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)

No comments: