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Super Reads Siege 1

Written by SuperginraiX on Thursday, January 14 2010 and posted in Features
badguy83.jpgSuper Reads the last Marvel Event!  Or... DOES he?

Today, we check out Siege: The Cabal #1, Avengers: The Initiative #31, Siege #1, Siege: Embedded #1, and Blast to the Past with Uncanny X-Men #'s 316 & 317 and X-Men #'s 36 & 37.  Enjoy and spread the word!

Spoilers Ahead!

That's right.  I'm skipping ahead to cover this last, final Marvel Mega Event while it happens.  If you're still waiting for the books that happen between this one and my last article, I WILL be filling the gaps so keep your eyes peeled for those as well.

If this is your first time reading Super Reads, it's been around for a while, now!  We've covered everything from Secret Invasion through Dark Reign as well as War of Kings.  If you're interested in reading all that back story (and who wouldn't be?), check in the "Features" link at the top of the page, look for the "Super Reads" button and click away for DAYS of reading enjoyment.  If that's too many clicks for you, just hit HERE and get there in one shot.

Now, let's look at the lead up to Siege before getting into the main event.

stc1.jpgSiege: The Cabal #1
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Penciler: Michael Lark

In this issue, Norman Osborn has a private conversation with his Green Goblin mask and they decide that it's time to do something about Asgard hanging out in Oklahoma.  He then calls a meeting with the remaining Cabal members (plus new guy, Taskmaster).  When Doom finally arrives, he's more interested in old business than new and tells Norman to lay off his pal, Namor.  This isn't something Osborn is willing or able to do.  It's not the only thing in this meeting that will piss off Doom.  Norman tells Doom that it's time to give Loki Asgard and return it to wherever it belongs but Doom isn't willing to budge on that issue unless Namor is brought back into the Cabal.  This quickly breaks down into threats and violence as Norman introduces his Ace in the Hole (only seen in shadows here and in the Secret Invasion: Dark Reign One-Shot) and orders it to start blasting into Doom.  Doom turns out to be a Doom-Bot and a secret weapon as well, releasing billions of little mechanical bug things that start destroying everything in sight.  Norman orders an evacuation of Avengers Tower and is eventually rescued by the Sentry.  When explaining the event to President Obama later on, Norman tells the President that it was simply an unattended experiment left over from Stark's tenure as SHIELD Director even though evidence clearly shows otherwise.  He's also denied permission to attack Asgard and makes plans to stage an incident that will give him reason to do as he pleases.

If you've been keeping up on any Dark Reign title in the past few months you'll notice that Norman Osborn is EVERYWHERE and that he's not sleeping.  At all.  The stress of his job is getting to him and, for someone with HIS mental health issues, that's not a good place to be.  Add to that the fact that his mind was messed with by the Molecule Man in the latest issues of Dark Avengers and you get a recipe for disaster like no other.

So it's not surprising to see him talking to his Goblin Mask about the fate of Asgard.  When you see that his mask seems to be talking back, we're still in Not Surprised Territory.  In the last issue of Dark Avengers, we've seen that Loki is messing with his sanity levels.  Because of that, it's pretty apparent that either Loki is talking to Norman through the mask or the god of mischief has helped push Norman over the crazy bridge and Ozzy's Green Goblin personality is actually talking to him. 

The point is, Norman is talking back.

The "Green Goblin" is talking all about how Asgard shouldn't be on earth.  He doesn't know where it should be but earth is the wrong location and something needs to be done about this.  Norman isn't quite so sure of what that should be.  After all, this is territory that his predecessor, Tony Stark, already tried dealing with.  It led to Iron Man getting his face mask ripped off.  Perhaps out of respect for his former comrade or possibly because he knew what kind of undertaking it would be, Tony let Thor and Asgard remain on earth in Oklahoma.

It's also gotta be mentioned that this isn't the first time Asgard has left whatever heavenly realm it usually inhabits and wound up floating above Midgard.  The last time, it hovered in the skies of New York City where it startled the locals and caused people to renew worship of the Norse Gods until Thor got involved in some time traveling and decided Asgard shouldn't hover over a major metropolis.  After the last Ragnarok storyline, Thor returned and place the city very near Broxton, Oklahoma where it hovers about six feet off the ground. 

Over in the current Thor books, the city is actually empty of inhabitants.  The Asgardians have taken exile in Latveria which seems to be a closer match to the type of environment they're used to.  That seems to be something that'll change VERY soon as the Asgardians have made war with Doctor Doom.  I'm guessing one more issue of that book will show the Asgardians returning to their city.

"Green Goblin" convinces Norman that he needs to do something about it.  Asgard has to get out of the United States.  It needs to leave the mortal plane.  Norman half-heartedly argues against his other persona but he sees a lot of sense in what the Goblin is saying.  When he says he needs to talk to his fellow Cabal member, Loki, the "Green Goblin" tells him that Loki is god of lies and shouldn't be trusted.  Norman counters that Loki isn't always straight up lying.  Sometimes, the villain gives out true information to simply serve his own agenda.  Goblin says that Loki still isn't someone you trust and the fact that he's a member of the Cabal is ridiculous and certainly not something that would have happened had the Goblin been in control.

Norman thanks his mask for all the good advice he's been given.  The mask replies back that this is the game changer.  If Norman can take Asgard... oh, that's something the world will never forget.  It's what legends are made of.  No one will even remember the whole Gwen Stacy thing if he can do this.  Norman acknowledges just how right his Goblin mask is one more time before we change scenes.

It's night time in Avengers Tower.  For most people, that means bed time.  Dark Hawkeye is sleeping pretty soundly, for example.  Others, less so.  Dark Ms. Marvel lays in her bed alone but her eyes are open and she's clearly not asleep.  I'm thining she's used to sharing that bed with someone (anyone) and with it only half full, she's just not getting that rest she wants.

Other people are also awake in the Tower tonight.  Norman's holding a meeting with what remains of his Cabal.  It's certainly a lot more empty a room than it was back in the Secret Invasion: Dark Reign One-Shot.  Back then, we had an unarmored Norman Osborn, a female Loki, a drunk Namor, a confused Emma Frost, a Dormammu-powered Hood, and a soon-to-be-returned-to-power Dr. Doom.  Emma and Namor have left the group after a fallout with Norman Osborn in the Utopia crossover between the Uncanny X-Men and the Dark Avengers.  Namor was already having trouble with the Cabal even earlier after an Atlantean terror cell attacked Los Angeles.  Everyone else is still on the team though they have all had some changes since they started up.  Norman's put on an Iron Man suit painted in Captain America's colors.  The Hood has changed power sources from Demon Power to Norn Stones.  Loki has gotten back his manhood.

And then, there's Doom.  Doctor Doom has returned to power Latveria due in no small part to the assistance of Norman Osborn's Avengers in a battle against Morgan le Fay.  He's also had an incredibly confusing adventure over in Fantastic Four where he was transported far into the past and survived on pure hate until he could finally best his old master in battle back in the present.  It's really best not to dwell on that story, though.  In this story, Doctor Doom appears in Avengers Tower courtesy of a cube-like device which might possibly be a Cosmic Cube (or it could just be his Time Cube).

Doctor Doom is not a team player.  At all.  He's upset that Norman has kicked out his ally, Namor, but we all know that Doom would betray the Sub-Mariner without even thinking that hard about it.  Still, Victor plays by his own rules and this Namor thing is going to be a sticking point with him for the rest of the issue.  He just won't drop it.  Doom isn't too happy that Norman has replaced Namor and Emma with the Taskmaster and isn't silent on that fact.  Taskmaster is, honestly, just one of Norman's flunkies, after all.  Sure, he's awesome, but his current claim to fame is running Osborn's Initiative program.  Iron Patriot is obviously surrounding himself with allies.

When Doom demands that Norman stop going after Namor, Ozzy states that Namor completely crossed a line by taking the X-Men's side during the Utopia affair.  It was a very public falling out that can't be tolerated.  You know that if Namor had attacked Doom in a similar manner, Victor would do pretty much the same thing as Norman.

Doom changes tactics.  It's obvious that Norman is working against the Cabal by attacking them one by one.  Now, that may be obvious to Doctor Doom but it's also very limited in view.  Hell, Doom would still be rotting in prison if Norman hadn't freed him and restored him as ruler of Latveria.  He's all about helping his allies get what they need but, when he's crossed, he'll take action accordingly.

Today, helping out a Cabal member means overthrowing Asgard and giving it to Loki so the god of mischief can get it off earth.  That's good for Loki and good for America.  Doom continues to demand that Namor be restored to his position in the Cabal.  Norman responds with a clear "no."

This is what happens when two very stubborn men get placed on opposite sides in the same room.  Doom can't back down because he's Doom.  Norman isn't reversing course because, well, seriously: Namor fought against him.  They weren't going to end up as allies after Utopia and, after Norman sent Namor's enraged ex-wife/ sea monster after the Sub-Mariner in Dark Reign- The List: X-Men, well, there's no going back.  The threats only increase from here with neither party backing down. 

No one else at the table is contributing.  Loki, Hood, and Taskmaster are simply watching this go from bad to worse.  The Hood and Taskmaster don't give anything away (Taskmaster only has a limited range of emotions that could be displayed on the skull face, anyway) but Loki is enjoying the hell out of this exchange.  Norman eventually brings up his Ace in the Hole.  Back in Secret Invasion: Dark Reign, Norman introduced us to a shadowy figure hiding just behind a conveniently placed door that helped him form the Cabal in the first place.  At the time, my best guess was that this mysterious figure was the Sentry's more evil half: The Void.  That doesn't look to be the case because the Void would never get the reaction that this guy gets from Taskmaster.

This shadowy thing must be pretty damn ugly to get that reaction from someone that has hung around with Deadpool.

The HAMMER Director gives the Latverian monarch one last chance to change course but this is Doom we're talking about here.  He's in the middle of another insult when Norman orders the monster thing to kill Doctor Doom.

The thing's blast knocks Doctor Doom across the room and makes short work of the table.  The rest of the Cabal spring into action in supposed support of Osborn.  Norman pops on his helmet and prepares for a counter attack.  Loki stops the Hood from intervening and tells the criminal to teleport out.  This isn't Parker Robbins' fight.  Seeing as Loki was the one that gave Parker the means to restore his powers, the Hood listens and makes himself scarce.  Still, Robbins isn't happy about running off.

Victor von Doom recovers and hits Taskmaster with a hand blast.  Norman orders his super-powered weapon of mass destruction to fire on Doctor Doom again.  This time the blast can be seen more clearly as some sort of electrical charge. 

Loki looks on this with a smile on his face.  Sure, he sent the Hood away but that doesn't mean he's not sticking around to watch the fun.

Doom hits the ground hard, his body on fire.  Iron Patriot orders a halt to his super-thing's attack.  Approaching the fallen body of the Latverian monarch, he's coming to suspect the truth: this isn't Doom at all.  It's a Doom-Bot.  They are 90% of Doom's appearances, after all.  The Doom-Bot isn't quite defeated just yet, either.  It's face transforms into something resembling Megatron's face from the Transformers movies.  The rest of the body also opens up and out fly millions and millions of robotic flying insectoids.

Norman's shields keeps the insectoids from being any immediate threat to him.  Loki, satisfied with how events have played out, fades from the scene.  The building bears the brunt of the damage as the insectoids begin tearing the room apart.  They soon overrun the lower levels of the Tower, making it look like the entire building is in danger of toppling.

Norman wastes no time in ordering a complete evacuation of the Tower, The Dark Avengers included.  Venom would rather fight it out with whatever's attacking Avengers Tower but Victoria Hand makes sure that everyone understands that this is an order that MUST be followed.

