Talking Movies [HulkaMAYnia]: The Death of the Incredible Hulk

Since his explosive debut in May 1962, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s gamma-irradiated Jade Giant has been one of their most recognisable and successful characters thanks, in large part, to the Incredible Hulk television show (1977 to 1982) catapulting the Hulk into a mainstream, pop culture icon. The Hulk has been no slouch in the comics either, being a founding member of the Avengers and undergoing numerous changes that have made him one of their most versatile and enduring characters, so what better way to celebrate all things Big Green than by dedicating every Sunday in May to the Green Goliath?

Released: 18 February 1990
Director: Bill Bixby
New World International
Bill Bixby, Lou Ferrigno, Elizabeth Gracen, Andreas Katsulas, and Philip Sterling

The Plot:
Desperate to rid himself of his destructive alter-ego, the Hulk (Ferrigno), Doctor David Banner (Bixby) poses as a janitor to gain access to a research facility he believes may be the key to finding a cure. However, when the kindly scientists assisting him are kidnapped, he must join forces with an unlikely ally and once again rely on his monstrous persona to rescue them.  

The Background:
The brainchild of Marvel Comics legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby after learning of a hysterical mother exhibiting superhuman strength, the Hulk initially struggled to find an audience with Marvel readers but shot to fame thanks to his popular television show, The Incredible Hulk (1977 to 1982). The show ran for eighty episodes and firmly established the Green Goliath in the cultural consciousness thanks to coining the unforgettable “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry” line and standout performances by star Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno, who would forever be associated with the character. About six years after the series finale, the first of three made-for-television movies was produced; apparently intended as a backdoor pilot for Thor (Eric Kramer), The Incredible Hulk Returns (Corea, 1988) was successful enough to warrant a follow-up that was also hoped to be a pilot for a potential Daredevil spin-off. The Trial of the Incredible Hulk (Bixby, 1989) was met with mixed reviews, but a third film followed regardless; initially believed to have featured the debut of Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk, The Death of the Incredible Hulk ultimately spelt the end for the long-running series following Bixby’s untimely death and plans for a fourth film that would’ve merged Banner’s intelligence with the Hulk’s strength were shelved.

The Review:
Growing up as a kid in the nineties, it was kind of tough for comic book fans such as myself; DC Comics characters received the most representation in live-action media at the time, so we mostly had to console ourselves with the awesome Marvel cartoons that aired during this period. If we wanted to see live-action interpretations of Marvel’s colourful heroes, we had no choice but to turn to the made-for-television efforts of the seventies and eighties but, honestly, I remember being awestruck seeing the likes of Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Steve Rogers/Captain America, and the Incredible Hulk brought to life in live action. Expectations were much lower then, and I was just a naïve youth who had no idea that these characters would come to dominate cinema screens so successfully; plus, The Incredible Hulk wasn’t airing on any channel I could watch at the time, so having access to these TV movies was seen as blessing. I say all this to provide a little historical context for the nostalgia I feel towards Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno’s efforts on The Incredible Hulk; while I actually have come to find many of the episodes I have watched to be quite laborious, I have a great appreciation for the TV movies giving me the briefest glimpse of the potential these characters had in live-action.

Banner finds himself with a surrogate family who enthusiastically try to help rid him of his curse.

The movie opens to find Banner now posing as “David Bellamy” and disguising his genius behind the persona of a well-meaning, but a mentally-challenged, janitor in order to secretly access to Doctor Ronald Pratt’s (Sterling) research on human healing. This masquerade allows Banner to win the hearts and sympathies of his co-workers, the security guards, and Dr. Pratt, who all see him as a harmless, if forgetful and easily confused, middle-aged man. Interestingly, Banner maintains this masquerade outside of work, and this, as much as the pocketful of cash, makes him an easy target for a group of street punks. Naturally, this triggers a transformation into the Hulk, which only accelerates his search for a cure; it turns out that Banner has been watching the routines of the guards, meaning he’s able to trick them with a tape recorder into thinking he’s left for the night, and has access to Dr. Pratt’s lab thanks to knowing his keycode. Luckily for Banner, the facility doesn’t have any security cameras, so he’s free to work throughout the night using Dr. Pratt’s resources, making corrections to his formulas in the hopes of finally discovering a cure to his monstrous affliction. Banner’s alterations to Dr. Pratt’s formulas do not go unnoticed, however; he’s stumped to find his notes changed for the better and incredulous when his wife, Amy (Barbara Tarbuck) suggests that his invisible partner is a ghost. Determined to find out who has been able to slip past the facility’s “high security”, Dr. Pratt hides out in his lab late one night and is shocked to find David is his mysterious helper; however, he’s even more shocked when David reveals his true identity, and is eager to hear about Banner’s research and what’s driven him to such desperate measures. Sympathetic to Banner’s plight, and believing that he can cure him while also potentially benefiting others by studying the Hulk’s incredible healing abilities, Dr. Pratt convinces Banner to work with him and, over the course of a heart-warming montage, Banner is taken in by the Pratt’s and becomes something of a surrogate son to them. After so many years alone and on the run, Banner is clearly grateful to have friends around him for the first time in forever; he forms a fast friendship with Dr. Pratt and Amy, who welcome him into their home and work with him to construct a machine capable of containing the Hulk and turning his strength against him. Dr. Pratt is infuriated when his superiors threaten to shut his experiments down unless he turns his research towards military applications, and they’re thus given one chance to rid Banner of the Hulk forever, and Banner is fully accepting that the procedure could cost him his life.

Jasmine, mistress of disguise, faces stern reprisals when she fails to steal Dr. Pratt’s research.

Unfortunately, Dr. Pratt’s Gamma research attracts the attention of Kasha (Katsulas),a powerful underworld figurehead who wishes to obtain the doctor’s secrets and sell them to the highest bidder. To fulfil this objective, he blackmails Eastern European spy Jasmine (Gracen) into taking on the assignment; having “served” Kasha since she was fourteen, Jasmine believes that she has completed her duty to her employers, who seem to be a kind of vaguely defined religious organisation. Somewhat akin to Natasha Romanoff/The Black Widow, Jasmine is a much-accomplished spy whose favoured tactic is to adopt a series of disguises and false identities to get close to her targets, usually luring them in with her sexuality, and take information from under the noses. Although she has no wish to further serve Kasha, she is easily overpowered by his sadistic henchman, Zed (Joh Novak), and compelled to obey when Kasha reveals that their sect’s mysterious new leader, Ashenko, threatens the life of Jasmine’s beloved sister, Bella (Anna Katarina). Jasmine throws on her best wig and fake accent to seduce one of the facility’s security guards and take his fingerprints, then disappears amidst the crowd with a simple costume change in order to pose as Betty (Chilton Crane), another of the lab’s security guards. Unfortunately for Banner, Jasmine chooses to carry out her mission at the exact moment that he’s strapped in to Dr. Pratt’s machinery, forcing Dr. Pratt to shut down the experiment and costing Banner his last, best chance at a cure. Naturally, this causes Banner to Hulk-out and his monstrous alter ego to be blamed for the resulting destruction and Dr. Pratt’s injury, despite the fact that he carried the comatose scientist to safety, and Jasmine is reprimanded for having failed in securing the data Ashenko required.

Banner and Jasmine’s romance is cut short when he’s compelled to save his loved ones.

Amy is as devastated by Dr. Pratt’s condition, which sees him lost to the slumber of a deep coma, as she is concerned for Banner’s safety; she covers for him when federal agents finger him as one of three terrorist infiltrators (with Jasmine and the Hulk being the other two) and creates a distraction so he can slip away. However, with Dr. Pratt incapacitated, Jasmine’s only lead is also Banner, which leads to him being pursued by Kasha’s minions; having seen her efforts to try and pull Dr. Pratt to safety in the lab, and unable to simply allow Kasha’s men to kill her in cold blood, Banner lashes out when she’s ordered to be killed and she’s left both distraught and shocked when her friend and minder, Pauley (Mina E. Mina), tells her with his dying breath that Ashenko is Bella and has taken control of their cause. Banner aids Jasmine after she she’s injured by a gunshot; despite her horror at Banner’s affliction, Jasmine helps Banner to get to Dr. Pratt in gratitude for his assistance and, thanks to his knowledge of Dr. Pratt’s work and life, Banner’s able to help wake him from his coma with an emotional plea. After Banner Hulks-out and Jasmine sees the tortured horror of the Green Goliath, the two enter into an unexpected romance in her secluded cabin; both are being hunted, both have spent years alone and being used or forced into being a weapon, and both are eager to escape from the world. However, their hopes of starting a new life together are dashed when Jasmine’s past comes back to haunt her; Bella has Dr. Pratt and Amy apprehended in the hopes of discovering his formula, and Banner is compelled to intervene, a decision that not only causes great dismay to Jasmine, who simply wants them to run away together and be free, but also ultimately spells the end of Banner’s long nightmare.

The Nitty-Gritty:
It’s a bit of a shame that The Death of the Incredible Hulk is lumbered with this uninterested spy-story subplot; maybe if Jasmine had been the Black Widow, that might have made it a bit more compelling (and also would have tied into the TV movies guest starring other Marvel heroes), but Jasmine’s not an especially interesting character and it’s difficult to really care to much about the cause she once served. The mid-movie reveal that Bella is the mastermind behind this malicious organisation doesn’t really carry too much weight for me as Banner was constantly running afoul of the criminal underworld and they took many different names and forms. It also doesn’t help that Bella, despite her steely demeanour and cold-hearted vindictiveness, isn’t as charismatic as Kasha or alluring as Zed, so she doesn’t make for a very interesting villain since all we really know about her is that she wants Dr. Pratt’s formula and will do anything to get it, including ordering her sister’s death.

The Hulk remains a highlight, and performs a number of heroic feats despite his reputation.

As ever, it’s the Hulk himself who proves to be the main highlight of the film for me; Lou Ferrigno absolutely dominates the screen with his stature, physicality, and animal fury and there’s some fun scenes of him tossing around street punks, crashing through walls, bending steel, and holding back two diggers to help sell the Hulk’s rage and strength. More than ever, the Hulk is treated as a devastating affliction that Banner is desperate to be rid of; obviously, by this point, Banner has lived with the Hulk or many years, and been on the run so long and lost so much that he’s literally at the end of his tether and just wants to be rid of the beast. In recounting his arrogance and impatience to harness humanity’s capacity for superhuman strength, Banner muses that the Hulk is a mutation, something inhuman, and perhaps a missing link in mankind’s evolutionary process, which firmly paints the beast as a disease that could one day cause serious harm to others. Thanks to Dr. Pratt’s experimentations, Banner is able to see the Hulk for the very first time and is utterly horrified by the beast’s rage and monstrous appearance, and yet there is still the capacity for good within the Green Goliath; not only is the creature generally depicted as either reacting ins elf-defence or coming to the aid of others (such as Jasmine), but it’s superhuman ability to heal wounds potentially spells a medical breakthrough for Dr. Pratt’s research. Indeed, both Banner and Dr. Pratt are not just in awe but almost terrified at the Hulk’s healing ability, which has left Banner without a physical scar but also haunted by his uncontrollable alter ego, which is functionally immortal. Banner theorises that catastrophic damage to the creature could kill it, but he’s more focused on ridding himself of the beast so that he can be fully human again, which leads to a series of tests being conducting by the two scientists to better understand the nature of the Hulk. Thanks to Dr. Pratt’s resources, the beast is effectively caged behind an energy field, and the movie goes a little further than its predecessors in examining the complex relationship between Banner and the Hulk since he sees it as a threat to others that has stolen his life, Dr. Pratt sees it as a once in a lifetime chance to potentially cure all diseases, and Amy believes that the creature is more human than either of them will admit.

Ultimately, the fall is too devastating for even the Hulk and Banner finally finds his freedom.

At first glance, it seems as though the movie’s title is referring to the fact that Banner will finally be rid of his monstrous alter ego, however it quickly becomes apparent that Dr. Pratt’s research is yet another dead end for the ill-fated Banner thanks to the machinations of Kasha and Bella. When Dr. Pratt and Amy are kidnapped, Banner’s last chance to escape the world with his newfound love is dashed as he cannot simply walk away from his surrogate family, and Jasmine begrudgingly leads him to an airfield, where Bella uses every means at her disposal to try and forcibly extract the information she requires from Dr. Pratt. Although Jasmine is unable to reach her sister, who has fully bought in to the brainwashing of her righteous cause, the two lead the Feds to the airfield, providing them with the backup and firepower they need to stave off Bella’s men; in the fracas, Bella guns down Kasha, the Pratts are rescued, but Bella and Zedd manage to escape in a small aircraft. The horror of seeing the two trying to run down jasmine is enough to trigger one last Hulk-out in Banner, who sprints across the landing strip and confronts the two aboard the plane. Naturally, Bella tries to fire on the Hulk but succeeds only in destroying the craft in mid-air, causing the Hulk to dramatically and tragically plummet to the cold concrete below. Having suffered a catastrophic fall, the Hulk is barely clinging to life and even his incredibly healing powers aren’t enough to save Banner this time; as Dr. Pratt and Amy look on, heartbroken, Jasmine begs Banner to stay with her and he bids her an emotional farewell, seemingly grateful to finally be free of his nightmare in death. Sadly, as poignant as this moment is, it is somewhat undermined by the ridiculousness of the Hulk’s plummet; filmed in slow motion and accompanied by a melancholy song, it’s hard not to focus on Ferrigno’s eye-popping face expressions. Thankfully, Banner’s final words (“Jasmine…I am free…”) and Joe Harnell’’s “Lonely Man” theme kick in just in time to allow Banner’s death to have the required emotional impact (there’s a definite sense of relief that he’s finally found the freedom he’s long searched for), but I can’t help but feel a slower, more tragic rendition of “The Lonely Man” would have been soundtrack enough for the character’s unexpected swansong.

The Summary:
Well, this was a sadly anticlimactic, disappointing, and forgettable end for the Jade Giant. It’s a shame that so many compromise shave to be made to appreciate The Death of the Incredible Hulk; obviously, there was no budget or the technological ability to have the Green Goliath go out in a blaze of glory like we’d see in the comics, making for an inconspicuous death that’s really selling the Hulk short. Long-term fans of the TV show, however, or those with little knowledge of the character outside of the show, would potentially have more to gain from this final outing. The story being told is decent enough; Banner has clearly reached a point that’s beyond desperation where he’s willing to accept the freedom offered by death if it means being rid of his curse. The exploration into the Banner/Hulk dynamic was interesting, and one not really explored in the same way in the previous two films, but isn’t capitalised on as well as it could have been. I think I would have preferred to see a less literal death and maybe more of an understanding between the two where Banner accepted that the Hulk was part of him and thereby, maybe, overcame his rage and hinted towards a merger of the two characters. Instead, that’s kind of swept aside in favour of reinforcing what we already know about the Hulk; he’s once again a rage-filled monster who’s ruined Banner’s life but it’s pretty clear that he just wants to be left alone, only lashes out at those who seek to harm him (or were harming Banner), and goes out of his way to protect others. Ultimately, the Hulk chooses to pursue those who’ve hurt his friends and loved ones and it costs him his life, but I think it might’ve been equally interesting if the Hulk had sacrificed himself to allow Banner to survive the fall, thereby proving Amy’s theory that he’s more human than anyone would care to admit. Sadly, we never got to see Bixby reprise his iconic role or to see the surely bat-shit crazy way that the producers would have undone this ending, which remains a relatively tragic finale for the character that really belongs in a far better movie.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Have you ever seen The Death of the Incredible Hulk? What did you think to the relationship between Banner and the Pratts? Were you hoping to see Banner finally cured of his affliction? Did you enjoy the spy subplot and what did you think to Jasmine? Did you believe her romance with Banner? What was your reaction when the Hulk plummeted to his death? What’s your favourite Hulk story, character, or piece of media? How are you celebrating the Hulk’s debut this month? Whatever your thoughts on the Hulk, feel free to leave them below after signing up or drop a comment on my social media.

Back Issues: Guardians of the Galaxy (2008) #1-3

Writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning – Artist: Paul Pelletier

Story Title: “Somebody’s Got To Do It”
Published: 14 May 2008 (cover-dated July 2008)

Story Title: “Legacy”
Published: 18 June 2008 (cover-dated August 2008)

Story Title: “Beyond Belief”
Published: 10 July 2008 (cover-dated September 2008)

The Background:
Today, Marvel Comics’ Guardians of the Galaxy are well-known as a group of reprobates-turned-heroes thanks to their inclusion in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), however I think it’s fair to say that the team (and the concept) was relatively obscure compared to other Marvel heavy-hitters like the Avengers and Peter Parker/Spider-Man before the release of Guardians of the Galaxy (Gunn, 2014). As I have already explored, the cosmic team was initially very different when they debuted in the pages of Marvel Super Heroes! #18 (Drake, et al, 1969) and, despite strong sales of the team’s debut issue, the Guardians of the Galaxy remained dormant for about five years and also underwent many alterations as they graduated to their own self-titled series. Between 2006 and 2007, Marvel Comics published a cosmic crossover series titled Annihilation (Giffen, et al), a sprawling storyline in which Annihilus spread destruction throughout the galaxy with his “Annihilation Wave”, an event heralded for proving such epics could occur without Marvel’s flagship characters at the helm. From August 2007 and June 2008, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning spearheaded a follow-up miniseries, Annihilation: Conquest, out of which was formed a new line-up of Guardians that served as direct inspiration for the MCU’s movies and subsequent multimedia iterations of the team.

