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The 36 Stratagems as Portrayed in Comic Books

00 Hugh Fox & Bruce Lee

Introduction

I first heard of The 36 Stratagems when I was working on a comic book story with Bruce Lee in 1974.  The story was eventually published in The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #14 (see cover above).  Bruce Lee envisioned a story that revolved around stratagem three of the 36 Statagems “Kill with a Borrowed Knife” that entails using the strength of another to defeat your enemies.  Bruce knew me from my cinema work in which I played the role of an evil psychologist turning nice Hong Kong girls, among others, into killing machines or worse in the The Evil Dr. Fox series produced by Shaw Brothers Studios.  We had tried again and again to make a “Bruce Lee vs. Dr. Fox” movie in Hong Kong without success.

The comic book was definitely a plan B.  There was a metafictional aspect to our comic book collaboration since Bruce Lee would more or less be playing himself in the comic book story.  I had played heavies in various B films in Hong Kong before the success of the mad psychologist Dr. Fox series.  In hindsight, I realize that using my actual last name as that of the character in that series was probably not a good idea.  I actually was a professor working as an English teacher in a Hong Kong university language center. I did some acting on the side to earn extra money and because acting was also a lot of fun.  I would like to take this opportunity to separate fact from fiction.

The real Dr. Fox cannot do the incredible kung fu stunts that are seen in my movies. I do have some knowledge of martial arts but I am more a theoretician than a practicioner:

Fox Martial Arts Taxonomy

The real Dr. Fox knows absolutely nothing about brainwashing.  If you want to learn English then give me a call but if you want to brainwash your ex-girlfriend to fall in love with you again then I am the wrong person for that task.  Metaschizophrenia, the Bureau of Intelligence Synthesis and corrective reality are all fictions and not real!

A stratagem is often used as a synonym for the word “strategy” and this is an incorrect use of the term.  A stratagem is more correctly defined as a ruse.  However, I think the term ruse is simplistic when applied to the term stratagem.  Based on the historical usage of the word, I would describe a stratagem as a ruse used for military and/or political purposes.  Also, a stratagem is a ruse that has been used for purposes other than mere monetary gain unlike a confidence trick.  For example, the Spanish prisoner con is basically the same as “7) Create Something Out of Nothing. – Turn something that is not substantial into reality” stratagem in the list of stratagems below at an operational level but the contextual historical background is totally different.  Operational similarities aside, the contextual background of the ruse given to the potential user is important for easy applicability.  A con man may have trouble understanding an operation given in a military context.  A military officer might have trouble applying a con explained within a monetary context to a military situation.  One of the recurring plot lines of modern fiction is having cons that are generally used for criminal purposes for government goals as is the case in the popular franchise Mission Impossible.  However, translating operations to a different context may not be as easy as the mentioned franchise suggests.

I would also like to contrast a stratagem with a ruse of war.  For example moving landmarks to confuse the enemy is clearly a ruse of war but I would not call it a stratagem.  Historically, a stratagem has a larger goal than the mere temporary confusion of the enemy.  Perhaps a stratagem is a ruse of war with strategic rather than tactical intent.  I would define a stratagem as a ruse of war with strategic intent.  In short:

1) A con is a ruse for monetary gain.

2) A ruse of war is a ruse for tactical military gain.

3) A stratagem is a ruse for strategic military and/or political gain.

I would like to apply this system of ruse classification to a particular historical example that would have been difficult to classify prior to this article.

In Operation Bernhard, the Nazis counterfeited British pounds in order to destabilize the British economy.  Was Operation Bernhard a con, ruse of war or a stratagem?  Certainly Operation Bernhard was a ruse.  I would argue that Operation Bernhard was not a con since the objective was political and not monetary.  If the goal was to supply Nazi agents with local money in Britain then it would be a ruse of war.  Since the goal was strategic then I would say Operation Bernhard was a stratagem and specifically: “2) Besiege Wei to Rescue Zhao. – Attack their Achilles heel” in the list below.

Feudal Chinese military strategists suggested the study of stratagems as part of basic military education.  The 36 Stratagems is an essay that explains stratagems in detail.  This essay shows how the 36 stratagems have been portrayed in comic books.  The author of this essay doubts the comic book writers were aware of the Chinese text on this subject but learned about the stratagems indirectly and used them largely for plot purposes rather than edification.  An essay of how the 36 stratagems have been used in comic books provides an interesting extension of literary criticism and how theories other than literary theory can help us understand modern media such as comic books.

The 36 stratagems are traditionally broken into six categories with six stratagems per category.  I find the categories are largely useless and create logical confusion.  The rationale for the six categories probably has more to do with Taoist aesthetics than any operational logic.  For example, #31, the honey trap is under the category six of “Desperate Stratagems” but this stratagem could just as easily be classified under category two, “Enemy dealing stratagems”.  For the purposes of utility, the categories have been deleted and a simple 1-36 list has been used instead. 

The Original 36 Stratagems – Contemporary Maxims

1) Cross the sea by deceiving the sky.  Act in the open, but hide your true intentions.

1 36 Stratagems Cross the sea under camouflage

This is the use of a series of false alarms so that when you actually attack then you will have the element of surprise.  Supervillains don’t use this stratagem very much since every time they move then they get caught because of the dictates of a media were the good guys always win.  However in World’s Finest #88, the Joker and Lex Luthor commit a series of crimes that are actually Mechano-Men stunts and not crimes.

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In his first appearance in Action Comics V1, #51, the Prankster gives money to banks in apparent bank robberies until he decides to start robbing banks instead when the guard of the banks is let down.

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The con version of this stratagem is a Kansas City Shuffle.

2) Besiege Wei to rescue Zhao.  Attack their Achilles heel.

2 36 Stratagems Besiege Wei to rescue Zhao Surround one state to save another

Lex Luthor has used Green Kryptonite to attack Superman at least a hundred times.  At this point the idiom Kryptonite to signify an Achilles heel is probably better known than the original antecedent idiom.  This only works if the bad guys know the fatal weakness of the super hero.  There can be an irony to the Achilles heel of a superhero as a plot device.  For example, Daredevil is more vulnerable to sonic attack due to his enhanced hearing but this has been kept secret by Daredevil.

The Achilles heel of most superheroes is their loved ones. The Injustice: Gods Among Us explores a universe in which the Joker has killed Lois Lane, Superman’s unborn son and most of Metropolis.   In the comic book, not the video game, that is ongoing, Superman seems to be on the path of creating a dictatorship.  In the comic book, the US government attempts but fails to keep Superman’s adopted family, Jonathan and Martha Kent in a Mirror Master dimension but this attempt fails.  Superman emerges angrier than ever due to this attempt by the US government.

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The problem of the loved ones Achilles heel is that once you used up loved ones then your enemy is enraged and stronger than ever.  This seems to apply to real life to some extent.

Iron Man had his armor hijacked by a Hypersonic Scan Transmitter in the Demon in a Bottle story line.  Justin Hammer used the hijacked armor to kill an Ambassador while Iron Man was in the armor and effectively framing Iron Man for murder.

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Overall, super villains are constantly looking for the weakness of their favorite super hero and will attack such a weakness without mercy.

Green Lantern has a green Power ring that is one of the most powerful weapons in the DC universe but the Power ring has an Achilles heel and that is that the Power ring is unable to affect objects colored yellow.  Sinestro had a yellow Power ring which in turn was ineffective with objects colored green!  This is cute use of the Achilles heel plot device but does seem a little too much in a modern context.  The Earth 2 Green Lantern, Alan Scott,  has a Power ring unable to affect wooden objects.  Green Lanterns have a weapon of incredible power so the only way a fight with bank robbers could not be totally one sided and interesting was to introduce a ridiculous Achilles heel.

Mon-El is a Daxamite.  Daxamites are about as powerful as a race as Superman who is a Kryptonian.  However, the Achilles heel of Daxamites is a vulnerability to even small traces of lead.  Presumably this plot device prevents the Daxamites from taking over the DC universe.  In a similar manner, the Martian Manhunter is more or less as powerful as Superman but is vulnerable to fire!  DC first used Kryptonite to allow interesting plots with a being as powerful as Superman and then continued this practice with Green Lantern, Mon-El, and the Martian Manhunter.  This use of a very fine tuned Achilles heel is a hallmark of the DC Silver age and seems forced nowadays.

3) Kill with a borrowed knife.  Attack using the strength of another person.

