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!

Wolverine (1-0-0)
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

No comments: