I'm very proud of myself for only listing two Hulk fights. It wasn't easy. I've easily read more issues of Incredible Hulk than any other single comic and he's a character known for his brawls so when considering which fights to include, it was tough to steer my mind away from the default. Since I have a Friday Hulk column, I think I may need to write up a separate Memorable Hulk Brawls soon.
There is no ranking. I chose 10 because it's a nice, round number but their order is only indicative of when I thought of them.
--Afrodisiac vs. Hercules in Afrodisiac
This could easily have been Afrodisiac vs. Megapute or Afrodisiac vs. Dracula. I chose this one because I adore the panel where Afrodisiac smashes the mug into Hercules's face. I think it's amazing that Jim Rugg, in comics that are supposed to be parodies of superhero books, manages to draw brawls much more dynamic and interesting than the fights in the "real" superhero titles.
--Daredevil vs. Nuke in Daredevil #233
Daredevil: Born Again doesn't feel like it's leading to this specific battle. After all, you don't meet Nuke until the previous issue. Regardless, the fact that Matt Murdock is so very un-Daredevil throughout the storyline acts as wonderful build-up to the confrontation between Daredevil and Nuke. You hardly ever see him in his costume until this issue and in some ways the comic stopped feeling like a superhero comic until this issue. Once Miller and Mazzuchelli bring the super back, it's got with that much more power and drama.
It's fitting that the Avengers swoop in at the end and force Nuke out of Daredevil's hands. Not only does it give Captain America a way to enter the story, but the battle feels bigger and more explosive than what you would normally expect from Daredevil. You half expect Thor or Iron Man to rush up to Daredevil saying, "Whoa, whoa, DUDE! What are you doing? This is our thing, you're down the hall."
--Hulk vs. Thor in Thor #385
I haven't browsed enough comic solicits lately to know whether or not they still do it, but the phrase "cover-to-cover battle" used to be bandied about quite a bit, but you knew it wasn't completely true. No matter how heavy the fighting was, you'd always have at least a page or two of exposition.
In that respect, Thor #385 is no different, but it's just about as close to a true cover-to-cover battle as a Marvel comic ever got. The Hulk/Thor rivalry is as old as Marvel's superhero kingdom, but it's safe to say this is the most brutal battle between them. The Hulk is depicted as particularly vicious, at one point threatening to kill a woman if Thor won't relinquish his hammer. If I recall correctly, Stan Lee meant for this to be the so-called "mindless" Hulk, but either didn't know or didn't care that the mindless Hulk was basically just a dumb animal who didn't even have the low-bar "Hulk Smash" speech capacity. Instead he just wrote the classic "Hulk Smash" Hulk, just as more of a bastard.
It was written as a fill-in, but to anyone who's ever cared either way about the Hulk/Thor rivalry, it's required reading.
--Black Panther vs. Killmonger in Black Panther #20
Christopher Priest's Black Panther was known more for its political intrigue, espionage, witty dialogue and cut-up storytelling than for big super-people fights. But when Priest brought the action, he usually did something interesting with it. In particular I remember this extended fistfight between Black Panther and Killmonger. Like the panels displayed above, the entire fight is told from the first-person point of view, shifting between the combatants, as if the reader were literally either Panther or Killmonger.
There is also a great character to the fight. The two of them battle at the base of a waterfall, and they occasionally take breaks to rest and drink. This kind of noble fight etiquette is refreshing in a superhero dust-up. I don't think it's something that could be used too often without coming off as a gimmick, but it's an interesting approach that I don't think I'd ever considered before reading Black Panther #20.
--Human Torch vs. Baby Elmo in Daredevil #261
I've always remembered this fight simply for the strangeness of its setting. Daredevil is missing and Johnny Storm tries to help find him by showing up at a local dive and intimidating the patrons into giving up the info. Unfortunately, he ain't exactly Rorschach. He arrives at the bar displaying a 13-year-old suburban kid's fashion instincts towards what is and isn't bad-ass. He throws the word "bad" around and actually wears a black shirt that says "BAD!" He actually has a pack of cigarettes rolled up in one of his sleeves. Apparently instead of looking for Daredevil, he was trying to get the whereabouts of Pony Boy.
The dive's regulars are unimpressed by Storm and sic the Hulk-Hogan-sized Baby Elmo on him. Unwilling to use his fire powers at first, Storm gets tossed around a bit by Elmo, but eventually he's able to outsmart him. It's always stuck out in my mind as a good example of a superhero choosing brains over brawn (though after he defeats Elmo, the patrons go nuts on him, he flames on and I'm pretty sure he burns down the bar), and also as an example of a superhero in a title where he seemed very much out of place.
