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Mighty Avengers #477 "Trials"

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  • Stingray
    [Outside Avengers Mansion] There is a young man walking along the sidewalk of seventy-first street. His brown hair is a bit mussed, and his clothes speak of a
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 4, 2008
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      [Outside Avengers Mansion]


      There is a young man walking along the sidewalk of seventy-first
      street. His brown hair is a bit mussed, and his clothes speak of a
      middle-class family, perhaps one that is struggling just to get by.
      His denim jacket is worn and frayed at the cuffs, and his jeans show
      tell-tale signs of rough treatment. To any passerby he would be the
      epitome of nondescript, and he prefers to keep it that way. No one
      needs to know, after all, that he isn't just wandering through the
      area. He's returning to his new home.

      When Chris Powell told his brothers and parents that he was moving
      out, they were crestfallen. When he told them he was moving into a
      bigger place with some friends, they demanded to meet said friends.
      He was almost heartbroken to inform them that he could not bring them
      by, not just yet. They understood and accepted his words, but that
      did not make it any easier.

      In truth, Chris was not sure he made the right decision. He wanted
      to safeguard Queens, where his family lived, but he also found
      himself enjoying the role of Avenger more and more. He wanted to be
      home and he wanted to be at the Mansion, and he could only do one. He
      could not very well continue to go missing for weeks on end, after
      all.

      As he rounded the corner, Christopher Powell glanced around, ready
      to transform into Darkhawk if the security check at the gate so
      required. The Fifth Avenue entrance to Avengers Mansion was rarely
      deserted, but there were so many costumed people coming and going
      half the time that nobody ever thought to pay attention to the
      unmasked faces that lurked around the gates.

      Of course, he did expect certain things when he showed up at the
      gate. He expected people taking pictures and posing absurdly, as the
      tourists often did. He expected anyone that saw him go in to ask him
      when the tours started -- a question he still could not answer -- and
      how much the fees were to enter the Park. He expected the faux brick
      that covered the security eye to fold down and scan him, as it was
      programmed to do, and he expected the gate to open with the briefest
      swipe of his identicard, as it was programmed to do. Unfortunately,
      none of that happened.

      Instead, Chris was treated to the puzzled stares on the faces of
      tourists, and people carefully avoiding the golden gate that lead to
      Earth's mightiest. They spoke in hushed tones and gestured toward the
      front door, drawing Chris' attention. When he looked, he understood.
      Two men, dressed in what looked like modified FLAK gear stood on
      either side of the door. They wore helmets emblazoned with silver
      skulls, and they looked very, very angry. To Chris, only one detail
      about the men made any difference.

      He had never seen them before.

      Pressing his identicard against the gate's locking mechanism, Chris
      grunted as nothing happened. He turned toward a middle-aged couple
      just behind him and smiled.

      "I work with the support staff," he said, flashing his
      identification fast enough that they would miss his armored headshot,
      but see that it was official. "Do you folks have a cell phone I could
      borrow?"

      "Of course…honey?" the woman said, nudging her husband. He handed
      over the phone without taking his eyes of the helmeted men, and Chris
      quickly dialed a familiar number.

      "Hello, you have reached the Fantastic Four emergency help line. We
      are currently dealing with an emergency of our own, but if you would
      like to leave your name, affiliation, and the state of your
      emergency…"

      Chris waited for Reed Richards' voice to stop before turning away
      from the couple and whispering into the phone.

      "This is Darkhawk, and I'm in public right now, out of my suit, so
      I can't talk long. I think Avengers Mansion is under attack. Repeat:
      I believe Avengers Mansion is under attack."


      *****


      Hawkeye, Masque, Le Peregrine, Wonder Man, Darkhawk, Firebird, and
      the Beast. Seven diverse and gifted individuals. Seven daring heroes.
      Seven members of one of the world's most elite super teams. They are
      Earth's Mightiest Heroes, standing united against threats no singular
      hero may stand against. They are the Avengers!


      Avengers #477
      "Trials"


      Writer: Josh Greer
      Editor: JM
      Webmaster & EIC: Liam Gibbs


      *****


      [Avengers Mansion: Assembly Room]


      "You can't be serious about this," Wonder Man said, eyeing his
      siblings carefully as the goons the Grim Reaper had dubbed his
      Steelskulls shoved and guided the various Avengers to their seats
      around the table. They had all regained consciousness slowly, and
      once they were all awake, the Reaper and the Crimson Cowl had been
      kind enough to divulge their plan.

      "You Avengers are guilty," he said, a sinister grin spread across
      his face. "At least, in my eyes. Catherine and I have decided to give
      you a fair trial, though. Prove that you are innocent in the
      destruction of my family, and I will let you live. Fail to prove
      that, and you'll die, one by one, and nobody will be the wiser."

      All that was missing was the over the top, evil laugh of a Bond
      villain and Simon's disgust with his brother would have reached its
      peak. The Reaper had chosen Firebird to play the prosecution, and the
      Latina Avenger did not look pleased about that. They all knew that
      she had no other choice in the matter, though, and nodded her
      forward. Catherine, apparently set to sit as judge, perched herself
      on a throne created by her own prehensile cloak.

      "You may proceed with your opening statements, Avenger," she said.
      The glow in her eye told each of the Avengers before her just how
      much she was enjoying the opportunity to humiliate them like this.
      Taking a deep breath and looking to her teammates, Firebird turned
      and looked right into Catherine's eyes.

      "You and your brother -- the one whose hands are not bound by power
      dampening shackles -- are mad."

      "Objection!" barked the Reaper, unable to hid the confident smirk
      upon his face.

      "Sustained," answered the Cowl. "You will refrain from making
      slanderous remarks in my court! Make your statements, dearest."

      "Thank you, Your Honor. It all began when Simon was selected by
      Baron Zemo for his ionic ray experiments…"

      "We could be here a while," whispered Hawkeye. Beside him, Le
      Peregrine nodded.

      "Oui. I'm holding you and Williams personally responsible for this,
      Barton," he added. "I've never even met this man."

      "This time, Frenchy, you might be pointin' the finger in the right
      direction."


      *****


      [The Lobby]


      The guards had been relatively easy for Darkhawk to deal with. He
      had scaled the wall on the access road with relative ease and slipped
      around the edge of the Mansion unseen. He transformed to his Darkhawk
      form and zipped around the corner guns blazing, slamming the pair of
      Steelskulls with a blast of concentrated Darkforce. Getting inside
      afterward had not been any more difficult, as whomever was running
      things had disabled the computers.

      What Darkhawk did not know was just what was going on. As he
      dragged the pair of guards inside, he expected to find another one or
      two floating around inside, but there was no one to be found. He
      zipped around the main floor and found nobody still. He could tell
      where they had been, though. Books were strewn about the library and
      drawers looked freshly ransacked in the trophy room. Nothing looked
      like it was missing, but someone had gone to considerable effort to
      make it appear that way. Landing at the base of the main staircase,
      Darkhawk peered around.

      He had a decision to make, and every second could cost someone
      dearly. He had to decide whether to continue his search upstairs, or
      down. It was a difficult choice as there were places in both
      directions that an intruder or super-villain would find useful. When
      he heard a bump in the residence upstairs, though, his decision was
      made for him.

      "Avengers assemble," he muttered quietly under his breath as
      another thought came to mind. These soldiers were here…but where were
      his teammates? Where were the Avengers?


      *****


      [The United Kingdom]


      It had been almost two full years since she was approached and
      given the small, rectangular badge that hung from her key ring. When
      it buzzed in her pocket, she had jumped so hard that she nearly drove
      her car into a ditch. Her children thought it was funny, but Kelsey
      Leigh did not.

      That being said, Kelsey could hardly contain herself once she had
      gotten the children to sleep that night. She trembled with excitement
      as she dug through her closet and pulled the dusty old box out of its
      place in the furthest corner. She almost cried when her eyes looked
      down at the blue, red, and white spandex of her costume, the mirrored
      lens eyes looking back at her like the eyes of a dear old friend. She
      curled her hands around the mace she had found, eyeing the engraved
      animals upon it, and sighed with relief as she felt its power surging
      into her again. The griffins, lions, eagles, and the sole phoenix
      engravings were as familiar to her as the faces of her children, and
      she couldn't believe she had gone so long without gazing upon them.

      Nobody in the world had ever heard of Britania. Her super-hero
      career had been extremely brief. For a matter of days she had donned
      the costume and wielded her enchanted mace against the villains of
      England. Then someone had come to convince her that she was destined
      for a higher calling.

      "There will be a time," he had told her, "when the world will need
      your talents more than England does. When that time comes, I need you
      to be ready and able. More importantly, I need you to be a surprise.
      An ace in the hole. That means you have to stop what you're doing and
      wait. Can you do that?"

      She had not hesitated an instant to say yes, and almost every
      second since she had regretted it. She always felt the power coursing
      through her, and ached to soar through the sky again as she had for
      those few days. But he had given her every reason to wait. The
      details he had shared with her told her she was making the right
      decision, and now that she had been called, Kelsey knew, with
      absolute certainty, that she had made the right choice.

      Pulling the mask out of the box and draping it over her pillow,
      Kelsey picked up the phone and made a quick call. "Carlton? I need
      you to watch the kids for a few days. Why? I have something important
      to do in America. Something very important."


      *****


      [Avengers Mansion: The Assembly Room]


      "Yes, I remember," said the Beast. His eyes were locked on his
      wife, who dangled haphazardly by the neck, clutched by the folds of
      the Crimson Cowl's cloak. He had watched the Grim Reaper speak at
      maddening lengths, using the slimmest happenstance bits of evidence
      to link the Avengers to every little bad thing that had happened to
      the Williams siblings. He had also watched Firebird do her best to
      combat the Reaper's madness with logic. In a fair and just court, she
      would have done just that, but this was no real court. He had long
      ago resigned himself to the fact that the Avengers were guilty until
      proven innocent in the court of the Crimson Cowl and Grim Reaper. His
      only concern just then was the safety of Trish McCoy, his wife.

      "Then you remember that what he said to me drove me off that cliff,
      don't you?" snapped the Grim Reaper. For the first time, the Beast's
      eyes ticked away from his wife and he looked at the Reaper with an
      almost sympathetic stare.

      "No. I remember hearing about a guilt-ridden man that ran off a
      cliff rather than face the fact that he had nearly killed his only
      brother. You did that to yourself, Eric. Simon didn't do it, neither
      did the rest of us. You ran off that cliff. I don't know whether you
      did it on purpose or if you simply didn't realize where you were
      going, but I watched Simon blame himself for your death for years
      before he realized it wasn't his fault, and I won't watch him go
      through that again." (1)

      For the briefest of moments, the Grim Reaper was too stunned to
      talk, and Simon's mouth hung agape. He recognized that look in his
      brother's eye. He recognized the grief and flicker of understanding.
      Hawkeye saw it too. The madness that clouded the Reaper's imbalanced
      mind cleared for just a moment, and he realized how wrong all of it
      was. He understood that he was doing something he should not; that he
      was hurting his friends. Then Catherine Williams, the Crimson Cowl,
      cleared her throat, and the madness returned.

      "Your witness," the Reaper sneered, stepping back. Firebird turned
      toward Hank with a thoughtful look, and smiled.

      "I think the Beast has said all he needs to."

      "Fine, we'll move on, to Hawkeye," snapped the Reaper, whirling on
      the avenging archer. "When Nekra brought me back to life," he
      snarled, "the Avengers did nothing to restore me to a normal state,
      did they?" (2)

      "Nope," Hawkeye answered plainly.

      "So you admit it!?"

      "Of course I admit it. I learned a long time ago, you can't help
      people that don't want to be helped. You tried to kill Simon back
      then too, remember? Tried to drain his life force so you would live
      forever. Why would we help someone after they did that?"

      "But you're supposed to help everyone," the Cowl said from her
      scarlet throne. The mockery in her voice was more than apparent as
      she spoke, but Hawkeye's eyes were locked on the Reaper and hearing
      the Williams sister's voice did not distract him. "Help the innocent,
      avenge wrongdoing; that's what you Avengers do. Eric was dead,
      brought back to life by a mutant witch with an infatuation. He did
      wrong because he was given no other choice. How can you claim he
      didn't want your help?"

      "There is a difference between needing help and wanting it, Cowl,"
      spat Le Peregrine. The farce of a trial he was being subjected to had
      long since grown tiresome. "You should know all about that,
      considering the methods you used to regain your brother's favor." (3)

      The Crimson Cowl's eyes narrowed for a moment as she peered at Le
      Peregrine, then she smiled behind her cowl once more. "I will enjoy
      killing you most of all, Frenchman."

      "Almost as much as I'll enjoy seeing your death, Cowl," answered
      Masque.

      "This just keeps getting more and more fun, doesn't it?" the Reaper
      smirked. The Steelskulls he was addressing had the good sense not to
      argue the point.


      *****


      [Main Staircase]


      "One little, two little, three little Indians," mumbled Darkhawk as
      he dropped the unconscious Steelskulls into the slowly growing pile.
      He had apprehended and taken seven of the mercenaries now, and was
      starting to recognize little things about them. The way they carried
      themselves, the strategic positioning in the building, and the rooms
      he found them in. The way the few that had been given a chance to
      fight, fought. He recognized all of it, and it all practically oozed
      one name.

      Taskmaster.

      Of course, Darkhawk did not believe the Taskmaster had actually
      broken into Avengers Mansion. He had no reason to, for starters. It
      was not his style. The Taskmaster was a teacher, sometimes a
      mercenary, and little else. He did not go for the big super-fights.
      In fact, he took great efforts to avoid them. He had had one or two
      run ins with the team in the past, but they had been brief, at best.
      Anymore, from what Darkhawk knew, he was sticking to his schools,
      training goons for anyone else that needed them.

      That, of course, begged the question: if not the man that trained
      them, who had brought the mercs to Avengers Mansion? Darkhawk
      carefully rattled off a laundry list of foes that would have
      something to gain by breaking into the Mansion, but the list did not
      help him answer any questions. Most of the villains would not have
      the power to get in, let alone the technical expertise to shut down
      the computers. The few of those that did were so cocky about it that
      they would have brought super-villains with them, rather than low-
      rent thugs for hire.

      With only one way to find out, Darkhawk carefully and securely
      bound those he had already caught, and made his way to the basement.


      *****


      [Sub-Basement: Level One - Assembly Room]


      "The Avengers have ruined not only my family, but the families of
      all their members!" the Grim Reaper ranted, no longer pausing to hold
      up the façade of a trial he and the Cowl had begun with. "Think of
      how many hearts have been broken, families destroyed, just by the
      passing of your members. You should know all about that, Clint," he
      sneered. "Remember how much it hurt when poor little Bobbi when and
      got herself burnt like a charcoal briquette?"

      "You son of a--"

      "Ah-ah-ah, archer. Forgetting something?" the Cowl said, wiggling
      Trish like a child's toy before Hawkeye's face.

      "Face it, Barton, you've lost. Individually, the Grim Reaper and
      the Crimson Cowl would have never gotten this close. We would have
      never gotten inside the Mansion! But together…no combination of
      Avengers will be able to stop us! Together…just like family is
      supposed to be, Simon."

      The Reaper and Wonder Man eyed one another silently for a moment,
      each of them allowing their eyes to do all their talking. Eric tried
      to convince Wonder Man to join him, while Simon asked the Grim Reaper
      to let go, go back on his medication. Neither man was willing to
      budge, though, and after a while, both of them realized it. With a
      sigh, the Reaper turned toward Simon and held up his cybernetic hand.
      It blurred for a moment and reshaped itself into the scythe everyone
      in the world would have recognized. "You're first then, brother. Say
      hello to the Swordsman for me, won`t you?"

      In response, Simon tensed and looked up at his brother for a
      moment. Then he sighed angrily.

      "I'm tired of this," grunted Simon Williams. His ionic red eyes
      flared brightly for a second in a way they had not done in years. His
      body slowly began to crackle with blue energy, and his muscles
      rippled as he pulled against the manacles around his wrists. The
      power-dampeners were still functioning, but Simon's unique physiology
      was finding a way around them, accessing his powers even when he
      should not have been able to. Within seconds, Simon's body was
      glowing like Chernobyl, blue ionic energy reaching out and bathing
      everyone in the room. With one sharp grunt, Simon's hands pulled
      apart, shredding the shackles and giving him full use of his powers
      once again.

      "You…you can't…" the Grim Reaper said, shocked by what had happened.

      "I did," Simon answered. The conviction in his eyes and jaw were
      unmistakable, and both of his siblings knew it. "You two want to
      complain and whine about how bad we had it, try blaming yourselves
      for once. None of us had it bad when Dad died. We all had our
      decisions to make, and we made them, all of them bad from where I
      sit. I've made amends for my mistakes a thousand times over, while
      you two spent your lives trying to find a loophole that makes your
      screw ups not your fault. Grow up! You made those choices! You became
      the Crimson Cowl and the Grim Reaper! Nobody held you at gunpoint and
      demanded it, nobody said you couldn't live normal, everyday lives!
      You chose that path, now you have to walk it, and I'm tired of trying
      to hold your hand all the time! You want to be the bad guy, Eric?
      Fine. It's time I started thinking of you as one."

      With that, Simon reeled back and directed a surprisingly sharp
      punch right at Eric's jaw. Before it landed, however, the four
      Steelskulls in the room and the Crimson Cowl all leapt to the
      Reaper's aid. Simon was angry, but not stupid. His anger was not
      blinding to him, and he understood his odds. When his fist stopped,
      the Reaper actually smiled.

      "Wonderful speech, don`t you agree, Catherine?" he said.

      "Quite," she nodded. "Very `Holier than thou'."

      "Well, you know, if the shoe fits," crackled the staticy voice of
      Darkhawk as he flew into the room. A blast of solid black shot out
      from his amulet and dropped two of the four remaining Steelskulls in
      one shot before he landed at Simon's side and stared directly into
      the Crimson Cowl's eyes. "Avenger assemble doesn't really have the
      right ring, does it?" he said, leaning Simon's way.

      "Nope."

      "Think we can take them by ourselves?"

      "Nope."

      "Good thing you're not by yourselves then, isn't it?" said Hawkeye,
      an arrow suddenly sliding into view of Wonder Man's peripheral
      vision. Turning to glance back, Darkhawk saw the Beast and Trish
      fiddling with Firebird's manacles.

      "The reporter," the Reaper groaned. "You forgot to watch the
      reporter."

      "Uh…boss…" grumbled one of the Steelskulls before he collapsed. The
      other followed suit, and Hawkeye even started to look a little shaky,
      but he stayed on his feet. He was ready for the fight that was to
      come, even though it never came.

      Instead, the Reaper shook his head. He glared at Simon briefly and
      tapped the skull and crossbones on his belt, vanishing in a flash of
      bright light. Recognizing the teleportation effect the Cowl used so
      many times in the past, Darkhawk reached out with a bubble of
      Darkforce and looped it around the Cowl's head.

      "I wouldn't try that, if I were you," he said.

      "You wouldn't dare."

      "No, he wouldn't," said Masque, plucking her distabilizer pistol
      from one of the unconscious Steelskulls and firing it at the
      incapacitated Crimson Cowl. Her cloak went haywire for a moment, then
      fell limp. Try as she might, the Cowl could not get the red fabric to
      obey her will, and after a few minutes of trying, she raised her
      hands.

      "I surrender."


      *****


      [Later]


      "I'm receiving word that the Steelskulls that collapsed are being
      treated for high degree radiation sickness," PLATO said as the
      Avengers gathered around. "Their progress will be given to us as
      developments occur." (4)

      "And the Cowl's on her way to the Vault," Darkhawk said, slipping
      back into the dining room. "CODE: Blue's holding her overnight until
      a Guardsman convoy can pick her up in the morning."

      "Nice work today, `Hawk," Clint said, shoveling a spoonful of corn
      flakes into his mouth. Hostage situations always made him hungry for
      some reason.

      "Thanks."

      "As for you," Hawkeye said, swallowing the bite and turning to
      Masque. "The was no call for what you did. You--"

      "Took care of a threat," Masque finished.

      "Shot a prisoner without cause," Hawkeye corrected. "The last
      person that did that got kicked off the team. I want to do a formal--"

      "The Cowl was hardly harmless, Barton," interrupted Le
      Peregrine. "Her cloak could have disengaged Darkhawk's Darkforce
      bubble, or done any of us harm before she made her escape. Just
      because the Steelskulls and the Reaper had been dealt with did not
      make her less threatening."

      "He's right, Clint," Simon said, earning a surprised look from
      Firebird.

      "I know he is," Hawkeye fumed. He did not like it. Masque had come
      very close to crossing a line today, and it left a bad taste in his
      mouth. If she was going to try and be her own person, rather than a
      mildly more noble Whitney Frost, she was going to have to try
      harder. "But that doesn't make it right. Not entirely." Masque said
      nothing, she just gave the archer a nod.

      "Now that that's settled," Simon said, "I suppose I might as well
      get this out of the way."

      "What is it?" the Beast asked. He had a nagging feeling in his mind
      that he already knew the answer, and he didn't like it.

      "I'm leaving," Simon answered. Objections shot up from everyone at
      the table. Even Le Peregrine made an awkward face at the idea of
      Simon leaving, but he ignored them. "Hank and Jan left because they
      had things on their minds that took precedence over the team. They
      left because they couldn't put all their energy into it anymore, and…
      and I'm doing the same thing."

      "Eric," the Beast muttered. Simon nodded.

      "We finally got Catherine, but Eric's still out there. If I could
      get him…get him back on his meds, maybe everything could work again.
      Maybe--"

      "You can't count on that, Simon," Hawkeye said softly. "I wish you
      could, but you can't."

      "I know. I'm not getting my hopes up, but I have to try."

      "If you need us, we'll be waiting," Firebird said, giving her
      friend a warm hug. "I hope it works how you want it to, Simon, I
      truly do."

      "It has been an experience," Le Peregrine added, holding out a
      hand. Simon took it and gave the Frenchman a nod, wishing each of his
      teammates a fond farewell. When Simon left, Hawkeye turned to the
      wire-frame form of PLATO.

      "PLATO, patch me through to Identicard 01-09-63."

      "Who's that?" asked Darkhawk.

      "You'll see," Hawkeye said with a clever grin.


      *****


      [An Abandoned Highway between NYC and the Vault: the Next Day]


      Five shots rang out through the midday air. Five sharp cracks, and
      the squealing of tires was all that could be heard for miles. When it
      all stopped, had anyone been close by, they would have heard the
      clicking of stiletto heels on pavement, and the neumatic hiss of the
      rear door of the Vault transport being opened. Nobody was around,
      though, and nobody would have known.

      "Hello, Catherine," said Justine Hammer, the high-caliber sniper
      rifle in her hand looking very much out of place. The white streak in
      her hair shone brightly as the sun hit it, and her jacket blew wildly
      in the wind.

      "It took you long enough," Catherine snapped. She always knew the
      Fellowship would not allow her to suffer such an indignity as a stay
      in the Vault, but she had expected to be freed even before now.
      Unfortunately, Justine's arrival was not what she had hoped.

      "Yes, yes it did," Justine said, raising the rifle once more, and
      firing a round directly through Catherine's left eye. The result was
      immediate. Catherine Williams was dead.

      Justine Hammer slipped around the body and opened the containment
      trunk between the cab and the rear of the transport, withdrawing the
      vaunted cloak of the Crimson Cowl. She examined it carefully for a
      moment and smiled.

      "Red always was my color…" (5)


      [The End]


      Next Issue: The Avengers head to the Savage Land to lend a hand to
      our old buddy Ka-Zar! Who is it that Hawkeye's calling in to fill the
      void left behind by Wonder Man? And THREE, yes THREE characters make
      their very first AMU appearances! Be here in 30!


      Footnotes:
      1. That happened back in the first Vision & Scarlet Witch limited
      series! (and some West Coast Avengers tales just afterward)
      2. Also in Avengers West Coast, but the number eludes me at the
      moment.
      3. Catherine conned Eric off his meds in order to make him evil
      again! It happened back in issue 460!
      4. Wondering where PLATO came from? Check out last issue!
      5.) For more of Justine and the cowl, keep an eye on the pages of
      Thundersword!
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