #1

Captain America v8 #25

Secret Empire #0-10

Secret Empire Omega #1

Generations Sam Wilson Captain America/Steve Rogers Captain America #1

I think it's fair to say that this was arguably the most divisive/controversial run in the modern history of the character, but Cap comics have always reflected the American society of its time, and Spencer's politically-charged run is no exception.

Only time will tell if this run stands as a defining one in the Man out of Time's colorful history, but one thing's for certain: it's definitely a memorable one. Spencer's run will always be remembered for its heavy political tone and hot-button topics ripped from the headlines (e.g. immigration, police brutality, race-relations), its focus on Sam Wilson's character and the significance of a black Captain America, as well as the contentious decision to alter Steve Rogers' history and reinvent him as the leader of Hydra. Like it or hate it, Spencer's run is definitely one for the history books.

Note: The Generations tie-in is collected in the Generations (HC), but the rest of the collection was not written by Spencer.

Mark Waid & Chris Samnee et al. (2017-2018)

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Captain America v1 #695-704

Mark Waid returns for a second victory lap with the Captain, bringing Steve back to his Silver Age heroics after the whole Secret-Empire-evil-HYDRA-Cap kerfuffle from Spencer's run. While this run was slightly truncated, it's still a solid display of what Captain America ultimately stands for: helping your fellow man and doing the right thing, even when the world is falling apart. It's an interesting look into how Cap goes on in a new America, and it does the whole "superhero travels America to reconnect with the common man" premise far better than some other comics (*cough* Grounded *cough*). Plus, awesome Chris Samnee art!

Ta-Nehisi Coates & Leinil Francis Yu (2017-present)

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Captain America v9 #1-ongoing

WORK IN PROGRESS.

Appendix: Miniseries

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The following are limited series that are not part of a greater Captain America run but are, nevertheless, essential and/or entertaining reading for fans of Steve Rogers. These books are all highly-recommended by yours truly, and are presented in order of publication:

27 Comments

Captain America by Ed Brubaker (Reading Order)

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For the benefit of any readers currently reading or looking to start reading Ed Brubaker's Captain America run; I've compiled this trade paperback checklist. This reading order is a complete listing of all Marvel comics that Brubaker ever wrote featuring either Steve Rogers or Bucky Barnes as the central protagonist, and is complete to the best of my knowledge and ability. If I've missed anything, let me know in the comments below and I'll update the checklist.

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Chapter I: Steve Rogers

Winter Soldier is the start of Brubaker's work on the character, and collects Captain America (vol. 5) #1-9, and 11-14. The storyline was originally collected in two separate trades. There is also a Captain America Winter Soldier Hardcover that was released in conjunction with the MCU movie, and that edition features extras such as bonus covers, Epting's sketches, and Brubaker's original pitch - for a heftier price, of course.

Red Menace collects #15-21, as well as the 65th Anniversary Special. Like the Winter Soldier trade before, this storyline was originally collected in two separate trades.

For those of you who can afford Omnibuses, the two Captain America trades written by Brubaker have also been collected in Captain America Omnibus Vol. 1. The omnibus also collects the #10 House of M tie-in (see below), and #22-25. Do note that the omnibuses, for the most part, are pretty pricey as I believe they're no longer in print. But if you're willing to shell out the cash - by all means.

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Chapter II: A New Captain America

The next chapter of Brubaker's run features the death of Steve Rogers in the aftermath of Civil War, Bucky Barnes' redemption for his actions as the Winter Soldier, and the latter's eventual assumption to the mantle of Captain America.

The Death of Captain America collects the entire saga, specifically #22-42 and the Winter Soldier Winter Kills one-shot. These stories were originally collected in four separate trades. #22-24 and the Winter Soldier one-shot take place during the events of Civil War. The following issues occur after Steve Rogers' surrender and arrest in the final battle of the event.

The Man with No Face collects #43-48, and Road to Reborn collects #49-50 as well as #600-601. At this point in time, Marvel decided to renumber its books in celebration of the company's 70th anniversary. Essentially, all past and present volumes of Captain America were compiled together, and so Captain America (vol. 5) #51 was renumbered to just Captain America #600. Other books like Invincible Iron Man and Thor experienced this weird renumbering too.

Anyway, Steve Rogers finally comes back to life (spoiler!) during Captain America Reborn, a trade that collects #1-6 of the miniseries, as well as the Reborn Digital Prologue.

For omnibus readers, The Death of Captain America saga is also collected in The Death of Captain America Omnibus, but there's minor double-dipping here, as the omnibus also collects #25 from the previous omnibus. The Captain America Lives! Omnibus collects #43-50, #600-601, as well as the complete Reborn miniseries and the prologue.

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Chapter III: Bucky Barnes

The third chapter of Brubaker's run features Bucky's adventures in his newfound role as Captain America. Of course, there are other stories out there that feature Bucky-Cap (most-notably Bendis' New Avengers, Avengers/Invaders, Invaders Now! et cetera), but these are the stories that were exclusively written by Ed Brubaker.

Two Americas collects the Who Will Wield the Shield? one-shot (where Cap decides to pass the torch to Bucky), and #602-605 of the ongoing series. No Escape collects #606-610, The Trial of Captain America collects #611-615, and #615.1, and Prisoner of War collects #616-619. Note that #616 was the 70th anniversary issue for Cap and features a selection of Cap stories by different writers, and Prisoner of War collects all of them.

For Omnibus readers: The Trial of Captain America Omnibus collects all of the above issues, as well as the Steve Rogers Super-Soldier miniseries and the first ten issues of Captain America (vol. 6), both listed in later chapters of this checklist.

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Chapter IV: Super-Soldier

Chapter IV runs roughly concurrently with the events of Chapter III, as during this period Bucky was Captain America while Steve took over Nick Fury's old job. Steve Rogers Super-Soldier collects #1-4 of a miniseries starring Steve in his new role. Secret Avengers Vol. 1 collects #1-5, and Vol. 2 collects #6-12. This was a series where Steve led a covert team of Avengers, and the book was also written by Brubaker.

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Chapter V: The Return of Steve Rogers

Finally, we're at the end of Brubaker's time with the character of Captain America. To start off, Fear Itself collects #1-7 of the miniseries, and the Fear Itself Book of the Skull one-shot. While the event itself isn't essential reading and wasn't written by Brubaker, it does feature the seminal moment of Bucky's death at the hands of Sin/Red Skull/Skadi (spoiler!) so it's worth picking up. The trade also collects the Book of the Skull one-shot which was written by Brubaker. The issue stars Cap and the Invaders, and serves as a prequel to the main event.

After Steve Rogers goes back to being Captain America during Fear Itself, Captain America gets relaunched as Vol. 6 with a new number one issue to coincide with The First Avenger's release, while the original Captain America series is retitled Captain America & Bucky.

Captain America Vol. 1 collects #1-5, Vol. 2 collects #6-10, Vol. 3 collects #11-14 (as well as Captain America #328 from Mark Gruenwald's run in the 1980s), and Vol. 4 collects #15-19. This volume pretty much concludes Brubaker's time with Steve Rogers, barring a few guest appearances in the Winter Soldier solo series.

Captain America & Bucky was published concurrently with the new Captain America volume, but its stories are essentially flashbacks to Steve and Bucky's adventures in WWII, so really they can be read at any point in time. These were written by Brubaker with the aid of other writers. The Life Story of Bucky Barnes collects Captain America & Bucky #620-624, picking up from where the Prisoner of War TPB ended, and Old Wounds collects #625-628 and a What If? #4 from 1977.

