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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

X-amining Sabretooth: Death Hunt #1-4

"Home is the Hunter" / "A Kiss Before Dying" / "City of Light" / "Sins of the Fathers"
August - November 1993

In a Nutshell
Sabretooth learns Graydon Creed is his son with Mystique.

Writer: Larry Hama
Artist: Mark Texeira
Art Assist: Michael Blair (issue #2)
Backgrounds: Steve Biasi (issue #4)
Letterer: Richard Starkings
Colorist: Steve Buccellato, Marie Javins (issue #2)
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
Issue #1: Sabretooth returns home to find a group of Hand ninjas waiting to attack him, but he and his assistant Birdy fight them off, after which the telepathic Birdy gives Sabretooth the "glow", a mental treatment that helps calm him down. That night, Birdy allows a group of mercenaries into the house to capture Sabretooth. They take him to an armored man named Tribune who has a bomb implanted in Sabretooth's chest. He then gives Sabretooth 48 hours to kill Mystique, warning that if he doesn't, Tribune will detonate the bomb. Issue #2: Sabretooth returns home and attacks Birdy, but he doesn't kill her, as he still needs her to provide his glow, but instead takes her with him to Paris, where Mystique is. Sabretooth chases her to the top of the Eiffel Tower, where Wolverine is waiting.

Issue #3: Mystique forestalls an all-out fight between Wolverine & Sabretooth by telling Sabretooth about their past together, in which Mystique was posing as a German agent named Leni with whom Sabretooth had a relationship. She then shocks Sarbretooth with the news that they have a son together, whom Mystique believes is the one who set Sabretooth to kill her in order to get revenge on both of them. Sabretooth proceeds to have Birdy read his memories of being captured by Tribune in order to find his location, and the pair set out to track him down. Issue #4: As the 48 hour timer on the bomb inside his chest counts down, Sabretooth & Birdie infiltrate the investment banking firm Tribune is using as a front. Sabretooth tosses Tribune out the window, then forces a doctor to use one of Sabretooth's claws to cut the bomb out of his chest. But Tribune climbs back inside and attacks Sabretooth. Birdy to take them into Tribune's mind, where Sabretooth learns Tribune is Graydon Creed. Birdy stops Sabretooth from killing him, but Creed kills Birdy, hoping to punish his father by leaving Sabretooth without anyone to fix his head. But as Sabretooth leaves, he declares he knows some folks who might be able to help him, and warns Creed that he'll be keeping an eye on him.

Firsts and Other Notables
The second of Marvel's three X-Men-centric limited series released as part of the 30th Anniversary celebration, this kickstarts a period of increased visibility and regular appearances of Sabretooth, as it sets up the events that will lead to Sabretooth becoming imprisoned at the X-Mansion, where he'll reside (in various forms of freedom and savagery) until after "Age of Apocalypse" (which will feature as one of its central characters a largely heroic version of Sabretooth), making regular appearances across the various X-books during that time. After his stay in the mansion ends, he will then almost immediately be placed on X-Factor, appearing in that series nearly until its end. His popularity at this time (combined with Marvel's ongoing "flood the market" marketing approach) will even lead to Sabretooth getting his own reprint series, Sabretooth Classics (a la X-Men Classics), in which his earlier appearances in various places will be reprinted. In fact, Sabretooth Classics is how I first read the character's first appearance, as well as Uncanny X-Men #212, at a time when that chapter of "Mutant Massacre" was a pricey back issue kept on the wall of my comic shop and X-Men Classic hadn't yet reached it (and ultimately never would).

The big reveal of this series is that Graydon Creed, the notably-human member of the Upstarts and leader of the anti-mutant Friends of Humanity organization, is the son of Sabretooth & Mystique (which isn't exactly shocking to anyone who read the old Marvel handbooks or the backs of trading cards and knows Sabretooth's real name, but still, people can have the same last name and not be related), born of a romance the pair shared while Sabretooth was still a Canadian secret agent (wearing the uniform he wore in the flashbacks in X-Men #4-8 and various Wolverine stories) and Mystique was posing as a German operative named Leni Zauber.


Though Sabretooth only learns that Mystique was Leni in issue #3 (in the story's present), this marks the beginning of the two previously-unrelated villains getting grouped together frequently for a time; they'll co-headling a later miniseries, and both serve on a reconstituted X-Factor post-"Age of Apocalypse".

Upon learning that Graydon Creed is his son, Sabretooth remarks he'd rather have Logan as a son, a reference to the long-standing theory/creator intent that Sabretooth was Wolverine's father that had nevertheless been debunked at this point in time.


Birdy, Sabretooth's telepathic aide/associate, who first appeared in X-Men #6, dies in issue #4, which will lead to Sabretooth seeking out Professor X and eventually imprisoning himself in the mansion for treatment (the idea is that Birdy helps keep Sabretooth sane/less rage-y by giving him a periodic telepathic "glow"; with her dead, he will seek out a new source of that glow in X-Men Unlimited #3, to which readers are directed at the end of issue #4).


