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Super Reads 122

Could this be... the END!?

Today, we check out Shadowland: Spider-Man #1, Avengers Academy #5, Hawkeye & Mockingbird #5, Young Allies #5, and Blast to the Past for Avengers #'s 19 & 20.  Enjoy and spread the word!

Spoilers Ahead!


Here we are again.  For the first time, for the last time.

Looking to read up on everything from Secret Invasion to Siege and beyond?  Check no further than this link right HERE.

And away we go!

Shadowland: Spider-Man #1
Writer: Dan Slott
Penciler: Paulo Siqueira

In this issue:

• Shang-Chi somehow absorbs Mr. Negative's powers.

• We find out that Spider-Man left a meeting of high-class heroes to deal with the threat of Negative's Inner Demons fighting a turf battle with the Hand.

• Shang-Chi followed him and decides to help out.

• Spidey doesn't actually know what side to fight in the turf war but when he realizes that the Inner Demons don't die and the Hand do that remarkably well, it's time to fight off Negative's forces.

• During the battle, Mr. Negative uses his powers on Shang-Chi (turning the Master of Kung-fu into a negative version of himself) and we catch back up to the beginning of the issue.

• The Inner Demons sit this one out since both Shang and Mr. Neg have that negative thing going down.

• Spider-Man fights Shang-Chi after Mr. Negative makes a run for it and Shang-Chi eventually fights off the effects of Negative's powers.

• The two heroes return to the Shadowland story.

While the title on this book makes it clearly a Spider-Man one-shot from the Shadowland story, it's actually a Spider-Man Team-Up book, co-starring Shang-Chi in equal portions.  In fact, our good Master of Kung-fu buddy is the first guy we see in this story.  Shang is hanging out in the beautiful fishing village of Yang-Tin, meditating on a boat.  We soon learn that this isn't actually happening.  This is a look into the calmness inside Shang-Chi's mind.  This calm is shattered when the sun goes black.  Everything else follows soon and a tentacle slides out of the water and tries to strangle the martial arts master.

We slip out of Shang-Chi's dream state and find Spider-Man being held down by the Inner Demon minions of Mr. Negative.  Shang's inner turmoil is being caused by the big guy himself.  You see, Mr. Negative has the ability to change positive to negative.  For example, over in the Dark Reign: Mr. Negative mini-series, the bad guy used his powers on Spider-Man, turning our favorite wall-crawler into an evil version on himself.  Here, that effect is happening on the martial artist.

Shang-Chi is an interesting character because he believes he lives in a balance with pretty much everything.  This SHOULD mean that Mr. Negative's powers would just slough right off him since he's not living on the positive OR negative side of his personality.  The thing about that is, it's hard to be a hero without picking a side and the Master of Kung-Fu is certainly a hero.  All the same, Mr. Negative's powers do something rather strange to our hero: Shang absorbs Mr. Negative's abilities.  Negative himself isn't depowered, but we'll just assume that those abilities are halved and shared between the two.

Score one for the good guys, right?  Not so much.  Shang-Chi starts acting a lot like he got his polarities all switched.  Are there two bad guys where there was once just the one?

Well, we're not going to learn that answer right now because we have to learn WHY Spider-Man and Shang-Chi were fighting Mr. Negative and the Inner Demons in the first place.  I mean, we really wouldn't HAVE to do that.  If this were an issue of Spider-Man, we could just take the story from here and no-one would ever need to learn the why's and wherefores of how it was set up.  We'd just assume our two heroes were out doing some heroing and the Inner Demons just popped up for them to fight like magic.

This, however, is a Shadowland tie-in and that means we demand ninjas.

Let's skip back just a bit.  Not even fifteen minutes ought to do.  OK, now press play.  Spider-Man is contemplating what side he's on in an all out gang war between the Hand and Mr. Negative's Inner Demons.  Yes, this will require a further flashback because having a linear storyline would be CRAZY.  Shang-Chi shows up and Spider-Man explains why he's pondering what he's pondering.

OK, next flashback.  This time, we go back to Shadowland #3 when all the heroes (and the Punisher) were gathering after their failed super-hero intervention on Daredevil.  Spider-Man snuck off while no one but Shang-Chi was looking.  The Master of Kung-fu followed, believing the wall-crawler probably had a good reason for sneaking off and not respecting Spider-Man's privacy enough to just let it happen.  I mean, maybe Peter just needed to call his dear old sweet Aunt May to make sure there were plenty of wheatcakes waiting for him at the conclusion of Shadowland?  No, Shang-Chi's gotta follow Spider-Man around and figure out exactly why the web-slinger had to leave.  Hell, it could have been a bathroom break.

Well, what it was is this.  Hand vs. Inner Demons.  Parker caught the glimpse of the Inner Demons and decided not to involve the entire group in this.  Mr. Negative is obviously looking to expand his crime territory into Hell's Kitchen and the war is on.  And now, Spidey's trying to figure out what side needs an extra hand.

It looks like that side is the Hand's today.  It's simple math.  The Inner Demons can't die.  The Hand die ALL THE TIME.  You look at them funny, they die.  That means that, eventually, the Inner Demons will defeat the Hand and where will that leave Hell's Kitchen?  Nope, that won't stand.  Spider-Man and Shang-Chi start attacking the Inner Demons.

The battle goes well enough at first.  Shang-Chi rescues a pigeon and the two heroes start talking about the ethics in eating meat and rescuing chicken.  For the record, Shang-Chi enjoys hamburgers because they are delicious.  He'd probably kill a cow with his bare hands just to get a good steak.

Things start going downhill when the Hand realize that there are people helping them that don't explode into green mist when a mosquito bites them too hard.  They escape and let the heroes face the Inner Demons alone.

