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!

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

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