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Alternate Marvel Presents #19

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    http://pinata.no-ip.org/~altmarvel/index.php? page=Series&seriescode=MP&issue=19 Alternate Marvel Presents... Assassin s Game Part 5: The Creels New York City
    Message 1 of 51 , Nov 1, 2004
      http://pinata.no-ip.org/~altmarvel/index.php?
      page=Series&seriescode=MP&issue=19


      Alternate Marvel Presents...
      Assassin's Game Part 5: The Creels

      New York City

      "Nice shot, Legs," Crusher said with a grin while Shatterhead flew
      past. Titania smiled at him before turning towards Razorfist. "We
      could use some help here, Val!" he continued, shouting into the
      communicator he held. "A few Guardsmen, at least fer cyin' out loud!"

      "I'm working on it, " Val replied from the other end. "The NYPD's
      scrambling Code: Blue, but they're a bit hung up with a pick up in
      Queens." she continued, glancing over the computer screen in front
      of her. "They say there's someone coming to lend a hand, but not
      who."

      "Lotta good that does us now, Coop." Titania answered. She'd been
      listening in on her earpiece. She'd always wanted a way to get back
      at everyone for her childhood. Everyone who'd picked on "Skeeter".
      Doom gave her that chance (1), and she'd used it. Then she met
      Crusher.

      The Absorbing Man didn't have the same motivations for his life. He
      simply wanted to be somebody. Hero, villain, in the beginning it
      didn't matter to him. Be someone, have nice things, live
      comfortably. That was his motto. All that changed after he met
      Titania though. After the failed Masters of Evil siege on Avengers
      Mansion (2), he'd made a decision. He didn't care about being
      important anymore. He just wanted to be with her. After years of
      trying to make their criminal life work, he'd changed his ways. He
      swore to a hero that he'd change, all he wanted in return was the
      chance to marry the love of his life. Thunderstrike gave him that
      chance. (3)

      They'd played it straight for a time, but something always sucked
      them back in. It was in their blood. They didn't know what else to
      do with themselves. That all came crashing down around them a few
      months ago, at their final arrest. (4) This government work wasn't
      bad. (5) Not exactly what they wanted for themselves, but it paid
      the bills and kept 'em outta jail. That's all that mattered to Mr.
      and Mrs. Carl "Crusher" Creel. If they got to bounce some people
      around in the process, all the better.

      "What else would you like me to do, Mary?" Val replied. Crusher
      actually stopped, slack jawed for a second when he heard it. In all
      the years they'd known each other, not even he'd called
      Titania "Mary". He knew it was her name, but that wasn't something
      many people called her. Titania didn't seem to mind it though. Carl
      knew he and Val had talked quite a bit since they hooked up on this
      government gig, but he didn't know they were that close. "Learn
      somethin' new every day." he thought.

      "Can't you get the X-men or something? I dunno, you've got the in's
      with the spandex set, you tell me!" Titania replied, decking
      Razorfist. The assassin flew for a few feet before expertly hooking
      his bladed hands into the concrete, acrobatically throwing himself
      into a spin, and readying for another attack.

      Before Cooper could respond, or at least before Titania could hear
      her, Quicksand struck. Her sandy tendrils wrapped around Titania's
      head hardening quickly, cutting off the heroine's air supply. "Stop
      flappin' your gums like we aren't worth the time, b$%@#" she
      shouted. "You and hubby ain't gettin outta this one, no how."

      "That's my wife you're trying to kill, ya Sandman wannabe." Crusher
      replied, stepping in between Razorfist and Quicksand. "An' I'm
      afraid I can't have that."

      "And whaddya plan to do about it, baldy? Stare at me until I die?"
      Quicksand cackled in response.

      "Not quite. Mind if I borrow this, buddy?" Crusher answered,
      grabbing Razorfist's bladed left hand, and instantly absorbing it's
      properties. His body shifted quickly to that of steel, every curve
      or toned muscle in his frame sharpened to a cutting edge. "But this
      might do just fine." he smiled, rushing Quicksand's form and
      carefully grinding the tips of his fingers along the hardened shell
      her body created. Chunk's of the woman's frame fell to the pavement,
      and Titania gasped for air.

      "You're toast." Titania seethed, turning and setting her sights on
      Quicksand. "Take care of the human razor blade, would ya, Hon?"

      "You got it." Carl replied, shifting back to his human form,
      wrecking ball whirling overhead. "Let's dance." he said calmly to
      Razorfist, his form again shifting to that of the asphalt underfoot.

      "You surely don't think it will be that easy to deal with us, do
      you?" Razorfist replied, his voice nearly a whisper as Creel
      collapsed to a knee, grasping his head.

      "At least not while ah'm around." Shatterhead replied, grinning from
      ear to ear.

      "Wherever those Code Blue guys are, Val," Crusher thought, "they
      better get here soon....damn soon."

      ****

      Earlier, Queens

      "This all of 'em?" Lieutenant Stone asked, as Cyclone, Bushwacker,
      Skinhead, Boomerang, and Gattling were carried to the Seagate
      transport.

      "Yup." Shotgun answered, standing next to his bike. The others had
      gone ahead when they called Code Blue for a detour. He just hoped
      they got to wherever the fight was before too much was damaged.
      Including the Creels. "Peregrine wanted me to let you know, Silver
      Sable's been looking for that Gattling guy, might wanna give her a
      heads up that you've got 'im."

      "Thanks." Stone replied. "Rewards on any of 'em?" he asked.

      "Maybe." Shotgun answered. "If there's one on Gattling, he wants the
      cash to go here." he said, handing Stone an address for some place
      in Paris. "It's an orphanage." he continued, seeing Stone's
      curiosity.

      "No problem. We'll hook back up with you once these five are
      secured."

      "Good." Shotgun answered. He climbed onto the bike, and after
      checking his ammo, rode off. He just hoped, again, he could get
      there before it was done. He still wanted to know just why
      Bushwacker wanted him dead. Let alone the other four. "Points." he
      muttered, maneuvering through traffic. "What the hell is that all
      about?"

      ****

      Americop's Paddy wagon

      "How close?"

      "Five minutes, tops." Americop replied, weaving quickly through
      traffic.

      "I can be there in two." Le Peregrine replied. "Meet us there." he
      continued, grabbing Suicide's wrists. "Hold on."

      ****

      New York City

      "You're really starting to piss me off, lady." Shatterhead groaned,
      picking himself up off the pavement. He'd managed to stop the
      Absorbing Man for a second, but Titania blindsided him. When he,
      Razorfist, and Quicksand came up with this plan, it seemed pretty
      easy. He "shatters" Creel's mind, while Quicksand and 'Fist deal
      with the broad. Things hadn't gone as planned. So far, the pair had
      managed to keep themselves mobile enough to avoid being cornered.

      "Incoming." The Absorbing Man said, calmly, as his wrecking ball
      collided with Razorfist, sending him to a seat with his
      partner. "Now then, " Creel continued, again absorbing the
      properties of the asphalt, "where were we?"

      "You have got to be kidding, right?" Quicksand cackled, her swirling
      form shifting to a hardened one. Her fists mimicked his wrecking
      ball as she stood ready for the fight. They eyed one another for
      only a second, then the battle was joined.

      The booms and thuds that were the result of their collision echoed
      off the concrete walls around them. Creel's fists slammed into
      Quicksand like sledgehammers, her own blows returning the favor
      equally. He tried to wrap the chain of his wrecking ball around her
      neck, but she dodged expertly, lashing out with a foot to catch him
      in the gut, and ground him for a moment.

      "Even been to the beach, baldy?" She taunted, her form visibly
      shifting again. "They say the sand gets everywhere."

      Crusher screamed in agony as she swarmed over his body. Particles
      and tendrils of her form seeped through the gaps of his asphalt
      frame, inching their way into every crack and split he'd mimicked.
      He tried to absorb their properties, and escape her grasp, but the
      pain, coupled with Shatterhead's mind-splitting abilities, kept him
      from concentrating enough to do it. He glanced towards Titania for
      help, but saw Razorfist had rebounded, and that she had her hands
      full as a result. All the while, Quicksand continued to invade his
      body, tearing him apart from the inside out.

      ****

      Location Unknown

      Smiling again, Dran watched the battle unfold. With luck, they could
      dispatch Creel and his wife before the others arrived. Razorfist
      wouldn't be able to take Titania alone, but if they could get the
      Absorbing Man out of the picture fast enough, the three of them
      would take her out easily. Damon understood now why so many others
      employed these so-called super-villains for their work. It made
      things so entertaining to watch, if nothing else. He was glad to
      have thought of it himself.

      Another monitor showed Code: Blue now trying to secure the others.
      Gattling had managed to escape, with Cyclone. He must've missed
      that. Boomerang and Bushwacker were secured in the transport, but
      Skinhead was giving the suped-up SWAT team a bit of a hassle. They'd
      be able to hold him, but it'd take some work. Perhaps that would be
      enough to stall the others.

      He'd lost track of Shotgun. The man had ridden off minutes earlier,
      but apparently hadn't passed by any of his other cameras. Americop
      was now steering through sidewalks to try and reach the Creels. Le
      Peregrine carried Suicide overhead, nearing the battlefield quickly.

      "This should be a most interesting thing," he mused to
      himself. "Most interesting, indeed."

      ****

      New York City

      "Get...outta...me!" the Absorbing Man screamed, his voice gravelly,
      and choked off by Quicksand's invading tendrils.

      "Not a chance, honey." she replied, reaching further into his frame.
      She'd never tried anything like this before, and wasn't sure if it
      would work, but they needed the Absorbing Man out of the fight. The
      two of them had taken the fight to her and her partners, keeping
      them from executing their plans. Taking the Absorbing Man down now,
      was the only way to salvage it. Looking towards Shatterhead, she saw
      the blonde grinning as his abilities took hold of Creel's mind,
      making the man feel as though there were a thousand glass shards
      penetrating his skull. This could work perfectly.

      "Better chances than you think." she heard from behind her,
      coinciding with a dull thud near where she last saw Razorfist and
      Titania. Quicksand shifted her form quickly, adjusting so she could
      see the speaker. The man behind her she'd never seen before, but the
      smug look on his face as he fiddled with the gadget in his hand
      annoyed her to no end. He quickly jammed the device in a crack near
      Creel's knee, and pushed a button. "This will hurt...both of you. My
      apologies." he said quickly, then backed away.

      Before she even knew what was happening, the light on the device
      blinked. The force of the explosion boomed throughout the city, cars
      swerving to avoid an unseen accident, and pedestrians rushing for
      doorways as though they were soldiers under attack. Everything in
      the small battlefield stopped, as particles of sand misted through
      the air. Lifting, readjusting, and replacing the anti-gravitic
      mechanism from his wings, Le Peregrine smiled.

      "That...hurt...like...hell..." the Absorbing Man said, carefully
      connecting the ends of his splintered leg together and reverting to
      human form with a brief shriek of pain. "But thanks." he huffed,
      catching his breath. His reprieve would only last a moment, though,
      as he grasped his head and howled again.

      "Play nice." Titania said, standing next to the still seated
      assassin. Shatterhead looked up slack jawed. The last thing he saw
      before unconsciousness was the purple gloved fist coming towards him.

      "You're dead." Razorfist said, his voice barely a whisper as his
      bladed hands slashed and sliced through the air, whistling past his
      new opponent's body just centimeters from connecting each time.

      "Don't I wish." Suicide replied, ducking and dodging the blows
      before bum-rushing his opponent, knocking him off balance. Le
      Peregrine caught the masked assassin with a savat kick, taking him
      down, just as Shotgun and Americop arrived.

      "I'm outta here." was all Quicksand managed, pulling herself back
      together only long enough to see the gathered heroes, and disperse
      once more.

      *****

      Half an Hour later

      "Code: Blue's got Boomerang, Skinhead, and Bushwacker, but they
      ain't talkin'." the Absorbing Man said, closing his
      communicator. "Val said something about trying to get a hold of the
      Avengers or the X-Men. Mebbe Doc Strange can get something out
      of 'em."

      "No sign of Quicksand." Suicide replied, pulling up to the paddy
      wagon on Shotgun's bike. "Nice wheels, by the way."

      "Thanks. You get anything out of these two yet?" Shotgun asked
      Americop, stepping out of the van.

      "Shatterhead's still out cold, and Razorfist isn't talking." he
      said. "But I did find this in 'Head's pocket."

      Looking over the slip of paper, Le Peregrine looked like his best
      friend just died. His face grew almost ghostly white as he handed
      the paper off to the waiting Titania. Her face grew red with anger
      after only a few seconds. Grabbing the sheet anxiously, Suicide
      looked it over.

      "Spider-Man...Shocker...Whirlwind...Stingray...Free
      Spirit...Colossus....Daredevil..." he said, rattling off the names
      he read. Flipping the sheet over, he looked surprised. "This looks
      like half the heroes in the country."

      "Everyone in the state, at least." Americop agreed. He leaned over,
      pointing out all their names. "We're all there too."

      "What're these numbers all about?"

      "Points." Shotgun said, glancing at the list in Suicide's
      hand. "Someone's playing a game, and we're the goal."


      To be Concluded.....

      Footnotes:
      1. Check out RMU's Secret Wars #3 for details.
      2. See RMU's Avengers vol. 1 270's for one of the all-time great
      Masters vs. Avengers tales.
      3. RMU's Thor, vol. 1 during the Thor II era.
      4. AMU's Amazing Spider-Man Annual 2003--God bless the footnote!
      5. Check out AMU's Incredible Hulk #61



      Alternate Marvel Presents...
      The Wild Turkey
      "Thanksgiving Day"

      *****************************
      Writer: JM
      Wilder Turkey: Daniel Gordon
      Plot Assist and Editor: Josh Greer
      Editor-in-Chief: Thomas Logue
      *****************************

      [Los Angeles, California]

      The big man stomped confidently down the street. He would be
      returning to New York tomorrow, since that was where the real action
      was. His plan was to score a few quick, easy points here while the
      other assassins fight each other over the same heroes in New York.
      And Bullet would be off to an early lead.

      Bullet stopped and pulled a slip of paper from his pocket. He had
      highlighted the names of the listed heroes who frequently worked in
      L.A. He was within the central radius of one hero's operations. One
      of the lesser ones, but every point is a good point.

      The sun was beginning to set. The hero would probably come out to
      play soon, expecting an average night's patrol.

      [Meanwhile, the apartment of William Henry...]

      William Henry, Willy to his friends, if he had any, leaned back in
      his broken recliner. He knew that the position was probably bad on
      his back, but he didn't really care. Nothing really mattered to him
      anymore, besides waiting for night to fall so that he could don 'the
      gobbler suit.'

      This heroic obsession had filled that hole in his life; where once
      he felt his being was devoid of meaning, he now had meaning. And no
      one could take that away from him. He wouldn't let them. Which meant
      he would need to find a decent job soon, to pay his superhero
      expenses. Maybe a used Turkeymobile, if he could save enough.

      He scratched his neck stubble as he looked out his apartment window.
      Night had finally fallen. It was time!

      William slid greasy pizza boxes out of the way, exposing his costume
      to the almost-fresh air in his apartment.

      [Fifteen minutes later]

      The Wild Turkey trotted down the front steps of his apartment
      building, toilet paper squares stuck to his bleeding chin. Shaving
      had not been an entirely pleasurable experience, but he knew that
      superheroes had to be clean-shaven. At least, the ones on the
      television always were. But then, they never had to use the bathroom
      in battle, either.

      A big and tall man came up to the Wild Turkey, who didn't recognize
      him. Probably a tourist wanting his photo taken with the local
      hero. "How can I help you?"

      "You're Wild Turkey?"

      "Darn-tootin', I am!"

      "Fall," Bullet charged into Wild Turkey, knocking him off his feet,
      and back several feet. Wild Turkey tried to cover his face with his
      hands but Bullet knocked them out of the way and pinned them to his
      sides as he pounded on Wild Turkey's face relentlessly.

      "Look," Wild Turkey moaned, "It's Daredevil!"

      Bullet turned his head to see if his foe spoke true. Wild Turkey
      took the opportunity to wriggle one arm free and used it to punch
      Bullet in the gonads, repeatedly. Bullet collapsed, face red, hands
      between his legs.

      Wild Turkey crawled away from Bullet, his face beginning to swell
      from the beating it took. He noticed that his hands were shaking as
      he wiped one against his face. His mask was torn halfway off and his
      face was a bloodied mess.

      Bullet growled as he lifted himself onto one knee. He stared at Wild
      Turkey with murder in his eyes. He was going to simply beat the boy
      into realizing the folly of his ways, and to quit. That would be
      enough for Bullet to gain the points. But now... it was personal.

      Wild Turkey leaned on a lamppost for support as he inched his way
      back up onto his feet. He knew his foe wouldn't be tricked the same
      way again. "You know my name... do I get to know yours?"

      Bullet charged once more, this time sending Wild Turkey crashing
      onto the hood of a parked car and smashing through the front
      window. "Bullet."

      "Ow," Wild Turkey groaned as he yanked a piece of glass out of his
      elbow. He lifted his head, but found that he lacked the strength to
      do much more, and let his head drop. Being thrown through windows
      wasn't as fun as it looked in the movies... which really wasn't a
      surprise considering that getting one's face punched in had proved
      to be far less fun, as well.

      Bullet elbowed the passenger's door window, breaking the glass. He
      then reached his hand in, to find the handle. Wild Turkey found some
      energy somewhere deep and grabbed one of the larger pieces of broken
      glass. He shoved it into Bullet's arm, as deeply as he could. Bullet
      howled and withdrew his arm from the car.

      Wild Turkey opened the door slightly, then kicked it out so that it
      would swing harder and knock Bullet slightly further away. Wild
      Turkey tried to run, only to discover that there was quite a bit of
      glass in his legs at the moment.

      The Turkey hobbled away as Bullet tore the deeply-embedded glass out
      of his arm. This kid was really pissing him off.

      Bullet ran after the Wild Turkey, who had limped back into his
      apartment building. Bullet grabbed a crowbar from out of a would-be
      thief's hands. When the thief turned to approach Bullet, he saw the
      man's size and temperament and left him be.

      Bullet stormed into the building and followed the trail of blood
      drops. His prey was wounded. Bullet held the crowbar in his right
      hand as he stomped up the stairs, nearly breaking them under the
      pressure.

      Wild Turkey heard that he was coming for him. He slipped the bloody
      mess that was left of his mask off and looked in his bathroom
      mirror. His face was banged up enough that Bullet would easily be
      able to recognize him without his costume. There was no escape...

      Bullet barged into the apartment across from William's. The blood
      trail was faint enough that it didn't show exactly which room he
      went into. Bullet had to guess. He guessed wrong.

      William slid what was left of his mask back over his face. He knew
      what he had to do. He couldn't let this psycho, who wanted him dead
      for no apparent reason, to kill his neighbors instead.

      The Wild Turkey grabbed his baseball bat and threw open his
      apartment door. Bullet held his crowbar over his head, about to kill
      the first thing that moved. Wild Turkey smashed his baseball bat
      over Bullet's head, splintering the bat in half and sending Bullet
      into the wall.

      Wild Turkey clutched what was left of the baseball bat. Bullet had a
      big, red bruise on the back of his head now. He saw that his foe was
      responsible and swung the crowbar quickly. It struck, knocking a
      tooth out.

      Wild Turkey dropped to his knees in pain. The nerves were now
      exposed to the air, and he wished he could just tear them out so he
      wouldn't have to feel the pain. Blood dripped from his mouth.

      He snarled as he looked up to Bullet, shaking. Bullet threw his
      crowbar into the apartment behind him. He wouldn't need it to take
      this punk down. Bullet grabbed Wild Turkey by the back of the neck
      and slammed his face into Bullet's knee. Bullet threw him across the
      hall, into his own apartment.

      Wild Turkey drug himself across his room with his arms, the only
      parts of his body not in total agony. Bullet casually walked into
      the room, cracking his knuckles. "Stay down. Never put on a costume
      again. I'll let you live."

      Wild Turkey couldn't respond verbally one way or the other, with so
      much blood constricting his throat. What he could do, however, was
      turn himself around with his arms until he was facing Bullet. A
      trail of blood followed him.

      He grabbed onto Bullet's pants, pulling himself up. Bullet remained
      motionless. Wild Turkey eventually made his way up to Bullet's chest
      and dropped his right arm while still holding himself up with his
      left. Blood was staining Bullet's outfit. Wild Turkey threw one last
      punch at Bullet's face. Bullet didn't even blink in response as the
      blow landed.

      Bullet smacked Wild Turkey with his left, sending his body twisting
      as it flew through the air. His neck made a sick, twisting noise.
      Wild Turkey's body lay broken on the ground, blood still oozing, his
      eyes staring at his killer.

      Bullet stepped out of the apartment building. Definitely the hardest
      two points he had ever earned.

      [The end.]


      Alternate Marvel Presents...
      Crippler -- Looking Back

      Cleveland, OH

      Glad to be away from that guy, finally. Fin's nice as all hell--well
      most of the time, anyhow--but damn...the guy just talks and talks
      and talks. Dunno when that started exactly. Back with the Intruders
      (1), when Silver first hired 'im on, we couldn't get the guy ta' say
      more'n two, three words at a time. Nowadays? The guy's a hundred
      miles an hour, twenty-four hours a day. Can't shut 'im up with
      anythin' shy of a brick to the mouth. An' the last time we tried
      that, it didn't go so well. Well, not after he woke up, at any rate.

      Oh, an' by the by, the name's Crippler. Well, it's technically Karl.
      Karl Stricklan, but ain't nobody gotten away with callin' me that
      since the old man passed away about ten, eleven years ago. Figured
      if I'm gonna write some memoirs, I might just as well mention who's
      writin' 'em, right? Really wish Racine (2) coulda talked me into
      this sooner. Seems like as easy a way ta' blow of steam as
      anythin'. 'Course, nothin'll ever top beatin' some slob into the
      I.C.U., but hey, everyone's got their habits, right?

      Anyhow, back on topic. Let's see...where to start, where to start.
      S'pose I could just start at the beginning...but that'd get kinda
      boring after the second or third high school street fight and
      subsequent D.U.I. Mebbe when I was a Marine? Nah...only so many "so
      then there was this time we snuck off the base" stories I can tell
      without puking. My N.Y.P.D. days ain't too much different. I could
      go with the Hydra days, back when it was "Section Chief" Crippler.
      Nah. That was fun, but didn't pay well enough ta' even bother with.
      Yeah, figure I might as well kick this thing off with how Silver an'
      me met. Seems like as good a place as any, right?

      So let's see...oh yeah. The "meet". It was more annoyin' than
      anythin'. Sable's Uncle...Morty, if ya can believe that, popped into
      my place in the Big Apple one night, sayin' somethin' about a great
      job opportunity in a "nice, little, European country." A cakewalk
      for someone of my personal talents, accordin' ta him. Of course, I
      thought it was a barrel of bull$*#&, but what's a guy gonna do,
      right? Gotta pay the bills, after all. And while I was gettin' my
      berries tweaked punkin' out the locals while the Krispie Kreme crowd
      was busy with the paperwork, that kinda thing starts ta get old
      after a while, ya know?

      So, long, quiet plane ride short, I fly with old man Morty to
      Symkeria. I heard of the place, but not much about what it looked
      like. Word on the street about Sable & the Wild Pack traveled pretty
      quick, but when ya go ta look up factoids about the country, all ya
      find is a blurb about livin' next to Doc Doom. And who wants to go
      diggin' through stuff about Mister Tin Pants himself?

      So I get there, and lo-and-behold, the leadin' lady's nowhere ta be
      found. Turns out she's out on the town with some hotshot
      televangelist from 'Lanta. Lucky her. Better hope he ain't like the
      other guy, busy hands an' all that. He better hope, that is. So,
      instead of meetin' up with Morty's buds on the board, or even the
      friggin' walking sand dune, I get stuck in the training room doin'
      combat try-outs with some jerk-off named Powell. Great, a hick,
      right?

      So I step in, flamethrower tied up under my jacket, how I like it,
      cobrabation in my hand, Marlboro Light in my mouth, and what did I
      see? Some idiot with a pony tail and goggles not even Erkel would
      wear, in a purple and orange suit. Looked like Barney fell over at
      the Crayola factory. I nearly doubled over laughin' right then an'
      there. It was a Kodak moment if there ever was one. 'Course, by then
      I was so jacked up for a fight, I couldn't have laughed ta save my
      life...well, mebbe. He really did look exceptionally stupid.

      So I step up, and Powell walks up and takes up some half-assed
      karate stance, like he's gonna go Bruce Leeroy(3) on me or
      somethin'. I look around, and see a few more of these Barney-
      lookalikes. It was like the Purple Man just went nuts on these guys,
      I'm tellin' ya. My eyes ain't never been that sore in my life.

      Anyhow...where was I? Oh yeah, the fight. So this Powell chump --
      nah, he ain't so bad. But at the time, 'tween the accent and the
      outfit, I didn't know whether ta' laugh or scream.-- comes at me
      with some choppy attempt at a hip-throw or somethin, so I smack 'im
      down pretty good. The guy didn't have much smarts, though. He got up
      and tried it again.

      So we wrassle around like that for a bit, and then the lady herself
      comes in. Just in time. I spent the next couple minutes tossin'
      Powell 'round the mats. Wasn't too difficult, neither. 'Course...I
      got cocky afterward. Bad move. Well, generally not...but in this
      case. Silver whupped me but good for that.

      Turns out I got the job anyhow. They hooked me up with a
      suit...which I, of course, customized ta my liking. Felt like an
      idiot wearin' it though, at first. Like I was s'posed to be in the
      next Star Wars flick or somethin'. Me an Powell, Chen, Quentio, and
      a couple other guys from the old Pack got picked up to be part of
      Silver's personal squad. Nice job, good pay...I s'pose I could live
      with the uniform, long as she lemme have a smoke an' a beer every so
      often.

      Our first mission was against this Iron Man wannabe, went by the
      name o' Gattling. Heard rumors on the street Racine took 'im down a
      peg, but them Code: Blue guys let 'im loose. Well, nah...he blew up
      their 'wagon an' flew off, is more like it. Anyhow, so we gotta
      protect this Reverend Smithfield guy from Gattling, who--as it turns
      out--was hired by the Watchdogs. Watchdogs goin' after a preacher.
      Really says somethin' about the ideals in the country, now don't it?

      So we take down the Watchdogs, but the walkin' sardine can got away.
      (4) 'Course, hick-boy...er.. Powell, bein' a wuss didn't help any.
      Had to get Sandman to cover 'im so's he didn't get shot. The pansy.

      So then we snatch up one o' them Watchdogs, and Silver --the great
      lady she is-- lemme have some private time with 'im. Heh. Lil'
      bastard wet 'imself before I even got to one o' the finer tortures,
      cigarette burns. Not that stopped me, of course. We come ta' find
      out that it wasn't the Watchdogs that hired gun-boy after all. It
      was the "good" Reverend, tryin' ta take the heat off himself for
      traffickin' drugs & tryin' ta take out one of his competitors. Swell
      world, ain't it?

      After that we got this new guy, Battlestar. Guess Lemarr ended up
      bein' an Avenger, followin' in the patriot --that's Captain America,
      kiddies-- footsteps. Good for him. 'Star might not be a particularly
      close friend o' mine...but if anyone's busted his ass hard enough ta
      hit the big leagues, it's him. 'Bout time, I say.

      Then it was business as usual for a while. Go back to Symkeria,
      train, go get the bad guys, get paid. Lather, rinse, reapteat as
      needed. Lotsa butt kickin', which was lotsa fun. And the cash was a
      good bonus too. But then, seein' Sable in that skin-tight kevlar
      wasn't such a bad bonus in & of itself....

      Where was I? Oh yeah. So it was just the average stuff for a bit,
      but then we had a run in with some schmoes claimin' Sable was in
      deep with my old runnin' buddies, Hydra. (5) She got herself ousted
      from the throne, so to speak, and ended up a worldwide fugitive. $%
      ^# on ice, I tell ya. I said it when it happened, I said it when
      Hammer nabbed me an' Chen an' Finny, and I'll say it now. Ain't no
      way. No. Friggin. Way. If Sable was ever involved with Hydra --aside
      of her association with me, that is--then I'm Jesus come to kick-
      start the Rapture.

      So Hammer, he nabs me an the other two --still not sure where the
      rest of the Pack & the couple Intruders we had left ended up-- and
      sick some Hydra guys on us. I remembered 'em. Good guys. Well...not
      good guys as in the noble kind. Good guys as in they'll torture ya
      for days, and never let their grin fade. I should know. They worked
      for me once upon a time. I taught 'em everythin' I know. And anyone
      that knows me'll tell ya themselves, if it can be done, I know how
      ta do it.

      So they tortured us for a good long while, me an' Finny in
      particular. They got Chen a couple times too, but just enough to
      make 'er break down, ta where she was just 'bout ready ta snap. Then
      they'd take 'er back to the cell, an' make 'er listen ta me &
      Finhead for a while. Fin --what with the thick hide he's got--
      didn't make much noise. Me? I'd like ta say I did the same, but
      hell...I'm just a guy. I screamed and yelled with the best of 'em.
      Never she d a tear, which I'm quite proud of considerin' what all
      they came at me with, but I yelled loud enough ta make the Banshee's
      ears ring. Never once denied 'er though.

      See, that's somethin' most folks --like the hick, for example--
      never got 'bout me. I might be the cockiest, most arrogant,
      masochistic SOB ever walked the earth...but I don't turn my backs on
      my buds. Silver an' me? We weren't ever close. Not really. She was
      the boss, I was the guy gettin' checks from the boss. But we had us
      an understandin'. She knew I'd do what it took to get the job done,
      an' I knew that's what she paid me for. In my line o' work, that's
      as good as it gets. Honor amongst mercs. Don't quite have the same
      ring, does it?

      So then Hammer's boys sent Chen out huntin' for Silver. She got
      herself killed by some jacked up assassin by name of Zaran. I heard
      of the guy. Used ta pick on Captain America and Nomad a lot. Heard
      he went a couple rounds with Daredevil too. 'Course, he didn't do so
      well with Silver, but Chen...well, it's a shame, is all. Not to
      often ya come about meetin' someone like her. If nothin' else, I'll
      miss her kickin' me in the chops durin' training sessions.

      They let me an' Finny go after that. Dunno why, but they did.
      Dropped us in some alleyway 'round Berlin. We woke up, came back to
      the States, an separated. Thank God. Like I said...swell guy, but he
      flaps at the gums too much for me. I ain't exactly Mr. Sociable,
      here.

      *****

      An hour later

      "Who the hell're you?" Crippler said, surprised to see anyone in a
      costume, let alone someone he hadn't read about in Silver's files,
      in Cleveland. That's part of the reason he'd come to this city, to
      get some peace and quiet after all the hero stuff he'd been put
      through over the past few years. That, and to see if the local
      football team's new QB was worth watching. Writing the memoirs
      helped him, somewhat, to deal with it all, but his mind was still re-
      adjusting to being on his own again. Yet, here he was, face to face
      with one of the spandex set once again.

      The Bengal eyed the man carefully, sizing him up. He hadn't
      understood what the man said, but his tone was enough to grab the
      assassin's focus. The Bengal didn't recognize his opponent though,
      and wasn't in the mood for useless battles today. He'd gotten what
      he needed from the market: food and money for travel. Now he would
      be on his way.

      "I was talkin' to ya, buddy." Crippler replied, stepping towards the
      Bengal as the orange spandex-clad assassin prepared to bound away.
      Then he saw them. Five people. Dead or unconscious, just inside the
      doors of the small corner market. As he took another step, he
      rethought the tally. Eight. Three dead, five uncertain. "Oh...son,
      you bought yourself a whole mess o' problems." Crippler continued,
      his eyes growing thin and focused, as he pulled his cobrabation from
      his coat, extending it to it's full length.

      The Bengal turned quickly, hearing the weapon extend and lock into
      place, and in one fluid motion leapt into the air, his bag of food
      and money dropping to the sidewalk as he drew his sais and attacked.

      Crippler was prepared. He'd gone one too many rounds with Chen,
      Silver, and Powell to be dropped like this. Hell, even if that
      wasn't the case, his Marine, NYPD, and Hydra training covered this
      easy. Sidestepping and ducking at once, Crippler avoided the attack
      and went on the offensive, collapsing the weapon he carried and
      extending it quickly as he lunged, the dull, metallic thud of the
      post slamming against the back of the Bengal's knee, dropping him to
      his knees.

      "So...you gonna gimme a name?" Crippler asked, quickly clamping an
      arm beneath the chin of the Bengal, slowly choking him. The Bengal
      was silent, prying at the Crippler's hands. Crippler smiled. "I'd
      rather beat it from ya anyhow, tiger boy." he chuckled, slamming his
      free elbow into the top of the Bengal's head. A groan came from
      beneath the mask, and Crippler grinned again. "This is gonna be fun."

      Bengal caught him by surprise, though, a foot shooting straight up
      from the pavement, and a knee connecting with his face. He staggered
      back for a split second, but it was long enough for the Bengal to
      get to his feet. As the villain lunged for another attack, Crippler
      gripped the flamethrower he once again carried beneath his long,
      black coat. "C'mon baby light my fire..." he sang, squeezing the
      trigger and watching the flame reach out for their prey.

      The Bengal tumbled away, glaring at the Crippler and considered his
      situation for a moment. As the flame from Crippler's weapon died
      out, the Bengal fled.

      "Damn." Crippler swore, tucking the weapon back into his coat and
      making chase.

      ******

      Later

      So yeah, the cat-guy got away. I gave 'Star a call through the A-
      team's mansion. He looked up the guy for me. File says he goes
      by "The Bengal". Isn't that juss' nifty? Had a run in or two with
      that Night Thrasher kid in the Apple. Seems he vanished after
      spendin' some time in Ravencroft Asylum dealin' with childhood
      issues. Great, just what the Midwest needs -- a killer with a "poor
      childhood home life". Like there ain't enough of those outside the
      spandex set.

      Well...I s'pose this is enough for one day, huh? Figure I can go
      into some stuff we did in the Pack later on. Like that time we ran
      Powell's confederate flag boxers up the Sable International
      flagpole. Shoulda see Morty's face....


      The End. For the time being.


      Footnotes:
      1. Check out RMU's Silver Sable, around the late 20's.
      2. Alaine Racine, AKA, Le Peregrine. He's worked for Silver Sable on
      & off over the years.
      3. No, that's not a typo. It's a spoof character from the Last
      Dragon.
      4. Everything from meeting Morty to this point happened in RMU's
      Silver Sable #2
      5. This happened in AMU's Silver Sable #1! Check it out, slackers!
      6. See AMU's Silver Sable 1-3 for more details!



      Alternate Marvel Presents...
      Black Brigade -- Quantum Equation


      The Balkan Nation of Slorenia


      Andrei Klerkovich. It's been so long since anyone's spoken my name,
      it sounds foreign to even me. Most know me by the name I've been
      given: Black Brigade. Truthfully, I find that name more familiar,
      more comfortable, than I ever found Andrei. "Andrei" was a small
      boy. A weakling, bullied by his schoolmates in Soviet Russia. The
      frail, emotional boy that could not find his way in the world. Could
      not find his purpose. I am not him. I am the Black Brigade. A
      powerful man. A man of conviction. A hero to the Slorenian people.

      Granted, it is a change that has taken many months to adjust to. In
      honesty, I'm not certain it's a change I've fully adjusted to, even
      now, in the years that've passed since Tony Stark saved my life. (1)
      I've had many months to think back on my behavior when the Force
      Works came to my country(2), when their goals conflicted with my
      own. Perhaps I should seek them out, and apologize for my faults. I
      have seen the news of the Scarlet Witch working with the Avengers
      again, and Iron Man working with a team called the Champions.
      Perhaps I should radio them, and tell them how those days changed me.

      No. No, this is something I must find in myself first. I must first
      cope with my choices, before asking others to accept them. If there
      is one lesson my father taught me, it was that. A man cannot depend
      on another's forgiveness, until he is ready to forgive his own
      trespasses.

      Father. I have not thought of him in many years. It strikes me as
      odd, that now after all this time he comes to mind. I remember his
      funeral, and how painfully mother wept, and how my family frowned at
      me for not shedding a tear. Father was not one to advocate crying, I
      felt that doing so --even at such an occasion as his funeral--would
      disgrace his memory. It was difficult, but I held back my emotions.
      I suppose, looking back, that was started me on this path. What
      turned me into this abomination of metal and flesh.

      I'd seen them on the news as a child. At least, during those times
      when our electricity allowed us to use the television. The Soviet
      heroes. Titanium Man. Crimson Dynamo. And later, mutants like
      Vangaurd and Darkstar and Ursa Major. As I grew older, I joined the
      Red Army, hoping to be given the opportunity to join them as a hero
      to my people. But instead, I was sent here, to Slorenia.

      I found the mutant, Locomotive Breath, who created my armor and
      drones. He was a disgusting little man, but he'd given me power to
      do my duty, and serve my homeland well. I served my time as a
      division unto myself, the Black Brigade. Most of those days were
      spent knocking back petty revolutionaries and Dudak rebellions. I
      was rewarded handsomely for my service to the Union, but then the
      inevitable happened. My beloved Soviet Union collapsed upon itself.
      As they withdrew from Slorenia, I was left to my own devices. Mother
      Russia no long had any place for me. I was an outcast from my home,
      and had no place to go.

      Then Volkhvy came. He'd become the Prime Minister of the Slorenia
      government, and asked me to serve as the nation's primary
      superhuman. I had no other choice. No...no, that is not true. I had
      choices. I could have sought out the People's Protectorate, and
      joined their ranks. Or the mutants, the Soviet Super Soldiers. I
      chose not to. I was despairing for a nation that no longer existed.
      I let my judgment be clouded by Volkhvy and his idea to cleans
      Slorenia of the Dudak people. I became hateful and resentful toward
      the Dudak for their very existence. I allowed myself to believe it
      was their fault that the Union had left this country. I was
      delusional and disillusioned. I was wrong.

      Now, as I look back on those days, I feel no pride. I feel only pain
      in the suffering and oppression that I aided. I should not have done
      such things. I should have fought to be a hero to all the people,
      not just a portion of them. I'd become a monster, a slap in the face
      to all that I'd intended to be. A disgrace to my father's memory.
      Even little Andrei scolded me from the long forgotten part of my
      mind, for spitting in the face of the ideals we'd lived for.

      From my hospital bed in Stark's laboratories, I thought on this. As
      his scientists tried in vain to free me from my armor, I thought of
      what I would do with my life, and found my answer. I would redeem
      myself for the atrocities I'd played a part in, for the oppression I
      allowed to pass. I would redeem myself, and be a hero. A true hero.
      And none of my people would suffer again, so long as I could prevent
      it. That seemed to be the only solution to the equation of my life.

      And that oath is what has brought me here, to this place in the
      wasteland that was once a place that thrived on the farms of the
      Dudak people. A man has arrived here, and is causing the people to
      suffer.

      I have researched this man, after sending my drones to observe him.
      He is an alien, of the Dakkamite peoples, and is called Quantam. The
      Americans of Project Pegasus say he's quite powerful. Flight,
      strength, teleportation, and he can create duplicates of himself.
      Most interesting that he should choose to prey upon a people who
      have not a solitary man to protect them, but an entire brigade.

      He had been spotted initially by the Dudak people hoping to salvage
      the Wasted Lands, as they called them, for new farms and colonies
      for the now-free Dudak. Quantam did not care for the intrusion,
      apparently, and massacred a great many Dudak to lay claim to this
      land himself. The Dudak went to Ember to ask his aid in restoring
      the land, but the ancient one could not be found. With no others to
      protect them, they came to me. I hope they appreciate my changes of
      heart, but I do not believe they'll forgive my transgressions for
      many years to come. I can wait. They have much to forgive, and I
      have much to do to earn it.

      As I look towards the castle remains in the distance, I am humbled
      by what I see. The massacred Dudak are hung, as though they
      constituted a giant mobile, from the ramparts of the castle. They're
      dangled from arms and legs and necks like rotten marionettes, the
      expressions on their dead faces fearful and ripped with hatred for
      whomever was responsible for their plight. My stomach churned at the
      sight, reminding me of another failure on my part to live up to my
      own ideals.

      As I neared the castle, I kept a watchful eye, through the five
      drones that followed me. Nothing stirred. There was no breeze, and I
      was thankful for that, as the smell of the corpses that dangled only
      a few hundred yards before me surely would've made me wretch. The
      soil itself seemed blackened underfoot, as though it mourned the
      passing of those that once farmed these lands throughout the day,
      and slept upon them in the night. I could not help but empathize
      with the Dudak, for all they'd been through. Too many scenes like
      this had been placed before them, but still, they did not loose
      hope. They were truly a stronger, more prideful people than and I'd
      ever seen.

      As my drones and I approached closer, Brigade-2 finally captured
      some movement from near the wall of bodies before us. A man with
      bright, fiery, red hair stepped into the clearing between the
      crumbling ramparts and my drones. His deep purple and faded orange
      garb looked strange in the surrounding landscape, but no stranger, I
      think, than I do walking through Slorenia's capital. Nonetheless, it
      was clear the man, Quantam, did not wish to remain hidden, as he
      stood out from the dark lands like a firefly in the blackest summer
      night.

      He approached slowly, on foot, as my drones and I stood ready in
      case of attack. When he was within twenty yards, he stopped, and
      surveyed us carefully, then began to speak. The tongue was foreign
      to me, as well as any recorded languages in the translator buried
      deep in my armor. I chose not to respond to his words, hoping to
      resolve this matter without force, though it was obvious that I
      would use such means if necessary. The man spoke again, the tone of
      his voice explaining that he was growing impatient with my silence.

      "I do not understand your words." I replied when he was finished,
      but he looked at me and tilted his head, a quizzical expression
      crossing his face, and creasing his brow. He seemed to ask me a
      question then, but again, I did not understand. I watched his right,
      orange-gloved fist tighten and loosen as he spoke, as though he
      wielded an invisible weapon that was taxing his grip. As the
      movement grew faster, I knew confrontation was inevitable.

      Quantam struck first, spearing into the midsection of Brigade-4 with
      his shoulder and knocking the drone away easily enough, but was
      unable to damage it's strong metal hide. He flew a circle,
      vertically, and landed, rubbing his shoulder as though he was
      surprised to come in contact with such a hard surface. Beneath my
      armor, I smiled. The alien that had invaded my home did not know
      what he was up against. I did.

      Triggering the attack sequence for the drones, I stood very still,
      and watched. Brigade's 1, 2, 3, and 5 attacked with passionless
      fury, their weapons systems springing to life and firing upon the
      intruder with enough sheer force to surprise even me, their creator.
      Brigade 4 soon joined the fray, using it's fists to slam against
      Quantam's enduring body, the drone's weapons systems temporarily
      knocked offline by the blow it'd received. I watched as Quantam
      dropped to a knee, and was nearly defeated. Then he pulled out his
      trump card.

      Other Quantams surrounded the drones. Six other Quantams, to be more
      precise, battering them. The drones weren't ill-prepared for the
      attack, but it took them far longer to adjust to what was happening
      than it should have. Now faced with seven opponents, rather than
      one, the drones would have a difficult time finding victory. It was
      time that I stepped into the fray.

      Taking a step forward, I fired the pulse cannon that was mounted to
      my shoulder, a gift from Stark's technicians. They felt, for some
      reason, that they owed me something because they were unable to free
      me from the armor. This was one of the upgrades they'd given me
      instead. While I'd objected at the time, now I was pleased with
      their choice.

      The canon did not fire simple photon pulses, or lasers, or anything
      of the sort. It fired a particle beam, one that I'd personally
      adjusted just that morning, to counteract Quantam's electron based
      abilities. As the pulses from the canon struck Quantam's new selves,
      they disappeared. Dispersed by the beam that'd struck them, and
      giving the drones the opportunity to focus again on the primary
      threat: Quantam himself.

      Quantom rose, looking at me as though I was the Anti-Christ himself.
      The disruption of his duplicates had unnerved him greatly. Good. I
      was counting on that.

      According to the file I'd read from the American's Project: Pegasus,
      Quantam had once been trapped in an intangible state.(3) None were
      certain of how he'd re-constituted himself, but the speculation was
      that it was a simple matter of focus. Given time, he'd been able to
      recall the electron field that granted him his powers, and revert to
      his solid form. My plans depended on that being true.

      While the drones continued to fire upon him with their own weapons
      systems --Brigade 4 finally having recovered it's operation controls-
      - I fired several pulses from the canon on my shoulder. As they
      struck him, I saw the field that surrounded his body shimmer.
      Calling it a "field" is a bit of a misnomer, I believe. It
      surrounded the Dakkamite like a second skin, forming so close to his
      body it may very well have been a part of it. Nonetheless, as the
      pulses struck it, it flashed and flickered, and I saw the deep color
      of his costume begin to fade. The drones were soon smashing through
      Quantam's frame, without the slightest hindrance. The alien was
      intangible once more.

      "Leave. Now." I said, trusting that he would understand my words,
      though I could not understand his. "Or perish."

      Quantam looked on, his eyes widening as the drones' fists slammed
      through his ghostly frame, the bullets and lasers from their weapons
      systems flashing through him and shattering the rocks and soil
      below. He took flight in an instant, and was gone from sight even
      before the drones could lift of themselves.

      We spent the rest of the night relieving the Dudak corpses of their
      post on the castle ramparts, and trying to find their families for
      proper burial. Those who had no families were buried in the Yard of
      Embers, a memorial plot for Slorene heroes, killed in battle. They'd
      given their lives to an unknown invader, trying to protect the lands
      they'd once called home after all. What more suiting place for them
      to be remembered? I hope I'll be lucky enough to join them when my
      time on this world comes to it's end. I hope the Slorene people will
      remember me for this day --and others yet to come-- as a hero. Black
      Brigade, the protector of Slorenia. A true hero, at last.

      Footnotes:
      1. Sometime after Force Works #12
      2. Force Works #4, then later in Force Works #11.
      3. Quasar #6 (I think...it's been a while), has the details!


      http://pinata.no-ip.org/~altmarvel/index.php?
      page=Series&seriescode=MP&issue=19
    • Flint
      Alternate Marvel Presents #63 Josh Greer ~ Absorbing Man & Titania in The Path of Virtue: Mercy ~ Page 1 Josh Greer ~ Holy Roller ~ Page 7 Josh Greer ~
      Message 51 of 51 , Nov 27, 2006
        Alternate Marvel Presents #63
        Josh Greer ~ Absorbing Man & Titania in "The Path of Virtue: Mercy"
        ~ Page 1
        Josh Greer ~ "Holy Roller" ~ Page 7
        Josh Greer ~ "Fruit-Filled Vengeance" ~ Page 12
        John Flint ~ The Champions in "Day Off" ~ Page 16



        Gifted by two of the greatest forces of evil in the world with
        incredible powers, Carl Creel and Mary McPherran became Masters of
        Evil! After a promise to a hero, however, the pair have begun a
        quest to right their wrongs and redeem themselves as heroes!
        Alternate Marvel Presents....The Absorbing Man & Titania in:

        The Path of Virtue
        Part One: Mercy

        Writer: Josh Greer
        Inspirational Assist: Tawmis Logue
        Webmaster & EIC: Liam Gibbs


        [New York Headquarters for the Commission on Superhuman Activities]


        Carl Creel groaned contentedly as he curled the bar once more,
        feeling his biceps flex and a droplet of sweat drip down the center
        of his back. Another droplet slid down from his bald head, dripping
        off his brow and landing on his cheek, but he ignored it. It didn't
        matter. All that mattered to him at that moment was the moment
        itself. The feel of the steel bar in his hand, and gravity's pull on
        the weight that it held.

        Skeeter's blue eyes were locked on his as she spotted him, and that
        made him smile. Every time he looked at his wife and took in her
        muscular, yet still feminine form and long orange-blonde hair he
        smiled. He couldn't help it. He could never figure out what he'd
        done right to end up with a tough broad like Titania on his arm, but
        he was glad he had. Nothing in his miserable life had made him
        happier than the day he'd married her, even with the troubles they'd
        had at the wedding. (1)

        "What?" she asked, the corners of her lips curled upward a bit as
        she kept her hands loose on the bar.

        "Huh?"

        "What are you smiling about?"

        "What, a guy can't smile while he works out?"

        "Sure, a guy can...but you usually don't," she shot back, her grin
        spreading.

        "Maybe I just like how you're lookin' in those sweats," Crusher
        grinned. She did, indeed, look incredible. That's how he knew he'd
        made a good call in hooking up with Mary McPherran. No matter what
        she was wearing, Titania looked damn good. He didn't think she'd
        looked bad a day since they'd met on Battleworld (2).

        Coincidentally, Mary "Skeeter" McPherran was thinking the same thing
        about her barrel-chested, bald husband. Every time his cool gray
        eyes swept over her body she felt a shiver of excitement. Even back
        on Battleworld when she'd spurned him at every turn, and during
        their time with the Masters of Evil where they had a real love-hate
        thing going on. (3) She'd known on the day they met that she would
        marry Carl "Crusher" Creel, and since she had, she hadn't once
        looked back.

        They didn't speak any more during the last few reps, just staring
        into each other's eyes and remembering everything they'd been
        through over the past few years. One item, in particular, sprang to
        mind, of course: Thunderstrike. If it hadn't been for him, they
        wouldn't have ever gotten married, and both of them knew it (4).
        He'd let them go, given them their chance to do things right, and
        because of it, they'd had the freedom to tie the knot.

        "We haven't been to Eric's grave in a few months," Titania said,
        taking the bar from her husband when he was done and dropping it on
        the bench.

        "Yeah," Carl said, a pained expression coming over his face. Skeeter
        bit her lip, ashamed that she'd forgotten so easily.


        *****


        [Several Months Ago]


        When they saw Eric Masterson's gravestone for the first time, it had
        been completely by accident. They'd been in the cemetery visiting
        Skeeter's aunt, who had passed away only a few weeks before.
        Unfortunately, they'd been stuck in Brazil fighting with a batch of
        renegade Lava Men at the time, and couldn't attend the services.
        When they'd finished paying their respects, though, they turned
        around to find themselves standing eye to eye with none other than
        Simon Williams. Wonder Man.

        At first, they thought he was going to start a fight. Something in
        his eyes told both Skeeter and Crusher that Wonder Man was
        considering just that. He regarded them closely, his jaw clenched
        tight and his fingers curled into fists at his side. The red, ionic
        energy in his eye sockets flared a bit, but then settled back into
        the normal crimson pools that passed for eyes.

        "What are you doing here?" he asked.

        "Could ask you the same, Williams," Crusher said, rolling his
        shoulders and loosening up for the fight he was sure was about to
        happen. For once, though, Titania was the voice of reason. She
        rested a gloved hand on her husband's shoulder and eyed Wonder Man
        for a moment.

        "My Aunt Nancy died two weeks ago," she said, swallowing the shake
        in her voice. "We came to pay our respects." Simon looked
        legitimately surprised by her answer, and looked from her to Crusher
        and back before he said anything more.

        "Cooper says your with the CSA now."

        "What of it?" Crusher snapped. Titania knew why, though. Ever since
        their quest to reform had been taken up by the CSA, it seemed like
        they were being mistaken for the bad guys at every turn. News hounds
        like Gayle Rogers, other heroes like the Defenders, and everyone in
        between still focused on their stints with the Masters of Evil.
        Nobody focused on the good they were doing now, and it had slowly
        begun grating on Carl's nerves.

        "Come with me," Simon said, motioning for both of them to follow. He
        stepped carefully around the graves, the fresh, but slightly frozen
        snow crunching underfoot as he walked. He curled around one large
        headstone and stopped, motioning for both of them to come and have a
        look. When they came to an uneasy stop next to him, they read the
        stone. Titania admired the epitaph "The World Still Needs Heroes",
        but she didn't recognize the name.

        "Any reason you're pointin' this out?" Crusher grunted, looking
        sidelong at Wonder Man. Wonder Man kept his eyes on the stone,
        though.

        "You owe the man that's buried here an awful lot, Creel," he said.

        "Why's that?"

        "I read a few old files while I was on monitor duty at the Mansion
        last week," he said. "A handful were by Thor's successor,
        Thunderstrike, about some of his solo work as the new Thor. One of
        them mentioned you. Both of you."

        "So?"

        "So," Williams huffed, growing impatient with the Absorbing Man's
        barks and snaps. "They were written by Eric Masterson." The
        connection came to Titania instantly and she gasped. Crusher was
        having a little bit of difficulty.

        "You mean to tell me--"

        "Yes."

        The Absorbing Man looked sadly at the tombstone before him. He
        didn't look away when he spoke again. "Why're you telling us this?"

        "Valarie Cooper seems to think you're being legitimate with your bid
        to reform. So does my brother.(5) I don't know either way, but I
        thought reminding you of your promise might help me sleep a little
        easier. That and Eric seemed like the kind of guy that would want
        you to know."

        Wonder Man left without another word, and both of the Creels were
        fine with that. Titania stood and stared in amazement at the stone,
        wondering if Williams had shown them this to remind them of their
        oaths, or to show them that sometimes even the good guys get the
        shaft. She couldn't believe that a man that once claimed the title
        of Thor, God of Thunder, was buried not twenty feet away from Nancy
        McPherran, a seventy year old lady that didn't even have the
        strength to raise a glass to her lips when she died. Something about
        it seemed wrong. Almost blasphemous.

        Carl Creel had had a far more profound reaction to Wonder Man's
        revelation. He'd dropped to his knees right there in the snow and
        wept like a baby. He never really explained why he'd reacted that
        way, but he hadn't needed to. Titania was his wife, and she
        understood all too well.


        *****


        [Present]


        "You know...I never would have thought that--"

        "I know," she said, resting her head against his shoulder as they
        stood and looked down at his grave.

        "Hey! Hey, get away from there!" a boy shouted, charging like a
        football linebacker at the pair. At first, the Creels thought he was
        speaking to someone else, but they soon realized they were the only
        ones there. Carl held his surprised hands out, ready to throw the
        kid off course, but he froze. Something in the kid's eyes stopped
        him cold. That momentary trance was enough, and the kid slammed into
        him at full speed, becoming the first human being in years to
        actually knock the wind out of the Absorbing Man.

        "Whoa there, sport," Titania said, grabbing the kid's wrists before
        he could drive his angry fists into Crusher's face. It wouldn't do
        to have this kid pissing him off and getting hurt by accident.
        Pulling him up, despite his wriggling and struggling, Titania
        managed to get him off of her husband, and look back to
        Crusher. "You okay, baby?"

        "Yeah...yeah, I'm good. Squirt just surprised me, is all."

        "Get offa me! Get away from his grave! You don't have any right to
        be here!"

