Friday, August 18, 2017

The Demi-God Must Die!



As a Champions story, this wasn’t too bad. As an Avengers story, this wasn’t too good.

We open the action with Iron Man hurtling himself towards the Championcar. As Black Widow said, “He’s diving at (us) at missile speed!” Since I just finished reading Iron Man Annual 4 where the Champs help ol’ Shell Head, to see him attacking his new/old buddies was a bit confusing. Writer Jim Shooter, who was a terrific writer back in the day and has a better handle on the Champions than the team’s regular writer Bill Mantlo, doesn’t give a lot of clues as to why Tony Stark is doing this.

Iron Man starts beating the shit out of Hercules. When Black Widow and Ice Man help their Olympian friend, they get a pretty nasty beat down too. Herc, BW and Ice Man are the only Champions that appear in this book because the others are all off doing something. It literally took Iron Man two pages to take down Ice Man and Natasha. And he did it in a douche-y way too. He crumbled a building on Black Widow, when there were a ton of bystanders around –don’t worry about collateral damage, Tony! And after Bobby encased him in ice, he used his chest beam to drill him in the back.

For the rest of the issue it was a slugfest between Hercules and Iron Man. They took turns trading punches. Hercules would punch Iron Man in the chest, IM would gasp about how he almost just died. Iron Man would punch Hercules in the mouth and Tony would wonder why Hercules wasn’t dead. Every other panel would center around Hercules asking Iron Man if he had lost his mind. Why was he attacking him? WHY?

Turns out Iron Man and the Beast were chilling at the Avengers Mansion—most of the other Avengers were still in the hospital after their recent fight with Ultron—when an Olympian Titan named Typhon came out of nowhere and captured the two Avengers. Seems as if Typhon has a score to settle with the Lion of Olympus and he heard that this was Hercules’ last known address.

Iron Man has to explain to Typhon that Hercules doesn’t live there anymore, but he’d be happy to get him. Typhon tells Stark that he better get Hercules and kill him otherwise he’s going to turn Hank McCoy into a furry blue pancake. In a wonderful moment, the Beast tells Iron Man not to do it, he doesn’t care if Typhon kills him and that he doesn’t want to be a pawn. You know what Iron Man says?

“Shut up, McCoy.”



("Fuck you, dude." That's what I would have said.)

See Tony Stark was always a dick, it wasn’t just the movies.

Typhon tells Iron Man that when Hercules makes it to New York, he has to fight him and if he sees him screwing around, he’s going to kill the Beast. By the way, Typhon is doing all of this because he’s trapped in Hades. Pluto, the ruler of Hades, said if Typhon can kill Hercules, he can leave the underworld. You may remember Pluto from Champions 1, 2 and 3. Typhon is down with that because Hercules clowned him a few years back so he can get revenge AND escape from eternal torment.

That’s win-win, in the bad guy business.

So now Iron Man has to go toe-to-toe with a demigod and his plan of telling the Black Widow is out the door because she’s knocked out thanks to falling debris. Debris, that Iron Man, made fall on her. Bad plan one.

He doesn’t want to tell Hercules what’s going on because “Typhon forced me to set up a monitor for him! He’s watching every move I make.” Okay, I know that people were kind of tech stupid back in the 1970s, but c’mon. Who’s filming this? How is the monitor that Typhon is watching picking up everything that these two guys are doing? I mean, they’re literally fighting over all of Manhattan. It’s a pretty big place. Iron Man couldn’t have whispered to Hercules his problem?

By trying to explain the holes in his story, Shooter just digs more.

Finally, Hercules and Iron Man fight their way to Avengers Mansion. Despite being glued to “his monitor”, Typhon doesn’t realize this. Maybe he’s never been to New York City before and doesn’t know where the Mansion is in relationship to where the fight was.

“Mid-town, I thought that the Mansion was downtown! Oh, fiddlesticks,” Typhon could have said. But he didn’t.

Hercules and Iron Man have pretty much exhausted themselves beating the shit out of each other. But guess who’s awake and followed their teammate to the Avengers Mansion? Ice Man and Black Widow! They try to attack the titan, but are getting the short end of the stick. All of a sudden, the Beast gets free and kicks Typhon.

Then he says, “Rottsa Ruck, Cluck!”



(Kinda concerning? BTW, that image of Typhon is ghastly.)