3 36 Stratagems Kill with a borrowed knife

In Avengers, Vol1, #1, Loki tries to trick the Hulk into fighting Thor but instead ends up creating the Avengers.  Loki bailed out the Cobra and Mr. Hyde and doubled their powers and aimed them at Thor’s Achilles heel, the current love of his life Jane Foster.  Loki has created super villains to fight Thor including the Absorbing Man.  Loki tricked the Silver Surfer into fighting Thor (Silver Surfer, V1, #4).  Loki in Acts of Vengeance attacked the Avengers by creating a team of super villains who in turn used even other super villains to attack the Avengers.  Loki’s true goal was to hurt his half-brother Thor.

Daredevil used HYDRA to destroy the Kingpin’s organization in the Last Rites story arc (Daredevil #297-300).  The Kingpin nearly destroyed Daredevil in the Born Again story line earlier via a series of stratagems so there is a plot symmetry in Daredevil striking back against the Kingpin using a stratagem.

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Darkseid has supplied advanced weaponry to Intergang in order fight Earth’s superheroes and to track down the Anti-Life Equation.  Darkseid also created an incarnation of the Secret Society of Supervillains and kept his involvement secret from the supervillains for an extended period of time.  Darkseid knew many supervillains are interested in loot rather than the larger strategic goals he had.

Justin Hammer supplied advanced technology to Iron Man’s adversaries in exchange for fifty percent of the loot the supervillains stole.  Justin Hammer also used stratagem #2 to attack Iron Man.

The Silver age Lex Luthor joins with Brainiac in the Crisis of Infinite Earths to form an army of supervillains.  The Modern age Luthor creates the Parasite, Bizzaro and the cyborg Metallo.  The Infinite Crisis Luthor creates the Society of Supervillains.

4) Relax and wait for the adversary to tire himself out.  Exercise patience and wear them down

4 36 Stratagems Wait at ease for the enemy

Doctor Octopus unsuccessfully tried to wear Spider-Man down using the newly formed Sinister Six who attacked Spider-Man one by one in The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1.  Doctor Octopus hoped that the exhausted Spider-Man would be defeated when he attacked Spider-Man last.

In The Dark Knight Returns, Batman uses this stratagem to fight Superman.  Batman attacks Superman with an otherworldly Batmobile, followed by cruise missiles and finally has Green Arrow shoot Kryptonite tipped arrows to weaken Superman sufficiently so that Batman with his exoskeleton can give Superman a beating before Batman appears to die of a self-induced heart attack.

5) Loot a burning house.  Hit them when they are down.

5 36 Stratagems Loot a burning house

Attack the enemy when they have internal difficulties.  The Kingpin literally blew up Daredevil’s house after framing him for bribery, destroying him financially and overall attacking him as Matt in the Born Again story arc.  The Kingpin muses that a destroyed Daredevil might serve him!  The Born Again story line also illustrates stratagem #2 and the use of interlocking stratagems, stratagem #35.

Norman Osborn looted Tony Stark’s armory and created the Iron Patriot armor from the loot.

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Comic books need fights and fights between super heroes like Thor and the Hulk are always popular.  You see a lot of “temporary misunderstandings” between super heroes but after the mandatory six to ten panel fight, the misunderstanding is patched up and the heroes unite to fight the supervillain that created the conflict in the first place.

6) Make a feint to the east while attacking in the West. Fake to the right; attack to the left.

6 36 Stratagems Make a feint to the east while attacking in the west

Ozymandias was defeated by the Comedian during their first fight due to a feint.  The Prankster in the Modern Age acts as distraction-for-hire for Superman for a fee while criminals commit crimes.  Batman has been known to “miss” with his Batarang because he is actually going for a ricochet shot.  Daredevil does the same thing as Batman but with his Billy Club not a Batarang.

7) Create something out of nothing. Turn something that is not substantial into reality.

7 36 Stratagems Create something out of nothing

Vaporware is the modern equivalent of this stratagem.  The Prankster copyrights the English language and then charges fees for use of the alphabet!  Ozymandias tricks the world with a fake alien in order to unite the world in a war against the aliens and stop WW III from happening.

8) Secretly utilize the Chen Cang passage.  Pretend to advance down one path while taking another hidden path.  Pretend to care about an issue and later give it up to get what you really want.

8 36 Stratagems Pretend to advance along one path while secretly getting along by a hidden path

This stratagem is a more specific version of “(6) Make a Feint to the East While Attacking in the West. – Fake to the right; attack to the left”.  The difference is that beyond misinformation there is the use of physical baits such as a decoy.  Iron Man, Loki and Dr. Strange all have the ability to make mirror images of their own image in order to confuse the enemy.  If you try to touch the mirror copy then your hand will go through the copy and the copy cannot interact with the enemy so the illusion only creates temporary confusion. This is a type of illusion whether the origin is holographic science in the case of Iron Man or magic in the case of Dr. Strange and Loki.  This power is used in an irregular manner with the characters mentioned.

Mirror Master uses the power in a more consistent manner in order to flee from the Flash who has super speed.  The Mirror Master will often make multiple holograms of himself that flee in different directions.  Flash is fast enough to chase all the holograms so this rarely works but this doesn’t stop the Mirror Master from using this trick again and again.

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A slightly different version of this stratagem is the use of robotic copies.  When dealing with Doctor Doom, you never know if you are dealing with Doctor Doom or a robotic copy of Doctor Doom.  While you are dealing with the Doctor Doom robot, the real Doctor Doom can be watching from afar and coming up with some other counter plan.  Robots that are created by Doctor Doom that are exact replicas of Doctor Doom are called Doombots.

S.H.I.E.L.D makes extensive use of Life Model Decoys (LMDs).  Nick Fury LMDs serve a similar function for Nick Fury as Doombots for Doctor Doom. In the case of Doombots and LMDs the problem of controlling the robots has been a plot device.  Your robotic copy can try to supplant the original!  Max Fury is an LMD that has played a prominent role in the Marvel Universe.

Tony Stark (Iron Man’s secret identity) is probably the second greatest user of LMDs after Nick Fury.  Tony Stark was paralyzed and used the Neuromimetic Telepresence Unit 150 (NTU-150) to act as a remote controlled version of Iron Man.

In the film X-Men: The Last Stand, Magneto has Multiple Man  make multiple copies of himself and the copies act as a decoy while the real Brotherhood escapes.

9) Watch the fire burning from across the river.  Allow them to fight your other enemy while you rest and observe. Later, defeat the exhausted survivor.

9 36 Stratagems Watch the fire burning from the other side of the river

Ultra Boy, of the Legion of Super-Heroes, used covert means to trick Mordru into attacking Glorith in order to stop Glorith from taking over the universe (Legion of Super-Heroes Annual V4 #1.

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10) Conceal a dagger in a smile.  Befriend them to get their guard down, then attack their weakest point.

10 36 Stratagems Conceal a dagger in a smile

The Batman has some very charming enemies.  The Joker often smiles and even laughs as he kills his victims.  The Joker also likes to make his victims smile while they die as well with his patented Joker venom.  The Riddler is another smooth talking rogue that is an enemy of Batman.  Ra’s al Ghul treats Batman as a worthy opponent and calls Batman detective out of respect.

Ra’s al Ghul has a daugher, Talia al Ghul, does more than smile for Batman and has given Batman a son!  Talia seemingly becomes an ally of Luthor and runs LexCorp while Luthor is President but secretly sells LexCorp to Wayne Enterprises in order to ruin Lex Luthor.  However, Talia is a ruthless criminal that will fight Batman.

Ozymandias is very genial even as he battles Rorschach, Nite Owl and Silk Spectre.

11) Sacrifice a plum tree to save a peach tree. Let the plum tree wither in place of the peach tree.  Trade up! Take a small loss for a large gain.

 11 36 Stratagems Sacrifice the plum for the peach Ready to make sacrifice for the ultimate gain

Super villains are more than willing to sacrifice henchmen for any sort of advantage or just kill them for fun.  Probably the worst super villain boss is the Joker who gets a kick out of shooting, electrocuting and poisoning henchmen left and right.

12) Take away a goat in passing.  Take advantage of every small opportunity.

12 36 Stratagems Lead away a goat in passing Picking up something in the sly

The Taskmaster is an interesting super villain who decided a lot of small opportunities with small risk is a better idea than the big score.  The Taskmaster runs a school for henchmen.  In general, super villains do not think small and do pass up small opportunities.  The biggest opportunity that super villains pass up is licensing their technology.  If the technology is stolen then this makes sense but in the case of criminal masterminds like The Mad Thinker and Egghead, you have to wonder why they don’t focus on being a the next Bill Gates rather than wasting their time on crime.

13) Beat the grass to startle the snake.  Stir things up before beginning to negotiate for your true interests.

13 36 Stratagems Beat the grass to startle the snake

Ok, this is the application of stratagems to a type of genre that generally relies on fist fights for plot development.  No one said this task would be easy.  I am going to revise this as distraction as a tactic or even super power in a comic book.  Deadpool has officially been classified as a character with the super power of distraction by a major super villain, Taskmaster.  Spider-Man consistently keeps up a line of personal to funny chatter while fighting that unnerves opponents.

14) Raise a corpse from the dead.  Revive a dead proposal by presenting it again or in a new way.

 14 36 Stratagems Raise a corpse from the dead

This stratagem means take something from the past and giving it new relevance.  I guess the Chinese knew endless reboots of everything from Spider-Man to Iron Man were going to be part of the future!  This may be number #14 in the list of stratagems but in comic terms this stratagems is number #1!

Comic books love updating old weapons!  The Atomic Knights use medieval armor after WW III!  Hawkman likes to use archaic weaponry.  Green Arrow and Hawkeye use trick arrows.  Batman uses Batarangs, boomerangs and shurikens, in his utility beltCaptain Boomerang and Boomerang use trick boomerangs.  Whiplash uses a technologically enhanced whip.  Wonder Woman has her Lasso of Truth. Comic book heroes and villains delight in taking and old weapon and adding new technology to the weapon so a trick version of the weapon is created.

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15) Lure the tiger out of the mountain.  Seek a neutral location. Negotiate after leading them away from a position of strength.

15 36 Stratagems Lure the tiger out of the mountain

Super heroes don’t really rely on forts and mazes to take care of their enemies.  Batman has the Batcave and Superman has his Fortress of Solitude. However, the last thing super heroes want is supervillains visiting their lairs.  Incredibly the opposite happens and super heroes wander into the stronghold of villains all the time.  At least once every three years, the Fantastic Four visits Latveria the stronghold of Doctor Doom.  This is not just a lair but a whole country that Doctor Doom controls so probably visiting Doctor Doom in Latveria is not a good idea but that doesn’t seem to deter the Fantastic Four in the least.

Doctor Doom may have a nation on his side but Luthor tops that big time by having a whole planet on his side!  In the Silver age, In Superman Vol 1, #164, Luthor challenged Superman to a fight on Lexor.  Lexor is a planet that has a red sun so Superman has no powers on Lexor!  Also, on Lexor, Luthor is a hero and Superman is considered a villain!  In Superman, Vol 1, #168, Luthor even manages to find some ancient technology that allows him to temporarily gain super powers on Lexor!  Lexor is an extreme example but supervillains are often luring the super heroes into their lairs in order to have them fall into some death trap or another.  This is especially the case with Batman.

Arcade is an assassin for hire that uses custom built amusement parks filled with deadly traps named Murderworlds in order to kill superheroes.  Arcade has a sporting side and does deliberately leave a small chance for escape from his deathtraps.  Arcade at one time or another has tried to kill Adam X , Angel, Apex, Avengers Academy, Chase Stein, Colossus, Courtney Ross , Darkhawk, Dazzler, Deadpool , Doctor Doom, , Excalibur , Gambit , Green Goblin, Hazmat, Hercules, Human Torch , Iceman, Impossible Man., Iron Man, Johnny Blaze, Juston Seyfert and his Sentinel, Kid Briton, Meggan, Mettle, Micronauts, Nara, Nico Minoru, Nightcrawler Northstar,, Red Raven III, Reptil, Shadowcat, Shatterstar, Spider-Man, The Thing, Wolverine, X-23 , X-Factor, X-Force , X-Men  and the Young Allies.

Deathtraps are a comic book cliché and part of the cliché is the supervillain’s monologue that allows the super hero time to escape.  Why doesn’t the supervillain just shot the capture super hero?  The answer is that the super hero needs to escape for plot purposes.

16) Let the adversary off in order to snare him.  Do not arouse their spirit to fight back.

16 36 Stratagems Let the enemy off in order to snare him

In Silver Surfer Vol 1, #5, there is a Tales of the Watcher back story, titled “Run Roco Run”.  Roco ends up serving a life sentence in Jupiter but is hypnotized into believing he has escaped and therefore no longer tries to escape!  This story is a retelling of “Run, Rocky, Run!” drawn by Bob Forgione in Tales to Astonish (Marvel, 1959 series) #26 (December 1961).

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17) Toss out a brick to attract a piece of jade.  Trade something of minor value for something of major value.

17 36 Stratagems Toss out a glazed tile to draw a jade Cast a brick to attract a gem

In Irredeemable, the Hornet gives the Vespan aliens a list of other habitable planets that they can conquer in exchange for leaving Earth alone and imprisoning Plutonian, a super hero gone bad.  Hornet is ironically a Batman type super hero without super powers but via this stratagem turns an alien invasion around and defeats the Superman type hero Plutonian.  With the right stratagem, the weakest member of the team physically can be the most important team member in terms of results.

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18) To catch bandits, nab their ringleader first.  Convince the leader and the rest will follow.

18 36 Stratagems To catch rebels, nab their king first

Supervillains do love to kidnap the President of the US.  Occasionally, supervillains take over the UN in order to blackmail the whole world and not just the US.  Overall, the comic book world of super heroes and supervillains is very egalitarian and chaotic.  For example, Superman isn’t really the leader of the super heroes but kind of a moral guide.  Reed Richards is supposed to be the leader of the Fantastic Four but he definitely has to run things by the other members especially his wife the Invisible Woman.  The Avengers has a rotating leadership but Captain America generally acts as an informal leader on the battlefield at the tactical level.  The X-Men do have a real leader, Professor X and occasionally Professor X is targeted as a leader.

There is no real leadership structure for the supervillain side either.  Norman Osborn did create the Cabal which led to the Dark Reign storyline.  The Cabal did effectively control most of the supervillains in the Marvel Universe and Hawkeye did try to assassinate Osborn (Dark Reign: The List – Avengers) and hoped that this would bring the Cabal down but failed.  Lex Luthor became the President of the US and during that period could call on an army of supervillains in order to take out Superman and Batman but that didn’t last long.  Leadership for both the bad guys and good guys in comic books is a network lacking central nodes that can be removed to take down the whole system.

19) Remove the fire from under the cauldron.  Eliminate the source of their strength.

19 36 Stratagems Take away the fire from under the cauldron

The source of power for some super heroes is certain environmental conditions.  If you can’t find any Kryptonite then you can always remove the yellow sun which is the source of Superman’s powers.  Lex Luthor does this to Superman twice in Superman Vol 1, #164 and #168.  In World’s Finest, Vol 1, #163, the villain Jemphis turns the yellow sun of his planet into a red sun via atomic explosions activated by a button on his person.

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DC has Aquaman who will lose his strength and die if he is out of water for extended periods of time.  So of course super villains are always trying to dry dock Aquaman!  Marvel has Namor the Submariner and has a similar weakness to Aquaman but while Namor’s strength will diminish out of water, Namor will not die out of water.

Green Lantern has a Power ring that is one of the most powerful weapons in the DC universe.  However, the power ring needs to be recharged every 24 hours from a battery that looks like an old style lantern.  Hide the lantern and you can take out the Green Lantern.  Problems with the lantern are a central plot device in Green Lantern V1, #9, #20, #32, #74, and #116.  If you want to take down the whole Green Lantern Corps then take out the Central Power Battery which charges all the other lanterns.  When Hal Jordan went mad temporarily, he destroyed the Central Power Battery and effectively destroyed the Green Lantern Corps.

The best article on the internet about comic book weapons at:

DC vs. Marvel: Weapons

20) Muddle the water to catch the fish.  Do something surprising or unexpected to unnerve them, and then take advantage of that situation.

20 36 Stratagems Fish in troubled waters

The Joker does crazy stunts that keep Batman and other supervillains off balance.  Deadpool is a Marvel supervillain that does similar stunts.  Crazy gives supervillains an advantage in the comic book world.

21) The cicada sheds its shells.  When you are in trouble, secretly escape.

21 36 Stratagems The cicada sheds its skin

The idea is to escape but leave the lights on so the enemy still thinks you are home.  In the Young Justice TV series, most of the Justice League and all of the heavy hitters have to appear before an off planet court.  In episode #33 titled “Depths”, Young Justice impersonates the Justice League at a Mars satellite launch in order to fool any super villains that might be watching into thinking the Justice League is still on Earth.