Iron Patriot tries to analyze the robot bugs but his sensors prove useless.  This attack is most likely a combination of science and magic.  That would explain why all these robotic things fit inside the Doom-Bot, at least.  His shields are starting to wear down.  It's only a matter of time before they fail and the bugs start attacking his armor.

In the lobby, HAMMER Agents start getting cut down by the Doom bugs.  Outside the building, we see that Avengers Tower is in serious danger of collapse.

On the roof, the Dark Avengers are being evacuated reluctantly.  Now it's Ms. Marvel who wants do field work, offering to get a look at the situation from the air.  Hand orders her to continue evacuating.  The Sentry shows up from his Watchtower with his wife in tow.  He hands Lindy to the nearest HAMMER Agents and rushes off to rescue Norman over Victoria Hand's protests that he evacuate with everyone else.

The Sentry is basically immune to harm and flies effortlessly down to Norman's location.  Osborn's shields are down to 17% by the time the Sentry shows up.  Norman stutters out a jumbled order to attack the Doom-Bot and Sentry easily tears the contraption in half.  The Doom-Bot explodes after taking a serious blow to the head.  That seems to stop the attack by the Doom bugs as they all fall to the ground.

Norman grabs one of the inert Doom Bugs in his hand and sends his message back to Doctor Doom, who is listening in via Doom Bug.  Ozzy tells Victor that this was a terrible mistake that will have terrible consequences.  It was basically a declaration of war.  Doom isn't afraid.  He knows that Norman won't attack him.  Not if HAMMER is going to go after Asgard.  That would be stretching his forces too thin, after all.  Doom parts by giving Norman this warning: Mess with Doctor Victor Von Doom again and the consequences will be more severe to both Osborn AND his son.  Whether Doom is refering to Harry or to Norman's unborn heir (or his usually forgotten son, Gabriel, from Sins Past) is a question for another day... or maybe one we don't need an answer to.  I was just a bit curious, myself.

With that, the Doom Bug explodes. 

The next day, Norman has to explain to the President of the United States why the skyscraper headquarters of the Avengers was looking to topple over.  This is a BIG DEAL and brings up obvious connotations of the World Trade Center attacks.  President Obama doesn't waste time out of his day to actually VISIT Norman, by the way.  While he had originally supported Osborn's Dark Reign, recent issues have found him steering well clear of the Director of HAMMER.  At this point, the President at least does Norman the courtesy of appearing as a hologram.

You'll also notice that Norman is standing right in front of a large photograph of the Avengers.  These aren't the Dark Avengers.  These are the ACTUAL Avengers and, just to make that more clear, they're the team you traditionally think of in Avengers roles... minus the Vision, Hank Pym, and the Wasp.  From left to right, we've got Thor, Iron Man, Scarlet Witch, Captain America, Quicksilver, and Hawkeye.  What's most amusing is that Norman blames last nights attacks on an unattended experiment left over by the "traitor," Tony Stark while trying to get Presidential permission to lay siege to Asgard and he's standing in front of a photo with Iron Man and Thor in it.  It's like honoring the team while trying to bury it.

President Obama is not willing to commit to any Asgardian War.  There's too much that could go horribly wrong, after all.  He also doesn't see the Asgardians as a threat to the country... certainly not an immediate one.  The President is willing to start diplomatic negotiations but that's not good enough for Norman Osborn by half.

Moreover, the President believes that Director Osborn should be more concerned with last night's attack.  This is where Ozzy blames the entire incident on Tony Stark even though satellite evidence has shown the President that the attacks coincided with a power surge in Latveria.  Norman tells the President that the situation is under control and that he's more concerned about the Asgardian threat but President Obama curtly repeats that the operation is a no-go.

The transmission ends.  Norman is a bit upset because this is one of the first times he's been blocked from doing whatever he wants to do.  The only other time in recent memory was when he was denied access to send a team into Russia over in The Invincible Iron Man.  Frustrated, he explains to the one member of the Cabal remaining, Loki, that he doesn't have permission to attack Asgard.

Loki looks nonplussed.  He knew it wasn't going to be as simple as asking.  Norman didn't.  It's a lesson in humility for the man.  The former Green Goblin is still steaming.  He knows attacking Asgard is the right decision.  The city really isn't supposed to be on the mortal plane.  No worries.  Loki has a plan and, even though the Goblin mask told Norman not to listen to Loki, Osborn is gonna do that little thing.

Loki asks Norman if he knows how the Civil War went down.  Maybe Norman was too close to the ground at the time because his memory of the event is sketchy at best.  If you'll remember, Norman was used as a pawn by Tony Stark.  Osborn was under Stark's control when he attempted to assassinate an Atlantean Diplomatic official.  Because of this, Norman spent the Civil War in custody.  His answer, therefore, is that the Superhuman Registration Act became law and lines were drawn.  This wasn't how it actually went down, obviously.  First came Stamford and the death of school children.  There was one defining moment where the world changed and that was it.

So, what Norman needs, is an incident.  Something involving Asgard that will allow him to do as he pleases.  Loki tells him that it can be arranged and Osborn doesn't even need to be involved.  What he does need to do is keep it together.  Loki knows that Norman is tearing apart at the edges mostly because he's been helping Ozzy along.  Norman strengthens his resolve and responds that everything is right as rain.  He'll keep it together.  Honest.

Sure he will.

ati31.jpgAvengers: The Initiative #31
Writer: Christos N. Gage
Penciler: Rafa Sandoval

In this comic, Norman Osborn calls Taskmaster up to inform him of an impending inspection and, possibly, a new job offer.  Taskmaster is actually partying it up with his people and has to cover for the loud music playing during the phone conversation.  After it's all over, he gets down to brass tacks and puts everyone in line for tomorrow's inspection.  Norman has to explain to the Hood why putting Taskmaster on the Cabal is a good idea.  Taskmaster runs around Camp HAMMER and gets everyone on the same page for the impending inspection.  Constrictor deals with Diamondback's double agent status by not turning her in and continuing with what he thinks is a big lie.  The Avengers Resistance notices the U-Foes depositing a huge chunk of change into a private account and wonder why that would possibly be happening.  Ultragirl confronts Tigra on her extreme techniques at taking down the Hood's thugs, learns what the Hood did to Tigra, and gets talked down to.  Taskmaster has a heart-to-heart with Constrictor about accepting a larger position in Osborn's organization.  Norman inspects the troops and finds them perfectly well-scripted.  Taskmaster tells Osborn what he would like the Initiative to be, Norman likes what he hears and offers the man a position on the Cabal.  We replay Taskmaster's short time with the Cabal from the Siege: The Cabal One-shot.  Finally, we get the aftermath where a very injured Taskmaster tries to get out of the Cabal and is nearly killed by Osborn.

Those of you not reading Avengers: The Initiative have missed out on some fun times.  It's not that the Initiative has done a spectacular job under Taskmaster's leadership, though.  Camp HAMMER has been hit pretty hard by various attacks.  What Tasky has been able to do is fake it so the base looks better than it actually is.  Norman has seen Taskmaster handle things spot on while his Cabal ally, the Hood, has to wait in the wings due to his criminal status.  The Hood's very public defeat by the New Avengers in New Orleans didn't help matters.

The point is, Norman likes what Taskmaster has accomplished at Camp HAMMER and is seriously considering promoting the dude.  While relaxing in his ever changing office at Avengers Tower and idly playing with a Batarang (sure, it's actually an old Green Goblin weapon but it looks a LOT like a Batarang), Norman places a call on over to Taskmaster to inform the leader of the Initiative training program that there's a possible promotion in the works.  Before going any further with that line of talk, Director Osborn is going to be flying out to Camp HAMMER and inspecting Taskmaster's work.

At 8AM. 

Taskmaster asks his boss if that's going to be too early but Norman hasn't been sleeping that much lately so it's no trouble.  Well, it might be trouble for someone.  Taskmaster hasn't exactly been running a tight ship.  In fact, right now, he's in the middle of a party with his troops.  It looks like it's been going on for a while with beer spilled and cheese puffs scattered everywhere.  When Norman asks about the loud music playing in the background, Taskmaster stabs the stereo system and explains it away as explosions. 

Ending the call, Taskmaster addresses his party mates.  The big cheese is making a visit VERY early the next morning and that means that things need to get cleaned up fast and everyone has to be on their best behavior.  Mamba is excited that the Director of National Security is on his way over but Taskmaster warns the lady to steer clear of Osborn unless she wants to get thrown off a bridge or something.  This is srs bzns and if things aren't in tip-top shape, there will be hell to pay.

Back at Avengers Tower, Norman is telling the Hood that Taskmaster will be a new Cabal member and the Hood isn't taking it so well.  Norman brings up the dude's track record.  Taskmaster has led the Initiative to victories retaking Prison 42 in the Negative Zone as well as being instrumental in defeating Nightmare.  The Hood also took part in those missions but the big difference between the two is that Taskmaster doesn't have to hide in the shadows.  The Hood had a public defeat in New Orleans, after all.  Taskmaster's much better at escaping from incarceration.  Add to that the fact that an ally in the Cabal would be more than a good idea.  While the Hood and Norman are businessmen at heart, Doom and Loki are different stories altogether.  It's only a matter of time before one of them turns on the rest, and it'd be good to have some friends around to help out.  Not that Norman exactly needs extra muscle.  He has that shadowy creature on his side, after all.  Still, stacking the deck in your favor is never a bad idea when dealing with Doom or Loki.

Meanwhile, Taskmaster is quickly trying to cover all his bases over at Camp HAMMER.  He visits Penance to see if the former Speedball is doing ok for an inspection and finds the former New Warrior playing with his cat, Neils.  Tasky tells Robbie that there's an inspection tomorrow and, as a person of interest to Norman, odds are pretty good that Osborn will pay close attention to how the hero is living.  Taskmaster also thinks about getting rid of the cat because it's not manly enough.  Penance tells Taskmaster in no uncertain terms that getting rid of Neils would be very bad for the future of Camp HAMMER.  It's Baldwin's line in the sand, apparently and I can't blame him.  Cats are awesome.  Taskmaster says Robbie can keep the cat if he promises to keep quiet when Osborn arrives but Penance knows he's carrying all the cards here and remains non-commital.  It's not looking good for Taskmaster.

Speaking of, Taskmaster has more problems than one unruly ex-Thunderbolt.  It turns out that Diamondback is a double agent working for the Avengers Resistance.  No-one has figured that out yet except her boyfriend, Constrictor, and he's taking it pretty hard.  To him, it all makes perfect sense.  There's no way Diamondback would be with him when she's gone out with Steve Rogers.  Constrictor considers himself close to bottom-rung.  Diamondback doesn't have time to tell Constrictor anything before Taskmaster barges in.

Constrictor doesn't give his girl up.  Taskmaster tells them both about the upcoming meeting, asks to meet Constrictor later, and leaves, happy that at least these two pose no trouble for him.  If he only knew.  Diamondback wonders why Constrictor didn't turn her in, and gets the answer that Taskmaster would have killed her if he did.  Now, the problem is that both of their lives are in danger.  That's fine with Constrictor.  He's just happy to spend this time with Diamondback even if she's with him for less than honest reasons.

Of course, Diamondback is probably with him because she likes the guy.  It happens.

The Avengers Resistance has more problems than just Diamondback's cover nearly getting blown.  Back at their base in California, they welcome back Night Thrasher.  This would be great news except for the fact that Night Thrasher might not be as legit as they all think.  Donyell was captured a few days ago and, in the time he was away, he was offered a very special deal by Norman Osborn and the Hood: the life of his brother.  You see, Donyell isn't the first Night Thrasher.  His brother Dwayne has that honor.  Dwayne was killed during the Stamford Incident that preceded the Superhuman Civil War.  Ozzy and the Hood showed Donyell a genetically cloned body and told the younger Taylor Brother that they have a way of restoring Dwayne's soul to the new body.  He just has to go to work for them.  Donyell is kind of a jerk so it's very possible he took the Cabal members up on the deal.

All that will be revealed in the future.  Right now, Donyell is told that one of the Avengers Resistance's early missions is bearing some fruit.  A couple issues back, the team put a tracker in place at a bank in Charlotte, North Carolina.  They expected that, eventually, North Carolina's "heroes," the U-Foes would rob the bank blind, but what they're finding is quite the opposite.  The U-Foes are, instead, depositing money.  Lots of money.  More than they actually make in their roles as heroes.  It's being funnelled in by some fake corporations and stuff but everything traces back to Norman Osborn.  Now... why would Osborn be giving the U-Foes bonuses under the table?  That's something that Night Thrasher is more than willing to look into.

While he's doing that, it's about time someone had a chat with Tigra and it looks like Ultragirl is up.  Tigra's been engaging in a one-woman war against members of the Initiative, sort of reflecting the torture that the Hood inflicted on her to the Thugs that watched it go down.  She's been violent.  Very violent.  When Ultragirl confronts her on this Tigra shows her the footage of the beatdown Tigra recieved at the hands of the Hood.  While it's terrible to watch, it doesn't convince Ultragirl that using the same tactic back at the Hood's thugs is justifiable.  Tigra doesn't really care what Ultragirl thinks.  She insults the young hero's upbringing and lack of experience and sends Ultragirl away.  If Justice doesn't approve of her actions then, fine, but until then, she's going about her business just the same. 

I keep forgetting that Tigra is pregnant with the Hank Pym-Skrull baby.  She's not showing yet.

Well, if it's gonna take Justice to make Tigra stop her ultraviolent ways, then Ultragirl's just going to have to talk to him.  It seems that Vance wants to talk to her as well.  Unfortunately, Vance isn't giving Ultragirl much chance at talking.  These two used to go out and it looks like Vance wants to renew their relationship.  He gives his little speech about life and death and how every moment is now more precious.  Then, the two start making out.  It's a magical moment.

So, it's been about five minutes since we visited Camp HAMMER so that means it's time for a meeting between Taskmaster and Constrictor.  This meeting is actually more personal than business but that doesn't mean these two guys are going to start making out.  It means Taskmaster needs some advice and he trusts Constrictor to give it to him.  Norman has been hinting at a promotion and Taskmaster doesn't know if it's a good move to take or not.  He's done well staying sort-of in the background, avoiding any major falls, basically taking orders from the world conquerors and escaping any major damage.  Now, he's got a shot at being a major player and that means major risks.  Constrictor's here to give him some premium advice.

Actually, some of this has been on Constrictor's mind as well.  What's this game all about?  Constictor doesn't tell Tasky to reach for the brass ring.  He tells the man that you don't want to live with regrets, but you also don't want to go for something just because it looks impressive.  You've got to do this because it's what you want to do.  It's a little lame as far as advice goes but it helps decide things for Taskmaster.  The two former villains turned super-heroes have a drink before turning in for the night.

The next day, Norman Osborn is led around Camp HAMMER.  He inspects the troops, sees the Initiative trainees in combat, checks in on Penance, inspects the Initiative troops, and basically has a boring trip that doesn't lead him into believing Taskmaster is ready for the big leagues.  Before he takes his leave, he asks what Taskmaster would do differently if in charge.  Tasky decides to go for broke.  He lets Osborn know that working with these villains is a bad idea waiting to explode.  They aren't here to do good, they're here to get into trouble.  What the Initiative needs is younger heroes that can be molded into the whatever fighting force is needed.  Sort of like this title when it first started, actually.

Norman likes what he hears and immediately adopts it as his own strategy.  It looks like he's found the man he was looking for.  Taskmaster is ready for the big-leagues.  Taskmaster appreciates that and tells Director Osborn that there are more ideas where that came from.  He's entirely missed the point, though.  This wasn't a promotion within the Initiative.  It was a promotion to the leader's table. 

And we all know how well that worked out for Taskmaster.  If you don't, just read up above.  He was in his first Cabal meeting and, minutes later, he took a blast by a Doom-Bot.  Bigger rewards, bigger risks.  These sequences all played out in the Siege: The Cabal One-Shot up above, but we get a letter written by Taskmaster to Constrictor instead of the original text.  Obviously, Tasky isn't able to tell Constrictor all the details.  The Cabal is a total secret, after all.  What he does tell Constrictor is that, when you sit at the big table, the fall is a lot harder.  It's a warning to not make similar mistakes, really.

Days later, Taskmaster wakes up at a HAMMER hospital with Norman Osborn looming over him.  It turns out that the Doom-Bot hit him with a Plasma Wakefield Blast with a little magic mixed in to make it interesting.  Taskmaster's suit protected him from the brunt of the attack, but the magic is what did most of the damage.  While Tasky looks really bad, it seems like the bandages are mostly precautionary.  Better still, Taskmaster should be ready for action within a week.  Not that the newest Cabal member feels all that well right now.  It seems like the magic attacked him on a spiritual level. 

These scenes right here?  This is the first time I can remember ever seeing any of Taskmaster's real features.  Even in his own mini-series, he used a holographic disguise to alter his appearance.  While he's still pretty bandaged up, you actually get to see more of his faces than I've ever seen.

The worst thing Taskmaster could do right now is try to quit the Cabal.  That's exactly what he does.  He's not quitting the Initiative, but he's learned that sitting with the world players burns deep and wants out while he can still walk away.

Of course, it's WAY too late to walk away.  Norman pulls out one of his Goblin Batarangs and slices through Taskmaster's oxygen tank.  As the room floods with oxygen, Norman yells at Taskmaster for trying to turn down the gift he gave.  There are many insults hurled Taskmaster's way as Norman tells the injured man that there is no backing out.  There's a vital mission coming up and Taskmaster is needed.  If he doesn't accept, then Norman will ignite his lighter and this room will go up in a blazing inferno.  No doubt, Osborn will survive, but odds are very good that Taskmaster will not.  It doesn't take a genious to figure out Tasky's next move.  He tells the HAMMER Director that his loyalty is assured.

Osborn calms right down.  Putting away his lighter, he heads into the hallway to tell a nurse about the oxygen leak.

Taskmaster's letter goes on.  He tells Constrictor that there's no going back.  This is something he's going to have to see to the end even if the end looks like a drop off the side of a cliff.  Taskmaster leaves Constrictor with some sound advice: Enjoy what you've got because, eventually, there'll be a price to be paid for it all. 

Behind this text we see Tigra continuing her violent rampage against the Hood's thugs, Constrictor reading this letter while Diamondback watches, Justice and Ultragirl "enjoying a moment" in bed, and Night Thrasher learning exactly why the U-Foes are recieving an anonymous bonus.  On that last thing... it's pretty obvious what Night Thrasher does about it is nothing.  Looks like he's going for the deal Norman handed him.

Before Norman leaves the room completely, Taskmaster asks him what mission requires his quick return to active duty.  Norman lets him know.  They're going to attack Asgard.  This surprises the hell out of Taskmaster.  Oh, sure, it was mentioned during his first meeting with the Cabal but there was no mention that it would require the entire Initiative's help.  It's looking like a suicide run might be in Taskmaster's future after all.

s1.jpgSiege #1
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Penciler: Olivier Coipel

In this issue, Loki and Norman Osborn's plan to create an incident that will lead to an Asgardian invasion gets underway as the two use Volstagg and the U-Foes in a successful attempt to recreate a Stamford-like incident by demolishing Soldier Field during a Bears game.  Norman actually sees this play out with Loki's help and, while he says mission is a go, it doesn't mean he's completely happy with how he's got to go about this.  While this incident should make it easier to engage the Asgardians, Norman doesn't receive the usual support from his people, starting with Victoria Hand who, while following his orders, seems reluctant to do so.  Still, Norman is able to convince Ares of the rightness of this cause and the rest of the Avengers get full pardons after this mission is completed.  While Ares rallies the Initiative troops, President Obama finds that he's unable to get Norman on the line to halt this attack.  Loki plays both sides by giving his half-brother, Balder, a heads up about the imminent attack.  Sentry delivers the first shot by taking out Heimdal and cutting off access to the Eternal Realm.  More shots come as the Dark Avengers, HAMMER, and the Initiative begin their first wave of attacks.  In Broxton, Dr. Donald Blake is attending his comatose patient, Tony Stark, as the battle rages a couple miles out of town.  Blake orders Maria Hill to quietly remove Tony from the town, and then rushes out of town so that Thor can join the battle.  Before Thor can make any impact on the fight, he's cut off by the Sentry and then down by the combined forces of Iron Patriot, Dark Ms. Marvel, and the U-Foes.  Back in New York, Steve Rogers watches this all on television and is not pleased.

Consider: Volstagg the Voluminous.  He's a big guy and he's riding a horse.  He's also an Asgardian.  In current issues of Thor, Volstagg and his Warriors Three comrades have left the other Asgardians to join Thor and Sif in Broxton.  Volstagg is running the local restaurant and everything.  I'm going to guess that all changes in the next issue of Thor or happens just off panel.  The point is, Volstagg is no longer in Broxton or hanging out with the rest of the Warriors Three.  He's currently in Chicago seeking adventure in the style of Thor.

Loki explains all of this to Norman because Volstagg is going to be their unwitting agent of change when he is used to cause a cataclysmic event which will pave the way for Norman's invasion of Asgard.  With all of Volstagg's might and valor, he is not as connected to the mortal world as Thor and doesn't understand their ways at all.  The Asgardian ends up stopping a highway chase on the streets of Chicago by slashing the villain's getaway truck with his sword.  The vehicle careens to a stop, and Volstagg approaches the truck, plucking one of the criminals from his seat.  The police don't know what to make of this scene.  It looks like Volstagg is HELPING but, with all the explosions, it's hard to be clear.

So far, this is no Stamford.  It's going to need some explosive villains to get that effect going and Loki knows exactly who to call.  They can't be Thunderbolts or Avengers.  This seems like a job for someone in the Hood's Syndicate.  Enter: The U-Foes. 

Starting to put the pieces together, are we?  The U-Foes got an extra bonus from Norman Osborn.  Night Thrasher tracked down exactly what that was for and here we see North Carolina's Initiative team WAY out of their jurisdiction in Illinois.  They attack Volstagg and the battle across quickly gets redirected to Soldier Field where a Bears game is already in progress.  I'm just going to assume they're playing the Vikings because, well, they've gotta be playing someone and the Vikes are way too appropriate.  You know the only reason this scene didn't take place in Minneapolis is that the Metrodome would make these scenes just a little more difficult to play out.  It also would be a little harder to draw the explosions to come.

Volstagg hits the field hard and his image is quickly put up on the jumbo monitor.  On top of that monitor, Vector and X-Ray land and fire they're assorted energy blasts at the Asgardian.  Volstagg blocks the attack but the energies run wild and spread through the entire stadium, exploding and killing pretty much everyone present.

In the center of the blast, Volstagg stands, bewildered.  This is not something you'd find Thor doing.

Now, this is an NFL game and it would be filmed live for a lot of sports enthusiasts to see.  That film would be transferred over to the other news networks rather quickly.  This is an event just packaged to lead into dire concequences for the Asgardians.  After Loki explains all of this to Norman, he asks if Norman is willing to go through with this.  Keep in mind, Loki is giving Norman a front row seat to exactly how this is going to go down.  Osborn is literally right there to witness the chaos.  Or simulated chaos.  He's not too comfortable being this close to this travesty and demands to be returned to his office.  Once there, he gives his seal of approval.  Loki wishes the Director of National Security well on this entire endeavor and fades from sight.

