Mild-mannered reporters by day, Greg Phillips and Nick Duke share an intense love of comic books that has made them the Hard-Traveling Fanboys. And if there’s anything that fanboys love, it’s debating what book is better than another book or which character is “cooler.” Enter Countdown, a monthly column where Greg and Nick will give a top five list and debate the merits therein.
Greg: Suddenly a wild Hard-Traveling Fanboy appears. Yes, we are back, and we’re back with yet another edition of our monthly list column: Countdown!
Nick: Yes indeed, and in honor of the upcoming release of the latest installment in the Balboaverse, “Creed,” we’re taking on the challenge this month of counting down our favorite comic book fight scenes.
Greg: Like any good ’90s kid, I grew up with a particular appreciation for a good fight scene. Whether on TV, on film or in comics, a truly great fight scene is a work of art unto itself. It’s one of the aspects in comics that most relies upon writer and artist being in sync — from pacing to character-appropriate movement, fight scenes must be both visually appealing and coherent. The greatest fight scenes can tell a story with no dialogue at all, can stand apart from the story around them, yet are enriched by those stories.
Like all our lists, these are subjective, but the criteria I used for mine were pretty simple: Did it tell a story? Was it drawn well? And, most importantly, did it leave a lasting impression on me?
Nick: Yeah, we could easily list 20 to 25 fights and not even scratch the surface of the litany of great fight scenes there have been in comics history. So, to narrow it down to just 5, I had to go with the ones that impacted me the most. These are fist-pumping, knockdown, drag out, bah Gawd slobberknockers.
So, with all that said, let’s get it started with Greg’s No. 5.
Greg’s No. 5: Batman [Jean-Paul Valley] vs. Bane (Batman #500)
Nick: Certainly a unique decision, as most people instantly think of the OTHER Batman vs Bane fight from Knightfall. I’m with you, though, I think this one is actually a better fight scene, even if it isn’t a better “moment.”
Greg: One thing I realized when putting together this list is that I love a good squash match. A bulk of my favorite comic book fights resemble the Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena beatdown from WWE Summerslam 2014 — one-sided butt kickings that left an impression in young Greg’s mind.
It’s no surprise, then, that I strongly considered putting “The Breaking of the Bat” on this list, where Bane smacked Batman and then broke his back in his own cave. However, ultimately I went for the swerve and chose a fight I have always thought was underrated — Jean-Paul Valley getting revenge for his mentor and toppling Bane once and for all.
Look, a lot of bad things can be said about the Jean-Paul Valley character, and most of them are true. But casting aside the character’s annoying traits (which, I’d argue, were intentional), this fight lived up to the classic tentpole issue fight scenes in comics history. The 500th issue of Batman was a big deal, and this epic city-spanning fight between Valley-as-Batman and the seemingly unstoppable Bane fit all the criteria I listed above. With a classic Kelley Jones cover that set the stage, the incomparable Jim Aparo put pencils to writer Doug Moench’s clash between the unproven new Batman and a villain who had been “protected” (to use wrestling parlance) better than any other in recent memory.
To this point, we’d seen Bane manhandle Killer Croc, Robin and even Bruce Wayne himself. Yet over the course of this issue, it’s clear that perhaps what was needed to beat the Venom-fueled monster was someone willing to stoop to the same violent means as Bane. It’s Valley’s blood lust and win-at-all-costs attitude (and technology) that prove to be the difference in this classic brawl.
Nick: You’ve gotta remember — Bane beat Bruce when Bruce was at his weakest, both emotionally and physically. So, it was somewhat cathartic to see the man who broke the bat get his ass kicked.
But, if Bane vs Batman defined a generation of Batman stories, my No. 5 did the same for the Big Blue Boy Scout.
Nick’s No. 5: Superman vs Doomsday (“The Death of Superman”)
Greg: It’s a battle near and dear to my heart, one of the most enduring memories of my childhood. It’s also a hell of a piece of work by writer/artist Dan Jurgens and the entire Superman crew at the time.