22) Fasten the door to catch a thief.  Completely destroy them by leaving no way for escape.

22 36 Stratagems Bolt the door to catch the thief

Prisons are largely ineffective in comic books since jailed supervillains do not make good reading.  Arkham Asylum seems to be a place where the Joker rests between bouts with Batman rather than a place of incarceration.  An extreme solution to problem of bad guys breaking out of jail in the DC universe was explored in the Salvation Run miniseries.  The DC supervillains are imprisoned on a distant planet. The same off planet imprisonment solution was applied to the Hulk but failed spectacularly in the World War Hulk story arc.  Over in the Marvel universe, Iron Man decides enough is enough and with Reed Richards creates a prison in the in the Negative Zone labeled Project 42.

23) Befriend a distant state while attacking a neighboring state. Build strategic alliances with others that will give you the upper hand.

23 36 Stratagems Befriend a distant state while attacking a neighbor

In the TV series, Young Justice, The Light is a group of supervillains that ally themselves with the Reach, aliens, that they plan to betray after they destroy the Justice League and Young Justice i.e. superheroes on Earth.

In Irredeemable, the Hornet makes a deal with Vespan aliens to take out, a super hero gone bad, named Plutonian.  Hornet also gives the Vespan a list of other habitable planets that they can conquer in exchange for leaving Earth alone and imprisoning Plutonian.

24) Borrow a safe passage to conquer the Kingdom of Guo. Attack Hu by a Borrowed Path.  Temporarily join forces with a friend against a common enemy.

24 36 Stratagems Borrow a route to conquer Guo Borrow the right of way to attach the neighbor

Spider-Man has had any number of temporary team ups with any number of superheroes in Marvel Team-Up for plot purposes but generally the rationale if any is offered is stratagem 24.  Batman basically does the same thing over at DC albeit not as consistently as Spider-Man in The Brave and the Bold comic book series starting in issue #50, volume 1, and more notably in the TV series Batman: The Brave and the Bold.  In general, Super heroes are better team players and friends than super villains.

Supervillains are always trying to betray their partner.  Marvel had a title named Super-Villain Team-Up and actually generally ended up being the supervillain betrayal of their team member.  The Secret Society of Supervillains has always been much more unstable than their counterpart the Justice League.  Norman Osborn was very briefly able to unite the Marvel supervillains via the Cabal but that system soon broke down in part due to psychic sabotage of Osborn’s sanity by Loki, a fellow Cabal member.   Any favor done by one supervillain to another super villain must be treated with suspicion.  For example, in Superman, Vol 1, #167, Luthor increases Brainiac’s intelligence from a 10th level to a 12th level but puts in some hardware in Brainiac’s computer brain that allowed Luthor to control Brainiac!

25) Steal the dragon and replace with the phoenix. Steal the beams and pillars and replace them with rotten timber.  Sabotage, incapacitate, or destroy them by removing their key support.

24 36 Stratagems Borrow a route to conquer Guo Borrow the right of way to attach the neighbor

If you take the saying literally which is not necessarily correct then Catwoman has been known to leave a fake jewel in the place of a real jewel she has stolen so the owner doesn’t know they have been robbed.  Supervillains love to blow things up.  That is kind of what comic book supervillains do and there are too many examples to list here.

26) Point at the mulberry tree but curse the locust tree.  Convey your intentions and opinions indirectly.

26 36 Stratagems Point at the mulberry only to curse the locust

The Riddler literally talks in riddles.  The Etrigan the Demon talks in rhyme and his true message is difficult to understand.  These are not so much examples of ruses but aspects of the characters of the villains presumably created to make them more interesting.

27) Feign madness, but keep your balance. Pretend to be a pig in order to eat the tiger.  Play Dumb, then surprise them. Let them underestimate you.

27 36 Stratagems Feigning foolishness

Superheroes often have secret identities.  Clark Kent is the secret identity of Superman and in order to fool Lois Lane, among others, Clark will play the part of the bumbling idiot.  Bruce Wayne is the secret identity of Batman.  The role of Bruce Wayne is played in such a way as to convince others that Bruce Wayne cannot possibly be Batman.  Bruce Wayne often feigns drunkenness in particular.  Bruce Wayne has been known to use models who don’t speak English as alibis.  Tony Stark is the secret identity of Iron Man but is not feigning drunkenness but actually has a drinking problem and is probably a sex addict problem as well.

My last name is fox and I am going to translate this stratagem as the idioms “clever as a fox” or “crazy like a fox”.  Batman’s enemy, the Joker is probably actually crazy rather than pretending to be crazy but do not underestimate the Joker!  Batman has a lot of enemies that appear crazy but are actually pretty effective as super villains.  Two-Face has some sort of personality disorder that causes him to flip a coin during crucial moments in the struggle with Batman.  The Riddler has a compulsion to leave a riddle about his crime before doing the crime.  Announcing your crime however cryptically is probably not a good characteristic of a criminal.  The list Batman enemies that suffer from criminal insanity just goes on and on and about half his enemies are housed in the Arkham Asylum for the criminally insane and actually belong there rather than faking madness.  What we learn from Batman is that being nuts might actually give you an advantage in martial situations.  The Batman nutcase situation differs from this stratagem in that his opponents are really crazy rather than feigning craziness.

28) Remove the ladder after your ascent. Lure the enemy onto the roof, then take away the ladder. Cross the river and destroy the bridge.  Lead them into a trap, then cut off their escape.

28 36 Stratagems Remove the ladder after the ascent

Luring Batman into death traps is a Batman cliché at this point.  The Batman TV series used a death trap cliffhanger in a formulaic manner that became boring over time.  The nemesis of Austin Powers, Dr. Evil has a pathological need to use death traps.  The son of Dr. Evil, Scott Evil states the reason he never kills Austin Power is “Because you never kill him when you have the chance and you’re a big dope”.

29) Decorate the tree with fake blossoms. Flowers bloom in the tree.  Reframe deceitfully.  Expand the pie with objects of little value.

29 36 Stratagems Putting fake blossoms on the tree

When Doctor Doom was a young and fun loving gypsy, he sold luxury goods that appeared to be of great value to the local nobility using sorcery.  When the luxury goods disintegrated then the local Baron was not happy (Annual Fantastic Four #2 )!

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30) Turn yourself into a hot from being a guest. Host and guest switch roles.  Turn your defensive and passive position into an offensive and active one.

30 36 Stratagems Host and guest reversed

This is a bit of a stretch but super hero sidekicks start out as the guest of the super hero and then often become super heroes in their own right.  However, the original super hero almost never retires.  Robin can become Nightwing but Batman isn’t going anywhere!  The best article ever written on the topic of comic book sidekicks at:

DC vs. Marvel: Sidekicks

31) Use a Beauty to ensnare a man. The honey trap. Beauty Trap.  Provide alluring distractions.

31 36 Stratagems Beauty trap stratagem

Obadiah Stane used Indries Momji as a honey trap to destroy Iron Man.  Indries Momji causes Stark to fall in love with her and breaks his heart in order to cause him to resume his alcoholic ways leaving Stark Industries and its Iron Man technology easy prey for Stane (The Invincible Iron Man V1 #167).

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Loki used Lorelei in “For the Love of Thor” story line to manipulate Thor.  In the 1978 graphic novel by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby titled the Silver Surfer: The Ultimate Cosmic Experience, Galactus created a golden clone, Ardina, of his true love Shalla-Bal, with Silver Surfer powers in order to successfully force the Silver Surfer to become his herald again.

32) Open the gate of an undefended city.  Deliberately displaying your weakness can conceal your vulnerability.

32 36 Stratagems Empty city stratagem

In The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, Batman muses how he has a bright yellow target on his chest so the bad guys will aim at his chest where he has a bullet proof vest rather than his difficult to armor head (Batman-The Dark Knight Book #1).

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33) Use adversary’s spies to sow discord in your adversary’s camp.  Provide inaccurate information to mislead them, especially through informal channels.

33 36 Stratagems Sow discord in the enemy's camp

In Fantastic Four #2, Reed Richards and the rest of the Fantastic Four pretend to be Skrull spies and trick the Skrull captain with pictures from Journey into Mystery and Strange Tales into believing Earth is defended by monsters (Fantastic Four V1 #2 ).