On the big screen, we see Volstagg in a look of stunned bewilderment so Loki was pretty much showing Norman the events as they happened.  Volstagg is left to fend for himself while the U-Foes quietly make their escape.  It's assumed that the U-Foes weren't even seen during the fighting and, therefore, aren't going to be blamed for anything.

Norman is still a bit stunned by what he just saw but he's pulled out of this trance by his Deputy Director, Victoria Hand.  She asks him what he wants her to do and Norman gives her orders to contact the President and inform the man that things are well in-hand and that steps are in place to eliminate the true source of this problem.  Hand believes that Norman should do that himself but Osborn is done trying to get things like "permission."  It's time to just do and damn the consequences. 

Osborn wants the Avengers assembled and the Initiative teams put on full alert.  It's time to invade Asgard.  Victoria reminds the Director that there are rules for this sort of thing and that Osborn is following none of them.  Norman responds with a question as to Hand's loyalty.  Hand replies that she's completely loyal but that it's her job to keep the Director informed on his responsibilities.  The former Green Goblin  is pleased to hear he can count on her.  He leaves the room, telling his Deputy Director to trust him.  It's all going to play out just fine.

Sure it is.

The first one that needs convincing to go to war against Asgard is Ares.  The greek god of war is not about to battle the Asgardians.  In fact, if Norman tries to do such a thing, Ares will actively work to stop him in as respectful way as is possible.  This is actually a pretty cool scene because I always thought that Ares would eventually see Norman for who he was instead of the war hero he pretends to be.  At this point, Ares should only be begrudgingly working with the Iron Patriot but here he is actually being respectful to his commander.  Color me impressed.  Norman, of course, isn't about to go to war with the god of war.  He tells Ares that Asgard shouldn't be on earth.  He even allows Ares to draw his own conclusions on who is running Asgard.  Norman tells Ares that Thor's brother is running the place and lets his number-one soldier fill in the blank.  When Ares tells Ozzy that this isn't a battle for humans, Norman replies that it wouldn't be if Asgard wasn't on earth.  This silences the war god.  Still, Ares tells Norman that, if this is all a lie, Osborn's life is forfeit.  Man, I wouldn't want to be Norman by issue four.

OK.  Norman's got Hand and Ares in line but how's that going to work with the rest of his Avengers?  I mean, these guys aren't exactly looking to die here and fighting Asgard is definitely going to lead to some casualties.  Heck, even Hawkeye is afraid.  And admitting it.  Clearly, Norman is going to have to give them more motivation.  He tells them that, if they do this, they are free to go and do whatever they want to do.  They are no longer prisoners.  That's pretty good motivation for Hawkeye, Spider-Man, and Ms. Marvel but it doesn't explain why Daken goes along with it.  I'm betting we see his motivation over in his very own comic.

At this point, there would actually be a couple pages of talking heads detailing the battle-plan, but instead of including those pages inside the comic, the details are left in dialogue-form at the end.  It's actually some pretty good dialogue where the Dark Avengers plan their strategy and get motivated for the fight.  Key point to this battle is that the Sentry will perform a bullet-strike straight up to take out Heimdall (the Asgardian's eternal guardian) and remove access to the Eternal Realm.  It also explains that the Dark Avengers are merely part of the first wave, and that Norman's shadowy servant last scene in the Siege: The Cabal One-Shot will play clean-up.  This needs to be a Dark Avengers fight.  They need to be seen as the spearhead.  It's some really good stuff even if one page is missing due to a printing error.  The whole thing is available online at Marvel's website.

After that's done, we move on to the Initiative.  At this point, the Initiative is stacked with lots of villains, but it's not JUST made up of bad guys.  There have got to be quite a few heroes in that mix as well because it's quite a crowd.  They're all in the HAMMER Helicarrier docking bay getting a rousing speech from Ares.  Prominent in the front row are the U-Foes.  Oh, sure, they might not have been SPOTTED when they were fighting Volstagg but it's still odd that they aren't sitting this one out.  They're just asking to get associated with the Soldier Field Incident by being so high-profile.

The world is a different place than it was during the Superhuman Civil War.  We've got a new president and everything.

President Obama isn't as quick to rush into a war with gods.  He's even more upset to recieve a call from Victoria Hand saying that the war is already taking place and he's been left out of the decision-making process.  In Siege: The Cabal, Obama already turned down Norman's request to attack Asgard.  That was to be the final word in the matter.  He demands to speak to Osborn but Victoria Hand is not allowing that to happen.  The President of the United States throws the phone down in frustration.  Norman Osborn is out of control.

The current ruler of Asgard is, indeed, Thor's brother–  but that doesn't mean it's Loki.  It's actually Balder.  Early in the morning in Asgard, Loki wakes his half-brother (again, Balder) to tell him the bad news.  Asgard is about to be attacked.  Balder dismisses whatever woman he's sleeping with, dresses quickly, and hurries from his chamber with Loki at his heels.  Loki continues to explain exactly what's going on.  After Volstagg's incident in Chicago, the mortals are poised to strike against Asgard.  Loki tried to talk Norman down but to no avail.  Balder isn't a fool.  He knows that Loki is playing games but the trick is getting the god of mischief to agree to... well... anything.  Loki claims that this isn't about them.  It's about Asgard and he would never betray Asgard.  Except for all those times he betrayed Asgard but let's not look at them.

The point is, Loki isn't lying about the attack.  Even though it seems to be a foolhardy move on the mortal's part, they seriously are going to try and take Asgard.  Before Balder has even cleared the hallway, the first strike has taken place.

The Sentry did his bullet maneuver.  He struck Heimdal, cut off access to the Realm Eternal, and then blasted straight through Asgard all the way to the other side, exiting with no sign of strain.  That's some serious power.

The rest of the first phase in the Siege of Asgard is on it's way and it's pretty awesome to behold.  You might remember two years back with the Mighty Avengers and SHIELD laid siege to Latveria.  That was pretty impressive.  This, this is something else.  It's more manpower, certainly, as it includes not just the Dark Avengers and HAMMER, but also every available member of the Initiative.

Now, you might be saying to yourself: this is still crazy.  This isn't Latveria.  This is frickin' Asgard!  How is any mortal army going to cope with the raw power of the basic Asgardian?  Well, things have changed.  I'm not going to say it's easy but, since relocating Asgard to Midgard, the Asgardians have become more vulnerable to mortal injury.  Check out Thor's own comic for proof of this.  What was once a minor skirmish has lead to death.  The rules have definitely changed.

Sentry's next strike takes Balder out of the battle just as Ares hits the ground.  This might be why Ares doesn't immediately see who is the real ruler of Asgard.  In his path are the other two members of the Warriors Three, Fandral and Hogun, as well as other assorted Asgardians.  They try to reason with the war god but Ares is set in his path.  Hogun remarks that Ares is mad... just like his daddy.  Not the correct move to make.  Ares has some daddy issues.

You want to see some awesome paths intersecting?  It turns out that Tony Stark is in Broxton right now.  I know!  Pretty cool stuff.  After deleting his mind, his body was put in the care of his doctor, Donald Blake.  In Invincible Iron Man, Blake has been joined by both Captain Americas, Jim Rhodes, Maria Hill, and Pepper Potts. They were able to reboot Stark's mind from a backup copy.  In his own title, he's got a ways to go to being fully recovered and that isn't countered here.  Tony is still weak and isn't even awake with all the explosions happening in the background. 

OK.  First thing: Tony's rocking the goatee look here and I'm hoping he'll keep that in his own title.  Just having the mustache makes him look like a seventies porn star.  Dude needs to keep the goatee.  Seriously.  Second thing: the only people still attending Tony are Dr. Donald Blake and Maria Hill.  The Captains have returned to New York.  I'm betting Pepper left after all was said and done because she's still kind of upset that Tony gets to survive everything while other people just die.  Rhodey's also left, but that's probably more so that they don't draw too much attention to the area from Norman who probably still bears a grudge after the last few issues of War Machine.

That's enough about Tony.  I'm just happy to see him making an appearance in the first issue of the mega event to end all mega events.  Now, we're going to focus on Dr. Donald Blake.  The reason this guy is hanging out in Broxton is that he's actually Thor.  OK, it's not that cut-and-dry.  The point is he shares a body with Thor.  They're two separate minds that are connected by a physical body.  Thor just gets to muscle it up a lot.  They have an odd relationship as far as alter-egos go.  The reason Thor isn't in Asgard when it's attacked isn't just because of his alter-ego.  Thor is banished from the premises for killing his grandfather in Thor #600.  This is why Balder is on the throne.  Still, it's not like Thor is going to ignore an attack on Asgard just because he's banished.

Blake tells Maria Hill to quietly remove Stark from the area and not to come back even if Tony wakes up.  More over, she's to knock Stark out if he tries to force her to come back.  Blake then grabs his magic walking stick and heads down to the streets.  With HAMMER jets flying over the town, Blake strikes his stick to the ground and arises as Thor, god of thunder.  It's on.

You could see that lightning strike for miles so it's easily visible from Asgard.  Norman already has a plan laid out for this and he calmly waits for it to be enacted.  Thor flies straight and true towards Iron Patriot.  This concerns Ms. Marvel more than Norman.  Right before Thor is about to lay hands on the Director of National Security, he's struck by the Sentry and thrown quite far from the walls of Asgard.  Sentry moves in for another strike but Thor recovers too quickly and swats the Golden Guardian of Good away with his hammer.

The battle's not done, though.  Iron Patriot and Ms. Marvel have already landed nearby and have been joined by Diamondback, Sunstreak, and the U-Foes.  Really.  The U-Foes again.  Oh well.  Everyone with a blasting sort of power opens fire.  The resultant explosion lights up the sky again.  It's enough to stagger the thunder god.  Thor tries to regain his footing with a curse on his lips but Iron Patriot's there to knock him right back down again.  Everyone else in the area moves in and starts the dogpiling.

This is a much more public battle than most in the Marvel Universe.  If there's one thing that Norman Osborn is good at, it's using the media.  In this case, he might have bitten off a little more than he could chew, but he's still got friendly news outfits pumping out his message.  Because of this, there are news cameras EVERYWHERE.  I'm surprised that none of the helicopters have been downed during the attack. 

Thor's defeat is sent out live to the networks.  Everyone watching witnesses it happen live on the air.  On of those people is Steve Rogers.

I bet this is a man that's going to do something about this... even if he's also a man who wears his costume while watching television.

se1.jpgSiege: Embedded #1
Writer: Brian Reed
Penciler: Chris Samnee

In this issue, get a good look at Marvel's version of Glenn Beck:  Todd Keller, who completely supports Norman's agenda.  Keller is about to get an exclusive offer from HAMMER to cover Norman Osborn's war against Asgard.  Meanwhile, in Chicago, Ben Urich is being sprung from police custody by an old friend, Will Stern.  The two sneak down to Soldier Field to get a firsthand look at the destruction before leaving to get a bite to eat.  While at a diner, Urich sees Volstagg and rushes outside to make contact.  Voltagg is cheered by the site of food and offers his story for more of it.  Keller also gets a firsthand look at the destruction but also gets HAMMER's editorial of the event.  Volstagg eats his fill and takes his leave in order to head back to Asgard for judgement.  After noticing that the real story is going to be in Broxton and also realizing that only Osborn-friendly news people are going to be invited to that party, Urich and Stern decide it's time for a road trip, pick Volstagg up from the side of the road, and make their way to Broxton, Oklahoma.

