Wolverine: First Class #9

Issue Date: 
January 2009
Story Title: 

Fred Van Lente (writer), Francis Portela (artist), Ulises Arrerola (colorist), VC’s Joe Caramagna (letterer), Espin, Kesel, Quintana (cover), Jordan D. White (assistant editor), Nathan Cosby and Mark Paniccia (editors), Dan Buckley (publisher), Joe Quesada (editor-in-chief)

Brief Description: 

In Madripoor, Wolverine seeks out the martial artist Shang-Chi to get help defeating Sabretooth, who has captured Kitty Pryde. Shang-Chi tells him he cannot help him fight, and instead offers Wolverine a lesson in philosophy. He presents him with an apple and asks what it is; if he answers wrong, Shang-Chi vows to beat him. Every answer Wolverine gives proves incorrect, and the two men fight. Afterward, Shang-Chi tells him he failed the apple riddle because he creates attachments to objects instead of accepting their true essences. In battle, however, he is able to detach himself from thought and react instead of thinking. Wolverine leaves in frustration and meets Sabretooth the next day at a waterfall. Before the battle begins, however, Wolverine has an epiphany, which helps him recognize Sabretooth’s intent. Instead of going into a predictable rage, he placidly challenges Sabretooth, and as a result, emerges from the battle victorious. Later, after rescuing Kitty, Wolverine returns to Shang-Chi, who again presents him with the riddle of the apple. This time, Wolverine grabs the apple and takes a bite. Shang-Chi bows and tells him he is now a master.

Full Summary: 

Wolverine arrives at a pagoda in Madripoor. He ascends to the temple’s top level to find its inhabitant, a martial artist named Shang-Chi, sitting quietly. Logan introduces himself to the great Wushu master and admits he could use his help.

It seems his greatest enemy, Sabretooth, has kidnapped the Kitty Pryde and taken her to Madripoor as his hostage. If Logan does not produce the ransom, Sabretooth will kill her. Logan refuses to allow this. His whole life, he has struggled to restrain the beast within, but Sabretooth is just the opposite: he revels in his own monstrousness. He knows how to push Logan’s buttons. He always makes Logan lose control, and then beats him senseless.

Logan sets down his duffel bag. He was told Shang-Chi could teach him some new techniques he could use to beat Sabretooth. He doesn’t expect Shang-Chi to help him for free. He unzips his duffel bag, revealing stacks of money.

“You have been misinformed,” Shang-Chi says. “I long ago put down the ways of kung fu.” He adds he now struggles toward enlightenment through teaching the riddles the Japanese call “Koan.” Sure, Logan says, citing the oft-referenced riddle of a tree falling in the woods with no one around to hear it. Shang-Chi says if Logan is willing to learn, he can teach him. “For example,” Shang-Chi says, picking up an apple out of his basket and presenting it to Logan, “what is this? If you say it is an apple, I will hit you thirty times. If you say it is not an apple, I will hit you thirty times.”

“You’ll try,” Wolverine grunts. Shang-Chi does not respond. After glaring at him for a moment, Wolverine sighs and asks what he’s supposed to say; it’s clearly an apple.

True to his word, Shang-Chi picks up his staff and strikes at Logan. The X-Man instinctually dodges the attack, and counters by slicing the staff in two. Shang-Chi smacks him across the cheek with the staff fragment in his right hand, and then knocks him to the ground with his left. See how superior his blade is, Shang-Chi asks? Logan reminds the Wushu master he isn’t carrying a blade. “Of course I am,” Shang-Chi says. “So are you, a blade more powerful than those claws of yours. But you choose not to use it.” He tells Wolverine he possesses a diamond sword, which cuts off all burdens, prejudices, and thinking, leaving things purely as they are. He twirls the dual remnants of his staff. To most people, he says, it would appear Wolverine cut his weapon in half. The clear mind, however, would see that Wolverine merely gave Shang-Chi two weapons, whereas before, he had only one. “Your claws are useless without your diamond sword. Use it to cut this weight off your soul,” he says.

Wolverine becomes ornery at this perceived condescension. Shang-Chi makes it sound so easy; does he think Logan hasn’t tried? He would give anything to stop acting like an animal and be normal again. “Of course you are not an animal”, Shang-Chi says. “You are much worse than an animal. An animal does not waste his time wondering whether he is an animal or not. He simply is.”

“Animal. Human. One. Zero. Good. Bad. These things,” Shang-Chi says, “are created by the mind.” He tells Wolverine to use his diamond sword to put these things down. He thinks he needs them, but truthfully, he does not. Once again, he presents Logan with the apple. “What is this?”

Again, Logan stares at it. This time, however, he answers with silence. A set of automatic crossbows suddenly spring from the bushes and fire at him, but he slices the bolts into pieces before they can hit him. Shang-Chi plunges his hands into the sand, extracts two swords, and attacks Logan once more. Logan parries the blow. Shang-Chi then swings the blades in a wide arc aimed at Wolverine’s mid-section. He back-flips into the air, barely avoiding being severed in half, and lands on the pagoda’s railing. Shang-Chi rushes him, and with his first blade, attacks Logan directly. With his second, he slices the banister form beneath Logan’s feet. Logan falls over the side of the building. Shang-Chi catches him by the foot, sparing him from the fall

Does he see now, Shang-Chi asks? In the heat of battle, Logan possesses a clear mind. In battle, he doesn’t think; he purely reacts. In battle, he does not waste time going into one of his rages. Enemies like Sabretooth don’t have to do anything to defeat him because they don’t need to; Logan comes to them already defeated.

After he pulls him back up to the roof, Wolverine asks what he did wrong by answering the apple question in silence. Shang-Chi explains that before, when he said it was an apple, he showed an attachment to form. When he gave no answer, however, he showed an attachment to nothingness. A clear mind is attached to neither. It sees things as they are. He holds up the apple once more. “What is this? What are you? Are these questions the same, or are they different?”

Wolverine throws his hands up in frustration. “It’s me! It’s you! It’s a doghouse!” He unsheathes his claws. Shang-Chi doesn’t flinch. Those answers are fine, he tells him, but now, Wolverine shows attachment to nonsense. That does it, Logan shouts! “You know what I ain’t attached to? I ain’t! Attached! To you!” He storms out of the pagoda, telling Shang-Chi he was clearly mistaken in thinking he could help. After a moment, however, he pokes his head back in the door, and sheepishly asks if that was the right answer. Shang-Chi looks at him, but says nothing. Logan, further frustrated, leaves again. As he walks through the dense jungle of Madripoor, he remarks the entire session with Shang-Chi was nothing but a waste of time.

Later that night, at his hotel in Madripoor, Logan is given a cryptic message by the clerk. It simply says “Luong Falls – Dawn.” Logan deciphers the name to mean Sabretooth, and scolds himself for wasting the day with Shang-Chi instead of searching for Kitty. Now, he has to play by Sabretooth’s rules. Again.

He arrives at the waterfall well before dawn. While awaiting Sabretooth’s arrival, Wolverine meditatively listens to the roar of the falls. A bird flies overhead and grabs his attention. What is this, he asks himself while looking at his reflection in a puddle. What is it? His eyes suddenly widen; his mind goes momentarily blank. This brief trance, however, is interrupted by the arrival of Sabretooth.

Wolverine turns around to see his nemesis carrying the unconscious Kitty Pryde in a net. Let’s do this, Sabretooth says, telling him not to worry about the girl. Sabretooth gave her enough drugs to knock her out without hurting her. Not that he has a problem with that, he adds. He will certainly hurt her if Logan does not give him the information he wants. He reminds Logan that Madripoor used to be a refuge for the South Vietnamese after the communists occupied Saigon. Back when he was a spy, Logan helped them hide their weapons and valuable somewhere in the jungle. Sabretooth demands to know where the goods are stashed. If Logan won’t tell, then he’ll drop the girl over the edge of the waterfall.

“I’m not gonna tell you a thing,” Wolverine answers. Surprised, Sabretooth asks if he remembers with whom he’s dealing. Yes, Wolverine says, but adds he knows Sabretooth has no interest in the guns and gold of Vietnam. “You can just torment me. Like you always want,” he says. After ordering him to put the girl down, he tells Sabretooth to come get what he came for. “You can just dump her after you’ve defeated me, anyway.”

Sabretooth can barely believe it. It seems he finally broke Wolverine. “But I’m glad you’ve finally recognized your superior when you see ‘im,” Sabretooth says. He sets the unconscious Kitty down and lunges at Logan. Wolverine, however, effortlessly blocks his attack. Sabretooth swipes at him again, but again, Wolverine knocks his arm aside. Try as he might, Sabretooth cannot score a hit. What does he think he is doing, he asks Wolverine? He only delays the inevitable! In time, Sabretooth will unleash his inner beast, and show him he’s nothing but a savage animal, just like he always does.

Wolverine head-butts him in the nose. “No,” he says to the staggering Sabretooth. “You’ve never faced me before. This is our first fight. Our only fight.” He kicks Sabretooth over the edge of the waterfall. As for the “leash” Sabretooth mentioned, well, Wolverine finally put it down. He cuts Kitty free of her bindings and carries her away from the waterfall without looking back.

Sometime later, Wolverine returns to Shang-Chi’s pagoda. Shang-Chi is not surprised to see him again. Skipping all formalities, the Wushu master reaches into his basket once more and presents Logan with an apple. “What is this?” he asks. Smiling, Wolverine grabs the apple and takes a bite. Shang-Chi approves. “Now you are the master,” he says, bowing his head.

As Logan descends the stairs, still chomping away at the apple, he ponders what he has learned. Things are what they are; words cannot hope to fully encompass them. He and the apple and the waterfall all have their respective places in the world. He is reminded of a quote by his favorite philosopher: I am what I am and that’s all that I am. And what is he? He is a guy who tries to do the right thing. He’s Wolverine, and that’s enough.

Characters Involved: 

Sprite, Wolverine (X-Men)

Shang-Chi (Wushu master)


Hotel clerk

Story Notes: 

Shang-Chi’s story is an interesting one; although he is a Marvel Comics character, he was created from intellectual property licensed to Marvel. According to Peter Sanderson’s 2007 book The Marvel Comics Guide to New York City, Marvel, after obtaining the comic-adaptation rights to Sax Rohmer’s series of Fu Manchu books, introduced Shang-Chi, a new character who was the son of the villainous Fu Manchu. He made his comic debut in 1973 during the height of the kung fu craze in Special Marvel Edition #15, which soon changed its name to The Hands of Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu. Shang-Chi has since appeared periodically throughout the Marvel line, most recently as a main character in the second volume of Heroes for Hire and in the 2007 miniseries Wisdom.

Shang-Chi’s encounter with Wolverine in this issue creates a continuity problem, as he will meet Wolverine again – supposedly for the first time - in X-Men (2nd series) #62-64. A case could be made for Wolverine’s ignorance because at that point he is in his feral form, but Shang-Chi has no such excuse for not remembering their previous encounter.
Wolverine’s favorite philosopher would appear to be Popeye.
Koan is a paradoxical statement one is meant to consider to gain more wisdom.

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