THE PUNISHER versus THE X-MEN
What If... Wolverine had become the Lord of Vampires? (Marvel comics)
Where: What if...? #24 When: April 1991
Why: Roy Thomas & RJM Lofficier How: Tom Morgan
The story so far...
When the X-Men battled the menace of Count Dracula, it was only the strength of character of Ororo Monroe, Storm, who had been possessed by the fiend, that saved the lives of the mutant team. But what if Storm had remained under Dracula's spell?
In a world where just that has happened, Dracula finds more than he bargained for when he returns to raise the defeated X-Men from the dead.
Wolverine proves too strong a will for Dracula contain, and ultimately slays him, making the X-Man the new lord of vampires. Having mastered the powers of the vampire, Wolverine and his vampires go on the rampage. They declare into their number heroes and villains alike, whilst destroying anyone who is deemed a potential threat -- including Dr. Strange, who falls at the hands of the Juggernaut.
Though dead, Strange remains in his astral, and recruits one of the last 'super' humans alive to his cause: Frank Castle -- The Punisher.
The Punisher (#53): The Punisher debuted recently with a victory over Rhino.
Wolverine (#3): Wolverine has had team victories against Nimrod and Xorn.
The X-Men (#1): The X-Men have victories over Magneto, Xorn, Nimrod, Wolverine and The Lizard.
Tale of the tape...
Strength: Juggernaut 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: The Punisher 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Nightcrawler 3 (Trained Athlete)
Stamina: Juggernaut 7 (Unstoppable)
Agility: Nightcrawler 5 (Cat-like)
Fighting Ability: Wolverine 6 (Warrior)
Energy Powers: Cyclops 5 (Lasers)
Hey, didn't I tell you there would be more Punisher in the future? Oh, yes!
Okay, under ordinary conditions there's no doubt about this -- The Punisher is totally screwed. This particular gathering of X-Men includes: Colossus, Nightcrawler, Cyclops, Storm, Juggernaut and Kitty Pryde, with the final threat being the big boss - Wolverine; lord of vampires.
The Juggernaut or Colossus alone are a big enough deal alone, with their super strength and durability factoring in at levels far and beyond the Punisher's wild imagination. But then you pile on top of that the tactical and ranged attack Cyclops brings to the table, the stealthy application of a ruthless Nightcrawler into the field, and the defensive/offensive potential of Shadowcat -- and you've got yourself a pretty formidable team-up of mutant vampires.
The Punisher isn't alone in this war on the undead.
Though he was tactically removed from the equation early in the piece, the presence of Dr. Strange lingers to coach Frank Castle in the best means to attack this mystic-borne offensive.
Which is actually a neat segue just to mention, this entry was prompted by a recent feature [Blade #5], in which Blade threatened to turn Wolverine into a vampire. Something, due to the psuedo-science of the matter, I think Wolverine's healing factor could've dealt with.
I did cite this issue as an example of opposing logic, and it should be noted that this outbreak is of the mystic variety. That is, the more traditional curse of the vampire, which I can handle. Immune systems generally don't get in the way of logic-defying magic spells and whatnot.
This highlights the potential advantage gained by the aid provided by Dr. Strange. I mean, if you're going to need a mystic solution to a pretty widespread problem, who better than Earth's Sorceror Supreme?
Plus, let it never be said that Frank Castle isn't an industrious murdering lunatic! Just recently we saw him come up with means to take down Rhino [Punisher: War Journal #3], which is well into the field of Colossus and Juggernaut territory.
Logically, against the sum of these characters, Punisher really is the longshot. I don't think I could pick him and still claim this section to be pure, but like Tombstone, Punisher is a guy who plays above his weight.
He's not quite in the field of Batman, but the guy can plan like a fox, and has a knack for coming up with the weaponry to carry out his ruthless plans.
Wolverine is really the big bad of this picture, running the show as the Lord of Vampires with not only his classic mutant resiliance and adamantium laced claws and skeleton -- but he also has the mystic strengths of the vampire. Metamorphosis into wolves, bats, and various other forms, as well as mist. Of course, this also brings with it the vulnerabilities of the vampire. Something Wolverine hasn't really ever had to deal with.
The Math: Wolverine and The X-Men
The Pick: The X-Men
What went down...
With his interactions with Dr. Strange providing renewed direction, The Punisher makes his way to Bleecker Street, the residence of one Sanctum Sanctorum, home to the former Dr. Stephen Strange and all his [un]earthly posessions.
As dusk arrives, Castle mows down the black clad wannabes of The Dark Order, a group of humans seeking to become humans. The brief struggle provides just enough time for the sun to set, which reveals the menace of the vampiric X-Men.
Storm and Cyclops go on the early offensive, firing off their respective projectile attacks, but the cloak of levitation provides Castle the maneuverability he needs to survive the assault.
He attacks the group with his arsenal of customized weapons, starting off with an entre of garlic grenades, before serving up a main course of silver bullets.
The hail of ammunition takes out the stunned Cyclops and Nightcrawler.
With his daily quota of silver shells spent, Dr. Strange offers a pep talk in light of Castle's negative outlook, but the stoic Punisher is in it for the hard yard.
While they chat, Storm in batform swoops down to attack the Punisher, but his silver-lined gloves prove more than a match. He tears her vampire wings to shreds, and fills her body with silver bullets before she even hits the ground.
Colossus, enraged by the slayings, charges in on the Punisher, toting the strength of his organic-steel skin as more than a match for his silver.
Punisher can't argue, but produces a cannon filled with holy water that boils even the chromed exterior of the mighty Colossus.
Punisher's natural physique and conditioning are enough for him to avoid the oncoming attack of the unstoppable Juggernaut, as he throws the weight of his crimson fist at him.
In an awkward position, Punisher finds himself with the weight of the Juggernaut looming over him. "I'll soon crush your silver gloves -- and the hands inside them -- like an eggshell!"
The Eye of Agamotto provides the opposing point, penetrating even the magical shielding provided by Juggernaut's Cyttorak powers. He's sent packing aflame.
Thus, with the Sanctum Sanctorum in sight, the final threat presents itself -- Wolverine; Lord of the Vampires!
He pops his claws and leaps into the fray, slicing Strange's cape away from Punisher's shoulders. Along with it goes the Eye of Agamotto, and Castle is down to his traditional, albeit modified, arsenal.
He fires off a round from his gun, but Wolverine's ability to turn to mist leaves him hitting nothing but dead-air. As Wolverine taunts him he throws his gun down and challenges the former X-Man man-to-man.
The Punisher remains a wile and worthy foe, even stripped down to weapons as quaint as a silver knife blessed -- by a priest!
He grapples with the stunned Wolverine, wrestling him toward the threshold of the spell-protected home of the former Sorceror Supreme.
Castle plants his silver-lined glove in the face of the mutant-vampire, and struggles to push him through the door, finally succeeding!
In the lion's den the Vampire Lord is considerably weakned.
Wolverine is able to block Castle's knife attack with his claws, but succumbs to something as mundane as a stiff left that sends him reeling into the wall.
Battling their way toward the room which contains the The Darkhold, which contains the fabled vampire-destroying Montesi Formula, Wolverine's strength continues to fade, and Punisher flaunts his superiority.
He plunges his knife into Wolverine's gut, leaving him to stagger back like little more than a wounded pup.
With Wolverine helplessly on the back foot, Castle towers over his prey and finally prepares for glorious victory, but at that moment -- a twist!
Her phasing powers apparently granting her intangibility even to Strange's magical spells, Kitty Pryde pops up through the floor to come to Wolverine's aid.
The teen X-Man interrupts just as Castle is in mid-swing, thus he is unable to stop the follow through as she again becomes tangible to push against him.
With her decapitated head before him, even The Punisher is shaked and disturbed by his actions. Perhaps finding resonance with the death of his own children, he pauses, contemplating the severity of his actions, and this leaves an opening.
In a rage, Wolverine plunges his adamantium claws deep into the Punisher's gut.
Any conventional armor he may have been wearing beneath his costume is moot against the cutting strength of Wolverine's razor sharp claws.
The Punisher bleeds out onto the floor, but victory comes at a terrible cost.
Mourning over Kitty Pryde's headless body, Wolverine perhaps regains a glimmer of humanity not seen since he had fallen to the vampire's bite.
The spirit of Dr. Strange leaves Frank Castle's lifeless body, and compells Wolverine to put an end to the carnage wrought by the evil he had absorbed.
Evil passed down from Vampire Lords long before he, or even Dracula.
Though he is barely able to speak it, Wolverine recites the Montesi Formula, and brings an end to vampires everywhere. They fall in the streets, and like a bad dream, fade from existence, leaving only their victims.
Though his X-Men were defeated, the winner of this bout, Wolverine! With assists going to all those X-Men, without whom it could not have happened. Yes, even though Wolverine ultimately redeemed himself in the end, by destroying himself.
As far as starting out What If Wednesday goes, I think this is a pretty damned fantastic way to go!
I was, as mentioned, prompted to feature this in light of references made during the Blade entry, but this also just happens to be one of the many issues of What If...? I look back on fondly. To this day it remains a point of distain when I recall recently appointed EIC, Joe Quesada's mention, during the cancellation of Mutant X, that alternate reality comic books just weren't relevent.
Further making that a bitter pill was the introduction of Exiles, but thank goodness he finally saw light. We may no longer have an on-going series, but the fifth week What If events have at least been a glimpse at what once was.
You'll probably see a couple of the last lot of What Ifs popping up in a Wednesday soon.
Though I'm trying not to adhere to any kind of will-sapping schedule, next week should be a lot of fun as we take a look at an issue of What If that has become particularly topical in light of Civil War. [And it features Punisher again!]
I had a couple of things in mind I wanted to talk about, but I've since forgotten them, and I'm up against the Wednesday deadline now, so I'll try probably keep this brief.
Setting himself up in 2007 to be a semi-regular appears to be The Punisher, who is a character I never really appreciated until these more recent years.
In my formative comic reading, I could never really get into a guy whose chief role seemed to be wandering around the docks stabbing and shooting goons.
Which, in hindsight, isn't such a bad thing, but I think as a kid it was mostly these kinds of stories, that had a lot of colourful spandex around them, that allowed me to at least be aware of the character.
As a Spider-man guest star, from his first appearance, to things I read and enjoyed like the David Michelinie/Erik Larsen team-up, Punisher was most relevent to me. I never really read War Journal or anything, although, I remember being quite transfixed by the image of a battle-damaged Castle riding a jetski with a setting sun for a backdrop.
Anyway, because of this disinterest in the character, I don't have a great many appearances by the character, but it's a joy to use Wednesdays to feature the character a bit more. There's a joke to be made by fanboys about What If stories forcing the Punisher in without justification, but more often than not I think it works. And that's the testimony of a guy who didn't care for the character anywhere, but!
Also, if you enjoyed seeing the Dr. Strange corner of the Marvel Universe, stay tuned for the regular Friday update where we're going to be featuring a first-timer on the site! It's not the Doc (who gets the loss here), but hopefully sometime soon we'll get some Strange up here, too.
Also feel free to drop a comment, with unregistered users now able to do so!
The Fight: 5 The Issue: 6