The Winter Soldier solo series was launched in the aftermath of Fear Itself when Bucky was revived (spoiler!), and decided to readopt his old identity to right his past wrongs. The story was originally collected in three separate trades, but this edition collects all #1-14 of the series, as well as Fear Itself 7.1 - a tie-in which depicted Buck's resurrection. While the Winter Soldier solo series was published around the same time as the two Captain America volumes, it can be read on its own.

And again, for any Omnibus readers out there, the entire Captain America & Bucky and Winter Soldier runs, as well as the remaining Captain America vol. 6 issues, are all collected in the Captain America Return of the Winter Soldier Omnibus.

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Appendix A: Optional Reading

This section is comprised of Cap-related material that Ed Brubaker wrote, but either a) don't factor into his ongoing story, or b) only feature Cap or Bucky in a supporting role as opposed to a starring one. These stories are not essential reading for Brubaker's run, but I've included them here for completionists, and they're still all very well-written stories for the most part. If nothing else, they give more insight into the history of Captain America.

The missing issue from Vol. 5, #10, is a House of M tie-in, and was not reprinted in any Captain America trades, only in the House of M: World of M, Featuring Wolverine TPB. This issue takes place out-of-continuity and has no relation to the ongoing Winter Soldier story-arc.

The Marvels Project collects #1-8 of the miniseries. While the original collection was published some time between Reborn and Two Americas, the book can really be read at any point in time. The miniseries deals with the rise of superhumans during WWII, and the formation of the Invaders - the superhero team of the Allies during the War. It has some elements that tie in to Brubaker's Secret Avengers run, and has a large ensemble cast that includes Cap and Bucky.

Young Avengers Presents #1 deals with Patriot of the Young Avengers, as he meets with Bucky to talk about Steve Rogers' legacy. The issue takes place during The Death of Captain America. It is collected in the Young Avengers Presents TPB. It's an interesting one-off, and builds off from the Winter Soldier Winter Kills one-shot too. It also builds on some elements from other Cap-related material like Truth Red White and Black, The Crew, Karl Kesel's Patriot, and of course, Young Avengers itself.

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Appendix B: Supplementary Reading

To cap this off, I've also listed some supplementary reading material. None of these stories were written by Ed Brubaker, but they offer some useful context for the greater Marvel Universe during the time of his Captain America run.

The first are the major Marvel events. All events listed here had a great impact either on the character of Captain America, or on Brubaker's run. Avengers Disassembled serves as a prequel of sorts, as Brubaker's first issue begins shortly after the Avengers disband. Secret War explains the disappearance of Nick Fury between the Winter Soldier and Red Menace TPBs.

Civil War is self-explanatory, and sets up The Death of Captain America saga. Secret Invasion features Bucky's first major appearance in the greater Marvel U. Siege has the reunion of the Avengers' Big Three after years of in-fighting and disagreements, as well as the first major appearance of Steve Rogers in the larger MU since the events of Reborn. All of these events are available in their respective trades.

New Avengers by Bendis picks up post-Disassembled and before Civil War, and has Cap playing a pretty major role in the team. Cap's death and the subsequent outcome of the Civil War also plays a large role in the series, as do all of the following events like Secret Invasion. Bucky, as the new Captain America, also becomes a member of this team in its later volumes.The subsequent Heroic-Age-era Avengers book (also by Bendis) doesn't really tie in to Brubaker's work, so I've elected to ignore it.

The entire New Avengers series is available in thirteen separate trades beginning with New Avengers Vol. 1 Breakout. There's also a New Avengers Omnibus Vol. 1, but this only collects up to the sixth trade paperback. The omnibus also collects Avengers Disassembled however.

Lastly, Fallen Son was a 5-issue miniseries by Jeph Loeb. Sigh...it's Jeph Loeb, so it's not the greatest, but it provides some interesting insight to the reactions of Cap's friends in the wake of the icon's death. Best read during The Death of Captain America storyline.

Happy reading, Cap fans. And thanks to Mr. Brubaker for eight years of fantastic Captain America adventures!
Happy reading, Cap fans. And thanks to Mr. Brubaker for eight years of fantastic Captain America adventures!

19 Comments

Veshark's Top 8 Villains of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

"Shots" take on a whole different meaning in this bar...

It's no secret that villains have never been the Marvel Cinematic Universe's forte. In fact, the majority of them kinda blow. The fact that I couldn't even come up with a Top 10 illustrates the point rather succinctly, I think.

For a franchise with such exemplary casting decisions for its protagonists, it's surprising that the villain portrayals tend to flounder between generic mediocrity to being outright ill-conceived. Now of course, such a bold assertion is largely a matter of opinion, and in the trapeze act of balancing plot, character-development, and world-building, it's understandable that some elements may fall on the wayside. And there's also no denying that as a whole, the MCU has had more hits than flops, and even the worst films aren't outright unwatchable so much as extremely polarizing.

But we're about ten movies in, and the MCU's baddies have tended to lean more towards the Reynolds' Barakapool end of the movie villain spectrum as opposed to the Ledger's Joker one. I don't want to say any names, or trigger redundant debates/flame-wars that have been done-to-death, but needless to say I didn't appreciate one of my favorite Marvel villains being reduced to an 'ack-tor'. Or the scenery-chewing ham that was a certain Kree Accuser. Or Malekith the Accursed in general. Because f*ck Malekith. #F*ckMalekith.

Anyway.

Still, in anticipation of the forthcoming Avengers sequel - which God-willing will do justice to one of the team's seminal adversaries - I've decided to compile a list of the best villain portrayals that the MCU has managed to churn out so far. Like I said before, a good villain isn't necessarily essential to a good movie - sometimes a merely functional one suffices - but more so than any other genre, supervillains are a big part of what makes comic-books unique. Superheroes are one of the few concepts in fiction where the binary nature of good and evil plays such a prominent role. E.g. both Captain America and Red Skull have the Super-Soldier Serum in them - but it's their inherent nature and personalities, and decisions, that put them on separate paths and make them the 'hero' and 'villain'.

My criteria for what constitutes a good villain portrayal includes any of the following:

  • Overall character development and sensible motives
  • A menacing/charming presence and personality traits
  • General aesthetic and design
  • Source-material faithfulness and a solid translation from the comic-book page to the celluloid screen

Do note however, that just because a villain isn't on my list, doesn't mean I necessarily consider him/her 'bad' per se. Some villains had dynamic visual appearances and exciting battles with the hero, a la Nobu, The Destroyer, Kurse, Batroc, or the Chitauri, even. But such portrayals make them less of a wholly-realized villain and more of a plot-device. And then there are the villains who have proven charming and well-characterized - but it's their limited screentime that holds them back from appearing on this list. Think Crossbones, Arnim Zola, Yondu, Nebula, Dr. Faustus or Thanos. And lastly, there are also villains who have committed the ultimate sin - they're not bad portrayals, but neither are they great...they're just perfunctory. Think Red Skull, Whiplash, Abomination, or Thunderbolt Ross. Largely accurate to the source material, yes, but executed with such a by-the-books mentality that the viewer feels they're just there to give the hero something to punch.

But the best of the best transcend all those limitations, and become villains that not only stay faithful or build off the original comic-book storylines, but also introduce something new and compelling to the table. This is the creme de la creme of the MCU's villains. Now, who knows, maybe once the summer closes I might just add Ultron and Yellowjacket to the list, and we'll finally have a solid Top 10. But until then, the following eight remain the most vile, vicious, and villainous of the greatest shared film franchise to date...

Onward!

8. Dottie Underwood (Bridget Regan)

"Is that pistol an automatic? I want that."

In the furious war for superhero television dominance, Arrow/Flash and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D./Daredevil are oft-cited as the primary contenders for the small-screen, yet no one ever mentions Agent Carter. Seriously, watch this show (yes, you, I know you haven't don't lie to me). Aside from being another stellar addition to the Captain America franchise's track record in the MCU, this eight-episode miniseries nailed everything that a fan could want in an MCU tie-in. A concise plot, solid casting with a great female protagonist played by thespian/goddess-in-disguise Hayley Atwell, a charming 40s-era aesthetic, and most importantly - references and ties to the comics and the larger cinematic U. And one such thread came in the form of the show's most menacing adversary, Dottie Underwood - or as I like to call her, 1940s Black Widow.

Oh you knew right from her introduction that the ditsy small-town rube she portrayed was all an act, and when she started sneaking around Peggy's drawers you knew she was a baddie - but tying her to Natasha Romanoff's history was just a brilliant idea. In a show largely dominated by dull and ordinary mooks, having a comic-book villain of sorts was a welcome change. And boy, did she not disappoint. Bridget Regan could switch from sweet and naive to dangerous and sinister (much like Scarlett Johansson, actually) at the drop of a hat, and throughout the show she's portrayed as being ruthlessly efficient and effective. You can believe that she was the precursor to Romanoff, and a worthy enemy spy to Agent Carter. That final round of fisticuffs she had with Peggy is one of the most tension-filled moments in the entire series.

Also, I suppose that kiss she had with Agent Carter plays some small part in her inclusion on this list (oh now you want to watch it).

7. Kingpin (Vincent D'Onofrio)

"I always thought that I was the Samaritan in that story."

I want to preface this by saying that my opinions on Kingpin are very premature. Daredevil has only been out for a little over a week at this point, and having only seen the entire series through once, my thoughts on the character are still forming. Who knows, they might change with a second viewing of the miniseries. But needless to say, D'Onofrio's Kingpin is quite possibly the most polarizing adaptation of a Marvel villain since Iron Man 3's "Mandarin". Now I'm not exactly the most well-read fan of Daredevil. I've caught snippets of Miller and Brubaker's work on the title, as well as some stuff from Bendis's Ultimate Spider-Man run, so I'm admittedly not too knowledgeable on comic-book Kingpin. But as I understand it though, the MCU's version of Kingpin does stray from most portrayals of the character. Where we usually have an intimidating Scorsese-esque Tony Soprano-type character, we've got a very flawed and indecisive Kingpin in Daredevil.

But here's the largest distinction between Wilson Fisk and Iron Man 3's "Mandarin" - the new conception of the character still made for incredibly compelling television. Both strayed to a degree from the source material (Mandarin moreso arguably), but while the Killian's generic 'Evil Businessman' shtick didn't do anything for me, I found Fisk to be a very nuanced character. The initial stuttering and awkwardness at Kingpin's introduction had me a little puzzled, but when we began receiving flashbacks to his past, and saw his relationship with Vanessa grow - the character became as interesting as Matt Murdock. Yes, his 'rise to power' seems a little suspect given his personality, and adapting him as a 'necessary evil' type bad guy seems contradictory to comic-book Kingpin, but Fisk provided a counter-balance to Matt at every turn, which is what a good villain is supposed to do. That final episode's back-alley brawl with Daredevil practically cements this too.

So is D'Onofrio's Kingpin necessarily an accurate adaptation of comic-book Kingpin? Probably not. But did he present an interesting and well-rounded character that contributed to the story? Yes he did. And for that alone, I'm willing to overlook straying from the source material.

6. Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell)

"I call it 'The Ex-Wife'."

I swear I'm one of only six comic-book fans on the face of the planet who actually enjoyed Iron Man 2. Oh I'm not saying it was a flawless movie, far from it, and it certainly doesn't even reach the heights that the first one did. But come on. Silver Centurion briefcase armor! Iron Man vs. War Machine! A three-act story like every classic Stan Lee-era Marvel story! If not well-executed, at least this sequel made for some stunning action-packed sequences. But coming to the subject of #6, one of the most-enjoyable elements of Iron Man 2 for me was without a doubt - Sam Rockwell's Justin Hammer. Now again, not a particularly comic-book-accurate version of the character. 616 Hammer was a ruthless septuagenarian who actually proved a serious threat to Tony throughout the Stark Wars storyline. A far cry from the ineffectual and comedic Rockwell in this movie.

But god, he's just so charming. Rockwell's Hammer (great name for a band) reminds me of that one class clown in every class - that goof who is a desperate attention-seeker, but you still laugh at his jokes and pranks. Hammer just exudes charisma and levity in every scene, which I know might not necessarily be the ideal tone for a superhero film, but I for one actually enjoyed it. That bit with Rhodey alone, where he lays out all these high-tech firearms and heavy ordnance in a humorous montage, was just great. And I guess a part of me feels almost bad for Justin Hammer. Here is a guy who is constantly upstaged by Tony Stark, a man who succeeds and upstages him in every conceivable category, and I guess I'm always a sucker for the underdog. I'm unapologetic about my inclusion of Hammer on this list. Oh he's a fairly non-threatening B-sideplot villain but I still thought he was a really enjoyable aspect of the film.

And come on, have you guys seen Hammer's cameo in the All Hail the King short? With his boyfriend in Seagate? Funny stuff.

5. Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan)

"Who the hell is Bucky?"

Yes, he's a villain. Can we just get that out of the way? I know Bucky Barnes on a whole is not a bad person, I'm one of the most-notable fans of Captain America on this board for crying out loud (yup, tooting my own horn), so you can sit down. Yes you, guy with the copy of Ed Brubaker's run in his hand. But for the duration of The Winter Soldier (right there in the title, guys), Bucky is a villain, and so he deserves a spot on this list.

First things first, can I just point out that Winter Soldier has - bar none - the best comic-to-film costume adaptation of any character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. No other MCU villain matches the faithful translation that the Winter Soldier's film appearance represents. I mean look at that. Yes they replaced the domino mask with eye-shadow and Harry Osborn's New Goblin gear, but everything else is gold. The leather uniform, and god, that bionic arm! It's like a drawing of Steve Epting come to life. And the character just exudes menace and badassery in every moment on the silver screen. The Winter Soldier is chocked full of some of the best action sequences in the MCU, and Bucky is the star of most of these incredible scenes. The assassination of Nick Fury. The extended highway fight against Cap, Widow, and Falcon. The final, emotional encounter with Steve on the Insight Helicarrier. Every time the Winter Soldier appears, and that high-pitched soundtrack kicks in, you knew shit was about to go down.

Now the only thing that keeps Bucky Barnes from ascending any higher is the argument that he doesn't receive much development throughout the second movie. Which, credit where credit is due, is a fair point to raise. It's why he's only #5, despite him hitting all the comic-book-accuracy, good design, and menacing villain criteria. But I'll counter that with the assertion that we actually received a fair amount of development for Bucky in The First Avenger. We saw the 'death' of that character in the first movie, so those emotional repercussions come into play in the sequel. So yes, while the Winter Soldier doesn't say much in the way of dialogue, and his most emotive expression is glaring, Bucky (taken as a whole) makes for a very tragic and layered bad guy. It's the tried-and-true trope of the friend-turned-enemy; so when we see the flashbacks of Buck and Steve after the latter's mom's funeral, to the painful brainwashing at the hands of Alexander Pierce, to that last battle where Steve willingly stands down...

I mean, damn, if you don't feel something at that "I'm with you till the end of the line" speech, you probably don't have a heart. Christ, now I'm going to cry.

4. Iron Monger (Jeff Bridges)

"We're iron mongers, we make weapons."

We've probably reached the 'Evil Businessman in a Suit' quota of the Marvel Cinematic Universe by this point. Three in a row is a little overdoing it, don't you think, Tony? That said, I give Obadiah Stane his props because 1) He was the first and 2) Jeff Bridges gives a criminally-underrated performance. At first glance, Stane is a fairly generic origin movie bad guy. Close confidante of the father who secretly wants to overthrow the son; a power-hungry unscrupulous industrialist who makes black market deals and only cares for profits. We've seen this done a hundred times before in movies, and the claim isn't inaccurate at all. But Iron Monger is the villain who started it all. Had he not hired the Ten Rings to assassinate Tony, the MCU world would never have gotten Iron Man and consequently, the Avengers. His villainy was the spark that lit the entire universe, and for legacy reasons alone, I'm willing to reserve a spot for Obadiah Stane on this list.

And barring that, Jeff Bridges is just fun to watch. There've been numerous interviews confirming that most of Iron Man's dialogue was improvised, seeing as how the scripts weren't complete (and the fact that the end result was so good blows my mind), and despite Bridges admitting that this wasn't how he liked to work, he went with it, and the villain turned out great. It's hardly the thespian's most meaty and heavy role, but for what it was, I always enjoyed it whenever 'Obie' was on-screen. From his silky-smooth voice which made you believe he was a charming corporate tycoon, to the still-memorable "TONY STARK WAS ABLE TO BUILD THIS IN A CAVE WITH A BOX OF SCRAPS" moment...Obadiah Stane was a crucial element of the first movie's success. And one can't forget that Iron Monger armor too. Many criticize it for being just 'a larger Iron Man suit', but go rewatch that final fight again. That is easily one of the most 'comic-book-ish' battles ever portrayed on film

I know in this day and age, we tend to take CBMs for granted, but back in 2008 - seeing Iron Monger toss Iron Man through a bus while spouting off a classic villain monologue - was the closest to a comic-book I'd ever seen a movie go.

3. HYDRA (Assorted)

"Hail HYDRA!"

Look at the person sitting in the cubicle next to yours. Can you trust that person? Is he secretly whispering something that looks suspiciously like 'Hail HYDRA' to another co-worker?

That's the overall genius of what makes HYDRA such a convincing and terrifying force of evil. One could make a pretty persuasive argument that of all the villains in the MCU, it was HYDRA that came to closest to total world domination. In The First Avenger, HYDRA was little more than appendage for the Red Skull to wield. They provided cannon fodder for the good Captain to clobber, a handy excuse to avoid any mention of Nazism (and alienating certain geographic markets), as well as cool Killzone-esque outfits too, I suppose. But aside from being stylish henchmen, there wasn't much else separating HYDRA from any generic villain organization. Fast-forward three years later to The Winter Soldier, and this stellar movie single-handedly transformed HYDRA from a forgotten science-death-cult to what essentially amounts to the freaking Illuminati. Think about it. They'd infiltrated the world's foremost intelligence organization. Accumulated enough firepower to wipe every threat to their devious machinations. And seeded countless conflicts and presumably caused thousands of civilian deaths just to further their cause of fear-mongering. And they did all this whilst hiding in plain sight.

You know what The Winter Soldier did for HYDRA? It made them 616 HYDRA.

Plus, in what is perhaps an even greater feat for the movie than legitimizing HYDRA as a threat, this plot twist was the shot in the arm that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. so desperately needed. Before Cap 2, Agents was a sickly Steve Rogers, and this movie proved to be the veritable Super-Soldier Serum. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was mind-numbingly boring in its first few episodes. I remember having to force myself to endure the below-average freak-of-the-week plots, characters whom didn't really endear themselves to me, subplots and ominous references that had me rolling my eyes. It got to the point that every time I heard the term 'T.A.H.I.T.I.' one more time, I would drop-kick an infant baby. It was a grueling exercise just to get through those first fifteen or so episodes. But once the HYDRA revelation kicked in, and the team was put on the run, and one of their number was revealed to be a traitor...jeez, I'd stopped watching the show right around the tenth episode, but when I finally got back to it, I blew through the show all the way to that superb finale with its glorious Sam L. Jackson guest-appearance.

And sadly enough, while we didn't get Sonny Chiba for Daredevil, we did get Robert freaking Redford for The Winter Soldier. Another reason to hail HYDRA!

2. Loki (Tom Hiddleston)

"You mewling quim."

Honestly, what can I say about Hiddleston's Loki that hasn't been said already? Don't act like you were even remotely surprised at his inclusion on this list. Loki is a critically-acclaimed hit in the MCU. Hiddleston's an incredibly charming actor; the fans love his portrayal - as do many preteen girls (much to the chagrin of some fans, funnily enough. Come on, let the girls do their thing) - and he was the main villain of the Avengers - the culmination of years of post-credit scenes. Loki is arguably the most enduring and compelling antagonist of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. Truth be told, I'm wracking my brain to think of something new to say about Hiddleston's Loki. We have the (largely) comic-accurate green/gold costume and even the goofy horned helmet. We have a likeable yet sinister performance on Hiddleston's part. We have a multitude of great action scenes starring Loki - the entire Battle of New York alone obliterates the memory of any MCU battle in my mind (yes, even The Winter Soldier's). I mean what more do you want, right?

So all I can really say about what makes Loki such a great MCU villain is this: his relationship with his adopted brother. Thor and Loki are arguably the glue of the Thor film franchise; their brotherly bond is the central cornerstone of those movies, and even The Avengers to a certain degree as well. And it's this familial relationship that elevates Loki from run-of-the-mill world-conquer to a truly 'human' villain with depth and pathos. At the end of the day, I feel like all Loki wants to be is like his brother. Loki isn't satisfied with the cards that he's been dealt with in his life. He's a Frost Giant and not the true son of the father whom he just wants to impress. He lacks the masculine power and outgoing charm of Thor, but instead has been gifted with sorcery and intellect. And all of his mischievous maneuvers and devious plots are just in pursuit of this ultimate goal of being like his brother - powerful and respected. And I feel all of that is what makes Loki such a convincing villain. All of us have a little Loki in our lives. We all have people in our lives whom we look up to and always strive to emulate, and yet our own human failings hold us down.

For Loki to represent such a true and real experience that many have gone through, I think that's what makes him such a fantastic villain. And I think ultimately, what makes the Loki-Thor brotherhood such a delight to watch is that at the end of the day, you know the two siblings still love each other so much. That one scene in Avengers, on the mountaintop, where Thor basically begs Loki to stop his madness and come home...you can tell that all both brothers want to do is to return to how things were. But by the events of The Dark World, they know that they've both gone too far down their respective journeys, and have begun their legends as the hero and the villain.

1. Malekith the Accursed (Christopher Eccleston)

"I suck!"

Ha. Just kidding. #F*ckMalekith.

1. Grant Ward (Brett Dalton)

"It wasn't personal."

OK, I know whether or not Grant Ward is actually a 'supervillain' is debatable but goddamn. Go watch the first season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Specifically the latter half. By the time you come back, I guarantee you you'll have zero reservations about labeling him the greatest villain of the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far.

When we're first introduced to Ward in the pilot, he comes across as your average 'by-the-rules-I'm-too-cool-to-work-alone' badass super-spy agent that every show of this genre tends to have at least one of. Every character of Coulson's team had their character trait; Skye was the charismatic newbie, Fitz-Simmons were the nerds, May was the 'Batman', and Grant Ward himself was budget Captain America. Uninteresting, dull, and flat. Then, midway through the series - and this comes back to what I mentioned about HYDRA earlier - the show suddenly reveals why Ward was characterized the way he was. So why he was so bland and unremarkable? (brace for year-old spoilers): Because he was a fucking double agent! Once we get there, all the pieces suddenly fit. And earlier flashbacks to his childhood take on a whole new meaning. Of all the twists and surprise reveals that the MCU has had throughout its ten movies and assorted tie-ins - this was the only one that had me genuinely go, "Oh shit."

What I love so much about the characterization of Grant Ward, and what makes him such a superb example of villainy, is that he's no genius mastermind - he's just a soldier following orders. Ward is almost like a dark inversion of Captain America; a man who only knows how to follow his superior and obey authority. And whereas Cap's moral compass was able to break rank in The Winter Soldier, Ward was the complete opposite, and in the S.H.I.E.L.D. civil war, he succumbed to his role as a mindless grunt. Think of some of the greatest examples of villainy in the real-world. How many times have normal, everyday people done horrible things just because they were 'ordered' to? That's what Grant Ward is. When he was a child, he was afraid to disobey his older brother's orders to beat up their younger sibling. When he was recruited by Garrett, he shot his own dog just because the man told him to. And when HYDRA finally revealed itself, and Ward was forced to turn on his friends - men and women whom he'd fought side-by-side with for months now - he betrayed them without hesitation.

Just because he was ordered to. Because he was on a mission. Because it 'wasn't personal'.

I can't think of anything more chilling than that in a villain.

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So here we are at the end. Veshark's Top 8 Villains of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Well, I'm bracing for it. The passionate arguments for the inclusion of your favorite villain. The mocking and haranguing of one of the baddies on my list. Sound off in the comments below!

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Veshark Rants: On Being A Superhero Comic Fan

DISCLAIMER: There's a good chance this won't make sense once I finish; it's more of a stream-of-consciousness rant of some recent thoughts rather than any coherent piece of writing, so if this amounts/devolves to delusional bullsh*t at the end, I apologize for wasting your time.

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I remember reading All-Star Superman when I was around 15 (or 16, perhaps), and honestly that book changed my worldview. It sounds a little silly saying it out loud, but picking up that comic and watching the Smallville television show actually made me want to be a better person. I'd never understood the character of Superman before that comic. To me, and the values that I'd formed growing up, being a kindhearted and caring human being was an optional goal at best, a liability at worst. I was a teenager with a very pragmatic and utilitarian mentality (which seems almost contradictory for a comic-book fan in retrospect) - looking out for others came second to self-survival and being a profitable member of society. 'Expect the worst from everything and everyone and you'll never be disappointed' could have been my life's adage then.

But reading All-Star Superman, the story of a good man who constantly believed that everyone has the potential to be good, it moved me in a very profound way. I don't want to go too entirely off-topic here, but to me, that's always been the ultimate message of the character of Superman to me. Compassion. Throughout All-Star, even when faced with his inevitable mortality, Superman selflessly and constantly believes that everyone (yes, even Luthor) has the potential to do good. From Bar-El & Lilo, to the Bizarros, to that single, insignificant girl about to take her own life - Superman cared for everyone. Like Mark Waid says in the second volume's intro; gods are powerful because people believe in them. Superman is powerful because he believes in us.

And that was what All-Star Superman essentially did for me. At a very formative age, a comic-book instilled in me some vague sense of moral values - inspired me in some way to be a better human being, a better man. Now the actual debate of what constitutes 'right and wrong' is a discussion best tabled for a later date, but for me personally, the book basically taught me that it's okay (and in fact one should be willing) to be the 'nice guy', to care for others, and to believe that things get better. It sounds lofty and high falutin' and naive, even as I say it, but the book truly did have a profound impact on the person I am today. There's a Morrison interview out there where the writer says something to the effect of (and feel free to read the following in a Scottish accent): "Superheroes are bullshit. Everyone knows they can't exist in real-life. That's something that even little kids know and yet adults struggle with the idea that superheroes aren't real. They don't have to be, they're not supposed to be. But even though the superhero isn't real, the emotions and beliefs that these ideas and characters conjure in us are real, and that's the power of fiction. We know Batman isn't real, but what Batman represents to us is."

In a sense, one could draw an analogy to superhero comic-books with religion. Whether or not the actual content is factual is not the point - but the positivity and ethics and faith that we derive from these stories are very real. And if that's what gets you through the day, then who am I to judge you for believing it? And if I'm being entirely frank, despite years of a Christian upbringing, a Midwestern corn-fed alien in blue-red tights made me want to be a better person moreso than the Bible did. I don't mean to be blasphemous, but I'm speaking from the heart for a moment here, so bear with me (Religion-debate-flame-war-nuts, you know where the exit is).

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But I guess the larger question I'm trying to ask is: "Are superhero comics just plain entertainment, or can they be more for comic-book readers?" I'm not saying that these stories are life-guides to live your existence by. Putting aside quixotic idealism for a moment, realistically speaking, at the end of the day I do have enough self-awareness to acknowledge that these are just fantasy stories made by ordinary men and women who have bills to pay, to entertain masses and generate revenue. I get that. And no one's asinine enough to suggest that something like All-Star Batman or Ultimates 3 or Secret Crisis Civil Wars of Infinite Tie-Ins is going to generate anything more than bland eye-candy for some light afternoon reading.

But I don't think I'm the only one who has ever read a superhero comic-book, has become so enamored by the on-paper ideas, that it has influenced my very real and tangible life. For most readers I'd imagine that superhero comics are nothing more than a merry distraction, and for some perhaps they're fodder for creative inspiration or academic discussion, but to me it's been - on occasion - something deeper. There's no denying that the primary reason I read superhero comics is because they're cool and action-packed and fun.

But sometimes when I flip through Black Panther or Martian Manhunter - I can empathize with those characters' feelings of being a foreigner in America, of being torn between two cultures and not belonging to either. Or when I read Batman or Captain America, I admire and want to emulate the great lengths of courage and compassion that they have for random but still consequential innocent lives. Many a times I'll read a story where a superhero gets unfairly shitted on by some ungrateful member of the public, and still stand firm in his willingness for forgiveness and understanding. And I always go, "Damn, I wish I could be that big-hearted in real-life. The resolve that Aquaman had to not pimp-slap that fool across the state is something I want to strive for."

Fantastic and grand and fictional as their adventures may be, there's something fundamentally human and relatable about all these characters that have endured throughout the decades.

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And I'd like to believe I'm not the only one in comicdom who feels this way. Now, I don't want to blanket my terms or paint broad strokes with my brush, but comic-book fans have a somewhat-stereotypical reputation in regards to their behavior. Not to reopen any worm-filled cans like Comic-Con harassment or whatever, but needless to say, we can be a difficult bunch at times. Just peruse through the topics on this forum alone, and I can guarantee you that you'll find a bad apple or two. I know this is universal across any form of fandom, but for a hobby that (mostly) involves reading about good people doing good things, we can be very unpleasant individuals.

Now again, no broad strokes here. Things get heated with any fandom, and it's only natural when people feel so passionately about the subject matter. But a lot of amateur psychoanalysts love to point to superhero comics as being some 'male power fantasy', and perhaps there is a sliver of truth to it, but I can't say it's ever been the case for me. No high horse here, but I genuinely have never been (even subconsciously) chasing after the superpowers or the domination or the adoration when I read the books...aside from the entertainment value, it's always been about the good traits to me. Even in more flawed and conflicted characters like Iron Man or Cyclops - I can still see admirable qualities, and these types of fallible heroes remind me that while all men and women stumble, it's the best of us that get right back up.

At this point in the rant I'm sort of petering out, and truth be told I'm not entirely sure what my original intentions even were, but if I leave you with anything I guess it's this: Am I the only one who feels this way? Yes superhero comics are fun, but does anyone else feel anything deeper when they read these stories? Does anyone else feel that we should not only be better fans but better people too? Is there a middle road between delusional naivete and cold, hard reality?

I don't know.

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All-New Moon Knight #1

Rated T+ for strong language and violence

In light of Moon Knight Month, I decided to stimulate those creative juices and pen a MK fanfiction tale. The following is essentially the story I'd write were I ever put in charge of the title (or a professional comic-book writer, hah). At present, I've finished up this first 'issue' with plans for about ten, but we'll see how the feedback goes before I start the next one.

Without further ado, introducing All-New Moon Knight, and the first part of a four-part 'Phases' story-arc:

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“Would you like a cup? It’s not that drip-brew crap – this is the good stuff. Genuine espresso machine. Even’s got a bunch of Italian buttons on it…‘lavazza’…‘pronto’…I don’t even know what this one does, the names all end in vowels. Machine was donated during one of those events the brass holds every now and again. ‘Spector Corp’, was it?”

Detective Flint turned away from the chrome coffeemaker, and directed his attention back to the recipient of his offer for caffeine. The man-in-white was seated by Flint’s desk, imperceptibly still. He didn’t answer. At this late hour, the squad room was as soundless as the vacuum of space. Everyone else on night shift was out on rotation, and Detective Flint and his associate were the only living souls in Major Crimes.

Flint shrugged. The detective slumped back into his swivel chair and breathed a weary sigh. On his desk was a single case file marked ‘F.B.’, and just under those letters, his lieutenant had scribbled ‘Pass to Flint’. F.B. stood for ‘freak beat’; the Detective’s very own specialty. Other cops got the larceny cases, or the homicides committed by grown men who actively referred to themselves as ‘supervillains’.

But Flint…Flint had made a career out of cases like the one in that file. The ones that most of New York’s Finest would blink at. The freak beat.

“Right to business we go then. Sure, sure, business before pleasure. I can appreciate that. Y’know, your digs remind me of someone I work with…” Flint leaned forward in his chair, prompting a little squeak that was a cry for more WD-40, “You ever hear of the term ‘bad religion’? Well this one’s kinda like that. Not Jonestown, Scientology-bad - a little less so than that. But still…pretty messed up.”

Flint propped the case file open, and spread its contents on his desk like a poker player folding a hand. The evidence came pouring out. Forensic photos of the victims at various crime scenes across N.Y. – all of the corpses displaying extreme facial mutilation. Autopsy reports from the coroner; listing the details of the unlucky vics: names, DOBs, addresses. The separate pieces to a macabre jigsaw puzzle that would reveal the killer’s identity.

The man-in-white inched closer to Flint’s desk; moving for the first time since he’d sat down in the squad room. He perused the items before him in wordless inquiry. If the graphic images of mangled faces disturbed the man, there was nothing in his stoic façade that betrayed it. Detective Flint’s lower lip pouted in an expression of approval. The average Tom, Dick, or Harry would’ve lost their lunch by this point. For a civvie…

After a minute or two, the man retracted back to his original seated position, apparently finished with the file’s lurid contents. Flint had unwrapped a Weetabix; his long years of police work having made his appetite quite immune to rigor mortis. The detective shuffled the papers and photos back into their place. It seemed like the respectful thing to do. Eating in front of the dead was just like eating the dead – poor taste.

“Done, then?” Flint said between mouthfuls of processed wholegrain wheat, “If you want to break out the shorthand, now would be the time. Sex of the perp is male. Race’s unknown, though height’s supposed to be short – 5’7”, 5’8” maybe. M.O.’s all about the faces – real Jack-the-Ripper-Red-Dragon-type stuff. ‘Skinning of portions of facial epidermises’ was how the coroner’s report put it, I think. Motive, as aforementioned, appears to be religious.

“Most of this we got from this son-of-a-bitch’s last victim – the one that got away. The only one still breathing. ’Course now he’s got a plastic mask keeping the facial tissue to the bone…docs are talking about giving the poor prick pig-skin grafts. But I digress. Point being, he actually lived to tell the tale. Which brings us one step closer to IDing this perp.

“As for how Hannigan got away, and why MCU’s labeling this ‘religious crime’ - I’ll get to that in a bit,” Flint gobbled down the last of his late-night snack. The man-in-white remained as still as ever; listening attentively to the detective’s words with a Catholic schoolboy’s focus. Flint resumed, “But first: I’ve got to start at the beginning. In medias res just won’t do.

“Time for a flashback. Our story begins in Hell’s Kitchen – sometimes known as Clinton if you’re selling realty to yuppies – on a stormy night just two days ago. There’s the No. 4 victim Hannigan…the killer himself…and a vigilante who wears a white paper bag over his head…”

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It was a stormy night in Hell’s Kitchen; or Clinton, or Midtown, or whatever other name they’d given to this watering hole of Manhattan crime. Build a couple of clubs, a gym; a cafe with some whimsical Irish name like ‘Kerry Castle’…it didn’t change the fact that these streets were all under Fisk’s grip. ‘A neighborhood by any other name’…it didn’t change the fact that this was a proverbial hell-on-earth. They even had their very own devil.

Marc Spector rarely ventured into the Devil’s turf. Every clown with a mask and Tae-Bo training had his own territory, one of the unspoken rules in this line-of-work. The Big Apple had plenty of slices to share. But now and again, one of Spector’s marks would cross borders. In an effort to elude vengeance, the mark would seek asylum in foreign lands. The mark would tell himself, “No way that fantasma’s gonna follow me all the way out here…”

And the mark would be wrong. Because no matter where you are on this planet – the moon always finds you eventually.

Tonight, the mark was known by Finn Hannigan. As the Mooncopter descended towards the Kitchen, the knight-with-many-names rappelled out of the craft, and landed on the rooftops. Most days, people called him Spector; or occasionally Grant, or Lockley. But come night, the city only had one name for him. He was the soldier of vengeance, the avatar of the Egyptian god of the moon, the guy who’d been in the West Coast Avengers that one time…

Moon Knight stepped up onto the edge of the roof. The downpour of precipitation made cracking sounds as it rebounded off his white investments. Before him, the nine circles of Hell stretched out to the horizon. Somewhere in this labyrinth of whiskey bars was the mark. Spector’s foremost C.I. – a criminal Profiler of sorts – had told him Hannigan could be found frequenting the Moench’s drinking establishment at this late hour.

A stakeout was in order, then. The war-on-crime reminded Marc of his private sector days: 10% life-and-death combat, with about 90% tedious waiting. Moon Knight leaped from the rooftop, a predator rearing to catch his prey, and bounced off a water tank with practiced ease. Behind him, the lightweight fabric of his silver cloak trailed after his fluid motions like a gymnast’s ribbon. There was vengeance to be served on this night.

Like every man in Hell, Finn Hannigan had sins to pay for. ‘Bombing’ was a dirty term in the modern American lexicon; right above ‘schoolyard-shooting’ and ‘unemployment’. A month prior, factions of the anti-nationalist group Ultimatum had been primed to do just that. A Symkarian embassy was ground zero. The explosives had been smuggled in. All that was left was to hit the radio detonator.

The only thing that’d averted this Fawkes-esque plot was Moon Knight himself. A handful of crescent darts, one or two cracked heads, and the day was saved. Twenty-eight Balts would see their families again and a diplomatic crisis was deterred. All in a day’s work for the hero the Bugle had dubbed the ‘Lunar Legionnaire’.

But the Legionnaire knew that he had only stemmed the symptoms. The tumor was still festering, the real source of the terror still somewhere in Manhattan. And so the avatar of vengeance asked himself a question: “Who had supplied the fifty pounds of Semtex?” And then he’d asked, “Who provided the variable frequency receiver? Ultimatum had squeezed the trigger…but who gave them the piece and rounds?”

The answer to all those questions, as Moon Knight discovered, was a single man. Hannigan was what the underworld referred to as a ‘fundraiser’. The local street-level equivalent of an arms-dealer. For a fee, Finn Hannigan could provide his skel clientele with everything from two-toned SigArms to salvaged Punisher hardware. He was the source of the sickness.