The Review:
In place of the usual text boxes, the story is intercut with log debriefings from the Guardians as they reflect on their mission, and therefore jumps about between a few different time periods, which makes a step-by-step recap a little difficult so, instead, I’ll try and go mostly in chronological order. Two weeks ago, Star-Lord, Phyla-Vell/Quasar, and the last surviving member of the Nova Corps, Richard Rider/Nova, were discussing the power vacuum in the galaxy after back-to-back destructive conflicts with Annihilus and the Phalanx. Both battles caught them completely off-guard so, rather than establish a peacekeeping force like the Nova Corps, Star-Lord suggests assembling an “ass-kicking force” that can pre-emptively tackle threats before they can escalate. The first person Star-Lord recruits is Rocket Raccoon, primarily for his “military smarts” and also because he’s “the best tactical mind [he] ever met”. Although Star-Lord tries to grease the wheels by tanking Rocket up with alcohol, he didn’t need to do this, or pile on the compliments; recognising the guilt Star-Lord carries after unwittingly causing the Phalanx’s invasion, Rocket agrees to help but only if Peter quits giving himself a hard time over it, especially as they won the day in the end. Quasar then paid a visit to the grieving Drax the Destroyer whose daughter, Heather Douglas/Moondragon, perished in a previous battle against Ultron. Filled with regret over never having a “regular” relationship with her and having lost his purpose now that he has slain Thanos, Drax considers himself a liability to others because of his thirst for death, but Quasar offers him purpose and direction as part of Star-Lord’s team. Nova then went to recruit Gamora, who was incensed at the suggestion, and that Nova never tried to get her into bed following their victory over the Phalanx. However, despite her stubbornness, Gamora is won over not just by the prospect of a booty call with Rider but also by his compelling argument that she’s tired of being an emotionless killer and desires something more out of life. Together, the group turn to Adam Warlock/Him for further support; troubled by the recent incursions, which have weakened space and time so badly that fissures into extradimensional universes are threatening to spill God knows what into the galaxy and tear it apart, Warlock agrees to join them in order to ensure the stability and continuation of life across our universe.

The fledgling Guardians come together to defend the galaxy from interdimensional incursions.

The fledgling Guardians soon came into a violent conflict with the Universal Church of Truth, a group of zealots who, in an alternate timeline, worshiped Warlock like a God. There were some teething problems throughout this battle; Star-Lord struggled to pull these volatile egos together, leading to Warlock, Gamora, and Drax heading to the control deck to tackle the root of the problem. The Church’s templeship is powered by “faith”, specifically faith in life (which Warlock notes is ironic as the Church’s plan will destroy life rather than grant it) and, once they realise their sacred ship is in danger, the Church’s founders, the Crusaders, promptly teleport away, leaving their devout followers behind, much to the disgust of Warlock, Gamora, and Drax. By the time the others reach the control deck, their options are limited as the templeship is already breaching a fissure; to make matters worse, a gigantic, disgusting eldritch abomination comes through the breach. However, Quasar and the others are able to hold it back to buy Rocket time to destroy the control deck with a grenade; the remaining energy is absorbed by Warlock and Quasar and the threat is summarily ended. They promptly teleport victorious (though Rocket claims the bulk of the victory for himself) to Knowhere, an interdimensional crossroads on the outer edge of time-space that allows them to rapidly transport anywhere using their “passport” bracelets and which happens to be housed inside the severed head of a Celestial! Knowhere is maintained by a group of strange alien lifeforms and overseen by Cosmo the Spacedog, a telekinetic Russian-born hound who has a rivalry with Rocket, acts as their chief of security, and has been busy getting Knowhere up and running for their services. Knowhere is also home to a thriving alien society, including a marketplace and economic system, and to the steadily growing sapling that was once Groot and Brandt/Mantis, an empath who has the unenviable job of maintaining the psychological well-being of the team and facilitating their disparate personalities. However, her precognitive abilities also alert her to an impending betrayal from within, though she’s unable to inform them of this as it could threaten the delicate balance of the timeline. No sooner are the Guardians back at Knowhere that Warlock detects another fissure on the ice asteroid of 5G Hydronis, a place where time and space are being torn apart and where, upon melting away some of the ice, the Guardians are stunned to find the Avengers Mansion contained within!

As the team struggles against the Cardinals, the time-displaced Vance fights off a mysterious attacker.

Before they can properly process the implications of this, they’re attacked by more Lovecraftian beasts, this time giant, slobbering worms that burst up from the ice and ensnare them. Luckily, Major Vance Astro/Major Victory of the original Guardians of the Galaxy happened to be frozen on the planetoid and briefly helps the struggling team before promptly collapsing in a fit of confusion and exhaustion. Star-Lord and Rocket hold off the creatures to cover Drax and Gamora as they tend to Vance, then the group promptly teleports out of there as Warlock and Quasar destroy the asteroid and its monstrous inhabitants. Star-Lord sees providence in Vance’s appearance, especially the symbolism of the shield he carries and the importance both it and Captain Steve Rogers/Captain America had on the legacy of the Avengers. Still encased in his protective suit and apparently dislodged from the time stream, Vance suffers from crippling amnesia and can only remember some vague importance about being at exactly this time period. Mantis tends to Vance to try and acclimatise him to the time period and help him recover his lost memories; though Rocket, inspired by Vance’s story, is more concerned with pestering the team into adopting the Guardians of the Galaxy name. After picking up another fissure, the team head to a seemingly abandoned Dyson Sphere – a literal sun encased within an artificial shell – where they are attacked by Raker and his knightly Cardinals. Sent by the Matriarch of the Church to seek retribution and garbed in gleaming golden armour, the Cardinals are powered by the prayers of their faithful, proving a formidable threat since they are capable of doing anything as long as they believe it, including conjuring weapons and shields of golden energy. Offended by Warlock’s magic and with no time for the team’s heathenistic explanations, the Cardinals make short work of the group simply by believing they have the means to overpower them, meaning they not only break Star-Lord’s hand but also run the mighty Adam Warlock through with a sword. As the Guardians struggle against the self-righteous Cardinals, Vance is suddenly attacked by the time-displaced Stakar of the House of Ogord/Starhawk, who takes even Mantis off-guard thanks to being completely invisible to her mental powers. Starhawk attacks the confused Vance with very familiar claw-like appendages and their battle rages through Knowhere, destroying six of their teleportation batteries, before he teleports out without a single word and leaving the perplexed Vance to incur the wrath of Cosmo for all the damage he caused in the fight.

Gamora’s selfless actions galvanise the team, but the threat of betrayal hangs in the air…

Having accomplished their mission, the Cardinals return to their homeworld; however, many are also dissolved when the Dyson Sphere’s population rises against them; reduced to a corrosive bio-mass after their genetic experiments opened a fissure in their very DNA, the inhabitants have become a tortured, grotesque hive mind. Already beyond salvation, absorbing the Cardinals only accelerates their instability and threatens to open a more destructive fissure. As Gamora tends to Star-Lord’s wounds, he shares with the group his plan to lift the shield that protects the surface from the sun’s rays, a strategy that will fry the entire Dyson Sphere and its out of control inhabitants in one swift move. The idea works and the bio-mass is summarily set ablaze, but Peter’s plan to teleport to safety is scuppered thanks to the damage caused by Vance and Starhawk. With the protective dome fading quickly, Drax and Star-Lord both volunteer to restore it; unfortunately, Quasar’s power is taxed to the limited just trying to keep them safe, so Gamora opts to handle it herself. Thanks to her healing factor, and the limited protection offered by Quasar, Gamora is able to reach the controls and restore the dome and, though she survives the ordeal, she’s left chargrilled and mutilated by the heat of the supernova. Still, her teammates are impressed by her bravery and her actions galvanise the team yet, despite their victory, Warlock remains disturbed not just by the fact that He was unable to save that advanced civilisation but also by the motives behind the Universal Church of Truth’s attack. An epilogue reveals that the Matriarch sent Raker to engage the Guardians not to “purify” them for their interference in their plans, but to verify that Warlock is actually the real deal as it’s revealed she has His protective cocoon resting in her palace, indicating the presence of an imposter.

The Summary:
The story’s action is peppered with log entries from the individual Guardians that offers insight into their character and commentary on their actions; Star-Lord is cautiously optimistic about his new team despite their inelegant solutions to problems, Quasar had her doubts that the mismatched team of egos could pull it together despite Star-Lord’s determination, Rocket expressed regret at being talked into joining such an outfit and venturing into the dangerous depths of space, Warlock has His doubts but recognises the value of the Guardians given the short lifespan of the cosmos, and Drax bluntly refuses to elaborate on his many experiences with death. Gamora is easily the most vocal about her scepticism; almost every line she has questions their purpose and direction, to the point where even Drax, who was equally sceptical about his value to such a group, calls her out on her lack of team spirit when she boasts of her healing factor to the less-fortunate Quasar. This makes her selfless act to endure the searing heat of the sun’s flames all the more impressive and goes to great lengths to earn her the respect and admiration from her teammates. One of the things I loved about the MCU interpretation of the Guardians of the Galaxy is their dysfunctional dynamic; they banter with and aggravate each other, to the point where they generally spend more time arguing than co-operating, which lends to their charm. Those aspects are alive and well here; in the heat of battle, the team are more focused on coming up with a name for themselves than fending off their enemies; Warlock, who’s had some experience in leading teams, is the first one to point this out and even Star-Lord, for all his enthusiasm, begins to question his decisions when their distractions send him hurtling out of a window.

The banter snark, and dysfunctional family dynamic are all appealing elements to this team.

There’s some concern, mostly from Gamora, regarding Warlock’s nature; His talk of altering the timeline and general demeanour have Gamora questioning how much He’s changed since she last saw Him. It’s clear that Warlock has changed recently and knows far more than what He’s letting on to His teammates; His philosophy seems to be to simply tackle an issue before it can escalate and explain the why of the matter later since it’s inconsequential against the need for action. As much as I love Dave Bautista’s portrayal of Drax as this loveable meathead, this version of Drax is far more coherent and sensible, though he is a bit of a blunt instrument; he’s aggravated by Warlock’s complex explanations, Quasar’s constant questions, and sees little point in cooking when they have perfectly good bars at Knowhere. While the others are intrigued by the puzzle of Vance Astro, Drax couldn’t care less about the former Avenger, not least because fighting alongside Earth’s Mightiest Heroes directly led to his daughter’s death. Indeed, as much as the Destroyer would rather just get to the point (and the fighting), Drax is just as apt to make quips about Warlock’s out of date hairstyle as Rocket, resulting in a more well-rounded character than his MCU counterpart, for sure, but one far less entertaining, in my opinion. Rocket’s characterisation should be pretty familiar with fans of the MCU, however; he’s a trigger-happy, snarky little rodent who cares for Groot and begrudgingly follows Star-Lord’s lead presumably because he has nothing better to do. Star-Lord may lack the multiple pop culture references of his MCU counterpart but much of his character is familiar as well; this is actually a very different version of the character to how he was first introduced, where he was a little more bland and less prone to self-deprecation and quipping. Here, he’s desperately trying to atone for his actions in unleashing the Phalanx and is determined to make this team work, despite how inelegant their approach is. Though unsettled by the symmetry of Vance’s appearance to Captain America’s own dethawing years ago, Peter is excited at the idea of the group rallying around the iconography of the shield, though he remains completely unaware of a possible traitor in their midst since Mantis refuses to divulge this information just yet.

These new Guardians impress thanks to some fun dialogue, visually exciting action, and lingering mysteries.

It’s nice to read something a little more modern from Marvel Comics; there’s something to be said for the simplicity of older tales, which are generally far less complex in their narratives and easier to digest in a single readthrough, but the dialogue and, especially, the art are far more appealing in modern tales, at least to me. While they share a colour scheme in their vaguely-matching uniforms, the Guardians are all very distinct personalities and characters despite their similarities: for example, Star-Lord and Rocket have no powers, relying on their helmet, weapons, and gadgets to win the day but are clearly unique since one is a talking raccoon! Gamora and Drax are also somewhat similar, being battle-hungry killers looking for a greater purpose, but Gamora has her healing factor, cynicism, and promiscuousness and Drax carries his guilt and an almost self-destructive thirst for combat. Quasar and Warlock also have some similarities in that they’re both, essentially, cosmic wizards but Quasar’s powers are limited in a way Warlock’s aren’t; Warlock is also seen as the expert in the time/space fissures and clearly the heavy-hitter of the group, yet He’s still vulnerable and requires the aid of His teammates to combat these threats. I liked the appearance of Vance Astro, too, as a link to the original Guardians of the Galaxy and a mystery for the team to solve over subsequent issues; Knowhere also functions as a very visually interesting and fun homebase for the team, not least because of Cosmo and it being the head of a Celestial, and the story arc was brimming with personality and mystery. The Universal Church of Truth are very intriguing villains; essentially a gaggle of cosmic zealots who wield incredible power simply through faith, they betray their own cause through their destructive ways and have spread death and discord rather than life and hope. The Cardinals, especially, prove a fearsome threat; there’s a suggestion that they could’ve easily killed the Guardians were it not for the bio-mass suddenly attacking them and the nature of their mission, which again adds to the appeal of the team: they’re already flawed and volatile personalities but they’re not infallible and even the almighty Adam Warlock can be killed, which makes them very relatable as a dysfunctional family that’s more human that their appearances may suggest. All in all, I really enjoyed this three-issue arc for the fledgling Guardians of the Galaxy and would absolutely want to read more from this run based on the strength of these issues alone and how impactful this period was to their live-action interpretation.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What did you think to this new incarnation of the Guardians of the Galaxy? Which member of the team was your favourite? What did you think to Universal Church of Truth and the threat posed by the Cardinals? Did you enjoy the banter and team dynamic between the group? What did you think to the mystery surrounding Vance Astro’s appearance? Which version of the team is your favourite and why? Are you a fan of the Guardians of the Galaxy comics and, if so, did you like the MCU’s interpretations of the characters and concepts? Be sure to share your thoughts on the Guardians of the Galaxy in the comments below and on my social media, and check out my other Guardians of the Galaxy-related content on the site.

Back Issues [HulkaMAYnia]: The Savage She-Hulk #1

Since his explosive debut in May 1962, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s gamma-irradiated Jade Giant has been one of their most recognisable and successful characters thanks, in large part, to the Incredible Hulk television show (1977 to 1982) catapulting the Hulk into a mainstream, pop culture icon. The Hulk has been no slouch in the comics either, being a founding member of the Avengers and undergoing numerous changes that have made him one of their most versatile and enduring characters, so what better way to celebrate all things Big Green than by dedicating every Sunday in May to the Green Goliath?

Story Title: “The She-Hulk Lives”
Published: 13 November 1979 (cover-dated February 1980)
Writer: Stan Lee
Artists: John Buscema and Chic Stone

The Background:
The Incredible Hulk (and his human alter ego, Doctor Robert Bruce Banner), was another creation of Marvel legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Inspired by a story of a hysterical mother exhibiting superhuman strength to rescue her trapped child, as well as classic movie monsters Frankenstein’s Monster and Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde, Lee and Kirby’s allegory to the foils of war initially debuted as a stone-grey figure who emerged at the onset of night. Although The Incredible Hulk was cancelled only a year and a half in, the character returned to a position of prominence thanks to subsequent expansions of his lore and character and the popularity of the Incredible Hulk television show. The eighty episode series not only established the Green Goliath as a mainstream icon but also directly led to the creation of his female counterpart; fearing that Incredible Hulk producer Kenneth Johnson would create a female spin-off as he had with The Bionic Woman (1976 to 1978), Marvel had Lee dream up a She-Hulk first so that they would own the rights, and the character would be the last one Lee created for Marvel until the early nineties. Written as the alter ego of Banner’s cousin, Jennifer Walters, She-Hulk was intentionally cast as a lawyer to promote equality and her original self-titled run lasted 1982, after which she made guest appearances, joined the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, and became known for both breaking the fourth wall and being a strong feminist icon for Marvel. Although a live-action film never came to pass in the early nineties, She-Hulk shared the spotlight with her cousin in the Incredible Hulk cartoon from the mid-nineties and made her live-action debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe at the tail-end of 2022.

The Review:
Our story begins with a dialogue box amusingly lamp shading Stan Lee’s tendency to get Banner’s first name wrong and finding the fugitive arriving in Los Angeles, California. After being on the run, hounded by the police and the military, ever since his first transformation into the Hulk, Banner has finally reached his limit and is in need of help, so he seeks out his kid cousin, Jennifer Walters, for some solace. I’m not entirely sure where his long-time friend, confidante, and on-and-off sidekick Rick Jones is or if the comics have ever mentioned Jennifer prior to this, but apparently they were extremely close as children, almost like brother and sister. Jennifer works as a successful criminal lawyer and affectionately refers to Banner as “Doc”, but also has absolutely no knowledge of his dual identity so you know what that means! Over the course of six panels and one page, Banner recounts the specifics of his origin and his curse to transform into a rampaging, near-mindless beast whenever angry or panicked thanks to a massive dose of Gamma radiation, and, despite her shock at this knowledge, Jennifer immediately insists that he come back to her home so that she can shelter and help him. Although he’s reluctant because of the inherent danger, she waves his concerns off since her profession means she’s used to living with danger; for example, she’s currently defending a low-level hoodlum named Monkton who’s been accused of murdering mobster Nick Trask’s bodyguard, which she believes is a frame-up.

Banner’s forced to give Jennifer a blood transfusion, transforming her into the Savage She-Hulk!

