Invasion!

[For Arrow 100, “Invasion!” or any other recaps on Fetchland, assume the presence of possible spoilers.]

The CW Summary:
“Invasion!” Oliver Queen wakes up to a life where he never got on The Queen’s Gambit.

The 100th Episode of Arrow was many things: Part homage, part heartstring-tugging spectacle, part nostalgia piece… But most of all, center episode of the “Invasion!” crossover.

At the end of the opening “Invasion!” episode of The Flash, we saw five human heroes teleported onto a Dominator alien ship. The five heroes — Arrow, Speedy, Atom, White Canary, and Spartan — spend Arrow 100 sharing a collective dream, plugged into a Dominator computer.

“For the Man Who Has Everything”

The shared dream sees Oliver Queen on the eve of his wedding to — you guessed it — Dinah Laurel Lance. The resplendent Laurel is alive and well in the dream, as are both of Ollie’s parents. Noteworthy to this dream is that everyone is proud of the man Ollie has become (even Captain Lance). Oliver’s dad is about to become the mayor of the city. He asks Ollie to take over as CEO of Queen Consolidated, lest the board support a buyout from one Ray Palmer.

It seems like Ollie has everything a boy billionaire could want: A beautiful Laurel. The love of his family. A CEO job waiting. “You have everything. Stop trying to throw it all away.”

Arrow 100 is a light homage to Alan Moore’s great “For the Man Who Has Everything” (incidentally BDM‘s favorite Superman story of all time). Superman — who dreams of living a very different life on an unexploded Krypton in the Moore story — is Ollie here. But the whole thing is a lie. The Dominators want to present a perfect life to the five non-metahumans to keep them docile in the ship; very The Matrix, even.

When Ollie and Dig first show signs of freedom and recognition, the dreamscape fights back. Deathstroke — fully masked and certainly not Manu Bennett — bursts onto the scene and attacks them with swords. Ollie and Dig hold him off admirably (given it’s fists-against-falchion) until Sara disarms Deathstroke from offscreen and stabs him to death.

This prompted some discussion on Twitter.


I think it’s obvious that White Canary — even promoted to her starring role on DC’s Legends of Tomorrow — is not realistically a match for Deathstroke. This was dream-Deathstroke, and not even Manu Bennett! We actually know how a Sara-versus-Slade confrontation would go (Sara onced jumped Deathstroke and was tossed aside effortlessly).

The Fight

The trio gather Ray, but initially fail to recruit Thea to leave the dream. What’s so great about the real world, she perhaps rightly asks. Maybe, speculates Thea, this dream where Laurel and their parents are still alive, and the Queens are still billionaires, is Ollie’s reward for all the sacrifices he’s made.

Except Ollie didn’t make any of those sacrifices for a reward. He did it all because it was right.

Ollie &co. move to leave the Queen wedding compound but are confronted by the Big Bads of the previous seasons. Malcom Merlyn. Deathstroke. Damian Darkh. (and some randos) Conspicuous by his absence: Ra’s al Ghul.

Thea has a change of heart and engages dear old dad.

Sara pairs off against Darkh this time, avenging a sister still alive in the dreamworld.

Ollie gets Deathstroke.

The fight scene is pretty great. Thea kills her dream-dad with a sword and takes his bow, shooting an arrow at Sara. Sara catches the arrow out of the air and uses it to stab Darkh. Ollie finishes the fight with the bow, which he uses to finish off Deathstroke. (Ray and Dig kill the randos with some guns. Whatevs.)

WHO’D WIN?

Could Sara have beaten Deathstroke? To be fair, it was three-on-one (one of whom was Ollie). Ollie could not only beat Deathstroke, but Year Minus Three Ollie on Lian Yu killed a Mirakuru-powered Deathstroke, cleanly. Why does Deathstroke only have one eye? Ollie stabbed him “to death” through the other one. Ollie of course completed Season Two with a very pyrrhic win over Slade with another clean win. But Sara? Probably not.

Could Speedy have beaten Merlyn? While it is possible that Merlyn would “let” his daughter win, I don’t think that dream-Malcolm not throwing a death match would likely lose to Speedy. Merlyn is sub-Ollie, but still ascended to Ra’s al Ghul. Remember, Nyssa was not considered his equal (Ollie had to fight Merlyn in her place, taking Merlyn’s hand). Unless you think Thea is substantially more dangerous than Nyssa, this win is equally the product of a dream as Sara killing Deathstroke.

Could Sara have beaten Darkh? I think so. Regular Darkh (i.e. not Diviner Darkh) was “just” an assassin (not the equal to Merlyn); same as Sara. Sara is depicted as having grown through her many trials, while Darkh is depicted as increasingly reliant on magic or powerful allies like Reverse Flash.

Could Ollie have beaten Deathstroke? Sure. Especially in the dreamworld.

The heroes escape the Dominators’ dream, stealing an alien spaceship. They are persued by dozens of others, but are saved at the last minute by the Waverider, leading into the “Invasion!” conclusion on DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.

Until tomorrow.

To be continued…

LOVE
MIKE

Hall of Justice from "Invasion!"

[For The Flash‘s “Invasion!” or any other recaps on Fetchland, assume the presence of possible spoilers.]

The CW Summary:
When aliens attack, Barry seeks help from Green Arrow, the Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl.

Cold Open

In an “Invasion!” opening flash*-forward we see Barry and Ollie up shit creek. Ollie refers to Barry as “team leader” just as a burst of Kryptonian heat vision rips through the wall they are hiding behind. The founding pair of the Arrowverse come around to face their foes… Starting with Speedy (!!!)

The “Invasion!” cold open ends with Thea Queen in her full red Speedy armor, Spartan, Heatwave, White Canary,Firestorm, the Atom and Supergirl in badass poses facing off against the fastest man alive + a guy with a bow and arrow.

Ten Hours Earlier…

At S.T.A.R. Labs a concerned Team Flash is measuring Wally West, who has only recently obtained Flash-like speed. Apparently everything is coming up Piznarski for Wally, but Iris begs Team Flash to discourage him from training or using his speed.

A “meteor” plummets towards downtown Central City, prompting Barry to investigate… but it turns out to be an alien spaceship instead. Scary alien monsters swarm out and knock down Barry (but don’t kill him or anything)

The government attempts to cover up the alien ship crash as a routine experiment. Lyla Michaels (aka Mrs. Diggle, aka Amanda Waller version 2.0) is on the scene and suggests the President take this more seriously. She is rebuffed by government “big guns” … But Barry, still there in Flash mode from the previous night, will listen.

At S.T.A.R. Labs Lyla informs Team Flash about the aliens — the Dominators. Four ships are coming, not just the one. Lyla says that the United Nations is coordinating a response, but Barry points out that they won’t be able to stop the Dominators if it comes to it. The Argus director retorts that neither will Barry.

Not alone anyway!

Barry gets a little help from his friends…

Barry recruits Arrow, Diggle, Thea, and Felicity from Star City. Thea comes out of retirement, because aliens. Felicity leaves some kind of time message for the Legends. All of them meet up at “a hangar” that Barry owns (pictured above). Recognize it from anywhere?

Hall of Justice from Young Justice

There are countless wide open plot holes in “Invasion!” so far but my God there is nothing as great as Team Arrow, Team Flash, the Legends of Tomorrow, and a dimensionally-displaced Supergirl meeting at the Hall of g-d Justice. The next episode could be an “it was all a dream” cop-out and ten-year-old michaelj wouldn’t care. He would love it Love It LOVE IT anyway.

Per BDM‘s recap of “Medusa” Barry and Vibe bring Supergirl back from last night’s episode and the team-up proper begins.

Ollie defers to Barry as team leader; Supergirl plays resident training alien, to the dismay (and bruises) of the assembled other-heroes.

Key “Invasion!” plot developments:

  1. The Dominators capture and apparently kill the President. Their goal, though, seems to be to take mental control of our heroes.
  2. The Firestorm duo reveals the recording Barry sent from forty years in the future on DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. In the recording future-Barry warns Rip and crew that he can’t be trusted, presumably due to his Flashpoint screwup. When Dig finds out that Baby John used to be Baby Sara, Caitlin is maybe Killer Frost, and Cisco’s brother is now dead, everyone is upset with Barry. Oliver says he will stick by Barry, which ends up separating Arrow and Flash from the rest of the heroes when they go to rescue the President.
  3. Heroes versus heroes! The Dominators mind control the non-Arrow / non-Flash good guys with some kind of alien gem. All heck breaks loose at S.T.A.R. Labs. Wally very briefly bursts in to save the day (before being punked by Supergirl).

In addition to these three crossover points, I found it interesting the DC’s Legends of Tomorrow team would choose to make two of their show’s big reveals on The Flash. Not only did we find out what happened on future-Barry’s recording during “Invasion!” but we found out about the mystery brunette that has been giving Professor Stein headaches… It’s a daughter he apparently didn’t have pre-Flashpoint.

Head Scratchers:

Keeping in mind that there is almost nothing that would quench the raging inferno of my love for this superhero crossover, here are three things from “Invasion!” that made no sense to me:

As far as I can tell, the point of this episode (from the Dominators’ side) was to mind control the powerful Earth superheroes. It is consequently maddening that they would leave their mind control gem unguarded. For that matter, why wouldn’t they have used the mind controlled heroes for something more interesting than just attacking the not-yet-mind-controlled ones? Barry has to out-speed and outwit Supergirl to break the mind control gem, but it is inexplicable to me that he would have had the opportunity against a strategically thoughtful foe.

Supergirl says she has heard about the Dominators. They came to her world before she was born and killed a lot of people. I found this a bit off considering she is from Earth-38. Is she saying that there are parallel Dominators in her universe? Implying Earth-1 Dominators breached their way to Earth-38?

White Canary claims that Nate and Vixen have stayed behind to guard the Legends’ time ship, calling them “rookies”. Doesn’t Vixen presumably have years of superhero experience, seeing that she was an actually trained agent in the J.S.A. prior to stowing away with the Legends of Tomorrow? Maybe they’ll reappear Thursday night or so.

These things did make sense:

  • Upon learning that boy billionaire / Star City mayor Oliver Queen is the Green Arrow, Iris declares him “even hotter”.
  • White Canary expresses similar admiration for “skirt” Supergirl, as she repeatedly lays out the Earth-1 heroes in training.

“Invasion!” ends with Barry alone in the rain, as the briefly-foiled Dominators teleport all nearby superheroes off the Hall of Justice S.T.A.R. Labs tarmac.

To be continued…

LOVE
MIKE

* See what I did there?

Chapter 7

American Horror Story: Roanoke has really hit a hockey stick curve in terms of grisly violence and gratuitous torture porn over the past couple of episodes. We started with a really interesting “play within a play” format (and even “play within a play within a play” when considering stuff like the Butcher or anything Cricket retold)… Now we’ve delved into a combination of The Blair Witch Project and Saw. Last week boasted maybe only two or three murders (one barely on-camera)… Chapter 7 corrects that substantially and savagely.

Chapter 6 and Chapter 7 reverse a fundamental point of the first five episodes. We knew most of the cast — Matt, Shelby, Lee… anyone who was talking to the cameras — was essentially “safe”. Now we know that most of them are not. The fun thing is trying to figure out the one person who lives! My money is on the IRL Shelby.

For simplicity’s sake I’m going to call fake-Matt Cuba (for Cuba Gooding Jr), fake-Lee Angela, and so on. I mean the fact that Cuba Gooding Jr played Matt is more useful to us than that he plays Dominic Banks who played Matt. Right? Right 🙂

As this was an episode of AW SHIT moment after AW SHIT moment, we’ll use that format for ye olde recap.

The Top 8 Jaw-Dropping Moments of American Horror Story: Roanoke Chapter 7:

VIII. “The Butcher” butchers the production staff

At the end of last week’s episode I was wondering if the “one survivor” referred only to the cast of Return to Roanoke: Three Days in Hell. The opening scene answers that question as the Kathy Bates version of the Butcher does a hatchet job on everyone in the production trailer. Cheyenne Jackson’s Sidney Aaron James dies so suddenly I jumped out of my seat even on second viewing.

VII. Real Woods Witch, and VI. Real Butcher

One of the things I liked best about this episode was the contrast between the “tv” versions of the Butcher (Bates) and Scathach the woods witch (Lady Gaga) and the “real” versions from Chapter 7’s found footage.

Kathy’s performances have been awesome and Gaga was exciting both as a villainous power source and her carnal role with Matt… But once you see the “real” Butcher and Scathach the My Roanoke Nightmare versions just look like women in reenactment costumes. Bates acted grim; the real Butcher is grim. Gaga might not have been at her Hotel pinnacle, but she was still sexy; the new-look Scathach looks filthy and hideous… You can barely tell where her hair ends and the twigs begin.

American Horror Story: Roanoke is a mesmerizing television show. The multiple “shows within shows” format has me often wondering what is “real”. As much as I hate the “found footage” style in general, it is hugely effective here, at least for contrast.

V. The Butcher butchers “the Butcher”

After her attacks on the crew (and Shelby) I figured Bates’s Agnes Mary Winstead might join the ranks of the true Butcher happily. I guess the Butcher proper has no interest in sharing the nickname.

She just wanted to be on tv 🙁

IV. Cuba (Dominic, whatever) is a total sociopath

I loved the “diary room” session where Cuba spoke frankly about wanting to be the show’s villain. I can’t imagine he will be able to pull that off with the likes of the Butcher and the Polk family sharing screen time with him.

There are moments where Cuba seems like a good guy… He saved Shelby after all. But besides his unapologetic willingness to ruin every other cast member’s life, he was mad manipulative to the grieving Shelby after, well, you know.

III. Bates reminds us why she won the Oscar

I found Bates to be unbelievable as the Butcher in her appearances in the My Roanoke Nightmare episodes. But in Chapter 7 she shows a rare level of versatility. Bates flits from a mad version of the Butcher to moments of whimpering lucidity. Every version of Bates, or Agnes, is cray cray… But they’re all different kinds of cray (and she does a great job with at least three different stripes of them).

II. Shelby murders Matt!

So one of the burning questions posed by every cast member of Return to Roanoke: Three Days in Hell who didn’t actually live the events of My Roanoke Nightmare is why any of the Millers would possibly have returned… Especially during the Blood Moon.

Shelby wants to be with Matt. Lee wants to clear her name (and make like a million). But what is Matt doing there? It turns out he is in love with Scathach, and had been waiting for her to show up. Shelby shows remarkable courage, confronting the woods witch and getting her off her husband… It’s pretty cool to see she can exert some will over one of the local ghosts, especially the power source.

Of course when she finds out Matt’s agenda, Shelby shows more of that same decisiveness. Also gross.

I. Lee tenderizes her own sweet meat (and everything after)

I didn’t think we’d have a bigger jaw-dropper than Shelby killing her beloved husband… Until the girls get captured by the Polks. The real Polks are similarly grimier than the actor-portrayed versions; the cannabis plants were a nice touch.

So where there are Polks… We know there is going to be cannibalism. I’m not really sure why they like to eat still-living people, but Lee gets the same treatment that Elias Cunningham did. The whole thing is just revolting. They untie one of Lee’s hands so she can rub peanut oil into her own leg, then season her, then plunge a fork into her thigh, still attached.

That’s not the grossest part, though. “Guests” Sarah Paulson and Angela Bassett are compelled to take a bite.

Gross.

LOVE
MIKE

Codename: Action #1

comiXology summary:
Codename: Action #1. During the height of the Cold War, unknown forces scheme to heat up a global conflict. As key officials on both sides of the Iron Curtain are replaced with doppelgangers, the infiltration threatens to disrupt the precarious state of world affairs. The security of the Free World depends on a young secret agent, one assigned to shape the world’s masked heroes into a force with singular purpose and unyielding resolve!

I actually don’t know anything about Codename: Action as a title-title. I saw a solicitation announcement for it reading another Dynamite comic and thought this was a cool looking cover. (And hope you’ll agree.) What I do know is that this Codename: Action #1 cover by Jae Lee is a masterwork of elegant design and the use of negative space.

On Jae Lee…

Jae Lee, Jae Lee… What can I say about Jae Lee?

Lee hit my eyes and imagination in the early 1990s. I loved his work on a now-defunct WildC.A.T.S. title (“filling in” for a different J. Lee if you grok). In those pre-Internet days, I had to ask actual humans at the counter where I could find more Jae Lee. I bought all of it, and combed every local comics store to assemble his Namor work. I’m not sure if he was my “favorite” comics artist (or even my favorite “Lee”), but I do remember that when I was writing down my goals for a high school illustration class, I dropped his name as a role model.

Lee is one of the most distinctive artists on the planet, which is why he is so often tapped as a cover artist, more than an interior artist. He’s not the most facile storyteller, but his line work is unparalleled in its intention and precision. Part of being, there are so few lines.

I mean, there are probably fewer total lines on this Codename: Action #1 cover than the average square inch of the average Rob Liefeld! Any doofus can put a giant splotch of black on a panel or flood the gutters, but for my $1.99 almost no one touches Jae in terms of making something as 75% black as this look actually delicate.

And that foot!

It probably isn’t a surprise to you that BDM and I have bumped heads more than once over the years RE: what makes a good comics artist, or even just a good artist. As striking as his portraiture has always been, Lee has drawn criticism over his ability on hands and feet.

Personally, I love the interplay between the dancers’ hands… The combination of her consistently implied details versus the strategic line overload of his palm.

I wonder what BDM thinks of that foot. There is no mist rising up covering it; both the dancers have actual hands (and not claws).

But even if it were just claws / mist… It’d probably still look great from across a comics store.

LOVE
MIKE

“Chapter 5” opens with [real-life] Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin (presumably on My Roanoke Nightmare) talking about the history of the house.

In 1792…

In 1789, the fabulously rich art collector Edward Philippe Mott (played by perennial American Horror Story leading man Evan Peters) left his wife and young heir up in Philadelphia to secret an unparalleled art collection at a personal hideaway deep in the North Carolina woods. Mott, envied even by the very rich of his day, commissioned Shakers to build what is “today” Matt and Shelby’s house, to house his paintings and busts, worth more than “every tobacco farm in the state.”

So of course, Mott ran afoul of the Butcher.

One night he found his precious art collection destroyed. Incredulous at his servants’ desperate rantings, the furious Mott imprisoned the lot of them — a goodly number of naked women at least — in what we viewers know today as Elias’s root cellar.

Mott was subsequently staked and immolated by the Butcher. His black footman boyfriend (quite possibly a slave, given it was 1792) fled on a stolen steed, only to be jailed for killing his master and hiding the body. No one mentioned the poor women in the root cellar. Those servant women starved to death underground, discovered some time later, nothing but bones.

Was — or is — that big Shaker house haunted?

Doris Kearns Goodwin, the narrating historian, would love it if the dead could come back to talk to her! That said, she would never spend a night in the Roanoke house; certainly not under a full moon.

Matt and Shelby…

In the present, Matt and Shelby (and the rescued Flora) are themselves about to be butchered by the Butcher’s mob. With seemingly nowhere to run, the trio encounter the ghost of Mott, who guides them away not out of altruism, but because he “can hardly suffer three more souls.”

Getting the family out of the house and getting them to safety are two different things, sadly; so the minute they seem free (woo hoo), Matt, Shelby, and Flora are captured by the hillbilly Polk family (boo).

The Polks are still sour for offenses real and imagined. Out bidding them for the house. Leading the cops to their farm. Taking their mistreated, malnourished, “babies” into state protection. The Polks did save Dr. Elias Cunningham’s life, though (whew). In the aftermath of his encounter with the Butcher’s archers in Chapter 4 the Polks found Elias full of arrows, porcupine-like… But are now using him as a living source of jerkey (ew).

Mama Polk, played masterfully by Frances Conroy, is dissatisfied with the taste of her “meat”. She has no further use for the crippled Elias. As quickly as we are reintroduced to that mad, altruistic, professor, the Polks smash a lethal hammer into his head!

It turns out Polks made a deal with the Butcher 200 years earlier. They help provide human sacrifices. She leaves them alone to grow lots and lots of cannabis. In order to make good on this centuries-old deal, the Polks cart Matt, Shelby, and Flora right back to the house.

In a burst of heroism, Matt seizes a Polk shotgun and blows the head off of one of their captors! Shelby kicks another out of the back of a moving pickup! The Millers flee! Yay, right? For a second only, sadly… In order to keep [Matt] from running, Mama Polk takes a hammer to Shelby’s ankle, nearly severing it with a blunt object. She knows Matt won’t leave his hamstrung bride. This is one of the most grisly things I have ever seen on television… and remember just a few minutes earlier on the same show we saw a screaming man missing half of his appendages being essentially eaten alive.

Despite promising that Flora will die last, the Butcher decides to kill the little girl first. This infuriates ghostly playmate Priscilla, and spurs the Butcher’s own son Ambrose to a brief moment of defiance. He tackles his own mother into the giant fire!

The. End.

Released from police custody, Lee rockets onto the scene and spirits the rest of the family away from the deadly mob.

In kind of an end tag, the Miller family, broke with their life savings sunk into that damned house, feel collectively wealthy — thankfully alive — at the cheapest hotel in town. Shelby, on crutches due to her Polk-inflicted ankle injury, calls dibs for a shower. A strange mist seeps out from under the door. The Butcher bursts out and chops poor Shelby right between the eyes!

Yikes!

Except… We all know that Shelby can’t be dead. She’s been narrating My Roanoke Nightmare for the past five weeks, right? That last bit was “just” a nightmare. But it had to be, right?

Chapter 5 of American Horror Story: Roanoke leaves us with a most enchanting (and horrifying) head scratcher. Given the unique structure of the show, we can’t know what is “real” and what is unreliable narration. But you know what? Despite knowing Shelby lived to tell the tale, I still jumped out of my chair.

LOVE
MIKE

Arrowverse Fight Club

In about an hour, Supergirl will premiere on the CW, presumably cementing Kara &co. to the Arrowverse proper. This gives Fetchland — or at least one opinionated comics fan — the opportunity to do a Top 8 list 😉

This Top 8 list is limited to their collective heroism, villainy, strategy, tactics, and fistfights in the extended Arrowverse — Arrow, Flash, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, and now Supergirl — only… Not four-color floppies, David Goyer movies, or, say, Injustice: Gods Among Us. So yes, Killer Frost has an unblockable Special 2 and — ahem — killer Passive, but when Barry and Cisco visited Earth Two, she was clearly no match for Zoom… Caitlin just doesn’t make our Top 8.

Honorable Mention: Superman

While a clear contender for the #1 spot, Kal-El (for whom I named my only son) has appeared in the Arrowverse only by text message so far. Sorry farm boy.

Dishonorable Mention: Firestorm

Another clear contender for #1 on pure power level alone (he can diffuse nukes with a wave of his hand or imagine us all into a room full of kryptonite), Firestorm in the Arrowverse kind of has never done anything worth making the elimination rounds. As a result BDM snarkily said “I’d sooner vote White Canary.”

Without Further Ado…

VIII. Supergirl

While long on power level, Kara stumbles a lot for someone with superhuman reflexes and presumably processing speed. During their crossover last season, Kara and Barry were presented essentially as peers; but Barry unquestionably has the edge in experience and confidence, and probably ceiling.

Hype aside, Kara is getting knocked out of the sky by a woman who is defeated thirty seconds later by a garden hose (?!?)

If she’s having problems with Live Wire or Silver Banshee, imagine Kara against Captain Cold or Deathstorm.

VII. Flash

Per the above, Flash and Supergirl were presented at similar levels in their one meeting; part of our relatively low rating for Kara is her (somewhat) lack of resilience given our assumptions on the Kryptonian physique. If we define heroes by their opposition, Kara and Barry are on similar ground with respective monsters of the week, but Barry also being tasked with, you know, Zoom.

VI. Ra’s al Ghul

Ra’s has seemingly everything for a top rating: unquestionable fighting skills (circa one hand to hand fighter better than him on the planet); limitless resources; a fanatically loyal, impeccably trained, army… Even a secret, unassailable fortress (oh, and immortality). Ra’s could squash most governments — forget about individual heroes — like bugs. Why “only” six?

Everyone else on the list is just that good, too (or even better).

V. Slade Wilson

Slade v. Ra’s is a tough hair to split. If you want to go all the way to comics universe, Slade is “the bad guy Batman” (circa #1 himself, and capable of beating an entire Justice League squad alone)… Even in Arrowverse, Slade also has circa only one fighter ahead of him on the planet, also massive resources… and at his height, even the wealth of the Queen family!

Slade, like Ra’s, has a Sardaukar-like army at his command — deadly fanatics — too. The two main edges I’d give Slade over Ra’s are 1) Mirakuru versus not-Mirakuru, and 2) while the al Ghul army has swords and knives, Wilson’s has… um… Mirakuru. Edge to the supermen.

IV. Zoom

Here’s the thing about passionate, talented, individuals. You have to take the bad with the good. If a Golden State fan doesn’t like Draymond Green’s kicking opponents in the groin costing them their All-Star Forward for a game… Maybe blunting that passion would also neuter Green’s will to go after every loose ball and defensive play; maybe GSW wouldn’t be there to begin with. I don’t know if you can have the creative genius of Don Draper without the troubled spirit and drunken infidelity that formed him and give him all those million dollar ideas; maybe, but there is no evidence to the case.

The same problem is what keeps Zoom stuck in fourth place. Here is a guy who basically rules Earth Two; he’s in a position that no Earth One villain has ever attained (badass on a planetary scale)… But he has a fatal flaw… A kryptonite for asshole speedsters as it were.

Zoom has to play with his food.

Are you a world-conquering — worlds-conquering, even — Big Bad, or a pussy cat? Get your head in the game, Zoom! You gotta vibrate right through the opponent’s heart instead of vibrating him into a jail cell, or he is just going to travel back in time and punch you in the embryo. Or something.

III. Amanda Waller

Vast intelligence network. Unlimited resources. Secret prison on an uncharted island exclusively for Arrow’s vanquished playmates.

Complete lack of conscience.

Thank God she is on our side. Err… was.

II. Vandal Savage

In the comics, Vandal Savage is generally a threat on the order of Ra’s al Ghul, but comes off a little lower on account of being a brutish caveman. Both are immortals with long views of success. They have similar, Darwinian, agendas. Savage is typically more — ahem — savage (being a caveman in the comics), while Ra’s is the elegant swordsman. They are, as we said, very comparable and complimentary to each other. In Young Justice, Ra’s and Savage are close allies in the Light, with caveman Savage even entrusted as Earth’s envoy to Darkseid and Apokalips, a match for Flash-level speed due to countless years of disciplined martial mastery.

In the Arrowverse though, Savage borrows from the Hawk mythology — a mix of magic and Nth Metal — instead of being a cosmic caveman. Vandal is still quite old (if thousands of years younger than his comic self), and has been training in fighting arts almost continuously since the dominance of the Nile.

Distinguishing Savage from other players on this list is just how long and how influential he is shown to be. Savage’s bronze fist extends from ancient Egypt to the far future (with dominion over the Time Masters); in the present, then-Ra’s al Ghul Malcolm Merlyn served as his vassal, helping to resurrect a vanquished Savage from incineration (it is unclear if Ra’s proper would have acted the same way if he still held the title, but we’d guess yes).

It took the combined might of all the Legends of Tomorrow — and the sacrifice of more than one — over hundreds of years of conflict and detective work to take down Savage; though, granted, not one of those heroes made our Top 8 list. We’d guess it would only take over of…

I. Oliver Queen

This is what #1 brings to the table:

  1. Limitless wealth – Even after Ollie lost the the Queen billions to Slade Wilson, he ultimately retained access to his old wealth through his CEO girlfriend. He has at its heart the superpower of a-list icons Stark and Wayne.
  2. Super tactics – For want of a better term, Ollie is the Arrowverse’s Batman. He has a Robin, cool gadgets, a company, a hidden cave or three… And even an Oracle. Like Batman, Oliver is a master of thinking about a fight before the fight happens. Given planning, Ollie can overcome any superpower in combat between brain and bow; this is proven when he shoots the lightning fast Barry, twice… even after warning him he would. It’s not just that he’s that good (though he is): Oliver’s super tactics are what makes him capable of defeating so many more powerful opponents.
  3. Mary Sue – If you asked what Arrow’s key ability is, the simple answer would be “archery”. But that’s not the extent of it. He’s a super polymath. Oliver can manifest ANY skill, seemingly on demand. Need a super spy? He’s not just a trained Russian mobster, he has all the right contacts. Need to beat the world’s greatest hand-to-hand killer in a fencing contest? Call Oliver! How about a rogue sorcerer? Turns out Oliver’s many tattoos are mystically functional (didn’t I mention that?), he can harness the power of belief to negate another’s magic, and even John Constantine — a character famous for swindling demons and devils — is the one who owes Ollie a few favors. There seems to be no scenario where Ollie lacks the upper hand: it will just be revealed that he has the exact ability necessary to win the day, from linguistics to riflery, politics to carpentry.

Then there are Oliver’s physical gifts: Beat Deathstroke — including with Mirakuru — more than once. Killed an immortal Ra’s al Ghul (after first being killed by him… magical plant resurrection being yet another arrow in Ollie’s quiver). Punched master assassin Damian Darkh to death. Incinerated Vandal Savage (with magic, of course).

Three of those are contenders for #2 meelee combatant on Planet Arrowverse.

Unfortunately for them, there can be only one #1.

The Martian Manhunter has a different vote. We consider him biased:


LOVE
MIKE

Luke Cage

Who is Luke Cage?

Posted by michaelj | Comics

WARNING: There is a wee bit of nudity down the page. You have been warned. -mf

Luke Cage is one of the most badass heroes in the Marvel Universe, and probably my favorite Avenger. All of this is remarkable because prior to the early- to mid-aughts he was kind of a cliche-ridden goofball born of the 1970s in a ridiculous disco superhero “uniform” ejaculating SWEET CHRISTMAS each issue as his catch phrase.

Luckily I don’t know anything about any of that. Despite his first appearance in 1972 my serious concept of Luke is the thoroughly modern one… 2001 at the earliest. If you go through these Top 8 Badass moments I hope you learn to like him as much as I do (and just in time for his Netflix debut, tomorrow). He really is something else.

Luke Cage’s Top 8 Badass Moments (according to Mike):

VIII. Luke Cage makes the All-Star Team
Luke Cage makes the All-Star Team

Little of the rest of this list would be possible without Luke’s improbable ascent to Avengers All-Star in Brian Michael Bendis’s “Breakout” story.

To give you some context if your concept of the Avengers is all billion dollar summer blockbusters with Chrisses Hemsworth and Evans staring each other down in shirtless blonde Greek* god pose-offs, when I was growing up the team was like Namor’s fish-eyed green ex plus a fat, bald, Stephen Strange wannabe named Dr. Druid; or, right after, the Eternal duo of Sersei and — I shit you not — “the Forgotten One”. Nothing supreme; utterly forgettable.

Legend has it the baby version of Mark Millar liked Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman all, but didn’t have enough pocket money for all their books. Luckily DC’s Justice League of America let him read about all the top heroes with just one title! This — some thirty years later — was a revelation for Marvel decision makers, and the concept of an Avengers All-Star team was born. For the first time iconic Avengers Captain America and Iron Man adventured alongside Marvel’s unquestioned ace Peter Parker and most popular berserker, X-Man Wolverine…

… And Luke Cage.

Bendis’s affection for Cage was apparent to anyone who had read his street-level superhero books Daredevil and Alias [aka Jessica Jones], but given the shot on the larger stage, Luke stepped up.

Never again would he be a trope; he became not just an Avenger, but THE Avenger. A leader of men, gods, women, and squirrels.

VII. Luke Cage Beats Up the Wrecker, Everyone Else, with the Wrecker’s Crowbar
Luke Cage Beats Up the Wrecker, Everyone Else, with the Wrecker's Crowbar

Hold on… Luke Cage is an Avenger?

THE Avenger, actually. Get with the program already.

What’s this about a crowbar?

Uru weapons in the Marvel Universe are super special and super powerful… Rare, but not unique. Mjolnir, Thor’s hammer, is the must famous Uru weapon but even in the cinematic universe you get the feeling Odin has a whole basement full of hand-held WMDs behind the Rainbow Bridge. Beta Ray Bill carries Stormbreaker (essentially the exact same hammer as Mjolnir, but yellow instead of gray), and in the climax of “Fear Itself” seemingly the entire MU from Iron Fist to Red She-Hulk are transformed into godlike versions of themselves, armed with Uru swords, claw extensions, or Stark-brand power suits. Uru is stronger than vibranium or adamantium, such that when Cap’s shield cracked, a little Uru glue was said to make it even stronger.

Cage taking an Uru weapon (crowbar here instead of hammer in the pantheon of magical construction equipment) from its owner and then using it to pound an entire [Dark] Avengers team is roughly the equivalent of beating up Hemsworth, somehow lifting his toy, and then going to town on the bad guy equivalents of Renner, Jackman, and Maguire Garfield whoever is playing Spidey these days, ultimately to spit in Willem Dafoe’s eye**.

Bad

Ass

VI. That Time Luke Cage Bought the Avengers Mansion for $1
That Time Luke Cage Bought the Avengers Mansion for $1

Tony Stark sold Luke his ancestral home — and that of his team — to Luke, allowing Cage complete autonomy over his own Avengers squad.

Neither Luke nor wife Jessica Jones carry cash, though, so Cage had to borrow the buck from longtime partner Iron Fist. LOL

V. That Other Time Luke Cage Sold the Avengers Mansion Back to Stark for $5
That Other Time Luke Cage Sold the Avengers Mansion Back to Stark for $5

Wanting to focus on family (and get his daughter Danielle out of the line of fire) Luke briefly retired from the Avenging business, so sold the mansion back to Tony… At a 400% profit.

IV. When Luke Cage (and Thor) Literally Ripped Deadpool in Half
When Luke Cage (and Thor) Literally Ripped Deadpool in Half

Ew

Gross

Deadpool Annual #1 from 2013 is a hoot. Heroes lament how hard it is to beat “healing factor guys”, Thor reduces one to ash with an Uru-summoned lightning bolt, and multiple Avengers sip lattes while dancing on rooftops, surrounded by the corpses of a dozen failed ninja assassins. A hoot! I told you!

… Oh, and Luke and Thor rip Deadpool in half.

Don’t worry though. Healing factor guy, etc.

III. Luke Cage Eats Three Eggs
Luke Cage Eats Three Eggs

The 2002 Cage series by Brian Azzarello and Richard Corben is a real treat. Cage shows us a-list creators (one of which is the writer behind crime masterpiece 100 Bullets) lending their collective pencils and pens to a hood-based story of urban gentrification and warring ethnic groups years before Luke’s big graduation to punching Skrulls instead of street level gang bangers.

Cage has Cage depicted as tough, mercenary, and overwhelmingly charismatic (a quality he would carry into Alias). It opens on the universally accepted idea that “shit happens” … But for Harlem residents with “bank” Cage — operating out of a local strip club –can be their toilet paper.

I read Cage when it came out, and despite some truly classic one-liners, like “Bullshit. She inta BOYS she inta GANGS[.]” and “Yeah… Pull that trigger… SEE who dies[.]” plus a killer three-sentence summary of Luke’s secret origin*** — at least prior to writing this — had little specific recollection of the details.

Except the eggs scene.

What makes it badass? Memorable even?

Is three eggs even a large number of eggs to eat? (Does Azzarello think it is?) Is it because Luke just got done humping an at-this-point-still nameless Korean bartender? Both?

I think this scene is meant to highlight a combination of Luke’s appetites, masculinity, and cross-demographic appeal, none of which have eroded in the fifteen years since.

II. Luke Cage (and Jess) Pop Doc Ock and Kick Him Off Their Team
Luke Cage (and Jess) Pop Doc Ock and Kick Him Off Their Team

Doctor Octopus is a bad guy. Given some of the other escapades on this Top 8 list, cracking the spectacles of a b-lister might not seem like a big deal. But Doc Ock was possessing Peter Parker’s body at the time.

Luke even stood up to him with words before he rose up with fists. He didn’t know it was Doc Ock; he thought he was doing the right thing by getting up in the grill of the moral center of the MU.

Total Neville Longbottom moment, this.

I. The Ascent and Career of Doreen Green
The Ascent and Career of Doreen Green

We started with Luke making the Avengers All-Star team. I think that the appropriate closure is Luke’s paying it forward for another goofball character.

So Luke and Jessica — new parents of future Captain America Danielle Cage — found themselves in need of a nanny. And because they are the kind of people who might have terrorists, alien invaders, or angry / riled-up mutants attacking their mansion, they were in need of a super powered nanny. They ended up choosing Doreen Green, also known as Squirrel Girl.

Doreen’s ascent ultimately mirrored Luke’s. Squirrel Girl was an explicitly not-serious character, even joining joke superhero team the Great Lakes Avengers just so her squirrel sidekick could die in an arc satirizing comic book deaths. However as the nanny to Danielle Cage, Doreen was — like Luke — given a spotlight on New Avengers. She beat Wolverine one-on-one and got to flex a little heroism. Today, the onetime joke character is headlining her own title, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, is the darling of comics critics while helping to expand the genre’s audience, and even puts in time on Sunspot’s Avengers Idea Mechanics team.

Pay it forward, Luke Cage.

LOVE
MIKE

* Norse, fine; Norse.

** The Green Goblin (wearing StarkTech) at the time claimed to be in charge of the Avengers, but just had Bullseye dressed up as Hawkeye, Venom masquerading as Pete, etc.

*** When I was doin’ my big in the joint, a doctor made me an offer. / Said be my MONKEY. Let me experiment on your black ass. I’ll either KILL YOU, or SET YOU FREE. / I said hand me the BANANA.

**** You know, like YT.

Chapter 1

FX summary:
Chapter 1. The FX limited series, American Horror Story, returns for a sixth installment. An FX Original Series Wednesdays 10PM ET/PT on FX.

The sixth season of American Horror Story brings with it a new format for the series. This year the show is being presented as a kind of “play within a play” — complete with DRAMATIC RE-ENACTMENT subtitles — as “My Roanoke Nightmare”.

We meet Matt and Shelby, played by Andre Holland and Lily Rabe. Matt, a pharmaceutical salesman, wins a free yoga class at a work raffle. Matt pulls a hamstring and never does another downward dog… But does walk away from the class with Shelby, the teacher, to be his bride.

Matt is promoted. Shelby is pregnant. The two go out to celebrate…

It is the worst night of their lives.

Matt and Shelby are attacked during a gang initiation. Matt is concussed while Shelby loses her baby to the stress of seeing her beloved knocked out. The pair flee the dangerous city of LA for a country life.

While Holland and Rabe give voiceover — talking directly to us — about their traumatic experiences, their same characters are played out by Academy Award Winner (and OJ Simpson darling) Cuba Gooding Jr. and American Horror Story mainstay Sarah Paulson. So there are two Matts, and two Shelbys; one pair of talking heads, and the other acting out scenes, simultaneously. All four of them are meant to be on a different show, “My Roanoke Nightmare” and not American Horror Story ostensibly.

It’s an interesting presentation style that — in addition to Cuba’s post-coital buttocks — gives us one substantially un-American Horror Story foothold: There is little real threat of danger. We aren’t watching American Horror Story proper… We’re watching “My Roanoke Nightmare”. Sarah Paulson isn’t just an actress playing a part… She’s playing Lily Rabe’s Shelby Miller; since Rabe is talking to us about her traumatic experience, we can assume she survived to sell her story to “My Roanoke Nightmare”. So even though there are scary hillbillies, colonials bearing torches, pig-headed monsters, and weird traffic coincidences there is less a threat of seeing either Shelby dismembered like Chloe Sevigny’s patient in American Horror Story: Asylum or burned alive like Frances Conroy’s witch in American Horror Story: Coven.

One thing I’ll give it: Roanoke is creepy. It highlights racial tensions, and the visceral fear a black man — or a mixed couple — might fear from less enlightened neighbors. It reminds us of real violence as a catalyst for the show’s trademark supernatural events. And of course, if you blink, you can find yourself blanketed by fingerlike string fetishes hanging from every which wall (or every tree in the forest), depending on where you are when you run afoul of the mysterious.

“Chapter 1” is a proper introduction to the new season, and as the name implies, only the first chapter. It ends on cliffhanger. We will learn more tonight!

LOVE
MIKE

All-New Inhumans #9

comiXology summary:
All-New Inhumans #9. Gorgon stands trial! What crime could Gorgon have committed to land him in an Inhuman jail? And what does Ana Kravinoff have to do with it all?

The bait and switch 🙁

Last night at FNM (writeup coming to a Fetchland near you) I saw this week’s cover… All-New Inhumans #9.

Look at that cover for a second. Quick-like; like you were passing it on a comic shop rack, mayhap on the way to your second round of Standard. Note this is a Marvel comics cover. Seriously: What character do you see?

Wolverine, right?

I immediately moved to the rack. I thought Wolverine was dead* in Marvel Comics**.

I mean, I wasn’t necessarily going to jump into All-New Inhumans with the ninth issue, but I did want to know what was up with Wolvie. Curiosity, you grok?

How could it be anyone else?

I mean, the cover is an obvious homage to the various Marvel Comics Presents covers that Barry Windsor-Smith did in the early 1990s. There are many, but this seems like the most direct inspiration:

Marvel Comics Presents #78
Barry Windsor-Smith’s cover to Marvel Comics Presents #78

No beef with cover artist Stefano Caselli; seriously… But that All-New Inhumans cover sure smells like a lift homage to BWS’s classic, doesn’t it?

TLDR: IT’S NOT WOLVERINE ON THE COVER.

Per the ComiXology summary, it’s Inhuman Gorgon on the cover; I guess you would know that if you were a regular reader of All-New Inhumans… But as a comics cover (i.e. something that is meant to draw in potential readers who are not regular subscribers of a comic on a monthly basis) I didn’t know it was Gorgon. I thought maybe I’d get the DL on a once-central character who has been dealt a really raw hand in the comics universe [that in other circumstances would have grown right back].

Boo, All-New Inhumans #9 cover!

Boo… And well played.

LOVE
MIKE

* Except for Old Man Logan; another time.
** Wolverine being Marvel’s more-or-less most popular character… Whose film rights are owned by someone else.

Naya Burn

Two weeks ago I was able to land a Modern PPTQ with a Naya Burn deck, hopefully to set myself up for Pro Tour Dublin. Hopefully this short writeup will help you do the same 🙂

I. Your Cards Largely Cost One

Well, one and two. But almost all your guys cost one, and even your lone three mana spell (Rift Bolt) also costs one. This is extremely important as Modern is a wickedly compressed format… Almost every deck puts its opponent on the back foot (if not the grave) by turn four, so just having cheap one and two mana cards is a legitimate deck feature; and 2)

Imagine you’re a deck that plays three and four mana cards, don’t know what you’re up against, and start off on one (or even two) lands that enter the battlefield tapped… You might play all one spell before the game effectively ends. Naya Burn’s cards are less powerful, less card advantageous, maybe… But it will play four to six of them in the same window (which often will be lethal right there).

