Friday, October 28, 2016

What If... Wolverine Had Become The Lord of Vampires? (Marvel)
What If...? #24 When: April 1991
Why: Roy Thomas & RJM Lofficier How: Tom Morgan

The Story So Far...
In the world we know, Storm was able to fight back when she was seduced by the Lord of Vampires: Dracula! What if that wasn't the case, though? What if Storm was caught in Dracula's spell? What if Dracula turned all of the X-Men into his vampire slaves?

In a reality where exactly that happened: Wolverine proves too strong of will for the Lord of Vampires to control him! When he rises at the vampire's behest, the clawed mutant succeeds in killing Dracula and inheriting his evil throne!

As Lord of Vampires, Wolverine commands his X-Men to convert all mutants to his vampiric leadership! The super-powered horde lays waste to New York City, killing or converting those who might stop them! The Sorcerer Supreme is one of the few powerful foes who remains beyond their reach, but with their power base expanding, Wolverine chooses the perfect mystic agent to stop Dr. Strange once and for all: His loyal vampire servant - The Unstoppable Juggernaut!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Juggernaut 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Dr. Strange 5 (Professor)
Speed: Juggernat 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Juggernaut 7 (Unstoppable)
Agility: Dr. Strange 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting: Juggernaut 3 (Street Wise)
Energy: Dr. Strange 6 (Mass Destruction)

It's Halloween season and that means it's the perfect time to venture through the Nexus of Realities - back to an alternate Marvel Universe where Wolverine became Lord of the Vampires! It's a world we've been to before, witnessing the terrors of Wolverine vs Dracula and Punisher vs The X-Men! It might be hard to imagine, but before Punisher fought the X-Men, things got a whole lot worse!

Juggernaut is an unstoppable powerhouse at the best of times -- but what if some how, some way a creature of the night managed to convert him to the legion of vampires? That's exactly what we're dealing with today!

You might be wondering how a magically empowered mortal such as Juggernaut (aka; Cain Marko) could be bitten by a vampire. After all, we've seen Deadpool dump a factory load of knives on him and they didn't leave a scratch [Deadpool: Sins of the Past #2]! The answer may lie in a reference that reads like a mistake at first glance...

In this particular issue, Juggernaut is referred to as a mutant. That's a big change from his defining origin as Charles Xavier's very spiteful, very human step-brother. It's unclear what his abilities or vulnerabilities are, or what their source is. We can assume he has some degree of magical enhancement, as he's in possession of the "Ruby of Cyttorak" and is hand picked by Wolverine to take down his opponent: The Sorcerer Supreme - Doctor Strange!

Dr. Strange is one of the few powerful heroes alive and unconverted in this world, in part due to the spells that safeguard his Greenwich Sanctum Sanctorum. Vampires cannot penetrate the protective occult field, but in the spirit of fallen allies Spider-man and Daredevil, Strange has taken to leaving the safety of his home, to patrol the sky of the now vampire infested New York City.

Strange is a powerful enough sorcerer to defend himself, but with many heroes and villains added to the mutant vampire horde, he's taking his life in his hands. Especially considering he intends his greatest weapon against the vampires to be the un-deciphered Montesi Formula -- a spell found in the Darkhold capable of wiping out all vampires!

Human, mutant, or vampire - Juggernaut's connection to the magic of Cyttorak makes him a dangerous foe! We've seen his strength overwhelm other magical powerhouses: Captain Britain [Excalibur #3], Wonder Woman [Unlimited Access #1] and Captain Marvel Jr [Unlimited Access #3]!

Strange is obviously no slouch, as we've seen in victories against Baron Mordo [Strange Tales #111], The Hand [New Avengers #27] and The Hood & Dormammu [New Avengers #54]! He has been shown to be vulnerable to some other powerful magics, though, such as that of Agamotto [New Avengers #2] - whose power he routinely calls upon! The Crimson Bands of Cyttorak are one of his most powerful hexes, as well. Which could spell trouble for the good Doctor!

How much trouble? Our patented Tape tentatively has Strange just 1 point greater than Juggernaut, who's only two ranks lower on our cumulative Fight Club ladder at #67! That data spells a close call! Let's knock on the door and ask for our treat - or trick!

The Tape: Dr. Strange Ranking: Dr. Strange (#65)

What Went Down...
Soaring the night sky above silent Manhattan streets -- Earth's greatest defense against magical terror watches pensively. Much weighs on the considerable mind of Dr. Stephen Strange! An outbreak of vampirism has signaled a menace other than old foe Dracula. A menace unknown to The Sorcerer Supreme, despite his considerable knowledge of the occult and arcane!

A powerful mystic artefact - The Orb of Agamotto - has pinpointed a particularly strong gathering of vampiric aura. Anticipating a horde of the bloodsucking undead, The Sorcerer Supreme breaches the threshold of an open shutter door.