This means Mr. Negative faces off against Spider-Man again.  It's kind of fun because Mr. Negative is pretty much the only real Brand New Day villain that's interesting enough to keep around.  He overinflates his importance, though, believing himself to be Spidey's greatest nemesis.  The web-slinger corrects him on this and a great number of other things.  The biggest thing we learn during this fight is that Mr. Negative's little polarity switch trick only works one time per person.  That means Spider-Man won't be turning evil in this issue.  It also means that Shang-Chi is a better target for the leader of the Inner Demons.

Long story short (too late), Negative switches sparring partners, Shang-Chi absorbs half of Negative's powers, and we have just caught up to the beginning of the issue.

Both Mr. Negative and Shang-Chi try to order the Inner Demons around but the army of bad guy goons just stands around like they're waiting for the two to solve their own problems before contributing.

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Before Shang-Chi can tear Mr. Negative apart in an awesome display of violence, Spider-Man steps in and stops his friend from making a terrible mistake.  Mr. Negative doesn't make this easy by antagonizing the hero for stepping into the fight.  No-one said being a hero was easy.  Spidey's got years of history to prove that.

Anyway, Peter shoves Mr. Negative out of the kill zone and the bad guy doesn't waste time running away with his tail between his legs.  The Inner Demons just stand around and stare as Shang-Chi turns on his former ally.  Spider-Man has just put HIMSELF in the line of fire.

This fight will remain jokeless because Peter Parker doesn't joke with friends who want to kill him.  Shang-Chi fills the lull in conversation by telling Spider-Man how much better the world will be when he controls it.  It's standard megalomaniacal rant #4.  Spidey even mentions how much Shang reminds him of the Master of Kung-Fu's father, Fu Manchu.  This gets Spider-Man knocked across the rooftop but not because Shang-Chi is angry about the comparison.  No, Shang actually sees his father as a visionary now.  He just doesn't think Spider-Man has the right to say his dad's name.

Shang-Chi picks up a discarded axe and powers it up with his newfound abilities (making it a NEGATIVE axe?  I don't know, I just work here).  He gets ready to chop Spider-Man into bite sized bits.  Spider-Man just sits there and gets ready to take the blow.  He reasons it out like this: he trusts that Shang-Chi won't slice him open.  Even with Negative's influence, it's not something the martial arts master would do.  Peter's banking on this even though his spider-sense is telling him a totally different story.

There's also a point I'm leaving out from earlier and it also ties into the whole Shadowland thing so it's probably worth mentioning.  Daredevil has already fallen to the dark side of the hero force.  Spider-Man can't and won't lose another friend to their more evil impulses.  It's a gamble of a lifetime in this case.

But it also pays off.  Shang-Chi drops the axe and asks for Spider-Man's forgiveness.  In an alley a few blocks away, Mr. Negative regains his full powers just in time to revert to honest businessman, Martin Li.  This also introduces an aspect to the character that I've never noticed before so it might as well be brand new: Martin Li doesn't realize he's Mr. Negative.  He's the unwitting good to Negative's knowing evil and to make matters even more interesting, Mr. Negative can only maintain control for a set time before changing back.

Back on that rooftop, Shang-Chi and Spider-Man face off against the Inner Demons who seem to be slowly breaking out of their trance.  The first thing they remember is NOT LISTENING TO THEIR BOSS.  Sure, they can't die but that doesn't mean they can't feel a whole lot of pain and anguish.  Instead of continuing this fight, the group races off to declare their loyalty to Mr. Negative.

That leaves the two heroes alone.  They discuss their feelings and how Spider-Man knew Shang-Chi wasn't capable of killing him.  With everything said that needed to be said, the two race back to Shadowland #3 before anyone notices that they were missing.  The battle leaves Shang-Chi less certain of his balance between darkness and light than ever before.

Avengers Academy #5
Writer: Christos N. Gage
Penciler: Jorge Molina

In this story:

• Striker starts sharing his story to a lifeless Jocasta who's off hanging out with her husband, Ultron Pym.

• That story starts with a training session with Commander Steve Rogers!

• Striker asks the former Captain America why the world doesn't know about the Avengers Academy and their students?  Steve explains it pretty well but it still leaves Striker upset about not having the headlines in the palm of his hands.

• Striker tells the unmoving Jocasta about his secret origin and how Norman Osborn gave him everything he wanted.  This last bit didn't actually make Striker happy, by the way.  It just made him more bored.

• Brandon fails to proposition Finesse or Veil into having sex.

• The students take in a play in Manhattan before they're attacked by Whirlwind.

• They defeat the villain but they are now a public team.  Striker convinces them to roll with that instead of trying to cover it up.

• After seeing Justice making out with Ultragirl, Veil decides to seduce Striker but they just end up talking.

• In the end, it turns out Whirlwind's appearance was planned by Brandon's mother.

The previous comic in this series was covered HERE.

Well, we're out of the Heroic Age and through with Scared Straight but we still have move students to focus our attention on.  This issue will give us an inside look at Striker.  His real name is Brandon Sharpe and there's a reason he's in the Avengers' special class of trainees.

Like most stories told today, this one starts near the end and then we rewind to the beginning.  Striker is getting a late night snack from the fridge when he notices Jocasta standing behind him.  She's motionless and unresponsive.  In the old days (a little over a year ago) this would be because Jo was in another of her many bodies stationed every mile inside the Infinite Mansion but now that she's a married robot, there's only two places she can be: here in the Infinite Mansion or on a special prison planet with her husband, Ultron Pym.  Right now, she's with Ultron.

Striker finds an audience for his tale and starts telling it like it is.

A week ago when Steve Rogers helps train the Avengers Academy students in a special training session where he kind of kicks their @$es in.  As the former Captain America, it's what he does.  After the fight was over, Rogers walks around giving advice to the students on how to utilize their powers better and also answers any questions they might have.  It turns out Striker has a big one: why isn't the Avengers Academy public so that he can reap the rewards of a super-hero celebrity?

OK, that's fair, I guess.  Commander Rogers just answers that they need more training before this group goes public.  Striker counterpoints with Quicksilver because the speedster was a member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants but it doesn't really refute Steve's remark about training.  Striker just keeps on going until Hank Pym reminds the teenager that going public would put their families in danger.