        "You're his kid, ain't you?" Carl asked, looking at the struggling
        Jr. High kid carefully. Titania was surprised, but she understood
        why her husband had frozen up now. As she looked at the boy, she
        thought she could see the resemblance too. The eyes...it was always
        the eyes. The kid didn't answer, and when Crusher got close enough,
        the kid spit right in his face. "Yeah, I'd be pretty mad too, I
        guess. Now if I tell Legs to set you down, are you gonna play nice?
        If not, she can hold you there all day long, you know."

        He nodded.

        "Good. What's yer name?"

        "Kevin."

        "Okay, Kev, I guess you know who we are, right?" He mumbled
        something, but all they were able to make out of it was Masters of
        Evil, and jail. They ignored it. "We're not here to do anything to
        your old man's grave, kid. We're here paying our respects just like
        you."

        "Right," he said. "Like you care."

        "More than you know, kid," Carl said, and even Titania did a double-
        take. She had only ever heard that tone on her husband's lips once,
        and that was on the day he had proposed. It was his same gritty
        voice, but impossibly soft and gentle at the same time. It got her
        attention, that was for sure. It had also gotten the attention of
        Kevin Masterson. None of them spoke for a moment, just staring at
        one another, then Carl sighed and explained.

        "I never thought I really cared that much," he said, as much to his
        wife as to Kevin. "See, kid, a couple years back, your old man did
        me an' Legs here a big favor. He let us go."

        "He wouldn't--" Kevin started, but Crusher cut him off.

        "Just listen. He would, and he did. He let us go so we could get
        married and go the straight an' narrow. It was a deal we made,
        see...I promised not to be a bad guy anymore, and your dad, he took
        me for my word. Nobody had ever done that for me before. Nobody, not
        even my own Pops. Turned out to be one of the roughest promises I
        ever made. It was hard, goin' straight, and we fumbled the ball a
        few times. (6) But we kept tryin', 'cuz...well, we owed it to
        ourselves to try, and we owed your old man for helpin' us out."

        "You're still villains, though," Kevin grunted. "Everyone still
        looks at you the same way."

        "Yeah, they do," Titania said. "But that's not what it's about. It's
        about doing the right thing despite what everyone thinks."

        "See, your old man knew that. He knew that it would be hard, but he
        knew that it was the right thing to do, lettin' us go. He knew that
        if we managed to change our ways, that'd be two more people out
        there protectin' the folks that needed lookin' after."

        "Like you," Titania said, watching Kevin's face. A small tear
        trickled down his cheek. A matching one had slipped down her
        husband's cheek as well.

        "I owe everything I've got to your dad, kid. Everything. My Pops
        used ta say that everyone in the world has a path they have to walk,
        and some people's path is harder than other folks'. I figure your
        dad was there to show me an' Skeeter where our path was supposed to
        go, so that we knew where to walk. He could've fought us and
        probably would've whupped us good in the long run, but he picked a
        better way."

        "What was that?"

        "Mercy, kid. He showed us mercy. Think you can manage the same?"

        The Absorbing Man, ex-Master of Evil, one of the most dangerous men
        on the face of the Earth, held out his hand, and young Kevin
        Masterson looked at him carefully. He studied the man's gray eyes,
        hoping to see whatever it had been that convinced his father that
        this man was worthy of his mercy and forgiveness. He hunted for
        anything that hinted at this man being worth a second chance. Kevin
        looked to his father's tombstone for guidance, and found it easily
        enough. His father's epitaph spoke volumes to what the bald man
        before him had just been saying. The world did need heroes, and if
        the Absorbing Man and Titania were volunteering for the job, Kevin
        Masterson wasn't going to be the one to stand in his way. He reached
        forward and shook the man's hand.

        "My dad trusted you," he said, standing. "I guess I should too."

        Titania watched the two men turn towards the grave that held a
        fallen Avenger and a smile began to curl on her lips once more.
        Kevin Masterson accepted their change of heart. That was one. Now
        all they had to do was convince everyone else.


        [To Be Continued....]

        Footnotes:
        1. See Avengers Unplugged #5
        2. Back in the original Secret Wars.
        3. During the RMU Avengers' Siege of the Mansion storyline!
        4. Back when Eric Masterson was playing Thor in the RMU!
        5. The Grim Reaper, for those that don't know.
        6. Look in the pages of RMU's pre-Onslaught Hulk and Amazing Spider-
        Man, for examples.


        Alternate Marvel Presents.....

        "Holy Roller"
        Writer: Josh Greer
        Ritual Sacrifice: JM
        Webmaster & EIC: Liam Gibbs


        The Fringes of Downtown Chicago


        Liam McKinnon smiled like a young boy on Christmas morning as his
        limo pulled up to the front of the building. It was like seeing the
        Christmas tree for the first time as you came down the stairs, its
        base smothered in brightly wrapped gifts and outrageously large bow
        ties. Rather than waiting just one year for Santa to return and
        grant him his every wish, though, Liam felt as though he had been
        waiting a lifetime.

        "How long's it been now, Mr. McKinnon?" asked Horace, his rather
        burly driver. He and Horace had known one another for almost a
        decade, and despite the man's continued status as a servant, Liam
        couldn't help but think of the man as a friend, or perhaps a
        brother. While they hadn't realized it initially, Liam and Horace
        had come to discover that they shared the same beliefs about the
        world, and Liam knew that despite his calm demeanor, the driver was
        dealing with the same growing excitement he felt, himself.

        "Four and a half years," Liam said, his voice distant and awed by
        the sight sprouting out of the dingy chunk of Chicago's streets. It
        was beautiful.

        "When are we going to tell people?"

        "A press conference has been scheduled for tomorrow." he answered
        absently, scanning the cars in the lot. There were three, and he
        recognized them all.

        The first belonged to a man he knew only as "Jumbo". The man was of
        Asian descent, but Liam had never gathered up the courage to come
        out and ask the man more specific questions about his heritage. He
        hadn't felt too good calling the man Jumbo either, truth be told,
        but he had insisted, so Liam acquiesced. Jumbo was the foreman of
        the job, and another amongst the faithful. He had as much personal
        stake in the building as Liam or Horace, and was smiling brightly at
        the door while the pair pulled into their parking space.

        The second automobile, an evergreen Ford Ranger, belonged to Brett
        Mero, liaison between Liam and the city. After all, on such a long
        and important bit of construction, some form always needed filling
        out, or some assurances needed to be made, or protections needed to
        be granted. There was always something. The important thing was that
        Mero was on Liam's side, and not the city's. As he thought about it,
        for the first time in his three year association with Brett, Liam
        realized he wasn't sure if Mero was a man of faith or not. He would
        have to make a point of asking today.

        The third car, a long, black Lincoln town car, belonged to one of
        his two partners in this endeavor: Dory Anderson. Dory, Liam, and
        Kerry Karbo had created this vision, and the two like it that would
        open in the next two weeks in Los Angeles and New York. They were
        the visionaries who, six years ago, had come to a simple agreement.
        An agreement that had changed their lives for the better, and one
        that -- to the best of his knowledge -- none of them had regretted
        for an instant.

        Opening the door and sparing Horace the effort, Liam stepped out of
        the limo and walked alongside his massive friend to the front door
        of the magnificent structure. He met Jumbo and Dory there, and saw
        Brett sitting just inside, gazing in amazement at the building
        around him. When he heard Liam enter, he got to his feet and smiled
        a rather goofy smile.

        "This is amazing," he said, his voice hushed out of respect. "I
        mean, I always knew it would be something...but I never imagined
        anything like this! The intricacy of the etchings alone is
        breathtaking. And the functionality is even better than we
        discussed."

        "How so?" Liam asked, surprised by the news.

        "We were able to get enriched titanium for the interior walls,
        rather than the steel in the original plans. It cost a little more,
        but Mr. Anderson had money left over from his building to loan to
        us. There's a three inch thick layer of titanium between the
        exterior and interior brick, as well as full titanium/vibranium mesh
        shielding on the subbasement and scanning equipment in the arch. The
        archway's keystone holds a full-spectrum bio-scanner designed by
        Henry Pym and Tony Stark, equal to the scanners used on the Avengers
        Mansion gates, and...." Brett stopped to catch his breath and just
        shook his head. "Sir, even the chairs are reinforced. It's truly
        amazing."

        "Isn't it?" Liam nodded, taking a seat in one of those same
        reinforced chairs. Sturdy, but comfortable. Yes, they would do
        nicely. He turned to Dory. "I trust Kerry will be here in time for
        the announcement?"

        "Yes," Dory said with a nod, looking through his thick, coke-bottle
        glasses at the stained glass of the windows. "The jet will be
        landing this afternoon. I was hoping that Horace would do us the
        honor of picking him up from the airport."

        "Of course," Horace nodded, taking a slip of paper from Dory. It
        listed a time and gate, and he read it once before shoving it into
        his pocket.

        "The world will look at us like we're nuts, you know," said Jumbo.
        His round, jiggly body sat down on one of the reinforced chairs and
        proved its worth. Liam was more concerned with the discontent on the
        Asian man's face.

        "This has never concerned you in the past," he said.

        "It's easy to overlook things when they're so far off."

        "You wish to leave us then?"

        "No," Jumbo answered, shaking his head and making his cheeks quiver
        like Jell-O. "I just wanted to be the voice of the world for a
        moment. Devil's advocate."

        "We've noted that concern in our meetings," Dory said, resting a
        calming hand on Jumbo's shoulder. "We believe it is something we can
        afford to overlook. I, for one, don't believe it will be as much of
        a difficulty as you think."

        "I agree," said Brett Mero. Liam smiled, glad to see he didn't have
        to ask his rather unusual question after all. "I don't think it'll
        be a problem. I've been probing some people at the mayor's office
        over the last few months, they all seemed at least mildly receptive
        to the idea."

        "I must say, Brett," Liam said. "I am pleased to see that you are
        with us fully in the endeavor." Brett nodded, blushing slightly.

        "I wouldn't have taken the job otherwise, sir."


        *****


        The Next Day: Fifteen Minutes Before the Press Conference


        "Gentlemen, this is the time in which history will be most curious,"
        said Kerry Karbo, smoothing the wrinkles in his robes. "These
        moments before the announcement. People will look back on these days
        and wonder just what was going through our collective heads. They'll
        wonder what kind of insane thing we might have done to dream all
        this up and make it work, and they'll wonder what we planned to do
        if it failed. You know what I say to that?"

        "No doubt something extraordinarily long-winded," joked Dory,
        getting a smile from his longtime friend.

        "I say let them believe we're mad and crazy and men of pure evil,
        because we three know, far better than they, the kind of men we are."

        "Napolean thought he was a good man, too," teased Dory.

        "And Hitler," nodded Kerry with a downtrodden look. "Of course, they
        were both military men. We are not. The worst atrocities we can be
        found guilty of is wasting time."

        "A sin if ever there was one," muttered Liam. He had blocked out
        most of Kerry's ramblings over the last hour, as they donned their
        robes for the first time. He'd spent far more concentration on the
        words he was about to speak, and the etchings within the building
        itself. They were quite intricate and telling, just as Mero had
        said. He would have to arrange a substantial tip for the masons that
        molded and etched the bricks.

        Looking towards his comrades, Liam McKinnon realized that in a more
        symbolic world they might be seen as a trinity of sorts. Perhaps
        even a living allegory for the Holy Trinity with he -- the serious
        one -- as the Father, the joking and sentimental Dory as the Son,
        and the energetic Kerry -- of course -- as the Holy Spirit. He knew
        that, invariably, someone outside the doors would see it that way,
        but he didn't care. Let them think what they would, it wasn't his
        job to change their mind. It was only his job to explain his own.

        "Gentlemen, it is time," he said, pulling open the dual oak,
        reinforced doors of the building and stepping out onto the entrance
        in his white robes. Navy sashes hung around his waist and neck,
        trimmed in the deepest crimson. Around his neck hung a doubled arch
        of silver. A perfect letter M. Behind him, Kerry and Dory wore
        robes, sashes, and pendants, and the photographers were already
        taking dozens of pictures.

        "Please, please," Liam said, raising a hand to the crowd. "Keep some
        of your film for the tour." They chuckled, but stopped taking
        pictures. Liam cleared his throat and adjusted one of the
        microphones to cut down on the feedback, then he began the words
        he'd prepared.

        "I am Bishop Liam McKinnon, and I welcome you to this blessed
        occasion. Today, myself and Bishops Anderson and Karbo, unveil not
        only the structure behind us, but the belief for which it stands to
        the world. We invite you inside to be the first witnesses to the
        Church of Marvels." A murmur of shock and disbelief rose through the
        crowd, and Liam nodded. It was to be expected, as Jumbo had pointed
        out the day before.

        Despite the disbelief, the reporters and photographers followed the
        trio of bishops inside, and were silenced by the majesty of the
        building itself. The stained-glass windows depicted seven images of
        the most well known costumed adventurers in the world: Thor, Iron
        Man, Captain America, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Goliath and
        the Wasp, and the Angel. The Bishop explained that the windows were
        created to represent what he called the Seven Aspects of Marvel:
        Divinity, Defense, Inspiration, Persecution, Family, Reliability,
        and Acceptance.

        "Each Aspect," said Bishop McKinnon, "represents a piece of
        ourselves and tells us who we really are. Recognizing these things,
        these pieces of ourselves, allows us to see our potential in the
        world, and allows us to grow enough to reach that potential."

        From there, the Bishop pointed out the etchings. Each interior brick
        in the entire structure, except the keystone of the entrance
        archway, was etched with Marvelite Script, a series of symbols
        invented by the trio of bishops that represented each individual
        Marvel. He mentioned that no two etchings in any of the three
        Churches was the same, and that they would never be able to build
        enough churches to provide the proper homage to all the Marvels.

        "It is a task we aspire to, all the same," he said humbly.

        "A question, if I may, Bishop?"

        "Of course, Ms. McLauren."

        "What, exactly, does your church preach? Christianity, Islam,
        Judaism, Buddhism, these all teach very specific things. What does
        the Church of Marvels provide that separates it from the rest? Or is
        your church, and I hope you'll forgive me for phrasing it this way,
        just fanatical 'hero worship'?"

        "An understandable question, Ms McLauren," Liam said with a
        grandfatherly smile and a nod of understanding for her slight. "Our
        church preaches one simple thing: The stories of the Marvels. They
        are parables of their own, after all. Spider-Man is persecuted daily
        for his deeds, yet he continues to swing through New York protecting
        the innocent without regard for the world's views on him. Wouldn't
        you say that speaks volumes in the vein of the Bible's "Do unto
        others"? Captain America, likewise, was thought dead for years, only
        to return to us just as he left. Quite a bit like a resurrection,
        wouldn't you say?

        "Each of the Marvels has a story that teaches us right and wrong and
        instructs us to overcome the difficulties of the world. They teach
        us to rise above the pressures of man and mutant, and stand for
        ourselves and the betterment of all. If you believe nothing else we
        preach here, Ms. McLauren, believe this: The Church of Marvels has
        the same base principle as any other organization of faith. We wish
        to give help and guidance to those who need it, and in the process,
        make the world a better place in which we all may live."

        "Sir, Phillip Urich from the Daily Bugle," a young man said from the
        pew behind the Bishop. "Aren't you worried about negative feedback
        on all this? Or the attention your church may garner from super-
        villains?"

        "The Church has ways of dealing with those darkest of Marvels, Mr.
        Urich," Liam answered calmly. "As for unwarranted negativity, as I
        said, the Church's message is one of perseverance. If the world
        doubts our teachings and convictions, that is for them to deal with
        as they will. My brothers and I, however, shall suffer through and
        insure our message is heard."


        [The End? Perhaps.]


        Alternate Marvel Presents....

        "Fruit-Filled Vengeance!"


        The Word Guy: Josh Greer
        The Living Spell check: JM
        Big Giant Head: Liam Gibbs


        "All right, men, and Linda...this is it," he said, shifting the
        silver skull gearshift quickly and whirling towards them. His four
        allies grinned evilly as they looked up at him. "We let them get the
        best of us before...will we do it again?!"

        "No!" his compatriots answered in unison, pumping their collective
        fists in the air.

        "Then lets go!" he shouted, pumping his own fist in the air before
        whirling the wrecking ball around and shifting into drive.

        Honestly, the Home Wrecker was surprised they had been able to get
        this close. It seemed that, in the past, they had been spotted and
        taken down with ease. The Ricochet Monster, Icemaster, Battleaxe,
        and the Hairdresser had all been bested quickly and efficiently by
        the so-called heroes of the world, but now that they'd united,
        nobody had so much as batted an eye. Not that he was complaining,
        mind you. He'd gone through considerable effort to plan this caper,
        and he didn't want to see so much as a jogger in spandex if he could
        avoid it.

        Thankfully, his little Horde had taken to his plan with a child's
        enthusiasm, practically salivating at the possibilities. He glanced
        their way again as he steered the bulky vehicle towards the factory
        that was their target. The enormous Ricochet Monster had fought Thor
        to a near standstill, bouncing everything the so-called thunder god
        had right back at him. Icemaster had battled both the Human Torch
        and Iceman and nearly won both times. The Hairdresser had come close
        to besting the Torch as well, thanks to her super hair-drier.
        Battleaxe had the loot in his hands and was on his way out when Iron
        Man showed up. As for the Home Wrecker, Spider-Man had been his
        downfall. All because the heroes had used an unexpected weapon
        against them. Something that they couldn't have possibly planned
        for. Something so heinous...so revolting that the Home Wrecker could
        scarcely believe the heroes would sink so low...

        But now the Horde would have their vengeance. The heroes could wait.
        First they would have their revenge on the people that had given
        their enemies such a weapon. They'd destroy the factory as a
        message, then the heroes would pay.

        Swinging his enormous wrecking ball, the Home Wrecker demolished the
        fence surrounding the factory and grounds with one foul swoop,
        flattening it and allowing the Ricochet Monster to storm ahead. The
        only partially trained security for the plant rushed to the now-
        crushed fence and fired a few shots with their pistols, but the
        bullets just struck the Ricochet Monster's impossibly hard hide and
        bounced off in every direction. From behind him, the Icemaster and
        the Hairdresser dealt with the guards quickly, Icemaster freezing
        them to the ground, while the Hairdresser used her super hair-drier
        to blow them into a pile for her partner to deal with.

        "Nice work Icemaster, Hairdresser!" shouted Home Wrecker as he
        climbed down from his wrecker, laser rifle in hand. "Battleaxe! Make
        us a doorway!"

        "With pleasure, boss," answered the axe-wielding merc in the semi-
        medieval armor. Rushing forward with a series of clinks and clanks,
        Battleaxe pulled his ax overhead and swung for all he was worth,
        carving a hole into the side of the factory with ease. Alarms began
        to blare all around them, and the Ricochet Monster clapped his hands
        over his ears, roaring back at the alarms as though they were some
        sort of enemy beast. Home Wrecker had a struggle getting the
        Monster's attention, but he did, ordering the creature into the
        building with the others.

        "Can someone shut that blasted alarm off?" bellowed the Home
        Wrecker, frightening the stunned night crew even more. While he'd
        hopped around outside trying to get the Monster's focus off the
        sirens, Hairdresser and the others had gathered the factory's
        skeleton crew together on the processing plant's floor. One of the
        workers nervously raised his hand, and Icemaster dragged him away. A
        few seconds later the sirens died away, and the smile returned to
        the Home Wrecker's face.

        "We did it, boss!" cackled the Hairdresser, her enormous orange hair
        bobbing atop her head as she skipped around the plant's floor,
        celebrating her victory.

        "Oh...I wouldn't go that far," a voice sounded from behind the
        Horde. Standing in the gaping hole that was once the factory wall
        stood the Swordsman and Magdalene.

        "No...NO! You will not ruin my revenge!" yelled the Home Wrecker,
        leveling his laser-pistol at the pair of Avengers. "Destroy them!
        Destroy them right f***ing now!"

        "Such language," smiled Magdalene, ducking under a barrage of laser
        blasts and slamming her staff into Battleaxe's armored stomach. "I
        know you are villains, but that's no excuse."

        "Forgive them, my love," said the Swordsman, blocking an ice blast
        from the Icemaster and somersaulting into a kick that slammed across
        the villain's jaw. "I fear their less-than-noble work has caused
        their vocabulary to shrink."

        "The only thing that's gonna shrink is your lifespan, you
        egotistical piece of--OW! Get out of the way you idiot!" Home
        Wrecker shrieked, his face growing beat red as a blast recoiled off
        the Ricochet Monster's hide and bit at his own trigger finger.

        "Do you see what happens to little boys who speak that way now?"
        said Magdalene, knocking the super hair-drier out of the
        Hairdresser's hand and knocking the villainess out cold with stiff
        right hook. "They get punished!" The Home Wrecker wanted to respond,
        but he couldn't. Magdalene's armored foot had already slammed into
        his mid-section, knocking the wind out of him. Unable to regain his
        breath, the leader of the short-lived Horde passed out.

        "Hold still, blast it!" yelled Battleaxe, who has managed to hold
        onto his weapon and was using it quite well against the Swordsman's
        blade. It was quite obvious to Phillip that the villain was easily
        the most skilled of the assembled group, even if he wasn't the
        brightest. "Ricochet! Get over here!" he belted, swatting away a
        weak thrust from the Swordsman. Slamming his ax into the Ricochet
        Monster on the back swing, Battleaxe proved he was actually quite a
        bit brighter than the Swordsman had given him credit for. The long-
        handled ax shot forward at twice the speed, and it took every bit of
        the Swordsman's reflexes to block it. Even then, the Avenger was
        thrown backwards into the crates behind him.

        "Phillip!" Magdalene shouted as her purple-garbed love was thrown
        into the crates. She turned towards the pair before her and measured
        them carefully as they approached. Leveling her staff carefully,
        Magdalene fired an energy blast directly into the Ricochet Monster's
        chest. As expected, the blast bounced off the beast's chest and into
        the side of Battleaxe's head. The blast rattled him, but he didn't
        fall.

        "Adamantium, hot stuff," he smirked. "You ain't crackin' this shell."

