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Marvel Legends Face-Off
by yo go re

Sometimes a superhero and his enemy work so well together because they're opposites - sometimes it's because they're so similar.

The most bitter of enemies, Wolverine and Sabretooth's battles have been legendary. With an unbreakable adamantium-laced skeleton, retractable claws, and a healing factor that will heal any wound, Wolverine has stood by the X-Men in their unwavering fight to preserve Professor Charles Xavier's dream of peaceful co-existence between man and mutantkind. Sabretooth, an evil, savage mutant with super-strength and a healing factor of his own, has met few who can match his ferocity and raw power. Two warriors, two perfect rivals, one fighting for right, the other for might - life-long mortal enemies who both know they must fight to the finish!

Wolverine has changed a lot since he was first introduced, and we're not just talking his costume. Sure, he's always been a short guy with a shorter temper and three big claws on each hand, but other than that? Constant state of flux. For instance, until the first time he was drawn with his mask off, Wolverine was going to be the same age as the rest of the X-Men, somewhere around his late teens or early 20s. Read those old comics, and you'll see a personality shift start after issue 100 or so - he gets grumpier and more curmudgeonly.

This Wolverine is 5⅝" tall, which is actually about half an inch bigger than he should be. Logan's "official" height is 5'3", so in a six-inch scale he should be 5¼". Surprisingly, Sam Greenwell's sculpt is all new - they could have easily re-used the brown costume or Astonishing X-Men bodies. He's not just short, but thick and squat. He's wearing his original costume from his debut in Incredible Hulk #180 and #181.

The paint on Wolverine is really problematic. The legs, in particular, were molded in blue, then painted yellow - that means the base color tends to show through, and any scrapes are really blatant. The hair on his arms is painted well, as are the shadows on his chest. The black of the mask can get really sloppy, and just like any Wolverine, you have to check the claws. The packaging was actually designed to help keep them straight, but it only worked partially.

Contrary to urban legend, Wolverine's costume was not intended to recall the football uniforms of the University of Michigan. It's easy to make a comparison: the "wings" on the players' foreheads vaguely resemble Logan's mask, and their colors are yellow and blue. Their mascot? The Wolverines. So some folks think our little Canadian friend is an homage to U of M. But no. Wolverine's costume was designed by John Romita, with input from Len Wein. Together, they tried to find images that emulated a wolverine - which they apparently thought was some kind of cat, judging by his mask. Maybe they were thinking of a lynx. The reason for the colors? There just weren't any heroes using yellow and blue at the time. Straightforward.

The original origin story planned for Logan was that he wasn't a mutant, but an actual wolverine that was artifically evolved to a semblence of humanity. You can even find a few hints that were dropped in the comics. But when Marvel needed a character to protect the name "Spider-Woman," they had to act fast. Rather than invent an origin from scratch, they took the "rapidly evolved animal" shtick from Wolverine and gave it to her - but Stan Lee hated it so much, it was dropped by her next appearance. Even if he hadn't, two unrelated heroes with similar origins just wouldn't work, so it was never brought up again, and Logan remained a man of mystery for another few decades.

Truthfully, this is a Wolverine I've been waiting for. Like I've said before, the "classic" mask was a mistake. The "ear wings" on this one are smaller, and wrap around the head instead of sticking out from the sides of his face. He's got three "whiskers" running down his cheeks. The Face-Off two-packs all have a variant, and while most fans thought we'd see an unmasked FA Wolverine, the variant just has his mouth open in a yell. Wow, "special."

Though Logan's claws are a part of him now, they were originally just in his costume - they retracted into the back of the gloves, not into his arms. Weapon X, codename Wolverine, had no discernable superpowers in his first appearance. You can make an argument that his skeleton and healing factor were suggested, since he stood up to a direct punch to the head from the Hulk, but there was nothing actually in the story. But after a discussion about how Iron Man wasn't terribly special because the power was in the suit rather than the man, it was decided that the adamantium was inside Logan himself - otherwise anybody could be Wolverine by putting on the gloves.