Which is true but it's also something that could be happening right now.  Striker tells them that the student's parents are in danger NOW because villains don't wait for a public outing to find weaknesses.  Their parents should have been protected from day one.  This is something that Commander Rogers can't argue with.  He tells them all that he respects their point of view but that being an Avenger still isn't about the celebrity.  It won't ever come to that if he's got anything to say about it.  Right now, he totally does.  After that, the star-spangled top cop signs a couple autographs to accentuate his point about how Avengers shouldn't be all about the fame and then lets the file out.

As the kids leave, Steve tells Hank Pym that he's not worried about the kids with attitude.  He's more concerned about their desire for fame.  It's something no Avenger has ever been all about before.

We cut back to Brandon telling this story to Jocasta because he's going to tell the unlistening robot all about his origin and how fame has always been important to him.  It's all his mother's fault, really.  She had an affair with a politician and capitalized it for all it was worth.  Later on, she had Brandon but probably didn't know who the father was so she picked the one with the most money and made a money grab.  When Brandon was old enough, she started getting him gigs in comercials and stuff.

For that, they needed a manager and his mother chose the creepiest little pedophile they could find.  Striker tried to tell his mom about this but she wouldn't listen because he was messing with their success.  It's ok, though, because Brandon took care of it when his powers manifested later that day.  The pedo tried to get creepy with Brandon in a limo and actual sparks flew.  That left a trashed limo, a dead pedophile, and Striker with a shock of white hair.

Of course, super-powers meant another level of celebrity and his mother fell right in line with that, apologizing for not believing him about the pedo manager.  This might have gone a different way if Striker had the mutant gene but his powers came from somewhere else and that meant no built in hate by the world's population.

After that, it was all state fairs and truck shows as he took on the dangerous Truckosaurus and other fake threats to the delight of the crowds.  His mom tried getting him into some super-hero reality shows (like the tragic New Warriors show) but he was too young to be admitted.  Eventually, his powers brought the attention of Norman Osborn.  Ozzy promised the kid anything he wanted and then delivered on that promise.  Striker didn't undergo any torture or anything.  Still, he wasn't happy.  He had everything he wanted and was just bored.  That's because what he really wanted wasn't given to him: the spotlight.

We skip back a few days to a work out session.  There's Striker and Finesse lifting weights.  Brandon asks Finesse for a booty call but gets turned down because the polymath believes him to be boring and untrained in the art of love making.  Undeterred, Sharpe tries out his winning personality on Veil, asking for a little something something.  Again, he gets shut down.  Maybe later on he asked Hazmat and then realized that he didn't want to die screaming.  It's off-panel.

Two days later, the students of Avengers Academy join Hank Pym in Manhattan where they watch the musical, Wicked, and discuss what it means to them.  Since Mettle and Hazmat aren't able to go about looking normal, Hank shrunk them down and kept them in his pocket.  This also means he didn't pay for their seats.

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Before they can return to the Infinite Mansion, the wind picks up and they find themselves facing down the villainous David Cannon, better known to you and me as Whirlwind.  This makes sense in a way.  Cannon had an obsession with the Wasp and might possibly blame Hank for her death even though the Yellowjacket running around at the time was a Skrull.  Whirlwind starts slicing up Pym's students for payback and luckily picks Reptil as the first target.  Since Humberto can make his skin like that of an ankylosaur, Whirly's spinning blades just glance off.

As the kids join the fight and things kick into high gear, Hank notices the crowd around them using their cell phones to record the action.  Well, the cat's out of the bag.  Now, they might as well defeat this bad guy before dealing with the repercussions.  Since it's Whirlwind, it's a short fight.  He hasn't been a relevant bad guy in years.  After Cannon is taken care of, Hank rushes his students into a portal back to the Infinite Mansion as the crowd starts asking them questions.

The first thought is to try and supress as much of this as possible.  Hank is ready to give Steve Rogers a call so that America's top cop can get a PR team on top of the situation.  Striker convinces him to try another tactic.  Introduce the team.  Trying to shove this cat back into the bag is just going to draw more attention to the fact that you're shoving a cat into a bag.  Also: claw marks.  Go public now before you have no control over the situation.

And that's exactly what they do.  The next day in the late afternoon, Hank Pym introduces the first class of the Avengers Academy to reporters.

An hour and a half later, it's all over and the kids are still buzzing on the rush of celebrity.  Veil wants to tell her favorite instructor about her day but ends up walking in on Justice making out with Ultragirl.  Since Maddie has a crush on him, this is hard stuff to process for the teenager.  She runs off crying.

Later on that night, Veil walks in on Striker as he's trying to call his mom.  I don't exactly know how something like reception would work in the Infinite Mansion.  I'm guessing not well because Brandon's having a hard time getting his cell phone working.  After talking about how stupid crushing after Justice is, Madelyne plants a kiss on Striker and asks if he'd like a bit of the sex.  To everyone's surprise, Brandon turns her down, saying he has a headache or something.  Instead, they just lie on the bed and talk about how awesome Vance Astrovik is.

And that leads us right back to where we came in.  Striker is finishing up his tale of the last week to Jocasta who is a captive audience even though she's not hearing any of this.  Even he is amazed that he didn't sleep with Veil.  The kid marks it as a sign he's growing up.

Finally, his cell phone starts working and he gets a call from his mother.  She's doing fine and Avengers security is in place just in case someone tries to attack her.  (in her case, the place is being protected by Living Lightning which is interesting because of Striker's own power set).  After dancing around the issue, we learn that it was Striker's mom that set up the battle with Whirlwind to force the Avengers to acknowledge the Avengers Academy publickly.  This was all to get some merchandising going and get that money flowing in.  She a little worried about Brandon talking so openly on the phone about it but Striker assures her that he checked it out and the Avengers aren't tapping their phones.

The two finish their phone call and Striker goes back to bed.  He thanks Jocasta for listening and we leave the scene ourselves as Jo's red eyes stare at us.  It's eerie.

Hawkeye & Mockingbird #5
Writer: Jim McCann
Penciler: David López

In this story:

• At Spirit Park, Nevada, it's Phantom Rider versus Phantom Rider with Hawkeye, Mockingbird, and Crossfire thrown in to make it interesting.

• Hamilton Slade contains the spirit of his ancestor, Lincoln Slade but gives up his own powers in the process.

• Mockingbird knocks out Jaime Slade.

• Crossfire shoots Hamilton, killing Jaime's father.  Hawkeye neutralizes Crossfire with extreme prejudice.

• Jaime wakes up just as her father is dying and draws the wrong conclusions.

• Jaime gets her own Phantom Rider powers and it's fight time at the edge of a cliff!  Mockingbird wins and no one takes a long dive over the edge.  This time.

• The Avengers fly in to pick up Clint.  The WCA do the same for Bobbi.  This partnership is ended!

The previous comic in this series was covered HERE.

There are just too many Phantom Riders in this comic and I have to explain who everyone is.  The first Phantom Rider's name was Carter Slade.  He fought evil in the wild west while dressing in a perfect white costume.  This suit was very hard to keep clean, especially in the wild, wild west but it didn't really come up much in the stories.  After Carter died, his partner took on the role but didn't last very long before he too died.  The third Phantom Rider, Carter's brother, Lincoln Slade, is where we run into our trouble.  Lincoln Slade was a US Marshal but that doesn't always mean good guy.  In Lincoln's case, it means crazy dude that kept a time travelling Mockingbird drugged up so that she thought she loved him.  When Bobbi figured this all out, there was a vengeance taken.  Lincoln ended up hanging from the side of a cliff in Spirit Park, Nevada.  Bobbi Morse didn't kill him.  She just didn't drag him back up and let the scumbag drop to his death.

Obviously, that's not the end of the story.  In more or less the modern era, a new Phantom Rider showed up.  This was a decendant of Lincoln Slade named Hamilton Slade.  Through Hamilton, Lincoln haunted Mockingbird until eventually being exorcised from Ham.  This took some help from the original Phantom Rider's ghost and when all was said and done, Hamilton's new source of power was Carter Slade's ghost.

Getting confused yet?  We've got one more lap of explanations to go.  Hamilton has a daughter named Jaime Slade.  Back in the first issue, Jaime was possessed by Lincoln after an urn containing his essence was cracked during a high speed chase involving Hawk & Mock.  Jaime became yet another Phantom Rider and since Lincoln was driving, had a mad-on for Mockingbird yet again.

That leads us to the present day where everyone meets at Spirit Park, Nevada to try and figure out how many Phantom Riders we'll have by the end of the issue.  It's gonna be sad, I'm sorry to say.

Hamilton has already powered up to his Phantom Rider persona and has the urn that should be holding Lincoln Slade's less than peaceful spirit.  All that needs to be done is a little ritual and Lincoln will be back where he belongs.  To make that happen, Hawkeye and Mockingbird are going to have to keep hitting Crossfire and Jaime/Lincoln so that Hamilton can do his thing.  And... let's go.

Things explode.  The Lady Phantom Rider does a lot of talking about how Mockingbird welcomes death and has a darkness in her soul and blah, blah, blah.  Mockingbird is rightly pissed.  In the course of this storyline, her mother was put into a coma pretty much on Lincoln Slade's orders.  She'd end this permanently if there wasn't an innocent lady who needed saving.  Lincoln keeps talking crazy talk (he's good at it) and we switch over to Hawkeye who's fighting Crossfire right now.

Clint has arrows for every occasion.  In this fight, he's used explosive putty arrows and is not trying out a barbed wire arrow which just looks painful.

With Crossfire and Lady Phantom Rider distracted, Hamilton finishes his ritual.  Bobbi tosses Jaime into the magical circle and Lincoln is forced out of Jaime's body by Carter Slade.  This means that both Jaime and Hamilton lose their powers but it's a trade Ham is more than willing to make in order to get his daughter back.  Before he's dragged back into his urn, Lincoln shouts that Jaime has been chosen and will carry on his crazy legacy.  These are hauntingly prophetic words.

Of course, to prove it, Jaime wakes up nuts and tries to attack her father.  Mockingbird knocks the younger Slade unconscious with a love tap from her staff.  Hamilton checks on his daughter and assures everyone that she's still alive.  He's more worried about what Lincoln might have done to her poor, fragile mind.

With the battle done, Clint and Bobbi talk about how emotionally draining their line of work is.  Then Crossfire proves that the fight ain't quite finished.  CF's managed to pull a gun and shoots Hamilton.  The elder Slade drops the urn and then falls to the ground himself.  He claims the ritual still had a few steps to take before it was complete but that his death won't stop it.  In fact, Hamilton's spirit will no ensure that Lincoln never returns.  It's almost a good thing.  But not really.

While Bobbi tries to keep Ham alive, Hawkeye takes care of Crossfire.

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Hawkeye is a bit shocked at how violent he got there.  Crossfire claims that Bobbi is changing him and the words sink in deep.

Hamilton Slade dies.  Mockingbird reaches to pick up the gun she pulled out when Crossfire started shooting again.  It's moments like this that you just sense coming a mile away and still cringe when they come to pass.  Jaime wakes up and sees her father dead and her nemesis nearby with not only a gun in her hands but Hamilton's blood dripping from her fingers.  Jaime gets pissed off over the misunderstanding and suddenly powers back up as the newest Phantom Rider.

Hawkeye is swept away because this fight is totally personal.  Bobbi's left with Hamilton's dying words to lead her: "Please... watch over Jaime."  That means non-lethal would be preferred.  Still, her first blow knocks the new Phantom Rider off the side of the cliff.  Luckily, Jaime has the sense to hold on and Bobbi is able to pull her back up.  That doesn't mean the Phantom Rider doesn't spit venom from the mouth the entire time.