Nick: Now, I said before that my choices wouldn’t necessarily be the most iconic or popular fights in comics history. Well, throw all that out the window with this selection, because it’s hard to imagine a fight any more important or iconic than this one.
And while millions of people are at least marginally aware of how this one went down, it isn’t just the fight’s historically significant nature that makes it great. Leading up to the event itself, the Superman team had done a brilliant job of building up Doomsday before he ever appeared, using an unseen monster pounding away with a frightening “DOOOM, DOOOM, DOOOOM” in the closing pages of various books. (It’s no coincidence, by the way, that Louise Simonson was one of the writers here. Her husband, Walt, famously used the exact same imagery to build up the appearance of Surtur the Fire Demon in his legendary Thor run. But I digress.)
And once it came time for the fisticuffs themselves, the writers and artists outdid themselves with a panel layout that would be seen today by the internet hate machine as “gimmicky.” Beginning with an issue consisting entirely of four-panel pages, the next issue contained all three-panel pages, the next all two-panels and a final all splash-page issue, that particular layout choice gave the impression of escalating consequences, violence and a sense of foreboding even though many knew the outcome that lay ahead. Just a brilliant job by all involved.
Greg: Well said, but more on this heavyweight slugfest in a bit.
Greg’s No. 4: Ozymandias vs. Rorschach and Nite Owl (Watchmen #11)
Greg: There’s just something about a hero (or villain) getting completely demolished that appeals to me, I guess. In this case, it might be the single most dominant, dismissive extended beatdown in comics history.
Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons had previously presented Adrian Veidt as a hero, though not a particularly intimidating one. Rorschach went so far as to question his masculinity early in the story. Well, it turns out all wasn’t as it appeared with Ozymandias. Over the course of a few pages, Veidt not only physically dominates his two former friends, but he does so while seeming bored out of his mind.
As if the humiliation of the tough-as-nails Rorschach and the veteran Nite Owl being beaten from pillar to post weren’t enough, Veidt does so WHILE EXPLAINING HIS PLAN. Veidt just casually delivers an epic monologue while breaking Nite Owl’s nose and pulling Rorschach’s mask aside like a schoolyard bully taunting smaller children.
It’s tough to watch at points, as you can’t help but feel badly for the helpless heroes as they come to understand the depth of Veidt’s heinous plan.
Nick: It really is not just a great fight scene, but a great dramatic scene as well.
Nick’s No. 4: Batman vs Superman (The Dark Knight Returns)
Greg: Perhaps the single most iconic superhero fight scene of them all, Frank Miller’s visual masterpiece will soon be recreated on the big screen. It’s the climactic moment in one of the most popular, important comic books in history.
Nick: Now, I know, I know — there are a lot of people who take issue with the way Superman is handled and portrayed in Frank Miller’s tale of an aged Batman back out of retirement. However, let’s set those complaints aside while we discuss this particular scene.
There isn’t a fight scene in TDKR that doesn’t completely deliver, whether it’s Batman proving he still has it by taking out the Mutant Leader or him chasing down a recently awakened Joker. However, it’s the book’s final fight that proves to be its best. This version of Superman is built up well over the course of the story, and by the time he is ordered to take out the Batman, we as readers are ready to see what awaits the former friends and allies. (We’re also kind of ready to see Supes get his ass kicked if we’re all being honest with ourselves.)
And the fight itself doesn’t disappoint. Each character plays to their strengths, with Bruce using his intellect and tactical skills to keep up with the clearly more powerful Superman. And, in the end, a cameo from an aged, one-armed Oliver Queen helps to turn the tide in Bruce’s favor. And, in a book filled with great lines from Bruce, he drops an epic one on a beaten and embarrassed Clark.
“I want you to remember, Clark…in all the years to come…in your most private moments…I want you to remember…my hand…at your throat…I want…you to remember…the one man who beat you.”
Greg: It’s a line and a scene that fills Batman fans with pride and Superman fans with rage, almost like a closely contested football game might for the respective teams. The down-and-dirty violence with two iconic characters fully illustrates the themes on display throughout TDKR, and the back-and-forth war of attrition has arguably never been topped in terms of sheer impact.
Greg’s No. 3: Wolverine vs. Lord Shingen (Wolverine #4)
Greg: I’ve written about this particular story a few times now, but that’s just how great I consider it to be.
And, as demonstrated above, when it comes to crafting a great, memorable fight scene, there has never been anyone better than Frank Miller. In the final issue of the seminal Chris Claremont/Miller Wolverine miniseries, Miller’s mastery and understanding of comic book action is on full display. Inker Josef Rubenstein deserves a ton of credit here, as he provided the finishes for Miller’s breakdowns, but it’s those breakdowns — Miller’s understanding of the honor, nobility and flow of the fight– that makes this the greatest of Logan’s many iconic fights.
Earlier in the miniseries, a drugged Wolverine was beaten and humiliated by Shingen in front of Shingen’s daughter, and Logan’s lover, Mariko. In the final issue, Wolverine finally returns for vengeance, and they have a violent, samurai-like showdown. It’s Shingen’s blade against Logan’s claws, and surprisingly it’s Shingen who seems to have the advantage early.
But freed of the drugs that had dampened him before, Wolverine is eventually able to overcome his corrupt foe, almost gaining a grudging respect for him in the midst of battle. The killing blow is a classic moment in the character’s history, as he finally unsheathes the claws into Shingen’s skull, then deals with the ramifications of his actions, fully prepared for Mariko to slay him in retribution.
It’s a master course in efficient storytelling, and it’s proof positive that you can have a great fight scene in just a few pages.
Nick: Yeah, I really need to check this one out.
Nick’s No. 3: The Ultimates vs The Hulk (The Ultimates)
Nick: We’ve written before about Mark Millar’s re-imagining of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, but it might be the team’s first major throwdown that is still the standard bearer when it comes to Ultimate fight scenes.
After using most of the initial arc to build up the character dynamics and the idea of mounting external political pressure on SHIELD and the Ultimates, the finale of the first storyarc doesn’t disappoint. Desperate to prove his worth, depressed over his lack of a relationship with Betty Ross and eager to give the team a reason to exist, Bruce Banner injects himself with a prototype Super Soldier serum, prompting him to Hulk out for the first time in what we are led to believe is many months.
The result is an angry, hungry, and well….horny Hulk rampaging across all of New York City. The Ultimates all take their own shots at taking him down, failing miserably as Hulk works his way ever closer to crashing Betty’s date with former WWE creative team member Freddie Prinze Jr. His intentions are fairly clear — to eat Prinze and bed Ross, which are noble intentions if I’ve ever heard any.
In any event, the Ultimates eventually learn a valuable lesson about teamwork and come together to take Banner down and send him back to his cell deep beneath the Triskelion. This gives the team its first major victory, both internally and politically, setting into motion the events that would play out over the course of the rest of Millar and Bryan Hitch’s run.
Greg: It’s certainly one of the more bizarre Avengers fights you’ll ever see, with all the zaniness of Mark Millar’s trademark stories. What separates this one is the widescreen summer blockbuster style of Bryan Hitch. It truly feels like you’re watching a Marvel Studios film, with characters flying all over the place, even with the over-the-top writing. It’s the highlight of the first arc.
Greg’s No. 2: Doomsday vs. Superman and the JLA (The Death of Superman)
Greg: This wasn’t the first multi-issue fight scene I’d encountered in comics — I’d seen the X-Men rumble with Magneto, and Spider-Man take a while to put away the likes of the Green Goblin — but it was unquestionably the first one that felt like an event unto itself.
