The Thunderbolts – Underrated and Underappreciated

I wanted to take today to talk about one my favourite teams to ever come out of the Marvel comic universe and that would be the Thunderbolts. Most people aren’t very familiar with them if at all, and those that are familiar tend to view them as Marvel’s Suicide Squad.  While the Suicide Squad did come first by quite a few years, the Thunderbolts have been right smack in the middle of some of the Marvel comic universe’s biggest events and played a big part in the original Civil War.

The Marvel Thunderbolts is a team made up (originally) of Super Villains that masqueraded as heroes and fooled the world into believing they were heroes. It was revealed in the final page of Incredible Hulk #449 from January 1997, that they were a team of villains (the Masters of Evil) led by Baron Zemo.  Throughout their early publication the team became more and more heroic to the point where they ousted their leader Zemo and became heroes in their own right. Eventually Hawkeye led the team and continued to do so for many years. The team went through many re-launches and revamps through their short publication history until Warren Ellis took over the title making the team a black ops government sanctioned team that was tasked with rounding up fugitive superheroes during Civil War. This was by far the most successful run of the team and they even appeared in several tie in runs with Secret Invasion. The team was revamped during the MarvelNow! publications to operate as singular unit functioning outside the law and government sanction.

The team has gone through so many incarnations and revamps that it would take forever to list the teams and their respective rosters. That being said the following three rosters are the most popular from their publication history and have been present for some of the biggest events in Marvel Comic history.

#1 – Zemo and his Thunderbolts

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This first incarnation of the team as stated before were the Masters of Evil masquerading as heroes after many of the heroes had been killed by the Onslaught event.  This team consisted of: Baron Zemo, Goliath, Beetle, Fixer, Moonstone, and Screaming Mimi. As previously stated during their first foray into production, the team donned heroic personas to act as heroes after Onslaught had killed most of the main continuity heroes. The heroic personas they took were as follows:

Baron Zemo – Citizen V

Goliath – Atlas

Beetle – MACH-1

Fixer -Techno

Moonstone –  Kept her name

Screaming Mimi – Songbird

The team’s first mission was to rescue Goliath and kill the Avengers, obviously with the Avengers having been killed by Onslaught the team decided to fill the void left, learn the secrets of the Avengers and SHIELD and sell the secrets to the Criminal underworld.

#2 – Osborn’s Thunderbolts

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The next most popular incarnation of the team is the one that came to popularity immediately after the events of Civil War. This team was led my Norman Osborn and served as the first step to him eventually being named director of SHIELD ( which he renamed HAMMER) and his Dark Avengers. Osborn assumed control over the team and began hunting down the remaining fugitive heroes who avoided the Superhuman Registration Act. One of the heroes that they attempted to take down after he killed Black Knight at a Pro- Registration rally to save the innocent people attending (more on that in a later post) was Moon Knight; at that point the team was made up of the following members:

Norman Osborn (Green Goblin) – Leader

Moonstone – Field Leader

Bullseye

Penance – Speedball from the new Warriors who caused the Civil War

Radioactive Man

Songbird

Swordsman

Venom

This is arguable the most popular incarnation after the team. I say arguably because the original team led by Zemo was fairly popular and their reveal of who they really are is #11 on the Greatest Comic Moments Ever. 

This team went on to repel the Skrull invasion on Washington D.C. during Secret Invasion and was played up to have had a much larger impact on the outcome of the invasion by Osborn. After Secret Invasion the team wen through a few more line-up changes most notably when Luke Cage handpicked the new Thunderbolts from Raft prisoners and became their field leader.

#3 – Red Hulk and the Thunderbolts

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The third most popular team comes from the MarvelNow! run which was a complete revamp of the team and was made up of anti-heroes and a few villains. The team was recruited by Red Hulk and their mission were decided at a turn by turn basis. Each member put their names in a hat and General Ross (Red Hulk) would draw one name out, whoever he drew got to pick the mission and nobody could complain or say otherwise. Once your mission was done your name was left out of the next draw until everyone had a chance to pick a mission and then everyone’s names went back in. The system worked for the entire run with only a few minor hiccups. This team consisted of:

Red Hulk

Punisher

Deadpool

Elektra

Agent Venom

The Leader – After the first issue

Abigail Mercy – Midway through the run

 

Eventually during their run Ghost Rider (Johnny Blaze) would join the team and assist them in some supernatural missions as well as testing their security. One such example was when the team tested if they could take down the Venom symbiote should it become unattached from Flash Thompson (Agent Venom). The battle was a little bit of a one sided event with the symbiote dominating until the Leader stepped in and subdued it. Punisher eventually quits the team and is almost killed by a bomb that was placed in one of his hideouts, in retaliation he goes after the Thunderbolts and takes them down 1 by 1.  The run ends with Ross disbanding the team once the true culprit behind the attempted murder of Frank is revealed.

 

The Thunderbolts are one of my favourite teams of all time and I will admit that while I do enjoy the Suicide Squad the Thunderbolts still rank higher in my opinion. The Squad is great and their chemistry is apparent (sometimes) but the Thunderbolts just have that redemption quality that makes you want to believe in them. They started off being heroes in disguise and liked it so much they kicked out their Super Villain leader to be heroes full time, if that doesn’t just warm your heart than nothing will. Not only are most members great redemption stories, they also battle a lot of personal demons and do a lot of growth in the limited number of issues in each run. My favourite  incarnation of the team is probably the Red Hulk’s but that’s because of Deadpool, Punisher and Agent Venom, not to mention GHOST RIDER!!!! I will admit that I haven’t picked up any of the newest incarnation from the All New All Different Marvel, but I have read that Winter Soldier is the new leader of the team, so that can only be a good thing.

 

 

Spawn – Image Comic’s Crown Jewel

As an avid reader of both DC and Marvel comics there tend to be some smaller comic companies that get lost in the bluster of weekly issues and mega blockbuster movies, one of these such companies is Image Comics.  Image Comics was founded in 1992 by several freelance artists who worked for both DC and Marvel drawing comics as needed, one such artist was Todd McFarlane. Todd had just come off an amazing run at Spider-Man and was one of the eight founders of Image Comics.

When McFarlane moved to Image, he decided to create an all new character that he could call his own and has become one of the flagship properties of Image Comics, Spawn.  Spawn has received 1 major motion picture starring Michael Jai White as the titular hero, as well as a very successful HBO cartoon series with Keith David delivering his voice to the main character.  Spawn has also had several cross overs with many different heroes most notably Batman. Spawn has quite the extensive back story and has had quite a large fan base since his first issue rolled out in May of 1992.

 

ORIGIN

Spawn is the alter-ego of Albert Francis “Al” Simmons, a retired Force Recon marine and assassin. After saving the President from an assassination he was recruited into the CIA to conduct black ops missions and assassinations. Through an extensive career Simmons wracked up a considerable kill count, not all of which were intended targets. There were quite a few collateral damage kills which weighed on his conscience and caused him to question the morality of the agency he worked for.  Jason Wynn who was the individual who oversaw the missions Simmons was conducting noticed his lack of devotion to the agency and hired his friend and partner Bruce Stinson (aka Chapel) to kill Simmons. In what can only be dubbed as a “blazing inferno” Chapel killed Simmons, and Al’s soul was sent to hell. Simmons was cast at the feet of the demon known as Malebolgia, where he sold his soul so that he could see Wanda again. Malebolgia accepted his offer and returned him to Earth. In the time between when Al was killed and resurrected, five years had passed. When he awoke on Earth he was a deformed demonic creature (a Hellspawn) with very few memories of his past life. When he finally regained his memories he sought out Wanda. When he found her he discovered Wanda had moved on with her life, marrying his best friend Terry Fitzgerald and they had a daughter named Cyan. After this the Violator shows up and taunts Spawn. The two of them fight but their battle is interrupted by Malebolgia. Spawn takes to “Rat City” a series of alleys were bums and homeless live and quickly becomes their protector and eventual king. It’s in Rat City where he meets Cogliostro (a former Hellspawn) who becomes his mentor. Spawn becomes a brutal anti-hero and warrior for the people of Rat City, he solidifies his dark anti-hero status when he brutally murders a pedophile and child murderer named Billy Kincaid.

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Powers and Abilities

Al Simmons is an Olympic level athlete, fluent in 10 languages, expert with fire arms, and master of 13 known martial arts.

Spawn is bonded with a symbiotic suit called Leetha of the 7th House of K (K7-Leetha). The suit is bonded to his central nervous system and will defend him even while he is unconscious.

This is where it gets a little weird so bear with me…

So Spawn is just one of a long lineage of Hellspawn. Hellspawn are officer’s in Hell’s army and double as hit-men for the supreme demon Malebolgia. Each Hellspawn is given a certain amount of Necroplasm (the green goo from the comics). The Necroplasm is used when the Hellspawn uses it to regenerate wounds, create constructs out of his cape, create his chains and spikes, etc.

Al Simmons weighs roughly 450 lbs as Spawn and almost all of his body is composed of Necroplasm.  The true power of the suit is taken from the necroplasm that composes of Al’s body, though he can take it back to power constructs he needs in battle. His suit can also feed on the evil energy from the physical world. This included the ambient evil of people, insects, animals and even some areas of cities like Detroit, New York and LA.  The Suit itself can be changed based on the task at hand. It can manifest spikes, armour plating, or even change his shroud (cape) into an offensive weapon such as a battle axe or sword. The shroud itself is a very capable offensive weapon able to strike quickly in combat and has been known to sever limbs and generate various hooks and blades as needed.

Spawn also has vast magical powers. These powers are related to the necroplasm level the Hellspawn currently possesses and is presented to the reader by a gauge that read 9:9:9:9 when the comic started. Each time Spawn uses some of his energy this counter will drain. Because of this Spawn relies on his suit as well as physical weapons such as firearms in combat rather than magic.  The limit of Spawns magical abilities is much like the Green Lantern from DC comics, it is basically limited by the user’s imagination. These are some of the powers he has exhibited throughout his publication: resurrecting the dead, firing blasts of necroplasm energy, teleportation, firebreathing, transmutation, elemental manipulation, shapeshifting, flight, animal communication, mind reading, invisibility, portal creation, time manipulation, soul manipulation, reality warping, regeneration, curing the sick, and feeding off the evil energy of others to restore his necroplasm counter and strength.

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The only way to kill Spawn is by beheading or similar trauma to the head (ex. gunshot). Spawn also loses his power in a small patch of alley called “The Dead’s Zone” which is an extension of Heaven’s domain.

AMAZING FEATS

Malebolgia released a very powerful God named Urizen to wage war on Heaven and conquer their domain. Spawn used power obtained in the Greenworld ( a place that’s power is equal to that of Heaven and Hell) to stop Urizen and swallow him imprisoning him. Spawn teamed up with Angela a warrior of Heaven; and took the fight to Malebolgia in Hell once Spawn discovered Malebolgia was behind the whole thing. After mortally wounding Malebolgia in their battle Angela was cut down. Enraged at the death of Angela, Spawn took Malebolgia’s head. Upon killing Malebolgia Spawn is informed by a demon named Mammon, that Hell’s throne is now his.

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When Spawn was cast down and killed and then resurrected (a never ending cycle apparently?) he awoke to find Armageddon was beginning. He was informed by the Mother (an omnipotent being and mother God and Satan) that Spawn could not stop Armageddon but could ascend to Godhood and preserve the Human race. In order to do so Spawn must defeat the 12 Disciples (Guardians of Heaven’s domain against the Hellspawn) and eat fruit from the forbidden garden. With the help of Cyan he is able to defeat all the Disciples but the last and most powerful (Judas). Spawn is stabbed in the heart by Judas and the mother resurrects him and presents him with fruit from the garden. Spawn returns to the Earth with his new immense power to discover the world is ravaged by the 4 horsemen and humanity is dead. Spawn fights the armies of both Heaven and Hell alone and vanquishes them, when God and Satan turn their attention to him he is slain and the two of them continue their battle. Spawn is resurrected by the mother and he resurrects everyone on the planet with their memories of what happened intact. He banished Satan and God to fight on their own little world where they couldn’t harm anyone and shut the doors of Heaven, Hell and Earth.