I’m not sure exactly what that means, but it sounds kind of racist. I may be a little on edge after all of the shit that went down in Charlottesville this past week, but WTF Hank? Seriously? You’re doing a fake Chinese accent. And Typhon’s not even Asian, he’s Greek. You couldn’t have thrown a “Cheebugger, Cheebugger, Cheebugger!” John Belushi thing at him? Your’re better than this, man.

Anyway the Beast kicks Typhon into the air and Ice Man freezes him solid, just like they did in the X-Men days. He breaks out, but Typhon is now facing Ice Man, the Beast, Black Widow, Iron Man and Hercules. Pluto calculates the odds and realizes that Typhon isn’t going to win and brings him back to Hades. Before he goes, Typhon vows vengeance! Vengeance on the Avengers, I like that.

Iron Man apologizes to Hercules. Our Greek buddy is a stand-up dude and tells him not to worry about it. Hercules likes trading fists, so I’m sure that he was not bothered by it at all. The last panel shows the Beast having a crisis of confidence, but we won’t find out about that because that’s an Avengers’ problem, not a Champions’ problem.

A few things:

  •  If you’re Ice Man and you find yourself in the Avengers Mansion, do you walk around and check stuff out? I would. How many times has Bobby been invited to the Mansion? Once maybe twice? I’d walk around, go to the bathroom (number two, just to say I did it), nose through the silverware, maybe have Jarvis make me a sandwich. That would be cool (no pun). What’s Iron Man going to do, kick you out? You just saved his ass. I’d probably sprawl out on the couch, let out a big yawn and loudly say, “I could get used to a place like this! I really could!”
  •  Jim Shooter really is a hell of a writer. I wish that he wrote a couple of issues of the Champions. I better they’d be really good. BTW, another issue with no petty bickering between teammates. I like the Champions better when they’re in another person’s book. If I was reading this book as an Avengers fan, I don't think I would have loved it. For one thing, there was really only one Avenger: Iron Man. Beast was locked up for 95% of the book and this was a flimsy plot. Plus, it seemed like a fill-in and a favor. Like they could have printed this thing any time they felt like it. And the favor comes from getting some eyeballs on a book (The Champions) that no one is reading. Bleh. 
  •   The cover art is great. I love George Perez, he can really draw. In fact, I think that I might like him more than John Byrne. That’s saying something. I also enjoy that the Beast calls Iron Man "Shell Head" when he's in the middle of kicking the shit out of Hercules. George Tuska’s comic art was fine. It wasn’t anything great. He does a workman’s job. Nothing awesome, but nothing terrible either.


This was a pretty good Champions story, I’d give it three disco Angels out of five. However, it was not a very good Avengers story. I’d only give it only one one-legged Wasp pants suit.


 

Or:

I know that it was the 1970s and the Wasp was supposed to be fashion-forward and everything, but what the hell was she thinking? Like WWIII, she's rich. Why is she flying around in a costume that looks like it was designed by a blind guy? Comics. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Upper Deck 1992 Jeff Reardon



On July 1, 2016, the Baseball Card Bandit sent the above card. I took to Facebook that day to write this:

“The BCB is at it again but this time there's a wrinkle in his (I assume it's a man) game. Look at the postmark! This card, of Terminator Jeff Reardon, was sent from New York City where Reardon spent the last 11 games oh his career sans trademark beard. 
Reardon was needed when he was with the Sox (Boston had potential HoFer Lee Smith) but for some reason GM Lou Gorman picked him up. Maybe that's what led him to real world troubles he had in Florida after he retired. 
Or maybe it was just Florida. Man, that state just sucks.”

I was never a big Jeff Reardon guy. I just didn't think that he fit a need for the Red Sox and wondered why they were spending money on him. It was a needles bauble, as far as I was concerned. Sign a starting pitcher, an outfielder with pop, anything but another lights-out closer. We already had one. And he was good.  

When the Red Sox picked him up as a free agent after the 1989 season, I was a little shocked. Boston still had Lee Smith*, who had a really good previous year. Smith was 6-1 with a 3.57 ERA (which is unfair metric to judge for closers) and had 25 saves and a 12.2 strikeout over nine innings ratio. Reardon had a 5-4 record, a 4.07 ERA, saved 31 games and 5.7 SO/9. Plus, Reardon was two years older and cost more money. 

*The Lee Smith deal was probably Lou Gorman's best deal ever. He traded Calvin Schiraldi and Al Nipper to the Cubs for Smith. Gorman should have been arrested for larceny. It was that good of a deal. 