Wolverine has plenty of repeat enemies, but for a Face-Off set, his partner has to be Sabretooth. We've had a Sabretooth in Marvel Legends before (two if you count his Age of Apocalypse version), but that was in his Jim Lee costume - we still needed his vintage look, and this set delivers. Like Wolverine, Sabretooth has changed a lot since he first appeared. He was part of the Supervillain Shuffle, originally appearing in Iron Fist #14 - it was nearly a decade before he'd make his first foray into the X-Books.

Sabretooth is appropriately large - 7" tall - and is wearing sporting his classic look. It's a dusty orange bodysuit with brown hands and feet, black trunks and beige fur around his shins, forearms and around his shoulders. The fur is all detailed nicely. His hair is just a bit yellower than the fur on his costume, and his eyes are blank white. His claws aren't quite black, but they are a darker shade of the color used for his hands and feet. Unlike Wolverine, Sabretooth has no real paint problems to watch out for.

The FO Series 2 variants are nowhere near as easy to find as Series 1's were. Series 1 shipped in equal numbers, while Series 2 seems skewed to usual "chase figure" ratios. For the Wolverine/Sabretooth set, that's not really a loss - open mouths are just about the most useless variants ever. Interestingly, Sabretooth's face was originally Wolverine's face - John Byrne decided to draw Logan unmasked, not realizing it had already been done. He tucked his sketch away until it was time to design Sabretooth, which probably helped contribute to the "Sabretooth is Wolverine's father" thing. The big muttonchop sideburns weren't part of his original look - they came in later.

Chris Claremont, when he was still writing the X-Books, fully intended Sabretooth to be Logan's dad - that's why Vic always seemed to consider Wolverine "sloppy seconds." Whenever the two fought, Wolverine never won. Someone either stepped in or something else happened to break up the fight - whenever they were left to slug it out, Wolverine lost. Of course, that was soon written out as a memory implant (probably because the father/son connection seemed too obvious), and now the pair just have a long, antagonistic relationship. John Byrne had a similar idea, and wanted to introduce Sabretooth in issue #150 - five years before he did eventually cross over.

When he first appeared, not only did Sabretooth not have any connection to Wolverine, he wasn't even a mutant. He was a guy in a costume, with clawed gloves. No animal senses, no enhanced strength, none of that. He was just an assassin with a gimmick. After Iron Fist and before X-Men, he showed up as a villain for Spider-Man. Though he seemed to have some heightened senses and strength by then, he still didn't have a healing factor: when Spidey webbed Creed's face, he quickly pulled the stuff off, which took most of his skin with it, requiring medical attention and hospitalization. And then he got his butt kicked by Black Cat.

Sabretooth is articulated well, moving at the neck, shoulders, biceps, elbows, forearms, wrists, individual fingers, torso, waist, hips, thighs, knees, shins, ankles and toes. The individual fingers are nice, since it lets you make some nice slashing poses.

Like all Marvel Legends, the First Appearance Wolverine/Sabretooth Face-Off set comes with a reprint comic; in this case, Wolverine #10, which, despite its less-than-impressive art, is one of the best Wolverine stories ever told. Logan's spending his birthday in Madripoor, and bad things always happen on his birthday. See, every year on Wolverine's birthday, no matter where he is in the world, Sabretooth hunts him down and beats the crap out of him, just to prove he still can. The best part of the story is the flashback to a previous birthday, when he was still living in the Canadian wilderness.

The set also includes a diorama display scene, which is really just a cardboard backdrop that fits into a slot on a snowy wilderness base. The base has a frozen stream running through the middle of it, with cracks and slashes in the ice to show there's been fighting. There's also space for two Doop stands, and the figures have the appropriate holes on their backs. The backdrop is an expansive shot of the Rockies and a frozen lake. Hidden to one side is a metal door and a guard station - is this the Weapon X installation, perhaps? Nifty!

Fans who already dislike Wolverine's yellow and blue suit because it's too "silly" will probably dislike this one even more; this original mask just doesn't fit with the character we know today. But this is still a cool look, in its own way, and it's one we've never had before. Plus, with the old-school Sabretooth, this is a set well worth getting - just don't bother with the useless variant.

-- 01/18/07

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