Thursday, May 5, 2016

A House of Ideas Divided

Doug: The Civil War continues! What a week this has been. Many, many thanks to all for the stimulating conversation, and especially to our writers for the great talent they've brought to us. So much fun. And I will hurriedly step to the side, as our pal Colin Bray has a nifty take on the whole hero vs. hero deal. Onward, then!

Colin Bray: Superheroes spend so much time fighting each other that it's a wonder they don't lose their license. The main driver is of course fan demand, and funny book people have spent an inordinate amount of effort manufacturing scenarios to justify hero-on-hero action.

Stan and the gang brought these conflicts to the fore during the Marvel Age of Comics as part of the ‘realistic’ package. Yep, these heroes were flawed alright - easily manipulated and short of fuse – and didn’t readers love it.

So here, in no particular order, are a sample of Marvel storytelling tropes used throughout the Silver and Bronze Ages to bring our heroes into conflict.


1. Hypnosis

Unique in being found on the ads pages too - did anyone here ever order a hypo-coin? In which he Ringmaster repeatedly catches our heroes out with his pinwheel hat and sinister moustache. Bonus points for the Circus of Crime.

Fun Issue: Amazing Spider-Man #16. A hypnotised Spider-Man fights Daredevil - who, of course, is unaffected by that pesky pinwheel.

2. Time Travel

Time travel works both forwards and backwards in comics. Regardless, it often seems to end up with our hair-trigger heroes coming to blows. Hit first, talk later is the motto.

Fun Issue: Avengers Annual #2. Kang. Immortus. Old Avengers fighting New Avengers. My brain hurts already.

3. Fighting each other 'for the greater good'

One hero believes another is a walking bomb. Or embodies an ancient curse. Or both. Heroes-also-being-manipulated-as-pawns-in-a-bigger-conflict optional.

Fun issues: Avengers/Defenders War (Avengers #115-#118 and Defenders #8-#11). Nuff said.

. Amnesia

Heroes sometimes forget who they and their friends are. Oh dear.

Fun issue: Fantastic Four #36 and Medusa’s first appearance. Bonus points (or not?!?) for retcon-driven amnesia. A bit of a cheat, this one. Are there any better examples? 

5. Super-Skrull/Super-Adaptoid/Taskmaster

My personal favorite - villains possessing the powers of multiple heroes, all in one quadruple-or-more-threat package. No need for forcing the storyline here - it’s villains against heroes and everyone knows where they stand. Pass the popcorn.

Fun issue:  Avengers #196 aka “The Terrible Toll of the Taskmaster” 

6. The Bait and Switch

In which the cover proclaims a hero-on-hero battle, only for the reader to find that one of the ‘heroes’ is, I don’t know, possessed/a victim of a mind swap/an actor/a robot (delete as applicable) and therefore the story isn’t what it seems.

Fun issue: Marvel Two-In-One #7. A classic Bronze cover hiding the fact that blue-eyed Ben doesn’t actually fight Valkyrie…

7. Any Fight Involving the Hulk

Every Marvel hero has fought the Hulk at some point. It’s a rite of passage, a way to higher sales, a way to measure up against ‘the strongest there is.’

Fun issue: So many… let’s go with Amazing Spider-Man #119. In which the required collateral damage includes a major Canadian dam.

These are just some suggestions, let's open it out.What plotlines and issues have I missed? What about DC and other publishers? Did these repeated plot ideas get old for you?


Anonymous said...

Nice topic, Colin.

I think you missed the most obvious cause of inter-hero conflict, namely the company crossover, where the Sales department pretty much dictates that Supes fights Spidey, Hulk v Batman etc.

Re: villains who mimic powers, you left out…the Mimic.

“Vanessa was a Fembot?” I think stories where it turns out to be a robot imitator are practically a sub-genre. Hulkbot vs Iron Man in Iron Man #9, Xmen #100; the fake Sentinels in Champs #17; LMD’s in Nick Fury; pretty much every time the FF nailed Doom it turned out to be a Doombot, the list goes on.

Under the Hulk topic, I think the Hulk vs Thing clashes are a definite subset. It has happened many times, and probably many more since the Bronze Age, but my favourites are that second meeting in FF #25 and Starlin’s Marvel Feature 12.

Under Super heroes being manipulated as pawns in a bigger conflict, I guess the Secret Wars is the biggest if not the best. ( Do I have to put a dollar in the cuss-word jar now?)

Are you including magical / supernatural thrall / mind control as part of hypnosis or point 6? Puppet Master, Moondragon, Doc Strange, Killgrave, Charley, Jean, Sauron, I guess Dracula, Morbius? Can’t remember if he could do that, if the films are to be believed, Wanda. And who could forget Xemnu the Titan? Lots of possession stories.

Yet another genre is surely ‘while under the evil influence of…. [insert name of poison, magical artefact, radioactive substance, alien ray, really bad mood here]’.


Edo Bosnar said...