Dr. Strange finds only the crimson glow of the "Ruby of Cyttorak" in the dark of the urban underground. He knows the jewel could very likely signal the presence of the unstoppable Juggernaut! Before he can conjure strength to the Shield of the Seraphim that surrounds him -- Juggernaut strikes!

The unstoppable brute is a dark red blur as he charges into the back of the distracted Sorcerer Supreme! He gloats, even as Strange cries in agony!

The mystic properties of the gem had drained the magic shield that protected Strange from harm. Juggernaut has stood toe to toe with everyone from Thor to the Hulk! The impact of his uncanny momentum shatters the Doctor's spine!

A fist as big as his head collides with Dr. Strange's face like a missile! Blood streaks from his nose. The resulting whiplash breaks his neck.

Earth's final defense against the magical realm is reduced to a crumpled mess on a basement floor. He breathes his final mortal breaths through his own blood, gazing up at the horrific vision of Juggernaut's fanged maw!

Only Dr. Strange's magic Cloak of Levitation appears to escape the grasp of Juggernaut, who delivers the corpse back to his Lord Wolverine. He'll be fed to crocodiles, but there is more in Heaven and Earth than is dreamt of in our philosophy! Though Strange's mortal form is dead, his spirit still roams...

The Hammer...
A chilling tale with a grim end: Juggernaut wins!

If you're wondering: Dr. Strange's astral presence does indeed continue on in the story! With most heroes dead, vampires, or kept out of the city, he finds an unlikely ally and student in consummate survivalist, soldier, and star of What If stories: The Punisher!

You can see how he fared with Dr. Strange's guidance in the featured fight: Punisher versus The X-Men! If you thought today's battle was a little dark, just wait until you see how that one goes! Kitty Pryde is all I'm saying! Yeesh!

As you might have guessed, this is an issue of What If...? I particularly like. It's got that gritty '91 feel, created not just with Tom Morgan's pencils, but the subtle work of colorist Tom Vincent. His heroes have the primary colors you expect. Dr. Strange's cape is a bright red with yellow trim, his shirt bright blue. The world around him is what's different, though. Everything is darkened hues of purple, red, brown. It's a very effective way of representing an iconic version of the Marvel Universe, but adding a grim twist.

I go back and forth on how I feel about Count Dracula being part of the Marvel Universe. He's quickly excised to serve the concept of the issue, so it's kind of getting the best of all worlds.

Wolverine, still a decade away from maturing into a mass market nice guy, smoothly transitions from the X-Man who'll do what's necessary, to a cold blooded Lord of the vampires! He's ice cold, and the story lets that play out with genuinely unsettling results.

It's hard to imagine Dracula carrying out a plan on this scale of Wolverine's. I like to imagine that's the character of a classier villain, even if Wolverine's success is only a consequence of having an imaginary story sandbox to play in.

Looking more closely at the detail of the story, there are a few problems. As noted in The Tape section, it never sits well when the high concept overwhelms a character like Juggernaut.

Ignoring the inconsistency of calling him a mutant in the story, it just seems at odds with the character to suggest he could ever be bitten by a vampire. It was a problem I also had when the biters were a more decrepit brand of undead in Marvel Zombies [#5]. The high concept is ultimately what matters and it's a lot easier to just accept that everybody got turned, but it's a whole lot cleaner when those questions don't linger. To say nothing of the extra fun had by asking - and answering those kinds of questions!

A few months ago we looked at What If...? #94: A story where Juggernaut's invulnerability is itself the feature premise of the story. He's a lone wanderer in a universe where radiation has wiped out almost all of humanity. His invincibility plays out as a curse as he longs for the humanity he condemned through his own selfish actions. It might not have the simple, broad appeal of a rampaging Juggernaut with fangs, but it's a very satisfying story to tell.

Speaking of the escalation of mass appeal and the accompanying budgets; zombie legend George Romero recently told IndieWire movies like World War Z, and the Walking Dead TV series have made it almost impossible to court funding for his smaller, more socio-politically minded zombie movies. He also noted that the spectacle of "zombies wreaking havoc" had overtaken films of substance. He has a point, but even The Walking Dead, which seems to be propelled more so by tropes of the genre and character-driven chapters, never quite exploits the ever intriguing question of How? Why? When? The questions these superhero versions invariably raise, and could be very interesting to see play out.

One element of our feature fight fans will see play out on screens is Doctor Strange! Marvel's Sorcerer Supreme is already joining the cinematic universe in some parts of the world, with an official wide release coming November 4th!

As we say goodbye to an October full of demons and Halloween horrors, we levitate effortlessly into a November filled with more Doctor Strange! I hope you'll join me as we witness the true Sorcerer Supreme in action!

In the mean time, be encouraged to follow links throughout this entry to discover even more exciting battles! You can get even more vampires and monsters by hitting up the Old Comics Halloween: Chilling Tales spotlight! Master the art of the fight by venturing into the ancient Issue Index, for a complete archive of all the past featured fights in order of publisher and series!

Winner: Juggernaut
#42 (+25) Juggernaut [+1 kill]
#67 (-2) Dr. Strange

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