CONCLUSION

Spawn is quite an extensive character with many similarities to other properties from DC and Marvel such as Ghost Rider and El Diablo. The thing that makes spawn so different is that his story is tragic, he fights because it’s all he’s ever known and because he is compelled to do it. Spawn relies heavily on Christian mythology as well and mysticism to deliver a compelling story about a man trapped within his own destiny. Image comics has had several successful titles since their founding like: Savage Dragon, Witchblade, The Darkness and the Walking Dead; but very few people know of this company and the great stories they put out. Regardless of what comic series they put out, Spawn will always be their best contribution to the comic community.

Most Underrated Heroes: Vol. 1 – Ghost Rider

I’ve decided to add a segment to my blog wherein once a month I will outline a hero that I believe to be woefully underrated by most people. These are my own personal opinions and don’t reflect on any of the companies in one way or another. I had to restrain myself from talking about Moon Knight first because it would more than likely become an angry rant at the Marvel Netflix universe for not including him (yet… I have hopes!).

The first hero that I have chosen to talk about is none other than the spirit of Vengeance himself, Ghost Rider.

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The first Ghost Rider in publication, not in Marvel history, is stunt motorcyclist Johnny Blaze. Blaze is arguably the best known Ghost Rider right behind Danny Ketch and now Robbie Reyes.  Blaze was portrayed by Nicholas Cage in the 2007 film titled Ghost Rider and in the 2012 sequel Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. I will be the first one to say those movies are terrible, absolutely horrible. But because of my love for ‘ol Flamehead, I watch them over and over again. Recently in Agents of SHIELD Robbie Reyes Ghost Rider appeared as an antagonist and then ally of the team. Let’s start off with a little bit of background on the character.

BACKGROUND

Blaze was a stunt motorcyclist with his father in the Quentin Carnival alongside Craig “Crash” Simpson. His mother walked out on his father when Johnny was young taking his two other siblings Danny and Barbara with her. Johnny’s father was killed in a stunt and he was adopted by Crash Simpson and his wife Mona. The Simpson’s fabricated a story as to help shield him the pain of coming from a broken family. Johnny and the Simpson’s daughter Roxanne grew close as kids and as they grew older their friendship turned to romance. The Simpson’s began their own stunt show of which Johnny was a part, when Johnny found out Crash had life threatening cancer he was devastated. Johnny turned to the occult in an effort to save Crash. One night Johnny recited a spell and summoned who he thought was the devil, really it was the arch demon Mephistocles (Mephisto). Johnny sold his soul to Mephisto in an effort to stop Crash dying of cancer. Crash awoke the next day cured of cancer, but he died performing in the stunt show a few days later. Johnny confronted Mephisto and declared that he had cheated him. Mephisto said he had stopped him dying of cancer, not dying any other way and thus the deal stood. Roxanne arrived in time to save Johnny’s soul by declaring her love for him which drove Mephisto away. Mephisto, out of rage of not being able to collect Blaze’s soul because of Roxanne’s love, bonded Johnny’s soul with the demon Zarathos making him the Ghost Rider. A leather clad being that controlled Hellfire to punish at Mephisto’s bidding, but due to the fact that he still retained his soul, Blaze would also help the innocent whenever he could.

POWERS & ABILITIES

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In addition to controlling Hellfire and being impervious to damage as Ghost Rider, Blaze also has the ability to control hell chains with his mind. He utilizes a shotgun imbued with Hell energy to fire mystic blasts at his foes that can incinerate instantly. He is strong enough to be able to fight toe to toe with Green Scar Hulk (World War Hulk), and uses the penance stare. The penance Stare is a Ghost Rider’s most powerful weapon. When using the penance stare the Ghost Rider can force you to feel the pain of all the hurt you caused to other and burn your soul inside your body. If you have dealt enough pain to others than the penance stare will fry your whole body from the inside out. There are very few people in the Marvel Universe that the penance stare doesn’t work on, those being Punisher, Deadpool, Venom and Mr. Hyde. Punisher doesn’t regret any of his kills, Deadpool’s biggest victim is himself, Venom is immune from the symbiote and Mr. Hyde is immune because of his transformation.  In addition to controlling hell chains with his mind Ghost Rider also keeps a length of chain which he can use as a whip or he ignites it on fire and can spin it fast enough to create a flame vortex.

FEATS

Ghost Rider has performed many great feats over his long career in publication. Due to the nature of the character they haven’t always been Johnny Blaze Ghost Rider, but for the most part they have been. One of the best feats he accomplished was during the World War hulk story arc.

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During World War Hulk the Green Goliath returned to Earth rather pissed after having been banished to a distant planet by the Illuminati. The Illuminati are a secret group of the greatest minds in the Marvel Universe (Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, Dr. Strange, Charles Xavier, etc). The save the Earth from having to deal with another Hulk catastrophe the Illuminati tricked Bruce Banner onto a satellite and then launched him into deep space.  Hulk crash landed on the planet Sakaar and fought in the gladiatorial ring until he eventually was crowned king. He ventured back to Earth pissed off and ready to make the Illuminati pay for what they had done to him. Hulk had claimed a battleground in downtown New York where he waited for the group to show. Ghost Rider was hunting down pieces of Lucifer that he had inadvertently let loose from hell. He encountered the Hulk and they began to fight, a very destructive fight through the NY battleground. Hulk punched Ghost Rider through several buildings and dropped another one on top of him. Ghost Rider then grappled on hulks back and nearly choked him out with his hell chain. The fight ended in a stalemate when Ghost Rider attempted to use his penance stare and was shown that the Hulk was the victim and the Illuminati were the guilty ones.