II. The Philosophy of Fire is on Overdrive in Modern

Remember the original Philosophy if Fire: Your average card does two damage; your opponent starts on twenty life; you start with seven cards… Ten spells wins the game.

In Modern your average opponent will start on fourteen and your average card does between three and four — not two — damage. Do the math! You will be able to win on as few as four spells and your opening hand, unopposed, will be lethal most of the time!

Combined with the first point — the super affordable costs on your spells [versus the gigantic or profligate costs of many other Modern options] Naya Burn is the most operationally attractive deck in the format.

III. Atarka’s Command Deals Three to Them… But Three to You?!?

Atarka’s Command is a cute, medium-powerful, redundant spell that can also play main-deck spoiler to Kitchen Finks or even a Hail Mary Siege Rhino. Sometimes you counter their Lightning Helix; sometimes you have two Swiftspears down and are living the dream.

However most of the time Atarka’s Command is three damage for two mana (in the running for the least efficient wannabe ‘Bolt in Naya Burn)… While also being the only green card in the deck. The corollary is: If you can ever get Atarka’s Command out of your deck between games, you probably should. The ability to start on sixteen (instead of fourteen, on account of being obligated to find Stomping Ground rather than basic Mounting with the same fetch) is often as valuable for you as it would be for an opponent staring down your hot hand.

Don’t get me wrong, Atarka’s Command is awesome when it’s awesome; but if it’s just Incinerate that can’t hit creatures, any number of your sideboard cards will be more effective, without requiring you to ever search for green (example, siding in Searing Blood and Lightning Helix or Path to Exile and Lightning Helix for the only four green cards in the starting deck).

Second corollary: This is the same reason Wild Nacatl is a suboptimal card choice in this deck; not only is it not particularly synergistic, it forces you to pay additional life a disproportionate amount of the time.

IV. Eidolon of the Great Revel Does Even Damage

Most of the creatures in Naya Burn can deal even or odd damage; Grim Lavamancer attacks for odd but shoots for even; Taylor Swiftspear starts on odd but buffs to even or odd. Eidolon of the Great Revel has both even power and even damage triggers.

Playing against Eidolon of the Great Revel is extremely challenging for most decks. Yes, it can be “dealt with” but almost always at an annoying cost. If it hits one time before it is removed, Eidolon of the Great Revel is already in Boros Charm range. Make no mistake! You really should probably remove it! But a mistake I saw opponents make over and over was around fetchland management. If you’re at seventeen and you take two you’ll go to fifteen. If you are at seventeen and you go to either sixteen or fourteen you’ve essentially let the Naya Burn player draw a card.

Don’t think this matters? I beat more than one opponent saving Monastery Swiftspear and friends with Boros Charm; Eidolons can be saved from death’s door…

V. Your Sideboard Cards Are Flexible and Powerful

One of the main things I learned from Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa in an article way back when is that one-color decks tend to have weak sideboards relative to multicolor decks. As someone who has spent years playing Patrick Sullivan Red Decks in Legacy, the contrast to Naya Burn in Modern is dramatic. This deck has specific answers to Leyline of Sanctity that can serve as card advantageous Time Walks against Phyrexian Unlife or Pentad Prism. It can lethally reverse an all-in Infect player who has Vines of the Vastwood back. It can — unlike almost every other Red Deck in competitive history — even remove big creatures!

You can re-work your deck in sideboard situations into a lock deck (say your Death’s Shadow opponent leaves you with Deflecting Palm with his Thoughtseize and you manage to stabilize at any point); you can go into mono-creature removal (generally with advantages across the board); or even plan for a progressive slow game around a Grim Lavamancer who will never die.

Oddly — and amazingly — the answer to the age old question of “Who’s the Beatdown?” in some games might be “Not me!”

VI. Corollary: Resist the Impulse to Side Out “Weak” One Mana Spells

Just remember that you need to have a critical mass of one mana spells. You will almost always be tempted to side out Lava Spike (the most narrow card in the deck) or Rift Bolt (the hands-down weakest card in the main deck). It will usually be correct to side out “some” of those. However the strength of this deck once you have three mana is to be able to make two plays per turn while the opponent is only making one play. However you can’t make two plays if you have three lands and all your cards cost two. You need some Rift Bolt suspends / Grim Lavamancer activations / Lava Spikes to the jaw or you are going to end up glutted, stuck, and raced.

That said, Path to Exile costs one!

VII. Know Your “Two-for-Ones”

Searing Blaze has two targets! You can’t counter it by sacrificing Insolent Neonate or shooting your own guy with Path to Exile in response. It will usually be right to leave unbroken fetchland(s) on the table to trigger future landfall on the opponent’s turn rather than just trying to “thin your deck” (especially at the cost of life).

Searing Blood only does two to creatures! It is in some sense less narrow than Searing Blaze but is way less effective against medium sized creatures, way less effective against any kind of tricks, and doesn’t deal damage to the opponent unless the opposing creature actually dies. For this reason it is usually not the right move to go all-in on creature removal using Searing Blood against decks with Mutagenic Growth or whose first play is likely to be a Tarmogoyf.

Destructive Revelry only does two! Don’t get me wrong… When this card is on, it is usually the worst possible card for your opponent to see; but it costs twice as much and does less damage than a Lava Spike. Having a card that only does two in your deck actually costs your goldfish math an entire card, on average while slowing you down a full turn. Yeah. Modern is quick, yo.

VIII. Let Goblin Guide be Your Guide

Always remember the Bella Flores reading of Goblin Guide. Goblin Guide is the best because it turns Magic into chess; you know what your opponent is drawing, so you can make the best plays. Card advantage be damned! The game is often compressed enough that the card advantage doesn’t end up mattering at all. However, the information might matter a lot.

In the deciding game of my PPTQ, my Goblin Guide revealed a Skullcrack on top of my opposing burn deck’s stack. That meant he was going to miss his next land drop and was going to draw a Skullcrack. So I played around the Skullcrack. At the end of my next turn, on queue, he played the Skullcrack just to get a burn spell out of his hand; I responded with Lightning Helix, essentially countering the Skullcrack, and putting him three points closer to death.

LOVE
MIKE

Post Script: Today Miles Rodriguez is playing in his first Star City Games Invitational Top 8. He played the same 75 to a 7-1 finish in Modern, with his only loss to the great Brad Nelson. Go Miles!

The list was perfect, no need to change anything. And thanks 🙂