Wisdom #3

Issue Date: 
April 2007
Story Title: 
The Rudiments of Wisdom – part three: Enter With Drag On

Paul Cornell (writer), Manuel Garcia (penciler), Mark Farmer (inker), Guru eFX (colorist), VC’s Joe Caramagna (letterer), Nick Lowe (editor), Joe Quesada (editor-in-Chief), Dan Buckley (publisher)

Brief Description: 

Trying to capture the Elsh symbol, the Red Dragon who has become a human crimelord in Cardiff, Pete Wisdom first provokes him and then has Shang-Chi, the Master of King-Fu, fight Griffin to make him remember who he truly is. In the meantime, Wisdom’s team splits into two groups, observing the battle from two hotel rooms. Pete uses this time for his affair with teammate, Maureen Raven, while his wife Tink suspects something is going on. In the meantime, Shang-Chi provokes Griffin enough for him to shed his human form, making every citizen fall briefly asleep. Griffin eventually comes to his senses and saves Shang-Chi but, thanks to their battle, Tink finally has her suspicions about Pete and Maureen confirmed. With the battle over, Shang-Chi and Griffin are in for a rude surprise, as Wisdom breaks his promise to let the dragon go and has him arrested. After that, he comes clear to Tink, who tells him off for believing she would cause a war between Britain and Faerie over this. Shang-Chi gives Maureen a cryptic warning of things to come and tells her that she can inform Wisdom. He cannot sympathize with a man who has engineered his own karmic downfall.

Full Summary: 

Soundtrack: Goldie Lookin’ Chain: “Guns don’t kill people, Rappers do” :

Austin Powers’ dad, now there was a wise man, Pete Wisdom pontificates as he empties a pint of beer. And to paraphrase him: There are two kinds of people in the world I don’t like: Narrow-minded xenophobic bastards who don’t appreciate other peoples’ cultures… and the Welsh.

Wiping his mouth, he continues, asking what the Welsh have given them. Bit of coal, once, yes. A decent rugby team, once, yes. Ivor the Engine. Charming Children’s animation. Okay. And a few good jokes about shagging as related to wool production… But now they’ve sold their arses to the Japanese industry, and it’s all Jones-Chan this and Rurilo-Bach that… not so much a culture, more a tourist tea-towel production center, isn’t it, boyo?

He downs another pint and flashes his audience a rude gesture. This to the lot of them. The “We’ll keep a welcome in the hillsides cottage burning, cheese-eating leek-growing male voice choir collapsed lung bunch of degenerate half a civilization” cavemen. But hey… what do they think?

His audience in the pub are a group of very pissed off Welshmen, most particularly a muscular bald guy displaying, among several tattoos, that of a red dragon. He gestures the others back and replies that he thinks, “Nil by mouth.” He thinks Wisdom is gonna be pushing his bollocks around on a little trolley. Does he know who he is? Oh, he’s that bloke, Pete replies. The one’s that rose to the top of the “Cardiff underworld.” Sorry, he still can’t say that with a straight face.

The other man is about to attack him with a broke bottle. This is combat then? Pete asks. A “combat?” the other man asks, confused. Yeah, it’s a combat. Great, Wisdom enthuses and tells him to wait as he looks for a certain pergament in his suit. Pulling it out, he reads it: I claim the ancient rite of dragon duel, you’re bound by its rules and I nominate my second who will fight you on my behalf: Shang-Chi, the Master of Kung-Fu.

Shang Chi muses that once more he is called on to play these games of deceit and death. To meet in combat a creature who in other circumstances… Wisdom interrupts his reverie as he cheerfully informs them he’ll leave them to it.

Soundtrack: Manic Street Preachers: “Life becomes a Landslide.”

“Dragons?” What’s he on about? one of the patrons asks the challenged, Dave. Shang-Chi recognizes the other man as a dragon, as he was told. He has surrendered to his human form. Shockingly so. But he has not become fat. Shang-Chi addresses Dave, asking him if he’s forgotten who he is.

Wisdom interrupts him and tells him thanks, before heading outside, where he meets the other members of MI-13 as well as Welsh CID Commander Dai Thomas, an old acquaintance. “Petawn I’n Meddwl am eiliad dy fod Ti’n golygu unrhw ran o hynny” Thomas remarks in Welsh.

“Ti’n gwybod nad ydw I, Dai, my friend,” Pete replies.

Dai looks up at the symbol of the pub, a red dragon. With a frown he remarks that the Welsh Red Dragon, “Y draigg Goch” is the symbol of the nation. He’s bloody real. And this is how he ends up.

Soundtrack: Shirley Bassey. “History repeating”

Dai’s narration / flashback:

In the Mabinogion, he fights the White Dragon of the Saxons, fights him so hard, cattle lose their milk and women miscarry until King Ludd trapped him in a pit full of mead. The young Merlyn freed him, rather than be sacrificed by King Vortigen.

Since then, it’s claimed he was seen at the defense of Rorke‘s drift, where seven Victoria crosses were won. And at many other significant Welsh conflicts. Then people start saying they’ve met him in pubs. That he rambles that he knows things nobody could know and then forgets them. And then, at the turn of the century comes Dave Griffin… taking over all the drugs and prozzies and protection, and the photos and the insights of the mystics all match. The “dragon” is snorting his own supply and slitting throats.

The Present:

My heart bleeds, Pete replies, before he orders John the Skrull, Sid aka Captain Midland and his wife, Tink, to observation post two, while he and Maureen Raven will take post one. Tink with them? John observes. Now there’s a coincidence. Shut up, unreal person, the fairy spits back.

Inside the pub, Shang-Chi realizes that the dragon has forgotten his true self. He would understand if he wished to pass as a beggar to humble himself. But to be a king in this tiny world, to use his power to be a petty criminal, that is meaningless. Raising his fist and calling him “Chinky,” Griffin asks what he is on about. Meaningless? Tiny? Does he know who he is? As he becomes cruder and more insulting, Shang-Si begins to smile. His turn of phrase is… amusing.

Observation post two, the Owen Glendower Bed and Breakfast. Pete and Maureen share a passionate embrace, though she is more nervous and asks him to tell Tink. And then they are at war with the faerie nation, he predicts.

Just because terrible stuff happened to him in the past doesn’t mean history is always going to repeat itself, Mo points out. If he is honest, Tink might understand. They were never a real couple. Joining Mo at the window, he promises he will tell Tink. Soon, he promises at her insistence.

Just her luck, Mo sighs. As a single mum being in a hotel room without a cot in it is the height of romance. But duty calls. Surveillance and all that. Getting an idea, Pete tells her to keep an eye on the target and keep the binoculars steady. The next moment he crawls down.

Soundtrack: Stereophonics. “The Bartender and the Thief”

In the pub, the dragon’s men are trying to fight the Master of Kung-Fu, who muses that Wisdom chose him because he believes Shang-Chi is noble. He does not recognize the word a applied to himself. But he sees how his form of combat may awake the memories of the dragon.

Griffin angrily shouts at his men to shoot him. The barman tries and Shang-Chi twists out of the way, evading the bullet. Care to try again? he asks. Wisely the man chooses to flee instead.

Soundtrack: Tom Jones. “Sex Bomb”

Back in the Bed and Breakfast:

While Pete is busy pleasuring Mo, she observes what’s going on outside, only to remark that nothing much is happening down there. Correcting herself, she adds that she certainly didn’t mean that. She sighs that Pete is going to hell for that… in the middle of a mission, but she hurries to tell him not to stop. A little later, she asks him to stop. His mission is accomplished.

Observation post one. The Gruffydd Yonge Bed and Breakfast:

Soundtrack: Superfurry Animals. “God! Show me Magic”

A frustrated Tink announces that he should just tell her. He thinks then she’ll tell her father and boom. He thinks that little of her. It’s like she’s not real. Kids these days. In his day, you knocked a girl up, had to marry her. Married for life, Captain Midland adds unhelpfully. Then she dies in 1963. And that’s it.

That’s the old old story John the Skrull remarks, hugging both of them. Being real, is not all it’s cracked up to be. Living like Wisdom does… Afraid that for every action there is an unjustly evil and opposite reaction… Now that’s not living like a real person. They should put a copy of him in every hotel room, he decides. Looking at Tink, he advises her that the fairy has to leave the boy who won’t grow up. That’s the only decision she has to make. That… and he supposes a shag is out of the question?

Back in the pub, only Shang-Chi and Griffin are left conscious. Shang-Chi tries to explain that the truth will set him free. That’s what Wisdom tells him. Oriental Wisdom like? Griffin asks. Bollocks to that! As Shang-Chi places a kick to his face, he muses that he would tell him he meant Peter Wisdom. That he has implied that a noble and selfless Welsh dragon, horrified at remembering his crimes, would be forgiven. But he doesn’t have the breath.

Griffin furiously asks again if Shang-Shi knows who he is before breathing fire at him. Standing upside down, hanging from the ceiling, Shang-Chi calmly observes that they are making progress with his mind. Can he remember his body? In response, Griffin screams and sheds his human skin to reveal the red dragon underneath.

Back at the hotel room, Maureen offers to reciprocate but Pete declines. Suddenly, they both feel sleepy. Mo mentions that Pete talks in his sleep, always mentioning one word: “Pride.” Comes before a fall, he guesses, Wisdom jokes weakly. Before realizing how unnatural that is, both of them fall asleep on the ground, cuddled against each other.

The same effect has spread across the entire city, as the dragon has taken energy from every person there to effect his transformation. Only the two combatants are still awake.