While she’s confident of her ability and safety, Banner isn’t so sure, and his concerns immediately turn out to be correct as Trask’s hitmen follow them back to her house and put a bullet in her back. Banner’s able to keep calm long enough to fend the gunmen off with a simple garden house and they hit the road to avoid attracting any unwanted attention, leaving Banner to struggle with his rising emotions and to find some way of helping the injured Jennifer. With no time to wait for an ambulance, he carries her over to (and breaks into) a convenient nearby doctor’s surgery and does the only thing he can think of: a blood transfusion with his blood (which, also conveniently, is the exact same as Jennifer’s) which stabilises her long enough for him to call for an ambulance and the police. For some reason, the cops immediately peg Banner as a suspect, especially when he doesn’t have an identification or credit cards, and the stress finally reaches boiling point, causing him to Hulk-out and escape custody (though we only get the briefest glimpse of the Hulk). The next day, Banner is relieved to learn from the local tabloid that Jennifer is doing well and reluctantly makes plans to leave town to avoid his true identity being discovered. However, while recovering in the hospital, Jennifer feels a strange tingling sensation throughout her body but this, and her concerns over Banner’s welfare, are quickly set aside when Trask’s hitmen come in posing as doctors and looking to finish the job they started. As they pin her down and attempt to chloroform her, Jennifer suddenly undergoes her own startling transformation, tossing her attackers aside and looming over them as a huge, muscular, savage green-skinned beauty they dub “She-Hulk”.

She-Hulk’s abilities are more than enough to force a confession and empower her to right wrongs.

Unlike her brutish cousin, Jennifer retains her intelligence and personality when transformed, but the surge of power afforded to her (especially after feeling so helpless mere moments before), causes her to lash out and revel in her newfound abilities. She easily tosses a hospital bed at one of her would-be murderers (probably killing him…) and chases down the others, ripping open elevator doors and hauling the elevator cart up when they try to escape! Though terrified by their pursuer, the hitmen are able to elude her, and she inspires only further fear in the hospital staff and orderlies due to her savage appearance and ceaseless pursuit of her targets. “Throbbing with power” and revelling in her superhuman strength, She-Hulk’s rational mind is somewhat clouded by her absolute rage and, as they try to race away in their car, she easily cripples their vehicle with a well-timed throw of a nearby road sign. She then manhandles one of them until he confesses that Trask hired them to kill her and admitting that it was Trask himself who killed Monkton. This is apparently enough for the nearby cops to arrest the gunmen, and they ultimately let She-Hulk go since “there’s no law against green skin” (and, apparently, destruction of city property, causing an affray, grievous bodily harm, and harassment are all hunky-dory). As She-Hulk flees, her anger fades alongside her incredible strength with it. She successfully makes it back to her hospital room without being seen, returning to her normal, human state just in time, and consoles herself with the knowledge that her newfound monstrous alter ego will be able to handle any threat that comes her way in the future.

The Summary: 
I was expecting a little more from “The She-Hulk Lives”, if I’m being honest. Her bombastic debut issue really could’ve done with being a double-length feature so we would could learn a little bit more about Jennifer and Banner’s past and relationship beyond a couple of panels, and the story almost reads like it could’ve been condensed down a little and been included as a back-up feature in the regular Hulk book. Thankfully, the artwork, writing, and dialogue are much better than what we normally saw in the sixties; unlike many female characters, Jennifer isn’t written as some air-headed bimbo and is actually a pretty capable woman in her own right. She clearly went to law school, or a similar educational institute, and is successful enough to have her own office and to be working on a big case. She’s also incredibly compassionate and loyal to her cousin; she doesn’t judge him for his affliction and offers to help him without hesitation, viewing him as a brother and sure that the two of them can work something out. Finally, she’s pretty self-confident; although he’s usually overly paranoid, Banner immediately recognises that her case against Trask is considerably dangerous but she’s so sure of herself that she doesn’t even consider there being any reprisals against her. Naturally, this ends up biting her in the ass and she nearly dies from a gunshot wound and this (and her subsequent spell in hospital) is the only time Jennifer is portrayed as being weak and in need of help from others.

Although I’d to see more of Jennifer and Banner/Hulk, She-Hulk made a decent impression.

Banner is so panicked at the thought of losing her that he gives her his blood without thinking and, for all his science-smarts, without even considering the effect his Gamma-irradiated blood might have on her. Due to the risk of being exposed and causing unnecessary destruction, he doesn’t even check in on her afterwards and quietly leaves the story without us even properly seeing the Hulk, which is actually to allow the She-Hulk to take centre stage. It’s not explored in this story but it can be assumed that the transfusion was far less potent than Banner’s own Gamma exposure, accounting for She-Hulk’s retained personality and intelligence and less impressive strength, but she’s still a force to be reckoned with in her green state and overcome with anger due to her previous helplessness and the evil of Trask’s men (and, it can be inferred, all such men who seek to undermine and hurt women). I do feel, though, that the story might’ve benefitted from a confrontation between She-Hulk and the Hulk; maybe she could’ve battled him to a standstill and helped calm him down through their shared condition and showing him some compassion. I have no doubt that this probably did happen in a subsequent issue or encounter between the two, but it does mean that She-Hulk’s debut falls a little flat even compared to her cousin’s first appearance since she only exerts herself against a few regular hoodlums. While this opens itself up into a feminist reading about a woman exerting power and dominance over an oppressive patriarchy, I feel that’s more inferred than explicitly showcased in her debut issue and wouldn’t come to the forefront until she was a bit more established.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

How did you find She-Hulk’s debut story? Did you read it when it was first published and, if so, did She-Hulk leave much of an impression on you or were you expecting something more? What did you think to the concept of a female Hulk and the idea that she is far more stable when transformed? Would you have liked to see her throw down with the Hulk here or were you happy with her rallying against common mobsters? What is your favourite She-Hulk story or moment and how are you celebrating the Hulk’s debut this month? Whatever your thoughts on She-Hulk, go ahead and share them below or leave a comment on my social media and be sure to check out my other Hulk content!

Game Corner [X-Men Day]: X-Men: The Official Game (Xbox 360)

To commemorate, the culmination of their long-running and successful X-Men movies, 20th Century Fox declared May 13th as “X-Men Day”, a day to celebrate all things Mutant and X-Men and celebrate Marvel’s iconic collection of superpowered beings who fight to protect a world that hates and fears them.

Released: 16 May 2006
Developer: Z-Axis
Also Available For: Game Boy Advance, GameCube, Nintendo DS, PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox

The Background:
Ever since Stan Lee and long-time collaborator Jack Kirby created the X-Men in 1963, Mutants have featured prominently in Marvel Comics and grew to greater mainstream prominence thanks to the influential animated series from the nineties, the success of which led to 20th Century Fox purchasing the film rights and producing a successful long-running live-action franchise. The X-Men have also have a storied history in pixels and polygons; the Mutant team first came to life on the Nintendo Entertainment System in what was essentially a vertical shooter, but the characters arguably saw the most success in their numerous arcade ventures and team-based brawlers. To coincide with the release of X-Men: The Last Stand (Ratner, 2006), publisher Activision was tasked with creating a tie-in videogame to be released across all available platforms and bridge the gap between X2: X-Men 2 (Singer, 2003) and the third entry. However, just as X-Men: The Last Stand was critically panned, X-Men: The Official Game failed to impress with its poor enemy A.I., repetitive gameplay, and for being little more than a shameless cash-in.

The Plot:
Still reeling from the death of Doctor Jean Grey, Logan/Wolverine, Bobby Drake/Iceman, and Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler find themselves coming into conflict with the radical terrorist group known as Hydra, who have been constructing gigantic, Mutant-hunting Sentinels, and are forced to confront (and team up with) some of their worst enemies to stop the program before it can be fully completed.

X-Men: The Official Game is a third-person action game with three distinct gameplay styles split across its three playable characters, Wolverine, Iceman, and Nightcrawler, who embark on an adventure that takes place soon after the events of X-Men 2 and fills the gap between that film and X-Men: The Last Stand to explain why Nightcrawler is missing from the team in the third movie. While the levels in X-Men: The Official Game are pretty linear, the developers furnished players with a helpful mini map which indicates friendly non-playable characters (NPCs), enemies, and points you in the direction of your next objective/s. There are a few branching paths you can sometimes take, either by smashing through walls and windows as Wolverine or teleporting to higher areas as Nightcrawler, but these generally just lead to a collectible and it is actually pretty easy to get turned around as everything looks very similar. Although each character has a distinct way of playing, there are some similarities between all three: both Wolverine and Nightcrawler can jump with A and dish out attacks and combos with X and Y, Nightcrawler and Iceman can both target foes with the Left Trigger, and all three will automatically heal from minor wounds (though Wolverine and Nightcrawler and able to dramatically speed this up by holding the Left Bumper or pressing the Right Bumper, respectively, whenever it’s safe to do so, though any movement at all will cancel out this healing boost).

Slice through enemies as Wolverine, teleport about as Nightcrawler, and slide around as Iceman.

Wolverine’s gameplay is very much that of a hack-and-slash brawler; however, fans of genre-defining titles like the God of War series (Various, 2005 to present) will be left disappointed as Wolverine is quite a clunky and limited character thanks to the presentation and camera angles offered by this game. With a tap of LB, Wolverine can sheath and unsheathe his claws (which is more of an Easter Egg than anything), which he can use to slash at the multitude of minions who come charging at him in any given level. Using combinations of X, Y, and B (which pushes enemies away), Wolverine can string together some basic combos; he can also block incoming attacks by holding the Left or Right Trigger (and you can flick the analogue stick while blocking to pull off an awkward dodge roll to try and get away from sticky situations), and successfully landing attacks will build up his “Fury Meter” which, when full, powers up your attacks and healing for a short time with a press of the Right Bumper. Nightcrawler has similar capabilities in combat, but his levels are much more focused on platforming with his signature teleport and a bit of semi-stealth. Nightcrawler can also string together punches and kicks for combos, but you’re best served using his relocation attack; pressing B sees him automatically teleport behind the nearest enemy to pummel them with X or smash them with Y, which is great for taking out groups of enemies quickly. RT allows Nightcrawler to teleport to a variety of surfaces, from pipes to bridges and walkways, and is great for quickly traversing areas and getting to consoles or control panels which need rewiring with X. Of the three, Iceman is the most unique as he’s constantly moving forwards on an ice slide and his levels play much more like chasers or dogfight simulators. Holding A lets Iceman boost ahead, while RT brakes and RB allows him to flip around quickly to retarget enemies. X unleashes an ice beam, which is great for freezing up pipes or putting out fires, while B tosses out his Hailstorm attack and Y puts up a temporary frost shield. You’ll need to constantly tap LT and B when faced with multiple targets, but Iceman’s levels are much more geared towards preventing catastrophes or reaching a goal and are often accompanied by an anxiety-inducing time limit.

Whether you’re fighting a gauntlet, repairing consoles, or facing a time limit, things get very tedious.

The game’s story mode is laid out in a linear mission-based structure; at various points, the narrative branches off to follow each of the three characters and, prior to starting a mission, you can pick from three difficulty settings: “Novice”, “Hero”, and “Superhero”. These will dictate how tough the enemies are, with enemies on “Superhero” able to whittle your health to nothing in just a few hits or under sustained gunfire, but there are perks to completing the mission on higher difficulties as you earn more “Mutation Evolutions” on these settings. These power-up each character’s stats, raising such attributes as their overall health, the damage their attacks deal, and their health and energy recovery, and the only way you’ll only be able to max out your abilities is by beating every mission on “Superhero” mode. This, however, is easier said than done; the game is very stingy with its checkpoints, meaning that failure to complete some of the game’s more monotonous tasks requires you to start the mission over right from the beginning. Following glorified training missions for each character, you’ll be thrust into the game’s story mode and, very quickly, will see everything X-Men: The Official Game has to offer. Wolverine will pretty much always be tasked with clearing away all enemies, with wave upon wave teleporting in or rushing in through doors, though he sometimes has to dodge hazards such as flaming vents and cages or destroy something in order to progress. Nightcrawler almost always has to teleport about the claustrophobic environments, activating panels or rewiring stuff, and occasionally luring exploding probes to power nodes or Sentinels to open doors. Iceman is either racing towards something or fending off attacks, often against a time limit; this means you’ll be dousing fires and cooling down nuclear reactors with your ice beam or chasing down an enemy or towards a goal before time runs out. Occasionally, another X-Men appears to help out; Ororo Munroe/Storm accompanies Wolverine and Nightcrawler you can have her instantly kill all enemies with her lightning by pressing in the left stick, while Nightcrawler also has to deactivate shields so that Piotr “Peter” Rasputin/Colossus can destroy some power generators, but Iceman has no such help when desperately trying to stop Giant Sentinels from marching on the downed X-Jet. Sometimes Iceman will have to slide through “nav points” (essentially glorified rings) and avoid laser hazards and mines, sometimes Wolverine’s locked in a room and forced to fight a gauntlet of enemies, and sometimes Nightcrawler has to destroy glowing crystals to keep enemies from spawning, but it’s all very repetitive and your objectives tend to be to do something once and then repeat it three or four times until the mission abruptly ends.

Graphics and Sound:  
In all honesty, X-Men: The Official Game doesn’t look all that bad; the in-game graphics are pretty decent, with stylistic versions of the film characters well represented for the most part, though the range of animation offered by the three is somewhat lacklustre. Of them all, Nightcrawler looks the best; I love his little coat and how he spins around on poles with a flourish and sometimes gallops on all fours, and it’s a stark contrast to Iceman, who is either relatively static due to his gameplay or ragdolling all over the place when knocked from his slide. Wolverine looks good, but his gameplay is tedious and clunky and severely hampered by the lack of a lunge attack, though he does gain some extra animation frames when in Fury Mode or trying to pounce on larger enemies. The game’s music is pretty decent; it’s mostly all ripped from X-Men: The Last Stand, and many of the film’s cast return to voice their respective characters. In fact, the vocal work may be one of the best things about this game; it’s great hearing Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart not only reprise their roles but do it without the lifelessness and boredom that so often accompanies videogame tie-ins.

While the game’s later locations become more visually interesting, the cutscenes are a cheap let down.

Sadly, the same praise can’t be levelled at the game’s environments and cutscenes. Cutscenes are accomplished using a motion comic aesthetic not unlike those employed at various points in games by NetherRealm Studios; these painted pictures have a very limited range of movement, no lip synching, and the cutscenes come off as cheap and rushed and quite unsightly as a result. The in-game environments are okay, but disappointingly bland; the whole game makes a clear effort to evoke the grey, grounded, semi-sci-fi aesthetic of Singer’s films but there’s generally not really much to see since areas are so linear and empty. You’ll get to fight on the Statue of Liberty in a call-back to the first film and revisit the surprisingly unflooded Alkali Lake facility from the second film and the Weapon X laboratory, all of which are very well realised interpretations of the film locations but are so grey and drab that even cheeky references to Wade W. Wilson/Deadpool can’t save them. Thankfully, once the game gets away from recreating areas from X-Men 2, locations become a bit more visually interesting; the Sentinel factory is great, with a massive Sentinel head looming in the background, as are the colourful levels that take Wolverine to an elaborate Japanese palace and garden grounds, but the game really shines once you get into the Master Mold’s control centre, a gigantic airship full of electrified wires and ominous dread that evokes the Borg Cube. Iceman’s chase through the streets of Hong Kong is similarly a visual spectacle thanks to the neon signs, bridges, and skyscrapers, all of which helps to really elevate the game’s presentation after the first few drab missions and despite the tedious gameplay.

Enemies and Bosses:
With such varied and colourful characters as the X-Men and the Brotherhood to work with, it’s no surprise that the developers chose to mainly have you wade through an endless supply of generic and boring Hydra thugs. These guys come packing machine guns, electrified axes and lances, and claws and can mostly be taken out with some quick combos but some will block your attacks. For Wolverine, things get a little more interesting as he gets to battle the Hydra “Wind Unit” (who are basically ninjas with two katana), while Iceman is often blasting at smaller Sentinels or fire dragons conjured by John Allerdyce/Pyro. Nightcrawler will also have to deal with Sentinels but he can only take them out by teleporting to them and luring explosive drones to them before the robots can blast him off with a shockwave. Later, Nightcrawler is placed in a nightmarish illusion by Jason Stryker and forced to battle off teleporting demonic entities, and you’ll also encounter Hydra goons packing bazookas and heavy cannons in some levels. For the most part, the enemy AI is pretty dumb; they’ll easily lose track of you and won’t think to go around certain obstacles, but in wider, more open areas they can be incredibly annoying and persistent, catching you in a crossfire or swarming around you to deplete your health in seconds while you desperately try to escape to safety.

No matter who Wolverine faces, the same hit-and-run tactics will always serve you well.

Each character also has to deal with a number of bosses, with some fought multiple times in different forms. During Wolverine’s first training mission, you’ll battle against Victor Creed/Sabretooth to learn the basics of combat; Sabretooth makes a return as the final boss of the game, too, where he’s fought within the decaying remains of the Master Mold facility and significantly more powerful even against your upgraded stats. Sabretooth charges at you with a shoulder barge, can hit slow but powerful combos, grabs and lunges at you, and even has his own Fury Mode that speeds him up and makes him more aggressive. Still, the best thing to do is to avoid his attacks, hit a quick combo, and then stay out of his reach to build up your Fury Meter before unleashing it (avoiding pressing Y as this lunge isn’t effective against him) to whittle down his health bar. Halfway through the fight, Sabretooth flees to a lower level, where debris is a concern for both you and him, and you’ll also have to worry about his health slowly replenishing if you take too long, but he’s not especially difficult to put down. Yuriko Oyama/Lady Deathstrike makes a return in this game and you’ll battle her a couple of times, too; the first time you fight her, it’s within the eye of a hurricane and you have to be careful of being blasted about by the winds while also pushing her into the hazard, and the second time is within a Japanese temple and forces you to fend off waves of enemies between rounds. Still, Lady Deathstrike may be faster and nimbler than Sabretooth, but the same hit-and-run tactics work well against her and it’s much easier to get her trapped in a corner and just go at her full pelt until she goes down. Wolverine’s toughest foe is easily the Silver Samurai; this hulking armoured bastard can teleport about, has great reach with his broadsword, doesn’t get stunned by your attacks, and can send out both energy blades and electrified shockwaves and forces you to fight his minions between bouts. Once again, simply run or dodge about to avoid the brunt of his attacks and build up your Fury Meter and then just tank him as he’s a bit of a damage sponge and can easily cut you down with just a few swipes of his sword.

