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Daniel Gordon Presents #80

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  • altmarvel-release-owner@yahoogroups.com
    Daniel Gordon Presents #80 Black Brigade, Purging the Demons, 3/3, Josh Greer Hulk, Red Dawn, 1/6, John Flint Dazzler, Divergent Paths, John Flint Angel,
    Message 1 of 12 , May 14, 2010
      Daniel Gordon Presents #80
      Black Brigade, "Purging the Demons, 3/3," Josh Greer
      Hulk, "Red Dawn, 1/6," John Flint
      Dazzler, "Divergent Paths," John Flint
      Angel, "The Humanist Agenda," John Flint


      [Pundilk, Slorenia]


      Light blue energy poured from his deeply set eyes, but the Black Brigade continued to stare him down. His maroon and slate-gray armor with its off-white highlights looked like it had just been forged and painted, though it hung loose on his decrepit body. Like the Targoth he commanded, his skin was stretched grotesquely across his muscles, giving his face a sunken and decayed look, even as he held his ceremonial rapier before him, where it glowed with the power of the Dudak dead.

      He was Volkhvy, the spiritual champion of the Slorene people, and once, he was the Black Brigade's supreme commander. (1) Presently, the majority of the world believed that Volkhvy was dead, his power drained from him by the Dudak champion, Ember, who was himself destroyed only moments later. (2) Somehow, apparently, the eldritch energy that kept the war between he and Ember going throughout the centuries kept Volkhvy alive. Somehow, he survived that encounter and returned. For the Black Brigade, it was a most unwelcome homecoming.

      "You do not seem overjoyed to see me, my old friend," said Volkhvy, his vampire-like fangs sparkling white in the afternoon sun.

      "I am not," Black Brigade replied.

      "No? Do not tell me that a good soldier like yourself has had a change of heart?"

      "Nyet. I could not change something I ignored."

      "How...poetic," Volkhvy scoffed. "Tell me, Brigade, do you tend to a garden and wash your Dudak masters' floors as well, or have they limited you to poetry like a common court jester?"

      "You will not goad me into anger, Supre....Volkhvy," the Brigade answered. His voice remained flat, passive.

      "And why is that?"

      "I was already angry when you arrived."


      *****


      Alternate Marvel Presents....Black Brigade!
      in: "Purging the Demons" Part 3


      Writer: Josh Greer
      Editor: JM
      Freakishly Observant: Kenn Beck
      Webmaster & EIC: Liam Gibbs


      *****


      [Tblunka, The Slorenian Capital]


      "Madame Prime Minister, the Dudak people are obviously behind this!" shouted one of the five Slorenes on the Tabissara. "You surely cannot believe that the Slorene people would allow the use of the Targoth again. Doing so would be repeating the very mistake that nearly shattered our nation to begin with!"

      "Prime Minister, the Dudak people have no more to do with the Targoth revival than our esteemed Slorene counterparts claim they do. Why would we unleash the very monsters that spent the entirety of the war trying to exterminate our own people? To suggest such a thing is little more than madness!"

      Irina Renko, the Prime Minister of Slorenia, rubbed her temples as the representatives continued to bicker amongst one another. She wished desperately that she could keep them on the same page for more than a day or two at a time, but healing a racial segregation that had developed over centuries of oppression by one side or the other simply was not easy to do. The revival of the Targoth warriors had not helped matters. In fact, it had been that revival that re-segregated a normally unified new Tabissara to begin with.

      "Representatives!" she called, her voice commanding silence in the decorative hall. "I do not believe that either the Dudak or Slorene people would have knowingly unleashed the Targoth. I do not even believe that the people have the knowledge to do so if they wanted to!"

      "What do you suggest then, Madame Prime Minister?" asked an elderly Dudak. Radu Lorivich was the eldest and wisest of the counsel, but he too had been embittered by the war. As a result, he had a tendency to balk at authority, even authority that had been elected unanimously by his own people.

      "I believe it is an individual that has resurrected the Targoth threat. Someone that wishes to see the nation we have built returned to the nation that was at war."

      "Such as?"

      "Both the Black Brigade and I feel that only Ember or Volkhvy is capable of reviving the Targoth, and it is in them that we must lay blame. At least--"

      "You can't be serious!" bellowed one of the Slorenes. The young man, Vladimir Rustakof, was of a new breed of Slorenian that did not believe in the ancient figures and myths of mystical champions. In this regard, the rest of the Tabissara was unified: they all believed Rustakof was an imbecile.

      "Sit down, boy," barked Lorivich. Seeing that the rest of the council, Rustakof did just that, but he didn't look pleased about it.

      "At least," continued the Prime Minister, giving Lorivich a nod of thanks. He did not return it. "Until we have proof otherwise. Black Brigade has gone to investigate the towns raided by the Targoth horde, and will return this evening to give us his report. Until then, I suggest we simply do our best to wait patiently."


