Friday, February 17, 2017

Honor (Marvel)
Alpha Flight #34 When: May 1986
Why: Bill Mantlo How: Sal Buscema & Gerry Talaoc

The Story So Far...
Things have never gone smoothly when Heather Hudson and the man called Logan have got together. It all goes back to their first encounter - when the Wolverine roamed the Canadian wilderness naked and savage.

Back then, Logan had just escaped the Weapon X Project that laced his bones with unbreakable metal -- and when Heather saw the pain his mutant claws caused while attacking -- she and her husband James chose to help him. Their kindness helped nurse him back to humanity, forging a complex, lifelong friendship.

With her husband now dead, Heather has inherited his mantle as the battle-suited super-heroine Vindicator: leader of Alpha Flight! Hoping her old friend can teach her a thing or two about being a leader, she flies to New York.The pair are quick to reminisce about old times, but the thing about the past is that sometimes it can come back to bite you! Weapon X may have been a long time ago, but its legacy is about to draw a deadly new threat their way!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Lady Deathstrike 4 (Enhanced)
Intelligence: Wolverine 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Lady Deathstrike 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Wolverine 6 (Generator)
Agility: Lady Deathstrike 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting: Wolverine 6 (Warrior)
Energy: Vindicator 5 (Lasers)

Unfinished business! It's what motivates todays feature fight within the context of the story -- and in our spotlight of it! Long ago we touched on a movie version of our feature villain. Now its finally time to examine the real deal!

Lady Deathstrike was once Yuriko Oyama: daughter to World War II kamikaze pilot-turned wealthy industrialist Kenji Oyama, aka; Lord Dark Wind.

For a time, Yuriko hated her father for his fanatical, shame-fuelled quest to restore honor to post-war Japan. His obsession had led him to ritualistically scar the faces of his three offspring, and ultimately cost the lives of Yuriko's two brothers - killed during a failed political assassination attempt.

When Lord Dark Wind discovered a process for bonding adamantium metal to the bones of soldiers, he used the technique to enhance renowned assassin Bullseye. To thwart her father's scheme, Yuriko betrayed her father by aiding Daredevil. When Lord Dark Wind threatened Daredevil's life in dishonorable combat, Yuriko was finally spurred to kill her father with a sword to the back. An act that also led her lover to commit suicide over the death of his master.

Surviving her family; Yuriko accepted the burden of her father's legacy. Her first task was to seek out Bullseye for failing to pay for his augmentation. When she sought to track his unique adamantium skeleton, Yuriko instead discovered Wolverine - mutant whose skeleton was laced with adamantium by Weapon X.

Believing Wolverine to be the recipient of her father's ill gotten procedure, she is honor bound to reclaim the metal at all cost! Thus, Yuriko begins a blood feud that would forever change her life - assuming the mantle of Lady Deathstrike!

Contrary to that movie version mentioned earlier [see; X-Men 2], Deathstrike is not a mutant. Her famed metal talons are a result of a cyborg implant process -- symbol of her dedication to fighting Wolverine. Today's feature fight finds Lady Deathstrike before her dramatic transformation.

She still commands an unbreakable electro-magnetically tempered sword, and an army of highly trained swordsmen. This means Deathstrike can match Wolverine's augmented metal claws - and his innate skills as a fighter! Good thing he has back-up!

Heather Hudson is the power-suited Canadian hero called Vindicator. Her battle suit grants increased strength, flight, concussive blasts, forcefield, and an array of nuanced abilities that make her a formidable ally!

The only data for Vindicator we have comes from an alternate reality where she succumbed to the Wendigo curse [Exiles #31]. Rest assured: she should help even the playing field against Deathstrike's samurai horde. Not that Wolverine hasn't faced his fair share of overwhelming odds!

In the past we've seen Wolverine slice up The Hellfire Club [X-Men #133], dice with the Shi'ar Imperial Guard [New X-Men #124], rip through The Hand [Wolverine #20, New Avengers #27], torture the Fantastic Four [Wolverine #22], and vex the X-Men [Wolverine #25]! He's even matched the martial skill of Daredevil [Wolverine #24], survived the sword of Blade [Blade #5], and cut the Silver Samurai down to size [Wolverine #37]! Good indications this fight is well in hand. That's our cue to stop speculating and see how it goes!

The Tape: Wolverine Ranking: Wolverine (#4)

What Went Down...

In a Westchester County wood, an army of samurai assassins stand poised with swords drawn. They await the order of their fearless leader: Lady Deathstrike!

The Japanese warrior has come to New York to accuse Wolverine of obtaining his adamantium skeleton through ill gotten means. It's pure chance that he's flanked by Heather Hudson: the woman who discovered him naked and savage not long after escaping the Weapon X metal-bonding process!

A crash course in Deathstrike's personal history leads Hudson to realize the horrible truth -- the accusations are true! Not that it matters. Wolverine won't give up his bones without a fight - and Vindicator won't let anyone hurt him!

Electro-magnetic force-bursts beam from The Vindicator suit's gauntlets to the bodies of Oyama samurai! Deathstrike orders her horde kill the Canadian heroine on the way to their target. Her father's swordsmen leap to comply!

With a single wild swing - Wolverine disarms an attacking samurai and slashes his claws across his middle. The backhand could've easily disemboweled the samurai, but Wolverine is exercising restraint. Retracting his claws at the last moment enough to spare the soldier's life.

Vindicator takes her combat cues from the honorable X-Man, who suggests they take to the trees, rather than engage in a front assault. She flies skyward, while the clawed mutant blends in with the forest. A short-lived obscurity thanks to wristbands that detect his adamantium bones.

A samurai closes in on a tree, preparing to attack the mutant behind it -- but Wolverine is lost in the limbs above! He drops -- slashing at the back of his hunter's helmet and neck! A knock-out blow -- but still the shuriken fly!

With no one emerging from the forest, Vindicator realizes she's been led astray by her protective friend. She glides back across the canopy, firing blasts as the scattered swordsmen below. Their armor provides little defense.

Two more samurai happen upon Wolverine elsewhere in the wood. He swings his claws, shattering a projectile weapon with ease. Moving in to closer quarters, his adamantium claws make light work of their swords, too!

Lady Deathstrike bares witness to the impressive feat, but warns her opponent he'll find her sword is made of stronger metal. They cross blades -- an all mighty "ktlang" ringing out as sword collides with claw!

Deadly throwing stars and chain darts collide with Vindicator's hi-tech suit force-shield. She has little to fear from their antiquated weapons -- returning fire with her protected body acting as an airborne battering ram!

Across the wood, Lady Deathstrike demonstrates the strength of her sword -- an electro-magnetically tempered blade invented by her father. It collides with Wolverine's adamantium consequence free -- and effortlessly slices through tree bark in a single cut!

Wolverine contemplates the samurai code of an honorable kill versus the X-Men code of non-lethal violence. He wishes his mutant friends were there to help him. As he does, another ally comes into view in the skies above: Puck - behind the wheel of the Alpha Flight Omniship!

Searching for the electro-magnetic signature of Vindicator's suit, Puck zeroes in instead on Lady Deathstrike's sword! Spotting the clearing made by the weapon, he pilots the Omniship on collision course -- recognizing his former teammate Wolverine too late to avoid hitting him!

Deathstrike demonstrates the cutting power of her sword, dragging it through the underside of the aircraft! Puck ejects to safety, leaving it to careen into a crash landing -- the sound of which alerts Vindicator.

Lady Deathstrike looms over a toppled Wolverine, preparing to cut the bones from his living body. So focused - she doesn't notice the red and white human-missile coming for her!

The high velocity impact sends Lady Deathstrike flying across the battlefield into a nearby oak. Her armor absorbed the brunt of both blows, allowing her to immediately rise to challenge the battlesuit tech of Vindicator!

Wolverine and Puck recover in time to watch in horror the deadly swordswoman swing her electro-magnetized blade at Vindicator's body!

Fortunately, the electro-magnetic force-shield holds against Lord Dark Wind's electro-tempered blade! It shatters on impact -- along with Lady Deathstrike's plans to claim Wolverine's adamantium -- for now...

The Hammer...
Victory belongs to Vindicator and Wolverine who share the hard fought win! Vindicator had the honor of defeating the villainess, but Wolverine had his share of beating her samurai army, as well.

As a matter of housekeeping, I'm throwing an assist on Puck. Not for helping his Alpha Flight buddies, but for mistakenly helping Lady Deathstrike by driving an aircraft into the back of Wolverine's skull! In his defense: "It was dark." Yeah... Thanks heaps, bub.

