Hard-Traveling Fanboys: Countdown (Comic Book Weapons)

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.

Nick: We’re back again, folks, this time for a Countdown where we’ll discuss a topic only slightly less geeky than our recent fantasy comics draft. This time out, we’ll be talking about our favorite comic book weapons.

Greg: Comic book weapons have a long and storied history — from the guns wielded by pulp heroes of the ’30s to futuristic technology employed by modern characters like Cable and Booster Gold. As with most of our topics, this is a completely subjective undertaking. After all, what I find cool, another person might find lame.

Nevertheless, we’re here to tell our loyal readers which comic book weapons totally reek of awesomeness. These are the contraptions we most look forward to seeing when we open a comic, the weapons that create the best fight scenes and fit our childhood “cool” parameters.

Nick’s No. 5: Daredevil’s cane

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Greg: Just like the man who wields it, there’s more to Matt Murdock’s cane than meets the eye.

Nick: I can’t lay claim to being an expert on the Man Without Fear, but from the Daredevil I’ve read in my time, one thing I’ve always loved is his multifunctional cane. It serves as his walking stick and helps sell his image as an average blind man during the day, while serving as a deadly weapon at night.

It can serve as nunchucks, a tool for choking or a grappling gun with the push of a button. It also makes for a hell of a visual, as the sight of the steel cables wrapping around ol’ Hornhead as he dives acrobatically through the air is one of the character’s most iconic poses. Hey, and there’s the added bonus of being one of the things the Daredevil movie got kind of right.

Greg: Indeed, Daredevil has used his billy club to great effect in countless battles over the years, fighting the likes of the Hand and the Kingpin along the way. It’s always been one of the things that made Daredevil stand out beyond “Marvel’s Batman.” Unlike Bruce Wayne, Matt doesn’t have access to an unending array of gadgets and technology. He’s got “his one,” and it’s guided him through the heart of Hell’s Kitchen for decades. Artists like Frank Miller and Chris Samnee have helped create the iconic nature of the weapon.

Greg’s No. 5: Captain America’s Shield

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Nick: Ah yes, Cap’s Vibranium shield is one of the most recognizable objects in all of comics and perhaps even pop culture at this point thanks to the popularity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There have been numerous incarnations over the years, but the classic round shield is without a doubt the one most think of.

Greg: Cap debuted with a triangular shield in a direct homage to contemporary hero The Shield. When The Shield’s publishing company complained to Timely Comics (which morphed into Marvel years later), creators Joe Simon and Jack Kirby redesigned it into the circular beauty known and loved today. While it’s not the most creative or original weapon on this list, it’s here because it’s just so darn iconic.

With the possible exception of the Batarang, this is arguably the most iconic weapon in comics. Who hasn’t taken a trash can and pretended to have Cap’s shield? It’s the easiest weapon in comics to “replicate” in real life (which is probably a good thing), and it’s just flat-out fun to spin discs through the air and pretend to be taking out the Red Skull.

Luckily wonderful creators like Simon, Kirby, Stan Lee, Mark Gruenwald and George Perez have shown us creative ways to use the shield in battles. Whether it’s stopping the crushing power of the Hulk, ricocheting off surfaces or even being used as a makeshift sled, the shield continues to prove its use. And let’s face it — he beat up Nazis with it. That’s pretty cool.

Nick: Lt. Aldo Raine would approve.

Nick’s No. 4: Spider-Man’s web shooters

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Greg: Despite being absent from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man film trilogy, the web shooters are a legendary aspect of everyone’s favorite Webhead.

Nick: It’s notable that despite all of Peter Parker’s spider-related powers, perhaps his coolest and most iconic ability is thanks to his own ingenuity. No, we’re not talking about Sam Raimi’s Spidey here, so Peter’s web shooters are inventions of his own design. Not only are the shooters themselves Peter’s invention, but so too is the fluid that creates the webs. In the Ultimate version of the series, the web fluid was an unfinished design of Richard Parker’s that Peter was able to come behind and complete. This provided a nice connection between father and son in the father’s absence.

And let’s be honest, if we could have any of Spidey’s powers, wouldn’t we all want to soar through the air on a web line? Sadly, the silly-string shooters that have often hit store shelves just can’t compare. The shooters have been there for Webhead since the beginning thanks to Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, and have stood the test of time as one of the best gadgets in all of comics.