In the early 90’s Fantastic Four cartoon there was an episode where Galactus attacked the earth. The Fantastic Four had tried everything they could to stop him but nothing was working. The Fantastic Four had run out of options and were trying to think of a plan to get rid of Galactus. In rides Ghost Rider, and tells the Fantastic Four that he will help. He rides up Galactus’ body and delivers the penance stare right to him. Galactus being a world eater, had consumed a lot of people and had a lot of guilt and pain stored up. This act was enough to banish Galactus at least for the time being while he healed from his wounds.

Circling back to why Ghost Rider ran into the Hulk in World War Hulk, he was in the process of hunting down and killing Lucifer.  Long story short is that Satan had trapped Ghost Rider in Hell (go figure!). Lucifer disguised himself as a worm helping Johnny to break the barrier between Hell and the normal world. When Johnny broke through Lucifer split into 666 pieces and fell to the Earth. Each piece took on a persona/possessed someone and began wreaking havoc.  Angels were dispatched to help Johnny but slowly one by one, Johnny killed all the pieces of Lucifer until only 1 remained. The trick was that with each piece Johnny killed the remaining pieces would get stronger. The two Angels that were sent to help Johnny ended up sacrificing themselves to provide Ghost Rider with the power he needed to destroy Lucifer and banish him back to hell.

REASONS HE IS UNDERRATED

There really is no definitive answer here besides the fact that he is a dark character. When people think of Marvel comics they think of Iron Man, Spider-Man, Captain America, X-Men, etc; all very colourful and for the most part family friendly characters. Ghost Rider isn’t a hero, he’s an anti-hero; one of those guys like Deadpool, and Punisher and Wolverine who are willing to kill to make sure their mission is accomplished. Not only that but once a Rider uses the penance stare there is no going back. it will inflict the maximum amount of damage to you that you deserve. There is no settings knob on the penance stare just like there is no setting knob on Ghost Rider’s morality. Ghost Rider like Punisher is very black and white, they both punish evil doers. Will they kill you for stealing a candy bar from a convenience store? absolutely not. Will they put the fear of God in you? absolutely.  The rider knows when it’s true evil like a serial killer or just minor evil like a vandal spray painting a building, and can adjust accordingly.

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Ghost Rider has a high kill count, not as high as say Deadpool or Wolverine, but he definitely is not a nice guy. Ghost Rider is very much a character aimed at an older audience. The humour and content of the Ghost rider comics tends to lean towards a mature audience and some of the content can be rather gruesome. In the family friendly MCU there really isn’t a place for someone like Ghost Rider. The Netflix universe however… that’s a whole different story, but in all fairness he wouldn’t be my first choice for that… my first choice would wear more white.

 

 

Anti-Heroes: More Realistic Than Classic Superheroes

Superheroes provide hope, and idea to strive towards. They’re someone you can always look up to and can trust that no matter what is facing them, they will do the right thing. While this is an admirable stance to take, even if it’s not very realistic. Finding someone who is good for the sake of being good is a one in a million chance. Most people like to think that they are good at heart but when the chips are down and their back is against the wall they will do whatever it takes to win, even if it is sometimes a very morally grey area. I’m not trying to say that I think people are evil, they’re not. People are just people and each person has a breaking point. A point where self preservation takes the driver’s seat and everything else takes a side seat. Some people can reach this point very quickly, while others take quite some time to get there.

If any of you have seen the movie American Sniper, you’re probably familiar with the little speech Chris’ father gives him after saving his brother from a bully. “There are 3 kinds of people in this world, there’s wolves, sheep, and sheep dogs. Wolves try to hurt the sheep and it’s the sheep dogs job to protect them, so are you a wolf or a sheep dog?” I’m paraphrasing the speech, but that’s what it boils down to. This little tid bit is actually taken from a book by LTC retired Dave Grossman titled “On Killing”, the books is quite extensive and dives deeper into the comparison of sheep, wolves and sheep dogs. There is also a quote from Heraclitus that goes like this…

“Out of every one hundred men, ten shouldn’t even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back”

To bring this back to my main point if Superheroes are the sheep dogs then anti-heroes are like wild dogs. They may attack the sheep on occasion but for the most part they only go after the wolves. There are quite a few heroes that fall into both categories (Wolverine, Ghost Rider, Arsenal), there are also quite a few that stay far past the line (Punisher, Grifter, Deadpool, Red Hood). While superheroes tend to have tragic backstories, anti-heroes tend to have a backstory so caked in violence and blood that it’s amazing they didn’t turn into a villain themselves. Three of my favourite anti-heroes are Deadpool, Red Hood, and Punisher, because of everything that happened to them they still somehow come through in the end (even if just barely).

One of the defining traits that all anti-heroes seem to possess is the innate knowledge that no matter how hard you try, you can’t save everyone every time. This also goes hand in hand with the belief that sometimes in order to save someone you need to use lethal force. One of my favourite lines comes from MarvelNow! Punisher: War Zone, wherein Frank Castle (Punisher) has pissed off the Avengers for the last time. Before the final showdown with the Avengers, Wolverine is approached by Captain America. Cap basically tells Wolverine that because of his close relationship with Frank that he will have to sit this one out. They banter back and forth and the final line comes from Wolverine when he says ” The difference between guys like us and guys like you Cap… is that we understand sometimes… people have to die”. This one line perfectly illustrates what makes anti-heroes so much more relatable than clean cut superheroes, they understand that some people are just bad and they will continue to be bad until they are stopped.

Batman once said “If you kill a killer , the number of killers in this world remains the same”.  While this philosophy might work for Batman and potentially other heroes like him (Superman, Flash, Captain America, Spider-Man, etc) one has to ask how many people died because they refused to do what was necessary. There is a quote from Wonder Woman on her New 52 run that goes like this ” There’s a reason why I don’t have a list of enemies as long as yours, or Bruce’s or even Barry’s, because when i deal with them.. I DEAL with them”. Wonder Woman is one of the few clean cut superheroes who takes lives, but she also doesn’t do it willy nilly. She heavily weighs the cost of her actions against whether or not it’s for the greater good. If the greater good wins she acts, there have been a few exceptions (Maxwell Lord pre Infinite Crisis) for example, where her emotions got the better of her, but they are few and far between.