Meet Todd Keller.  He IS Glenn Beck in the Marvel Universe.  He might not be on Fox News but he's on Patriot News and that's probably as close as you're going to get, right?  Keller starts off this issue as a huge supporter of Norman Osborn and everything Ozzy stands for.  So, naturally, we can assume that this adventure for Keller is going to lead him on the path of finding out that Osborn isn't good for America.  We'll watch it happen in the next three issues guaranteed.  Still, we gotta start with the stereotype and this guy is ridiculously pro-Osborn.

Which doesn't separate him from the rest of the Marvel Universe too much.  Osborn is very media savvy and has done a great job maintaining his image after his heroic stand during Secret Invasion.  Hell, even during the Invasion he was garnering public favor by protecting Washington DC from the Skrulls.  Keller might just be seen as an extension of this but he does a good job of leading the charge of Osborn supporters.  After Volstagg's blunder in Chicago, he becomes a brand new target for Todd to snipe at.  It's easy to see Keller as the go-to man for personally reporting on the Siege of Asgard.

To that end, HAMMER sends over Agent Abrams.  Abrams is a slick customer who is also fully committed to Osborn's agenda.  Keller isn't incredibly happy to meet Abrams during a commercial break but what Abrams has to tell him might be a career-maker.  Abrams is about to make Keller the offer to be Norman Osborn's media voice during the Siege.  That might ruin Keller's ability to cry in his next segment.

Chicago is a busy place right now.  The media have swarmed the area just to get a glimpse of what's going on near Soldier Field.  One such reporter is Ben Urich.  He heard about the incident and didn't even think twice.  He got a flight to Milwaukee and drove into Chicago from there.  Unfortunately, this event is all about media control and Urich has NOT made friends with Norman Osborn.  The police pick him up after finding he's on the list of media not allowed to report on this event.

William Stern is another story all together.  Stern used to be a news anchor in New York City but has some crazy sort of mental breakdown on the air where he peed himself under his desk while reporting on it.  That's kind of a career-killer.  Stern didn't find work as an anchorman in Chicago but was able to get a job as a camera man.  The good news?  He's on the list of approved media personnel.  He notices Urich in the police car and asks if he'd be able to talk to the man.  The police give the ok.

About thirty seconds later, Urich and Stern are both running away from the police car as fast as they can. 

The two quickly catch up as William leads the way down to Soldier Field.  What they see when they get there is terrible.  There's wreckage everywhere and some of it is still on fire.

The good news is that the Dark Avengers team is on the scene and are actually helping people by freeing survivors from the rubble.  The bad news is that Norman still set this all up.  No one knows that yet, though.  I'm betting they will before this is all said and done.

As the two newsmen walk away from the area, Urich gets a text on his phone from Sally Floyd at Frontline.  She's worried about him since he took off as soon as he heard about Chicago.  Urich responds quickly with an "I'm Fine." and then powers-off his phone.  William wonders if he's cheating on his wife but that's not the case at all.  Urich's wife died of cancer during Secret Invasion.  Ben doesn't take any offense from William's accusations but he is saddened by the remembrance.

Changing the subject, Ben asks if they can get a bite to eat.  He's been on the run since the early morning and hasn't had a chance to think of food.  It's all rushing in on him now.  They sit down at a nearby diner and grab some burgers.  William leads most of the conversation.  He thinks the world has recently gone to hell but Ben responds that it's always been there.  Ben's kind of cynical these days.  William starts in on Todd Keller and Ben agrees that the dude is a major douche.

This leads right in to actual plot.  Stern is the first to let Urich know about Osborn's plans to war with Asgard.  That thought shocks Ben quite a bit but, before he can do more than be visibly stunned, he notices a pretty unmissable sight out the window and rushes outside, telling William to join him with the camera.

Walking down the street is Volstagg.  You'd think more people would be noticing him but it's late at night and the streets are empty.  Still, he's a big guy.  You'd think people would be looking for him and, when they found him, he'd be arrested.  Or stoned.  Or just shouted at.  That's definitely not the case.

Volstagg looks pretty depressed and he should.  The Asgardian is kind of responsible for about 60,000 deaths or injuries.  It doesn't last long.  Volstagg smells the burger William grabbed before leaving the diner and asks if he can have it.  After Volstagg eats the burger, Ben promises more of the same for his side of the story.

Todd Keller witnesses the destruction at Soldier Field in a much different way.  Instead of getting a view from the ground, he gets one from overhead in the HAMMER Helicarrier.  It's close enough to be moved by the devastation.  He notices that his handler, Agent Abrams, isn't as saddened by the scene below.  In fact, Abrams seems downright impressed.  When question on his reaction, the Agent plays it off as seeing a god fall to the might of men.  The Asgardians can be beaten.  They WILL be beaten and Todd Keller will be there as Norman Osborn's voice to the people.

Agreeing to to buy Volstagg a well-cooked meal is like signing over your life savings.  This god can seriously eat.

While Volstagg ate, Ben asked all his questions and Volstagg answered.  We don't get those answers mostly because we already know them.  We saw the destruction happen over in Siege (or in any Marvel comic-- that preview has played in the back of most of them).  The question is, what do the two news men do with Volstagg's story?  Ben now knows that Volstagg was attacked.  He's pretty sure that Osborn was behind that attack.  William tells Urich that Osborn is teflon.  This isn't going to lead anywhere and Ben knows it.

Ben knows only too well how hard it is to destroy Norman in the media because he's already tried.  He did it just as Osborn was gaining power over in Secret Invasion: Frontline #5.  He stood up and got shut down by Norman in his prime.  The media gave Ozzy thundering applause and Urich walked out before he could do something more stupid.

With that tale told, Volstagg has finished his meal and decides it's time to head back to Asgard.  The Voluminous One is heading home to 'fess up to his crimes and face Asgardian justice.  William and Ben watch as military vehicles and news vans drive past them heading towards the airport.  Ben tries to get them out of sight but it doesn't seem like anyone interested in capturing Volstagg.  As Volstagg starts his trek back to Asgard, Ben and William come up with their plan of attack.

The story isn't in Chicago.  It's in Broxton, Oklahoma.  Norman is going to invade Asgard and the news vans heading to the airport are for embedded journalists.

These guys are obviously there to make Norman look good.

That means that someone should be there to make Norman look bad.  Someone like Ben.  And William.  Stern isn't that happy to be included in the plan but he's the one with access to a news van.  Urich lost his rental car after his arrest.

William talks a good game but he's really happy to help Ben take down the former Green Goblin.  He just knows that this will cost him his job and, if that's the case, they're kind of stealing a news van.  They haven't driven very far when they catch up to Volstagg.  It doesn't take much to convince the Asgardian to get inside.  Ben and William are on a path to take down Norman Osborn through the power of not-so-objective journalism.

They drive away with the crowd of military vehicles, HAMMER's Helicarrier and escort overhead.  The tail end of their van?  It's bottoming out due to Volstagg's voluminious weight.

Next stop: Broxton, OK.

uxm317.jpgThe Uncanny X-Men #316
Writer: Scott Lobdell
Penciler: Joe Madureira

In this issue, we meet Monet St. Croix for the first time right before she is kidnapped by the Phalanx known as Harvest.  Banshee returns to the X-Mansion to find that maybe you can't go home again.  He chats with a shackled Emma Frost who tries to warn him about the Phalanx but she's too confused for this to come out as anything more than gibberish.  Scott and Jean call the X-Mansion and Sean redirects them to Muir Island.  Cassidy gets the cold shoulder from several X-Men until he discovers that the X-Men are going in and out of Charles Xavier's private chambers, which is something that just isn't done.  Banshee tries to get a warning to Storm only to be told by the computer that there are no X-Men in the Mansion.  He rushes to the communications room and finds that the entire thing has been dismantled since he took Scott and Jean's call earlier.  The X-Man takes matters into his own hands and rescues anyone at the Mansion who is still human.  That means Sabretooth, Jubilee, and Emma Frost.Before leaving the Mansion, Sean sets charges on all vital information so that it won't fall into Phalanx hands and, in the process, learns that the Phalanx are going after Generation Next.  Looks like someone's going to have to stop that.

It might seem odd going from the Siege event to covering an unrelated X-Men crossover from a decade and a half in the past.  That's because it is.  This is part of the plan to cover all Cabal member's backstories for as long as the Dark Reign/ Siege event runs.  To that end, we're covering ex-Cabal member Emma Frost.  She's mostly had minor appearances in the X-Books over the years but, starting here, she starts to hit the big leagues.

In the nineties, the book to be was Uncanny X-Men.  You couldn't get much higher on the sales charts unless you were Todd McFarlane.  The X-Men were broken up into two teams, the Blue Team and the Gold Team (which originally worked as "home" and "away" teams but the lines got muddy almost straight out of the gate).  The teams lived happily in their X-Mansion dreaming their X-Dreams and fighting their X-Fights.  Into this X-World, the X-Offices would release an X-Title to replace the eighties' New Mutants book.  The original New Mutant comic had evolved into the Rob Liefeld vehicle, X-Force, and had moved quite far away from the training of young mutants.  There was room for a new book to focus on that and, instead of reviving the old New Mutants name with a brand new cast, Marvel decided to use a much better name: Generation X.

This is the story about how Generation X came together.  It involves young mutants, alien techno-organic viruses, and big guns.  Welcome to the nineties.

The first young mutant we meet is Monet St. Croix.  This isn't actually HER but the story involving the mutant known as "M" is confusing enough and my jumbled explanation isn't going to help you because I've missed some of that explanation.  Suffice to say, the girl introduced here turns out to be Monet's two sisters pretending to be her but, for now, that's just complicating the matter.  We'll just pretend that this is the real M and that this is her actual first appearance.  Monet grew up into a rich family in Monaco with two twin sisters and one brother.  By this point in the story, all of her siblings are missing and Monet hasn't spoken a word since they disappeared.

Her bodyguard/ caretaker, retired Colonel Gayle Cord-Becker, has been trying to convince M's father to have her sent to New York to get trained up at Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters but Monet's dad has been reluctant to do anything since the rest of the family went missing.  If only Monet would talk again, maybe it would speed up the process but the girl seems to be in another world.

Colonel Cord-Becker and Monet are driving on a rainy night when our story begins.  Their destination doesn't matter much because they aren't going to reach it.  The car they're in is well armored and contains lots of anti-theft and anti-terror devices but all of them fail when confronted by the Phalanx warrior who will be known as Harvest.  Once the car has come to a crashing halt, Harvest absorbs the unconscious driver before dealing with the passengers.  Cord-Becker is appalled but her military training rises to the occassion one last time.  She shoves M from the car and tries to buy her charge some time to run away by placing herself in-between the Phalanx and the mutant.

It's a well-intentioned act of defiance that proves fruitless.  Monet doesn't even try to run.  She just stares blankly as the retired Colonel puts up a fight before getting absorbed by Harvest.  Harvest then tries to analyze the mutant but M's psionic powers interfere with his scan.  Nevertheless, the interference is enough to confirm that this is, in fact, the mutant he's been looking for.  You scoops her up and teleports out, reporting that he has captured the second Generation Next mutant.

Scene change: we're now in the lower levels of the X-Mansion where a returning Sean Cassidy is visiting with a very angry Emma Frost.  Sean has been up in Massachusettes the past few days and is a little out of the loop on what's been going on with the X-Men.  He's going to get a crash course in that this very issue. 

Emma has had some trials of her own.  In recent issues, she's woken from her comatose state to find herself in the body of Bobby Drake.  After an adventure where she used Iceman's powers better than he ever has, she learned that her students, the Hellions, died in her care and kind of broke down after that.  It's no wonder that she's been shackled up while the X-Men run some tests.  Banshee hardly blinks when the White Queen starts ranting about the X-Men trying to kill her and "knowing something about them."  If only Emma could think better but the neural inhibitor is preventing that.

Emma is cut off mid-rant by a sonic inhibitor initiated by Iceman.  Banshee finds it strange that the two X-Men with the most past history with Emma are watching the former villain.  It seems like a recipe for disaster.  Sean tries to convince Ororo to take Bobby away for a while so that cooler heads can prevail but Storm is going nowhere.  This is, after all, part of Xavier's plan to work through the complicated emotions brought on by having one's body snatched.  Before Banshee can argue the point, he finds himself whisked out of the room with the advice that maybe he should get a good night's sleep.  Everything will be so much clearer in the morning.

Cassidy feels a little snubbed by his quick exit and his advice being completely ignored.  You sure can't go home again, can you?  Banshee recalls his original reason for leaving the X-Men (which was to go after his love, Moira Mactaggert who ended up back at the X-Mansion) and laughs at how twisted things've gotten.  He's walking by the communications display and sees the priority call light blinking.  He wonders if he should answer it or call an actual X-Man but decides that he should stop being a baby and answer the call.

On screen are the newly married Scott and Jean Summers.

They've had their own adventures the past few months and don't get into great detail.  All they know is that they might have a lead into curing the Legacy Virus.  IF so, they're lead doesn't pan out for a good six years our time.  The Legacy Virus doesn't claim a lot of victims during that time but it's threat is always looming.  Scott and Jean want to discuss this with Professor Xavier immediately but that's not about to happen.  Xavier isn't at the Mansion, he's at Muir Island.  The two will have to visit him there... which leads them right to another Phalanx Covenant Event book and storyline in Wolverine and Cable.  We aren't going to visit them because we're trying to keep an eye on only Emma's appearances and she doesn't stray from the X-Men-proper books.  Sean wishes them well and muses on young love until he is interrupted by Archangel.

Warren seems to overreact to the entire situation demanding a full rundown of the conversation.  Cassidy calms the X-Man down and explains the situation.  Archangel calls ahead to Muir to tell them about the visitors they're about to receive before turning back to Banshee and telling Sean that X-Men calls should be answered BY X-Men.  This is what is called a snub and it hits home the fact that Banshee doesn't really belong in the Mansion anymore.  Heck, it seems like he's not even wanted. 

All this frustration gets Sean Cassidy to start reflecting on his life and how it's filled with so many changes.  He's had a lot of jobs over the years but he's kind of sick of thinking about it all.  Believing that a quick session in the Danger Room is just what the doctor orders, Sean heads on down only to find that the Danger Room is already occupied and locked down.  It's occupant?  Jubilee.  Cassidy thinks it odd that the X-Men would allow the teenager to practice in the Danger Room without someone attending but he's rocked the boat enough today.  He decides to let things be and talk to the X-Men in the morning about this.

Walking away from the Danger Room, he sees Psylocke exiting Professor Xavier's Ready Room.  This area is off-limits without an invite to anyone who isn't Charles Xavier and, since Chuck is hanging out on Muir Island right now, that means something is definitely wrong.  Instead of confronting the X-Man, Banshee follows his gut reaction to hide before she sees him.  He's surprised to find that he's successful since Psylocke is both a telepath and a ninja.  The question is, what does he do NOW?  He does exactly what an X-Man would do.  He investigates.

What Banshee finds is Bishop and Gambit doing adjustments on the mutant tracking device, Cerebro.  Banshee gives the excuse that he saw the door open and assumed Xavier was inside.  Bishop and Gambit don't even blink when Sean drops the line about Xavier walking again. 

Which might need some explanation:  Charles Xavier might be walking around NOW but, at the time, he was very much confined to his space aged wheelchair.  The real Remy Lebeau and Lucas Bishop would know that.

After offering to help in their adjustments to Cerebro and getting turned down, Sean takes his leave.  Now, he's certain something is going terribly wrong and runs off to the nearest computer terminal to determine Storm's location.  What he finds will chill him to the core.  It turns out that Storm isn't on the grounds which doesn't make sense since he just talked to the X-Men leader ten minutes ago.  He tries a few other X-Men that he recently chatted with and, again, gets negative responses to them being on the grounds.  Finally, he runs a search on who actually IS in the X-Mansion and is only able to get locations on himself, Emma Frost, Jubilee, and Sabretooth.  There are no other life signs in the building.

Banshee suits up in his fighting gear and heads to the communication room to get a call out to Professor X.  What he finds is as amazing as anything else he has witnessed today.  Someone has dismantled the entire communications rig since his chat with Scott and Jean.  With how complicated that piece of machinery is, it shouldn't be possible to do this much work in so little time but here are the results splayed out on the Comm-Room floor.

Beast pops his head out from behind some machinery and lets Sean know that he's doing some adjustments and should be done in about an hour.  Hopefully, Cassidy's call wasn't too  urgent.  Sean tells Beast that he was just going to contact Muir Island to wish Moira a good night and Beast asks him if it can wait until morning.

Which is kind of funny, actually.  Banshee plays up how hilarious this joke is before exiting the room.

Next stop is the maximum-security cells where Rogue is guarding Sabretooth.  Sean lets Rogue know that he's down here to take Creed out for his daily walk and then promptly ignores any protests given to him by the fake Rogue.  She even breaks her accent in her attempt to get him from releasing the violent mutant.  Finally she grabs his hand to prevent him from opening the cell which is about the time Banshee has had enough.  He opens his mouth wide and delivers a sonic scream to the fake X-Man, which reveals her to be a Phalanx.

With the techno-organic villain down, Banshee opens the cell and revives a sedated Sabretooth.  Creed is surprised to see that Banshee was the one to figure this whole Phalanx thing out.  Before Sean can tell Victor the plan, the Rogue Phalanx is back on it's feet and looking to strike.  Sabretooth meets her challenge and lashes out with as much violence as possible.  This is an mutant that is in full restraints and is still capable of shredding a Phalanx.  It's a disturbing sight for Banshee to take in.  When Creed asks the X-Man why he should be spared the same fate, Banshee replies that there are charges built into Sabretooth's restraints that will to blast the mutant all over the room as well.  Victor is willing to listen again.  Sean sends him off to rescue the White Queen and Jubilee while Banshee gets up to trouble all his own.

The Xavier's Ready Room, the Phalanx versions of Bishop and Gambit are alerted to Rogue being taken offline and know that Banshee is now a threat to their mission.  "Gambit" doesn't seem all that concerned.  Once they analyze and assimilate all the data from Cerebro and Xavier's files, they'll be able to test their findings on the X-Men captives and, after that, they'll finally be able to absorb mutants just like they do regular humans.  All of this information carries and is heard by Sean.  Now that he knows what the Phalanx's plans are, he grabs his gun and destroys his next two Phalanx warriors.

Elsewhere in the Mansion, the fake Storm and Iceman are having troubles keeping it together.  That's because Emma Frost is attacking their minds and causing them to fall apart.  It looks like Sabretooth has rescued Emma and Jubilee but the younger mutant has passed out in exhaustion from her ordeal in the Danger Room.  Frost wants to continue ridding the X-Mansion of fake X-Men but that's not part of Cassidy's plan and, for now, Sabretooth is keeping to that plan.  Hey, as long as it keeps him alive, right?  He grabs Emma's arm and drags her off.  Emma asks Creed how she can know to trust the villainous mutant.  That gives Sabretooth a laugh because you DON'T trust him.  That would be suicide.

Back in the Ready Room Banshee has set the self-destruct sequence and is now doing a little investigating.  He looks into what program was the most interesting to the Phalanx and finds that they were really into the files on Generation Next: Monet St. Croix; Everett Thomas, Angelo Espinosa, and Clarice Fergeson.  He asks the computer if the Phalanx know the location of these mutants, but he gets his answer from the Phalanx versions of Archangel, Psylocke, and Beast.  They totally do, and once they're able to they'll assimilate the mutants into their collective.  Until then, the only way to handle mutants is to kill them.

Banshee has all the answers he wanted and, instead of facing the Phalanx, he jumps out of the way and lets the explosives deal with them.

Joining the others in the sewers below, Banshee lets them know that he was able to send a message out to Xavier on Muir Island but their fight won't lead them there.  Instead, he and the others are going to have to rescue the next generation of mutants.

And with allies like Sabretooth, what could go wrong?

xm36.jpgX-Men #36
Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Penciler: Andy Kubert

In this issue, Monet successfully evades assimilation.  We get a look at two of the conspirators behind the Phalanx Covenant as one of them, Stephen Lang, finds that trying to stop mutants with a techno-organic army is more trouble than it's worth.  Everett Thomas is introduced in a totally non-offensive way to black readers.  He helps Banshee and friends fight off a Phalanx threat in St. Louis while Paige Guthrie is getting kidnapped by the Phalanx in her home in Kentucky.  Back in St. Louis, Everett is able to synch up with Jubilee's powers and use them in a way that she has been unwilling to up until this time.  For their efforts, they get a personal communication from Stephen Lang who monologues for a while and "accidentally" gives them information as to the whereabouts of the captured members of Generation Next.  Unfortunately, during the fight, Sabretooth damaged Banshee's wrist detonator and escaped while everyone was distracted by the monologuing villain.

They really push Monet on us don't they?  This issue opens with her covered in techo-organic wires and doodads all in an attempt to assimilate her into the Phalanx collective.  It's a failed attempt.  For some reason, mutants are proving incredibly resistant to assimilation.  The two leaders of the Phalanx Covenant, Cameron Hodge and Stephen Lang, talk through how their past attempts at destroying mutantkind ended in so much failure.  Mutants are very difficult to kill.  If they can't be assimilated, they'll have to be destroyed.

This line of thought troubles Lang.  He asks Hodge about human opposition and Cameron simply answers that those that oppose the Phalanx will be assimilated.  Those that can't be assimilated will be annihilated.  All in all, it is the collective who will survive.  Stephen Lang seems to have made yet another bad deal.  Man, you just can't trust a machine to kill mutants without having them turn on humanity, huh?  First it's Sentinels and now it's Phalanx.  You'd think Lang would learn his lesson eventually.  Stephen Lang probably wouldn't have these thoughts if he were fully assimilated but, as the human creator and conduit for the Phalanx, he remains more human than not.

In St. Louis, Missouri, Everett Thomas makes his first appearance ever in comics.  As one of the few African-American mutants, it's probably not the best idea to have him introduced surrounded by police officers with their guns drawn on him, but the text implies that this is totally not a normal occurrence for the young mutant.  In fact, Everett is a straight "A" student who used to get into no trouble at all until those wacky hormones got involved.  Now, he seems to be at the center of lots of crazy happenings.  The latest one has obviously let to him standing in front of the police precinct with numerous policemen pointing guns in his direction.

In this case, Thomas is actually pretty innocent.  He was being attacked by the Phalanx when he suddenly gained the ability to scream REALLY loud.  That halted the Phalanx's attack and also broke lots of windows.  Hence, the guns trained on him because shouting so loud that you break windows is a completely legitimate reason to have guns pointed at you.  Anyway, Everett tries to explain what was actually going down but St. Louis police officers don't normally get super-powered attacks and don't believe a word of it.

Well, the ones in the back of the crowd of cops do because they're actually Phalanx renewing their attack.  They reach out and try to apprehend Thomas but they are stopped by the arrival of Banshee and Sabretooth.  Everett easily comes to the conclusion that the reason he was able to shout at high decibels is because he was able to Synch up with Banshee's powers.  It all fits!

Y'know, Synch was always my favorite Generation X student.  It's a shame he didn't survive the experience.

While Sabretooth rescues the kid from the Phalanx, Banshee uses his sonic scream to liquify them.  The Phalanx eventually adapt to a mutant's power sets, but as long as Banshee is able to keep altering frequencies he's still able to stay in the game.  The police wonder if arresting the guy that just saved their lives is a good move and decide against it.  Sabretooth is happy to see that Banshee has a violent side to him.  Sean acknowleges his violent tendencies.  They don't get out of their cage very often but there's always that moment when it's either do or die.