The issue also includes a fight between Kingpin and Typhoid Mary that's far too sexual than any Kingpin fight should ever be.
--Hulk and the Warbound vs. the Avengers and Fantastic Four in World War Hulk #2
It would be as disingenuous as it would be futile for me to try to convince anyone my enjoyment of this battle has nothing to do with who wins it. The Hulk and his buddies beat a bloody path through Marvel's most well-known non-X teams, and while it's light on story, the way John Romita, jr. choreographs the battles in this mini is just great. World War Hulk is one the books I most frequently grab before what I suspect will be an extended stay in the bathroom (cut loose with the jokes as you will), and this part of the book is the one I usually flip through while I process what I need to process. It's just wonderful to look at.
I'd also add it surprised me how well Romita did with World War Hulk. I don't say that to question his talent. It's just that before World War Hulk's release he was heavily promoted as a "fan-favorite" Hulk artist, whereas previous to World War Hulk his work on Incredible Hulk was during periods of the title that were not only light on action, but in the case of the Bruce Jones run, hardly featured the Hulk.
--JLA vs. the Ultramarine Corps and General Eiling in JLA #s 25-26
Grant Morrison's JLA action sequences are always impressive. I knew immediately that a scene from his JLA needed to be on this list, and the battle with the Ultramarine Corps stuck out for a couple of reasons. It has the perfect timing and perspective shifts that made so many of the action scenes in his run great, and it highlights Morrison's ingenuity in respect to coming up with new, cool ways other heroes or villains could challenge or even humiliate a team of the most ungodly powerful superheroes in comics.
--Iron Fist vs. Hydra soldiers and Mechagorgon in Immortal Iron Fist #1
This fight is pure kung-fu bad ass. If you asked me to show you a scan of any one panel that embodied why I loved Immortal Iron Fist while I loved it, it would be from this fight.
It's also an example of what I love about Ed Brubaker's superhero work. I read Brubaker's Sleeper before I read anything else by him. As such, I assumed he was the kind of writer who would hate to use the older, cheesier, rusty artifacts of the superhero world except to make fun of them. I assumed if Brubaker were, say, to be assigned a Spider-Man comic, that he might not necessarily change Spidey so that he would be two-fisting semi-autos John Woo style, but he would very much want to.
And yeah, he definitely has given a stronger sense of bad-ass to certain books - like Captain America - but what has pleasantly surprised me is the contrasting love the guy obviously has for good ol' cheesy superhero fun. How else could the guy not only use a giant robot spider named Mechagorgon, but actually make the thing seem menacing?
--Supersonic vs. Retri-B.U.T.I.O.N. in Astro City Special #1
In Astro City Special #1, the aging Supersonic is called upon to save a residential area outside Astro City from the giant robot Retri-B.U.T.I.O.N. During the battle Supersonic thinks back on the exploits of his younger self. Specifically, he reminisces about the many ingenious ways he used his powers to defeat his enemies; sometimes consciously making complicated strategies for easily solved problems just for fun. Now, old, tired, with no more sense of fun - just like, Busiek seems to be saying, superhero comics - Supersonic has only has one thing left: naked brute violence. Supersonic's battle with Retri-B.U.T.I.O.N. decimates the same neighborhood he was trying to save and Supersonic is a bloody mess by the end of it.
Irrespective of Busiek's message about how superhero action has changed over the years, it's a fun issue because there aren't a lot of brawls in Kurt Busiek's Astro City. There's plenty of superhero action, but an extended, mano-y-mano fistfight is rare in the book. So when it happens the impact is that much stronger. And Busiek goes all out. I don't know if I've ever read a Busiek superhero book with a more brutal fight.
--Night Owl and Rorschach vs. Ozymandias in Watchmen #11
I always enjoy Alan Moore's superhero fights in part because they're so rare. At least, in the case of actual down and dirty, knuckle-bruising brawls. Off the top of my head I can't think of a single scene like that in Top Ten or Tom Strong.
When they do occur, they're refreshingly real and my favorite of them is the swift, decisive fight between Ozymandias, Night Owl and Rorschach towards the end of Watchmen. It feels non-stylized and brutal; but not gratuitously so. The actions the combatants take seem to be chosen because they make sense, not because they look good on the page. I would say the same about the Batman/Joker showdown in The Killing Joke, and Swamp Thing's respective battles with Batman and the Flouronic Man in Swamp Thing.
This is one of the main reasons for my hatred for Zack Snyder's adaptation of Watchmen. It's tough for me to look at how Moore handled superhero violence, watch Snyder's Matrix-on-crack style, and think that me and Snyder were reading the same comic book.