The villain of this story is Tribune, who wears bulky green body armor to hide his identity. In the end, he turns out to be Graydon Creed, but I believe this is the only time he's ever used the Tribune identity or the corresponding armor.


Art in this series comes from former Wolverine artist Mark Texeira. I've heard conflicting reports about his involvement in this series, with some saying he left Wolverine (after his brief six issue run) to do this book, while others have said the Wolverine run was always intended to be brief, as Marvel wanted to do a Sabretooth series but decided to hold it for '93 so Tex drew a few Wolverine issues while he waited. Either way, this is more or less his last notable project for a good long while (certainly within the X-universe). I think he may have left Marvel for Image, but I only see one 90s era Image credit on his Wikipedia entry, and he's back doing some one-off stuff for Marvel by the mid to late 90s.

The first issue of this series has a die-cut cover laid over glossy pinup of Sabretooth. The overall layout of the cover (with a large logo taking up most of the space, while the series/story titles are listed in a ribbon on the left hand side) mimics that of Deadpool: The Circle Chase. Unlike the Deadpool mini, each issue of this series is printed on the deluxe, glossy paper that will, sadly, soon become the industry standard.

Psi-Borg aka Aldo Ferro, the villain of Mark Texeira's central Wolverine story, makes his final appearance to date in issue #1, as he drops Sabretooth off at his house (Sabretooth was last seen fighting Ferro alongside the rest of the former Weapon X team in Wolverine #64).


The first issue concludes with a series of Sabretooth pinups.


A Work in Progress
Sabretooth references his last appearance, in which he was somewhat confusingly- eaten by a tree and mostly forgotten about, when Birdy asks him where he's been.


The first issue features our first look at Sabretooth's home, a mansion in Canada (presumably paid for with his mercenary money). It features a gallery of notable people he's killed, and as he walks past a picture of Silver Fox, he notes that it should be updated to show her wearing a Hydra uniform.


Sabretooth also says that Psi-Borg was able to unscramble some of his memories, allowing him to recall stuff from his childhood for the first time. As a result, we see a bit of Sabretooth as a child, in which he was chained up and muzzled on account of him attacking his family.


Mystique, whose growing insanity prompted Forge to leave the X-Men to care for her in Uncanny X-Men #289-290, but who then seemed on the mend in Uncanny #301-302, as her insanity handwaved away here, and that's more or less the last we'll hear of it as her profile and presence in the X-books increases over the next few years.


It's also noted that Mystique's power helps keep her young, as shape-shifting essentially rejuvenates her cells. Mystique's longer life has been hinted at before, but I believe this is the first time an explanation for it has been given.

The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
When Sabretooth has the bomb implanted in him by Tribune, he also gets his physical abilities souped up, turning him into, as Tribune says in a nod to video games of the time, Turbo Sabretooth.


Sabretooth doesn't kill Graydon Creed at the end of the issue, despite having ample opportunity to do so; while that isn't all that notable in and of itself (Graydon Creed is clearly meant to stick around for other things at this point), it is somewhat notable that Hama doesn't even try to offer an explanation, either via plot (ie Creed quickly escapes) or dialogue; instead, Sabretooth just...doesn't kill him, as the series ends.  


Hama-isms
In issue #3, Birdy makes a reference to a part of a grenade using a colloquial term (calling the safety lever the "spoon"), with a footnote offering the more technical term for the part. It hasn't popped up much in his Wolverine work, but it's something that happens all the time in G.I Joe, where Hama, a military veteran, peppers character's dialogue with military slang and jargon and then explains what it means via footnote.


Austin's Analysis
Given the combination of Wolverine's extreme popularity and Marvel's desire to flood the market with as many comics as possible at the height of the speculator boom, it's no surprise that Wolverine's chief antagonist was given his own limited series as part of Marvel's big 30th anniversary X-Men push. Thankfully, Larry Hama was tapped to write the series, as he's handled the character most often in recent years, and he presents a Sabretooth that is mostly consistent with his portrayal of late in Wolverine. Moreover, Hama does a good job of making Sabretooth the central character of this series without making in any way heroic or even anti-heroic: he is without a doubt the protagonist of the story, but there's no "lethal protector" angle here, no real attempt to build a supporting cast around him (as with the Deadpool mini) or present him as anything other than a villain, outside of one brief sympathy-generating flashback to his child that nevertheless doesn't read like an attempt to excuse the character's behavior.