Nightcrawler and Iceman generally have to fulfill other objectives while fighting their bosses.

Nightcrawler only gets one boss to fight against, but it’s one of the more frustrating ones in the game; while on the rainswept Brooklyn Bridge, he and Storm must fend off clones of James Madrox/Multiple Man while teleporting about the place and defusing his many bombs against a time limit. Afterwards, Nightcrawler has to battle him alone and more directly; the “prime” Multiple Man will occasionally set an explosive charge and, if enough of them go off, the bridge will be destroyed and you’ll lose the mission but try and disarm them and you’ll be beaten to death in seconds by his ceaseless doubles. Your best bet is to stay on the move, dashing to safety and healing when you can, and hoping that he doesn’t set any of these charges (or quickly interrupt him before he can). The hardest thing about this battle, though, is actually dealing damage to Multiple Man; he seems either impervious to your attacks or only hurt after you take out his clones, which can be hard to do as they swarm around you, making for a boss battle more about luck than anything. Iceman primarily battles against Pyro; first, Pyro tries to burn down and destroy a fission plant, then he tries to overload a nuclear reactor, and then he conjures  a gigantic fire serpent to target the toxic waste canisters. If enough of these are destroyed, the mission ends so make sure you’re rapidly switching target locks and throwing out your Hailstorms to take out the fire dragons. The serpent itself is also quite a damage sponge, and can set you ablaze if you get too close, but if you power-up Iceman’s Hailstorm attack that makes things a lot easier. Definitely his hardest challenge is stopping a seemingly endless army of Giant Sentinels from destroying the X-Jet in Hong Kong; these huge armoured hulks can only be destroyed by targeting six yellow power nodes, but the ones on the front are super hard to hit not just because of aiming difficulties but also because of their high-powered lasers. Destroy one, and another drops soon after, and another, and this was the first mission where I actively had to drop the difficulty down to “Novice” to get past it and even then it was a pain in the ass!

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Unfortunately, there are no collectible power-us available here. Wolverine and Nightcrawler can built meters (either by landing attacks or waiting for it to charge, respectively) to speed up their healing but the closest Iceman gets is destroying Sentinels to gain extra time until fifteen are taken out. As mentioned, Storm and Colossus will accompany you for some missions; Storm can unleash her lightning, but you’ll need to wait for her meter to fill up too, and you’ll also need to get back to help Colossus fend off the Hydra goons before they deal too much damage to him.

Additional Features:
There are sixteen Achievements up for grabs here, with three insulting 0G Achievements awarded after clearing each character’s training mission, three more being rewarded for completing the story mode’s three vaguely defined acts, and three more earned after fully upgrading each characters Mutations. You’ll no doubt notice a few collectibles in each level of the game; every mission hides five Sentinel Tech files and one Weapon X file, and collecting all of these for each character will award another three Achievements and also unlock a bonus costume for each character and a “Danger Room Challenge” for each. Unfortunately, while these collectibles aren’t too difficult to find even without a guide, the rewards you get are pretty pathetic; the costumes are little more than street clothes variants and just having one each is more than a disappointment, it’s a travesty. The Danger Room Challenges amount to timed obstacle courses and challenges used to test your character’s gameplay and abilities, but you earn nothing for completing them so there’s no point in them even being there. Aside from all that, your only other option is to try and beat every mission on “Superhero” to fully upgrade every character, something you won’t really be motivated to do since the gameplay is so uninspiring that even the promise of cutting down goons dressed in Wolverine’s signature wife-beater won’t be incentive enough to ever play this game again.

The Summary:
I tend to go into movie tie-in videogames with pretty low expectations; while I’ve played a fair amount that are pretty good, there’s no denying that they’re generally very rushed, lacking in content, and don’t have a lot going for them. On the plus side, they can sometimes be quite cheap and have some easy-to-snag Achievements, and that’s basically what you’re getting here with X-Men: The Official Game. There’s some decent stuff on offer here; Nightcrawler, especially, is pretty fun to play as and I enjoyed teleporting about the place and pummelling enemies with his attacks, and even Iceman was quite fun in the few missions where you weren’t forced to battle against an arbitrary time limit. Sadly, and most confusingly, it’s Wolverine’s gameplay that really drags this one down; he’s very restricted in his offense and the lack of checkpoints really makes getting through some missions, but especially his tedious gauntlets, a frustrating chore. Awful cutscenes aside, the presentation is pretty good; the game makes a decent attempt at recreating iconic locations from the first two films while infusing a more comic book aesthetic and storyline into the movie timeline, but locations are far too bland and repetitive to really be all that interesting, even in the latter parts of the game. Bosses battles are equally uninspiring; thanks to Wolverine getting the bulk of them, they’re hardly a selling point of the game’s few strengths and, overall, there are far better superhero and action videogames out there for you to put your time into. A serious lack of options, unlockables, and replayability hamper this title; while it’s not too difficult to blast through it in about four to six hours, it’s unlikely you’ll be motivated to try and get everything you miss the first time around and, despite a few entertaining aspects, it remains a cheap cash grab designed solely to leech off the popularity of Fox’s X-Men films rather than actually trying to be an entertaining videogame experience in and of itself.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Did you enjoy X-Men: The Official Game? Which of the three characters was your favourite? Did you enjoy the game’s effort to bridge the gap between X-Men 2 and X-Men: The Last Stand? Which of the game’s missions and bosses was your favourite and do you feel like Sentinels are a little overdone in Marvel games? Did you ever fully upgrade the characters and find all the collectibles? Were you disappointed by the lack of options and unlockable extras? What’s the worst (or best) videogame tie-in you’ve ever played? Which X-Men videogame is your favourite and how are you celebrating X-Men Day today? Whatever you think about X-Men: The Official Game, and X-Men in general, feel free to share your thoughts below or leave a comment on my social media.

Back Issues: Marvel Premiere Featuring the Power of… Warlock #1

Story Title: “And Men Shall Call Him… Warlock!”
April 1972
Writer: Roy Thomas
Artist: Gil Kane

The Background:
It’s generally accepted that Marvel Comics head honcho Martin Goodman tasked then-editor Stan Lee with creating a superhero team in response to DC Comics’ Justice League of America. Lee used this opportunity to create stories and characters that appealed to him and drafted a synopsis of the dysfunctional Fantastic Four for the legendary Jack Kirby to work on, creating the “Marvel Method” of writer/artist collaboration in the process. Although Kirby disputed this story, the duo are credited as co-creators of Marvel’s First Family, whose comic books went on to introduce characters and concepts that would become integral to Marvel Comics. One such character was the mysterious cosmic entity initially known only as “Him”; also created by Lee and Kirby, He first appeared in Fantastic Four #66 and 67 as an artificial being created by a malevolent group known as the Enclave, who were bent on world domination. After rebelling against his creators and being rechristening “Adam Warlock” by Herbert Wyndham/The High Evolutionary, an arrogant supervillain scientist known for creating bizarre animal/human hybrids, Warlock was imbued with the power of the Soul Gem and headed out into the universe to find his true self. Though a relatively unknown Marvel creation, Adam Warlock was at the forefront of one of the publisher’s biggest stories, The Infinity Gauntlet (Starlin, et al, 1991), fought against his own dark half given physical form, and was often positioned as an allegorical Messiah against the backdrop of cosmic discord. Adam Warlock has featured in minor roles outside of the comics, appearing as a supporting character in Marvel videogames and cartoons, and was name-dropped at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (Gunn, 2017) as a future threat for the titular Guardians before making his live-action debut in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (Gunn, 2023), portrayed by Will Poulter.

The Review:
Since Marvel Premiere #1, in true Marvel fashion, features a lengthy recap of Adam Warlock’s origin, I didn’t think it was necessary to do an in-depth review of His first true appearance in Marvel Comics but, for those who are curious, He came about after Ben Grimm/The Thing’s blind girlfriend, Alicia Masters, was abducted by the Enclave and taken to their unreasonably complicated, beehive-like lair. There, she learned that the Enclave’s highly advanced scientists desired to create a perfect race of human beings, with “Him” being the first; however, He proved so unstable and powerful that they were forced to contain Him and unable to look upon Him due to his blinding light. They wanted Alicia to sculpt a likeness of Him and she braved His destructive power to reach and appeal to Him, completely unaware that the Enclave wished to use His power to conquer the Earth. Initially encased within a rock-like cocoon, He burst free and enacted a brutal revenge upon his creators, sparing Alicia but exhibiting a cold disinterest in the destruction of the beehive laboratory that birthed Him as He fled to the stars until the world was ready for His power.

Prior to creating his own world, the High Evolutionary finds and forms a bond with Him out in space.

“And Men Shall Call Him… Warlock!” opens in the vastness of space to find the High Evolutionary’s massive asteroid space station drifting through our galaxy; aboard, the High Evolutionary himself muses on the long and difficult journey he has taken in the quest to produce his half-human, half-animal “New-Men”. His highly advanced technology saw him transform an ordinary wolf into a man-sized beast that was savage enough to battle Thor Odinson in combat; the failure of this project exposed the High Evolutionary to the threat his creations pose to his former homeworld, so he transported the Man-Beast and a contingent of “evil” New-Men to a faraway world, where they only further regressed, forcing him to turn to Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk to quell their aggression. In the fracas, the High Evolutionary was mortally wounded, forcing him to abandon his armour and subject himself to an experimental process that saw him ascend to the pinnacle of human evolution. Immortal and God-like, he merged with the greater cosmos but was driven to the brink of madness from isolation, thus returning to his armour to fulfil some mysterious purpose. His ruminations are interrupted by Sir Raam, the most loyal of his Knights of Wundagore, who alerts him of His mysterious cocoon floating in space; curious, the High Evolutionary has it brought onboard his planetoid so he can investigate further. Unfettered by His visage, the High Evolutionary is instead captivated by His unblemished perfection and urges the divine man to share his story. After fleeing Earth, He also came into conflict with Thor before retreating to the stars to await the day when He could exist in a universe free from hatred and oppression. Impressed, the High Evolutionary agrees to expediate His journey through the stars but He is intrigued by the immortal’s “Project Alpha”, an ambitious plan to create a mirror version of Earth whose evolution he can directly influence.

With his world tainted, the High Evolutionary reluctantly agrees to send Him to tack down the Man-Beast.

The two agree that humanity is too volatile and too quick to descend into misery and bloodshed, so the High Evolutionary creates a Counter-Earth as a haven for his own creations. Although the process places an intense strain on the High Evolutionary, he pushes through his discomfort to bombard a rock sample with “rays” and accelerate the formation of this new world, one safely hidden from ours by being placed on the opposite side of the Sun and, within the space of a few panels, has created a prehistoric world whose development he’s able to speed up beyond the limits of creation, evolution, and even the divine. This Counter-Earth is thus ripe for the coming of the High Evolutionary’s superior race of men, one purged of their killer instinct, but the effort of creating it is so intense that it causes the High Evolutionary to pass out from exhaustion. This is the moment that the Man-Beast and his followers, who had been observing their creator, choose to strike, gunning down Sir Raam and perverting this new world, introducing violence and aggression and causing the Counter-Earth to descend into generations of war at the simple twist of a dial. The High Evolutionary recovers and surprises the Man-Beast with his newfound superior physical strength; however, a ”bestial mind-blast” and the sheer numbers and savagery of his rebellious creations threaten to overwhelm the would-be deity and, seeing this, He decides to break free from his cocoon to intervene. Emerging garbed in a “resplendent […] armour and ornaments” created by his cocoon, He causes the beasts to flee in terror to the Counter-Earth. Dismayed by the Man-Beast’s actions, the High Evolutionary sees no other choice but to destroy his new world but He beseeches him to spare the world. Retracting his condemnation of humanity and wishing to nurture their better nature, He requests to be sent to the Counter-Earth to track down the Man-Beast. Touched by His words, the High Evolutionary reluctantly agrees; he gifts Him with a mysterious jewel to protect Him from the Man-Beast’s snares and transports Him to the surface of the fledgling world with a heavy heart and bestowing upon Him that which He has never had: a name, “Warlock”.

The Summary:
Previously, I only really knew Adam Warlock from The Infinity Gauntlet; I’ve literally never read another story with Him in in all my years of reading comics, so He’s always been a very elusive and mysterious figure for me. It’s actually refreshing that He’s not been wheeled out every time there’s a big cosmic event as it makes Him more alluring and significant, at least to me, so I was intrigued to see some of His background in this story. There was clearly a conscious effort to build a sense of mystery and divine beauty to this character, who is touted over and over as the pinnacle of human scientific acumen and seen as the next step in our evolution, a golden creation so astounding that to look upon Him is to suffer greatly. Yet, He is a deeply sensitive man-god; capable of sensing the intentions of men and fully capable of judging them accordingly, He has no interest in mindless combat and wishes only to isolate Himself until the time is right for Him to walk amongst men. Despite having battled the likes of Thor, He hasn’t ever encountered anyone worthy of his presence until He’s discovered by the High Evolutionary, a mind with whom He can relate to so strongly that He openly shares His assessment of our tumultuous species and His chaotic origins.

Him and the High Evolutionary share many of the same views about our volatile society.

I’m equally unfamiliar with the High Evolutionary, a highly advanced individual who I’ve always seen as a combination of Doctor Victor Von Doom/Doctor Doom and Dr. Moreau from H. G. Wells’ titular 1896 science-fiction story. The parallels are pretty explicit, given both characters like to create monstrous human/animal hybrids but the High Evolutionary isn’t just some sadistic mad scientist. Disillusioned with humanity and our warring wars, he seeks to “improve” upon our aggressive nature and faults not by destroying humankind but by creating his own world and actively directing the course of the counter-humanity’s evolution. However, comic books generally cast anyone who seeks to create life through scientific or magical means, effectively defying the natural order, as a villainous character and, to be sure, the High Evolutionary’s methods are highly questionable, yet he expresses genuine regret over the savagery of the Man-Beast. His plot isn’t to create a race of superpowered or animalistic abominations to dominate the world, or to wage war against the Earth from his asteroid laboratory; he simply wishes to create a utopia on the other side of the Sun to manipulate humanity to be the very best of themselves. In Him, the High Evolutionary sees his dreams take physical form; just seeing His visage is enough to captivate the High Evolutionary, who refers to Him as the son he never had on more than once occasion.

Having championed humanity’s potential for good, He gains a name and a purpose for the first time.

The two share a unique bond, agreeing that humankind is far too quick to resort to warfare than strive towards peace and prosperity, and both are impressed by each other’s abilities. However, He recognises humanity’s inherent potential for “goodness” and, thanks to his divine nature, is perhaps the only one capable of staying the High Evolutionary’s hand when he prepares to destroy the Counter-Earth he created with such ease. The High Evolutionary expresses regret in His decision to be a champion on Counter-Earth but respects Him enough to allow Him the chance to try; he doesn’t rate His chances for success but prepares Him as best as he is able, even bestowing Him with His first true name. Thus, the stage is set for the newly-christened Warlock to be not a destroyer or an impassive observer but an active participant in the formation of this Counter-Earth’s development. Those who read comics looking for some cosmic action and to see what Warlock is truly capable of may be left disappointed; as is often the case, much of the story is taken up with recaps of each character’s backgrounds but, at its core, it’s a rumination on the nature of humanity and the conflict these powerful, God-like beings feel in regards to our volatile ways. Warlock and the High Evolutionary share some engaging and introspective exchanges, there’s an interesting dialogue on offer here concerning their morally grey and ambiguous natures, and I think the story does a decent job of leaving you wanting to know where Warlock’s story goes from here on out and how he goes from desiring to inspire Counter-Earth’s residents to almost literally playing cosmic chess with Marvel’s greatest heroes and characters in The Infinity Gauntlet.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What did you think to the return and naming on the God-like “Him”? Were you intrigued by Adam Warlock’s presence and eager to know more about Him or did you find Him a rather bland character? What do you think to the High Evolutionary, his opinions on humanity, and his plan to create his own Earth? Did you read Adam Warlock’s subsequent stories and, if so, what are some of your favourite moments of His? What did you think to this MCU debut? Whatever you think about Adam Warlock and Marvel’s cosmic shenanigans, please share your thoughts below or leave a comment on my social media.

Back Issues [HulkaMAYnia]: Tales to Astonish #90/91

Since his explosive debut in May 1962, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s gamma-irradiated Jade Giant has been one of their most recognisable and successful characters thanks, in large part, to the Incredible Hulk television show (1977 to 1982) catapulting the Hulk into a mainstream, pop culture icon. The Hulk has been no slouch in the comics either, being a founding member of the Avengers and undergoing numerous changes that have made him one of their most versatile and enduring characters, so what better way to celebrate all things Big Green than by dedicating every Sunday in May to the Green Goliath?

Writer: Stan Lee – Artist: Bill Everett

Story Titles: “The Abomination!”
Published: 10 January 1967 (cover-dated April 1967)

Story Titles: “Whosoever Harms the Hulk…!”
Published: 14 February 1967 (cover-dated May 1967)

The Background:
Created by Marvel legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Doctor Robert Bruce Banner’s monstrous alter ego, the Incredible Hulk, was inspired by the story of a hysterical mother using superhuman strength to rescue her child and classic screen monsters Frankenstein’s Monster and Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde. Initially debuting as a stone-grey figure, the character soon gained his trademark green hue and became a fixture of Marvel Comics thanks to expansions of his lore and character and the popularity of the live-action television series. Stan Lee also had a hand in creating some of the Hulk’s most memorable enemies; having birthed the Hulk’s intellectual superior, Samuel Sterns/The Leader, alongside Steve Ditko about three years prior, Lee and artist Gil Kane introduced Marvel readers to one of the Hulk’s most persistent physical rivals, Emil Blonsky/The Abomination, in this two-part tale. Lee came up with monster’s unique name and reportedly instructed Kane to make the Abomination bigger and stronger than the Hulk to make for some fun conflicts. Over the years, the Abomination has been through almost as many changes as his lifelong rival, being a savage brute, a schemer, and a figure of redemption. His impact on the Hulk’s life has been so influential that he’s featured in numerous Marvel cartoons; although he made his live-action debut in the unfairly overlooked The Incredible Hulk (Leterrier, 2008), it would be some thirteen years before he would return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The Review:
Our story begins with the Green Goliath embarking on an unstoppable rampage thanks to the manipulations of a cosmic being I’m personally unfamiliar with but who calls himself “The Stranger”; believing that humanity is a blight that needs to be eradicated, the Stranger has set the Hulk to work wiping the planet clean of humankind’s influence, and the Hulk is only too happy to give in to his anger. Already harbouring a resentment and animosity towards the “puny humans” who hate and fear him, the Hulk wrecks a suspension bridge and prepares to lay waste to a missile base when he’s suddenly hit with an intense pain in his head that not only causes him to fall, but also triggers his transformation back into cursed Gamma scientist Bruce Banner. This has the knock-on effect of severing the Stranger’s mind control, but Banner is terrified at the prospect of the Hulk resurfacing and continuing the Stranger’s work and resolve to destroy the Hulk (and himself, if necessary) once and for all using the “Gamma Ray Machine” he created and which just so happens to be at the very base he’s found himself at.

While Banner broods and Ross blusters, a foreign agent undergoes an incredible transformation!

Nearby, the cantankerous General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross is determined to root out the man behind a recent assassination attempt on his daughter (and Banner’s flame), Betty Ross; also Major Glen Talbot assures Ross that it’s just a matter of time before the foreign agent is discovered, Ross explodes in anger and demands that they find the perpetrator before they can endanger the missile, giving his men orders to shoot to kill if necessary. Betty is distraught that there’s been no word from Banner for some days and fears for his life as long as he shares a body with the Hulk; she’s so devastated at the idea of losing him that she pays no mind to Talbot’s attempts to insert himself in Banner’s place. Meanwhile, in Banner’s lab, Ross’s spy (whom we know as Emil Blonsky but who isn’t named in this story), is snooping around in the guise of a soldier and trying to snap pictures of Banner’s vaulted Gamma Ray Machine. Although Banner returns at that very same moment, intending to use the machine on himself, he’s spotted and arrested by military police and the smug Talbot, who refuses to listen to his pleas. Amused by the turn of events, Blonsky comes out of hiding and investigates the machine, activating it out of sheer curiosity and bathing himself in an intense dose of Gamma radiation. The result is his instantaneous transformation into a hulking, green-skinned, lizard-like monstrosity; thanks to stepping out of the Gamma rays early, this Abomination is able to retain his intellect and revels in his newfound super strength, which he believes will make him “master of the world–of the whole universe!!” and promptly destroys the machine so that none will challenge his invincibility.

The Hulk is overwhelmed by the superior strength and intellect of his newest foe.

The Abomination’s subsequent rampage through the base catches the eye of the imprisoned Banner, who willingly transforms into the Hulk as only his alter ego has a chance of opposing this new Gamma monster. Ripping open his cell, the Hulk leaps into the fray but quickly finds that the Abomination is not only smarter thanks to not being a mindless brute, but also more powerful as he was conveniently subjected to a more powerful dose of Gamma radiation. Consequently, Ross, Talbot, and Betty can only watch on in horror as the Abomination asserts his dominance and brutally beats the Hulk into unconsciousness, clearly establishing himself as a formidable threat, and that Blonsky is oddly concerned that he wouldn’t survive the military’s counterattack so he kidnaps Betty and flees from the base. Driven to desperation by the events he’s witnessed, Ross has no choice but to order his physicians to try and save the Hulk’s life; while the surgeon is initially baffled by the half-dead creature’s physiology, perennial sidekick Rick Jones bursts into the facility to suggest using Gamma electrodes to revive the beast and, in panels that owe more than a debt to Frankenstein (Whale, 1931), the Hulk lives again! Believing the soldiers are trying to contain him, the Hulk refuses to listen to reason and even swats Rick aside, vehemently denying his tearful pleas for help, until the mention of Betty’s name causes him to calm down and revert back to Bruce Banner.

Although Banner devises a workable plan, the monster’s rematch is abruptly interrupted.

Cutting through Ross’s bluster and inconsolable babble and prejudice, Banner comes up with a plan to lure the Abomination back to them, rather than confront his great power directly, and reconfigure his “Infinite Weapon” to nullify Blonsky’s strength with “Infra-Gamma Beams”. Begrudgingly, Ross orders his technicians and soldiers to follow Banner’s every command as they race to perform the necessary adjustments, and the Abomination willingly returns to the site, drawn by the allure of the Gamma radiation, though everyone, even Rick, is unsure as to how Banner plans to oppose such a fearsome monstrosity. The Abomination bursts into the laboratory, setting down Betty and preparing to finish off Banner, but is surprised when the machine causes him incredible pain and saps his mighty strength. It’s at this key moment that Banner uncontrollable turns into the Hulk and the two Gamma Giants set about having a rematch. Although they bash each other through walls and promise to really go at each other, the Stranger chooses this moment to return to the story; watching from “a thousand galaxies away”, he begins to consider that humanity might not be beyond all hope if a brute such as the Hulk can be so valorous and chooses to take the Abomination for his own needs. He also completely removes the influence he had over the Hulk’s mind but, while he’s met with congratulations and a semblance of gratitude from even General Ross, the Hulk chooses to head back out into the world alone once more.

The Summary:
The Abomination’s debut is much more the type of Hulk story I’m used to; by this point, Bruce Banner’s dual identity is well known and his adventures follow a very simple formula of him wandering around the country, desperately trying to avoid conflict, all while the Hulk threatens anyone and everyone around him and lashes out at those he deems to be a threat. Unfortunately, I didn’t think much to Gil Kane’s artwork, especially on the Abomination and the Hulk’s face, both of which look to little too simplistic and goofy for my tastes. I did enjoy the twist of the normally unreasonably antagonistic General Ross absolutely snapping when the Abomination kidnaps Betty; he’s so traumatised by this that he’s forced to not only rely on the Hulk and Banner for help, but even revive the Green Goliath and order his men to follow Banner’s every instruction. It’s an interesting twist on his usually staunchly anti-Hulk/Banner mindset, kind of like whenever J. Jonah Jameson is forced to eat crow, though I was interested to see that Major Talbot was actually arguing in favour of Ross’s hated enemy on more than one occasion. Similarly, I liked that Banner got to do a little more than just wallow in despair and self-pity; he puts his genius mind to work creating a trap to lure in the Abomination and sap his strength, though it was a little too contrived that all of Banner’s machinery and work just happened to be at this military base. The Hulk is pretty much exactly as he’s always presented, with the added wrinkle that he’s suffering from the influence of the Stranger; this doesn’t really seem to change his character all that much, however, as it’s hardly an uncommon occurrence to see the Hulk going on an all-out rampage for the smallest of reasons.

The Abomination’s strength is so great that it takes brains, not brawn, to challenge him.

This is potentially the first time that the Hulk has ever faced a foe as physically imposing as him, however; he fought Groot (no, not that one) a few years earlier but as far as I can tell most of his more monstrous foes made their first appearances after this story. Consequently, the Abomination makes quite the impact; not only does he retain his intelligence, allowing him to out-think the Hulk, but he’s portrayed as being significantly more powerful, knocking the Hulk out and beating him almost to the point of death in their first encounter. However, the praise kind of stops there; the explanations behind Blonsky’s retained intelligence and greater strength and paper thin and it’s really weird that he would choose to flee after besting the Hulk as he would surely have even less reason to fear the military’s weapons than the Green Goliath. The Abomination’s greater intelligence also doesn’t really translate into any kind of impressive strategy either; immediately drunk on his newfound power, Blonsky sets his goals as lofty as conquering the entire universe, than smashes the place up a bit, and then resorts to kidnapping Betty. He doesn’t even use her as a means to give the Hulk pause to attack and abandons her the moment he arrives back at the base, but worst of all is the fact that this Stranger’s intervention cuts short his rematch with the Hulk simply to keep the Abomination’s threat unchallenged. Overall, this wasn’t a bad two-part story but it definitely wasted its potential; there was so much that could’ve been done with the duality of these monsters, the twist of Ross having to rely on his enemy, and seeing the Hulk and the Abomination tera up the base of the countryside but the story instead plays it very safe and simply hands the Hulk a decisive loss and has his newest (and presumable most powerful) villain left out in the world (well, cosmos) to no doubt hound him again at some point.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Did you enjoy the Abomination’s debut? Did you read it when it was first published and, if so, how did you think the Abomination compared to other Hulk villains? What did you think to the idea that the Abomination was not only smarter but stronger than the Hulk? Would you have liked to see a proper rematch between the two in the second part? What are some of your favourite fights or moments between the Hulk and the Abomination? Who is your favourite Hulk villain? Whatever you thoughts on the Abomination (and the Hulk), feel free to share them below or leave a comment on my social media and be sure to check in again next Sunday for more Hulk action!

Game Corner [National Superhero Day]: Marvel: Ultimate Alliance (Xbox 360)

In 1995, Marvel Comics created “National Superhero Day” and, in the process, provided comics and superhero fans the world over with a great excuse to celebrate their favourite characters and publications.

Released: 24 October 2006
Developer: Raven Software
Also Available For: Game Boy Advance, Nintendo Wii, PC, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Portable (PSP), Xbox 360, Xbox One

The Background:
Perhaps few videogame publishers are as synonymous with Marvel Comics than Activision; the publisher has been spearheading adaptations of some of Marvel’s most popular properties since the year 2000. They weren’t all smash hits, of course, but some of their titles have been praised as among the best for characters like Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Marvel’s resident Mutant team, the X-Men. In 2004, the publisher teamed with developers Raven Software and saw big success with X-Men Legends, a team-based brawler that incorporated role-playing elements and simultaneous co-op gameplay. Following similar success with the sequel, Activision’s partnership with Raven Software expanded to incorporate much of the rest of Marvel’s line-up with this title, which was built on Vicarious Visions’ Alchemy engine. The game also greatly benefitted from utilising the Havok physics engine; in addition to including many of Marvel’s most popular characters alongside those added as downloadable content (DLC), Nintendo staples Link and Samus Aran were initially planned to be Wii-exclusive characters before being nixed. Marvel: Ultimate Alliance received generally favourable reviews; critics praised the game’s presentation and for improving and expanding upon its predecessors, and the game was successful enough to warrant an equally-successful sequel three years later and (eventually) a Nintendo Switch-exclusive third entry that received mixed reviews. Sadly, despite a remastered version being developed for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One in 2016, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is currently delisted from digital storefronts and quite difficult to come back for an affordable price as a result.

The Plot:
When Doctor Victor Von Doom and his Masters of Evil launch an attack against the Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate (S.H.I.E.L.D.), Colonel Nick Fury sends out a distress call to all available superheroes for assistance. Steve Rogers/Captain America, Spider-Man, Thor Odinson, and Logan/Wolverine respond to the call and must soon join forces with a myriad of other Marvel heroes in order to put a stop to Dr. Doom after he attains incredible cosmic powers from Odin Allfather.

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is a top-down, team-based brawer peppered with some very light puzzle solving, opportunities for exploration, and role-playing mechanics. Players can (eventually) assemble a team of four from around thirty available superheroes and journey across a number of recognisable Marvel locations battling against the nigh-on endless minions of the Masters of Evil. Up to four players can play at once, though a single player is able to battle on alone, using the Left Trigger and directional pad (D-pad) to direct their computer-controlled team mates or switching to another superhero by pressing a corresponding direction on the D-pad. Players are given two primary attack options: A for a quick attack and B for a stronger attack, which can be charged up, and alternating between these commands will allow you to string together a few simple combos that will stun, trip, or blast your foe into the air, which can be essential to breaking through some enemy’s guards. X is the “action” button, allowing you to open doors, activate consoles, turn levers, or grab enemies to pummel, throw, or relieve them of their weapons, and Y allows you to swim and jump (you can also double jump, web-sling, or fly by double pressing and holding the button, respectively). Players can block incoming attacks by holding the Left Bumper or tap it to dodge out of the way entirely and each character has their own special abilities, which are accessed by holding the Right Trigger and selecting either A, B, X, or Y. Special powers can only be used if you have another energy, which is represented by glowing blue orbs dropped by enemies or uncovered from smashing crates or opening chests, and allow you to fire energy beams, toss projectiles, entrap enemies (by freezing or webbing them up, among other options), boost you (and your team mate’s) defense, attack, and other attributes, and cause status effects to your enemies like stunning, burning, or electrocuting them. While many of the effects are largely shared amongst the roster, each character pulls them off in their own unique way; Tony Stark/Iron Man’s Repulsor blasts are different from Mark Spector/Moon Knight’s projectiles, even though both can ricochet around the environment, and each character has a variety of special powers that you can power-up and assign to the face buttons from the “Hero Management” menu.

Assemble a team of four superheroes and battle the endless forces of the Masters of Evil.

Each character also has a big, character-specific attack that can be performed when your energy gauge is completely full and you press Y while holding RT this will see them unleash a huge, screen-clearing attack specific to them and each character will perform these in succession if their energy gauge is full. You’ll also earn additional bonuses if certain characters pull off their special moves at the same time, and this also happens if your team is formed of characters who have a history together, like the X-Men or the Fantastic Four. The game’s story mode is comprised of five “Acts”, which drop your team in a variety of locations that should be familiar to Marvel Comics fans. After clearing the first mission, which has you retaking a S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier from Dr. Doom’s forces, you’ll be dropped into one of five hub areas where you can interact with Nick Fury, Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, and other non-playable characters (NPCs) to learn more about your current or next mission, gain insight into the heroes and villains, and be given side quests to perform. In the hub area, and scattered throughout each location, are S.H.I.E.L.D. Access Points where you can save or load your game, change up and upgrade your team, or revive fallen teammates. Just as blue energy orbs can be acquired during gameplay, so too can red health orbs, but some environmental hazards or bottomless pits will see you or your teammates taken out of action. It can take about three minutes for your fallen ally to be ready for revival, but they can only be brought back into the fight from one of these save points. As you defeat enemies, you’ll earn experience points (XP) and level-up once you’ve gained enough XP, which will improve both your individual and team stats and unlock additional special moves for you to utilise. From the Hero Management screen, you can switch your character entirely, change their costume (which affords different abilities), equip gear to boost their stats, and name and improve the competence of your team to increase your odds when in a fight.

The tedious combat is broken up by some simple puzzles, QTEs, or short bites of variety.

Gameplay in Marvel: Ultimate Alliance quickly grows quite repetitive; you can charge through most missions by repeating the same combos and special moves over and over, and opportunities for exploration are quite limited as areas generally only give the illusion of being large and multi-pathed. Combat doesn’t get much deeper than tripping, stunning, or blasting enemies, or avoiding using physical or energy-based attacks, and it’s surprisingly easy to get turned around in areas even with the presence of a mini map as one dark, grey corridor looks the same as the last. Puzzles aren’t much of a head-scratcher here; you’ll generally fight your way to a console or power generator that needs to be activated or destroyed, though sometimes you’ll need to activate two switches at once with the either of a partner, and you’ll sometimes have to perform these tasks against a time limit. You’ll need to push or pull heavy objects onto pressure pads, redirect sunlight to free Balder Odinson, defend Dum Dum Dugen in a glorified escort mission, perform character-specific motions to activate statues, or complete quick-time events (QTEs) to open doors or take out larger, otherwise-invulnerable bosses. You’ll jump behind the controls of an anti-aircraft cannon, be joined by NPCs like Major Christopher Summers/Corsair, and have to rescue characters like Doctor Bruce Banner and Prince Namor McKenzie/The Sub-Mariner, though some of these are optional side quests. These optional missions appear during the main campaign and often having you searching for items for a specific character, or destroying certain targets along the way, and sometimes you’re faced with an impossible choice between two options which will fundamentally alter the multiple endings. Gameplay really gets interesting, though, when you end up in Murderworld, a twisted funfair featuring bumper cars, a giant pinball set, a hedge maze, and even an old-school Atari-style mini game that sees you awkwardly swinging from ropes and collecting Golden Tickets to rescue Doctor Jean Grey/Phoenix from Arcade’s clutches.

Graphics and Sound:
Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is largely an impressive looking title, despite how old it is now, thanks to the zoomed out, almost isometric camera perspective. This means that the in-game character models, while hardly the most detailed, pop out nicely against the various backgrounds and I liked how they all had their own unique flourishes, like Spider-Man being able to web enemies up when he grabs them and Norrin Radd/The Silver Surfer floating around on his cosmic surfboard. Unlike some similar team-based brawlers, this really helps it to feel as though each character plays a little differently since they don’t just share the same animations and have a little individuality to them; you’ll need a stronger character to move certain objects, for example, and it’s much easier to explore the environment with a character who can fly. While your customised team won’t appear in the pre-rendered cutscenes, they do all have a lot of unique dialogue during the game, and when talking to or fighting against other characters; dialogue trees exist so you can ask a number of questions to NPCs or pick different options, which either helps you answer trivia questions, kicks off a side mission, or has you picking to team up with or save a different character, and villains like “Lester”/Bullseye or Quinten Beck/Mysterio. Unfortunately, the music isn’t really on par with the voice acting; it’s all very generic superhero-y or militaristic themes, and the in-game tracks often awkwardly loop, which is very jarring; the music’s also very loud, so you might want to adjust the sound settings in the options.

While the cutscenes aren’t great, the in-game graphics are decent enough and there’s a lot of dialogue variety.