When back up on the right end of the cliff, Bobbi socks Jaime in the face, knocking the girl out and preventing a repeat performance.  Hawkeye returns and the two have a lot of time to talk as they wait for their pick-up to arrive.  Clint nearly killed Crossfire and it scares the piss out of him.  He doesn't want to be a killer even though he uses such pointy weapons.

In the early morning, the WCA's helicopter arrives.  It's followed quickly by an Avengers Quinjet.  Steve Rogers and James Barnes are on board.  They load up Crossfire and Jaime Slade.  Hamilton Slade's body is taken by the WCA so that they can deliver it to the University of Nevada.  From Clint and Bobbi's respective teams, we get questions on why both the Avengers and the WCA are here.  We learn that the two have decided to part ways.  Clint returns to the Avengers.  Bobbi to the WCA.  It's Mockingbird that actually says the words.

"Clint and I are... it's over."

Young Allies #5
Writer: Sean McKeever
Penciler: David Baldeón

In this story:

• We find out the secret origin of Singularity which is a whole lot different than being the son of Graviton.

• The Superior, the kid son of the Leader, freezes the Young Allies in their tracks with telepathy.

• Singularity attacks the Superior because he now knows the truth.  The Superior kills him but it gives the good guys an opening.

• The rest of the Bastards of Evil haven't broken out of their trances so it's time to pair off and fight!

• Somehow, Firestar knocks out the Superior and friend by absorbing a hell of a lot of radiation and needs to release it into the upper atmosphere with a little help from Gravity.

• The New Avengers show up with Captain America to play clean up.

• The group decides not to become a team.

The previous comic in this series was covered HERE.

By this point, I'm sorry to say that I have stopped caring about the Young Allies.  It was never a book I looked at very highly and it's likely I never would have bought the issues if the first one hadn't had the Heroic Age banner on it which meant I needed to write about it.  Sadly, it was always low on my reading list.

Props for saying that teenage powered kids to the Marvel heroes or villains aren't possible, though.  Someone's needed to say that for a long time and it's the one thing I really did love about the series.  It's a message that future writers should learn by heart.  BY HEART!

Anyway, this is the last issue that I'll need to write about so I might as well do the best I can.

Let's start out with a flashback to Summerlin, Nevada where athletic teenager, Devin is returning home after winning the big game.  It's a big deal because his dad is happy for him.  It's a good life for a teenager complete with a girlfriend and popularity.  Then, the son of the Leader shows up, kidnaps Devin, powers him up with gravity abilities and pops in some false memories to complete the package.  Devin becomes Singularity, the fake son of Graviton.

Are you wondering why the Superior isn't bothering me?  He's the supposed son of Hulk villain, the Leader.  The difference between him and the rest of the teenagers all comes down to age.  The Superior is probably about ten years old which means that he'll JUST fit into either the ten year Marvel Universe OR the more accepted fifteen year one.  It's a retcon that works for me and it hasn't even been confirmed that the kid is ACTUALLY the son of the Leader.  For all we know, he's a clone or another trick within a trick.  It works for me.

Now, why did we just go through a flashback on Singularity's origin?  It's because he just did the same.  Devin now knows his whole real backstory thanks to the electric jolt he took during the fight with Aftershock.  While he realizes what's happened to him, we pull back and find that all of the heroes of this particular adventure are caught in the Superior's telepathic grip and frozen in place.  The only one who is showing any real resistance is Toro and that's probably due to him being super pissed at the mind manipulation going on since it mirrors his own origin.

We let the Superior rant a little bit about changing the world and the importance of fake family until Singularity finally gets his rage on for everything done to him and attacks the gamma powered kid.  This was something the Superior hadn't expected and the sudden gravitational attack throws off his game.  Devin reveals that their powers are the result of radiation before the Superior pulls him apart.

Even though the Superior thought he was keeping the Young Allies in check during his fight with Devin, that turns out not to be the case.  Singularity's attack has managed to free the heroes.  Unfortunatly, they still have Bastards of Evil to get through.  It seems the only one that realized the truth was Singularity.  The rest are a bit confused by Devin's outburst but still falling for Superior's false memory implants.

So everyone pairs off.  Firestar takes on Aftershock.  Gravity uses Mortar as a living weapon against Superior.  Ember attacks Araña and a wounded Nomad.  Rikki's still got enough sense to use her energy shield to block Ember's fire attacks.  Firestar keeps egging Aftershock on for being the fake daughter of Electro.

The most interesting bit of the battle is Gravity using Mortar to attack the Superior.  She begs him to stop because it's hurting her.  We also now know that she's a pawn in all of this.  Gravity isn't willing to let go of his advantage until Toro lays a hand on his shoulder and just gives him a look like he's gone too far.  When Araña gets a chance to check up on Gravity, he expresses shame at what he was almost willing to do.  Anya explains that Toro had a similar experience when they took on Ember the other day.  It looks like the kid is finding a new path.

Most of these battles don't really matter because there's no real resolution to most of them.  Who knows how Ember or Aftershock are actually defeated?  Not me.  I might be missing some pages.  Really, the only thing that is important is that the Superior gets back on his feet and starts using his telekenisis again.

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His defeat comes at the hands of Firestar who's finally realized how she can defeat this entire group of Bastards.

Remember when Devin shouted out that the Bastards' powers are all the result of radiation?  Firestar does.  Her powers are based on microwave radiation but she also has the ability to absorb the stuff.  That's what she does.  She just sucks up as much as she can.  This depowers the group of villains but it also puts Angel in a bad position.  One, she really shouldn't be doing that kind of thing.  She's a cancer survivor and stuff like this could make the big C come back in full force.  Two, she's loaded with radiation that NEEDS to be released and it can't happen on earth.  She needs to shoot that stuff at a star or something.

Gravity to the rescue.  He flies Angel up as far into the atmosphere as possible and then helps Firestar release all that built up energy.  The two drop back down to earth to help gather bad guys.  Gravity asks her about the cancer thing but Firestar is only willing to share so much before closing down about the subject.

