Beaten and chained to the wall, Logan thinks to himself that s’ funny how things work out. His new year’s resolution was pretty straight-forward. He was determined “to be the best there is at what he does… an’ figure out what that is.” He’s hardly off to an auspicious beginnin’. The pain’s bad enough, he’d be lyin’ if he said it wasn’t. But the humiliation o’ bein’ propped up an’ batted around like an’ ol’ punchin’ bag is what really gnaws at his craw. The manacles around his wrists were designed with his claws in mind. His host’s were obviously expectin’ him and he stumbled into their trap like the greenest rookie. The best there is? Ha! Ain’t no top ten list in his future.
Suddenly, he’s catchin’ a whiff’a two familiar scents. One’s the musty stink of a rotting corpse. The other smells like a room full’a gym socks that never met a clean foot. They’re both from another place, another time, and don’t belong here. Come to think of it, neither does he.
Just then, Roughhouse strikes him with a backhand fist and asks shorty how he’s doin’. He mentions that his healin’ factor must’a kicked in by now so it’s time t’ soften him up again. They’d hate fer him t’ get too comfortable. Logan thinks that he’s already been through this drill a few dozen times. Still doesn’t get any easier. After a decade or two, Roughhouse finally eases off. Too bad, he was hopin’ he’d strain his hand. Rubbing his hands together, Roughhouse tells Logan that he’s even tougher than he remembers, not that it’ll do him any good. Even a mountain wears down over time an’ they got all the time they need.
Bloodscream interjects ‘tis a pity a warrior as courageous as him must suffer their unspeakable torments before being denied the noble death he justly deserves. Logan then feels Bloodscream’s hand brushing against his brow, leaving a trail of fresh blood. Even worse, he licks his fingers. As his tormentors turn to walk away, Roughhouse tells Logan that they’ll see him later. They gotta give his bones a chance to knit before they can break ‘em again.
With his face bleeding profusely, Logan thinks to himself that there was a time when his bones were still laced with adamantium, the strongest metal on Earth that he could have snapped free ‘a his shackles without even raisin’ a sweat. Those were the days when he probably was the best at what he did. Not anymore. Dropping his head, he figures s’ funny how you always dredge up the past when ya got no place t’ go.
Wasn’t so long ago that he was standin’ in his East Village apartment. It had been redecorated by an “old friend” who’d always been partial to a good firebomb. He was debatin’ the merits o’ tryin’ t’ salvage his place against findin’ a new one. Since he’d recently been spendin’ his weekends helpin’ t’ renovate Xavier’s Institute for Higher Learning, he wasn’t quite ready t’ sign up for another home improvement project. He originally struck out on his own, separatin’ himself from the other X-Men t’see if he had the ability ta blend into regular society. But the entire test’s been somethin’ of a bust. It’s like there aren’t any normal people anymore. Almost seems like his life’s been an endless stream o’ costumed lunatics, high-tech mutant haters and neighborhood psychos.
Walking into a deli, Logan happens upon a thug pointing his fun at the deli owner. Once he walks in, the thug points the gun at him and tells him that he’s got a real bad sense of timing and he hopes he don’t also suffer from a hero complex. Logan replies not him, he just came for a tuna salad on rye and a cold brew. Long as he gets his lunch, they have no quarrel. As the thug leaves, he tells Logan that he’s all right and that he likes a man who knows his priorities. He then adds that he left a ten spot on the counter, his meal’s on him. Logan tells him much obliged but he just lost his appetite.
Following the thug, Logan knows that people have been payin’ off racketeers for “protection” ever since they invented the barter system. But he has an aversion t’ such things. Realizing that his friendly arm-twister was just a bagman, he used his hyper-senses to secretly track him across the village. He would return the deli owner’s cash later. Eventually the thug led him to a warehouse which seemed like a likely headquarters for an enterprising band of young extortionists. Hoping to teach the lad and his friends a li’l lesson in business ethics, he slipped in through the roof. Things might’ve turned out differently if the building wasn’t stocked with bushels o’ flavored coffee and exotic spices which masked every other scent. At least that’s what he tells himself. Otherwise, when Roughhouse came bursting through the wall and punched him, he’d have t’ admit that he just got careless.
Back to reality, Roughhouse arrives and tells Logan to wake up, they don’t wanna give him too much time t’ recover. With another punch to his face, Roughhouse tells him nah, they’re just gonna keep poundin’ on him until his healin’ factor overloads. As Roughhouse continues to land punch after punch after punch, Logan thinks to himself that he’s spent most of his life throwin’ punches or receivin’ them. There was a time when he lived for his next fight, when he couldn’t wait to test himself against all comers. When he thought he was practically invincible. But he learned a real lesson in vulnerability on the day the adamantium was ripped outta his body. He was lucky to survive at all an’ the event did a lot toward shakin’ his confidence in himself. Seems like he’s been on a downward spiral ever since, making one careless mistake after another. He’s grown soft, sloppy and undisciplined. That’s his only explanation for fallin’ prey t’ a pair of mental defectives from his days in Madripoor – Roughhouse and Bloodscream.
Standing before Logan, Bloodscream tells Roughhouse skilled are his efforts, their guest appears more passive. Weakly, Logan responds by telling them they’ll see how long that lasts if he ever gets free. But it wouldn’t be the first time he left either a’ them for dead. Roughhouse says that he made a real mess ‘a Bloodscream the last time they fought, but he found ‘im in time t’ patch his wounds and their differences. Logan mentions that they used to be high-priced mercenaries. Must have hit a real bad streak if they’re now reduced t’ scammin’ the mom and pop set. Bloodscream informs him on the contrary, they are merely assisting an old client who has recently been granted leave to expand to these shores. He is known as the Black Tarantula. But he has neither knowledge nor interest in his, Logan’s, fate. Happily, that is a private matter among them three.
Alone again, Logan can drift on his thoughts and pain until he anchors on the memory of another recent blunder – a session in the X-Men’s Danger Room which almost turned fatal. He was playin’ big shot, the tough guy who knew it all and carelessly allowed Marrow, a new recruit with a bad attitude, t’ get too close, t’ slip under his guard and catch him nappin’. A lousy, loud-mouthed kid and she coulda killed him. Even worse, he momentarily slipped into a berserker rage and almost gutted her.
ENOUGH!! Logan decides that he’s through whinin’ like a yuppie fool. Maybe he has lost his edge. Maybe he’s not the best and never was. But he can be if he wants it bad enough. They say a real wolverine will gnaw off it’s own paw t’ escape a hunter’s trap. He’s desperate, not crazy. But he is willin’ to try the next best thing. As so, he begins t’ strain. Twistin’ and turnin’ and tryin’ t’ get enough leverage t’ break his own wrist. The sharp crack ain’t as satisfyin’ as he’d hoped. Probably due to the burning pain which shoots down his arm and blows out the back ‘a his skull. The manacles have just enough slack to let a hand slip through but only one filled with fractured tarsels and meta tarsels.
As so, coldly, and methodically, he squirms and wrenches and shatters. He can barely keep from screamin’ as everything begins to waver and the beast batters at the door, his fangs hungerin’ for his wrist. But only the man can save him now, only a man fightin’ t’be the beast. His own blood provides the lubrication which finally pops him free. Looking down at his hand he sees that it’s a scarlet mess of jagged bone and raw pulp. But it’ll heal, he hopes. S’funny, he never could have attempted the stunt if he still had his adamantium.
Now comes the fun part. He tries t’ ignore his hand while he kicks off the heal ‘a his right boot. But even the slightest movement sets off the hot wire hangin’ inside his arm. He’s never exactly been the subtle type. He wants into a room, he batters down the door or claws through a wall. One a’ the advantages of belongin’ to a team like the X-Men is that ya meet a wide variety a’ people. Take his buddy, Storm, for instance. She was trained as a lockpick while still a kid and ain’t never met a latch she couldn’t slip. Lucky for him, she’s a pretty good teacher. With that, Logan swings the end of his boot up to his mouth and clinches a metal nail from the end of his boot. Using the nail, he then picks the lock, freeing himself.
As soon as Roughhouse opens the door he sees that it’s dark and calls out to some guys to replace a bulb pronto. As the two men change the light bulb, the one asks the other if they can believe that guy. Big as a tank and Roughhouse is still afraid of the dark. His buddy replies it ain’t the dark, he spotted a rat the other day and he swears he almost… Noticing that the shackles are now empty, the man remarks that he thinks they have a problem there.
Just then, Logan leaps towards them with his left hand bandaged and takes them out. As he does he thinks yeah, about as big as his talent for understatement. He puts ‘em down fast and silent, slammin’ ‘em into unconsciousness before either one could shout a warning. Was a time he wouldn’t have stopped until they were both dead. Guess he’s gettin’ soft. Maybe he’s been with the X-Men too long or maybe it’s just his way a’ showin’ thanks for the free lunch. Either way, he won’t be cuttin’ any slack for Bloodscream and Roughhouse.
Inside an office, Bloodscream states pleased will their principal be with their profit. Roughhouse exclaims stuff the cash! He knows he has a bad jones fer Wolverine, him too but the guy’s a timebomb. They should cap ‘im and be done with it. Bloodscream tells him that he’s impatient yet his words ring with reason. He eventually concedes and says so be it but allow him the honor of feasting on his blood. As Roughhouse leaves, he tells Bloodscream he’s got it and that he’s gonna enjoy pulpin’ that lil…
As soon as Roughhouse leaves the office, Logan drives a forklift directly into him. Logan knows that Roughhouse has the constitution of an ox. And not your average ox either. Nope, we’re talkin’ the Schwarzenegger of oxen. Picking himself up off the ground, Roughhouse tells Logan that he has to give credit where it’s due, he never ceases to amaze him. As he picks up the forklift with one arm knocking Logan out of it, Roughhouse tells him that he guesses it’s better this way. A scrapper like him deserves t’ go down fightin’. And trust him, he’s gonna go down hard!
