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.

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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!

You can also help The Comic Book Fight Club thrive by liking and sharing daily links via Twitter and Facebook, or by clicking the G+1 button below! You can do this on any fight selected from the Issue Index Archive! Hooray!

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