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November 24, 2010


Ip Man Asks: So Where Are All The Great Superhero Comic Book Fight Scenes?

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I recently watched Wilson Yip's movies Ip Man and Ip Man 2 over the space of a couple of weekends. If you're not aware of them, they're Hong Kong movies, Disney-style biographies dipping into the event-filled life of Bruce Lee's teacher. They're not all that much to watch as movies, even of the sweet and wholesome kind. The natural charm of actors like Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung and Simon Yam is given a lot of room in the same way that Secretariat depends on the crowd-pleasing appeal of -- on completely different grounds, granted -- John Malkovich and Diane Lane. But as appealing as those actors can be their interactions aren't enough I'd want to watch a whole movie assembled out of such scenes. The key to the Yip films is that they're vehicles for fights. The fight scenes all contain a narrative element, they're all well-shot in a way that communicates the physical activity and what exactly is at risk in each situation, they build upon one another, and they are all vigorously performed.

imageIs it weird that I can't think of a single superhero comic that functions this way? By sheer number of pages devoted to them since 1938, one could suggest that physical encounters are the driving force in the superhero genre. Fight scenes in comics have been compared to music in musicals, and tend to play such a central role in the dramas of that genre that playing against them -- say resolving an important narrative through something other than a fistfight -- is still generally considered a bold and noteworthy creative choice. Yet it's hard for me to think of more than few really satisfying fight scenes, the show-stopper that might make an anthology sole devoted to those scenes with comics, a sequence you might show someone just for that sequence. I am a relative child when it comes to reading manga and it's much, much easier for me to think of satisfying, stand-alone fight scenes in that tradition than it is for me to think of superhero equivalents.

So what are the great superhero fight scenes? I can think of a few memorable ones, such as Wolverine ripping into the Hellfire Club guards back in the late 1970s Uncanny X-Men comics or the Scott McCloud escalating parody fight in Destroy!!. I'm fond of the Wally Wood-drawn Namor and Daredevil fight, the Hulk/Thing battle that preceded that first Avengers/Fantastic Four crossover and that first Thor/Hercules major fistfight in terms of classic Marvel tussles. But I'm not coming up with a whole lot considering how many fight scenes there are. Even this article by Troy Brownfield seems to me to mention three or four fights that were satisfying more as plot points (Batman takes down an army of Martian supermen because he's Batman) than as thrilling scenes (I can't remember a single panel).

On a holiday weekend with no Five For Friday forthcoming, let me leave it in your hands: What are your favorites? Which are the great ones? Where would you send someone if they wanted to see a quality superhero throwdown? I'm dying to know. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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