      *****


      [Pundilk]


      There were no more words left to be spoken between the two men. The Black Brigade was well aware that his former master would step on whomever he needed to in order to ascend to the head of the Slorenian table once more, without regard to who may have aided him in the past. Likewise, Volkhvy could see all too clearly that his ex-servant would no longer do his bidding as he tried to rebuild Slorenia into a new, pure nation. That being the case, neither of the two men could not very well allow the other to walk away from Pundilk alive.

      The battle was one that people would speak about in Slorenia for generations. They would speak of how Volkhvy, the power-mad champion of the Slorene people, charged forward with his black blade and slew the drones his enemy set against him, sending their mechanical carcasses crashing into the earth. They would speak of how Black Brigade used the Targoth whips to crease the armor of the ancient champion, and tore its plates from Volkhvy's body with his own gauntleted hands. Stories would tell of how the sounds and flashes of battle could be seen as far as Kliegstad eight miles west as the two warriors pitted their greatest efforts against one another.

      What would be talked about most, however, (as was often the case in such epic duels), would be the final blow. Grandfathers would gather their young grandsons close then, in the light of fires built in old stone firepits, and they would whisper of how Volkhvy's blade had pierced the armor of the Slorenian hero time and again. They would speak of the buckets of blood and oil that dripped on the ground, and how the ancient champion believed his foe was finished. They would speak of how Volkhvy bragged as he tightened his gloves and raised his blade high....

      ....and fell to a last ditch blast from the Black Brigade's barely operational shoulder cannon.

      For a generation they would whisper of how he spent the next days, his armor near ruins, burying the bones of the old champion in the wildest terrain of Slorenia, and rounded up and destroyed the Targoth. Children would gaze up in awe to learn that their grandparents had been rescued from the old caverns by him, and met the Slorenian champion first hand. It would be remembered as a day of celebration in the Balkan nation of Slorenia, both by the people, and the leaders.

      The Black Brigade himself would never speak of that day. To him, it was little more than another day in which he was able to redeem himself. Another day in which he was forced to face his past and try to overcome it. Another day in which he was given the chance to purge his personal demons.


      [The End]


      Footnotes:
      1. Force Works issues 4,5,11, & 12!
      2. Force Works 12.


      In the wilderness of Canada, far distant from any form of civilization, hundreds of miles from the nearest town, a day's walk from the nearest deserted cabin, a lone man walked on a solid sheet of ice, walking stick in hand.

      The man, his face not betraying his advanced age, his mustache of a white shade in matching with the rest of his hair hidden beneath his hood, walked carefully, not wanting to slip on the ice. He walked with determination, as though there were somewhere in the long ice field that he was intending to go to.

      "Stay where you are," a man commanded, and the old man with the walking stick did as commanded, raising his arms in a surrendering posture while surveying the two armed guards who emerged from beneath the ice before him.

      The old man waited, wishing he had a cigar to smoke while doing so; he hated waiting, hated to be left with nothing to do. It wasn't how he was; there was always something to be done. He saw an opening, he could disable one of the guards with his walking stick and kick the gun from the other's hands. Unfortunately, he wanted to prove his good intentions here. He opted for inactivity as devilish as it was for him.

      "Identity confirmed," the guard said, apparently talking to someone on a telecomm device within his black helmet, which shined only reflections out at the old man such that he could not see the guards' faces.

      "You're good," the other guard said, raising his firearm up into the air. "Welcome back to Freehold, General."

      General Thaddeus `Thunderbolt' Ross gave no oral reply as he brought his walking stick back down and strode between the two armed guards towards the hole in the ice field, the opening to an underground society of rejects and freaks.

      "I want to talk to your leader," Ross said.

      "And he wants to talk to you," one of the guards agreed.


      Caught in the heart of a gamma bomb explosion, Dr. Robert Bruce Banner now finds himself transformed into Earth's Mightiest Mortal. Seven feet, 1,000 pounds of unfettered fury: The Incredible Hulk!

      The Incredible Hulk
      "Red Dawn"
      Chapter 1 of 6.
      February 2009
      Guest-Starring Blaze.
      ************************
      Writer: John Flint
      Webmaster: Liam Gibbs
      ************************


      The rampaging man-monster smashed his way through the deserted buildings of the Old West ghost town, his indefatigable rage fueling him onwards to crush and crash through everything in his path. His red skin glistened with sweat as he paid no mind to the intense heat of the place.

      The red Hulk grabbed the old-fashioned wagon sitting at the corner and hurled it high into the air, and the archaic vehicle disappeared from sight for several seconds before it came back down, smashing itself apart upon impact, several tens of feet in advance of the red Hulk's position in the street. The Hulk snarled in reaction, unable to understand the laws of physics.

      "Oh god oh god oh god," Maria Alvarez squealed, holding her large, rounded belly as she slouched down in her car, unable to peel her eyes away from the massive figure down the street. Her car broke down while driving through the old ghost town, and she had looked around for a working phone or living soul until she heard the rampage of the Hulk on the other side of the tiny town and ran back to her car for safety.

      Maria held her breath as she heard the red Hulk snort, his face turning towards her. She poked her head down beneath the windows, perspiration not caused entirely by the intense heat of the day. She tried to control her breathing, but she could feel her baby kicking in her belly and began to fear the possibility that she might never see the child born.

      The red Hulk stood before the car, causing Maria to scream aloud; he moved so quickly, she hadn't even seen him coming in the back window and now he was before her. He peered in, golden eyes narrowing in rage.

      "Oh please oh please oh please," Maria whispered, unable to close her eyes as she looked at the red Hulk before her. He slammed both massive fists down, smashing the engine of the car, keeping it from ever running again.

      The red Hulk continued to glare at her, his breath hissing out of him, a veritable engine of destruction, pausing for reasons unknown as Maria stared at him. His eyes moved from her generally pretty, round face down to her swelled belly, as though the beast somehow recognized her condition.

      The red Hulk growled as he arced his back, and Maria saw flames explode all around him from behind. A voice like gravel screamed past, while a hellish motor roared by.

      Maria inched up in time to see a blazing skeleton on a similarly blazing motorcycle whiz by, shotgun in hand. Again, Blaze shot his hellfire at the red Hulk, sending him stumbling back several steps, causing no significant harm to the man-beast but keeping him from murdering the pregnant woman.

      "Oh, thank you thank you thank you," Maria whispered, as she watched the battle commence.

      [Past.]

      "I heard that the Pantheon had taken over Freehold," General Ross observed as he walked past the radiation victims of the hidden sanctum.

      "They did," the Leader agreed, "I took it back. I abhor violence, but sometimes it proves necessary when dealing with these lesser beings. I'm sure a man of your experience can sympathize."

      General Ross snorted. "I'm sure you can figure out why I've come. I need a weapon. Something that'll stop the Hulk, once and for all."

      "Of course," the Leader said, "we've already danced that dance a few times, yes? This time, however, I think I might just have the thing…"

      "I would remind you," Ross said, "that I'm no longer in service of the United States of America. I come to you as a private citizen, and there's no way you can use me to take over Hulkbuster Base."

      "How unfortunate," the Leader said as they continued to walk through the open marketplace, "if that were my goal, which it is not. Not any longer. I have enough work here, among my own people, dear general."

      "I can't pay you," General Ross said.

      "That won't be necessary," Leader replied, waving a hand, "No, your participation will be of great service to science and knowledge."

      "Beg pardon?" Ross and Leader entered a monument after the Leader slid a hand over a hidden sensor. The pair walked into the dark corridor, lit up moments before they walked in.

      "General Thaddeus Ross," Leader said with a smile, "I'd like to introduce you to a member of the Pantheon… say hello, Paris."

      A blond man sat, clothes in tatters, chained to the wall by hands, legs, neck and waist. He wanted to curse but lacked the ability to do so, so dehydrated was he by this point.

      "Paris here is an empath," Leader explained, "He will reveal to me your true intentions in coming here. One can never be too cautious, after all."

      "Sure," Ross agreed.

      [Present.]

      "Doctor Banner," Blaze said, his voice deepened by the hellfire that burned about him, as he whizzed past the red-skinned behemoth, "you've got to regain control over yourself! You were about to harm an innocent woman, with child!"

      The red Hulk growled and reached out for him, but Blaze eluded his grasp with ease. This new Hulk persona was slow-moving and slow-witted, giving him time to maneuver, but he appeared to have even less reasoning ability than the usual personae.

      "I don't want to have to hurt you," Blaze warned, stopping his flaming motorcycle at a safe distance. "But that doesn't mean I won't if I have to."

      The red Hulk began to pound his fists against his chest, then charged like a rhinoceros towards Blaze, who started up his engine and took off past the red Hulk, outspeeding him. Blaze straightened his shotgun and blasted the Hulk with hellfire once more, and this time the red Hulk was knocked off his feet by the force of it, howling with rage as the supernatural fire dissipated away from his chest.

      "Please, Dr. Banner," Blaze pleaded, "I don't want to have to hurt you."

      Maria cried out as she opened the door and fell out of the car. Her skin was blazingly red and Blaze could almost smell the flesh roasting. Hellfire didn't actually cause physical burns; so, what…?

      "You're leaking radiation," Blaze turned towards the Hulk, "You're a danger to anyone around you! What the hell happened to you?"

      The Hulk stood silently, arms drooped down, head turned at an angle as he watched Blaze rush towards the irradiated, sickly pregnant woman. Her skin had taken on a reddish hue, and the Hulk looked down at his own sausage-like fingers, his coppery eyes taking it in as his mind gradually dawned on the thought.

      "Gruhh," Hulk said, before he turned his back to Blaze and the dying woman and sprinted as fast as he could, raising up a massive dust cloud in his wake.

      Blaze's hellfire died out, leaving a human Johnny Blaze to bring Maria Alvarez to his ordinary motorcycle, to ride with him to the next-nearest hospital.

      [Past.]

      General Ross removed his hooded cloak and let it fall to the floor. His walking stick leaned against the wall of the high-tech, sterile environment. He stripped off his boots, socks, and pants, leaving black boxers only.

      Walking into the next room, Ross observed the coldness of the place; it was not physically cold but rather void of emotion, void of feeling. Heartless.

      Ross stepped up onto the platform and sat down in the special chair. Straps automatically wrapped themselves around his arms and legs, holding him down. A mouth guard slipped into place, operated by a robotic arm.

      He sat back, resting his neck and shoulders and back against the rest behind him. He could see a darkened silhouette in the room beyond him, the mirror darkened to obscure the Leader from view.

      "I should warn you, general," the Leader said through the intercom, "this is most likely going to hurt quite a great deal."

      "Good," Ross said, mumbled through the mouth guard.

      Then the Leader began the bombardment.

      [Present.]

      Alone, the red Hulk slowed his run into a walk, and then stopped, falling face-forward onto the desert floor. He could not understand how but he knew that somehow he had made the woman with the swollen belly sick, just by his presence alone. The flaming skeleton-man was not harmed by him, though.

      Whatever the case, it meant that he had to remain isolated, to himself, quarantined. He was a threat to the safety and security of living things. The red Hulk began to think of things he knew nothing of, a warm bed, love, closeness with other human beings…

      And the Hulk began to doze off, face shaded from the roaring midday sun, as his skin began to lose its scarlet pigment, his muscles atrophying, as gamma radiation spilled from him, forever contaminating the land directly beneath him.

      General Ross lie, sleeping on his back, in the middle of the vast, empty Mojave Desert, oblivious to the sunburn he was rapidly developing.

      [To be continued…]


      Dazzler
      "Diverging Paths"

      Guest-Starring the Spectacular Spider-Man, Goliath, and Longshot!

      Writer: John Flint
      Webmaster: Liam Gibbs


      Alison Blaire left the club by the back door into a darkened alley. Her entourage consisted of all of one man, James `Jimmy' Fontana, a former bodybuilder who now doubled as a security guard and assistant. He still had his muscles though his body was beginning to show its age, his skin sagging ever so slightly and hair beginning to thin.

      "It's alright," he said, gently, arm around her as he led her towards the car, "everyone has a bad night occasionally."

      Alison struggled to hold back tears. She had once been an X-Man, saving the world on a regular basis; now she couldn't even put on a good concert. Ever since she had lost her powers to the Leech virus, it was as though she couldn't wrap her head around the rhythm anymore. The artificial light show staggered her. She was just going through the motions, burnt out, like everyone said. Her best times were behind her. Now was the time to fade away.

      "I can't even get decent gigs anymore," Alison said, shaking with rage and frustration, "pits like this—"

      "You're rebuilding your career, that's all," Jimmy argued, "you've been away for awhile, superheroing it up with your hubby, and now—"

      They stopped before the car, staring at the gray and blue figure who was crawling down the wall behind it. He jumped off the wall, bouncing off the roof of the car before crashing into Jimmy's face, feet-first, separating the pair.

      Alison instinctively crouched, pointing her index fingers towards the attacker, hands together as though holding an invisible gun. If she had still had her powers, the man would have gone down, struck by a beam of laser energy.

      "No more powers? Too bad," the attacker said as he pulled a glowing stick from his belt and banged it against Jimmy's head several times, until he went limp against the grimy ground. "The Russians must not think too much of you, to send Americans after you."

      "Please," Alison said, "you don't want to hurt me. I'm an X-Man. My husband is Longshot. My friends include Storm and Wolverine."

      "Yeah, but they ain't here right now," the man said, as he stepped forward slowly, menacingly, "but I am…"

      "Me, too!" A jubilant voice cried out, as the attacker suddenly flew backwards into the air, accelerating as he went up. Spider-Man, in his black costume, landed on the dirty ground and let his webline snap back, smashing the attacker into a dumpster, leaving a large dent in the lid.

      "This is the second time I owe you," Alison said. (1) "God, I'm so worthless…"

      "Don't say that," Spider-Man said as he webbed up the attacker. "I think I remember this guy from some Avengers files. Creeper, was it?"

      "Clinger," the man moaned, "Clinger…" (2)

      "Right, the Clinger," Spider-Man said, "A mutant able to cling to walls. That's why he isn't wearing any gloves or boots. Sanded off his finger and footprints, so he can't be identified when he uses his power."

      Alison lifted Jimmy into a sitting position, wiping at the blood on his forehead which was already coagulating. "Is he okay?" Spider-Man asked.

      "Yeah, only hurt my pride," Jimmy said, "and my skull. We best be getting out of here, Ali."

      "I can wrap things up," Spider-Man said, "but there was actually a reason for me coming here tonight. I wound up working on a case with Hank Pym and we got to talking afterwards. (3) Anyway, he thought he might have a way to restore your powers, if you're interested, Dazzler."

      Alison Blaire did not hesitate to ask, "What's his number?"

      [Two days later. Four Freedoms Plaza.]

      "Reed already had the equipment set up that I think we'll be needing," Henry Pym explained as they strolled through the room full of giant computers and scanners. Pym was in excellent physical condition, though he obviously used too much product to keep his hair from going the Einstein route.

      "I'm so nervous," Alison admitted, smiling at the scientist who smiled back.

      "No need to worry, all the heavy-lifting's already been done," Pym said, "Henry (4) sent me the samples of your DNA, before and after the Leech virus. It's mutated but the x-factor gene is still present, just latent. I think we might be able to reawaken your ability by supercharging it with a high dose of sound vibrations.

      "Too bad Banshee lost his powers or he might be able to help us. Anyway, you'll have to wear these specialized earmuffs Reed constructed," Pym raised a bulky set of earphones that looked like something from the 1980s, "otherwise, the intensity of sonics I'll be throwing at you would render you permanently deaf."

      "I've performed several times," Alison said, "and the music never—"

      "Too rhythmic," Pym argued, "It needs to be steady waves of pure vibrations beating against your body, like waves against a beach. It will take several treatments before your powers return in full, and you might suffer from cramps and headaches for awhile, but—"

      "But I'll be the Dazzler again," Alison said.

      "Theoretically, yes," Pym said. "I've never tried anything like this before, but I have no reason to believe it shouldn't work. Your mutant physiology is quite astounding, and its cellular healing properties are—"

      "Your human physiology isn't so bad itself," Alison said before realizing what she was saying and blushed. "I just mean… thank you, Dr. Pym."

      "Call me Henry," Pym smiled. "Or Hank. Just don't call me Ant-Man, please."

      Alison smiled.

      "Well, uh," Pym began to sputter, "I'm just going to double-check the sound barriers around your chamber before we begin. If any of the sonics escape the room, they might cause half the city to shake itself apart. Can't have that on my conscience, heh."

      Pym walked over to the central computer console and went to work, his back to Alison.

      "Thank you, again," Alison said, "even if it doesn't work. Thank you."

      "That's what we Marvels are for," Pym said, "inspiring hope. I hope I get it right for you, Alison."

      [A week later.]

      "How's the head?" Alison asked Jimmy as they walked down the sidewalk. It was after midnight; she had only woken up an hour ago.

      "Better," Jimmy said, giving a fake smile, "better. An' you?"

      "My entire body just feels… shaky," Alison admitted, "like I'm about to shatter. I don't know."

      "From what you said, it sounds like that's good, though," Jimmy said, "any normal human would have fallen apart, right?"

      "That's what Henry said," Alison said.

      "I dunno about that guy," Jimmy said, his eyes crossing the street ahead of them, "I mean, you know his… domestic situation, right? His ex-wife, the Wasp…"

      "Yeah. I know."

      The pair paused before the crosswalk as a snarl sounded behind them. Alison turned to see the Clinger on the wall, energy sticks out in each hand.

      "No super-heroes around to protect you this time," Clinger said, "I'm going to make sure it hurts, too. I don't do well with embarrassment."

      "Al, run!" Jimmy said, pushing her behind him as he faced the villain. The Clinger bounced off the wall onto the sidewalk, as the few other pedestrians around began to flee to the nearest building or car they could find.

      "No," Alison said, her rage building. Who was this man to hunt her down and try to hurt her and her friend? Who was she to need someone's protection?

      "The X-Woman has stones," Clinger laughed, "Won't save you. Won't save either of you. When I'm done with you—"

      Hands balled up into fists on her sides, body shivering, Dazzler unleashed a thin, concentrated laser beam from her eyes, energy stored up from the intense sonic treatments she'd been receiving. It struck Clinger square in the chest and knocking him into the wall behind him with such force that he was immediately rendered unconscious.

      "Wow," Jimmy said, "wow. Wow wow wow."

      The Dazzler walked over to the Clinger and slapped him awake. "Come after me or my friends again," she warned, "and we'll see what orifices your sticks can cling inside of."

      She dropped him and he passed out once again, his chest still smoking.

      [One week later.]

      The nightclub was closed, but they allowed the Dazzler to hang around as late as she wanted. Her drink was half-finished; she had spent an hour just staring at it as workers cleaned up around her.

      "You were fantastic tonight," came a voice behind her, "really fantastic."

      The Dazzler turned without getting up and saw Longshot, her husband she hadn't seen in several weeks. He now had the start of a blond beard growing in and his attire was different from what she was used to. He wore a battered army jacket, camouflage pants, and a plain black t-shirt beneath his bandolier lined with flechettes.

      "I see you've turned into a hipster in my absence," Dazzler laughed.

      "No one can be David Bowie forever," Longshot said as he stood beside her. They came close but didn't touch. "It's time we returned to the Mojoverse."

      "I'm staying," she said. "Stay with me."

      "I can't," Longshot said, "I have a responsibility now. Remember when I came to the X-Men, amnesiac, with no idea of who I was, what my role in the world was? Well, now I have an identity and a mission.

      "I'm going to destroy Mojo and his entire Spineless Ones dominion over my homeworld. I was bred for revolution; I think maybe Mojo designed me as a self-destructive whim. I can't stay here and mess around with concerts and adventuring."

      "That makes sense," Dazzler said, eyes closed, "and I'm happy for you. But I can't stay there, in constant war. This is where I belong, New York City. I'm happy here or on the road, but not in the Mojoverse. I'm sorry but I'm not coming with you."

      "Fair enough," Longshot said, then was silent for several minutes before speaking again, "The Mojoverse isn't a good place for children. I think… I want you to take care of our son, here. He can join me when he's older if he wishes."

      "I'll take care of him," Dazzler said, as she met her husband's eyes and saw water in them. They knew that their marriage was over; each had his or her own world to live in now. "Thank you, Longshot. I hope the war goes your way."

      "So do I. Goodbye, Al; you look as beautiful as you did on the day we met."

      Longshot turned and walked out of the nightclub and out of her life.

      [Two days later.]

      Alison Blaire and Henry Pym sat in an outdoor eatery, enjoying the sun and the warming weather. It had been a very long, very cold winter for them both.

      "Jimmy's watching Shatterstar," Alison said. "He's becoming quite a nanny, heh heh."

      "I'm not surprised; sometimes it's the biggest guys who melt the most," Henry said, "he worked security for a few of the Avengers' parades. Good guy."

      "He is," Alison said. "Hopefully he can find a good guy for himself."

      "You mean he's--?"

      "What, you didn't know?" Alison laughed. "How could you not know?"

      "My tele-helmet only works with ants," Pym laughed. "So, that means, you… I mean… Longshot…"

      "…is out of the picture, yes. And you're a wonderful man, Hank, but I need some time before I can invest myself in anyone else right now. I hope you can understand that."

      "Of course," Henry said. "I can understand that. Take all the time you need. How are you feeling now? I mean, power-wise? Everything coming back to you?"

      "Oh, it's like riding a bicycle!"

      "That's great," Pym said, "really great. Maybe I should open up a mutant healing center."

      Alison punched him lightly on the arm. "You should get back to being Goliath, Dr. Pym. The world always needs Avengers; this recent thing with Kang proved that." (5)

      "You've got a point," Pym agreed, "and, you know, the Dazzler wouldn't be a bad addition herself."

      "One thing at a time, doctor, one thing at a time."

      [The beginning.]



      FOOTNOTES:
      1. See Spectacular Spider-Man #17.
      2. First seen in Defenders Annual #6.
      3. See Spectacular Spider-Man #22.
      4. McCoy, the Avenger and former X-Man known more popularly as the Beast.
      5. See "In Kang We Trust," the recent Avengers storyline, for details.

      FOR THE DAZZLER'S NEXT ADVENTURE, SEE UPCOMING ISSUES OF THE MIGHTY AVENGERS…


      Angel
      "The Humanist Agenda"
      April 2010

      Guest-Starring Psylocke and Giant Man!

      Writer: John Flint
      Webmaster: Liam Gibbs

      Betsy Braddock awoke from a horrible nightmare and sat upright in bed. She looked at the digital clock, its light burning a dim red. 3:15. She was sweating, even with the air conditioning on in response to their body heats.

      She got up quietly and walked out of the bedroom to get a drink. She stopped at the fridge and tried to remember what her terrible dream had been about and found that she couldn't remember any of the details. It was something to do with Warren, but beyond that, she had no clue.

      She got out the pitcher of filtered water and poured herself a glass. She walked over to the balcony of the high-rise apartment and looked out at the night-sky. There was a time when she would still be out, even at this hour, a champion of the mutant cause. Now, she was simply ordinary.

      She sipped at the water slowly as she watched the world quietly pass her by. She was still in the Asian body the Hand had transplanted her into all those years ago, but now, thanks to the Leech virus, she no longer had her mental powers. She still had her martial arts training and experience, but that was all.

      Her mind flashed back to the last superheroic outing she participated in; she, Chamber, and Phoenix went up against a band of de-powered mutants. It had ended with Phoenix's death in a blaze of fire. (1)

      Everything, it seemed, was falling apart for mutantkind, thanks to the virus, now that they had finally gained the acceptance of the majority of humanity. There were still plenty of hold-outs, but for the most part, they were accepted and the X-Men were treated much the same by the general populace as the other second-tier public teams. They weren't held in the same high esteem as, say, the Avengers or the Fantastic Four, but they weren't seen as any worse than the New Warriors or the late Champions.

      Betsy sighed and left her glass on the rail. She headed back towards bed, wondering for a few moments if she couldn't recover her old body armor and still fight the good fight that way. Maybe Charles could get a hold of Tony Stark and see if he couldn't develop some space-age armors for the former mutants to hold their own in battle.

      Betsy returned to the bedroom to find Warren Worthington III, her boyfriend, sitting up in the dark, rubbing at his eyes. "Did I wake you?"

      "Yeah, little bit," Warren admitted, "strange, bit of a headache…"

      "You're probably just a little dehydrated," Betsy suggested, "want me to bring you a glass of water?"

      "No, I'll be fine," Warren said, stretching out his arms, "Maybe I'll take a few quick laps around the city, make sure there aren't any late-night burglaries or anything—"

      "Leave that to Giant Man. He's this city's protector."

      Warren laughed. "We Geecees have to do our part, too."

      "In that case, you should at least put some pants on before you go out," Betsy laughed and flipped on the light. Her jaw dropped as she looked at her lover.

      "What is it? What's wrong?"

      "Warren…" She began, but couldn't continue.

      Warren looked down at his hands and chest and shock filled his face as well. His skin was Caucasian again! Ever since the tampering done by Apocalypse, he had had blue skin.

      "What… what?" Warren began to grab at his back, awkwardly, and stormed towards the full-length mirror on the wall. He turned his butt to it and turned around to look as best he could. His wings were completely gone. "Where'd they go? What's going on?"

      "Maybe this is a new transformation," Betsy suggested. Of late, his wings had changed into a sort of hybrid between the original feather wings and the metal wings of Death. He had found he could somehow send them away to some extra-dimensional source and call them back when he willed it.

      Now, he couldn't call them back.

      [Stark Solutions, Los Angeles branch office.]

      Bill Foster stared at the DNA sequence on the computer screen before him. "I'm not an expert of mutants, but I've seen this before, and yes, I can say conclusively that you have the Leech virus, Warren. I'm sorry." (2)

      Warren stared at the wall far distant while Betsy held his hand. She gave him a light squeeze and he gave no response. He felt cold and dead inside.

      "I know how terrible it is to lose your powers," Bill said, "I lost mine myself awhile back and… did some things I'm not proud of to get them back. (3) The bright side is that the Leech virus isn't like the Legacy virus. It won't kill you; it won't even affect your health, beyond reducing it to the health of a normal healthy homo sapiens."

      "You can't know what it was like," Warren said, his mind high in the sky, "to soar under your own power."

      "No, I don't," Bill said, "but there are jet packs that you could use to replicate it. It wouldn't be the same, no, but it would be something, at least."

      "Jet packs, ha," Warren said.

      "Mr. Foster is only trying to help," Betsy said.

      "Send my DNA sample on to Hank McCoy and Moira MacTaggert," Warren said. "I want their opinions, too."

      "Alright," Bill agreed, "I'm afraid they'll agree with me, but I'll send it on to them."

      "Let's go, Betsy," Warren said.

      [Outside.]

      "Warren, slow down!" Betsy said as he sped through the city streets. She had a sudden flash of the sports car flipping off the road, killing them both instantly. She squeezed her eyes shut tight and slammed the image into Warren's mind without thinking.

      He hit the brakes and skidded to a stop in the middle of the road.

      "Did you do that?" He asked.

      "Yes," Betsy said. "Can you imagine what it's like to lose the power to read minds? It's like losing the ability to speak or read. So don't tell me about how horrible it is that you can't fly now. You'll have to learn to be normal like the rest of us."

      "Your powers are coming back," Warren said.

      "And yours will too, eventually," Betsy said, although she knew that the recovery rate was as yet unknown. Some mutants' powers returned almost instantly while others still hadn't gotten them back yet, like Cyclops.

      "Maybe, but you don't know that," Warren said.

      "At least it's hope," Betsy said. "That's something to live for, isn't it?"

      "I suppose so," Warren agreed, putting the car back into gear and driving again, ignoring the honks behind him.

      [Two weeks later.]

      Reporters crowded as close as they could to the stand on the roof of a Worthington-owned skyscraper as photographers stepped back and snapped photos. Warren thought it might be symbolic somehow to have the press conference take place on the rooftop. Ceiling of the world. The place that was once his domain.

      Betsy squeezed his hand and this time, he gave a light squeeze back. After the introduction was made, Warren released her hand and stood, walking to the microphone and letting the flashes wash over him.

      "As you can all see, I'm a survivor of what people are calling the Leech virus," Warren said, finally announcing what had been speculated on in the press for the last two weeks. He'd kept out of the public eye as much as possible, which only further fueled the paparazzi frenzy.

      After the hubbub had finally died down again, he continued. "I'm here today to confirm, publicly, that the virus is real but it is not deadly. It is true that it somehow changes mutant DNA, turning us into ordinary human beings.

      "I'm afraid I can't explain the science myself; that's more my friend Hank McCoy's arena of expertise.

      "The transition from mutant to human is an even more difficult one than that which we went through as teenagers when our powers first manifested, ladies and gentlemen. Many mutants become suicidal. It isn't that they think they're better than you are, it's the fact that the one thing that made them feel special, like unique individuals with power over their own fate, had been taken from them. They felt powerless, a mere cog in an uncaring machine.

      "This is why I am announcing the formation of a new nonprofit organization to help former mutants deal with their power loss. With the love and support of my friends, I was able to overcome the depression of losing my wings without… well, we all know what happened when I lost my wings before. I won't go into that again today.

      "X-Corporation will open its first office here, in Los Angeles, though we are planning to rapidly expand around the world so long as our services are needed. We will be giving you further information as soon as we possibly can, but I'm afraid we have work to do now."

      The reporters called out their questions as Warren stepped off the platform and looked out over the horizon. A new day was dawning, speaking figuratively.

      `Everyone inside,' Betsy flashed into everyone's minds, and Warren spun towards her.

      Three dark figures buzzed through the air towards the rooftop. "Betsy, who--?"

      "I don't know," she said, "too far for me to read, but their intent is hostile!"

      "Frieda?" Warren asked, and the heavyset woman who was serving as security at the event, known colloquially as Permafrost, stepped forward, her body covered in a thin sheet of ice, her breath always visible.

      "Whoever they are, they're armed to the teeth," Permafrost told them, using the magnification lenses in her mask. "I'd better draw more power." She flexed, and the air grew cold as she absorbed the heat from the air around them.

      "Betsy, take the reporters inside," Warren commanded.

      "I can—"

      "You can use your telepathy to keep them calm and keep them moving," Warren said, "do it."

      Betsy knew he was right and did so, keeping the reporters from stampeding as they took the exit stairs. Betsy gave a last look of love to Warren, then followed them down.

      "Anyone you recognize?" Warren asked as he unzipped a pack kept on the roof for just such an emergency.

      "Nope," Permafrost said, shivering with the power she had taken. "Whoever they are, they're—"

      Before she could finish, she had burst into millions of frigid pieces, shattering in every direction. Warren dropped to the floor of the rooftop, avoiding shrapnel. The three figures zoomed past overhead, cheering their direct hit.

      "Some sort of armor-piercer," Warren muttered and pulled the rocket launcher from the pack. He loaded it quickly but unworriedly, as the three figures zoomed back around. "I hope this works," he said, knowing that it would as it had been designed by Forge.

      The rocket shot off and came between the three figures, emitting an electromagnetic pulse that knocked out their rocket packs. The three came to a skidding stop on the rooftop, nicked but without any serious harm.

      "Hello, boys," Warren said, aiming a pistol at them. "I wouldn't move if I were you. You killed my friend, and that makes me less than happy. If I were a vengeful man, I'd shoot you right now. Instead, I'm going to make sure you go on trial and—"

      "Justice is served!" Shouted one of the men as he threw a grenade at Warren, whose eyes grew large as he realized the men didn't mind killing themselves so long as they killed their post-mutant target.

      Warren jumped away from the grenade but was caught in the explosion and sent over the edge of the rooftop. The men cheered madly.

      Warren was in free-fall and watched the blur of high-rise buildings flying past him. His heart rate sped up, seemingly to several hundred beats a minute, as he felt his death approaching any moment. It was ironic that he would die by falling, he who had flown too close to the sun, a modern Ikarus…

      Something snapped inside his mind, he felt a hot surge of pain, and he saw an image of Apocalypse, while he was brainwashing his former Horseman. He was saying… something. Warren couldn't make it out, but the pain enraged him further. He wanted his last thoughts to be of old friends and lovers, not his most hated foe!

      He listened to the high-pitched scree, so familiar.

      His body jerked and reversed itself in mid-flight. He was going up, up, up!

      Warren knew without looking that the metal wings of Death had returned. Some sort of nanotechnological failsafe Apocalypse had installed into his favored Horseman for just such an emergency. It had fired when he was near death and powerless, restoring him to the state his body was in as a Horseman. What of his mind? Had it too been reversed to that unhinged individual?

      Time to worry about that later.

      Within moments, he had risen to the rooftop and snarled at the three men who were congratulating one another. They turned and looked at him, astonished. Before they could fight back, he'd pinned them to the roof by the razor-sharp knives ejected from his high-tech wings.

      He didn't need a mirror to know that his skin was blue again.

      "You killed my friend," he said, rage bubbling in his voice as he walked towards them. He fantasized about slicing them to ribbons with his wings. "Who are you?" His voice wavered as he fought against the homicidal urges.

      "We're with the Humanists," one of the men said. "Following the example of… of… of the Human. (4)"

      Warren knew of him; he'd tried to kill the mutants in Sanctuary.

      The rest of the security force had stormed the roof now and had their guns trained on the Humanists. Warren stood silently for a moment, letting the breeze pass him.

      Then he took to the skies once more.

      The Angel was dead; the Archangel had returned. Woe to the foes of mutantkind.



      FOOTNOTES:
      1. See issue #76, "After the X."
      2. See issue #75, "Chess Set."
      3. See West Coast Avengers for the details.
      4. See Uncanny X-Men #418.


      FOR THE ARCHANGEL'S NEXT MOVE, SEE UPCOMING ISSUES OF THE MIGHTY AVENGERS…
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