43-36-stratagems-as-portrayed-in-comic-books-fantastic-four-2-1962-page-19

34) Inflict pain on one’s self in order to infiltrate the adversary’s camp and win the confidence of the enemy.  Appear to take some hits. Feign weakness while arming yourself.

34 36 Stratagems Inflict injury on oneself to win the enemy's trust

In The Dark Knight Returns, Batman pretends to die of a self induced heart attack in order to fake his death and get off the radar.  This is the third instance of the use of a stratagem in The Dark Knight Returns and perhaps this is one of the reasons among many this work is a masterpiece in the world of comic books (Batman-The Dark Knight Book #4 ).

45-36-stratagems-as-portrayed-in-comic-books-batman-the-dark-knight-book-4-1986-page-45

n researching this stratagem I found out there is a lot more self-inflicted pain in comic books than I would have imagined!  Captain Carnage pretended to be a super villain in order to get beaten up presumably for masochistic reasons in the Watchmen universe.  Etrigan the Demon also presumably has masochistic tendencies.  Penance has a superpower that requires pain on his part to work!  When the flesh of Penance is raked with one of the 612 internal bolts in his suit, he can project explosive blasts from his body!  OMG!  Who comes up with these characters?  Odin sacrificed his right eye to gain wisdom from Mimir as how to stop Ragnarök (Twilight of the Gods) in Thor #274 (August 1978).

35) Lead your adversary to chain together their warships. Stratagem on stratagems.  Devise a set of interlocking stratagems to defeat them.

35 36 Stratagems Interlocking stratagems

The Kingpin discovered Daredevil’s secret identity (Matt Murdock) in the born Born Again story arc.  The Kingpin then launched several lines of attack at the same time.  The Kingpin uses his influence to have the IRS freeze Murdock’s accounts.  The Kingpin also has the bank foreclose on his apartment.  Finally the Kingpin coerces police lieutenant Nicholas Manolis to testify that he saw Murdock pay a witness to perjure himself.  The Kingpin overreaches himself when he blows up Daredevil’s house.  At that moment Daredevil realizes the Kingpin is behind the attacks on Matt Murdock and must know his secret identity.

36) Retreat is the best option.  If all else fails, run away. 

 36 36 Stratagems When retreat is the best option

Old Man Logan decides that when faced with a world that the super villains have taken over then it’s time to retreat to a little patch of land rather than get killed. Old Man Logan does eventually get around to fighting another day and killing all the villains!   Supervillains run away from super heroes all the time but the reverse is rarely true.  Even allowing supervillains the option of retreat is considered an unacceptable stratagem for super heroes.  In Thunderstrike Vol 1, #2, the hero Thunderstrike allows the Juggernaut to just go away rather than having the city get destroyed in a fight and is later admonished by Captain America (Thunderstrike #4 ).

46-36-stratagems-as-portrayed-in-comic-books-thunderstrike-2-page-20

47-36-stratagems-as-portrayed-in-comic-books-thunderstrike-4-page-4

Conclusion 

What is surprising upon the analysis of stratagems in comic books is how rarely stratagems are used by supervillains.  If I was a supervillain fighting the likes of Superman and Thor then I would use every trick in the book.  Even the criminal masterminds like Luthor, the Kingpin and Loki do not use stratagems all that much.  My theory is that comic books are still largely a visual medium and it’s hard to “draw” a stratagem.  A fist fight is more interesting visually than a stratagem.  Also, the comic book writers may have a limited knowledge of stratagems.  A systematic comparison of cons, ruses of war and stratagems might yield interesting and synergic results conceptually which in turn would have practical value in competitive situations.

Document at:

Additional Reading:

List of Frauds

Check out my other website at:

Fox Superpower List

More comic book articles on this blog at:

https://foxhugh.com/?s=comic

My Articles About China and/or Chinese Culture

16 Basic Desires: China versus US

35 Accomplishments of Modern China

36 Stratagems

Acronym for Eight Types of Chinese Regional Cuisine

American versus Chinese Culture

American versus Chinese Culture

Astrology Chinese

Chinese Astrological Analysis of Nations

Chinese Astrology 60 Year Cycle

Chinese Do’s and Don’ts

Chinese Dream and American Reality

Chinese vs. Western Astrology

Confucius in Thailand 2012

Extending China’s One Belt One Road Initiative to Latin America

Table of Chinese Astrology 19th – 21st Century

The 36 Stratagems as Portrayed in Comic Books

Virtual Chinese Reunification Palace

 

Hugh Fox III - Blood

 

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DC vs. Marvel: Transportation

The most important category of objects in the comic book universe of DC and Marvel has to be the weapons.  I look at this topic at:

https://foxhugh.wordpress.com/2010/04/06/marvel-vs-dc-weapons/

I would argue that the second most important category of objects in the DC and Marvel comic book universe are objects of transportation.  Superheroes fight supervillains and weapons are needed to do this.  Unfortunately for superheroes, supervillains are often a cowardly lot that will flee with the loot rather than fight.  Some warrior supervillains like Doomsday will stand and fight Superman but many supervillains try to flee Superman.  This means the superhero needs a speedy mode of transport to catch the supervillain and the supervillain wants a mode of speedy transportation to escape.  Plus when a crime occurs, the superhero needs to show up at the scene of the crime in the first place.  Last but not least, most superheroes patrol anything from a sector of a galaxy, Green Lanterns, to a section of city, Daredevil and Hell’s Kitchen, and need a way of getting around.

In other science fiction universe there is a “vehicle” category but comic books are more speculative fiction than science fiction and some of the most iconic and important forms of transport only vaguely fit even the most general definition of vehicle.  This post will look at vehicles but also discuss other objects that provide transportation.  Does DC or Marvel have the coolest objects of transportation?

DC Transportation

Below is a list of objects of transportation in the DC universe.

  1. Adam Strange’s Jetpack
  2. Alpha Centurion’s Pax Romana
  3. Ambush Bug’s Teleport Suit
  4. Batboat
  5. Batcycle
  6. Batmobile
  7. Batplane
  8. Birds of Prey – Aerie One
  9. Birds of Prey – Aerie Two
  10. Black Manta’s Sea Saucer
  11. Black Manta’s Walker
  12. Blackhawk Planes
  13. Blue Beetle’s Bug
  14. Blue Tracer
  15. Boom Tube
  16. Booster Mobile
  17. Brains Submarine
  18. Braniac’s Skull Ship
  19. Braniac’s Star Ship
  20. Brontadon (Ship)
  21. Catwoman’s Catmobile
  22. Catwoman’s Catplane
  23. Challenger SST
  24. Clockincopter
  25. Cluster Ship
  26. Cometeer
  27. Craddock Carriage
  28. Di’ib
  29. Doomsday Ship
  30. Eye of Zared
  31. Fiddler’s Fiddle Car
  32. Flash’s Cosmic Threadmill
  33. Flying Fish
  34. Flying Sundial
  35. Fokker Dr. I
  36. Gentleman’s Horse
  37. Gibel Ship
  38. Golden Knight Flying Horse
  39. Gorandian Battle Tripod
  40. Gorandian Submarine
  41. Green Arrow’s Arrowcar
  42. Green Arrow’s Arrowplane
  43. Green Lantern Ring
  44. Grumman XF5F
  45. Gyrosub
  46. Haunted Tank
  47. Hawkman’s Wings
  48. Hourman’s Timeship
  49. Huntress Motorcycle
  50. Javelin-7
  51. Jokermobile
  52. Jonah Hex’s Mechanical Horse
  53. JSA’s Steel Eagle
  54. Justice League Cruiser
  55. Justice League Teleporter
  56. Kal-El’s Rocketship
  57. Kanjar Ro’s Spaceship
  58. Lansarian Morphing Disk
  59. Legion Cruiser
  60. Legion Flight Rings
  61. Legion of Superheroes Flying Rings
  62. Legion of Superheroes Time Bubble
  63. Legion of Superheroes Time Cube
  64. Lobo’s Spacehog
  65. LX-811 Star Cruiser
  66. Mark 494 Star Cruiser
  67. Mitsu-Bishi
  68. Mobius Chair
  69. Multipurpose Intercept/Reconnaissance Vehicle
  70. Mustang Three
  71. Nautilus of Earth ABC
  72. Newsboy Legion’s Whiz Wagon
  73. Omega Men Mothership
  74. Orion’s Astro-Harness
  75. Owlship
  76. P-40 Warhawk
  77. Paco’s Convertible
  78. Panzer-Ship
  79. Peacemaker Hog
  80. Pilgrim One
  81. Quantum Jet
  82. Rip Hunter’s Timesphere
  83. Robin’s Redbird
  84. Royal Flush Gang’s Flying Cards
  85. Sam
  86. Samson’s Chronomobile
  87. Sandals of Hermes
  88. Scanner One
  89. Scarlet Skier’s Cosmic Skis
  90. Scorpion-Ship
  91. Sea Witch
  92. Sheba
  93. Space Cab
  94. Space Shuttle Excalibur
  95. Star-Rocket Racer
  96. Starhunter’s Sunrider
  97. Steel Eagle
  98. Super-Cycle
  99. Superman’s Phantom Zone Projector – It transports you to another dimension!
  100. Supermobile
  101. Swinging through the rooftops – Batman
  102. T-Jet
  103. T-Sub
  104. Teen Titan’s Helicopter
  105. Thangarian Star Cruiser
  106. Time Bubble
  107. Trickster’s Air Shoes
  108. User: Bonesaw 19
  109. Vig-Cycle
  110. Vigilante’s Motocycle
  111. Warehouse X Toys
  112. Warhound
  113. Warlord’s Plane
  114. Whirly-Bat
  115. Whiz Wagon
  116. Wildcat’s Motorcycle
  117. Wingcycle
  118. Wonder Woman’s Invisible Plane

Some of the more famous objects of transportation are Adam Strange’s Jetpack, the Batmobile, the Flash’s Cosmic Threadmill, the Haunted Tank, Hawkman’s Wings, Green Lantern’s Ring, Kal-El’s Rocketship, Legion of Superheroes Time Bubble, and Wonder Woman’ Invisible Plane.  The top two of this list, the crème de la crème, are the Batmobile and Kal El’s Rocketship.  If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then the Batmobile has been praised again and again.  The Arrowmobile, Catmobile, Jokermobile and to some extent the Spider-Mobile, as parody, are all derived from the Batmobile.  Kal-El’s Rocketship refers to the space ship that delivered Superman to the planet Earth from Krypton.  The Batmobile has been the subject of schematics from the beginning and you can buy toy collections of Batmobiles from the golden age to the present.

Superman’s rocket is a very different affair and the particulars of how the ship looks have varied tremendously from the golden age to the present.  This is a contest between a very visually defined vehicle and an icon.  The historic significance of Superman’s rocket ship is more important than the Batmobile.  The rocket ship is an integral part of the Superman mythos and that mythos in turn largely defined comic books from the beginnings to the present.  On iconic grounds I would say Kal El’s rocketship is the most important object of transportation in the DC universe and the coolest.

Marvel Transportation

Below is a list of objects of transportation in the DC universe.

  1. Asgardian Star Jammer
  2. Avengers Quinjet
  3. Big Wheel
  4. Dr. Doom’s Time Machine
  5. Dr. Strange’s Cloak of Levitation
  6. Fantastic Four’s Fantasti-Car
  7. Fantastic Four’s Pogo Plane
  8. Flying Horses – Valyky, Black Knight
  9. Galactus Ship
  10. Ghost Rider’s Hell Cycle
  11. Green Goblin’s Glider
  12. Guardians of the Galaxy – Freedom’s Lady
  13. Hawkeyes Sky-cycle
  14. Iron Man’s Armor
  15. Kang’s Time-Ship
  16. Moon Knight’s Helicopter
  17. Nextwave’s Shockwave Rider
  18. Quasar’s Quantum Bands
  19. Runaway’s Leapfrog
  20. S.H.I.E.L.D. Flying Car
  21. S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier
  22. Silver Surfer’s Board
  23. Spider-Man’s Spider-Mobile
  24. Stiltman’s Stilts
  25. Swinging through the rooftops – Spiderman, Daredevil
  26. Thor’s Hammer Mjolnir
  27. X-Men’s Blackbird

Some of the most important objects of transportation in the Marvel universe include:

the Fantasti-Car, Iron Man’s Armor, the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, Thor’s hammer and the X-Men’s Blackbird.  I have to mention is the Spider-Mobile that is largely forgotten but was in Spider-Man during the seventies and was hilarious.  The Spider-Mobile was a parody of consumerism.  Spider-Man agreed to ride the Spider-Mobile for an ad agency.  Spider-Man is about always broke.  The problem was the Spider-Mobile was constantly having troubles.  Webhead would have been better of sticking to his webbing and swinging through the roof tops.

My Marvel favorites are the Fantasti-Car and Iron Man’s armor.  Both are marvels of comic book engineering.  Schematics of both were provided early on and you could almost believe these machines could be created.  They represent very different ideas of design.  Iron Man’s armor is a sleek, streamlined, minimalist machine that is a high tech, red and yellow, hot rod of the skies.  If Iron Man’s armor is a hot rod then the Fantasti-Car is a Volkswagen that is not streamlined but very practical.  The Fantasti-Car has a modular design that looks goofy but allows the individual Fantastic Four members to break away from the main ship and fight more effectively as a group.  Iron Man led to any number of armored imitators and again if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then Iron Man’s armor wins.  However, does Iron Man’s armor deserve to win in this sort of contest?  Iron Man’s armor is more weapon than transport.  I think because of this the Fantasti-Car is the winner in the Marvel universe.  The modular design of the Fantasti-Car might have real life applications.

The Soviet Union often used tank riders instead of trucks for transportation during WW II.  Men hung onto tanks for dear life.  This was done due to a lack of trucks on the part of the Soviet Union.  However, later many tactical advantages came out of this experience.  The men could quickly jump from the tank and provide support to the tank and vice-versa in a way troops in trucks could not.

I wonder if there is the possibility of some sort of helicopter rider system in which special forces could break away from a helicopter using some sort of individual pod rocket system attached to the outside of the helicopter allowing for greater speed in exiting than the current rappelling system used by special forces.  You enter the external rocket pod using a door on the inside of the helicopter to provide maximum protection until the moment of exit.  The rocket pod also allows quicker dispersal of special forces around an area and the pod also offers some extra protection upon exiting the protection of the helicopter.

Conclusion

The winner of the DC competition is Superman’s rocket ship.  The winner of the Marvel competition is the Fantasti-Car.  I love the sixties campiness of the Fantasti-Car but iconic value beats campiness and Superman’s object wins as the coolest object of transportation!  DC wins!  In the course of this study something else stood out.

What is very interesting when comparing the objects of transportation of DC with Marvel is that there is a giant difference in the number of such objects.  This difference in numbers took me by surprise and is serendipitous result of this study.  DC has 117 objects of transportation.  Marvel has 27 objects of transportation.  I have done my best to be exhaustive in the compilation of both lists but still may have missed an important object of transportation here and there but the difference in numbers is so great that one must come to the conclusion transportation, as reflected in the numbers above, is more important in the DC universe than the Marvel universe.  I have my own after the fact theory about this.

I am old enough to have read comic books from the golden age to the present and let me assure younger readers that comic books have changed tremendously!  The Marvel universe is a relatively new universe compared to DC whose superheroes and story line foundations were largely created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the sixties.  I would argue one basic difference between Marvel and DC, especially in the sixties, was that Marvel focused a lot more on fights than the chase.  For example, Superman spent way more time flying around looking for crooks than Thor.  Thor quickly found his enemy and most of the issue focused on the fight.  Thor fought characters like the Hulk.  The Hulk does not flee from Thor that’s for sure.  I actually bought the first issue in which Thor and the Hulk fought solo and even then I knew this was something different.  For one thing Jack Kirby and Stan Lee created all these fight scene cartoon blurb sounds that had no equivalent in the DC universe.  Jack Kirby used a lot more  lines showing shock waves than anyone else.  The fight looked more real and the key to this was actually using exaggerated action that is less real but interestingly looks more real due to the nature of the medium.  I am into martial arts and have at least fifty books in the area with pictures that show each move of a kata and the pictures look pretty boring compared to a well done Jack Kirby punch or kick.  I came to the conclusion that Marvel had better fight scenes and certainly longer fight scenes than DC.  The difference in the quality and quantity of fight scenes between Marvel and DC has largely lessened over time.

I mentioned Doomsday and Superman in the introduction and their fight as chronicled in the Death of Superman storyline was generally one giant multi-issue series of fight scenes.  I hate to admit it but I enjoyed the series!  Remind me to grow up one of these days.  For the record, Superman didn’t die despite the title of the series and I knew darn well Superman wouldn’t die and was amazed how my friends and family bought the lie hook line and sinker!  And also for the record, Captain America and Batman are not going to stay dead!

