Friday, April 19, 2019

Wolverine vs. Sabretooth: The Final Battle!

Much is usually anticipated about the fierce and decidedly bloody clashes between Wolverine and Victor Creed, the man known as Sabretooth, even though these men are arguably two sides of the same coin. Each of them has deadly claws that rend and draw blood; each has a generous amount of fear and intimidation working for them; each has a healing factor that prevents them from being mortally wounded (eventually reaching preposterous levels of effectiveness); and each has killed and will kill if the situation calls for it. Yet there are differences, as well: Logan's skeleton, as well as his claws, are made of the unbreakable metal known as adamantium; and while there have often been instances where he's been shown to be merciless, he's not nearly as sadistic as Creed, who will not hesitate to kill even when there is no reason for it. Perhaps the difference that keeps us engaged, however, is the fact that, while crusty and irascible even on the best of days, Logan isn't volatile--and rather than looking for a fight, he'll often look to avoid one (though he's certainly no slouch at provocation). Creed, put bluntly, is a monster, who will gut innocents with little thought or consideration beforehand, depending on his mood or what message he wants to send.

Yet, character differences aside, when these two are locked in battle, what can come of it, given that the most they can do is slash and maim? A chance to see how their artist will handle their match, no doubt--and a great deal of posturing and threats on both their parts, to be sure. But since there's little to no chance of one dealing fatally with the other, their clash often comes down to a battle of wills, and essence. We know we can expect little more than sadism from Creed; but from Logan, his anger and trademark fierceness (and yes, bloodletting) are channeled into stopping Creed's killing spree and ending his threat, while hopefully coming out of it without seeing more of Creed in himself than he'd like. And that's essentially the approach in their early appearances in Uncanny X-Men--where it's probably no coincidence that these particular two characters are unleashed against each other just when Marvel's books have taken a sharp turn toward bringing more graphic violence into their pages with the appearance of the Marauders and the wholesale slaughter of innocent men, women, and children.

At this point in time, Wolverine is investigating the mass murders of the mutants known as the Morlocks, the reclusive outcasts who made a home for themselves in the abandoned tunnels beneath the streets of New York. The handiwork of the Marauders is all too evident--but not all of the killers have left the scene, as Wolverine painfully discovers with the attack of Sabretooth.

By today's standards, their clash here which takes place at the end of 1986 is tame by comparison, far more bark than bite. Marvel's television production of "Daredevil" yields more blood and wince-inducing strikes in a single scene than these two demonstrate in their early X-Men meetings combined, and that's saying something. To be fair, however, in this first part of the story Wolverine is thinking of the bigger picture--retrieving the Morlock healer and getting him safely back to the X-Men's Westchester mansion where the team is using limited resources to care for the massacre's few survivors they were able to return with. Too late, Sabretooth realizes he's been had--and we see for ourselves the difference between the two men.

When Sabretooth brazenly and savagely attacks the mansion and their battle continues, Wolverine uses a similar baiting strategy to allow the telepath, Psylocke, an opportunity to probe Creed's mind and secure the information the X-Men need to build intelligence on the Marauders. The strategem works--and the result doubly gratifying to Psylocke, given that Sabretooth had humiliated her and had her on the ropes prior to Wolverine's arrival.

Sabretooth, however, manages to escape; yet the two meet again when the Marauders reappear to target Madelyne Pryor, and Creed makes a nearly fatal mistake.

From here, Sabretooth's background and future developments become entwined in a hodgepodge of perspectives that attempt to define the character further. Depending on his writer at the time, Sabretooth has been a brother, a father, a clone, a C.I.A. operative, and, to top it off, a "member" of both the X-Men and X-Factor. But in 2007, the book on Victor Creed appears to have finally been on the verge of being closed at last, in a story in the Wolverine series that attempts to further connect Creed and Logan--this time by way of a bizarre, shared past that has disturbing overtones of "The Other," the 2005-06 crossover storyline* that sought to add new dimension to the makeup of Spider-Man. As with Peter Parker, Logan is also being afflicted with blackouts and strange dreams that hint at a past he doesn't remember, one which he shares with Creed and a race of wolf people known as the Lupine.

*It perhaps goes without saying that the fact that the Wolverine story follows so closely behind that of "The Other" can't help but raise an eyebrow.

But even with this new mystery gnawing at his memories, Wolverine still has business to take care of--starting with Creed, who has found sanctuary with the X-Men but finds that not all of them have signed off on it. Consequently, their meeting goes as you might expect.

As a story with a single binding theme and a limited number of interactions with other major characters, it's not entirely surprising to see it unfold at a snail's pace and place its emphasis on the clashes between Wolverine and Sabretooth, with artist Simone Bianchi giving us broad paintings that have the luxury of using the space provided--depictions that make each issue a visual page-turner but offer sparse dialog that yields only piecemeal insight as to where the story is taking us and why. One of those pieces manifests at the climax of the battle--a flashback that reveals Wolverine's affair with a girl known as Silver Fox, in addition to as graphic an example of Creed's sadism as you'd want to find.

The latin phrase, of course, is the bread crumb the story offers which will serve as the key to getting to the bottom of all of this. Why does it resonate with Wolverine at this point in time? Its meaning seems clear enough, on its face--Creed believes that Wolverine will eventually become as savage, as cruel, as himself. Yet it feels as if some sort of bomb has been dropped here, and so the story noticeably pivots on it--but first, these two berserkers must settle their blood match that can only end one way. The only question to ask is, which one will end up as a corpse?