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One of the questions I get asked quite a bit when explaining comics to people is “Why doesn’t Batman just kill the Joker?”. Without going into a HUGE debate on the psychology of the two of them there really is no right answer. Batman doesn’t kill the Joker because then Joker wins, but Joker won’t stop until Batman kills him, it’s a catch 22. The animated film Under the Red Hood actually introduced a lot of people to the Red Hood for the first time. Jason Todd (Robin #2) was beat with a crowbar to near death and then blown up by the Joker. Feeling guilty for having brought Joker into it Ra’as Al Ghul revived Jason using a Lazarus Pit. Jason came back but was pretty insane and fled for several years. He begins taking over the Gotham underworld until the final confrontation with Batman and the Joker. The final confrontation has a particular line that hits the issue to the core ” Why is he still alive? Ignoring the friends he’s crippled the graveyards he’s filled…”; Jason delivers that line while pointing at the Joker. Batman tells him that if he kills the Joker he will never stop killing. This is what draws me to Batman as much as other characters like Punisher and Ghost Rider, he is a Superhero, but he is barely past the line between anti-hero and superhero and on several occasions he has crossed that line.

The 2008 film Punisher: War Zone showed us just how gritty and brutal a Punisher film could be if done right. I stand by Thomas Jane and the 2004 film with John Travolta, but Ray Stevenson just looked the part. It also brought a great line from a police detective who tried to “stop” the Punisher. When talking with Detective Soap, he basically says that the reason the Punisher hasn’t been caught is because the police don’t want him to be caught. He gets to do to those guys (mob families and criminals) what cops only dream of getting to do. While this train of thought might extend to superheroes as well normally the police forces of the comic worlds are stuck behind red tape and can’t act on someone they know is guilty. anti-heroes don’t care. They will find out if you’re guilty and they will make you pay.

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I realize it seems like I’m saying anti-heroes don’t have a conscience, but that is very wrong. while some like Punisher and Red Hood have become so jaded they no longer care, some like Deadpool use humour to cover up their true feelings, and sometimes they don’t cover them at all. In Deadpool’s brief stint on the X-Force he quickly came to butt heads with Wolverine. They were tasked with killing the reincarnated Apocalypse, the only problem was that he was reincarnated into a kid named Evan who was still in primary school. Wade immediately objected and voiced his objections, Wolverine and the rest of X-Force knew what a full grown Apocalypse could do and were resigned to killing Evan. Wolverine and Deadpool had some words and Wolverine called Deadpool “…a soulless, spineless, money grubbing mercenary”; as Wade turned to walk away he responded with ” Ya. But I never killed a kid”. This altercation caused Fantomex to regret his decision and clone Evan (it’s get weird just go with it) and teach Evan right from wrong enough to get Evan enlisted in Xavier’s school for Gifted Youngsters.

Superheroes come in all shapes, sizes and abilities; they can be star spangled awesome like Captain America, the big blue boy scout like Superman, or a tortured human like Batman. No matter who they are, superheroes give us something to strive toward. They provide us with a direction to orient ourselves towards, a light to find our way in the darkness. But sometimes the darkness is fought with darkness, while superheroes are the light, anti-heroes are the shade. The grey area between the darkness and the light, not fully dark themselves but not fully light either. They’re willing to plunge their hands in the filth so that others can keep their clean. While most of us strive to be an incorruptible and perfect hero we know that sometimes we’re not perfect. We can’t all be sheep dogs after all, but we’ll be damned if we’re going to become wolves.

Why An On Screen Joker Will Never Be Perfect

Unless you are completely devoid of any sort of film and pop culture media attention, pretty much everyone is familiar with Batman and his nemesis, The Joker. To date there have been 3 live action film portrayals (if you count the Batman movie from the Adam West TV series then add another for Caesar Romero) of the Joker to date. While mainly only the older generation are familiar with Jack Nicholson’s gangster approach from the 80’s Tim Burton classic, pretty much everyone the world over is familiar with Heath Ledger and Jared Leto’s performances.  While many criticize Jared Leto’s take on the character for looking more like a joker thug than the clown prince of crime himself; I think we didn’t get enough screen time for him in Suicide Squad to accurately form an opinion. Heath Ledger stands as the defining live action portrayal of the character for mostly every Batman movie fan, and while his time as Mr. J was iconic and can never be replaced; his anarchist approach to the character lacked the luster that makes the Joker who he is.

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Mark Hamill will forever be the Joker in my view. I grew up with Batman the animated series and the 90’s X-Men and Spider-Man cartoons as staples in my daily and weekend routine. Every time I see Mark Hamill credited on a title card of a Batman movie i get a little giddy, same can be said with Kevin Conroy as the voice of Batman, nobody can beat him.

Despite his many incarnations, there is just one problem with the Joker as a villain in a live action movie, you can’t capture who he is and plenty have tried. I applaud every actor who has taken a stab at bringing the Joker to the big screen, but they all seem to fall short in some regard.

Caesar Romero who brought him to life in the Adam West 60’s TV show took the practical Joker aspect and ran with it. Jack Nicholson from the 80’s classic took the gangster approach and nailed it. Heath Ledger took the Anarchist/mind game aspect and got the closest of anyone. Jared Leto tried to amalgamate all these characteristics into this performance and wound up with the unbalanced psychopath we received very briefly in Suicide Squad. Despite seeing Suicide Squad several times in the theatre, I will be first to admit it was a terrible movie… The story was garbage, the villain was ridiculous, and for being one the top billed actors in the movie, Jared Leto clocked in roughly 15 minutes for the 2.5 hour movie. I digress… that’s a topic for another time.

Comic Examples

To fully grasp who the Joker is as a character I’m going to run through a list of some of the worst things he’s done.