And he was the reason why Moon Knight found himself on the Devil’s turf tonight – in what the fuzz called a ‘target-rich environment’ – heading towards the tumor. How many bodies could be put on Hannigan’s head-all in the name of murder as commerce? Spector didn’t know. But since he learned of the mark’s name, Moon Knight had vowed there wouldn’t be any more. A month’s worth of hunting would end tonight at Moench’s, here in Hell itself.

The corner bar was brimming with patrons by the time Moon Knight arrived; mostly white-collar suit-and-tie professionals rushing to find shelter from the rain. It was a full-house night. Music emanated from the inside; the Buzzcocks with a little Pogues. From the roof of an office across the street, Moon Knight observed Moench’s behind the foggy lenses of his binoculars.

Sixty minutes passed as people entered the bar sober and dry, then left belting out the lyrics to Carrickfergus. Moon Knight studied the ebb-and-flow like an unwavering gargoyle. No sign of the fundraiser yet. But Marc knew fortune favored the forbearing. His time at Langley had taught him that; the disciplined hunter was often the one with the highest success rate.

And Moon Knight’s training paid off in time – when he glassed a tall man with a ponytail exit the premises. The intelligence provided by the Profile had come with snapshots. It was definitely the mark. Moon Knight watched as Finn Hannigan stepped out of Moench’s into the pouring rain, and the source of the virus was given form. The binoculars in Spector’s hands were swiftly replaced with a truncheon. The wait was over. Time for vengeance.

In the storm, Spector’s habit made him into a veritable Casper, his white ensemble blending seamlessly with the rainfall. Moon Knight trailed after Hannigan from up-high; stealthily keeping pace with him as the man turned into an alleyway. Already the soldier within Marc was counting down the ways to hurt Hannigan. There was a time for restraint, for leaving the unconscious offender hanging from a streetlamp with a cute note attached.

I have 12 oz. of crack up my ass-crack – arrest me please,” or something similarly glib.

…But then there’s also a time for leaving the offender in a full-body cast, and ensuring that the only words he thinks of for the next six months are ‘traction’, ‘physiotherapy’, and ‘inguinal hernia’. A time like tonight. A few broken bones and the whole ‘criminals are a cowardly lot’ shtick wasn’t going to work here. Finn Hannigan and his wares had to be taken off the streets entirely. The bastard needed to have the fear of God instilled in him.

Moon Knight had carbon-plated truncheons…and spiked knuckle-dusters…and all manner of objects that would never pass Customs. Hannigan’s fate was sealed the moment he left Moench’s. At this point, the best he could hope for was a phone to call the ambo he’d inevitably need. Up on the roofs overlooking the alley, Moon Knight closed in on his mark. It was time to fulfill his duty as an apostle of his god. It was time to be the avatar of vengeance.

Finn Hannigan! The God Khonshu cries for your blood!

Moon Knight blinked. That was his cue, and his line – but the words never had the chance to leave his lips. Who the hell just said…?

Spector’s eyes immediately scanned his surroundings; finding the source of the unexpected voice. A second man had appeared behind Hannigan in the alleyway. The newcomer was dressed in a grey goose-bubble, with the jacket’s hood disguising his appearance. Marc quickly backed from the roof’s edge. His zeal to break Hannigan vanished momentarily, having been replaced by confusion at the new man below. Who was this here?

“The god whooooo?” Hannigan said by way of reply, slurring his words in obvious inebriation. The arms-dealer began stumbling towards Mr. Goose-Bubble with an unsteady gait. Above them, Moon Knight viewed the two men from the shadows.

This new man was an unknown variable, and unless Spector heard him wrong, he was also another disciple of the God of Vengeance, or at least...he was claiming to be. Heliopolitan deism wasn’t exactly a popular belief-system. Could this joker be one of those Knight of the Moon fanatics, Marc pondered? After a quick weighing-of-the-options, Spector called an audible, and decided to watch the situation play itself out.

As the lumbering Hannigan closed the gap, the man in the goose-bubble reached into his pockets. In the rain, Spector thought he saw a firearm; before realizing the man had produced a Taser. 50,000 volts, 1.8 milliamps, and two piezoelectric probes later – Hannigan was supine on the alley floor, mouth agape and limbs shuddering. The man had come prepared. Even drunk, Hannigan was still built like an ox; the Taser was a smart call.

And if Goose-Bubble was trying to exercise his faith, Moon Knight had to admit the man was certainly on the right track. Khonshu’s gospel was generally less ‘Have you heard about the good news?’ and more ‘Let me cripple you for life.’ Evidently, this newcomer had just done Marc’s job for him. Though witnessing Finn Hannigan getting electroshocked brought up more questions than it did answers for Moon Knight.

Was this second man also aware of Hannigan’s sins? What was this man’s motive here? Moon Knight resumed observing the confrontation unfolding beneath him: watching as Goose-Bubble paced towards the prone Hannigan, watching as the man reached into his pockets for a second time, and waiting for some clue that would solve the mystery.

But all thoughts of 21 Questions vanished when he saw the knife appear in the man’s hand.

Aggravated A&B was one thing, cold-blooded homicide another. The question of the newcomer’s motive seemingly-answered; Moon Knight sprang into action through pure instinct and muscle-memory. The third-degree could come later – right now all Moon Knight was concerned with was preventing a one-eighty-seven. Spector wanted Finn Hannigan in the emergency ward, not on the cold slab of a morgue.

Moon Knight’s cloak blossomed into a crescent-shaped parachute as he dove for the alleyway below. Puddles erupted once his boots graced earth; the landing jolting the newcomer in surprise. The look on the man’s face as Moon Knight approached him was a familiar one. The Pope wore a mozetta and zucchetto, the rabbis had their kippahs. The Fist of Khonshu, on the other hand, was dressed like the Grim Reaper in photo-negative.

And that brief second of shock – that pause that a civilian who’s only seen super-people on Nightline makes upon meeting one in real-life – was Moon Knight’s opening. Marc didn’t hesitate. There’d be time for the Gitmo routine when Taser-Man woke up. Truncheon. Temple. Moon Knight’s arm arched back, readying itself to connect the two, when —

“Hkkk—Nggeeahhh—my! Head…!”

The truncheon slipped from Moon Knight’s grasp as the Silver Avenger keeled over. Pain! A sharp, searing pain went off in Marc’s head like a 40 Mike-Mike. Pain! Moon Knight felt his legs give way – what the hell was happening to him? Seizure? Stroke? Morpheus?! The pain overwhelmed all coherent thought, and Spector could only cradle his skull in agony.

Amidst the pain, Spector screamed in his mind. Screamed for his limbs to move, for his arms to respond. It took Moon Knight an excruciating five seconds just to glance up at the newcomer, who now stood above him. In the rain, and with the jacket’s hood, Marc couldn’t make the man’s features. But Marc knew – the shock had passed. All that remained was the man, a knife, and the helpless vigilante who’d just tried to assault him.

One stab wound probably wouldn’t do it. Moon Knight’s vestments came with magnesium composite-armor and SAPI trauma plates. Pectoral crosses tended to do squat vs. small-arms fire. But enough lacerations to the face or neck… After Bushman, and Knowles, and any number of Ravencroft alumni – tonight, a virtual unknown could succeed where every other thug or villain had failed.

Marc began to wonder if there was a cap on Khonshu’s resurrection policy.

Then, a first for Hell’s Kitchen happened. Every banger’s wet-dream: to have a cape at gunpoint (or knifepoint, as the case went), and at your mercy. But the man in the grey goose-bubble stepped away. Moon Knight would’ve felt relief if not for the inconvenient aneurysm. Until Marc saw where the newcomer was headed.