The short answer is that both men follow through on their killing stroke. But as Logan later realizes, the fact that they both have a healing factor means that the advantage shifts to whoever regains consciousness first--and that person is revealed to be Creed, when Logan awakens to find himself restrained on the X-Men's jet bound for parts unknown, with only Creed aboard in the cockpit. But there are answers that Wolverine needs, and he'll do what he must to get them.

I've read those dramatic words from Storm several times, and it still sounds like she's being redundant. "You cannot kill each other without killing yourselves." That really goes without saying, doesn't it? What exactly is her point?

We'll only find out in Wakanda, which is where Ororo, consort of the Black Panther, has brought them, specifically to explore the ramifications of an archaeological dig in an elephant graveyard atop soil that has deposits of vibranium in it. Even so, certain precautions are taken with Creed--for all the good they'll do anyone, especially his guards.

Ororo doesn't even finish her sentence before Creed makes a break for it and escapes the compound, leaving fatalities in his wake. Yet the Panther is also present--and Creed may be living in a fool's paradise if he believes that escape is an option.

With that, we're drawn into another flashback, as this time Logan's memories take him to Tokyo and his first meeting with Creed, who has had a hit put out on him by the Hand--and the hitman they conscript happens to be none other than Wolverine.

It's Creed's sadistic voice that segues Logan from the past and back to the present, where the Panther is waiting to elaborate on the meaning of their presence in Wakanda vis-à-vis this graveyard of bones they stand in. And how does this connect to Logan's bizarre flashbacks of the Lupine, along with his role and that of Creed in those distant, unknown memories? If you're of the opinion that this story has been spinning its wheels unnecessarily for three issues so far (and at $3 a pop), and that you've had your fill of gratuitous clashes between Wolverine and Sabretooth, I can't help but echo those feelings--but we are where we are. Next, hopefully, the meaning behind it all--as well as the final gut-spilling meeting between these two most savage opponents of all.

More of the splendid cover art for the issues featured today.


Colin Jones said...

Have a Marvel-ous Easter, CF :D

Comicsfan said...

Thanks very much, Colin--I'm busily hitting any stores I need to before Sunday, because this entire town basically shuts down on Easter where retail is concerned!

Jared said...

It seems so tame now by today's standards, but in the late 80s the Mutant Massacre was shocking in its violence. I think it had to be the most violent story Marvel had ever published to that point, and I would probably consider it the beginning of the Pre Image Comics era of the late 80s and early 90s.

I've always thought it great that Claremont was able to bring a forgotten character to the forefront in this way (granted he cocreated Sabretooth in Iron Fist, but it was still cool).

For so long the Wolverine Sabretooth rivalry was great in that Marvel timed it perfectly. We went long periods of time between Wolverine Sabretooth fights. Even when Wolverine got his own book, Sabretooth appearances were kept few enough that they felt special. Then Marvel made the asinine decision to try the anti-hero route with him, and it got to where you couldn't buy an X-book without seeing him. I like the Evolution story but by that point Marvel had work just about everyone out of seeing Wolverine and Sabretooth fight.

Thanks for bringing back some great comics memories though.

Comicsfan said...

It's funny you mention the Iron Fist Sabretooth debut, Jared, because that's been kicking around in the back of my mind as an idea for a future post. It's something I hope to get around to one of these days, since the character had some notable differences starting out from what he later became.

I agree with you about the shock value of the crossover massacre stories; in fact I'm fairly confident there must be a TPB that somebody put together at some point which features the Marauders tales, since they played such a pivotal role in the direction that Marvel would take in terms of a more aggressive posture for their characters. (I'm looking at you, for one, Cable.)

Big Murr said...

It's interesting Marvel hasn't retconned the original Sabretooth-Iron Fist meeting out of existence. Two years ago in a fresh attempt at giving Iron Fist his own title, the plot had Danny seeking out Sabretooth's help. They don't mention the specifics of every meeting, but the snarling (literally in Sabretooth's case) conversation acknowledges a long personal history. The culmination of that conversation ends in fisticuffs and Iron Fist saying: "Creed, you sure you want to do this? Every time we've done this, I've beaten you. EVERY. TIME."

(I also enjoyed Fist calling Creed a " second-rate Wolverine wannabe...")

Jared said...

I know they collected all of the Mutant Massacre issues together into a TPB that I am sure has several editions. It wasn't really a crossover as the plots from the various books hardly intersect.

For all the fanfare and their legacy all these years later, there isn't really a ton of Marauders stories. They appeared about a year later when Mr. Sinister was introduced. Then they were pretty unceremoniously killed off in Inferno. Sabretooth survived and pretty much became a stand alone villain. The Malice possessed Polaris survived and got worked out separately from any Marauders stories. We later learned that Sinister continuously clones the Marauders, but they never really regained A List status as villains. I always have felt like there should have been one last definitive battle with the X-Men in the late 80s or early 90s because they kind of got swept away with no resolution.

Comicsfan said...

That's adding insult to injury, isn't it, Murray? "You're not just a Wolverine wannabe--you're a second-rate Wolverine wannabe! In fact you're a second-rate second-rate Wolverine wannabe! AND ANOTHER THING..."

Jared, I suppose we could infer that as far as Marvel was concerned, the Marauders served their purpose; but yes, I agree that given their actions, a final clash with the X-Men was called for, though I'm not sure how "final" final can be when it comes to settling a score with clones.

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