(Greenland, Kansas, the 1930’s)
Logan was in a circus ring, shackled with chains stretching from hand to hand and up to his neck. Maximillian Ernesto Seville was the ringmaster, and he introduced Logan to the crowd as the Amazing Immortal Man. “You’ve seen him face fire,” he cried. “You’ve seen him fall fifty feet onto a bed of nails,” he continued. The crowd lapped it up. Several spikes stuck out of Logan’s skin as he received the applause.
Maximillian had heard about this ‘wild man’ in Tennessee who’d been trapped for stealing chickens. It took five men just to chain him. Max paid forty dollars for him and thought he’d be just fine for the sideshow geek. They’d been lacking one since Armand had to shoot the last one. Olga, the lion tamer’s assistant, found out Logan’s real name. Logan took a shine to her, but on account of the lion tamer being a jealous man, he shot Logan one evening. Max discovered then that Logan was something special when, a few hours later, he was completely healed.
By the third night, practically everyone in town would come to see the Amazing Immortal Man – the circus’ star attraction. Most of the cops came too, if only for crowd control. Of course, with everyone at the circus, the town was darn near empty, which left it wide open for Max to beef up his box office. He used a team of hoods to rob the place, with Teddy Fingers his top safecracker.
Teddy was also a first class snooper, and one day he overheard trouble brewing between Logan and Max. As Logan recuperated from his day’s injuries, Max visited him. Olga was taking care of Logan who was upset that Max had been robbing the town. He reminded Max that the deal was that he would let this town be as Olga needed a place to have her baby. Max told Logan that the wheat harvest had come in and there was two million dollars just sitting in the bank vault. They were going to take the whole lot that night, and after that they could stop anywhere Logan wanted.
Logan sat up in bed, and told Max that Olga was already having contractions. Max replied that, in that case, she’d have the kid on the road. Logan replied that in that case, he was done. Max threw up his arms and said fine. He’d have Armand take Olga to the hospital. Logan told Max that he wanted to see Teddy Fingers in the audience that night, so he would know he wasn’t out doing something they’d both regret. Max left the room, informing Logan that they’d stay there another week. He should get ready, as that night he would be performing with the lions.
Olga, who was heavily pregnant before Logan showed up, didn’t like the lions, but Logan assured her that it was fine. He told her that the circus was no place to raise a kid and she should stay in town. It was a good place and he could send money back for her. He looked after her as if the kid was his own.
It was Logan’s turn to perform, and as he entered the ring to face the beasts, Teddy Fingers paid Max a visit in his quarters. He understood the job had been called off, but Max replied that two million dollar jobs didn’t get called off. He should get his butt in the bleachers where Logan could see him and be ready for his signal. Teddy did as he was told and watched the show, in full view of the star attraction.
Armand showed Olga to a caravan where a midwife named Lydia was waiting. Olga complained that Logan said she was to go to a hospital. Back in the big top, whilst he was busy, someone locked Logan inside the cage with the lions. There was no escape. When Logan saw Teddy was gone, he roared and snapped his chains with ease.
Outside, the gang got together and Teddy Fingers hooked up with them. He saw someone lock the gate on Logan and knew how mad he would be. Max reckoned he wouldn’t be that mad when he got the extra cash in his pocket. Armand came running over and informed him that the baby had come out feet-first. Lydia had said that Olga needed to go to the hospital. One of the gang figured that would blow the job. Maybe they could pull the job and just leave her behind?
Max replied that Olga knew too much. He asked Armand to tell Lydia to do what she could. Everyone else should get on the truck. Teddy was a little upset and said that Olga would die! He wouldn’t help Max. Max then pointed a pistol in his face and warned him that if he didn’t get his money, then he’d have no use for Teddy. He ordered Armand to tell the handler that it would be Plan B. No matter what - Logan wouldn’t come out of that cage alive.
Back inside the big top, Logan smashed one of the lions against the cage. He then ran to the opposite side and tore the cage apart with his bare hands before getting out. Armand had warned Raul, the fire-eater, to be prepared, and he tried to burn Logan as he fled the cage. Despite the flames licking from his body, Logan was in no mood to be stopped, even by the Arabian Knights who could cut the heart out of a man before he knew it was missing. The whole place went up in flames as he departed the circus. Armand, of course, blamed Logan when the cops arrived. Elephants stampeded and the crowd panicked. The place was in chaos, and in that chaos, Logan disappeared.
The police searched everywhere and the governor was called. There was a three-state manhunt, but Teddy knew that the first thing Logan would do was to head straight for Olga. When he reached her room, Logan found Olga dead, and Lydia holding a healthy baby boy.
Three miles away, Teddy drove the truck with Max and a pile of cash at his side. Even from that distance, he heard Logan’s cries and felt it in his bones. Teddy almost ran off the road. It was a wail; a terrible scream of agony. He would have nightmares even years later. Max heard it too. They were all relived when Max jumped from the truck with the cash, that he was as far away from them as possible. That was the last anyone saw of Max. Logan got blamed for everything, including the robbery, but no one saw him again, either.
Teddy was panhandling in Chicago when a woman and her son stopped by to drop a ten in his hat. It wasn’t the ten that made his jaw drop. He could have sworn that the lady was Lydia, the old gypsy midwife. She gave him a wink as gypsies do, before she and the boy disappeared before he could get his trap shut. The boy would have been about the right age.
A day didn’t go by without Teddy thinking about the wild man. Did he go back to wandering the hills, stealing chickens? He never heard of him again, but somehow he doubts that was the end of him. After all, wasn’t he supposed to be immortal?
A bus driver is making his rounds, driving his bus on the way to the Bronx. He stops to pick up a couple of hoods, one of whom is wearing a Punisher jacket. He knows they’re trouble. After twenty-three years on the job, you learn to ignore some stuff. Hoods on his bus terrify the passengers, including one young woman who takes their fancy. He figures that she complains, but she dresses kinda… y’know. His daughter is grown up now and he’d still never let her dress like that.
He finally has enough of the trouble and pulls over, shouting back for them to stop what they’re doing. There are working people on board. He wishes he hadn’t opened his mouth. One of the hoods approaches him plunges a knife into his chest, causing him to drop to the floor. Once he is down, the hood prepares to finish him off, but a savior comes in the form of Wolverine, out of costume but still menacing. He breaks the guy’s arm like it’s a toothpick. The driver figures he’s going to die, but he takes comfort in the thought that at least the hoods will get what’s theirs. He looks up at Wolverine. He’s an animal - the Animal Man. He swears he hears Wolverine growl at them.
The other punks don’t get it and each pops their switchblade. There are five of them, but Wolverine has six blades of his own. He pops them from his wrists and ploughs through the bus. The punks don’t stand a chance. The driver sees him take a dozen cuts at least, but he barely feels them. His body appears to heal as fast as it gets damaged. At some point, the driver blacks out. He ain’t no miraculously healing man… or so he thought.
(thirty-two hours and three minutes later)
The driver awakens in his hospital bed, with his daughter waiting by his side. He asks what he was supposed to do. He’s a bus driver. He could sell Tupperware, maybe? His daughter, Claire, is crying. She replies that they could have killed him. They told her that at one point he died. It’s a miracle he revived. Her father replies that it’s because he heals faster now. The Animal Man gave him a piece of his essence. Claire tells him that he’s scaring her. Her dad smiles and says he’s just teasing her. He realizes that he cannot confide in her. An hour after she leaves, he pulls out all of his tubes and walks out of the hospital.
As his daughter still lives with him, he cannot go home, so he rents a cheap place in the Bronx; cashing out his retirement. He begins to work out, grows some sideburns and takes muscle enhancements. In his mind, he thinks he’s the same kind of man as Animal Man. He reckons humanity has descended into barbarianism and that the animals are now more civilized than the people. Warriors are needed to clean up the mess. Animal Warriors.
He attaches knifes to straps on his forearms so he looks like Animal Man, and writes everything down so Claire will know what he’s doing. He tests himself every day, cutting his forearms with a razor blade before watching it heal up quickly. He knows that he is ready. He stands up, and in his mind he is Animal Man. The animal spirit has transformed him. He feels better than he’s felt in his whole life. Bigger, faster and stronger. Nothing can do him harm. He can smell evil in all its forms. He is equipped to handle evil in all its forms. He is the Animal Man.
After promising his boss that he will call Claire, he starts his first night back on the job. He figures she’ll understand everything when she reads his notebook. He wishes he’d remembered to bring it. So many thoughts are getting lost. Observations.
He looks around the bus and sees a kid. Forty-two percent evil. A liar. The worst kind who spreads disease. He glances at a young couple. She is being comforted by her partner. The driver reckons they’re vampires, junkies, users. He is seventy-six percent evil. Her, eighty-one point five. He sees a middle-aged woman and thinks she steals from the elderly. Disgusting. Eighty-three point two. A young woman gets on the bus wearing a slightly revealing dress. Jezebel, he thinks. Ninety-eight percent evil. He looks back at all the passengers and in his mind, he sees demons, witches, monsters, whores and mutants.
He reckons that if he drove into the East River, the world would be better off. It’s too easy, though. This is the beginning, not the end. He must be surgical and pick his shots. The unredeemable must be weeded out first and made an example of. Two guys who are talking about the young lady, exit the bus at her stop and begin to follow her. It’s the last stop. ‘Use your animal powers,’ the driver thinks to himself. ‘Follow the scent.’ He trails them to her apartment where they confront the young woman at the stairs. “Hey, mama! Lookin’ for a party?” they ask.
One asks if she remembers him from 48th Street. She is scared and replies no. He tells her that she wouldn’t give him the time of day cuz he had no scratch. He still ain’t got no money, and hopes that won’t be a problem. He removes a knife from his pocket.