The pre-rendered cutscenes also often let the game down a bit; they haven’t aged too well, and have a very rubbery and surreal quality to them (though they are pretty epic, especially when the Masters of Evil are discussion their evil lot and when Galactus and Uatu/The Watcher enter the story) that I’d criticise more if I could actually see them but the cutscenes are very dark and the only way to brighten them is by changing your television’s settings. The game’s environments often don’t fare much better, either; while it’s fun visiting places like the Sanctum Sanctorum and Valhalla in the hub worlds, the actual mission locations quickly become confusing and boring. While there’s a lot to destroy and see in each area, and even some hidden paths to uncover, rooms, corridors, and sections all start to blend together and the levels themselves can outstay their welcome at times, which only makes the monotonous combat more glaring. That’s not to say that there aren’t some visually interesting locations, though; you’ll swim through the depths of Atlantis, travel to Hell itself, battle across the length of the Bifrost Bridge and through the frozen wastes of Niffleheim, and infiltrate the gothic, regal stone walls of Castle Doom. Easily the most impressive area you’ll visit, though, is the Skrull home world, which is currently under attack by Galactus; the World-Devourer is seen lumbering around in the background between the futuristic skyscrapers and even pursues your across the walkways in an exciting (if frustrating) sequence, though the gameplay and visual variety offered by Valhalla is equally fun as you can visit the Warrior’s Hall (where NPCs are enjoying revels) and hop across Viking ships amidst a cosmic backdrop.

Enemies and Bosses:
Since a gaggle of Marvel’s most notorious villains has joined forces in Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, you can expect to come up against a bevy of disposable goons during your adventure. It doesn’t take long for you to basically have seen everything the game has to offer in this regard, but each location does at least change up the appearance, dialogue, and some of the attacks of the enemies you face; you’ll battle Ultron’s minions, Loki Laufeyson’s trolls, and soldiers from the Shi’ar Empire and the depths of Atlantis, all of whom can be defeated using your standard combos or special powers. You can set your team mates to follow, attack, or defend formations, but I always like to choose an aggressive approach to overwhelm the hoards of enemies that can flood each area. Some of these carry weapons, either melee armaments like axes, spears, and swords which you can appropriate, or laser rifles for long-range attacks; others shield themselves and need to be attacked from behind or stunned. Some, like the imp-like demons from Mephisto’s Realm, leap onto you and drain your health, while others fly above taking pot-shots at you, and some are resistant to physical or energy attacks or need to be tripping, stunning, or blasted into the air. Some are larger, dealing and taking more damage, while others regenerate their health (or their allies), sap your health or energy, or boost the attack of other foes, so it’s best to take those guys out first.

A whole host of Marvel villains stand in your way, though most can just be beaten into submission.

The Masters of Evil have assembled quite the smorgasbord of allies; you’ll do battle with almost every single villain from Marvel Comics throughout the course of the game, sometimes more than once, as various underlings dog your progress throughout each mission. Often, you’ll battle at least two of these sub-bosses at a time; sometimes they flee after an initial encounter and need to be fought again, other times they’re powered up to be more formidable, and in other cases they’re able to heal or shield each other from your attacks by working together. However, defeating the likes of Mac Gargan/The Scorpion, Bullseye, James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes/The Winter Soldier, Chen Lu/Radioactive Man, Valentin Shatalov/Crimson Dynamo, Aleksei Sytsevich/The Rhino, Herman Schultz/The Shocker, Doctor Curt Connors/The Lizard, Hussar and Neutron, Paibok, and even the corrupted superheroes you eventually fight really don’t require much more than you constantly attacking them with combos and special powers. Indeed, while it’s impressive that so many villains appear in the game, very few actually offer much in the way of a challenge beyond being a little tougher than the regular enemies you encounter, with even the likes of notorious villains like Ultron and Titannus proving quite disappointing encounters as, while they keep you at bay with laser blasts or destroy everything in a rampage, respectively, both can be similarly put down without any complicated strategies. Many of these villains are fought in teams, however, and they can also reappear in the simulator missions you unlock by finding discs, allowing you to battle them with different characters and in different situations, but as long as you string together your usual combos and unleash your best special attacks they go down pretty easily, even when bolstered by disposable minions.

Some of the best sub-bosses require a bit more strategy and forethought to put them down.

Other villains, however, do bring a little bit more to the table: Mysterio uses illusions to throw you off and, while Paul Pierre Duval/Grey Gargoyle can disable you by turning you to stone, Baron Carl Mordo, Kl’rt/Super Skrull, and the Mandarin disable you with elemental attacks to encase you in ice or send you flying with a blast of wind. The Mandarin also ends up being a particularly annoying boss as you need to lure his spider-like robots into teleporting to his safe spot to destroy his endless supply of Ultimos and actually bring him down for good. Mental/Mobile/Mechanized Organism Designed Only for Killing/M.O.D.O.K. challenges you to a trivia quiz to get closer to him, then brings in waves of Advanced Idea Mechanics (A.I.M.) minions to annoy you in addition to firing lasers and shockwaves at you. When battling Byrrah Thakorr-So and Krang, you also need to destroy sonic emitters to progress the mission, while Attuma and Todd Arliss/Tiger Shark can be difficult to hit as they’re swimming all over the place, making for a more aggravating encounter. Dragon Man randomly drops in as a tough obstacle to bypass since he’s capable of dishing out some formidable damage, while Blackheart employs multiple versions of himself to attack you and you’ll need to take on all three members of the Wrecking Crew at once (though they fall pretty easily if you’re wielding an axe or other weapon). Amora the Enchantress can allure you and your teammates into not attacking her, and will heal her brutish ally, Skurge the Executioner, Ulik and Kurse can only be defeated by attacking one with melee attacks and the other with energy attacks, and you’ll need to lower the shields protecting the likes of Kallark/Gladiator, B’nee and C’cil/Warstar, and Cal’syee Neramani-Summers/Deathbird (who flies around the arena tantalisingly out of reach and swooping down to grab you otherwise).

The bigger, more formidable bosses offer a bit more variety and spectacle.

Luckily, the game claws back a bit of challenge and intrigue by its large and engaging end of Act boss battles. After fending off Dr. Doom’s attack on the Helicarrier, you’ll battle Fing Fang Foom on the main deck; this gigantic alien dragon blasts fireballs at you from the air, covers the ground with shockwaves when it lands, and can only be brought down by firing anti-aircraft cannons at it and making good use of your ranged attacks. After making it past his robots and death traps, you’ll battle Arcade’s massive mech in a circus tent, which you need to fire yourself at using cannons and succeed at QTEs in order to have it damage itself in frustration. The eldritch Kracken is one of the ore frustating bosses as you can’t damage it directly and must lure it into attacking the nearby columns so you can complete a QTE sequence, but it seems completely random when it’ll actually smash into these columns, meaning the fight drags a bit. Fittingly, Mephisto awaits you in the depths of Hell; this demonic villain spews hellfire at you, protects himself from attacks with a shield, and can even screw up your controls with his powers, though you can disarm him and use his Hellsword to damage him. You’ll have to take extra care when Mephisto compels Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler or Jean Grey to attack you, however, and will lose that character forever when they sacrifice themselves to stop Mephisto. At first, Loki isn’t really too much of a threat; sure, he’s got lightning attacks that stun you and is assisted by his Frost Giant minions, but he goes down pretty easily. However, it’s all a ruse as he then poses s Nick Fury to have you activate the indestructible Destroyer, which you must flee from while desperately searching for the ice-shielded Loki; once you find him, simply attack him until his shield breaks and the fight is ended. Galactus, however, is a threat far too big for you to tackle head-on; instead, you must desperately flee from him (destroying his drills if you have time) and then avoid his massive fists to activate three consoles and blast at him as the Silver Surfer in a QTE sequence. Finally, you must take on Dr. Doom himself; however, despite stealing Odin’s power to become a literal God, the mad doctor really isn’t too difficult to defeat even with the corrupted Fantastic Four acting as his personal guard. Simply destroy the four generators powering his shield, chase him down as he dashes and teleports across his throne room, mashing buttons when he grabs you, and pummel him as you would any other enemy or boss and, eventually, he’ll be defeated without too much problem regardless of his electrical attacks or shockwaves.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As mentioned, you can refill your energy and health by collecting blue and red orbs, which are dropped by enemies or found by destroying crates or opening chests. While some hazards can whittle your health down pretty quickly, or kill you immediately, health is pretty easy to come back, and you can also grab weapons to dish out greater damage to enemies (in fact, this is highly recommended as weapon attacks easily cut down even the most intimidating Super Soldiers and Doombots). You will also acquire S.H.I.E.L.D. Credits from enemies and the environment, which can be spent on upgrades to your character’s powers, costume-specific abilities, and upgrading your team’s stats; you cans et these to auto-upgrade, but they increase in cost each time you boost them so you can burn through Credits pretty quickly. Defeating the game’s many sub-bosses and bosses will also yield special gear that you can assign to each character; this will boost your attack, XP, or gauges, resist or inflict elemental damage, and offer numerous other perks but you can only equip one item to each character and your inventory has limits, meaning you’ll need to sell some to make way for new pick-ups as you come across them. Finally, as mentioned, you’ll get boosts to your stats and performance for forming teams of related characters, and performing special moves with certain characters, so it can be beneficial to experiment with different combinations and search around the environments for chests for more loot.

Additional Features:
There are forty-six Achievements on offer in Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, with the majority of them popping after clearing each Act and defeating bosses. Other Achievements include tossing enemies to their deaths, performing a certain number of finishing moves, defeating a certain number of enemies, unlocking every character and costume, and finishing the game on Hard mode, among others. Since the only difficulty-based Achievement you get is finishing on Hard, you may as well play through on Easy unless you’re going for that Achievement, and you’ll also get Achievements for finishing missions with another human-controlled character and upgrade every character’s special moves. Throughout each level, you’ll find a number of collectibles scattered about; art books unlock artwork to view, action figures allow you to unlock T’Challa/Black Panther and Matt Murdock/Daredevil as playable characters (and you can play a claw mini game in Murderworld to unlock Eric Brooks/Blade as well), and you can unlock Nick Fury by finishing the game once and the Silver Surfer by earning at least a Bronze medal in the game’s bonus simulator missions. These are unlocked by finding S.H.I.E.L.D. Simulator discs and recreate key moments and battles from each character’s history in a series of tough challenges. You can also take on five sets of trivia questions in each hub world for additional XP and Achievements, replay and revisit any Act, hub, and mission once you’ve finished the game, view movies and other unlocks in the gallery, and go head-to-head with your friends batting for points in an “Arcade” mode. By defeating numerous enemies with each character, you’ll eventually unlock up to four different costumes for each one, with these offering slightly different abilities that you can upgrade. Unfortunately, you can no longer purchase the two additional DLC packs, which added eight new characters to the roster in addition to twelve extra Achievements, none of which can be accessed on home consoles any more, which is a shame as I wanted to have Eddie Brock/Venom on my team and had to settle for symbiote Spider-Man.

The Summary:
I’d played Marvel: Ultimate Alliance before on the PlayStation 3 and, while I’d enjoyed it, I remember being put off by the lack of Trophies to earn and the fact that the DLC was only available on the Xbox 360 version. When I finally bought an Xbox 360, this game was on my buy list and, coincidentally, was a bit more expensive than I’d like and the DLC was still unobtainable, unless I wanted to shell out ridiculous amounts for an imported version. When I finally got it again, I enjoyed getting back into it; the game is very action-packed and chock full of playable characters, cameos, and villains to fight, but there’s really not a great deal to the combat, graphics, or the story. It’s fine and enjoyable enough, but things get repetitive very quickly and you’ve basically seen everything the game has to offer (apart from a few bells and whistles) after the first Act. You’ll beat on the same generic goons with the same tedious combos over and over, solving simplistic puzzles and spending your Coins on upgrades, but very rarely will you actually find much t set this apart from other, similar brawlers. The character selection and variety is great, and I like how they feel distinctive despite basically all being the same, and I enjoyed how some stages were more visually interesting than others, allowing you to swim or venture onto the hull of a space craft. While the sub-bosses weren’t up to much, the bigger bosses offered a bit more challenge and entertainment, but it feels a bit like the developers maybe crammed a little too much into the game without trying to make each villain a unique encounter. Overall, it’s a decent enough team-based brawler that’s probably more fun with a couple of friends to play with; there’s some decent replay value on offer with the different endings you can get based on your decisions and the extra missions and unlocks to find, but it does feel a little lacking in presentation and overall content to really score much higher.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Have you ever played Marvel: Ultimate Alliance? If so, what did you think to it and who made it into your team? What did you think to the combat, character selection, and the overall gameplay? Were you disappointed that the boss battles were mostly just a tedious log? Which of the characters, villains, and locations was your favourite? What endings did you get and did you ever unlock all of the costumes and characters? Did you ever play as the DLC characters? Where would you rate this game against its sequels and other similar games? How are you celebrating National Superhero Day today? Whatever your thoughts, sign up to leave a comment below or leave a comment on my social media, and be sure to stick around for more superhero and comic book content throughout the year.

Back Issues [Crossover Crisis]: Spider-Man and Batman

In April of 1985, the first issue of the ground-breaking, twelve issue Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1986) was published. This event, which was easily the biggest in DC Comics at that point (and for many years), saw the destruction of the “Multiverse”, an infinite number of parallel worlds, and the awkward establishing of one unified DC canon. Over the years, DC have returned to this concept again and again, retconning it, expanding upon it, and milking it to the point of excess but that doesn’t change how influential this massive crossover was. To celebrate this momentous event, I’m looking at multiversal crossovers every Tuesday in April in an event I call “Crossover Crisis”.

Story Title: “Disordered Minds”
Published: September 1995
Writer: J.M. DeMatteis
Artist: Mark Bagley

The Background:
You might be surprised to learn, considering they’re in direct competition with each other, that DC Comics and Marvel Comics have had a reasonably collaborative and amicable relationship over the years. Obviously, there’s been lawsuits and underhanded tactics from both, but not only were legendary Stan Lee and disreputable sham Bob Kane close friends but both comic giants borrowed from and inspired each other and they’ve even collaborated on many joint publications in the past. Having already had Clark Kent/Superman and Peter Parker/Spider-Man come to blows in Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man: The Battle of the Century (Conway, et al, 1976) and Bruce Wayne/Batman test his mettle against Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk in Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk (Wein, et al, 1981), DC and Marvel brought together their two most popular characters for the first time in this 1995 one-shot adventure. As is the case with many of these DC/Marvel crossovers, Spider-Man and Batman can fetch a pretty high price for collectors, and it also wouldn’t be the last time that the web-slinger and the Dark Knight crossed in one form or another.

The Review:
Our story begins with Peter Parker wrestling with the guilt and shame of being partially responsible for the death of his beloved Uncle Ben. In a nightmarish revisitation of the fateful night when Dennis Carradine broke into the Parker home and gunned down Ben, Peter (as Spider-Man) is on hand to strike with a furious vengeance, viewing the gunman as some maniacal monster who simply laughs at his murderous actions so hard that he eventually turns into the Joker! Peter awakens in horror, eased through the aftermath of this oft-recurring nightmare by his beautiful and busty wife, Mary Jane Watson-Parker. As ever in times of emotional crisis, Peter takes to web-slinging to help clear his head and ventures out into the night reaffirming his commitment to using his powers responsibility in order to live up to the examples set by his doting aunt and uncle. Coincidentally enough, that very same night, Bruce Wayne is also reliving the night that his parents died, gunned down in an alley in a senseless act of violence. Similar to Peter, Bruce’s dream sees him (as Batman) leaping into action, hatred for the inhumane monster boiling in his veins, and awakens to find himself, as ever, alone in his vast mansion with only his heartache and faithful butler and father-figure, Alfred Pennyworth. However, while he appreciates Alfred’s concern and loyalty, he heads out into the night as Batman without a word, determined to ensure that none should suffer as he did from random acts of violence. With our characters and their motivations firmly established, the story jumps over to the Ravencroft Institute, where Spider-Man is accompanying Doctor Ashley Kafka for a visit to the imprisoned Cletus Kasady/Carnage, who’s being held in a specially-constructed cell that keeps his violent symbiote at bay presumably using heat. The purpose of this is similar to the opening panels as Kasady simply taunts Dr. Kafka with a summary of his abusive and disturbing childhood, some of which may be true and some of which may just be another aspect of his twisted personality since Kasady is obsessed with murder, mayhem, and (quite fittingly) carnage.

Batman is less than thrilled when Spidey swings in to help after Carnage breaks free.

Carnage surprises both of them by breaking out of his cage, claiming himself to be a “walking impossibility” beyond logic and reason, but luckily Spider-Man and a security force led by Colonel John Jameson are on hand to subdue the serial killer with their fists and microwave guns, respectively, though newcomer Cassandra Briar proposes a far more permanent (if radical) solution to Kasady’s frequent maniacal outbursts. Utilising a “bio-technic cure” for Kasady’s insanity, Briar has a computer chip installed in his cerebral cortex, which promises to render him for more docile and stable, though Dr. Kafka likens it to the equivalent of a modern-day lobotomy and Spidey remains doubtful that it’ll stick since he’s more than familiar with Kasady’s volatile nature. Similarly, over in Gotham City, Batman puts a stop to the Joker’s latest scheme to infect millions of people with a deadly virus transmitted through bats and returns the Harlequin of Hate to Arkham Asylum (though he’s disgusted when the Joker lands a bite on him during their scuffle). There, Briar proudly shows off how meek and timid Kasady has become from her controversial treatment and uses this success as all the justification she needs to implant a similar chip into the Joker’s head, thus becoming a media sensation for rendering two of the country’s most violent and sadistic supervillains “as harmless as a puppy”. Determined to ride these successes to a wider rollout of her “miracle cure” and receive Presidential approval to eradicate psychopaths everywhere, Briar receives the shock of her life when the Carnage symbiote suddenly bursts out of Kasady’s body after shorting out her chip, taking both her and the terrified and submissive Joker hostage. Thankfully, the Batman is on hand (having disguised himself as a guard) to confront the demented killer, but his usual tactic of goading a villain into discarding their hostages in favour of him fails to work since Carnage has no interest in prioritising Batman over anyone else. Luckily, Spider-Man makes a surprise appearance to whisk Briar out of the maniac’s clawed grip and the two masked heroes take the fight to Carnage, despite Batman’s assertion that he doesn’t need the help.

While the villains’ alliance is short-lived, Batman is soon recruiting Spidey’s help in dealing with Carnage.

Regardless, the two briefly knock Carnage off balance, but he’s able to slip away by firing shards of his symbiote at the nearby cops and strangling the others with his bloody tendrils, creating an effective distraction to cover his escape. Naturally, Batman is less than thrilled to see Spider-Man encroaching on his turf, both out of a desire to keep the web-slinger from getting hurt due to his unfamiliarity with the city’s unique dangers and because he doesn’t need or want his help or him getting in the way, though Spidey naturally ignores this warning. In comparison, Carnage admits to an admiration for the Joker’s “homicidal genius [and] shameless depravity” and uses a small fragment of his suit to short out the chip and return the Clown Prince of Crime to what asses for normal. Although initially confused, frustrated, and angered at the Joker’s babbling and insolence, Carnage quickly gleefully rejoices in the Joker’s commitment to the absurd meaningless of anarchy. However, their partnership is short-lived. When the Joker takes Carnage to his secret, fairground-themed hideout to retrieve the remainder of his virus, joyfully expositing his plan to douse hundreds of Joker-themed jack-in-the-boxes with the toxin and distribute them to kids, Carnage is disgusted since it would take too long for the bodies to start piling up and he delights in getting his hands bloody from up-close-and-personal slaughter. The two come to blows over their differing methods and mentalities, with the Joker easily slipping away through a hidden trapdoor and even attempting to kill Carnage by blowing up his lair. In contrast after Batman contemplates Carnage’s unique brand of madness and sadistic nature in the Batcave and Spider-Man sees first-hand how different things are in Gotham when nobody bats an eyelid when a random civilian is screaming bloody murder in the streets, our heroes finally come together when Batman not only picks Spider-Man up in the Batmobile but even apologises for giving him the brush off.

Though pushed to their limits, Batman and Spider-Man are ultimately victorious and part as allies.

Though he has no time for Spider-Man’s quips and jokes, Batman recognises that he has unique insight into Carnage, and the two are able to track him to the wreckage of the Joker’s lair, where they find what appears to be his dead body but is, in fact, a decoy Carnage set up to trick the Joker. Delighted to have the Batman in his coils instead, Carnage plans to publicly execute Batman on top of Gotham Towers and, while comparing Carnage to Death itself, which passed him by back in Crime Alley, Batman orders Spider-Man to stop Carnage despite the threat to his life. However, it’s the Joker who actually intervenes in the tense showdown; claiming ownership over the Batman and determined to drop his virus on the four of them, killing all of them and everyone else in the city simply to spite Carnage, Kasady’s briefest flicker of fear is all the opening Batman needs to break free from his grip and leap into action. Spider-Man easily webs up the threat and, despite it taking the combined might of Spider-Man and Eddie Brock/Venom and many others in the past, the Batman is easily able to pummel Carnage into unconsciousness since, for all his powers and bloodlust, he’s simply another sloppy punk and a “scared little boy”. With Carnage subdued, Spider-Man chases down the Joker with an uncharacteristic rage; easily manhandling the Clown Prince of Crime, Spider-Man is barely able to stop himself from killing the Joker since he’s too great a threat, too dedicated to violence and chaos, to be left alive. While his better nature prevails and he ultimately spares the Joker, Spidey does deliver a knock-out punch to the cackling villain, finally bringing the story’s combined threat to an end. As if seeing Spider-Man pushed to the point of killing wasn’t surprising enough, Spidey is unusually quiet in his final confrontation with the Batman; weary from the night’s events, the two choose not to ruin the moment with words and instead part ways with a hearty handshake having found a common ground and a mutual respect through their conduct and escapades.

The Summary:
“Disordered Minds” is an interesting approach to take for an intercompany crossover. You might think with characters as wildly different as Spider-Man and Batman that the focus would be on their different methods; if Dick Grayson/Nightwing is an athletic chatterbox and the various Robins are brightly-coloured distractions to throw criminals off from Batman’s darker, more measured approach, then Spider-Man should drive the Dark Knight absolutely batty (heh!) with his constant chatter, quips, and annoying tendencies. Instead, there’s actually not much in the way of banter between the two; Spider-Man mouths off a little in the Batmobile, but that’s about it and the rest of their interactions basically boil down to Batman telling Spidey to fuck off and Spider-Man sticking around because of his innate sense of responsibility. This is a bit of a shame as I would’ve liked to see their contrasting personalities and methods more on show beyond “Gotham’s not what you’re used to sod off!” and “Boy, you’re grim” but the story does have to two united in their shared grief. Both carry a tremendous amount of survivor’s guilt, though for different reasons; Bruce was too young to do anything about his parents’ murder whereas Peter chose not to use his powers responsibly, so both are on the same path towards safeguarding others to ease their guilt and pain but have very different outlooks on the world. This comes up multiple times, with Spider-Man raging against the chaos and violence around him and Batman lashing out at “Death” and determined to rally against it however he can.

While the writing is a bit dodgy and there’s some wasted potential, the art work in phenomenal.

The art is where the story really shines; Mark Bagley is one of the top Spider-Man artists and, thanks to his work on the character and his various run-ins with symbiotes before, has more than proven himself capable of delivering a dynamic and visually exciting Spider-Man and menacing and dangerous Carnage. His Batman and Joker fare really well too, naturally, and the art is absolutely stunning all throughout even if the writing fails it somewhat. We spend no less than eleven pages recapping the origins of Spider-Man, Batman, and Carnage, which is probably great for newcomers but somewhat unnecessary for long-term readers when, normally, a simple text box sums it all up nicely. Thankfully, all of this is rendered in an interesting way through the use of nightmares and Carnage’s dramatic escape from custody, but the writing stumbles a bit mid-way through, too, since Cassandra Briar basically disappears after being rescued despite so much time being spent on her computer chip cure. I feel like a simple story about Kasady or the Joker being transferred across the country might’ve been a much simpler and faster way to get things moving since the chip is easily destroyed by Carnage and doesn’t factor into the plot beyond being a contrived way to get him and the Joker to cross paths. There’s also not a huge amount of interaction between Batman and Spider-Man; they don’t physically fight (which is unusual at the best of times but even more so for a crossover like this), join forces pretty quickly after Batman stops being irrationally stubborn, and it doesn’t really take much at all for them to defeat the villainous duo despite Carnage being so powerful that Spider-Man alone usually struggles to defeat him. there’s a promise of a twisted partnership between Carnage and the Joker but it’s almost immediately squandered simply because Carnage gets impatient, which is in keeping with his character but basically means the villains don’t actually do anything besides compliment each other, scuffle a bit, and then get taken out by the heroes. All in all, this was relatively entertaining and interesting first meeting between my two favourite comic book heroes but it didn’t quite deliver on its potential, despite the fantastic art work and some fun moments.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Have you ever read Spider-Man and Batman? If so, what did you think to it? Do you own a copy of the original comic or do you remember reading it when it was first published? Were you surprised that there wasn’t more time spent on contrasting the different methods and personalities of the two heroes? What did you think to the brief team-up between the Joker and Carnage the ease that they were defeated? Would you like to see DC and Marvel collaborate again in the future and, if so, what stories would you like to see? Whatever your thoughts on Spider-Man and Batman, and comic book crossovers of this kind, sign up to share them below or comment on my social media and check back next Tuesday as Crossover Crisis continues!

Back Issues [Dare-DAY-vil]: Daredevil #181

Blind lawyer Matt Murdock first made his debut in Daredevil #1 in April of 1964 and was co-created by writer/editor Stan Lee and artist Bill Everett, with input from the legendary Jack Kirby. While perhaps not as mainstream as characters like Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Daredevil has become one of Marvel Comics’ greatest creations and has featured in a number of ancillary media and merchandise, included a questionably-received big-screen adaptation in 2003 and a critically-successful Netflix series. Still, he’s one of my favourite Marvel characters so today is a great excuse to pay homage to the “Devil of Hell’s Kitchen”.

Story Title: “Last Hand”
Published: 29 December 1981 (cover-dated April 1982)
Writer: Frank Miller
Artists: Frank Miller and Klaus Janson

The Background:
The 1960s were a golden age for Marvel Comics as Stan Lee teamed with legendary names like Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby to create some of comicdoms most iconic superheroes. Stan Lee and artist Bill Everett created their most challenging hero yet when Matt Murdock/Daredevil debuted on 1 April 1964, and the Man Without Fear would go on to be one of Marvel’s most popular and enduring characters thanks, in no small part, to the efforts of writer/artist Frank Miller. The then up-and-coming Miller joined the book in 1979 with issue 159 and soon took over writing duties as well as pencils; responsible not just for the creation of Elektra Natchios but penning some of Daredevil’s most influential stories. Easily one of his most memorable stories was told in this special, double-sized issue in which he made the shocking decision to kill off Elektra at the hands of Marv Wolfman and John Romita Sr’s Bullseye. Although Elektra would be resurrected (and killed again) in later years, this doesn’t change the impact of her first death and Miller’s storyline was so pivotal to Daredevil’s character that this storyline was adapted in both the live-action film and the Netflix series.

The Review:
“Last Hand” opens with Benjamin Pondexter, the assassin known as Bullseye, stewing in a prison sell on Ryker’s Island and fantasising about blowing Daredevil’s brains out; after being humiliated by the Man Without Fear time and again, Bullseye is no longer satisfied with a clean, simple kill and desires to make him suffer, to break him, to hear him scream in agony. Bullseye’s hatred is palpable and made only worse by the fact that Daredevil could have left him to die in a subway but actually saved his life, demeaning him even further in his own eyes and those of his fellow inmates. While training his body in anticipation for his eventually rematch with Daredevil, Bullseye is crippled by one of his agonising headaches; although the brain tumour he once suffered with has been fixed, he suffers from debilitating migraines and is dependent upon pills to stave off the pain, which is just one more thing he blames ol’ hornhead for. During one of his few moments of reprieve out in the yard, the shackled Bullseye has a tense confrontation with Frank Castle/The Punisher, who is currently locked up as well, who delights in taunting Bullseye with the knowledge that Wilson Fisk/The Kingpin has replaced him with a new assassin-for-hire.

Bullseye, driven by hatred for Daredevil, escapes from Ryker’s after learning he’s been replaced by Elektra!

Enraged by this, and driven to have his revenge against Daredevil, he accepts an effort to appear as a guest on Good Evening, New York; however, when he feigns a headache, he temporarily blinds an armed police officer by spitting the pill in his face and causes the cop to shoot his shackles with an errant shot, thus freeing him from his shackles. Bullseye wastes no time grabbing the downed officer’s gun, gunning down his guards, and taking host Thomas Snyde as a hostage. Bullseye shoots his way out into the yard and, incredibly, is able to throw off a sniper and commander their helicopter using little more than a pistol and a microphone cord! Although he’s eager to track down Daredevil and get his revenge, Bullseye first heads over the Eric Slaughter’s hideout for a lead on the assassin who replaced him; there, he learns that the old man’s freelance organisation is preferable to Bullseye’s more erratic and dangerous ways, and promptly beats the crap out of two of Slaughter’s men. Impressed, the old man willingly gives information the name he requires: former ninja Elektra, who has been instructed to assassinate Matt Murdock’s best friend, Franklin “Foggy” Nelson. Bullseye’s reputation is such that Slaughter fears him almost as much as, if not more than, the Kingpin and lends him the services of his men. They put together a file on Murdock and Nelson for Bullseye and he is amused to the point of hysterics at the similarities between Murdock’s pictures and Daredevil, finding the idea of a blind superhero to be hilarious.

Bullseye and Elektra’s brutal fight ends with her skewered on her own sai!

Bullseye begins following Murdock, watching him perform in court and being sickened by his good nature and humanitarianism; he literally slaps a bug on Nelson’s back so he can listen in on them and slices a taxi cab driver’s throat in order to obtain some wheels to follow Foggy’s cab. Quite conveniently, Foggy’s cab has been commandeered as well: by Elektra! Foggy just about pisses his pants when Elektra pulls over and prepares to execute him with her sai, but he saves himself when he realises that he recognises her as a girl Matt hooked up with when they were back in college. Although she falters in her duty because of her memories of her whirlwind romance with Matt, Elektra’s senses are attuned enough to hear Bullseye approach her with a pistol and she instantly springs into action: she disarms him with a leaping kick and catches him off-guard with her speed, strength, and skill. Their fight spills into a parking lot, and Bullseye uses his knowledge of ninja training to turn the tide against Elektra, matching her blow for blow but ultimately gaining the definitive upper hand when he tosses one of his razor sharp playing cards at Elektra’s throat, cutting her open and leaving her completely helpless as he grabs her and stabs her in the stomach with one of her own sais! Mortally wounded and bleeding out, Elektra staggers through the crowded streets to Matt’s flat, where she dies in his arms. Bullseye can’t help but be present when Matt and Foggy are called in to identify Elektra’s body and learn her cause of death; he heard Foggy mention that Elektra used to be “Matt’s girl” and is curious when Matt seems to stiffen up upon hearing his voice, as though he recognises him, and proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that his suspicion that Matt is secretly Daredevil is true by throwing a scalpel at Murdock’s head only for the blind lawyer to block it with his walking stick.

Bullseye ends up crippled but no less determined to one day further torment his foe.

Armed with this knowledge, Bullseye brings this revelation to the Kingpin, supporting his hypothesis with medical evidence, but Fisk finds the very idea of a blind man being Daredevil preposterous. He does, however, assign Bullseye the task of killing Daredevil and bringing him his body, so the assassin heads to Murdock’s apartment to finally have his revenge…only to be blindsided by Daredevil! Unbeknownst to Bullseye, Matt has set up a decoy of himself, which is enough to throw off Bullseye’s confidence in his hypothesis, but he’s no less eager to get into it with his hated rival. Bullseye lures Daredevil to the rooftop and adds a psychological edge to their fight by wielding Elektra’s sais; their brutal clash sees them plummet through a skylight, battle across an elevated train track, and finally come to blows on a precarious wire over the city street. Since he doesn’t have Daredevil’s superhuman balance, Bullseye slips and falls and is enraged when his foe catches him; determined not to suffer another humiliation at Daredevil’s hands, Bullseye prepares to stab his enemy with a sai but, surprisingly, Daredevil drops the assassin to the street below with the intention of ending his murderous ways. However, given that Bullseye has narrated the entire issue, you may have guessed that the fall doesn’t actually kill Bullseye; although even the Kingpin believes him to be dead, Bullseye lies fully bandage in a hotel room with a shattered spine and unable to move his limbs. However, he takes solace in having hurt Daredevil, both by killing Elektra and breaking his friend Matt Murdock’s heart, and in his hatred. Though he cannot move or speak, his hatred is as strong as ever, if not stronger, and he vows to find his way back and continue hurt Daredevil until he’s finally dead.

The Summary:
“Last Hand” is certainly a unique Daredevil tale for a few reasons: first and foremost, it’s told entirely from Bullseye’s perspective. Right from the first panel, we’re let in on the twisted, hate-filled internal monologue of one of Daredevil’s most notorious foes and he’s portrayed as a sick, remorseless, calculating villain throughout. Taking a perverse pleasure in toying with and killing his victims, Bullseye is dangerous and lethal with even the most harmless of everyday objects; while his hatred towards Daredevil is great, this never clouds his judgement or ability; instead, he’s surprisingly observant and conniving, able to deduce that Matt and Daredevil are one and the same to the point where he absolutely nails everything about the Man Without Fear’s origin to the smallest detail, only to be met with scorn from the Kingpin and successfully duped into disregarding his theory thanks to Matt’s trick. Interestingly, though, Bullseye’s crippling headaches don’t factor into the story at all once he’s out of Ryker’s; you’d think that maybe this is what would cause his downfall in the end, but this plot point is completely forgotten once he’s garbed in his familiar outfit and back on the streets, as though finally returning to action cured his debilitating pains.

This is Bullseye’s story, and he not only changes Matt’s life forever but almost figures out his dual identity!

Another way this story stands out is just how little Daredevil actually appears in it; when we do seem him, it’s either through Bullseye’s memories or as a quick flash over to Murdock’s daily routine as a parallel to Bullseye’s time in prison. Thanks to Bullseye’s constant narration, Daredevil is seen as a stoic and grim vigilante, a far cy from his wise-cracking debut, one who is as focused and formidable at fighting as Bullseye. When we do see Matt and Foggy, they’re painted as “saps”; the kind of do-gooders who sicken Bullseye and he only takes an interest in them because they can lead him to his replacement and when he suspects that Matt is Daredevil. We learn very little explicit information about how Elektra’s death impacts Matt; since we are never privy to Matt’s thoughts beyond the few words he says in the story, the entirety of his emotions is told through the artwork. This is strikingly effective, as entire fight sequences and panels pass without any text, and Matt’s morose pain and rage are expertly conveyed in his no-nonsense approach to engaging with Bullseye. It’s also quite interesting seeing the Kingpin outright dismiss the idea of blind Matt Murdock being Daredevil; in time, Fisk would learn that this was actually true and set in motion an aggressive campaign to physically and mentally destroy his foe, but it’s amusing to see just how close he (and Bullseye) came to the truth only for it to be sacked off as being patently ridiculous. Sadly, we don’t really get much insight into Elektra here; like Daredevil, she’s a person of few words, and all of her emotion and turmoil is told through her facial expressions and her fight sequences, which paint her not just as a conflicted and formidable individual but, ultimately, as a victim of Bullseye’s sadistic lusts.

Bullseye pushes Matt to the limit, and sets him on motion towards a dark and destruction path.