The greater emphasis on fight scenes made Marvel more “modern” from their beginnings.  Movies and TV were becoming more violent in the sixties and it made sense for comic books to go this route as well.  Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were more attuned to modern media trends than their counterparts at DC at the time and this is one reason Marvel became such a success at the expense of DC.  As a side note, I do not consider comic books overly violent at all compared to other media.

Comic books have become more violent from the sixties to the present but are still much less violent than other media.  I am especially amazed at some of the cutesy violent video games on Facebook that have tremendous appeal to my nieces and nephews who are in the six to ten year old age group.  I would much rather my nieces and nephews were reading the most violent DC or Marvel comic book out there than playing those horrible video games.  I guess I am getting old because despite the best efforts of my nieces and nephews to explain the games, I had no interest.

The games are kind of Hello Kitty meets the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  You have these very cute cartoon characters wielding knifes or whatever and doing terrible things to other cute cartoon characters with blood and guts pouring out.  I like my genres purer than that.  I like Hello Kitty and I like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre but I really don’t care for Hello Kitty acting like Leatherface, the bad guy in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  The games are very similar to Ren and Stimpy of The Simpsons fame but again are video games rather than a cartoon within a cartoon.  I do think the interactive nature of a violent video game as opposed to a violent cartoon on TV is worrisome.  Back to the topic of this post!

Another example of fight versus chase, many fifties Batman issues were reprinted in 80 page Giants in the sixties that I read when I was young and in many ways I grew up with this version of Batman.  The fifties Batman is all about the chase!  The Batman of the fifties invariably ended up in some sort of scenario with giant objects.  Batman chased and fought crooks in an almost surrealistic landscape.  Batmite was introduced at this time and used his reality warping powers not to fight Batman but to make the chase more interesting.  There is no Marvel counterpart to this sort of chase.

I would argue the greater number of objects of transportation in the DC universe is due to DC having a golden age inheritance in which the chase was more important than the fight.  Marvel does not share this inheritance and presumably would have more weapons than DC.  Counting weapons is much harder than counting objects of transportation.  I spent hours compiling lists of weapons in the DC and Marvel universe for my last post and am still not happy with the result.  Weapons are ubiquitous in comic books.  Objects of transportation are much smaller in number and easier to count definitively.

My other website at:

Fox Superpower List

Other DC vs. Marvel Posts

Big Monsters

Fourth Wall Heroes

Funny Animals

Horror Hosts

Kids

Robots

Sidekicks

Spacemen

Superpets

Teenagers

Transportation

War Heroes

Weapons

Western Heroes

Women in Refrigerators

Working Women

DC vs. Marvel: Battle of the Super Pets

Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers

Recently, Lockjaw and various super pets of the Marvel universe had a cosmic adventure in Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers.  I am old enough to remember the Legion of Super Pets of the silver age of DC comic books fondly and couldn’t help but notice many similarities.  Because of these memories and the recent Marvel title, I was inspired to write this post. Heroic pets have existed in other media.  In particular, Lassie and Rin Tin Tin existed in film and television but the invention of comic book super heroes led to the very particular super pet.  A super pet is the animal sidekick to a super hero.

Krypto

Probably the most famous super pet is Krypto, Superman’s super dog from Krypton.  Krypto has had many solo adventures in DC comic books and even his own animated series on the Cartoon Network that started in 2005.    The series is regular who’s who of evil super pets.  Some of the evil super pets include the Joker’s hyenas Bud and Lou, Catwoman’s cat Isis, The Penguins trained birds (Artie the Puffin, Griff the Vulture, Waddles the Puffin), and Lex Luthor’s pet iguana Ignatius.

Krypto inspired a whole list of super pets that now appear dated.  I think one explanation of why super pets where so popular in that period but not now is that quite simply the median age of comic book readers during the silver age was much lower than now.  Younger readers like stories about animals and pets more than older readers.  A lot more children’s books are about animals and pets than adult books.  The success of Krypto apparently inspired many more DC super pets.

Beppo

Beppo the Super Monkey from Krypto showed up later.  Krypto had super intelligence for a dog which meant he had human intelligence on Earth.  This in turn means Beppo should be pretty smart, a lot smarter than Krypto, that’s for sure, but we never see any evidence of this difference in intelligence in the Super family stories of the time.  The way these two animals show up at Superboy’s doorstep is hilarious.

Jor El, Superman’s father, presumably a great and compassionate man, rockets his sons pet dog into space to test his rocket to Earth!  Beppo is also rocketed into the void by Jor El.  I think if my dad used my dog for a dangerous experiment that led to the dog’s seeming demise, then I might be a little angry about this.  Superboy never shows any ill feelings about his father’s actions whatsoever.  I can accept Beppo being hurled into the void since he is a monkey and we assume specifically purchased to test the rocket. Krypto is another matter.  Can’t Jor El find some stray dog at the dog pound on Krypton?  Jor El has to use his son’s pet dog? Given that Krypto and Beppo have human intelligence you would also assume they would hate Jor El but this point is never brought up either.

Dogs are supposed to have a sense of smell 1,000 times more powerful than a human being.  Both Superboy and Krypto have super smell but presumably Krypto’s super smell would be a 1,000 times more powerful than that of Superboy.  Superboy fought some pretty sorry villains, mostly petty crooks, compared to Superman, and many times the Super Boy bad guys gave him the slip since he had super powers and they didn’t.  Superboy never ever used his own sense of smell to track a crook.

The use of super smell is pretty much ignored during the silver age by both DC and Marvel.  A current poll at the Comic Vine puts Superman at the top of the super smell list

(http://www.comicvine.com/super-smell/41-19/)

One could argue this is a recent development and Superboy did not have super smell but his dog could still be used to track bad guys.  Later Wolverine, a Marvel superheroe, will use super smell to pursue bad guys and figure out the true identity of a shape shifter.  Mystique, is an enemy of the X-Men, and can change her appearance and thus fool the other X-Men but not Wolverine as demonstrated dramatically in the first X-Men movie.  Superboy never used Krypto to track a bad guy down using scent.  Instead Super Boy relies one hundred percent on flying around and using his super vision and if the crooks are smart enough to hide in a lead shielded place then they get away.

Steaky

Supergirl later acquired a super cat called Streaky.  Streaky was a normal Earth cat that was exposed to X-kryptonite and acquired super powers.  Streaky was not poisoned to death but instead became a super cat.  Super girl also managed to acquire a super horse called Comet.  Comet was not from Krypton but was a centaur turned into a super horse by Circe, the sorceress, and this meant that Comet was invulnerable to Kryptonite. Comet had the power of telepathy unlike the other super pets.  Just as a horse is more powerful physically than a man, Comet was presumably more powerful physically than Superman physically.  This meant Comet was the most powerful character of the Superman family.  Comet as a character is worth analyzing more closely.

Comet

Comet was in love with Supergirl!  Comet even had an affair with Supergirl when he was temporarily a man.  Supergirl also rides Comet into battle.  Interestingly, Superman never rides Comet.  I don’t think most men would like to literally ridden by the object of their affections but maybe I am wrong about this. I suppose, sooner or later, the DC Imprint, Vertigo, will do a reboot of Comet or even all the super pets, with more mature themes explored.

The Superman family inspired the creation of a Batman family.  Superman is a family guy.  Batman is at his best when he is a loner and does not need a Batman family.  Batman associates perhaps but not a family.  Oh well, they had Batman fighting aliens in the same time period. If Superman has a dog then so must Batman.  Batman adopted a dog called Bat-Hound.  Bat-Hound was a normal German Sheppard that wore a mask.  Actually, Bat-Hound was not the stupidest member of the silver age Batman family by any means.  Police use police dogs and Batman is kind of a super policeman and the ability of a dog to act as a hound and follow a scent could be useful to Batman in a pursuit situation.  Batman did use Bat-Hound to track criminals using the dog’s sense of smell! Very recently, Batman used the current incarnation of Krypto, who has normal canine intelligence, to track down a crook with his sense of smell. Further proof, if needed, that Batman is smarter than Superman or at least Superboy.  Bat-Hound and Streaky did appear on Krypto’s animated series.

Other superheroes of that time period also had super pets but they were extremely minor characters.  The Atom had a bird that he rode to battle called Ms. Mina.  Aquaman has a regular aquarium of finny friends but I would put the giant seahorses Aquaman and Aqualad rode at the top of his super pet list.  This lack of Justice League super pets meant that a Justice League of Super Pets was not possible but the creation of a super pet club was possible using another angle.