Shang-Chi tells his foe that he is a dragon. His nature is essentially noble. As he will witness in the battle they are about to have. Or have always had.

Soundtrack: The Velvet Underground: “I’ll be your mirror”

The battle takes them through space and time, the stone age, medieval times, feudal Japan WW I as Shang-Chi reminds the dragon that he fights not to win but to show him the fullness of his existence. Across history, always as something good. Until now, he’s sorry, Griffin replies. It’s too late.

He smashes Shang-Chi through the ceiling. Shang-Chi is hurled upward and the Dragon follows. Seeing Shang-Chi fall, he comes to his senses and, as they fall into Pete’s and Maureen’s hotel room, he manages to shield him from the brunt of the impact at the very last moment.

Pete and Maureen awake next to each other. Tink and John see them from above and Tink finally has proof for what she only suspected before.

Griffin turns back to his human form, clearly relieved to see that Shang-Chi is alive. And pleased, the Master of Kung-Fu assures him, to know that Griffin knows who he is. Turning to Wisdom, Shang-Chi reminds him that he promised this noble creature his freedom. Well, Wisdom replies somewhat embarrassed, about that… the truth will set you free… he meant it kind of metaphorically.

Not much later, the military takes Griffin into custody. Cymru am Byth! Griffin snarls angrily at Wisdom. And up yours, the agent replies maturely. Commander Thomas muses that they made an enemy here. Yeah, but only a Welsh one, Wisdom replies. Thomas shoots him a withering glare. Hey, he’s only… Wisdom begins. Thomas tells him to shut up.

Soundtrack: Catatonia. “Bulimic Beats”

Later at the beach, Pete and Tink have a long overdue talk. He should have told her, she starts. Turning away, she tells him what’s gonna happen: She’s gonna think he’s a weak selfish man. She’s gonna hate him. And her. She’s gonna refer to this every time he gives her an order… No, she’s not gonna let him give her orders. But she won’t cause a war that will kill both their people. Turning away, close to tears, she calls him a shit, for thinking her capable of doing that.

From some distance away, Maureen Raven watches the two. Shang-Chi, all packed up, joins her, telling her cryptically to remember when it happens: The men in power think they’re doing the right thing. What? she asks confused. He is telling her this because he feels sorry for her. She can tell Wisdom. He cannot sympathize with a man who has engineered his own karmic downfall. Good-bye.

Characters Involved: 

Pete Wisdom

Captain Midland, John the Skrull, Maureen Raven, Tink (Wisdom’s MI-13 team)

Shang-Chi, the Master of Kung-Fu

Commander Dai Thomas

Dave Griffin / the Red Dragon

Patrons at the pub


Story Notes: 

“Austin Powers” is a movie starring Mike Myers, making fun of the secret agent genre of the 1960s, particularly James Bond.

Ivor the Engine was the first animation by Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin's Smallfilms company. It was a children's television series relating the adventures of a small green locomotive who lived in the "top left-hand corner of Wales" and worked for the Merioneth and Llantisilly Rail Traction Company Limited. His friends included Edwin Jones the Steam, Evans the Song and Dai Station, among many other remarkable characters.

“Petawn I’n Meddwl am eiliad dy fod Ti’n golygu unrhw ran o hynny” is Welsh for “If I thought for one second you meant any of that”

“Cymru am Byth” Welsh for “Wales forever!”

“Ti’n gwybod nad ydw I”: Welsh for “You know I didn’t.”

(translations taken from Paul Cornell’s blog: http://paulcornell.blogspot.com)

The Mabinogion is a cycle of Welsh legends collected in the Red Book of Hergest, a manuscript which is in the library of Oxford University. Mabinogion means 'tales of youth'; although this appellation only applies to a few of the stories. The Mabinogion is now used as the name of the entire collection. The stories are based on historical characters and incidents from the Dark Ages in Wales and environs, embellished with supernatural and folklore elements. Throughout, there are echoes of primordial Celtic mythology and folklore, including the ancient gods and goddesses.

The first five tales are Welsh versions of incidents from the Arthurian canon. The Mabinogion per se consists of the four connected narratives (called 'the branches') from Pwll, Prince of Dyved, through Math, the Son of Mathonwy. Following these are three additional stories, including the legend of one of the most famous bards of Wales, Taliesin.

The Mabinogion is one of the masterpieces of world literature, and a must-read for anyone who wants to have an understanding of Celtic lore.

In the myth, the castle of Vortigen kept falling down. Merlin explained that it was because there were two dragons under the foundations, one red and one white. The implication of this myth is that the strength of the land could only be harnessed by a true ruler and Vortigen was not such a man. The red dragon has also been seen as symbolic of the people of Britain driven out by the white dragon representing the Saxons, who Vortigen had allowed into the country.

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