Moon Knight could only stare helplessly as the man returned to the prone and semi-conscious form of Finn Hannigan. The knife began a slow descent to Hannigan’s face. All Spector had done was delay the newcomer by a minute or two. Marc roared for his muscles to act, but the pain wouldn’t allow it. Marine, PMC, moon-themed vigilante – Spector was well-acquainted with pain, but this was something else entirely.

The carving began. Alcohol was a pale substitute for anticholinergics as it turned out. Paralyzed though he was, Hannigan could still feel the blade shaving chunks of his face off like orange peel. His screams were mercifully drowned out by the storm. Moon Knight watched in horror as blood splatters decorated the alley. Frustration bubbled beneath his pain…Hannigan was just inches away, but Marc's body simply refused to budge.

The entire messy process of facial mutilation wouldn’t take long. And an inevitable coup-de-grâce would follow. You didn’t do something like that to another human being and expect him to live. Personal experience informed Moon Knight on that. If there was anything to be done – Moon Knight knew it had to happen soon.

With a silent prayer to Khonshu to grant him strength, Moon Knight’s left fingers sluggishly crawled their way to his right arm. For use in times-of-emergency, Spector’s gauntlets housed tear-gas darts; ideal for distracting a foe or making a quick getaway. And the present situation certainly qualified as a CODE 3. After a couple grunts and grimaces, Moon Knight managed to unclip a single weaponized crescent.

“Here goes,” Moon Knight muttered through gritted teeth, though with the pain, it came out more as ‘Hrrgghhh’. One press primed the chemical agent, a second one pulled the electronic safety pin. Hannigan was still shrieking. Now or never. Moon Knight flicked the crescent dart down the alley; turning away as the projectile exploded with a bright BANG.

80 grams of CS cyanocarbon shot out the dart in a violent cloud of white vapor. The tear-gas filled the entire alley within moments. Moon Knight heard a voice yell in confusion – either Hannigan or the second man – and saw a figure scrambling behind the smoke. Marc’s mask had filter-cartridges, but the dart’s contents wreaked havoc for its other recipients.

When the gas finally lifted, the man in the grey goose-bubble was nowhere to be found. On that stormy night in Clinton, in that grimy alley just across from Moench’s - the only souls left were a disfigured arms-dealer and a vigilante in filthy white tights. Moon Knight clambered awkwardly to his feet; the mystery pain apparently having left with the newcomer. He was still breathing, and he’d prevented the mark from being worm-food.

All things considered, Marc figured the night could’ve gone a lot worse.

Then Moon Knight remembered that Finn Hannigan was still bleeding out not more than two steps away. Hannigan had stopped screaming, but the fundraiser was falling into severe shock. Liquor, high-voltages, maiming, and riot-control agents could do that to a person. Moon Knight rushed over to the man’s side. The pool of blood around Hannigan stained Spector’s cloak, as the vigilante knelt down beside the fundraiser to inspect the damage.

“Jesus Christ…” Moon Knight whispered, when he saw what was left of Hannigan’s face.

No Caption Provided

“This was all that was left of Finn Hannigan’s kisser when Wedding-Gown-Man dropped him off at County Med,” Detective Flint said drily, as he extracted the horrific picture from the F.B. file, “Tell you, if there’s a more conspicuous mugshot of a skel out there, I ain’t seen it. March’s a little early for Thanksgiving, huh? Look at that. Our perp carved a clean chunk off Hannigan’s left temple-to-chin. Like a, a, well you look at it and tell me…

“And this was the lucky one. But we got lucky too – see, even though Hannigan was on-the-bottle, punk was still cognizant ’nuff to relate what he remembered. About ‘Khonshu’ – that’s the Egyptian god of falcons or some such, according to Wikipedia – which got me thinking this is one of those cult crimes. Religion. So Hannigan was the only wit. Well, him and my vigilante friend, but good luck preserving chain-of-custody with these cape types.

“Anyway. Nobody gives a rat’s ass about this case; Lew’s not even leaning on me to put it in black. The vics weren’t exactly Webelos, and that’s the only thread between them. No. 4: arms-dealer. No. 3: 66 Bridges, No. 2: child-pornographer, No. 1 a henchman for one of the Hobgoblins. For all we know, this perp could be a Punisher-lite, maybe that’s why he did this to Mr. Hannigan here. Carving into his face a…well, you look and tell me, it’s a…”

“A crescent,” the man-in-white answered. Flint gagged on his cereal upon realizing that the man actually had a voice. “The killer skinned a portion of Mr. Hannigan’s face off, leaving behind a patch of exposed tissue in the shape of a crescent,” the man explained, “Tell me, Detective: Have you noticed the pattern between these mutilations?”

Detective Flint felt his left eyebrow rise a slight millimeter at the word ‘pattern’. You didn’t trade your silver shield in for a gold one through felony arrests alone. Police go plainclothes with intuition, and Flint could sense his tingling. The man-in-white had noticed something. Flint cracked the case file open, and began sorting through the macabre puzzle, his brain buzzing with legit Italian caffeine, his fingers reaching for the autopsy headshots of each vic.

Finn Hannigan had a – what did the man say? – A crescent carved into his face. Flint found the picture of No. 2, the snuff-filmmaker, and immediately saw the connection to Hannigan. Two dots with a line between them. No. 2 was a mirror-image of No. 4; a crescent-shaped patch of skin was all that remained on the flayed face. Flint pulled out No. 1…Macendale’s accomplice had his whole face peeled off. And No. 3 had half his mug missing. Patterns!

Phases,” Flint said in a hushed whisper when the Eureka moment finally struck him, “Like ‘faces’! ‘Phases’ of the moon. Numero uno was a full moon – his whole face was skinned. No. 2 was waning; three-quarters of his face missing, leaving behind a crescent patch of skin. No. 3 was a half-moon, and Hannigan…Hannigan was supposed to be a crescent moon.”

“And Khonshu is the Ancient Egyptian god of the Moon,” the man-in-white concluded, “As well as the god of vengeance – hence the choice selection.”

God. Bit of cosmic coincidence that it was Moony who found him then, huh?” Flint leaned back in his chair, prompting another succession of squeaks. His mind was still reeling and coming to terms with the epiphany. Somewhere in New York – a town with no present deficit of madness – was a serial-killer who disfigured the criminal element in the name of a god mentioned solely on the History Channel.

The man-in-white simply smiled at the detective’s observation like it was an inside joke; making the first facial-expression outside of ‘impassive’ since their exchange began. Then the man rose from his seat, shook Flint’s hand, thanked the detective for his time, and departed the building posthaste. Detective Flint only realized that the headshots and all pertinent files were missing when he heard the click-clack of the MCU’s doors closing.

No Caption Provided

Outside the precinct, Khonshu stepped into the open air. A storm was already brewing, and the falling drizzle stained the white garb of his mortal guise like runny watercolors. The god of vengeance and the moon let out a jaded sigh. His misgivings were confirmed. The ritual sacrifices, what his avatar had related about a sudden onset of pain, the sensations that he himself felt - tonight’s visit to Spector’s contact had simply cemented the god’s fears.

And anything that could make a god afraid was something to fear indeed.

Khonshu walked down the streets of New York under the glow of the night’s crescent moon. A little divine magic to the detective told him everything he needed to know. Within this modern-day Babylon; a second god of vengeance and his avatar were rising. The monopoly that Khonshu held in the market of cold-dishes was slipping. A new competitor was in town, and the man-in-white did not appreciate the fact one bit.

“Only room for one moon in the night sky,” Khonshu murmured, as the rain began to pour, “Only room for one moon."

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