Nomad is fine by this point.  Apparently, her wounds just looked worse than they actually were.  Toro even allows her to call him Benny which is nice of him.

To help with clean-up, the New Avengers arrive with Captain America.  Luke tells Firestar to give him a call next time because he won't treat her like those damn Avengers in the Tower.  He's a people person.  During the clean-up, Araña finally breaks down and allows people to call her Spider-Girl.  Before the team takes off, Cap tells them that they're a lot like his WWII team, the Young Allies.  Hint, hint.  Wink, wink.

When Nomad mentions that they would make a spiffy team, even Araña walks away.  The only other person to think it might be a good idea would be Toro but that also might be due to the fact that he doesn't speak very good english.  He might not know what they're talking about.

The Bastards are all brought to the Raft where they're being held for their crimes.  It's possible that the brainwashed members might recieve some help to recover their lost memories or maybe the Young Allies forgot to tell the good guys this fact.  Hell, the Raft is supposed to negate people's powers and all of them seem to keep their powers while in their cells.  So... yeah.  Continuity is awesome.

The Superior is in there with the rest but he's spouting off on how he'll free them and make their names known to the world.  He's got changes to make.  Free you mind and you @$ will follow.  All that jazz.  Good luck, little kid.  I hope you never get out of your cell.  Ever.

The Avengers #19
Writer: Stan Lee
Penciler: Don Heck

In this story:

• The Swordsman breaks into Avengers Mansion looking to join the team so he can commit more high class crimes.  He's stopped by the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver.

• After Captain America does a google search on the Swordsman and learns he's a total criminal, the Swordsman escapes.

• Hawkeye tells Steve Rogers the secret history he shares with the Swordsman.

• Through a convoluted set of incidents, the Swordsman learns that Captain America was trying to join SHIELD and sets a trap for the Avengers' leader.

• While Cap is getting captured, Hawkeye learns that his invitation to meet Nick Fury was false.  The rest of the Avengers rush to aid their leader.

• The Avengers reach the place where Steve was captured and see Swordsman threatening the life of Captain America on a gang plank far above them.

• He's demanding membership in the Avengers for Captain America's safe return.

• Steve won't allow that and leaps off the plank to his apparent doom.  DOOM!

August 1965!  One of the more unlikely Marvel heroes makes his first appearance!  While Marvel had made a lot of villains into heroes in the first few years of Marvel comics, none of those villains seemed quite as irredeemable as Jacques Duquesne, the original Swordsman.  While he gained a bit of honor in his second appearance, his first makes him look like an all out bad guy.  His history with Hawkeye seems bent on confirming his evil nature.

Anyway, the rundown on comics you may have seen dated August of 1965: Fantastic Four #41, Amazing Spider-Man #27, Journey Into Mystery #119, Tales of Suspense #68, Tales to Astonish #70, and Strange Tales #135.  That'll give you an idea of what was going down in the Marvel Universe at the same time.

In the Avengers, the original team had taken a leave and left Captain America with the first replacement team.  Hawkeye took Iron Man's spot on the team.  Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch were set to replace Giant-Man and the Wasp.  Only Thor's chair remained open and that's because he didn't officially take a break like the others did.  He just ended up in Asgard dealing with godly matters and didn't make it back until the team had gone through it's first change.  When he finally made it back to Avengers Mansion (Journey Into Mystery #120), the team was so different that he decided to take his leave as well.

Cap's Kooky Quartet, which is what this team would become known as, was a group of reformed villains lead by the only Avenger who remained from the first group, Captain America.  Before Cap, the Avengers were basically leaderless.  One person would take up the chairman's position from meeting to meeting but no one called the shots full time.  Maybe because of this, Captain America's leadership was challenged almost constantly.  Both Hawkeye and Quicksilver thought themselves a better choice for leader and made Steve Rogers' every command a chore with all their griping.  It's no wonder he was trying to leave the team himself, waiting on the day when Nick Fury would invite him into the ranks of SHIELD.

But all that in good time.  First off, we start with the Swordman breaking into Avengers Mansion in a half-@$ed attempt at joining the team.  It's a bold play because the Swordsman is already known in Europe as a big time criminal.  His reasoning for joining the team is for the perks he would get as a member.  Basically, he'd be able to steal from more respectable people.

Still, breaking and entering to join the team only worked that one time Hawkeye did it.  This time, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch are there to stop Duquesne before he can get too far into the Mansion.  We do get to see how the Swordsman can handle himself with just a simple sword when facing a super-speedster and a mutant hexer.  Sure, he lost but only because the Scarlet Witch's powers are so unpredictable.

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Cap enters the room and does a quick search on the Swordsman which gives him a list of all the man's many criminal offenses.  Before the Avengers can put Swordsman into proper custody, the villain cuts the power to the room and escapes into the darkness.

Cap gives the other two orders to try and recapture the Swordsman but doesn't think they'll have much luck.  In the meantime, Steve returns to the Mansion and starts a rigorous workout while paying attention to the monitors.  Like I mentioned earlier, Steve really wants to quit the team and join up with Nick Fury's new spy outfit, SHIELD.  He's sent a letter to Fury saying as much but hasn't gotten a response.  It's agravating him to no end because the Avengers are jerks and he'd rather be elsewhere.

Speaking of jerks, here comes Hawkeye!  Clint Barton was the biggest thorn in Rogers' side during these years but when he hears about the Swordsman trying to join their ranks, he feels comfortable enough with Captain America that he shares an untold story from his circus days.

It looks like the Swordsman took the young Hawkeye under his wing and helped him become a better archer.  At the same time, the Swordsman was stealing money right from the ticket booth.  When Hawkeye caught him in the act, the Swordsman offered to let the young archer in on the heist.  When the kid refused, it meant death.  Hawkeye ran for his life and somehow thought climbing up on a tightrope would be a good idea.  The archer finally decided to turn and fight but the Swordsman cut the tightrope before any of Hawkeye's arrows could connect.  The kid would have fallen to his death but the tightrope ended up wrapping around his body and maybe it saved him from a fall.  I don't know.  The panels don't look like something that would happen given real physics and logic.  I'm betting someone must have retconned this by now.