Greg: As with most of these items, the web shooters serve as yet another way to distinguish their wielder from the saturated superhero market. Peter didn’t just luck into finding these devices, nor did he pay someone to develop them for him. He used his own ingenuity and hard work to craft them, and that reflects in the joy he takes when wielding them.

Greg’s No. 4: Starman’s Cosmic Staff

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Nick: Admittedly one of the hokier-looking objects on the list, I’m fairly sure Greg is praising the staff for its use in the Jack Knight Starman book from James Robinson.

Greg: What would become the central object of the 1990s Starman series began as yet another 1940s weapon, the gravity rod. Wielded by the Golden Age Starman, the gravity rod formed the basis for the cosmic staff Ted Knight would pass onto his son, Jack, the reluctant ’90s Starman.

For those who haven’t read that series, the staff is imbued with numerous abilities, such as flight, energy protection, shield creation and even levitation of those around it. Jack used the staff to battle his way through seemingly impossible situations both on Earth and the great beyond, besting the likes of Solomon Grundy and The Mist while taking the device to its limits. In later years, Jack would pass the staff onto one of my favorite characters, Courtney Whitmore, a.k.a. Stargirl.

Courtney has found new, inventive ways to use the staff, using it to light the way for others rather than in the often-cynical weaponized way of Jack. But this staff isn’t here just because it’s got cool abilities. It’s here for what it represents — legacy.

There is a traceable lineage linking the Stargirl of today to the Starman of the 1940s, and that’s really cool and unique. Despite their often-strained relationship, Ted passing the staff onto Jack was an act of love and confidence, just as it was when Jack passed it onto Courtney. It remains one of DC’s lasting links to its past.

Nick: A fantastic point. I know you love the legacy concept in comics, and the cosmic rod is one of the longest running examples of that.

Nick’s No. 3: Iron Man suit

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Greg: One of the most versatile weapons in comics, Tony Stark’s numerous iterations of his battle suit all have one thing in common — they allow for badass fight scenes.

Nick: Now, I’ll admit that this is a bit of a cheat. The suit defines Iron Man completely, and without the suit, there would be no Iron Man. However, as argued in “Iron Man 2,” the suit can undoubtedly be classified as a weapon. And a hell of a weapon it is. At times, we’ve seen different incarnations break the sound barrier, fire laser blasts, fire machine guns, drop heavy explosives and fight the FREAKING HULK.

And, as we’ve mentioned with a couple of characters already, the biggest testament to the suit’s coolness is the fact that it’s entirely an invention of Tony Stark. It doesn’t come from anyone else, and Stark has perfected and revised his design numerous times over the decades. Hulkbuster, Iron Destroyer, Phoenix Buster, Space Armor, Thorbuster, the classic red and gold and various other “busters” over the years — the list can go on and on. Everybody’s got a favorite armor, and the consistent change has given each artist and writer the chance to design his or her own addition to the Hall of Armor.

Greg: It’s even led to the creation of other heroes and characters, such as the awesome War Machine. And, like the best of these weapons, it allows the reader to use his or her imagination. As a kid, I’d often think of outlandish new weapons to add onto War Machine’s suit to “fight” the other kids in our playground Marvel battles.

Nick: I, for one, see no reason why they can’t just add a full-size SCUD missile launcher to either Iron Man or War Machine’s armor. Or a Civil War-era cannon. Whichever.

Greg: Iron Shark Repellant would be helpful on occasion, I’m sure.

It was in The Invincible Iron Man #80 that writer Steve Englehart introduced the Mark X armor, capable of firing bomb-toting Adam Wests at opponents.
It was in Invincible Iron Man #80 that writer Steve Englehart introduced the Mark X armor, capable of firing bomb-toting Adam Wests at opponents.

Nick: Or Iron Sheik repellant.

What are we even talking about?

Greg: We’re liable to be humbled if we keep this up.

Nick: I have a bad enough back as it is. It would not appreciate a breaking. Not to mention the other thing that often accompanies it.

And again I ask, what in the hell has this become?

Greg: Let’s ask Sheiky Baby.

Nick:

Greg’s No. 3: The Infinity Gauntlet

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Nick: The Infinity Gauntlet is one of the most powerful weapons in all of comics, and one that will soon be ingrained in pop culture as more Infinity Stones are revealed in the MCU and we build toward the upcoming Infinity War.

Greg: It’s been wielded by Nebula, Captain America and others, but it’s Thanos who is most synonymous with unquestionably the most powerful weapon in the history of the Marvel Universe. Combining the six Infinity Gems, the gauntlet gives its wielder complete mastery over the universe. Each of the gems holds a different ability. The Time Gem gives control over, well, time. The Space Gem allows for teleportation and the creation of “Interstellar”-like wormholes. The Reality Gem can change the basic laws of the universe and grant its user any wish. The Mind Gem essentially makes its user a Super Professor X, able to master virtually anything with the prefix “tele.” The Power Gem taps into the very energy of the universe, making its wielder stronger than the Hulk and Thor put together. And then there’s the Soul Gem, arguably the most dangerous, which contains limitless control of all souls, whether alive or dead.

Basically, this thing is the nuclear option. It grants its user godhood, and never is that more apparent than in the classic “The Infinity Gauntlet” story. In it, Thanos kills basically everybody. Literally. That’s how powerful this is, and it’s also why it hasn’t popped up too frequently over the years. By wisely limiting its appearances, Marvel has conditioned the audience to understand that when it does appear, business is about to pick up. Its status and power alone make it unique within the genre.

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“Genre!”

Nick: Yeah, this thing might be the most powerful weapon in all of comics. It’s so powerful that writers often have to come up with some pretty creative ways for its wearer to actually be defeated. In the case of Thanos, it’s the wearer himself who turns out to be his own downfall. I’m interested to see how our favorite big screen Avengers take down Thanos.

Greg: Hopefully he’s kinder to our heroes on the big screen.

Nick’s No. 2: Green Lantern ring

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Greg: A weapon limited only by its user’s will and imagination, the GL ring is among the most powerful (and, we are often told, THE most powerful) of the DC Universe’s objects.

Nick: The GL ring is one of the universe’s most powerful weapons, granting its wearer the ability to create anything they can think of through sheer force of will. Granted, it’s a bit convoluted, but the ring essentially channels the willpower of the universe.

And when I say anything, I mean anything. The green constructs are limited only by one’s imagination, and each ringbearer has their own unique way of using the ring and building constructs. Hal Jordan’s tend to be more simple and blunt, such as boxing gloves or baseball bats. John Stewart’s architectural knowledge leads him to create extremely detailed constructs with all the necessary moving parts. Guy Gardner unleashes powerful blasts of green energy that often take no shape and Kyle Rayner tends to create imaginative designs that show his own artistic ability.

The open-ended nature of the ring’s constructs has allowed countless creators to depict the ring in inventive ways, none moreso than Geoff Johns and the bevy of artists that worked with him on his nearly decade-long GL run.

I could go on and on, but come on, man, who wouldn’t want the power to create basically anything they could imagine?

Greg: Well stated, and I’ll have more on this topic in just a little bit. Do any particular constructs or uses of the ring stand out to you from the decades of GL stories you’ve read?

Nick: My personal favorite will always be Guy using the ring to write “Bye Bye Bats” on the window of the Watchtower while mooning the Dark Knight. Can’t beat that.

Greg: The weapon can indeed be used for a variety of purposes, some destructive and others hilarious.

Greg’s No. 2: Mjolnir

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Greg: Mjolnir is, to quote my favorite band, the “hammer of the gods.” More specifically, it’s the hammer wielded by Thor, the Norse god of thunder and one of the mightiest members of the Avengers. Only usable by someone who is deemed worthy by the hammer itself, Mjolnir is more than just a thing to bash people with. It grants its user flight, it can summon energy from the planet itself, fire destructive blasts, create force fields, create devastating winds and obliterate all but the most durable of objects.

As a weapon alone, Mjolnir might be forgettable, especially with objects like the Infinity Gauntlet or the Ultimate Nullifier out there. But it’s the hammer’s unique ethical base that makes it so compelling. It’s a weapon that literally judges you before you can even lift it. This helps ensure it isn’t used for nefarious purposes, and it also reveals much about the wielder. For readers, it serves as a cosmic update of Excalibur from Arthurian lore — a weapon meant to bring peace through battle, only to be wielded by the worthy.

While Mjolnir doesn’t speak in the way that Green Lantern rings do, it is nonetheless Thor’s greatest ally, so much so that Thor often refers to it as his “old friend.” Without Mjolnir, Thor would be just another superhero. With Mjolnir, he earns his spot among the titans of the funnybooks.