Proty II

Superboy and Supergirl belonged to something called the Legion of Superheroes in the 30th century.  There were over 20 something legionnaires but only one super pet in the bunch.  Chameleon Boy had a super pet called Proty II.  Proty II was a big yellow blob that could shape shift.  Not much of a super power I supposed but adding him to the Legion of Super Pets meant that club wasn’t exclusively a Superman family club.  Proty also had the power of telepathy like Comet.  Poor Proty, surrounded by super pets with at least a half dozen super powers and all he can do is shape shift.  The situation was probably difficult for Proty to say the least.  Supergirl meets a descendant of Streaky, called Whizzy, in her first adventure with the Legion of Superheroes and the descendant can talk unlike Streaky.  This character is never seen again but logically a talking super cat would be a welcome addition to the Legion of Super Pets.

Adventure Comics 322

I have included the cover of Adventure #322 above.  Comet and Proty are the only two members that have telepathy as a superpower and very appropriately are the only two talking to each other via thought balloons, the comic book version of telepathy.  The plaques at the table conference table give Krypto and Streaky names but Comet and Beppo are simply referred to as super-horse and super-monkey and their names are not used.  I guess only some pets rate an actual name on their plaque.

Lockjaw

Lockjaw is the leader of the Pet Avengers.  Lockjaw can teleport, has super strength, and is a giant.  The Avengers consist of Lockheed, Redwing, Ms. Lion, Zabu, Niels the Cat, and Throg.  The biggest difference between Lockjaws team and the Legion is that Lockjaw’s team has pets that do not have super powers.  The members that have powers are Lockheed, Zabu and Throg.  Zabu is a sabretooth lion.  Lockheed is a miniature dragon about the size of a cat that can fly, has very tough hide and can exhale fire.  Throg is a frog version of Thor and probably has about one tenth the power of Thor or maybe even a lot less.  The other super pets are normal animals.  Niels the Cat aka Hairball, generates a kinetic energy field, like his owner Speedball, and this means he can bounce around and is super slippery.  Cats are pretty slippery anyway so I think catching Niels would not be easy.

Redwing is a hawk that works with the Falcon and at least has super hero experience.  Ms. Lion is a rather silly dog that belongs to Aunt May, the Aunt of Spiderman, and would probably get destroyed in a fight with even a normal street mutt. Ms. Lion has ribbons in her hair!  However, Ms. Lion did sacrifice her life to save Hairball and was only revived later by the power of the infinity gems.  So how would a battle between the Legion of Super Pets and Lockjaw’s Super Pet Avengers turn out?  The two super pet teams have both claimed a particular park in the New York as their territory.  Krypto and Streaky have clearly marked the park as their territory!  The Marvel Avengers try to argue that the park should be open to everyone but Krypto promptly responds human concepts such as sharing territory have nothing to do with animals that live by a different code.

Comet knows what is going to happen next and wants nothing to do with the events that will follow.  Comet has known Krypto for years and years and knows that he is ruthless when it comes to defending his territory.  Comet, as mentioned, is a centaur in animal guise and has had it hanging around a bunch of animals.  Comet is also thousands of years old and is sick of baby sitting the other super pets especially Beppo who he suspects was driven insane by his years alone in space.  Beppo is not the only member of the super pets that might have psychological problems.  Comet is sick of Krypto’s obsession with dinosaur bones that are obviously rock and not bone.  Comet is sick of Streaky getting high on catnip all the time. Comet is sick of being ridden by Supergirl, actually he doesn’t mind that part so much but still. Most of all Comet is sick of how all of them refuse to learn how to use a toilet.  The Legion headquarters stinks to high heaven.  Comet flies off to a far off planet governed by intelligent horse creatures that have achieved space travel and are more advanced technologically than the humans on Earth.  Comet misses Super Girl but when elected king of the planet, due to his many super deeds, gets over it.

The Legion of Super Pets looks at the sorry underpowered Avengers team that is giving them a hard time.  All the other animals on Earth have enough sense to treat them like the top dog, top cat or whatever and decide and example needs to be made once and for all. Streaky goes after Zabu the sabretooth and Zabu puts up a valiant struggle but Streaky is about a million times stronger than Zabu and invulnerable to boot.  Streaky grabs the back of Zabu’s neck with her teeth and rattles him like a rag dog until Zabu’s neck is broken.  Streaky feels a little sorry since Zabu was kind of hot.

Krypto chases Niels all over town and despite superspeed and superflight and super smell has a hard time even touching Niels much less fighting him.  Krypto loses interest in the chase and Niels gets away to fight another day.  Krypto returns to the park and bites Ms. Lions throat and she promptly dies.  Throg zaps Krypto with lightning and the lighting actually hurts due to its magical origin and the vulnerability of Krptonians to magic that may even be higher than that of normal humans.  Krypto decides to not take any chances and uses his ultimate weapon, heat vision.  Krypto zaps Throg with his heat vision.  Even Thor would be in trouble but a frog is especially vulnerable to heat vision.  The amphibian quickly dehydrates and dies. Streaky flies after Redwing, the hawk, and swats him out of the sky with fatal results to Redwing.

Lockheed flies towards Streaky and breathes fire all over Streaky.  Streaky is grateful since the flames remove a lot of dirt she had accumulated during the battle.  Superman uses a super flamethrower at his Fortress of Solitude to clean his uniform and Streaky always thought this was a pretty good idea.  Streaky has never told Krypto that she finds his body smell to be too much and wishes he would learn to clean himself with his tongue like she does.  Streaky slashes Lockheed throat with her claws and Lockheed bleeds to death.

Proty turns into a bush and avoids the battle.  The Avengers don’t have a chance!  Krypto tells the rest of his team to hold off on attacking, the leader, Lockjaw since he wants to save that pooch for last.  Krypto is going to teach Lockjaw who is top dog once and for all. The Legion surrounds Lockjaw.  Lockjaw looks at the mutilated bodies of his friends and vows revenge.  Lockjaw teleports the Legion and himself to a Kryptonian style planet and all the super pets lose their powers except Proty.  “If only Comet hadn’t abandoned them”, thinks Krypto just before he loses his super intelligence and the ability to formulate full sentences.

Lockjaw has super canine strength in his jaw and at one time locked down on the Thing’s arm and the Thing could not get away.  I would estimate Lockjaw is eight feet from nose to tail and probably weighs in excess of six hundred pounds.  Basically Lockjaw is a giant bulldog.  Lockjaw chomps all the Kryptonian super pets to death.  Proty turns into a local shrub in order to hide from the wrath of Lockjaw but Lockjaw as a dog easily sniffs him out and chomps his head off or rather the upper part of his body since Proty doesn’t really have a head.  Lockjaw promptly spits Proty out of his mouth since Antareans taste like plastic mixed with detergent.  Lockjaw doesn’t mind eating the odd robot now and then but Proty just doesn’t taste good.

The Marvel team wins but a terrible cost!

After I wrote this post Marvel published The Marvel Pets Handbook.  The writers of this handbook graciously admit that their “Distinguished Competitor” (DC) had a head start in the super pet area but that Marvel is taking the lead in this category and I have to agree.  The handbook includes entries for

Ant-Man’s Ants, Ape, Aragorn, Beasts of Berlin, Bill & Don, Blaze the Wonder Collie, Brightwind, Cerberus, Collector’s Creatures, Cosmo, Cr’ree, Currs, Deuce, Devil Dinosaur, Diablo, Droog, Ebony, Freki & Geri, Frogs of Central Park, Garm, Giganto, Hell Storm’s Demon-Steeds, Hellcow, Hellhorse, Ina & Briri, Kerberos, Kraven the Hunter’s Menagerie, Krill, Lobo, Lockheed, Lockjaw, Man-oo, Max, Mole Man’s Monsters, Monkey Joe, Munin & Hugin, Niels, Nimo, Old Lace, Outcasts, Princess Python’s Pythons, Preyy, Puppy, Red Ghosts’ Apes, Redwin, Saint, Sassafras, Sleipnir, Strider, Tippy-Toe, Toothgnasher & Toothgrinder, Valinor, Valykrior Steeds, Vixen, Watchdog, Zabu, and Zar.  There is even an appendix of Cowboy Horses of the West and another appendix of miscellaneous pets.  This handbook should really be titled “Marvel Animal Handbook” since the entries go way beyond just super-pets and mention just about every animal that has ever appeared in the Marvel universe and had a name and even some unamed animals.

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