Anyway, the Swordsman never went to check that his young charge actually died.  Not even on his way down from the tightrope when it would have just been one quick glance to see a kid hanging preposterously from a cut tightrope line.  No, he just assumed everything went according to plan and cut out with his stolen money.  That means the villain probably doesn't realize that Hawkeye is the same Hawkeye that he helped train all those years ago.

Alright.  That was a lot of fun.  Now let's get even more confusing.  Nick Fury left his job with the CIA to form the spy organization, SHIELD.  Unfortunately, he forgot to forward his mail to his new offices so a lone letter from Captain America still sits on his former desk, unopened and unloved.  Hydra knows about this office, though, and they go there searching for clues on the headquarters of SHIELD.  When they find this letter, they commit a federal offense and open it but aren't pleased with the contents.  They crumple it up and toss it out on the streets of Washington DC.

From there, a sleezy guy (no, not a politician), picks it up and carries it to his poker game.  Yes, he too reads it but he thinks it's neat enough to show his buddies.  During the poker game, he learns that the Swordsman is looking for a way to kidnap an Avenger.  Thinking about this crumpled up letter, the shyster thinks he has something that'll get him paid.  Minutes later (because Washington DC and New York City are THAT close together), the Swordsman meets with this guy and gets the letter.  No money exchanges hands and the minor hoodlum runs out before he gets sliced and/or diced.

A letter is quickly fabricated and sent to Avengers Mansion.  Cap is ecstatic because, well, SHIELD wants him.  He'll finally be able to get out of this Avengers team and maybe get some respect.  The rest of the Avengers are upset at first that the red, white, and blue Avenger might be leaving them but Steve assures them that he'll be able to pull double duty with both organizations.  Hawkeye and Quicksilver see that this might mean a leadership position will open up so they stop protesting so much.

A few hours later, the same hood that gave that letter to the Swordsman is caught in a crime by Hawkeye.  Thinking the Avengers are on to him he spills his guts on the Swordsman's whole scheme before he's handed over to the police.  Hawkeye debates on what to do with this new info but he's made up his mind by the time he gets back to Avengers Mansion.  Cap's life is in danger and he's a hero.  It's almost a no-brainer.

Meanwhile, Cap is falling right into the trap.  Sure, he's a little wary of the location but his hope that it'll lead to a job with SHIELD supercedes his better judgement.  You'd think a fight between Captain America and the Swordsman would be something heavily in Cap's favor because Steve Rogers is seen as pretty much unbeatable in our times.  Not so much back in 1965.  The Swordsman even manages to stop Cap's mighty shield from returning to it's owner after it's thrown at him.  Rogers eventually recovers the shield but it proves that the battle isn't going to be as easy for the WWII hero as first thought.

Back at Avengers Mansion, Hawkeye has returned and told the rest of the team about the trap Steve is walking into.  They try to contact their leader but get no response.  Then, they remember that they've all been given tracer discs that can track their location.  They turn on one of Tony Stark's nifty devices and drive over to Captain America's position.

At this point, Cap's starting to make a big comeback in his fight against the Swordsman.  The warehouse that they're fighting in has a few traps set up to make things drop back into Swordsman's favor, however.  Big piles of holy rusted metal fall on the star-spangled hero but Steve's shield protects him from the worst of it.  While he's dealing with that trap, Swordsman has started up a hydraulic lift and drives it right into the Avenger.  Cap leaps out of the way just in time and then jumps on top of the lift.  It looks like Swordsman is right where Rogers wants him until the vehicle smashes into a big pile of crates.  Those crates fall all over the place but enough of them land on the top of the vehicle to injure Captain America, who was unprepared for this.

The Swordsman picks up the unconscious hero and carries him to the roof.  He suspects the rest of the Avengers will be arriving shortly and he needs to be prepared for them.

And what's all this about?  The Swordsman still wants membership in the Avengers!  That's right.  He still thinks he can be on the team and has kidnapped Captain America to facilitate that.  It's a wacky plot all over the place.  When the Avengers arrive, they find the Swordsman and Cap on the roof of the building.  Cap is all tied up and held at swordpoint on the edge of a gangplank.  Swordsman lists his demands but Steve orders his men to deny the request.

To make sure the Avengers don't admit the villain, Captain America leaps off the plank.

The Avengers #20
Writer: Stan Lee
Penciler: Don Heck

In this story:

• Cap is falling to his death but the rest of the Avengers use their powers to save his life.

• The team surrounds the Swordsman but the criminal is teleported away.  The Avengers return home.

• The Swordsman ends up in China.  It's the Mandarin!

• After some power struggles, the Mandarin is declared the superior and uses his knowledge of science to gimmickify (which is a word now) Swordsman's sword.

• After sending a false message to the Avengers from a fake Iron Man, Mandarin convinces the team to accept the Swordsman as a member.  The Swordsman is teleported back before the team can think too hard on this.

• Even though he's watched constantly, the Swordsman finds the time to place a bomb on the monitoring station.

• The Mandarin tells him to get out of the Mansion before setting off the bomb but the Swordsman finally develops some honor and decides to deactivate the bomb instead.

• Unfortunately, he's caught in the act and the Avengers mistake him for SETTING the bomb there.  Fight!

• The Swordsman makes his getaway, tossing the bomb just in time to escape the blast.  The Mandarin rages about his poor selection for an ally.

Someone like Captain America just doesn't leap off a building to his death without expecting his team to save his life.  Fortunately, the Avengers are quick on the uptake and move in to rescue their leader.  Using Quicksilver's speed, Hawkeye's trusty aim, and the Scarlet Witch's unpredictable hexes, Cap finds his fall slowed, his bindings broken, and a ledge to jump onto.  The rest of the Avengers join him as they press their attack on the Swordsman.