It's been fun to cross the border to register an issue of Canada's premier super-team book, but as I made clear in The Tape [above] -- what I'm really excited about is finally delivering on Lady Deathstrike!

When it comes to arch-nemeses: Wolverine's bad guys are inevitably lining up behind Sabretooth. It's a tough ask to compete with the perfect match of mutant powered savagery, and inter-twined backstory. It's been personal for a very long time between those two, fuelling compelling tooth and nail battles rooted in character-centric hatreds.

There are a small handful of villains vying for second place in Wolverine's list of enemies. Matters of exclusivity and longevity will vary. I'd stop short of boldly declaring Lady Deathstrike #2, but you could reasonably make arguments for it.

Magneto may've actually stripped the metal from Wolverine's bones, but their rivalry was never as personal as it was with Lady Deathstrike. For her, that adamantium represents a deep psychic wound. A living reminder of a slight against her family's honor and legacy. An insult that cuts through her blood.

Admittedly, many of the things that make Lady Deathstrike a personal favourite are absent from this early appearance. You'll note from the mugshot used that there's an iconic transformation yet to be made in Alpha Flight #34. This issue merely stablishes the groundwork for the feud, but not the fight itself. Deathstrike would put down the sword shortly after this defeat -- becoming the sword herself through an extreme process. The transformation happens in an '86 issue of Uncanny X-Men that we'll look closer at some time soon.

Once Deathstrike has the claws and metal, she's every bit the physical threat of Sabretooth. Like Victor Creed, she also tugs at Wolverine's troubled history -- both his reluctant submission to the Weapon X program, and his ties to Japan.

These two factors are an intertwining conflict of the soul. Adamantium bones were something that was inflicted upon Wolverine, yet his time spent in Japan informs an understanding of the value system that Lady Deathstrike pursues. From a certain perspective, Deathstrike is acting as protagonist fighting to right a perceived wrong. In this respect, she's almost the inverse of Sabretooth.

Of course, the joy of Lady Deathstrike's obsessed blood feud with Wolverine falls away a little when you remember it came about completely by accident.

It's a little bit of a stretch to believe Yuriko would take up her father's cause after the resolution Daredevil story. If nothing else, there's at least a nice layer of pathos to becoming the thing she hates, and being beholden to Lord Dark Wind, even after his death. If only she ever remembered to go after the guy who actually stole adamantium from her family: Bullseye!

Granted, nobody wants to see Bullseye taken off the board. It's just a little silly that Deathstrike accidentally found Wolverine -- and completely forgot about the guy who deliberately dishonored her family in much the same way.

I'm not sure the Deathstrike/Bullseye rivalry has ever been fully explored in the years since. In 2015, Brian Cronin singled out the topic for his column on CBR, noting that they were teamed together with The Thunderbolts during Civil War!

In the absence of good references, we can assume there may have been unseen restitution and/or professional agreements between the two. It's still a wrinkle that could be very satisfying to see addressed if the opportunity arose, though. A crossfire for Daredevil to get caught between, should the opportunity for a few fun, easy to read issues ever arise.

That about brings us to the end of our entry. Before we go, I really must draw your attention to the cover of Alpha Flight #34. It's a pretty fantastic, early example of Mike Mignola before the heavy blacks and slumped poses have become trademark. You can see his strength for dramatic, epic staging, though. The pile of armored samurai look great - and the heroes look great on top of them! I still love that brown Wolverine costume!

We'll probably be talking a bit about the costume in Hero of the Week when we get the chance. February on Secret Wars on Infinite Earths has been all about Wolverine in honor of the theatrical release of Logan - March 3rd!

If you'd like to find more feature fights like this, follow-ups, or involving the same characters - be sure to follow links throughout the post, or search by series in the Issue Index Archive! Seen something you like? Be sure to tell a friend, like & share via Facebook and Twitter, and or leave a comment!

Winners: Vindicator & Wolverine
#4 (--) Wolverine
#91 (+145) Vindicator (Heather Hudson)
#514 (new) Puck [+1 assist]
#836 (-279) Lady Deathstrike

Monday, February 13, 2017

Real Name: Jefferson Pierce
First Appearance: Black Lightning #1 (April, 1977)
Fight Club Ranking: #87

Featured Fights:
- vs SINESTRO CORPS: Green Lantern #25 (Jan 2008)
- vs INJUSTICE LEAGUE: Justice League of America #14 (Jan 2008)

Is it a "Golden Age" of television, or just a golden shower of content? Abundance seems to be the most compelling argument for the present era of genre programming. Quality, a bit more scarce.

Superheroes and comic book adaptations have become a major part of the TV landscape, even as high profile licenses are stripped to barely resemble the comics that spawned them. It's an old tradition in Hollywood. One more easily excused at a time when budgets were tight, technology limited, and audiences less aware of these worlds. Entry-level problems that should've been left behind a decade ago, but inform the basics for new live-action incarnations.

FOX marshalled one of the more perplexing TV pitches of the current era, spearheading Gotham with an intent to strip the city of its most iconic characters. Saving Batman for the big screen is a fine idea, but turning back the clock to a time before the crime-ridden city was populated was always, for lack of a better term: stupid.

The absurdity couldn't last. The show inevitably populated itself with The Penguin, Riddler, and pint-sized Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle. All handicapped by commitment to a flawed premise that always should've looked more like Gotham City Central than bad fan-fiction. It's probably a good thing, then, that the network behind Gotham won't be honoring their production commitment to a show based on Black Lightning.

Deadline reports the show will instead retreat to the safety of The CW, where producer Greg Berlanti already has a universe of DC superheroes to surround it with. His score card includes the high of Supergirl, as well as middling-to-embarrassing lows of Arrow, The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow.

Black Lightning wasn't exactly a property demanding to be added to the list, but the possibility that low expectations might free the show up to break new ground is promising. The only problem -- a double-edged sword that could just as easily leave the character unrecognizable, and bogged in the episodic phony cosplay that typifies a lot of these shows.

If things go well, it could be another renaissance for a character who's flirted with more permanent residence in the DC Comics spotlight. My affection for the character grew in the mid to late 2000s, when he appeared as a supporting character in Green Arrow, and memorably became a hunted Anti-Life resistance fighter during Final Crisis. The latter seemed like particularly exciting grounds for what might've otherwise been an interesting reshuffling of the Justice League(s). Alas, the reach of Final Crisis only went so far, but Black Lightning did get a brief unrelated run with the League.

I won't be expecting a flair collar, but I'll be interested to see what compromises -- and potential improvements -- can be made to the Black Lightning design. It will also be interesting to see if the show can distinguish itself with a unique visual palette, or style. This would be one of the areas where superheroes on television have lacked the most. Luke Cage on Netflix providing an example for resolving the issue of visual and cultural panache -- even if it isn't perfect.

There's also the possibility that Black Lightning finds his way into Injustice 2. The DC fighting game is trundling along toward its inevitable release in April. With Premier Skins on the table, it could provide a base for young cartoon-watching fans who've also clamored for electrically charged Milestone acquisition Static. We'll be watching with interest for the first look. For now, Black Lightning is Hero of the Week!

      [Home]      Hero of the Week 02/06: Black Canary >>

Friday, February 10, 2017

Wolverine: Alone! (Marvel)
X-Men #133 When: May 1980
Why: Chris Claremont & John Byrne How: John Byrne

The Story So Far...
While the X-Men are dealing with the re-manifestation of the Phoenix force in Jean Grey; the insidious Hellfire Club watches their every move -- plotting to turn the cosmic telepath into their very own Black Queen!

When the X-Men attempted to infiltrate a society event at the club, they were systematically dismantled by the prepared villains. For Wolverine and Nightcrawler, it meant a basement brawl with Inner Circle members Donald Pierce and Harry Leland!

Thanks to Leland's mass manipulation powers, Wolverine was sent plunging like a stone into the storm sewers beneath The Hellfire Club! Recovered, he now attempts covert re-entry of the elite establishment -- even as masked guards take a precautionary sweep of the building's lower levels...

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Wolverine 3 (Athlete)
Intelligence: Wolverine 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Wolverine 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Wolverine 6 (Generator)
Agility: Wolverine 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting: Wolverine 6 (Warrior)
Energy: Hellfire Club Guards 2 (Projectiles)

The Tale of The Tape appears to predict a fairly one-sided fight, but there are some statistics our patented system cannot account for! Wolverine may have any one of The Hellfire Club guard dead to rights -- but what about an army?

Over the years we've seen Wolverine develop into an unstoppable one-man corps, but there are limits to his amazing mutant abilities. That was never more true than the timeframe of today's feature fight, when the fledgling X-Man routinely showed vulnerability to the effects of overwhelming injury.

Wolverine's mutant healing factor ensures he can bounce back from just about any wound, but the rate at which he mends varies. Back in the eighties, if you gave his body enough damage to deal with, you could confidently expect to put him down for a while. We saw Nimrod produce enough force to kayo him with one blow in Uncanny X-Men #194. In the modern age, he tends to stitch back together pretty instantly. Somewhere between the two lies the best answer.

We cannot forget that a defeat brought Wolverine to this fight! In Uncanny X-Men #132, members of The Hellfire Club's Inner Circle ambushed he and Nightcrawler. The mass manipulating powers of Harry Leland were enough to send an unprepared Wolverine smashing through several floors - into the sewer.

If he's smart about it, Wolvie now knows to put distance between he and Leland, instead of trying to fight. His berserker rage and healing stamina tend to make him a little reckless, but he's no dummy. Of course, Leland thinks he was punked out by the last fight, so he should only have to deal with guards.

Hellfire Club Guards may be lightly armored and in possession of some pretty advanced weaponry (guns), but anonymous hordes don't tend to stack up too well against unbreakable adamantium claws!

We've seen Wolverine cut through the highly trained ranks of The Hand on more than one occasion. It was a gory graveyard slaughter in Wolverine #20, and a cleaner affair with the help of the Secret Avengers in New Avengers #27.

Though hidden by featureless masks, this iteration of The Hellfire Club guard has a few illustrious members: Wade Cole, Angelo Macon  and Murray Reese [pictured above] are among their number today. In the future, we'll come to know the trio as mercenary members of The Reavers.

Ordinarily they might be able to rely on Donald Pierce or Lady Deathstrike to help them out, but that won't be happening here. We'll talk more about the implications of all of that in the "Hammer" section.

When we last saw Wolverine he was the only X-Man standing and in an all mighty pissed off mood! They say he's the best there is at what he does, and I think we can expect to see exactly what that is.

The Tape: Wolverine Ranking: Wolverine (#5)

What Went Down...

In the bowels of The Hellfire Club establishment, masked guards inspect empty basements as a precaution ordered by The Inner Circle. Wolverine plunged to his apparent doom, but there's no being too careful. Just as the guardsmen begin to question their task -- dripping water alerts them to danger above!

Wolverine releases the tension in his arms and legs to drop from the basement ceiling -- claws extended! The Hellfire Guards scramble desperately to point their weapons skyward -- but it does them no good!

Adamantium claws rake through the chest of Angelo Macon. He will live to remember the scars for the rest of his life! He's one of the "lucky" ones.

Another guardsman opens fire. Wolverine vaults nimbly over the surrounding storage crates, avoiding the gunfire while seamlessly targeting another of their well armed number. A ballet of death!

A momentary lapse in concentration leaves Wolverine vulnerable to a blast to the gut! He falls backward into a pile of boxes. The two remaining Hellfire goons can't tell if he's down for the count, or just playing possum.

The man called Wade Cole thinks he hit his mark, but won't take any chances. He already knows Wolverine can come back from death-defying injury. That's the entire reason they're in this fight. So he kicks away at the rubble and moves in close for a kill shot. He was right to exercise caution.

Wolverine springs to life and slashes his claws across Cole's abdomen!

The X-Man counts his lucky stars that the gun shots didn't do more damage, and squares off with the last Hellfire guard standing. The one called "Rosen" nervously tells his target not to move. Wolverine is amused.

Borrowing from Dirty Harry, the Canadian mutant gives Rosen the score: "Hey, bub. I know what you're thinkin'. He's hurt, an' he's five meters away from me, an' I got a full clip of ammo in my rifle. Question is: Can I kill Wolverine before he can reach me an' cut me into shish-kebab with those freaky claws of his?"

Rosen shudders: "Well, bub. Wolverine is virtually unkillable. Wolverine's claws are adamantium, the strongest metal known -- capable of slicin' through vanadium steel like a hot knife through butter. An' five meters o' floor ain't much distance at all -- fer me."

The hard sell works. Rosen drops his gun and tries to surrender -- but Wolverine lunges at him any way! He begs for his life, and Wolverine thinks about the old days -- before the X-Men -- when he would've gone straight for the kill.

