Sunday, October 21, 2012

Champion to Champion

In their very first meeting, Iron Man and Hercules got into a fight that lasted all of 10 seconds:

Until Thor arrived to break it up, the killjoy.

But was there a time when these two went at it for real?

It all depends on how seriously you take the story.

It's not that I'm saying this next throw-down between these two heroes wasn't on the books--it is. It's just that it had the look and feel of a fill-in issue--a story drawn at another time, and just sitting on the shelves until it could fill in for an issue that couldn't meet its deadline. If this was such a story, it only needed a little sleight of hand to tie it into continuity with the current Avengers storyline. For instance, George Perez, who had been doing the regular art on the book, went ahead and drew the cover (while the inside art was of course done by another art team); and regular Avengers writer Jim Shooter scripted the story and made a reference or two to the regular storyline in order to mesh this story with it. That took some doing. Shooter and Perez had built up interesting elements and a dizzying pace dealing with Ultron, Wonder Man, and Hank Pym--and here we now suddenly take a sharp detour where Iron Man is battling the Champions. Huh?

That said, Shooter--as well as veteran Iron Man artist George Tuska--do such a good job with the "filler" that it's a fun ride nevertheless. Typhon, a nemesis of Hercules who we've seen before, has struck a bargain with Pluto, the Greek lord of the underworld who has him enslaved: deliver Hercules to him, and he grants Typhon his freedom. To that end, Typhon breaks into Avengers Mansion, where Iron Man and the Beast are on duty; he takes the Beast hostage, and demands that Iron Man summon Hercules from the coast (where he's currently a member of the Champions) so that he can ambush him. Iron Man complies; but in the interim, Typhon remembers the thrashing he's always been on the receiving end of with Hercules, and decides to force Iron Man into engaging Hercules in battle in order to weaken him before he steps in.

Unknown to everyone, two of Hercules' teammates, the Black Widow and Iceman, decide to accompany the Olympian--which means that Iron Man must first engage all of them before isolating Hercules. And that's when the fun begins. Shooter is one of several scripters who writes Iron Man as a bit condescending when battling those he doesn't see as being equals. I think that attitude partly comes from Iron Man being one of the first super-heroes, thus seeing himself as somewhat more seasoned in that way of life than those he considers a little more green at it. Along with the fact that he was a founding member of the Avengers, as well as the pride he takes in his armor having weathered so many battles, and it stands to reason his ego would probably let him form the impression that he has few peers.

Of course, technically speaking, the Black Widow--and, to an extent, Iceman--have careers dating back almost to his own. Yet in these scenes, he clearly considers them no threat to his might, either singularly or together:

Nothing like humiliating your allies by making fun of their laughable tactics at the same time you're wiping the floor with them without breaking a sweat.

That leaves Hercules, who he laid out first thing, but who's been around far, far longer than Iron Man and isn't about to let this mortal walk away the victor in this fight:

Iron Man, as you can see, immediately sizes up his situation and just who he's up against. And look at how impressively he sets the pace for this battle and takes charge of the fight:

But as any god will make clear to a foe, he first takes the measure of his enemy before unloading on him in earnest. And Hercules decides it's time for even a battle-hardened veteran like Iron Man to be on the receiving end of this fight:

The two follow-up panels demonstrate why Shooter's Iron Man is one of my favorite interpretations. Not only does he show just why his rep is so highly regarded by battling on so powerfully--but he's mentally going over planning and strategy while he's doing it. He's an Avenger through and through:

Yet though these following panels make it appear as if Iron Man could actually win this battle by being the savvy opponent he is, Hercules--an immortal on a par with Thor--has battled far more resilient foes, and lived to brag about tell the tale. And Iron Man has his limits:

To make a long story short, everything works out, thanks to the Champions finally discovering Typhon's ruse and teaming up on him. And when Typhon realizes that he still has Hercules to battle, he decides to bolt. Even the Beast got in a few licks--better late than never.

So as initially odd as it was to pause in the action going on in the main story, the fine work on this issue didn't really give the reader a chance to catch their breath. It was an excellent battle issue--and, most likely, not a bad plug for the Champions' book.

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