Getting in Roughhouse’s face, Logan tells him sticks and stones can break his bones but threats are cheap especially from a blowhard like him. Taking a futile swing at Logan, Roughhouse tells him that is cold, he thought they were startin’ t’ bond. Logan replies he didn’t mean t’ hurt his feelin’s, just the rest ‘a him. When it comes t’ bein’ human, neither Roughhouse nor Logan are quite on target. Logan is pure mutant and proud of it. As for Roughhouse, let’s just say he’s always had his suspicions about him. He thinks he hails from a place with a decidedly northern clime – a land of ice giants, thunder gods and rock trolls. While his strength isn’t quite at Hulk-level, it’s enough to keep this ol’ canucklehead on his toes. He was shruggin’ off his best shots even when he had his adamantium and his situation hasn’t improved.
As the two of them continue to battle, Roughhouse remarks that he’d forgotten all the fun he had whenever he threw down with him. As Roughhouse grabs Logan in a bear hug from behind, Logan asks that he amuses him? Roughhouse tells him yes, he’s a real barrel of laughs. He’s gonna miss their occasional tête-à-têtes. Logan thinks to himself that it’s one thing t’ hit bottom. Quite another t’ find yourself plungin’ past the sub-basement. Either he reverses the downward spiral or he gets dead. A simple choice, really though the implementation can be a li’l tricky. With that, Logan cracks Roughhouse in the jaw with his elbow, freeing himself from the behemoth’s grasp. Continuing his assault, Roughhouse asks Logan what’s suddenly got him so fired up, it’s like he caught a second wind. Logan tells him nah, just settlin’ back into his first one. Logan then tells Roughhouse last chance. Back off an’ he just might get to live.
From behind him, Bloodscream tells him that is an option they dare not offer him. Once he hears his voice, Logan thinks to himself dumb, careless, amateur. The most basic rule in any form a’ combat is keepin’ track a’ your enemies but Mr. Best forgot all about Bloodscream. He begins to bleed the instant he touches him. He doesn’t know how he does it but the blood seeps right through his skin, without benefit of a wound. Bloodscream claims he’s a man born of woman who’d sailed with Sir Francis Drake. He always thought the “born of woman” was a bit of a stretch. The guy’s part vampire, part elf, and another part he don’t even dare think about. He’s also got a healing factor that’s easily the equal a’ his. He’s slashed him from gut to gums in the past but as he often reminds him, he can’t be slain by any metal forged by man.
As Bloodscream strengthens his grip on Logan, he tells him that all hope has fled for him. His strength is already in retreat and his knees melt beneath him even now. He tells him to cease this futile struggle. Only dead and despair await him. Accept his failure and embrace his fate, he can neither escape him, nor do him harm. Logan replies that ain’t quite true bub. In case he didn’t hear the news, his claws ain’t covered with metal no more. Just then, Logan drives his bone claws into Bloodscream’s gut.
Bloodscream barely manages to stagger off, he shoulda known better. It ain’t like he didn’t already know that. Logan thinks to himself that life is an endless series of possibilities. Stagnation only comes with death. If he truly wants to be the best there is at what he does, he has a butt to kickstart – his own. Just then, Roughhouse appears and tells Logan that he just made things worse fer both o’ them. Bloodscream’s gonna be impossible t’ live with now, an he’s the one who’s gotta listen to his crabbin’. Logan informs him that he came to the wrong man for sympathy. Missing with a swing of his fist, Roughhouse tells him that he guesses compassion is a lost art but that can be t’ his disadvantage as well.
Dodging the blows, Logan realizes that Roughhouse is swingin’ wild. Don’t matter what he crushes as long as his head’s not part a’ the bargain. The berserker which lives within him starts a’ howlin’ desperate t’ tear into him an’ slug it out toe to toe. Lucky for him, the professional’s in control for the moment. Bobbin’ and weavin’, he leads him a merry chase as he bides his time. Barely avoidin’ a permanent part in his hair, he just manages to duck beneath a particularly savage cut which, unfortunately for Roughhouse, makes the acquaintance of a couple’a concrete supports.
Once the building comes crashing down, Logan can barely find the strength t’ breath as the dust finally begins to settle. An inventory of all his injuries would require more effort than he presently has on hand. Suffice it to say, he’s had better days. But this game could still go into extra innings. While that pile a’ debris might discourage your average creep, Roughhouse can be downright obstinate on occasion. Freeing himself, Roughhouse calls out to Logan that he hopes he enjoyed his break because he’s still ready t’ rumble. Grabbing Roughhouse in a choke hold, Logan tells him that’s too bad, he was kinda hopin’ he’d prefer to live. Silence smolders in the air while Roughhouse ponders his options. He eventually elects to surrender.
Watching the cops enter the destroyed warehouse, Logan reflects that surrender is a choice he would certainly applaud if he could. He was lucky today but it could have gone the other way. He began this year with a rather ambitious goal – “to be the best there is at what he does an’ figure out what that is.” It ain’t gonna be easy, nothing of value ever is.