Hmmm, I think the truly most obvious one is missing: the 'misunderstanding,' wherein one hero confuses the other for a bad-guy, or one of them steps into the middle of a situation and then acts rashly without knowing all of the facts. This one applies to a goodly portion of Spidey's duke-outs with other heroes (esp. when the other guy has apparently read too many of JJJ's editorials). A few examples off the top of my head include Marvel Team-up #65 - Spidey and Captain Britain, Spider-man #187 (mentioned by me in another post just the other day), in which Spidey and Cap mix it up, the first issue of Iron Fist, when he fights Iron Man, and Spider Woman #20, in which she tussles with Spidey - as noted, Spider-man really dominates this category.

Anonymous said...

Richard's last point reminded me of the time when the Thing was briefly able to turn back into Ben Grimm at will but it affected his mind and he turned against the FF - in FF #111 or thereabouts.

Redartz said...

Great topic, Colin! And lots of examples to mine...

Edo- you nailed a biggie with the "misunderstanding". Especially in regards to Spider-man; there was a whole string of such tales in the Silver Age. Medusa, Quicksilver and Black Widow, all within a fairly short span. Plus the Prowler ( the character, not our friend) and Iceman, not long after. Wonder if he could have sued JJJ for defamation.

DC characters seem to have been vulnersable to the same situations. Green Lantern and Green Arrow were often at odds. Superman would fall prey to red K. Oh, and then there's Guy Gardner ( oh, hey, there's another trope: one or more of the characters is a jerk)...

William said...

Well Edo, I guess it's true what they say, great minds think alike. I had just written this entire post out and then saw your entry. (Palm slap to my forehead). Here is the post I had written before I ever came to the comments section. Remarkably similar. LOL

What about the "Misunderstanding"? Wherein on superhero battles another because they mistook them for an enemy, or some other kind of threat.

A great example of this was one of the best hero vs. hero issues of the silver-age, Fantastic Four #73 where Reed, Ben, and Johnny, battle Spider-Man, Daredevil, and Thor. Why? Because the FF mistakenly think that DD is another DD, DOCTOR DOOM! (Don't ask). So Spidey and Thor decided to help old horned out with the FF, and well you can pretty much guess happens next, SUPERHERO FIGHT!

There are at least a dozen more examples of the "mistaken identity / misunderstanding" superhero vs. superhero scenario that I could come up with, but I won't for the sake of brevity. However, they all usually end with everyone realizing what's really going on, and then all are friends again.

Edo Bosnar said...

William, ha! Excellent!
I'd only ever seen the cover to that issue of FF you mentioned, but never read the story. That has to be one of the most hilariously ridiculous excuses for a super-hero throwdown I've ever seen.

Also just thought of a sub-set or corollary to Colin's no. 6, the Bait and Switch: those sneaky, shape-shifting Skrulls! An example that readily comes to mind is FF #250, in which they fight against Skrulls disguised as X-men.

William said...

Edo, FF #250 (and the preceding issue #249) is one of my favorite FF stories. Excellent choice. A really fun read at the height of Byrne's classic run.

I love me some superhero vs. superhero battles. I don't know if counts but Daredevil #7 (where he fights the Sub-Mariner) is still one of my all-time faves. However Namor was kind of considered a semi-villain back in those days (like the Hulk), so like I said, not sure if it fits this category.

I also just reread my earlier post and it is replete with typos. No matter how many times I go through my posts I always seem to miss at least one or two mistakes. sigh.

ColinBray said...

Thanks for the comments folks. Yes, the 'misunderstanding.' Especially common for new heroes, especially with the (alleged) editorial dictate to get Spider-Man into one of the first six issues of any new Bronze Age series.

Thanks for the suggestions, it was oddly difficult to find a source beyond my own reading. Someone ought to start a blog or website on the topic!

Martinex1 said...

Probably a subset of what's been already stated but what about the "game"? I always go the Grandmaster for putting the Avengers against the Invaders or others in a cosmic game of chance. I think the Defenders had a challenge like that as well. And didn't Death pit the Avengers against the West Coasters(I may have that wrong). And wasn't the original Contest of Champions some Galactic game? Seems to be a favorite past time for the immortals. Maybe they should follow MLB or NFL like the rest of us.

I think on a more earthly level Arcade may have done that as well. Again, my memory is not what it used to be.

Again a fun topic and a fun week.

Humanbelly said...

Hmmmmmm-- aren't there at least a couple of examples of another tiny subset: "Live" hero(es) fighting "Dead" hero(es)-? Avengers #132-ish, and once again during Bendis' run come immediately to mind. Whether re-animated corpses. . . or somehow pulled from Limbo/The Beyond. . . or ghosts, even, I suppose. I feel like variations of "Battle From Beyond the Grave" are something I've seen happen a few times. . .

GREAT topic-- I'm so sorry I've been too busy to engage! (Well, and my internet connection at work has become laughably cumbersome. Worse than the very earliest years of dial-up!)


Unknown said...

As you mentioned, the classic mis-understanding. The numerous times our heroes believe the other is bad for some reason until they stop and listen to each other and work things out (but are never really trusting of the other until later). Oddly, they never do this when it's a bonifide villain. LOL.

Fun topic!


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