First Story :
This is a reprint of X-Men (1st series) #126.
Reality bends. Nightcrawler and Wolverine are turned inside out as their sense of normality is ripped out from under them. Their bodies twist and turn and Kurt’s words turn to tears; tears that drip down the cheek, joined by his eyeballs that roll towards his friend. Wolverine drops his jaw and yells. His jaw becomes stuck where he left it, somewhere near his ankles. Ankles don’t usually bend, he thinks.
The two X-Men come round, lying on the grass, feeling like they’ve been toyed with. Proteus laughs at them, and asks if they’ve had enough. “Feeling a little brittle?” he smirks. “Stomach in your throat; backbone made of rubber?” He laughs with an assured sense of control. Wolverine stands and is ready to attack once again, but Nightcrawler asks him to stop. Wolverine is impatient, and tells Kurt that Proteus is his. “Don’t ruin my fun!”
Kurt insists they’re out of their limits here. He’s too powerful. Wolverine likes the odds and knows that Proteus bends reality, but only in ones mind. Next time, he’ll be ready for him. Kurt knows that is certainly not the case. This is no time to play tough guy, he warns his friend. Logan insists he’s not just a tough guy. Proteus can see that Kurt’s comment struck a nerve there. Proteus notes that now he’s seen what buttons to push, the game is infinitely more interesting.
Kurt tries to reason with Proteus. He insists Wolverine is out of his mind and he’s sinking into some kind of animal level. Please, he begs, if he has any shred of humanity in him…
Wolverine faces Proteus, not wanting Nightcrawler’s help. Proteus maintains his grin, and replies that he doesn’t have a shred of humanity, but Wolverine does. Using a tiny fraction of his power, Proteus once again toys with Logan’s mind. Logan’s skin seems to pull tighter; a brittleness that seems to come from forgotten childhood vulnerability, crackles out from soul to surface, and what was a face simply flakes away. Organs slip-slosh, piling up in a crashing heap. The heart beats too high and hard, pushing his throat closed. Logan’s teeth grind together till they explode like kicked pebbles, and lips close over the stumps of gravel remains. This is bad.
Something inside Wolverine wrenches and twists, alive underneath the panic to hold together the thousand pieces of his body. He is embarrassed that he has been exposed to his brittle core, with everyone gaping at his vulnerabilities. His body crashes to the floor like shattered glass.
Proteus releases his grip and Wolverine stands once again, nauseous but alive. “I see you, Wolverine,” Proteus grins, “I see the tough guy.” He laughs once again. Wolverine tells him to keep laughing. He’s a few steps closer to Proteus now. Suddenly, a strange sensation overwhelms him, as if a vacuum sucked everything inside, scraping it all away and leaving him empty. His mind is gone once more. His face becomes a skull and he looks over a godless landscape that reaches out in every direction. He yells, but his words stretch like dead telephone wires; limp, desperate and unheard.
Wolverine tries to stand and walk, but things only get worse. He sees himself as a kind of Daliesque painting, a spider, with eggs where his body should be. Words spin around his mind, but Wolverine still retains the tiniest amount of control over his functions. He moves one of his legs, one of the stumps that emerge from below the eggs. Proteus laughs as Wolverine struggles on his knees. Once again, Proteus releases his grip on Wolverine and Logan finds himself closer still to his opponent. He tells Proteus so, and says he’s close enough. “To what?” asks Proteus.
Proteus, for the fourth time in as many minutes, twists Logan’s reality around him. He decides to play on Wolverine’s vaunted healing factor. This time, Logan feels like he’s rotting inside. He hears a thought, a tiny wisp of a passing thought; some hidden fear of self abuse. Oh, how he abuses his healing factor that keeps him so healthy. How he abuses it. Proteus finds one paranoid scrap in Logan’s brain and enlarges it. What’s one more pack of cigarettes, Logan thinks.
He sees his body wither away into a skeletal wreck. He is a flea-bitten, stinking, shambling, char-broiled, coal lump of a man. Fifty thousand cigarettes, prickly black cigarettes, enough to nail a coffin shut. What’s a couple of beers? he thinks. What’s the harm? Red meat, a drink and a smoke. They’ll do him no harm. He sees his body dying, as if the healing factor was never there in the first place. He is dying, and on his way to join the family plot. He’s the tough guy, but he can’t fight cancer. Wolverine screams a deep guttural scream, which suddenly turns into the squeaky screech of a flat-faced, square-headed cartoon version of himself. “I’m strong and healthy,” he squeaks. The cartoon Wolverine stands with a determined sense of duty. His claws are readied.
Wolverine tells himself that he’s the toughest and baddest one around. He smokes bombs, eats bullets and brushes his teeth with porcupines. He’s the biggest and baddest man around. His self-belief gradually overcomes the evil that Proteus pours into him, and Proteus realizes that the X-Man is getting really close. Wolverine snaps out of it, and finds Proteus within arms length.
Proteus actually takes a step backwards, but he once again tries to toy with Logan’s mind. In his mind, Logan pushes his claws into himself and begins to shred his torso, lashing away until blood pours from every vein. In reality, he takes a swipe at Proteus, who loses his concentration, allowing Wolverine to return to reality much sooner than before. Proteus has three scars down his cheek, but defiantly asks Wolverine where it got him. He explains that he was curious to see what Wolverine was made of. He now knows his bravado was backed up by something else, but he asks Wolverine if he realizes that he’ll now destroy him.
Logan asks him to do his best. He doesn’t like being called a tough guy, but he had to find something out. He now knows his toughness goes all the way to his core. Proteus can do his best, but he can no longer hurt Logan. Proteus readies himself for a further attack. “We’ll see, won’t we?”