*Warning… some spoilers ahead for the New 52 comic run of Batman

Killing Joke

To start with a classic, let’s look at the Killing Joke by Alan Moore. This is the only story to have given us a possible origin for the Joker. It was originally meant to be a one off story, but due to it’s popular success it was included in the Batman canon. Most recently it received inclusion into the DCAU ( DC Animated Universe) with Hamill and Conroy reprising their respective roles. While it was a very faithful adaptation they included an unnecessary Batgirl plot at the beginning that culminated with her and Batman having sex on a rooftop and then Batman ghosting her (like he does with everyone). The story goes like this… Joker decides to prove that all it takes is one bad day, just one, to reduce the sanest man on the planet to someone like him. He targets Commissioner Gordon as his victim and during the commissioner’s weekly visit to his daughters house, shows up and shoots her through the spine paralyzing her. his thugs beat and abduct the commissioner while Joker strips and photographs Barbara as she bleeds out on the ground. It is implied that some sort of assault takes place but recently when asked about it Alan Moore said that ” No. That was never our intention to imply that type of thing”.  Joker then uses these photos to torture the commissioner after stripping him naked and parading him around a demented circus. Batman shows up to save the day and the story ends with one of the most ambiguous panels ever.

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Moving on to 1999 in the No Man’s Land story arc joker once again targeted Jim Gordon for his madness. Following a massive earthquake in which a lot of Gotham city is destroyed, several of Batman’s Rogues make a play for control over the crumbling city, one of which is Joker. He starts by executing a police lieutenant on Christmas Day and then he proceeded to kidnap all of the babies in Gotham (no idea how he achieved this… just roll with it).  At the time Jim Gordon’s second wife Sarah Essen was trying to track down where the babies had been taken and stumbled onto the broken down police station that Joker was using as a hideout. Detective Essen confronted Joker who was holding a newborn in his arms. joker demanded that Essen lower her gun on he would drop the baby, Essen did as was asked and the Joker dropped the baby anyways. Essen lunged and caught the baby before it hit the ground and Joker drew his gun. He placed it against her head and said “Merry Christmas” then shot her in the head leaving all of the babies alone with her blood pooling around them.

Death In the Family

A Death in the Family is one of the defining stories in the Batman mythos. Not only does it highlight the cruelty of the Joker but it also brings Batman’s biggest failure to the forefront. During the story Joker learns who the birth mother of the second Robin (Jason Todd) was and bribes her into assisting him, to get the Boy Wonder alone. Jason’s mother helps the Joker and eventually Robin ends up in the clutches of the Joker. With Batman too far away to do anything about it (Robin had run off by himself to find his mother) Joker began to severely beat Jason with a crowbar. He leaves a bloodied and beaten Jason in a warehouse with his mother tied up and blows the warehouse up as Batman arrives to save him. In a final act of heroism Jason had attempted to shield his mother from the blast with his body, his mother remained alive long enough to tell Batman Joker’s plan for a nuke he had acquired.  Both Jason Todd and his mother died because of the Joker and his insatiable appetite for violence.  Jason has since been revived as The Red Hood an anti-hero with a precondition for violence and killing.

Moving into the New 52 run of Detective Comics we are shown just how far Joker is willing to go to mess with people. At the end of vol. 1 Faces of Death we are shown Joker undergoing a procedure where he has the Dollmaker remove the skin from his face, which he leaves hanging on a hook for the GCPD and Batman to find then disappears for a year.

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He returns in the second crossover event for all the Batman related titles called Death of the Family. In this arc, Joker tries to prove that Batman’s allies (the “Bat Family”) are what make him weak and that without them they could get back to the “Good old days with just the two of them”. Joker then kidnaps all of the members of the Bat family and stages a mock dinner party in the caves under Gotham City where he convinces them all he is going to feed them their faces which he had cut off.  It is also worth noting that at this point Joker had broken into GCPD lockup and stolen his face back and was wearing it.

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Up And Coming Joker

These are just a few of some of the most despicable acts Joker has done through his main comic continuity. This doesn’t include some of the things he has pulled in the various Batman video games and some TV shows. Cameron Monaghan gave a great performance as a young Joker in Gotham, and he has vocalized his desire to play Carnage in the upcoming Venom movie from Sony. Carnage was based heavily on Joker and the two roles tend to be synonymous with each other.

© Benjo Arwas Photography 2014 // @BENJOARWAS // http://www.benjoarwas.com
© Benjo Arwas Photography 2014 // @BENJOARWAS // http://www.benjoarwas.com

Stigma Around The Role

There was a belief for many years that the fact of Heath Ledger’s suicide was due to how intensely he got into the Joker as a role. Many claimed that you can’t play someone as insane as the Joker without ending up insane yourself. Heath Ledger lived in a hotel room by himself for one month in preparation for the role and kept a Joker journal with some truly disturbing things. He also came up with the joker make up himself from make up he bought at the drug store. Christopher Nolan also allowed Heath Ledger to direct the joker hostage videos that were used in the final cut of The Dark Knight. Jared Leto who is famous for his method acting tried to embrace the insanity as the Joker and from what we saw in Suicide Squad he was a little lacking.

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The Real Reason

The real reason that we will never see a “true” Joker on the screen is that because of what they can get away with. In comics you can get away with a lot more than you can on screen. In a comic you could show Joker slaughtering dozens of people and it wouldn’t garner a mature rating. But in a film and to do it justice, it would require a minimum of a 14A rating, preferably an R rating to do it right. This would limit the exposure and potential earnings by reducing the viewing demographic. While Deadpool and Logan proved an R rated superhero movie can absolutely make money, smaller budget movies are able to make the big bucks easier due to the revenue/expense ratio. Batman would be a tent pole blockbuster for the DCEU and as such would need a massive budget. To rake in the kind of money they would want they wouldn’t be able to give it an R rating. With Matt Reeves set to helm a new Batman trilogy for the DCEU things are looking up. He has already stated it will be a noire influenced detective film, which I think is the perfect setting for Batman. With Deathstroke set up as the main villain, my only concern is when we will see a true Joker adaptation on the screen.

Moon Knight – Next Logical Step for the Marvel Netflix Universe

With the release of the next installment of the Marvel Netflix series, Defenders, due out in August, I can’t help but ask what their next step should be? Every time I think about it the next step is clear… Moon Knight.

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The Marvel Netflix universe will reach it’s culmination with the release of the Defenders, a show they’ve been building up to since Daredevil first began streaming in 2015. Since that first season we have received a second season of Daredevil as well as individual seasons for each member of the Defenders team.  Daredevil will take the role of Tony Stark in that he will be the driving force behind the team. Luke Cage the righteous street warrior of Harlem will balance him out as the surrogate Captain America. With that being said the title Defenders does have a little bit of a different roster when you look at the Marvel Comics releases.

DEFENDERS

The original Defenders team consisted of Dr. Strange, Namor the Sub Mariner and the Hulk. The team was originally formed to combat a interplanar threat from the Undying Ones. Due to the popularity of the series Marvel Comics continued publishing the series and added Valkyrie to the team to “provide extra texture to the group” as stated by Steve Engleheart (one of the original writers of the series). Throughout their publication history since their first inception in December of 1971, the team has gone through many different incarnations and variations. Most recently the team consisted of Valkyrie, Misty Knight, Danielle Moonstar, and Warrior Woman and adopted the moniker of Fearless Defenders (2013). To coincide with the release of the Netflix series of the Defenders, Marvel Comics revamped the team to consist of Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones and Iron Fist; this series is due to release in August around the same time as the series comes out on Netflix.

During the Secret Empire series it is unclear what has happened to the Defenders after they were last seen combating villains for what happened at Pleasant Hill, they disappeared after Nitro detonated himself.

Moon Knight

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Moon Knight has been in Marvel publication since he was first introduced in August of 1975 in Werewolf by Night as a villain hired by the Secret Empire (no relatio nto the current Marvel event) to kill the main character in a two issue story arc. Due to the popularity of the character Moon Knight was brought back again in a limited series under the Marvel Spotlight title. By 1978 he was recast as a hero who had masqueraded as a villain in order to infiltrate the Secret Empire and dismantle it from within. he briefly joined the Defenders when they were fighting the Zodiac Cartel but wasn’t given his own solo series until 1980. Since that first series he has gone on to have many different series’ and many different teams of which he is an active member.  As I said before he has been a member of the Defenders, Avengers, Marvel Knights, and even Captain America’s Secret Avengers. His most recent series is written by Jeff Lemire written under the All New, All Different Marvel title card.

Why Moon Knight?

The reason I think that Moon Knight would make a great addition to the Marvel Netflix universe is the tone and content of his comic. Whether you read his classic stories or his more modern tales (Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev’s run is the best in my opinion), his content always leans towards a more mature audience due to its graphic content.  The character of Moon Knight suffers from MPD (Multiple Personality Disorder) he has 4 distinct personalities: Steven Grant (billionaire fat cat), Marc Spector (ex mercenary and black ops soldier), Jake Lockley (New York cabby), and Khonshu (Egyptian God of the Moon and Revenge). His real personality (as in his identity) is Marc Spector, son of a Rabbi who lied about his age to enlist in the marines. After his extensive career in the marines as well as a CIA black team operative he became a Mercenary where he met his long time ally Henri Duchamp (Frenchie). In a botched raid on  an Egyptian temple Spector had a change of heart and tried to help the prisoners, he was killed by his group’s leader, Raoul Bushman. Spector ended up saving the prisoners but suffering from multiple gunshot wounds in the process. Spector crawled to the feet of the statue of Khonshu and died in the arms of one of the prisoners, Marlene Alraune. Khonshu appeared to Spector in an after death sequence and promised him life he would be his avatar on Earth. Spector agreed and was revived by the God. He donned the mantle of the Moon’s Knight and used his fortune from his years a mercenary to set up in New York City.

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The brutality and the graphic content of his comics would fit right at home in the Marvel Netflix Universe, not to mention his cross overs with the Punisher.

Moon Knight & The Punisher

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At the end of the 2006 run which saw Moon Knight as a card carrying member of the Avengers, hunted by the Thunderbolts, fake his death after killing Carson Knowles; he ran down south and hid out in Mexico. During his exile in Mexico he moonlighted as a bare knuckle boxer to make cash and kept his head down. It wasn’t until a member of the local cartel saw him fight that he was hired by the cartel leader to get his daughter back from the police. He initially agreed until he learned what the daughter was being held for, as state’s witness against her father for his crimes. He allies with the daughter but not before incurring the wrath of the cartel and their hired thugs. He runs into the Punisher who is there to take out the Cartel and they team up for the final assault.

They literally already have a story made that can introduce him into the Netflix universe! At the end of the Punisher series (which we are getting in November of this year) have him run to Mexico to hide out and run into Spector. Have Frank ask him what he’s doing there and just have Spector reply with ” It’s a long story… we’re gonna need more tequila”  BOOM! Moon knight series kicks off with him explaining why he is hiding out in Mexico and every episode is a flashback until the final episode when he decides to head back to New York.

It might just be my own bias because of my love for the character but i cannot stress enough how perfectly Moon Knight would fit into the Marvel Netflix Universe. His dark and gritty stories, not to mention his brutality would fit perfect and it would create for some interesting dynamics amongst the other characters. Daredevil would be appalled whereas Iron Fist would agree that sometimes the only way to stop someone is to kill them.  It could potentially set up their own version of a civil war, not that I’m hoping for that, that would be a stupid idea… or would it?

Moon Knight: Lunatic

Just recently I acquired the first volume of the new Moon Knight run aptly titled Lunatic. It was amazing run and brought everything I loved from the classic tales as well as the modern interpretations of the Fist of Khonshu.