Elsewhere in the city, Jubilee and the White Queen are bonding.  Except they're really not.  Jubes is back to playing the tough girl and, as such is standing on top of their car and making a nice effort to be noticed.  That might actually work except for the fact that Emma is using her powers to make the two unseen.  Since she's wearing a green one-piece suit, it's probably a good idea no one notices her.  She's wearing WAY too much cloth, after all.  She orders Jubilee off the vehicle so that she won't have to strain herself quite so much masking their presence.  Jubilee complies but isn't all that happy to be listening to the White Queen.  She sits on the curb and grumbles a bit until she realizes that, even off the car, she's attracting attention: Phalanx attention.

While Banshee and team are rescuing on member of Generation Next, another is being lost to them.  Paige Guthrie is the second oldest child in the Guthrie clan.  Her older brother is Cannonball of New Mutants and X-Force fame.  It's a big family because the Guthries must not have believed in birth control or abstinence.  I think Paige and Sam's mom and dad were constantly doing it.  That's the only rational explanation for why a family would get this big. 

OK, not really, but damn, it's one big clan.

Right now, the matriach is being threatened by Phalanx.  That means the mom.  Now, you might be wondering why the Phalanx are going after the mom when it's the kid they want.  I'm wondering the same thing.  It's not like the Phalanx need to actually do any trapping.  Paige is RIGHT THERE attempting to rescue her mom.  All they would have had to do was search the house and find the right room.  Instead, they've gone after mommy and forced Paige to go to the rescue.  The rest of the kids stand by bewildered, not knowing what they can do to help.

The answer is nothing.  Since no one else in the family has a mutant power yet, they're all susceptible to being assimilated so it's best they step back.  The next-oldest, Josh, actually gets close and tries to anchor his sister but it's not enough.  The Phalanx lets go of the mom and capture the kid and there's nothing Joshua can do about it.  The house explodes as the Phalanx makes their getaway, leaving the Guthries alone in the night.  When one of the kids asks their mom what they should do, the mom responds with truth instead of optimism.  She doesn't know.  It doesn't seem like even the X-Men could help her child now.

OK, it's a little more pessimism that truth but whatever.

Back in Missouri, Emma Frost is choosing a pesimistic option as well.  She and Jubilee have been running from the Phalanx but they aren't able to get very far before being trapped.  When Jubes asks for a plan, Emma goes with: we're gonna die.  It's a positive issue.  Truth is, the Phalanx have adapted to Emma's powers and Jubilee lacks training despite hanging out with the X-Men for quite a while. 

The Phalanx isn't actually here to kill Jubilee.  They just want to capture her.  The White Queen, however, would have been killed if not for the timely arrival of the menfolk.  That would be Banshee, Sabretooth, and the new recruit, Synch.

The Phalanx are momentarily stunned by the new arrivals but quickly compensate.  They might not be able to adapt to Sean's sonic screams but, if you plug up his throat, there's no danger (you'll also notice that Banshee's wrist detonator for Creed's muzzle is sparking so it must have taken damage at this point).  Sabretooth is also quickly overwhelmed.

There's only one hope and that's to show off Synch's powers.  He can do what any mutant around him can do and, in some cases, he can do it better.  The White Queen grabs Everett and Jubilee and gives Everett a crash course on Jubilee's powers and how to use them using a quick telepathic download.  Synch then uses Jubilee's powers to firecracker the hell out of the matter making up the Phalanx.  This is something Jubes COULD do but doesn't because she's a little afraid of her powers.  This isn't a problem for Everett because they aren't HIS powers.

Our team has bought themselves precious seconds to clear the area but, before they can, the villain of the piece, Stephen Lang, makes a house call through the techo-organic junk scattered around the area.  He's come here to tell our collection of mutants that their actions are futile.  The Phalanx is heavily adaptable and nigh-unstoppable.  Sure, they have a victory here but it's momentary at best.  After all, the Phalanx have had the help of the X-Men's trusted friends and family: people like Candy Souther (Warren's ex-girlfriend), Cameron Hodge (X-Factor's old nemesis and one-time best friend of Warren Worthington III), and Sara Grey (Jean's long missing sibling). 

Stephen goes on to explain just what the Phalanx is all about.  It was created using the T-O remains of the dead New Mutant, Warlock, and fueled with Stephen Lang's burning hatred of all mutantkind.  The White Queen tries to tell Stephen that this is going to end badly for him just like his attempts at using Sentinels but Lang is well beyond listening to that kind of sense talk.  Besides, he already knows this is an accident waiting to happen.  It might actually be why he's placing this call. 

But, if that's the case, Lang's got one hell of a poker face.  He continues to gloat about the end of every mutant and even shows what his Phalanx have been able to do while this team has been rescuing one member of Generation Next: they've captured another.  For a brief moment, Lang gives Sean, Emma, Victor, and Jubilee a small glimps at Paige Guthrie.  It's enough for Emma to lock on to the young mutant and track her location.

With that last bit of monologuing out of the way, Lang ends his call and the T-O junk goes back to it's inert state.  Banshee is frustrated at losing another kid to these mecha monsters but he's about to get some good news... and then some bad news.

The good news is that Emma was able to track Paige's location.  It isn't an exact GPS track but it'll get them pointed in the right direction.  The bad news is that, when Lang was busy chatting it up with the others, Sabretooth took his leave.  Banshee notices that his wrist detonator is busted.  One of the biggest mutant killers is now on the loose and Sean isn't too happy to be responsible for that.

At least Victor didn't kill them all when he was making his escape.  It probably would have been pretty easy.

uxm318.jpgThe Uncanny X-Men #317
Writer: Scott Lobdell
Penciler: Joe Madureira

In this issue, Paige finds herself in prison with the rest of the Next Generation of mutants and learns that she's the first to be infected by the techo-organic virus.  The White Queen, Banshee, Jubilee, and Synch arrive in San Francisco at the west coast headquarters of Frost Enterprises and make themselves at home in Emma's Victorian Town House atop the Frost Skyscraper.  Banshee questions Emma's loyalty but it's a short conversation before they get down to planning how to locate the lost mutants.  Back with those lost muties, they're introduced to their jailer, the Phalanx known as Harvest and try to attack him only to blunder the attempt due to one of their own being over protective.  On the Oakland Bay Bridge, Jubilee and Everett have a heart to heart while talking about how awesome going to school and training in their powers would be.  Emma and Sean infiltrate a SHIELD safe house to get better tracking equipment for locating the mutant kids.  M comes out of her silent state and uses a device she constructed out of the T-O mesh clothing she's wearing to destroy the Phalanx spy in their midst.  The White Queen and Banshee locate the children but get spotted themselves and have to make a quick getaway.  M leads the escape of the rest of the members of Generation Next, including Paige who believes herself a liabilty due to her infection, and we all learn that they're being held on a boat.  They're on a boat, mother f***er, on a boat.

So, just how many Generation Next mutants are captured and just why am I calling them Generation NEXT and not Generation X?  Well, I'll answer that in turnin the next little bit as I describe just what happened when Paige woke up in captivity. 

Paige has always been an over achiever and wanted to follow in the footsteps of her big brother but, unlike Sam, she wanted to do it RIGHT.  Sam Guthrie learned to use his powers under the tutelage of Professor Xavier and later Magneto before leaving the X-Mansion to form the strike force, X-Force, with Cable.  Paige thinks that X-Force was a mistaken move and wants to do right thing by graduating to X-Men status.  Because of this, she wakes up and takes immediate assessment of her situation.  She's still alive, that's a plus, and in pain, which isn't so much of a plus.  She's also amused to find that the Phalanx provided her with a blanket until she learns that the "blanket" is actually the skin of another captive: Angelo Espinosa.  We call him Skin.

Skin's powers should be easy to understand but many people, including Joe Mad, mistake those powers for those of Mr. Fantastic.  They aren't.  Skin has a lot of extra epidermis that he can physically manipulate any way he wants but he can't stretch his bones.  These panels make it look like he CAN stretch those bones but we can explain those hands away by saying that his arms are actually hidden beneath the blanket of flesh and that the hands we see are just the outer layer of skin stretched away from the bones (and those hands look like they have bones in them because he's able to manipulate the skin any way he wants-- see!  No-Prize!).  Anyway, Skin is a negative nancy because he's naturally pessimistic.

If we look around the room, we'll see the rest of Gen Next.  There's Blink.  She's the girl with lilac colored skin, pointed ears, short dark pink hair, no pupils, and face tattoos.  She's not handling prison any better than Skin and is cowering near Gregor.  Gregor is the blonde haired, blue eyed, muscled dude who speaks in an old-fashioned, idyllic manner.  The last member of our club is M who still hasn't said a word but is keeping herself busy by pulling bits of her techo-organic mesh clothing off her arms.

So, why am I calling them Generation Next and not Generation X?  Well, the biggest reason is that not all these kids will be part of Gen X.  These are the next generation of mutants and that means that Professor Xavier's files were labeled Generation Next.  Lastly, the sub-name of this storyline is "Generation Next."  I'm not even certain these kids ever WILL call themselves Generation X in the actual comic by that name.  It's just a really cool name for a comic. 

Back in the scene, Paige is looking around to see if she can find a way out and is coming up unsuccessful.  This is something that the other kids already know but I'm betting Paige would have tried anyway.  While Angelo seems pessimistic, Gregor is just the opposite, going into his list of catchphrases that were probably compiled just for this situation.  While Paige and Angelo don't seem to get along, I'm betting Gregor's positive attitude annoys everyone much more than Skin's negative one. 

Blink's terrified attitude seems to be calling for comfort, though, and that's something Paige can deliver.  She reaches out her hand to the girl and tells her that they're all going to get out of this just fine.  The X-Men will find them and everything will be ok.  This is when Blink points out that Paige is far from ok.  It looks like the techno-organic virus that is finding it so hard to affect the others is going to town on Paige's abdomen.  Guthrie panics just a little bit but calms herself.  The X-Men will be here and she will be fine.  Right?

If only the X-Men were in a position to do anything.  They aren't.  In their place is our rag-tag group of heroes and villains, Banshee, the White Queen, Jubilee, Sabretooth, and Everett.  Victor escaped in X-Men #36, though, so we're already one villain down.  The remaining team has tracked Paige to the San Francisco area but that's as close to nailing their location down that they've gotten so far. 

They land on top of the skyscraper headquarters to Frost Enterprises (west coast division).  Since this is where Emma might spend some time every so often, she's had a Victorian town house built right up on the roof and spared no expense in security.  Fortunately, that security system can identify her so there's not an immediate bloodbath upon their landing. 

They've been travelling for hours now and there's no telling what has happened to Generation Next in that time.  Perhaps because of this and the fact that they lost Sabretooth, Banshee isn't keen on trust right now.  He grabs Emma and gives her a warning on betraying him.  The White Queen responds back about how much she's helped them and how pissed off she is that Banshee would even THINK she would betray them.  At this point, Sean smiles and uses a sonic scream to destroy the security devices that are still trained on them.  Emma mutters something about forgetting them while she was in her latest coma and that's probably the truth.  She's not betraying anyone today.

The mutants head inside and are treated to the extravagance of Emma's living conditions.  This house is huge.  And empty.  And kind of lonely looking.  While the kids make themselves comfortable, the adults plan their next move.  They know that the captive mutants are close but they have no way of tracking them any further than San Francisco.  Frost pulls up schematics of a nearby SHIELD safehouse.  Sean is surprised that Emma has this sort of thing on her computers but it's exactly the sort of thing she works to attain.