The bus driver approaches. He is shirtless, but in his mind he resembles the Animal Man who saved his life. “Back off, bub…” he warns. “A hundred-and-three percent evil reeks off you like a dead fish. Your only value will be in textbooks” The guys wonder who the hell this clown is. The bus driver roars, “I am Animal!” but as he flings his arms wide, the knife become loose and fly off into the road, leaving him defenseless. The guy stabs him in the chest and then runs off at the sound of an approaching cop car.
The woman drops to her knees and tells him that she called the police. She thanks him for saving her. As he lies bleeding, he replies that her goodness has grown fifty-four percent. She should hold it. Grow it. She sniffs as she promises that she will. “And put on some clothes, for God’s sake,” he whispers as he weakens. He’s accomplished so much this night. There is good out there. Good can grow. He must remember to write this down.
Wolverine is at Coney Island. He enters a room where several worthless gangsters have been massacred. Normally, this wouldn’t concern him too much. Gangsters killing their own. This time, however, this nut didn’t stop there. He’s taken it out into the streets, and now a mother of four and a delivery boy is dead. Four others are in critical, so now he cares a whole lot.
It’s July and Coney Island is packed with tourists. Wolverine makes his way through the crowd, out of costume, following the gunman’s trail of blood. A blind man could follow just by listening to his shoes slosh. He makes his way to the Boardwalk, but there, with all the sweat, perfume, hot dogs, kielbasa, suntan oil and a half million flavors of body odor, his heightened senses are useless. He has to wait for the blood trail to resurface.
He hears a scream from outside the Sideshow of the Seashore and enters to find a dead male body on the wooden floor. The smell is like nothing he’s ever encountered. Onlookers gasp at the stench. Wolverine wonders what the hell makes a smell like that. The gaping hole in the guy’s torso looks like it was bored out from the inside. He hears more gunshots and people start panicking. It needs to end right now.
Logan snikts his claws and makes his way to where people are running from. He sees a tall man with close cropped hair sporting just a pair of red swim shorts, holding another man at arms length, a couple of feet above the ground. He’s clearly very strong. He holds a pistol to the man’s face, but strangely apologizes for his actions. “I’m sorry! I’m Sorry, okay?” he shouts. “I said I was sorry! He fires the gun and kills his hapless victim.
In shooting the man, the gunman inadvertently shoots right through his wrist which he holds up in front of him. It’s split at the joint. “Oh, pooh…” he moans. Wolverine doesn’t hesitate as he leaps towards the gunman. He plunges his claws into his muscular chest, but it doesn’t appear to faze him at all. Instead, he socks Wolverine with his broken wrist and his hand flies off. He then fires three bullets into Wolverine which only serves to make Logan mad.
He takes up the chase as the guy heads towards the boardwalk, shooting another bystander on the way. Logan picks up the scent again. It’s not even human. As it doesn’t appear to have a heart, he’ll take its legs off and immobilize it. He sees the guy running along the foot of the rollercoaster, screaming to anyone who will listen that he needs help. Climbing on one of the cars, Logan follows and hangs on tight as the car is pulled along the rollercoaster. The gunman shoots at him but narrowly misses. He continues to apologize for his actions as he shoots, and he only stops when Wolverine leaps at him and severs his other hand at the wrist.
He grabs hold of Logan. “I hate you!” he cries. Grabbing Logan around the waist, he tries to squeeze. Logan finally figures out what’s going on. He’s strong, like an addict, but when he realizes what’s really happening, it’s too late. The man lets go of him and falls backwards from the rollercoaster. His stomach is opened up just like the guy earlier.
Wolverine follows his new target, along the boardwalk and into the Sideshow of the Seashore. The stench alone is now easy to follow, and Logan realizes that it’s just trying to get home. He opens the doors wide and sees a motley crew standing there. “So…” he gasps. “Where is it?” A bald-headed man replies that he can’t have her. A woman approaches Wolverine from behind with a baseball bat and says ‘she’ belongs to them. Logan tells her that it’s a parasite. It crossed the line. He snikts his claws as another woman warns him that he won’t get past them. Logan assures them that he doesn’t want to hurt any of them, and easily avoids the swinging bat. “Ask yourselves if it’s worth it.”
The assembled crew clearly believes that she is. They attack Wolverine, with the largest of his attackers informing him that Roz is family. The bald man tries to stop the fighting and, fortunately for him, his friends listen. He shows Logan into a room where a woman cradles the infant parasite. He tells Logan that her name is Rosalyn. She’s barely two years old. The gangsters took her for ransom when they couldn’t pay them protection money. Logan reminds them that it killed a lot of people trying to get home today - innocent people. “Did she?” the bald man replies. “Or was she just trying to get home?”
Logan watches Rosalyn feed from her mother’s blood like a nursing baby. He ran into something like this once before. He knows that, if it did this once, it would one day do it again. Maybe two years along the line. Maybe twenty. Right now she’s just a baby, so he leaves it with a silent prayer. However, he knows that one day, he will someday return to kill it.