Like Hama, Mark Texeira was a smart choice of artist, as he brings a kind of dark, gritty moodiness to the story that fits its darker protagonist. The same style that lent itself well to the less-superheroic stories he drew in Wolverine works here as well. It's not realistic or even consistent (Sabretooth and/or his claws change relative size repeatedly throughout the series), but it's fitting for the kind of story Hama is telling, in an over-the-top, uber-violent, Tarantino-esque kind of way. And while the Graydon Creed revelation is arguably not all that stunning (and ultimately, doesn't pay much dividends, narratively-speaking), it does help broaden Sabretooth's connection to the larger X-universe, giving him a history with Mystique and a relationship with another of the narrative's looming villains, helping pave the way for his upcoming integration into the X-books in a more regular capacity. As a result, this series isn't just a commercially-motivated cash grab, or a chance to see Sabretooth cut loose in a gruesomely over-the-top action story, but also a relatively important part of the overall X-narrative.

Next Issue
Next week, Wolverine tries to go on another tropical vacation in Marvel Comics Presents #137-142.

8 comments:

  1. I've never read this; never so much as looked at it, because I just don't have much interest in Sabretooth as a solo character. However, I love Mark Teixeira and all those screencaps above look beautiful, so I may need to flip through it someday just for the artwork!

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  2. "he will seek out a new source of that glow in X-Men Unlimited #3, to which readers are directed at the end of issue #4"
    Hilariously, the last issue was so late, it came out AFTER X-Men Unlimited 3.

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  3. Um. Exactly when did Sabretooth serve an ignominious death to a Hand clan leader which the ninjas wish to avenge in #1? They are wolverining up the Sabretooth way too much.

    A blink-and-you-miss: the double-headed axe held by the severed hands in the trophy on Sabre's stairway in #1 looks a lot like the one his daddy-o wields in #2.

    I chuckle at Mystique having told little Graydon that his secret agent dad would have been a "bond" trader.

    A kid wearing Hannibal Lecteresque facemask in 1993 for a very good reason isn't sympathy-generating, but rather serves to underline how bad apple he was from the get-go.

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  4. Graydon Creed is unique in the sense that he's a regular human with no x-gene despite being the illegitimate son of two mutants.

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  5. A friend was raving about a local Thai restaurant called Pho Street just the other night, which led to the obligatory discussion of the pronunciation of pho, and now I can’t look at Birdy’s “Phooooooo” sound effects without reading them as “Fuuuhhhhh?”.

    Ellie says “these filthy mutants” are “either teenyboppers, old codgers, or from the future.” Which sounds like a good line, but… makes no sense. The remark about “hardly a boomer in the crowd” is particularly funny since that’s exactly what the original five were when they were introduced — ditto the All-New team, really, save Wolverine, at the other end of that generational span (born c. 1945 through 1961) — but even with Marvel Time compression, Storm and Cyclops and Psylocke and Havok and Polaris and Nightcrawler and Gambit and Colossus et al. still have five-ten years on Jubilee easy. So does Ellie count them, never mind the mass of twentysomething and thirtysomething non-marquee mutants from Manhattan to Genosha and back, as “teenyboppers” or as “old codgers”?

    Like a fair number of Hama’s Wolverine arcs, including Texiera’s run, the ending here feels very abrupt: head-trip revelation of Tribune’s parentage and identity as Graydon Creed, Sabretooth’s acknowledgment of it, Tribune’s murder of Birdy, and Sabretooth’s literal tossing aside of Graydon with parting words on the last few pages of a 4-issue, 88-page miniseries that really didn’t have much going on. Similarly, Birdy’s introduction as Sabretooth’s psychically intimate “gal Friday” is followed a bit too closely by her betrayal; I’d have preferred some more build-up and better explanation. All that said, however, I mostly enjoyed this as a quick, good-looking read with an international spy-flick espionage/hit/whatever but this time it’s personal feel.

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    1. Birdy’s introduction as Sabretooth’s psychically intimate “gal Friday” is followed a bit too closely by her betrayal; I’d have preferred some more build-up and better explanation.

      Hama/Texeira Sabretooth has been established as someone who takes no 'no' from uppity squaws. Her lurking out barely dressed to betray him should be enough to tell the reader everything about their "relationship". He's even taunting her about not having what it takes to kill him by her telepathic powers a little before.

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    2. Pretty much the whole X-MEN #4-#7 feels like the new kids were throwing stuff at the wall to see what might stick, and Hama's run, esp. with Texeira has looked like he took up the challenge. Birdy is pretty much the only unaddressed piece left over from the Omega Red story at this point.

      Heck, Hama also took it for himself to follow up the Claremont plot elements of Landau-Luckman-Lake and what the Reavers did re: Wolverine after he escaped from them. Hama is cool like that.

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  6. So I went and checked out Sabretooth's first appearance in IRON FIST #14 at Marvel Unlimited, and carried onward to #15 where Iron Fist meets the X-Men, and, sure enough, the Fang-costumed Wolverine and his ferocity reminds Danny of Sabretooth and he thinks if there could be a connection. Both call people 'bub'. Apparently there would have been a CC/JB storyline in works where Sabretooth kills Mariko had JB stayed on the UNCANNY.

    So that's where it came from, and suddenly it feels a bit sacrilegious that Hama did away with the daddy-o thing. Apparently the plot element got used in W #10 by Claremont with Silver Fox.

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