The Superman team (which included the likes of the aforementioned Louise Simonson, Dan Jurgens, Roger Stern and Jerry Ordway, to name a few) had been building to Doomsday’s arrival for weeks before it finally happened. In my 8-year-old brain, it was like watching the buildup to WrestleMania, with a big bad guy being groomed to give the hero his gravest challenge yet. As any wrestling fan knows, though, in order to truly build a villain, you have to sacrifice some lesser heroes along the way. Enter the Justice League of America, which in 1992 consisted of the likes of Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Guy Gardner, Fire, Ice, Maxima and the frankly difficult-to-explain Bloodwynd.
With Doomsday making his presence known on a path of mindless destruction leading to Metropolis, the JLA intercepted him and engaged the monster. This proved to be a bad decision. What followed was an issue-long beatdown that made Bane’s treatment of Batman look like a walk in the park. Doomsday beats the League so severely that several members are left comatose. A standout moment remains the vicious panel featuring Doomsday slamming a car door on Booster’s head.
Needless to say, the gauntlet had been thrown, and when Big Blue finally arrives, it feels like a big deal. I still vividly remember every panel, every line of dialogue (“Big deal. The spud was too slow and stupid to duck.”) and every shift in momentum during the course of this fight. The story is beautiful and tragic. Superman realizes quickly that he is likely in the fight of his life, and the odds of surviving are low. But in a wonderful reminder of what makes Superman who he is, the Man of Steel stands his ground, willing to fight until the very end to save Metropolis from this unstoppable killing machine.
I’ve mentioned it before and I won’t back down from it here — the culmination of this fight is one of the few comic book scenes that have ever made me cry. I remember balling my eyes out as an 8-year-old seeing the pain in Lois Lane’s eyes as she cradles her fiancé after he and Doomsday have delivered their respective killing blows. It’s the standout moment of Dan Jurgens’ career, and the building action throughout the fight makes it one of comics’ all-time best.
Nick: Well said, sir.
Nick’s No. 2: Gorr the God Butcher vs The Thors Three
Nick: Oh come now, did you really think I’d be able to make it through yet another column without heaping more praise upon Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic’s Thor: God of Thunder? Which, by the way, was the best book in all of comics while it was running and is the single best 25-issue run in the history of Thor comics. But I digress.
Gorr the God Butcher, from his introduction in the opening volume of T:GOT, was instantly one of the great villainous creations in comics of the last 25 years. His backstory, when revealed, is both horrifying and yet relatable in many ways. You understand why he is driven to murder all gods, yet at the same time, you stop short of wanting to see him succeed. His encounters with a young Thor are expertly written, making it clear that the battle left an indelible mark on both characters and that the repercussions would be felt for centuries to come.
Flash forward to present day, where we see our modern-day “Avenger” Thor investigating what appears to be Gorr’s return. It’s clear that Thor is actually shaken for once by the mere mention or thought of the Butcher. Throw in a second flash forward where we see Old King Thor sitting alone on the throne of a destroyed Asgard waiting for the forces of Gorr to strike the final blow. Thus, in just a few issues, we have the set up for what winds up being perhaps the best Thor fight scene I’ve encountered.
Through some finagling of the time stream, the three Thors are brought together in a single time and place to try and stop Gorr from detonating the Godbomb — a device that will, you guessed it, kill all the gods across existence. Each character plays their role expertly here, with young Thor charging headstrong into battle, Avenger Thor taking on the brave task of confronting Gorr directly and Old King Thor hurling sarcastic insults at all involved.
And we do also get one last glimpse of just how cool of a villain Gorr was. He pretty easily handles the Thors for the majority of the fight, event strapping Old King Thor to a comet and blasting him out into space at one point. Eventually, armed with the prayers of all the other Gods, Avenger Thor is able to defeat Gorr and deactivate the Godbomb. And while he may have considered letting Gorr live, he never gets that chance, as Young Thor, in a fist-pump moment if there ever was one, beheads Gorr with Jarnbjorn the axe.