        "Perhaps not," Maggie answered, firing again. This time, the blast
        hit a little lower, but ricocheted the same way and crashed into
        Battleaxe's exposed chin. The blast sent the mercenary soaring
        across the plant floor. "But their are other ways to strike you."
        she finished, pleased with her handiwork. She quickly refocused on
        the largest of the five villains, though...the Ricochet Monster.

        The creature was simply enormous, and Magdalene did not know how she
        would possibly overcome such a mammoth enemy, considering its unique
        abilities. When she saw something zip past her head, though,
        Magdalene found that she wouldn't have to. Whatever it had been
        captured the creature's attention, and it caught the object. A
        second later, it tore open a package and flopped down to the plant's
        floor, smiling.

        "Wha--?"

        "You'll never believe this," the Swordsman said, his blade sheathed
        as he walked over to her from the demolished crates he had landed
        on. "The revenge that little one was talking about? This is who they
        were trying to get back at." Taking the package from the Swordsman,
        Magdalene looked down and shifted it a little to make sure she was
        reading it properly:

        Hostess Apple Pie.

        "I guess it's true...nobody can resist the fruit filling of a
        Hostess Fruit Pie," she muttered, looking back at the Ricochet
        Monster, still sitting and chopping happily.


        [The End]


        Author's Note: Yes, all of the villains in this story appeared in
        those lovable ads for Hostess Twinkies and Fruit Pies, though I
        believe the Hairdresser actually appeared in one of DC's tales,
        opposed by the Red Tornado. I tried to find the old ads to be sure,
        but well...I've got a LOT of comics from that era, and when I
        couldn't find them after a couple boxes I gave up. It might interest
        some to know that Icemaster later got his break into the RMU as a
        part of the Crimson Cowl's Masters of Evil in Thunderbolts. Two of
        these characters may also appear down the road in some of my own
        projects, but it's too soon to confirm those plans. Stay tuned,
        though, True Believers...who knows what could happen!


        Alternate Marvel Presents...

        Tired of being defenseless when super-villains and mystic threats
        arise, the city of Detroit decided to do something! By a narrow
        majority, a new ordinance was passedÂ…. An ordinance calling for the
        formation of Detroit's Champions!

        Currently Off Duty: Aquon--Half-Fish Hero!
        Pyron--The Thermal Man!
        Atom Smasher--Nuclear Powerhouse!
        Illusion--Master Magician!
        Earth-Lord--Growing Goliath!


        The Champions
        "Day Off"
        By John Flint

        {Originally presented as The Champions #3}


        Mayor Rodgers growled as he slammed the newspaper down on his desk.
        A number of editorials that shredded apart the Champions, for
        something like the fifth day in a row. Public opinion had slumped to
        a dramatically low level. The mayor's big idea needed a big boost if
        it was going to survive.

        Luckily, he heard something on the radio that made him smile. "Mr.
        Lee?"

        The mayor's assistant rushed into the room. Mayor Rodgers had a hint
        of excitement in his voice, something very uncommon for the
        man. "Yes, sir?"

        "I need to make a call to Los Angeles."

        [The Highland Park Fire Station]

        Dr. Nagan, his boredom and bitterness visible, groaned, "Nothing
        appears to be wrong with you, Pyron."

        Pyron exclaimed, "Are you sure, Doc? I--"

        Nagan cut him off, "Maybe you just weren't as powerful as you
        thought when you tried to take Frostbite down? (1)"

        "No," Pyron raged, "I know my power, and its limits. I was nowhere
        near my maximum output when I started to run out of juice."

        Nagan shrugged, "Then drink more juice," and walked out.

        Pyron stared down at his hand, enraged by everything: the doctor's
        refusal to help and/or incompetence, his own weakness, and
        Frostbite's making him look bad. He had let the team down, and on
        their first outing against a true super-villain. Of course, it also
        didn't exactly help them win the media over any.

        "What's wrong with me?"

        [Elsewhere]

        Aquon walked back towards the station as he read his latest purchase
        and drank a slurpee. His 'civvies' were a little too tight for his
        taste, but he was glad enough that they could find anything for a
        seven foot man-fish that he wasn't about to go and complain about it.

        This was everyone's day off; not that they had been doing much on
        their 'on' days lately, anyway. Help demolish a few abandoned
        buildings, break up a few nasty gang fights, but overall it had been
        a fairly easy-going couple of weeks. Plenty of reading time.

        Aquon wondered what the other Champions were doing today. Earth-Lord
        had some day job that he didn't care to talk about; the level of
        trust between teammates was still too low for Aquon's taste. They
        needed to be able to have the utmost trust in each other if they
        were going to be working together in such potentially hazard
        situations as they might have to occasionally go up against.

        Pyron had to see Dr. Nagan, the team's physician, about something or
        other. He hadn't said anything specific about that. More of that
        brilliant Champions trust. Whatever it was, it wasn't the general
        physical check-up; Nagan had done that for everyone the day he came.
        Not one of Aquon's personal highlights of his short time with the
        team.

        Atom Smasher said he had some personal errands to attend to. He
        seemed pretty nice, in Aquon's opinion. Camera shy and willing to
        stay back when others want to be in charge, and the worst driver
        he'd ever seen, but other than that, he seemed to be a pretty laid
        back, casual, ordinary guy. He didn't really seem to be concealing
        anything from the rest of the team, so much as he didn't seem to
        have anything he believed was worth talking about.

        Illusion and Glamour... what happened there? Aquon still didn't have
        many details, but what he could gather is that they had some major
        argument, and Glamour stormed out. Why, no one but Glamour and,
        possibly, Illusion knew. Now, whenever possible, Illusion just sat
        around whenever not working and kept the atmosphere at the station
        depressed. Atom Smasher and Aquon tried several times every day to
        cheer him up, but every attempt so far had been met with complete
        and utter failure. Maybe it was just a married people thing...

        So now, with no female members, nearly no clear successes that the
        police couldn't do just as well, the Champions were far from well-
        received. No one had actually gone so far as to throw anything at
        Aquon, verbally or physically, but, then again, he was a seven-foot
        man-fish, strong as the Hulk.

        As Aquon walked and thought, a bullet surprisingly struck him square
        in the chest. He looked down at the tiny hole it made in his shirt
        as it ricocheted off and hit a woman, who was walking towards Aquon,
        directly between the eyes.

        Aquon stared at the body, mumbling, "Oh God..." repeatedly before
        realizing that for a bullet to kill, someone has to fire it...

        [Meanwhile]

        A man pushed the older man out of the car. "See ya later, pops!" The
        man laughed as he sped away. The older man cried out in pain as his
        hip snapped loose.

        The young man continued to laugh as he looked in his rearview mirror
        at the misery of the old geezer. This had to be the best hobby in
        the world, and Detroit was the best city in the world to get away
        with it...

        ...until something weighing almost a half-ton landed on its hood,
        completely obliterating the hood and sending the back end of it
        flying up. The young man bit his tongue as his head slammed into the
        ceiling.

        Dazed, the young man staggered out of the car and collapsed. His
        injured tongue on the pavement, he looked up and saw what hit him. A
        large gray monster.

        "A lot easier to hassle old geezers, ain't it?" The monster asked.

        The young man peed his pants in reply.

        "Too bad I ain't a geezer, huh?" The monster picked the young man
        up, and leaped over to where the older man was. There, he saw that
        the old man had broken a hip.

        "Eye for an eye," The monster smiled before tapping the young man's
        hip with the side of his hand. The hip bone instantly smashed into
        millions of tiny bone fragments. The young man screamed out in pain
        as the monster dropped him on the ground. "Hip for a hip."

        The monster took something out of his pocket; a cell phone. "Hello,
        I'm going to need an ambulance, two men with broken hips, one old,
        the other a young man who tried to steal his car."

        "My name?" The monster smiled. "I'm the Hulk."

        [At the same time]

        Atom Smasher sat back in his only chair, next to his only couch. The
        apartment wasn't much, but it would do, for now. Tomorrow, he would
        have to suit up in his armor again; how he was able to switch
        between his normal clothes and the green armor whenever he willed
        it, he wasn't really sure. He just could.

        Atom Smasher needed to sit down and spend some time studying his
        powers, and practicing until he had them all down perfectly. If he
        were to accidentally expose his friends to too much radiation,
        well... that would kinda suck.

        He also needed to come up with a better secret identity name
        than 'Art Faxanadu.' He couldn't use his real name, of course, not
        with everything in his past... but that, the best he could do when
        he got his fake driver's license, was just pathetic. He didn't
        really look much like an 'Art.'

        'Art Faxanadu' flipped on his television, by jiggling his index
        finger in the air just right. One of his favorite of his abilities.
        What he saw, he didn't much care for; Aquon was alone in the street,
        looking into the air as someone shot round after round down around
        him. Probably not a good thing.

        'Art' switched to his armor and flew out the window.

        [Meanwhile]

        Aquon screamed, "Everybody, stay back! If he hits me, it may bounce
        off and hit you!"

        The police quickly came and helped keep everyone back. Aquon could
        hear them mumble about how much of a 'help' this Champion was at the
        moment. Just the kind of encouragement Aquon needed to hear right
        now. Right.

        Aquon squinted as he found the sniper. So... now what? If he rushed
        towards the building, the sniper could still pick off a person or
        two before he could get to him. Him? It could theoretically be a
        female, though probability would suggest otherwise...

        Aquon glanced around. Anything to throw at him? No, Aquon didn't
        quite have that good of aim yet; he'd just barely begun training his
        hand/eye coordination for such maneuvers, and hadn't been successful
        anywhere near that range just yet. He wasn't sure if he could jump
        up there or not; he'd never really tried before, and this would be a
        terrible time to try and find out that he couldn't.

        Atom Smasher flew down beside Aquon. "'Sup?"

        "Not much," Aquon replied, "Just screwing our chances of public
        approval further."

        "Sounds good," Atom Smasher said, "Mind if I help?"

        "Not at all," Aquon smiled, "Be my guest."

        Atom Smasher erected green shields over the bystanders who were
        still out in the open, along with the windows of the buildings in
        the surrounding area with people huddled within for safety.

        "Nice," Aquon complimented him.

        "Thanks," Atom Smasher bowed, "You may now take down your sniper."

        "No, thank you," Aquon marched towards the building, "Don't mind if
        I do."

        Aquon suddenly stopped as a gray missile slammed down into the
        building through the roof. It just came from out of nowhere, high in
        the sky. No, it wasn't a missile; it possessed no explosive force,
        simply concussive.

        The sniper suddenly came flying out of the window, flailing his arms
        about uselessly. Atom Smasher quickly caught him, saving his life
        from certain death. His stomach had a large, bloody dent in it. The
        sniper was unconscious.

        Aquon stared, in complete disbelief, as a face came to the window. A
        grim, gray face. Aquon looked into its eyes and instantly knew
        exactly who it was, even with all the changes his body had evidently
        gone through. This was most definitely the Hulk.

        Aquon sighed. "Oh crap." (2)

        [The End...]


        FOOTNOTES:
        1. See last issue!
        2. This issue takes place between scenes in The Incredible Hulk #27,
        coming out this month!
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