Why would you sign a closer when you already had a really good one in the back of your bullpen. I wasn’t sure what Red Sox General Manager Lou Gorman was thinking. But I assumed that since Reardon was signed in December 1989, Smith would be gone by Spring Training. Again, not true. When the Sox reported to Winter Haven, Florida both Reardon and Smith were there too. They spent a lot of time talking about who was the closer and they gave similar pat instances about how “these things have a way of working out” and “whoever had the hot hand”. Crap like that.

If there was ever a manager who could make this work, it was Sox skipper Joe Morgan. He said the same thing. When camp broke that April, both Reardon and Smith were on the roster. This lasted about a month before Gorman traded Smith to the St. Louis Cardinals for Reardon’s former Twin teammate Tom Brunansky.

Brunansky was slotted in right field and was the Red Sox only power threat in some very lean years. He did make a pretty awesome catch off of Chicago White Sox shortstop Ozzie Guillen to clinch the 1990 American League East. Other than that, he was completely adequate.

I often wondered why Reardon chose the Red Sox that off season. He knew about Lee Smith and he understood that the Sox really didn’t need a closer. Reardon grew up in Dalton, MA, so maybe he wanted to come home. Gorman gave him a crap-load of money to pitch here. Maybe Gorman told him that the team didn’t like Smith anymore and that he would be traded soon and that there was nothing to worry about.

I’m not sure. But he came in and pitched well. In two plus seasons, he had 88 saves for the Red Sox and made the All-Star team in 1991. That was also the year where he gagged the American League East flag. The Sox were making a pretty hard run late in the season when the Sox were on the verge of beating the New York Yankees to get closer to the league-leading Toronto Blue Jays.

With two outs in the top of the ninth and the Red Sox leading 5-4, Reardon gave up a game tying shot to Roberto Kelly. The next inning, Matt Young and Dan Petry couldn’t get out of their own ways and gave two runs to Bombers who won the game 7-5. From that game forward, the Sox lost 10 of their next 13 and finished in second behind the Blue Jays.

The Sox were never a serious contender until 1995 when another Massachusetts boy, Dan Duquette took the reigns as Boston General Manager and remade the Sox on the fly following the strike-shortened 1994 season. Duquette was Reardon’s catcher at UMass-Amherst.

Late in the 1992 season, Reardon was traded to the Braves for a minor leaguer. From there he bounced to Cincinnati and the Yankees—two teams that had strict rules of facial hair. If Reardon wanted to continue pitching, he had to shave off the beard that made him famous and intimidating. He retired after the abbreviated 1994 season.

Jeff Reardon was an interesting character. He looked like James Brolin from the original “Amityville Horror” movie. He was a Met for a while, but was traded to the Montreal Expos where he began his career as the unstoppable stopper. That’s also where he got his nickname “The Terminator”. He’d come in, throw gas by everyone, save the day and walk off the mound. He never showed a lot of emotion and when you mix his beard plus playing in the “wilds of Canada” he seemed scary as hell.

After the 1986 season, he signed with the Minnesota Twins and was dominant that year. He was probably their Most Valuable Player that year as he brought a ton of stability to the bullpen. The Twins believed that the game was over once Reardon was on the mound. Twins manager Tom Kelly used him brilliantly and was the best weapon in the American League that year riding him all the way to Minnesota’s first world championship in any sport.

The years after his retirement were not kind to Reardon. This is from Wikipedia (and references what I wrote about him in the original Facebook post):

On December 26, 2005, Reardon was taken into custody and charged by the Palm Beach Gardens, Florida Police Department for allegedly committing armed robbery at a Hamilton Jewelers store at the Gardens Mall. Reardon attributed his actions to the influence of the medications that he had been taking since his son died in 2004. Soon after the episode at the mall and his release from an overnight stay in jail, Reardon returned to a psychiatric facility, and was an inpatient for nearly two months. His doctors drastically reduced his medications and began to administer electroshock treatments. However, Reardon still had to stand trial.
Reardon was eventually found not guilty of the charges by reason of drug-induced insanity. The judge ruled that because Reardon had been taking anti-depressants and mood stabilizers, and was distraught over his son's death, there was no reasonable explanation for the robbery. In addition, Reardon was not required to be committed after the ruling.”

I haven’t read much about Reardon since then, so I assume he’s doing okay. At least that’s what I want to believe. Because even dominant relievers need some relief.