It’s a tremendous close to an even more tremendous story. If you haven’t read it, go. Do it now.
Greg: If Nick’s explanation sounds overly comic booky, don’t let that deter you — the brawl (and the story around it) is everything that’s great about superhero comics. The fight makes (comic book) sense, everyone has a role to play, and the ending is as satisfying as all but the greatest of battles. It’s a modern classic for good reason.
Nick: Now for the regularly scheduled part of Countdown where Greg and I are in complete agreement on the No. 1 spot.
Greg and Nick’s No. 1: Superman Prime vs Sodam Yat (The Sinestro Corps War, Green Lantern Corps #17)
Nick: Now, we’ve spoken many times before about our mutual love for Geoff Johns and his work on Green Lantern. Perhaps the pinnacle of that work is the massive showdown between the Green Lantern Corps and the Sinestro Corps. And without question, the biggest and best brawl of that bloody conflict has to be Superman Prime taking on the Corps’ new Ion, Sodam Yat.
Yat hails from Daxam, a planet that shared Krypton’s red sun. This means, of course, that earth’s yellow sun provides him with the same powers as it does Kryptonians.
This, of course, leads to an absolute knockdown, drag out slobberknocker of a brawl, with the two tearing into each other from one side of New York to the other. There are great moments throughout, such as Prime impaling Yat on poles of uranium or Prime talking about how much he hates Green Lanterns. I’m a complete sucker for Superman Prime, by the way, so pretty much anything he does during this fight is pure gold in my eyes.
Comics often do huge, destructive battles, but I can’t think of any before or since that have been done so well and have left such an impression on me. It’s still, to me, the standout moment of the best Green Lantern story ever told.
Greg: My PTBN cohort Tim Capel and I have often lamented (including on several podcasts available RIGHT HERE on Place to Be Nation) the dying art form that is the iconic superhero comic book battle. So many of the nuances present in those classic battles of days gone by are absent in today’s comics. And that’s especially frustrating given how awesome so many of today’s books are in every area except action.
Well, here’s another example (on top of Nick’s Thor pick) of an exception to that rule. In 2007 and early 2008, Geoff Johns and Peter Tomasi’s respective Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps books were arguably at their peak, critically, creatively and financially. The Sinestro Corps War was one of the best events DC has ever produced, and this battle, which played out largely in the pages of Tomasi’s GLC, marked one of several iconic battles that played out during the larger war.
Superman Prime was a terrific villain — a point I’ll defend against any of you — precisely because he could kick your favorite hero’s ass while talking a mountain of trash in the process. He was spoiled, ungrateful, whiny and yet kind of had a point during his initial appearances. Well, he gave up on that last aspect in this battle, as he’s just flat-out evil in the joy he takes beating the Corps’ last great hope from pillar to post. Though Prime dominates the majority of the fight, it’s no traditional squash. Make no mistake, Sodam gets his licks in, and the pages are wonderfully rendered by the likes of Patrick Gleason, who imbues the fight with an urgency and a level of sheer brutality uncommon in mainstream superhero books.
And through it all, a story is told — Prime is stronger, faster, supremely confident and borderline unstoppable, but Sodam just refuses to give up, taking a beating while narrating to the audience each and every glimmer of hope as it arrives.
It left an indelible mark on both of us, and it’s one of the moments that makes Sinestro Corps War exactly what Nick called it — the greatest Green Lantern story of them all.
So there you have it — our favorite comic book fight scenes. As we said at the beginning, this is highly subjective. With that said, let’s get some feedback! We want to hear what YOUR favorite fight scenes are in comics lore! Send your lists over to the Place to Be Nation Facebook page, on Twitter @gphillips8652 or @nickduke87 or email at GregP@placetobenation.com or NickD@placetobenation.com.