Back at the Generation Next prison, the kids are examining Paige's infection.  It's spreading pretty fast and Guthrie is beginning to lose hope that they'll get a rescue.  It's this point that she's actually given encouragement by Angelo.  It looks like the pessimist isn't all negative.  He actually DOES have hope that they'll be rescued.

It won't come before they get a glimpse at their jailer.  The Phalanx known as Harvest is here to look in on his prisoner.  He starts talking about how awesome it is to be a Phalanx before Blink attacks him with her incredible blinking powers.  This attack causes Harvest to shred in a zig zag pattern as his molecules are transported through crazy zig zag dimensions.  It's a cool looking effect.  Before Blink can carry this attack to it's final conclusion, Gregor grabs her in an attempt to get her out of harm's way.  This startles Blink and, losing focus, Harvest is pulled back together.  The Phalanx is in pain but lives to taunt another day.

Our young mutants learn some things from this experience.  One: their powers still work.  Two: those powers can actually do some damage.  Sure, maybe not Skin's but the rest of them might be able to do something.

On the Oakland Bay Bridge, another young mutant is feeling like her powers are pretty damn useless.  That would be Jubilee.  She's got those firecracker paffs that are nice sound and light shows but don't really do much else.  Well, they DO but Jubilee isn't comfortable with her abilities and keeps it on the down low.  Everett tries talking to her about that but just ends up insulting her when he agrees that her powers are lame when put in context.

So we'll move on over to Sean and Emma really quick to save Everett the look of embarrassment.  They've already infiltrated the SHIELD safehouse by using their combined powers to mask their presense.  They follow two rainsoaked agents inside during the changing of the guard and make their way to a tracking station.

Back in mutant prison, Monet comes out of her catatonic state and is all talkative.  She's assembled some device out of bits and pieces from her techno-organic suit and, jamming it in a lighting device for power, fires a power blast at Gregor, revealing him to be a Phalanx right before destroying him.  Gregor was a Phalanx!  He pulled Blink away not to save HER life but to free Harvest.  He was trying to keep the mutants from escaping by telling them to stay put until the X-Men arrived.  It all fits!  What's chilling to the youngsters is that they were watched from within the entire time and they didn't have a clue.

Back at the SHIELD safehouse, Banshee and the White Queen have a definite lead using SHIELD's tracking computers but, before they can get anywhere with that information, they're noticed by the SHIELD Agents and have lots of sci-fi guns pulled on them.  It turns out that while Emma was able to keep their minds unaware of their presence and Banshee was able to use his sonic talents to confuse the machines, nothing could cover up the puddles of water they were tracking all over the nice SHIELD safehouse.  It was enough of a tell to break through Emma's power blocks.  Emma threatens to use her psi-powers to fry some brains but Sean acts first.

So, M explains everything to everyone include how Gregor's speech pattern clued her in to him being a Phalanx and how, subduing the Phalanx as she did, she was able to create a feed back look in his sensors which should trick Harvest into thinking the kids are still being monitored while they will, in fact, be escaping.  She turns to the opposite wall from which Harvest entered and punches a hole in the wall.  Everyone files out except Paige.

Guthrie is in a great deal of pain because she is slowly being assimilated into the Phalanx collective.  She sees herself as a liablility and wants the others to leave her.  M understands the threat that Paige MIGHT become but, since she isn't a current danger, decides that rescuing the young mutant is still the best option.  M ends up pushing Paige through the hole.

Outside their cell, they find no sign of the Phalanx.  As Skin brings up, the Phalanx doesn't have to be seen to be right in front of them.  This is a techno-organic threat that can assume any form it wishes.  They aren't safe yet.

What they are, however, is on a boat.  It looks like they won't be able to run far.

xm37.jpgX-Men #37
Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Penciler: Andy Kubert

In this issue, Generation Next find themselves fighting the Phalanx sooner rather than later and team up to fight on creature down only to be faced by Harvest again.  Banshee and Synch sneak up on the ship from one direction while the White Queen and Jubilee come from another.  Jubille demonstrates her powers on some Phalanx rats and Emma learns that the reason Jubilee holds back is because she's scared of hurting someone.  She needs to train up a bit.  Harvest is halted in his tracks by Sabretooth but Victor isn't able to do anything but slow the Phalanx down until Banshee arrives and seeming destroys the creature.  Introductions are made all around.  Sabretooth acts on instinct and helps Paige shed her outer layer of skin and free herself from the transmode virus.  Harvest comes back bigger and badder than ever and the fight is started anew.  Realizing that there's only one way they'll excape alive, Blink sacrifices herself to save her companions, blinking herself and Harvest out of existance.  Banshee fails to save the young mutant and is saved himself by Everett.  Having been saved by one of their own, the future members of Generation X pause to reflect on the fight they'll probably face for the rest of their lives.

Yeah, the next generation of mutants might have seen no Phalanx immediately upon exiting their cell but that doesn't last long at all.  They're fighting it out with one creature pretty quickly and only after they get Blink to use her powers do they find some small measure of relief.  The Phalanx cries out in pain and anguish before M follows up it's discombulation with a super punch, scattering the Phalanx all over the ship.  It's an impressive attack but everyone notices that this Phalanx was different from the other Phalanx they have met.  This one screamed out in terror.  That's not how this collective usually goes down.

That's because the Phalanx are at the end of their ropes in the other X-books.  The collective has been shattered and that leaves these Phalanx to act on their own.  It's definitely a weakness to be exploited but it doesn't count them out.  For example, Harvest is still up and running.  He's a bit confused after being disconnected from the collective but his mission is the same: assimilate the young mutants or kill them. 

For the moment, he's going to kill them with talking, mentioning why he became a Phalanx and how mutants should all be eradicated for being the next rung on the evolutionary ladder.  HOW DARE YOU MAKE HIM FEEL INSIGNIFICANT, MUTANTS!  Harvest has feelings, too.

Granted, their psycho feelings but whatareyagonnado?

While Harvest is ranting on the deck of this decommissioned ship, Banshee and Everett are boarding the ship from the anchor and climbing up the chain to get inside.    They used scuba gear to get this far so no Phalanx is going to notice their approach until they're aboard ship.

Emma and Jubilee have also entered the ship by scuba gear but we skip their boarding and get to them exploring below decks.  Emma has a psi-contact with the mutant kids and can feel how scared the kids are.  As they move through the ship, they are disgusted to see that Harvest has even made the rats techno-organic.  Dude must have had some free time.  Since these aren't people, Jubilee unloads on them, destroying most of the mecha rats with a bunch of well placed blasts and sending the rest scattering.  From her comments, Emma is able to surmise that Jubilee is worried about using her powers to their full potential for fear of hurting someone.  Jubilee responds that she's had some incidents in her past where she DID unload and they kind of scared her.

Of course, this is multi-purposed.  It's to show that Jubilee really needs some training and Emma might need to go back to work to do that training.  You set up that Generation X book, Marvel!

On the deck, our young mutants look like they're ran out of options and are cowering in a corner waiting for the end.  Skin has heard explosions and Harvest tells the kids that the X-Men are aboard but have arrived too late to do any good.  This seems as good a time as any for Sabretooth to save the day.

Wait.  Sabretooth?  Really?  Yes, really.  I'm not even going to TRY to justify it.  Creed's a killer through and through.  He only does things because it'll serve him.  When Banshee asks him later HOW and WHY he showed up on the ship, Victor only replies that he had his ways of knowing what was going on and, as far as why, young mutants are delicious.  Since he doesn't make one play at eating anyone, your guess is as good as mine.  Maybe this was one of those moments where he actually decided that he wanted the treatments that Xavier has been providing.  Man, I'm actually trying to justify this.  I'll stop now.  Long story short, Sabretooth decides to save a bunch of kids because why the hell not. 

Victor even has a few moments of success.  He's definitely a surprise.  If Harvest was one of those robots on the old Star Trek show, Sabretooth showing up to save Generation Next would be enough to make Harvest's head explode in confusion (silly Star Trek robots).  Unfortunately, Harvest is just here to respond to the threat in front of him and, once that's analyzed, he starts absorbing the other Phalanx he's made in order to heal and stay in the game.

Luckily, Sabretooth isn't the only one trying to rescue children today.  There's also Banshee who shows up in time to smash Harvest down with a sonic blast.  He introduces everyone to Everett, proclaims that he owes a debt to Victor for being here, and then listens to the kids on what's actually gone down while they were in captivity.

The worst thing that's happened is that Paige is infected with the Transmode virus and that it's still spreading pretty rapidly.  That'll be rectified shortly.  Creed uses his sniffing powers to discover that Paige has two scents and there's only one reason why that could be.  Obviously, Paige's skin has a different smell from her underneath bits.  The solution?  Slash through the young mutant's epidermis to reveal the hidden powers inside.  Page finishes this process by pulling off her skin, hair, and clothing and standing up as a metal-type creature.  It looks like the T-O infection was, literally, only skin deep.

It also brings up some similar themes that hit a lot of Generation X.  We've got Paige who sheds her skin for a variety of different powers.  We've got Skin who's skin is his power.  Synch has whoever's powers are around.  It makes you wonder what would happen if Synch grabbed Skin and Paige's powers at the same time.  He'd be able to shed his controllable skin to reveal any power he wanted underneath.

Well, now that Paige's problem is solved, everyone realizes that the big bad Harvest isn't exactly beaten yet.  Not by half.

Harvest just keeps on absorbing all of the other techno-organic substances in the area and keeps getting bigger and bigger.  Worst still, he's starting to adapt to everyone's powers.  Jubilee and the White Queen show up on deck in time to hold Harvest back just long enough for Sean and Emma to come up with the best plan they've got:  get the kids out of here while Sabretooth and Banshee distract the Phalanx. 

Unfortunately, Sean and Victor are nearly out of tricks.  Harvest swats them away like they were nothing.  Blink asks Emma if Harvest will ever stop coming after them and Frost, being the depressing lady that she currently is, says that he won't.  Harvest will keep on coming for them.  So that means he'll have to be stopped here and now, huh?  Wiping away her tears, Blink gets ready to do something super heroic.  Paige tries to talk her out of it bu Blink is determined... and Emma is holding Paige back from joining the young mutant. 

Just to make sure that no one DOES try to stop her, she blinks away the deck below Gen Next.  Emma and the kids run out and jump into the water.  If you're looking, Monet is carrying Sabretooth who has already been knocked unconscious.

That leaves Banshee fighting Harvest alone.  Sean sees Blink running towards himself and Harvest and screams a warning to keep the mutant away.  Like I said, Blink's already set in her course of action.  She gets right up in Harvest's face and starts blinking away like mad.

The blinking effect doesn't just hit Harvest but also traps Blink.  Fortunately for Sean, he's able to stay clear from the effect but still flies in to try his best at saving Blink.  The blink effect keeps widening and encompasses the entire ship and, inside that effect, it's getting worse.  Images are fracturing with other images.  Sean grabs Blink's hand and tries to pull the child free.  It's not meant to be.  Her hand is disappearing in segments from Banshee's grasp until it is completely gone.

Sean falls backwards in the water below and, exausted, starts to be pulled under.  Fortunately, Everett is still able to synch Banshee's powers and flies out to save the man.

The survivors make it to the dock and huddle together.  This was one of those life defining moments and, thanks to the sacrifice of Clarice Ferguson, they were able to make it through in one piece.  Still, they've learned just how bad the world can be.  There are people out there who would go to such extreme lengths to see someone dead merely for an accident of birth that they'd be willing to give up their very humanity to make it so.  That's a chilling thought that won't escape these mutants any time soon.

That's our first chapter in the final epic in Marvel's Mega Event-o-rama!  Join us next time as we continue event fever!

Until then: Who Do YOU Trust?

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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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