Nick: Beautifully stated, sir. And speaking of which…

Nick’s No. 1: Mjolnir

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Greg: I know this column would come down to a battle between Mjolnir and the Green Lantern ring for both of us. That’s because they’re both cool concepts, and Thor’s hammer transcends the page, whether illustrated by Walt Simonson or Esad Ribic.

Nick: Greg presented the case for Mjolnir so perfectly that I have little to say here. It’s important to note, however, that as a boy, Thor coveted Mjolnir and could never wield it due to his arrogance and vanity. Over the years, however, Thor changed as an Asgardian, becoming a kinder, more capable God, earning him the right to wield the hammer.

There’s nothing quite like the Odinson using the hammer to bring the thunder, so to speak, which he does by using it to summon lightning to tear his foes asunder.

And while others have wielded the hammer in the past and currently, it’s Thor who will always be the greatest of the hammer wielders. There’s nothing quite like watching the God of Thunder and his old friend in action, and there never will be.

Greg: Favorite Mjolnir moment?

Nick: Not so much a moment as an image. In Thor: God of Thunder, as the forces of Gorr the God Butcher pursue Old King Thor to the ends of eternity and perhaps the end of Asgard once and for all, we see an image of a weary, battle-hardened king, alone in the dark, sitting on his throne while waiting for his inevitable death. But he isn’t completely alone. His trusty hammer sits by him and after looking at it, Thor decides to mount one last battle and picks up the hammer for what he thinks will be the final time. Just a great moment.

Greg: One of the best panels in one of the best Thor stories of them all. We’ll be talking more about Gorr and his battles with Thor next week, in fact.

Greg’s No. 1: Green Lantern ring

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Nick: I’ve already waxed poetic about the ring, so I’ll let Greg take us home here.

Greg: The centerpiece of my favorite corner of DC Comics, the Green Lantern ring is just flat-out cool. As you mentioned earlier, Nick, it literally lets its user’s imagination run wild, so long as he or she has the willpower necessary to pull it off.

Want to create a dragon? No problem, just will it to be so. Want to lock your enemies in a cage for a while? Child’s play. Tired of sitting in normal movie theater chairs? Just build your own recliner!

The ring — and its various improvements over the years thanks to various creators — is one of the most brilliant inventions in comics, as it allows artists to unleash on the page and writers to show tons about Green Lanterns’ individual personalities through their usage of the ring. It really lets the artists add their own touches to each character.

Another great aspect of the ring, like Mjolnir, is that wielding it is no simple task. While Mjolnir presents an ethical test, the emerald ring poses a physical, mental and emotional one. As seen when Oliver Queen tries to use the ring in “Green Lantern: Rebirth,” the ring takes a heavy toll on its user. That’s why only those with the strongest wills can overcome fear to a great enough degree to competently shine the ring’s light across the cosmos.

As for favorite ring-slinging moments, it’s nearly impossible for me to choose. Each Lantern has had his or her moments of greatness through the decades. Oddly enough, one of the images that I always think of when thinking of the ring’s power comes from a very controversial story — “Emerald Twilight.” At the beginning, a heartbroken Hal Jordan summons enough willpower to recreate his hometown of Coast City, an unheard-of exertion of energy that demonstrates just how far the ring’s limits can be pushed. I also enjoy John Stewart’s creation of high-powered emerald sniper rifles when needed.

Ultimately, superheroes are about imagination, and no concept or character has ever opened my imagination as much as this weapon.

Nick: Excellent. Well, that about does it for this month’s edition of Countdown. Be sure to check back next week when we dig through our longboxes to bring you a very special review of one of my favorite Thor stories of all time, “Godbomb” by Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic.

Greg: If ever a Countdown opened itself to fan lists, it’s this one. So let’s see your lists! Email them to us at GregP@placetobenation.com or NickD@placetobenation.com, Tweet them @gphillips8652 or @nickduke87 or visit the Place to Be Nation Facebook page! Whosoever sends this list, if he or she be worthy, shall have it reprinted in a future column.

Nick: FACK!

Sorry. It just seemed an appropriate note to end on.

Author: Greg Phillips and Nick Duke

Greg and Nick share two passions above all others, both of which involve people in spandex punching each other. Reporters by day, they also insist on being called "Two Dudes with Attitude" but can't decide who is Kevin Nash and who is Shawn Michaels.