The mutant hoists his prey up in one arm, drawing his claws on the other, but he's a man of his word. He'll spare the henchman on one condition: he tells him all there is to know about The Inner Circle. Intel for the fight to come.

The Hammer...
It's one of his most iconic early battles, so it can come as no real shock that Wolverine is the victor!

His win is a comeback story after the fight in X-Men #132, and continues on as Wolverine further penetrates the inner sanctum of The Hellfire Club's exclusive establishment.

Given the mounting significance of The Phoenix Saga, I dare say we'll be back some time in the future to see how the X-Men's struggle progressed. In the mean time, it's a different follow-up I've been looking forward to talking about...

Most of the panels featured into today's entry are bathed in red, but it should be noted - these are artistic exceptions on the page, and not a reflection of the entire sequence. Colorist Glynis Wein uses these red flourishes to heighten and imply the violence of Wolverine's strikes. John Byrne frames his images fairly tastefully, leaving the gore out of sight. Red sells their impact.

I belabor the point both for its artistic effectiveness, and because it's unclear exactly how permanently Wolverine aims to disable the Hellfire guards.

Is he killing them? Merely maiming? The answer would come a year and a half later when Murray Reese, Wade Cole and Angelo Macon returned, seeking revenge alongside Harry Leland in Uncanny X-Men #151.

Their injuries were severe enough that their survival depended on cybernetic replacements and enhancement. Claremont may've scripted names for three of the faceless goons, but who could've expected their return, or even survival? It's one of those wonderful examples of a seemingly incidental event creating something new and interesting!

As The Reavers, the trio would serve Donald Pierce and Lady Deathstrike in their pursuits against Wolverine and the X-Men. Individually, the cyborgs weren't necessarily spectacular villains, but as a recurring collective (joined by other cyborg misfits) they became something more.

I have a soft spot for their appearances during the X-Men's Australia era in the late eighties, which lends it all a vaguely Mad Max quality. A flavor I imagine was the general idea, and enhances the group. Coming at the end of the decade, they're a reminder of how far reaching the influence of the Dark Phoenix legacy was. It wasn't all about Jean Grey!

We're talking about these stories because in February we're anticipating the theatrical release of Logan on March 3rd! The alleged final big screen turn of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine will pit him against Donald Pierce and his cyborg posse. An apocalyptic re-imagining of these classic villains!

We're moving on from The Dark Phoenix Saga in our next feature fight, but if you'd like to get the full experience, use the Amazon link provided [right] to pick yourself up a collected edition! Doing so helps support the site!

You can find more featured battles by following links throughout this post, diving in to the Secret Issue Index, or by following on Facebook and Twitter!

Winner: Wolverine
#4 (+1) Wolverine
#822 (new) Wade Cole
#823 (new) Angelo Macon
#824 (new) Murray Reese
#825 (new) Rosen (Hellfire Club Guard)

Monday, February 06, 2017

Real Name: Dinah Lance
First Appearance: Justice League of America #75 (November, 1969)
Fight Club Ranking: #46

Featured Fights:
- vs GLASS MAN: Secret Origins #32 (Nov 1988)
- vs WOOD KING: Secret Origins #32 (Nov 1988)
- vs DEATHSTROKE: Identity Crisis #3 (Oct 2004)
- vs INJUSTICE LEAGUE: Justice League of America #15 (Jan 2008)
- vs SINESTRO CORPS: Green Lantern #25 (Jan 2008)

We know movies tend to dominate the superhero conversation these days, but it's fast looking like video games are going to stake their claim in 2017. Our last Hero of the Week already touched upon the looming release of Injustice 2. It seems Warner Brothers and NetherRealm Studios are gearing up to shatter their uncustomary silence -- unleashing a barrage of news ahead of their May release!

"Gearing up" will play a big role in the new game, which allows players to customize DC icons with stat altering trinkets, costumes and armors. We've already seen the likes of Batman, Superman, and Supergirl burdened by mid-nineties action figure accessories. Indeed, the words "armor" and "NetherRealm Studios" immediately sound aesthetic alarm bells. Which makes the newest trailer reveal for Black Canary all the more pleasing!

As reported on Mortal Kombat Online; the Canary was a near-miss in 2013's Injustice character line-up. A mixed bag of character designs revealed how the NetherRealm video game aesthetic could've taken the character down some dark design paths. It therefore comes as a pleasant surprise that four years (and a gear system) later - the character arrives unscathed in iconic leathers and fishnets!

The gear system likely means there will be plenty of armor plates and design subversions on offer, but you can't under estimate the power of a positive first impression. Simply knowing that the classic comic book design is available goes a long way to extending an olive branch to fans who may've been turned off by Injustice's deliberate detachments from the iconic DC Universe.

The trailer shows Black Canary to be a smooth martial artist, with her sonic canary cry and fancy boots and gloves giving some punch. There's a lack of visual dynamism in some of the moves, but the screen share will probably be better in the final game, where comparisons to Sonya Blade seem inevitable. (Am I the only person seeing some Tori Amos in that face?)

Injustice 2 still has a long way to go, but the shake-up of its playable roster is at least working to engender the game to this grumpy comic book fan. Not that I think long time comics readers are really a demographic Warner Brothers is especially concerned about pleasing. We shall see.

Friday, February 03, 2017

And Hellfire Is Their Name! (Marvel)
X-Men #132 When: April 1980
Why: Chris Claremont & John Byrne How: John Byrne

The Story So Far...
Professor Charles Xavier is a man who experiences powerful visions. Gifted with the natural mutant ability of telepathy, he can literally see your thoughts! Yet, his most powerful vision is one for the future: A world of peaceful co-existence between ordinary humans and their genetically advancing mutant brethren.

The X-Men are mutants who share in Xavier's dream, fighting to defend a world that fears and hates them. Their philosophy is opposed by factions both human and mutant. Such is the case of The Hellfire Club - a shadow organization using their powers to manipulate the course of humanity for their own sinister gain.

Competing for the next generation of mutant students, The Hellfire Club elites see the X-Men as dangerous threats -- or allies. None is more powerful than the cosmically enhanced Phoenix, who single-handedly defeated their White Queen.

From the battle, the X-Men learn of The Hellfire Club, and the possibility they're being monitored. Founding X-Man and industrialist Angel agrees to help pierce the veil of the exclusive membership, sending them into the lion's den for a face-to-face encounter with The Inner Circle!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Donald Pierce 4 (Enhanced)
Intelligence: Donald Pierce 5 (Professor)
Speed: Nightcrawler 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Wolverine 6 (Generator)
Agility: Nightcrawler 5 (Cat-Like)
Fighting: Wolverine 6 (Warrior)
Energy: Donald Pierce 3 (Explosives)

The situation is simple: The X-Men are looking to crash a party at the Hellfire Club and they're taking a two-pronged approach. While some attend the soiree as guests -- Wolverine and Nightcrawler make a stealthy entrance from below through storm drains running under the compound!

Not a bad entry strategy for a former Weapon X covert soldier with heightened senses, and a mutant with the natural ability to blend into the shadows! Except of course when it's time to step into the light!

Donald Pierce and Harry Leland are members of the Inner Circle of The Hellfire Club. They are men of power, influence and unique special abilities!

Behind the privileged exterior of industrialist Donald Pierce lies the cold steel of cybernetic enhancement! The White Bishop's lightweight, metallic robotic limbs grant him phenomenal strength without impeding his speed! He can hit hard, clamp on a death grip, and defend against blows from the likes of Colossus!

The Black Bishop Harry Leland isn't nearly as swift as his counterpart, but his mutant gift more than makes up for it! By concentrating, the rotund lawyer can bring any opponent up to his weight class by increasing their mass! The effect makes the merest movement a taxing feat -- resisted only by the most willful!

The keys to victory could come down to a choice of dance partners. Leland's mass manipulation power might vex Nightcrawler, but the X-Man's powers of teleportation should allow him to escape the range of its influence -- and launch a counter attack. Wolverine, on the other hand, already has the weight of an adamantium coated skeleton to contend with, making him a soft target!

Donald Pierce's cybernetic enhancements give him a strength advantage over both X-Men, but Wolverine's adamantium claws should be able to cut him down to size given half the chance. Nightcrawler is far more vulnerable to strong-arm tactics, but he may be persuaded to relieve Pierce of his inorganic limbs through some strategic teleporting. We saw Rogue use Nightcrawler's teleportation this way when she fought Nimrod with the X-Men's powers [Uncanny X-Men #194].

The Hellfire Club have the advantage of fighting on their home turf. They've also acquired intelligence on the X-Men through surveillance of their Danger Room training facility. All of which spells big trouble for Wolverine & Nightcrawler!

The Tape: Wolverine Ranking: Wolverine (#5)

What Went Down...

Trudging through underground storm sewers; Wolverine and Nightcrawler face the prospect of rising rain waters. Seeing an opportunity for subterranean subterfuge - Wolverine uses his claws to strip large electrical wires. A timed blackout to help them out of a jam if things go awry in the Hellfire Club!

The two heroes emerge from a hole in the bowels of the club. Wolverine worries the plan is all going much too easy. A concern soon rewarded as a hand emerges from the shadows to snatch Nightcrawler by the throat!

The inhuman vice-like grip belongs to Donald Pierce - White Bishop of the Inner Circle of The Hellfire Club! His squeeze is so tight, electric and unnatural, Nightcrawler cannot concentrate enough to teleport to freedom!

Wolverine leaps to his aid -- slashing Pierce's arm with the downward swipe of his adamantium claws! They cut the cloth of the industrialist's vintage coat, but leave his arm defiantly in tact!

The damage reveals an appendage of metal and wires. Donald Pierce introduces himself as a cyborg, effortlessly tossing Wolverine across the boiler room without so much as loosening his grip on Nightcrawler's throat!

His fall broken by a stack of boxes; Wolverine extends his claws and stalks toward the cyborg anew. As he does, a massive man appears from an elevator -- Harry Leland, the Black Bishop!

Wolverine scoffs at the man's interference, provoking a challenge he couldn't possibly prepare for. Suddenly -- he struggles to move!
His weight increasing, Wolverine can barely move a muscle. Such is the mass manipulation of Harry Leland's power! Even as Wolverine strains to resist -- the crushing load of his mass grows ever greater! The phenomenal force means something has to give - but it won't be the iron will of Wolverine!

Instead, the very floor beneath him gives way -- sending him plummeting into the storm waters channeled below!

Wolverine is swept away, barely conscious as he hits the roaring water. He leaves Nightcrawler alone to suffer a similar fate, choked out by a cyborg hand!

The Hammer...
Who would've guessed a toffed up industrialist and his tubby lawyer could be so much trouble? Harry Leland and Donald Pierce are the victors, doing their part to disable a divided X-Men!

While this fight goes on in the lower levels, the rest of the X-Men are struggling with their own Inner Circle opponents. Unconscious Nightcrawler will soon be deposited onto a pile of defeated X-Men that includes Cyclops and Colossus. Their attempts to blend in with the party did not go so well. Dire straits to be explored further in a future feature fight!

Somewhat ironically, Leland's 'mass-ive' attack on Wolverine means he's the last X-Man still standing. The clawed Canuck may've plummeted through a few floors, and been washed away with the overflow, but he's made of pretty tough stuff! You can bet your bottom dollar he'll be back to help out his friends -- and he's going to be in one all mighty foul mood when he comes calling!

Chances are you've seen the iconic final image of X-Men #132 [above], or at least allusions to it. John Byrne captures the grit and determination in Wolverine that fans know and love. The promise of an exciting follow-up issue. That's where we're headed in our next featured fight, so you can look forward to it!

February on Secret Wars on Infinite Earths will be all about Wolverine in anticipation of the March 3rd global theatrical release of Logan.

The movie is set to pit the aging X-Man against a version of Donald Pierce and his cyborg minions. If you've been fooled into thinking that's an underwhelming threat for Hugh Jackman's [alleged] final performance -- you now know better!

In our next installment, we'll get to talk more about one of the great strengths of Donald Pierce's arsenal. It's a thoroughly unexpected legacy that comes out of these already classic 1980 issues, several years later.

Poor old Nightcrawler plummets down the rankings thanks to his part in today's defeat by Hellfire Club. The beloved character will always be more of a lover at heart, but one of these days we'll have to take a closer look at his triumphs.

They likely wouldn't come from The Dark Phoenix Saga, of which this is an early part. If you'd like to read this chapter, or others, you can do so by picking up a collected edition via the Amazon link provided! By doing so, you help support the site at no extra charge to you!

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Winners: Harry Leland & Donald Pierce
#303 (new) Harry Leland
#304 (new) Donald Pierce
#5 (--) Wolverine
#822 (-309) Nightcrawler