Surrounded by the full force of the Avengers, the Swordsman has no chance of victory.  He's already been defeated by Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch.  With four opponents, he knows he can't win.  He just plans on holding them off until the opportunity to escape come up.  Interesting enough, that opportunity DOES come, it's just not something he was expecting.  With the four Avengers converging on him, he suddenly teleports away.  The look of surprise on his face tells the team that it was against his will.

With the obvious target gone, the Avengers turn on each other.  The bickering is fierce.  Their worst enemies are themselves.

Their opponent reappears half a world away in the heart of China.  His savior and host turns out to be the merciless Mandarin!  Mandy is the big Iron Man villain and his entire plan for the Swordsman centers on destroying the only man who has ever escaped his clutches.  The Mandarin will use the Swordsman as his minion, getting him on the Avengers in order to set up a trap for Shellhead when and if the hero returns to the team.

Of course, there's some strutting that needs to be done by the Swordsman before he'll agree to do the Mandarin's bidding but in this contest, the Mandarin is definitely the Swordsman's superior.  After taking enough abuse, the Swordsman agrees to work for the Mandarin but makes sure to be cocky about it.

Back at Avengers Mansion, the complaining continues as Hawkeye calls Captain America's leadership into question.  This obviously leads to a race between Quicksilver and Hawkeye's fastest arrow.  Don't ask.  It's more funny if I tell it this way.  Pietro beats Clint's arrow but the archer still won't admit he's been bested.  Things calm down for the Avengers.

In China, Swordsman has finally let Mandarin take the lead and that means the megalomaniac can get down to business.  The first thing Mandy does is trick out Swordsman's sword with different powers.  The only one shown is lightning but there's a lot of buttons so presumedly more powers.  Mandarin warns the criminal that they sword won't work against him and will instead turn it's powers back against the Swordsman.

The more important part of the plan is actually getting Swordsman on the Avengers.  The Swordsman himself has failed remarkably at this.  Mandarin's plans involve a facsimile of Iron Man that he projects into Avengers Mansion.  This Iron Man tells Captain America and the rest of the Avengers that he had sent the Swordsman to the team to help bolster their ranks.  Swordsman was only trying to show them his skillset when he kept on attacking them.  They should totally let him on the team.

Since it's Iron Man, a founding member of the team, the rest of the Avengers agree to let Swordsman join but there's a lot of grumbling about it all the same.  Before they change their mind, Swordsman is teleported back to New York where he meets up with the Avengers and officially joins up.  Hawkeye is suspicious since they have history together but nothing beats the questioning Captain America gives the new Avenger.

Over the course of the week, the rest of the Avengers don't give the Swordsman any chance at being alone.  They all know this will end badly and keep waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Eventually, though, they all turn their attention away from the Swordsman long enough for the criminal to plant a bomb on the monitoring equipment.  It's disguised as just another dial so no one would even notice unless they knew how to use the equipment.

Now, the plan is just to wait until Iron Man returns to the Mansion and the bomb will go boom.  Swordsman is cool with the death of most of the Avengers but he's gotten the prerequisite crush on Wanda and would like to save her life if he could.  That night, the Mandarin projects his image into the Swordsman's bedroom and tells his minion that the plans have changed.  He's not patient enough to wait for his nemesis and has decided to destroy the Avengers as they are.  He's letting Swordsman know so that his flunky can get out of the building before things get explodey.  When Iron Man shows up to investigate the destruction of the Avengers, the Mandarin will be ready with another attack.

This throws the Swordsman off his game and he decides that bombing the Avengers isn't actually as sporting as he first suspected.  Instead of escaping the Mansion, he decides to remove the bomb.  No sooner does he take the bomb off the control panel than he is attacked by Captain America and Hawkeye who were just waiting for the Swordsman to slip up.

<--IMAGE-->

Swordsman tries to explain that he was REMOVING a bomb but his story wouldn't have been much better since he still put it there to begin with.

Pietro and Wanda join the fight and again it's four Avengers against the Swordsman.  The criminal tries his best to reach the door before the Mandarin sets off the explosive device.  The Scarlet Witch bursts the sprinkler system and the Mansion fills with steam.  Swordsman uses the cover to split the scene, tossing the bomb soon enough to be out of range when it detonates.

While the Avengers don't learn that the Swordsman survives, we get to see the criminal on a lonely rooftop.  It looks like his time as an Avenger might have changed him but it'll be a long while before he walks the path of the angels again.  Mandarin rages in his fortress about how his minions continue to fail him.

Eventually, the Swordsman would return to the Avengers and join the team with his girlfriend, Mantis.  He would serve admirably this time around and even died a hero.  Quite the turn around!

And that is that, people.  As I hinted at earlier, this is probably the last Super Reads for a while.  Financial difficulties being what they are, I'm no longer to afford all the comics that make up Marvel's many events.  Eventually, I'll return to finish up Shadowland, Curse of the Mutants, and Thanos Imperative (as well as the few remaining Heroic Age titles) but it won't be next week.  It has been a lot of fun writing these up almost weekly and I'd like to thank all of my readers out there for putting in the time to read these monsters or at least look at the pretty pictures.  Hopefully, I'll be able to return and entertain you in the near future.

Thanks for reading! Excelsior!

Written or Contributed by: SuperginraiX
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About the Author - SuperginraiX


SuperginraiX is the biggest sap on The Outhousers' payroll (wait, we get paid?). He reads every issue of every crappy Marvel crossover so you don't have to. Whats worse is that he pays for his books, thus condoning Marvel's behavior. If The Outhouse cared for his well being at all, they'd try and get him into some sort of rehab center. But, alas, none of us even know how to say his name. For a good time, ask Super why Captian America jumped off the Helicarrier in Fear Itself. Super lives in the frozen wastland that is Minnesota with 15% of the state's population living under his roof: a wife he makes wear an Optimus Prime mask, two gremlins, and his mother-in-law.

 


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