This article will contain spoilers for Moon Knight vol. 1 – Lunatic

For those not familiar with his story, I will give you a quick bit of background on the protector of the night travelers. Marc Spector was born to a Jewish family in Chicago Illinois. He was the oldest of 2 sons to Rabbi Spector and showed an aptitude for violence at war at a very early age. Before his 18th birthday he left home and lied about his age to enlist in the marines, where he became a heavyweight boxer. after his stint in the marines he was recruited by the CIA for a blacklist team for covert missions. When he finished with the CIA he became a freelance mercenary where he met his longtime ally Jean-Paul Duchamp “Frenchie”. Together they sold their services for many years before being recruited by Raoul Bushman. During his final mission with Bushman, they raided an Egyptian temple of the buried gold, while imprisoning the people working on the dig. Spector allied with the diggers against Bushman and was gunned down because of it. He crawled into the temple and died on the altar of the Egyptian God of the Moon and Vengeance, Khonshu. Khonshu appeared to Spector and asked him to be his avatar on Earth and that if he agreed he would restore his life. Spector agreed and when he was revived he quickly grabbed the cloak that was draped around the statue of Khonshu and claimed himself as the Moon Knight. He returned to New York in order to complete his mission and protect the night travelers, he used his massive fortune acquired with being a Mercenary to establish himself as Steven Grant, a millionaire playboy. This identity helped him to intermingle with the high society but in order to get street level intel he adopted the identity of Jake Lockley, a New York City cab driver. Eventually all of these different personas caused him to have a mental breakdown and as a result he developed multiple personality disorder.

Interestingly though, in the Marvel Now! run by Ellis, Wood & Bunn, Marc’s mind will actually choose the personality that is best suited for the task at hand.  This theme was first shown in the Bendis run from 2011-2012; wherein his personalities took on the personas of Captain America, Spider-Man and Wolverine. It is also widely known in the Marvel universe that Moon Knight is the only person who’s fighting style Taskmaster won’t copy; stating that “… he would rather take a hit and counterattack than block”. In a one off comic Marc saves someone from a gang of attackers in an alley because that saw him standing up on top of the building. The gang members run and Marc jumps down to make sure the victim is okay. When asked why he wears white Marc states ” I wear white so they can see me coming… So that they know that vengeance is not afraid of them… and neither am I”.

Despite his questionable mental state, Marc has remained as a member of the Avengers and even the Secret Avengers hand picked by Captain America himself. In Midnight Sun from 2006 (before Secret Avengers) Marc was visited by Cap and warned not to get up to his “old ways” or Cap would put a stop to it.  (The old ways being referred to was Moon Knight killing Bushman and carving his face off) Marc says that he is a changed man and that was a one time thing, but Cap isn’t sure and delivers him the ultimatum of “… don’t go over the line and we don’t have a problem”. This run takes place right in the middle of the first Civil War arc, and is one of the best runs I’ve read. I highly recommend giving it a read if you ever get the chance.

In the newest run by Jeff Lemire, Marc wakes up in a mental hospital as a patient of Dr. Emmett, being told that his entire previous life as Moon Knight has been a figment of his imagination. As he plans out his escape he even sees Moon Knight on the news and begins to question if everything Dr. Emmett was saying is true. Kohonshu still talks to Marc and tells him that what he sees is not real and that it’s the work of am Egyptian Demon by the name of Ammit. Marc makes and early breakout attempt which leads him to the roof. He emerges onto the roof to see the city is dissolving away and there is sand overtaking the streets. At the center of the city is a massive pyramid. Marc refuses to accept that what he remembers is all a lie, a resolve firmly backed by Khonshu telling him that he is right and everything Ammit is telling him is false. Khonshu explains that Set has attempted to steal the world away into the “God realm” in order to become it’s new ruler. Marc believes his God and sets about getting out of the hospital. As he spends more time in the facility he begins seeing people from his past that are patients there like himself. His resolve wavers until his allies show up one night and deliver him his Mr. Knight outfit.

They break out and fight off mummies as well as Jackal headed cronies of Set. Anubis shows up to offer them safe passage out of the realm and back to earth but he demands a soul as payment. Crawley volunteers stating that he is old and his usefulness is wearing thin but that he can make this sacrifice to save his friends. Marc vows to find a way to get him back before they head out into the city. As they get onto the street they are set upon by more Jackal headed goons of Set and Frenchie is mortally wounded, dying not long after. Gina, Marlene and Marc take shelter in Gina’s diner and Gina makes them pancakes to help them get some energy back. Marc and Marlene continue to trek through the city towards a massive pyramid at the center while Gina stays behind at the diner to wait for her sons. As they near the pyramid Marlene’s head becomes clearer and she tells Marc that whatever that have to do is at the center of the pyramid. As they climb the pyramid they are set upon by Moon Knight, Marc and he battle which ends with the other Moon Knight getting stabbed in the stomach by Marc with a crescent. The impostor takes Marlene into the center of the pyramid with Marc in hot pursuit. As Marc enters the central chamber of the pyramid he sees the other Moon Knight standing there waiting for him. The impostor removes his hood and mask revealing that it is the Egyptian God Khonshu. Khonshu tells Marc that it was all a ruse to get him there so that Khonshu could possess Marc’s body and come to the mortal plane once more. Marc resolutely tell Khonshu he would rather die than let him become a pawn of the God and runs and jumps off the pyramid, falling to his death on the sand below.

Marc wakes up in a penthouse with Marlene in his bed calling him Steven and tells him that they need to get to the set early for make-up.

This run truly shows just how unhinged Moon Knight can be. In one of the panels he sees undead mummies coming out of subway cars at an abandoned subway station. When he asks if they (his companions) see the mummies too, some of them say yes but Gina says ” All I see are a bunch of orderlies here to take us back upstairs”. Doubt is a theme that constantly shows up in Moon Knight comics. Whether it’s people’s faith him Marc or Marc’s faith in himself; you can’t have a Moon Knight comic without doubt. This most recent run brought buckets of doubt from Marc himself. When he sees Moon Knight on the tv stopping criminals, he actively believes that he is crazy until Khonshu tells him that it’s all a lie and that he needs to believe in himself and his God.  Despite all of his shortcomings and issues, Marc is the hero that some people need. He protects people who travel by night and brings vengeance down on those who deserve it.