Finally, the issue stands out by having a major character being so brutally killed off. There’s a case to be made that Elektra, a trained ninja assassin from birth, should have been able to best Bullseye in their fight but I think the story does a decent job of putting them on equal ground thanks to the emotional blow of suddenly being reminded of Matt and Bullseye’s trick cards. The panel of Bullseye skewering Elektra will forever be iconic, no matter how many times she returns from the dead, and seeing he stumble across town to be with Matt in her final moments was truly heart-breaking. It’s clear from Matt’s stoic expressions that he’s in great pain at her loss, and seeing him launch into an all-out assault when Bullseye brandishes his former lover’s weapons conveys just how personal this fight is for Daredevil. Indeed, it drives him to critically injuring Bullseye; Daredevil’s promise that Bullseye’ll “kill no one – ever again!” could be taken two ways, I believe: either Matt intended for the fall to kill the assassin, or he aimed to cripple him as the final panels show him to be. Either way, it’s a pretty dark place for Daredevil to go and shows just how sour and morally questionable his life as Daredevil can be at times. Overall, this is definitely a pivotal story in Daredevil’s long history and well worth a read for fans of the character, or those who want to explore him further, but maybe it suffers a little from not seeing things form Matt’s perspective; obviously, subsequent issues would delve into this in great detail but it might have been interesting to switch back and forth between Bullseye and Daredevil’s inner thoughts just to get a sense of what’s going though Daredevil’s mind.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Have you ever read “Last Hand”? Were you a fan of Elektra and, if so, what did you think to her death in this issue? What did you think of the story being told entirely from Bullseye’s perspective? Did you enjoy the fights in the story or do you think Elektra was given the shaft? Would have liked to see Daredevil’s thoughts in more detail? What do you think of Daredevil as a character and which storyline of his do you think is the best, or the worst? How are you celebrating Daredevil’s debut this year? Whatever you think about Daredevil, sign up to drop your thoughts below or leave a comment on my social media.

Back Issues [Deadpool Day]: The Circle Chase

In February 1991, readers of The New Mutants were introduced to Wade W. Wilson, AKA the wise-cracking, fourth-wall-breaking Merc With a Mouth himself, Deadpool. Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza’s sword-swinging immortal went on to become one of Marvel’s most popular anti-heroes thanks to his metatextual humour, violent nature, and massively successful live-action films. It’s perhaps no surprise that Sideshow rechristened April 1st as “Deadpool Day” to give fans of the chimichanga-chomping mercenary an excuse to celebrate all things Deadpool.

Writer: Fabian Nicieza – Artist: Joe Madureira

Story Title: “Ducks in a Row!”
Published: 15 June 1993 (cover-dated August 1993)

Story Title: “Rabbit Season, Duck Season”
Published: 20 July 1993 (cover-dated September 1993)

Story Title: “…And Quacks Like a Duck…”
Published: 17 August 1993 (cover-dated October 1993)

Story Title: “Duck Soup”
Published: 21 September 1993 (cover-dated November 1993)

The Background:
By the 1980s, the X-Men had established themselves as one of Marvel Comics’ most successful features, prompting then-chief editor Jim Shooter to commission a series of X-Men spin-off titles, resulting in Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod’s New Mutants. The Mutant youngsters eventually fell under the command of the time travelling Mutant Nathan Summers/Cable, who reformed them into X-Force, and famously came up against Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld’s Deadpool in The New Mutants #98 (ibid, 1991). The self-styled “Merc With a Mouth” was heavily inspired by the likes of James Howlett/Logan/Wolverine and Peter Parker/Spider-Man with more than a few similarities to DC Comics’ Slade Wilson/Deathstroke the Terminator and was initially introduced in an antagonistic role with ties to time-travelling villain Mister Tolliver. Deadpool proved popular enough to make guest appearances in other Marvel Comics before receiving this four-issue miniseries that was a precursor to his ongoing solo title and the greater popularity he achieved once he became self-aware and began breaking the fourth wall. Naturally, this eventually evolved into appearances in Marvel/X-Men-related videogames, a cameo appearance in the beloved X-Men animated series (1992 to 1997), and his live-action debut in the much-maligned X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Hood, 2009), though it was his self-titled spin-off films that truly catapulted him to mainstream success.

The Review:
Deadpool’s first solo series begins in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia two years into an ongoing conflict that has made it a breeding ground for international black marketeers and mercenaries, including a heavily-armed group who have been given the unenviable task of searching out and eliminating Deadpool. Unfortunately for them, the Merc With a Mouth catches them completely off-guard, easily dispatching them while mocking them for being less effectual than G. I. Joe’s or Ken dolls. Despairing of the quality of mercs he’s encountered ever since Tolliver died, Deadpool is offended when his friend and contact, Jack Hammer/Weasel, pulls a gun on him. still, Deadpool is so scatter-brained that he quickly moves on from the misunderstanding to first complain that his suit’s teleportation function is “on the fritz” and the fact that he (and anyone who ever worked for Tolliver) now has a target on their back. Weasel tries to suggest that they (or, at least, Deadpool) should try and get their hands on Tolliver’s estate and weapons, but Deadpool’s more focused on getting intel on Vanessa Carlysle/Copycat, a shape-shifting Mutant and former flame of his who he’s looking to kill off, when they’re suddenly interrupted by one of the most nineties-looking characters I’ve ever seen (which is saying something considering Deadpool’s attire), Garrison Kane/Weapon X, a cybernetic mercenary who was both part of the same Weapon X program as Deadpool and a member of Cable’s Six Pack when he was working for Tolliver.

Deadpool is hounded by mercenaries and former allies who all want him dead.

Kane also wants to know where Vanessa is and attacks, easily shielding himself from Deadpool’s blade and bullets with his versatile cybernetic enhancements. Shrugging off Wade’s jokes and insults, Kane mocks him for betraying his mercenary code and allowing so any of his former enemies and allies to live, but it’s only when Weasel points out that neither of the two beefed-up idiots knows where Vanessa is and they’ve simply being fighting over nothing and as a result of their stupidity and machismo. Admitting to acting without thinking, Kane tries to leave, determined to make an offer to Vanessa before she’s killed (since she’s one of the prime targets in the whole will fiasco), and drops the bombshell that another of Wade’s former adversaries, Gregory Terraerton/Slayback, is not only still alive but is actively gunning for Deadpool, the man who left him for dead way back when. As if on cue, the cybernetic killer breaks into the headquarters of Department X (the government agency behind the Weapon X program) to steal Wade and Kane’s files in order to settle the score and, as if that wasn’t bad enough, the story also jumps over to New Delhi, India, where Wolverine knock-off Nyko Halfghanaghan guns down mercenaries looking for Tolliver’s will (his dead brother, Pico, was Tolliver’s right-hand man so they assume he must know something about it) before delivering a work order to Jacob Gavin Jr./Courier calling for Deadpool’s execution for his part in Pico’s death. Finally, there’s a third plot thread at work here as Cain Marko/The Juggernaut bursts into a genetic research facility outside of Angoulême, France in search of his friend, Thomas Cassidy/Black Tom Cassidy (a common occurrence during this time as the two had formed a strong friendship). Louis Banque, the director of the facility, manages to calm Juggernaut down enough to take him to Black Tom, who’s been enhanced through further mutations that allow him to form weapons, reshape his body into an organic wood substance, and focus and intensify his bioblasts through that same “wood gunk”. This storyline converges with Deadpool’s when issue two drops Wade into Cairo, Egypt where he executes another group of mercs to acquire a briefcase containing a disc that holds information on Tolliver’s will (if that sounds like some kind of mental scavenger hunt, it actually is as per Tolliver’s design, with the ultimate prize being “the most powerful weapon on the face of the planet!”) Anyway, just as Deadpool gets the case, Juggernaut and Black Tom show up, wreck the building he’s standing on, and then blast Deadpool in the back of the head to steal the case from him.

Deadpool is outraged when Commcast “violates” his mind while searching for Tolliver’s will.

Meanwhile, another former member of Weapon X, Bernard Hoyster/Sluggo, drops in on Vanessa’s mother in search for her and ends up garrotted around the neck by the blue-toned shape-shifter, who’s looking to avenge the death of her friend, Tina Valentino, at Sluggo’s hands. Vanessa settles for stealing Sluggo’s car and leaving him to be arrested after learning that she’s become a target in the search for the will and vows to head to Sarajevo to acquire it, and Tolliver’s fortune, for herself. However, when Courier procures the services of Garabed Bashur/Commcast and the Executive Elite, he offers not money, but Tolliver’s disc and thus a head start in the scavenger hunt. Unaware of this, Deadpool heads to Cairo International Airport using Weasel’s intel and a fight ensures between him and Juggernaut and Black Tom (in civilian guises) that sees Marko hand over the briefcase to save Tom from being sucked out of the plane, only for Wade to trick him and send both plummeting to the ground below while he returns to Sarajevo for issue three. There, he gets into it with Amie Zamborano/Makeshift and Anastasia Summit/Rive of the Executive Elite; disgusted by Deadpool’s sexist jeers, the two pin him to a wall and fry him into unconsciousness with a massive burst of electricity. This makes him easy pickings for Commcast to haul back to the Edsel and subject him to the torture of his “synaptic neural scanner”, a fancy high-tech headband that allows Commcast to scan the thoughts and memories of his victims. Though Deadpool attempts to resist, this sheds some light on his past with Vanessa, depicting them as lovers back before he was mutilated by the Weapon X program, and shows how Kane tried to emphasise the benefits of cybernetic prosthetics when Wade was diagnosed with terminal cancer. After revealing that there are actually two discs that act as a guide towards Tolliver’s will, Commcast rips off Deadpool’s mask, revealing his gruesome visage to everyone but the reader, distracting them enough for Weasel to make a dramatic entrance and break Deadpool free. Incensed at Commcast poking around in his head (which he unironically sees as a “violation” despite his mercenary ways), Deadpool goes on a rampage, destroying his facility and killing Makeshift and Rive (but it’s Weasel who delivers the fatal headshot to Commcast). Weasel then examines the two discs and learns of a monastery in Nepal, which he theorises is the location of Tolliver’s will, and of an “ambient-energy dampening” genetic monstrosity known as “Unit: Zero” that he assumes is guarding it.

After Slayback is atomised, Deadpool proves he’s more than just a killer…and makes out with Tolliver’s treasure!

Thanks to her shape-changing and mild mind control abilities, Vanessa is also able to learn of this monastery through alternative means but, when she makes the climb to the building, she’s surprised by Slayback and effectively taken hostage. Although Deadpool insists on heading in alone, Weasel makes the four-storey rope climb to offer his assistance in the arc’s final issue, and Kane also manages to make his way there so that all the loose ends can be nicely tied up. Thanks to Weasel, Deadpool discovers a locked vault packed full of weapons, gadgets, and other gizmos set aside by Tolliver, which leads to another scuffle with Kane when he comes looking to claim Tolliver’s secret, all-powerful weapon for himself. Although Deadpool is all mouth when it comes to Kane, he’s thrown into a panic when Slyback makes it a three-way dance since he didn’t just see Slayback die, he saw him reduced to little more than a bloody goop! Thanks to his cybernetic enhancements and burning desire to avenge himself, Slayback easily overwhelms Deadpool but, as he moves to deliver a fatal blow (despite this being impossible against Wade thanks to his superhuman healing factor…), Vanessa sacrifices herself to save her former love. During all of this kerfuffle, weasel realises that a seemingly innocuous mannequin is actually the Zero unit (or “Adam Unit-Zero”, to be precise) and Tolliver’s ultimate weapon, an energy-absorbing synthezoid built to eliminate all weapons of war. Consequently, it identifies Slayback as such and reduces him to cinders, atomising him in a blinding flash of light. While it settles for similarly destroying Weasel’s armaments and evaluates that Kane has a “strong inclination towards socially beneficial behaviour” [sic] despite his capability for lethal force, it classifies Deadpool as a weapon of war and moves to nullify him accordingly. However, in keeping with his reputation as the “Merc With a Mouth”, Deadpool is able to stall the machine by rationalising that he’s not just capable of killing but healing too. He then demonstrates this by having Vanessa touch his horrifically scarred body to absorb his healing factor and thus heal her mortal wounds, confusing Adam and causing it to teleport away to conduce further analysis. Although she’s grateful, and touched that he still loves her, Vanessa turns him down since she loves another and tearfully begs him to move past his cancer, his past, Tolliver, and even himself so he can find something worth fighting for again. Though heartbroken, Wade consoles himself with the knowledge (as amusingly expositing by Weasel) that he showed he can be more than just a brutal killing machine, and by swiping some of Tolliver’s gold for himself so the mission wasn’t a complete loss.

The Summary: 
In many ways, The Circle Chase suffers from a lot of the problems I often have with X-Men stories, particularly those from the team’s heyday in the nineties; stories were often crammed full of characters, lore, and interweaving plot threads that made single issues and even ongoing story arcs difficult for me to pick up and read since it was hard to keep track of everything going on. We’ve got Deadpool, Vanessa, the Juggernaut and Black Tom, Weasel, Garrison Kane, Slayback, Commcast, the Executive Elite, the complex search for Tolliver’s will and numerous references to him and his minions…it’s quite a bit to take in all at once. Thankfully, the art is pretty good; while much of the action takes place at night or in darkened interiors, all of the characters are very colourful and stand out thanks to that nineties excess of bulging muscles, ridiculously excessive guns and technology, and hyper sexualisation of female characters and bodies that was so rampant during this time.

Deadpool’s chatter mouth and questionable past are a highlight of the miniseries.

The writing is also really good, particularly in terms of dialogue and in characterisation Deadpool. Wade more than lives up to his loquacious reputation here and is constantly spouting nonsense, pop culture references, and getting distracted with tangents in the heat of battle. He taunts his opponents to the point of frustration, which is always amusing, and offers relentless amusing commentary throughout the miniseries. Deadpool’s skills are at their peak here and he’s easily able to take out the many run of the mill mercenaries he comes up against; the more prominent mercs from the Executive Elite manage to subdue him (mainly to advance the story, put some spotlight on Commcast, and subject Deadpool to his mind reading device so we can learn a little more about him) but even this is just a temporary setback and he immediately enacts a bloody revenge upon being freed by Weasel. Interestingly, the final issue delves a little into Wade’s complex mindset; while he hides behind his near-psychotic persona and smart mouth, he’s actually a very tortured individual, one suffering from hideous scars as a result of his healing factor constantly staving off the cancer that threatened his life. Wade is also rattled into an uncharacteristic panic by Slayback’s survival and appearance and a prominent plot point being Wade’s rejection of the notion that he actually enjoys killing and is a mindless sadist like Slayback. This is ultimately proven to be true in the finale, where he uses his healing factor to restore Vanessa and reject the notion that he’s nothing more than a weapon of wear, which allows him to neuter Adam-Zero’s threat which along with his heartbreak over having lost Vanessa’s love, goes a long way to injecting some humanity into this otherwise volatile and unstable mercenary. While The Circle Chase may be bulging with colourful characters, Mutants, and cybernetic antagonists, the core villains are actually surprisingly interesting. It seems as though everyone in the story has a connection to Deadpool, mostly through either Weapon X or the Six Pack (or both), and almost everyone has an axe to grind against him (even Weasel, the closest thing he has to an ally, is constantly exasperated by Wade’s instability and childish nature).

There’s quite a bit going on, but the characterisations and art work make it an entertaining read.

Having said that, the Executive Elite are basically a throwaway distraction that exist mostly to pad the story out with a bit more action, intrigue, and exposition, but Commcast almost makes an impression as a kind of dark mirror of Professor Charles Xavier by using his technology to violate Deadpool’s memories and he even has an “X-Men” team of his own in Makeshift and Rive. Garrison Kane is even more of a wild card than Deadpool himself; he’s something of a reluctant ally but doesn’t hesitate to throw down against his former teammate simply because he acts “like an idiot” when it comes to Wade due to their history together. With his glowing eye and bionic arms and armaments, he’s kind of like a poor man’s Cable, which is fitting given their history together, and ends the story on slightly better terms with Wade than they began due to their shared concern for Vanessa. Vanessa is also a significant factor in the miniseries, primarily as one of the main targets for Tolliver’s will and as Deadpool’s lost love, though she doesn’t get a huge amount of agency; she is able to string up Sluggo and find her way to the monastery without the discs but, once there, she’s held hostage by Slayback and then nonsensically throws herself in front of Deadpool despite him being able to heal from any wound. As for Slayback…I’ve never heard of this guy, but I actually really enjoyed him! His zombie-like appearance and malleable cybernetics (which give him an extensive reach and even a drill appendage) make him a fearsome foe and he’s written with this biting, British wit that adds a lot of character to him. the parallels between him and Deadpool kind of come out of nowhere in the last chapter but I liked that his appearance rattled wade so much that it put him on the back foot, and it was interesting seeing wade think (well, “talk”, really) his way out of being atomised by Adam-Zero like Slayback was. Overall, I really enjoyed this miniseries; it was a little bloated at times but bat-shit-crazy in all the ways I enjoy about a character like Deadpool. While Wade isn’t being as self-referential or meta as he is now known for, all the foundation for the characterisation is here and the miniseries went a long way to justifying his later mainstream success.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.


Have you ever read The Circle Chase? If so, what did you think of the story and the Deadpool’s first solo foray? Did you enjoy the bloated cast of colourful characters and their ties to Deadpool’s past or was it all a bit too crowded for you? What did you think to Deadpool’s characterisation here, the glimpses into his past and motivations, and his snarky with? Were you a fan of Slayback, Vanessa, and the likes of Garrison Kane or is there another of Deadpool’s villains you prefer? What are some of your favourite Deadpool stories and moments and how are you celebrating Deadpool Day today? Whatever your thoughts on Deadpool, feel free to sign up and share them below or drop a comment on my social media.