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Christos Gage (writer), Tom Grummett (penciler), Cory Hamscher (inker), Chris Sotomayer (colorist), VC’s Joe Caramagna (letterer), Guiseppe Camuncoli & Jim Charalampidis (cover artists), Jake Thomas (assistant editor), Bill Rosemann (editor), Axel Alonso (editor in chief), Joe Quesada (chief creative officer), Dan Buckley (publisher), Alan Fine (executive producer)
Hazmat and Mettle are on a beach in Kauai when they receive a call from Jeremy Briggs, asking them to meet him in New York. White Tiger and Reptil are with sorceress Jennifer Kale, who is looking into their magical amulets when they too get a similar call. Striker and Lightspeed are mulling over a movie script in Miami whilst X-23 and Finesse are fighting Branchild’s mutates in the Savage Land when they are also invited to join the party. Before long, they are all gathered at the Briggs building in Manhattan where Veil announces to everyone’s astonishment that she is now cured. Her body is no longer losing cohesion. Briggs explains that he used something called Clean Slate, and Jocasta assures everyone that it seems to be the real deal. Hazmat and Mettle both jump at the chance to be cured, and before long they are subjected to Clean Slate. Both find themselves back to how they were before they received their powers. However, Briggs then reveals that he intends to use Clean Slate on every hero and villain on Earth, thereby rendering everyone the same. Jocasta is dead against this idea, so he transfers her consciousness to another of her bodies in China. The academy students think he’s crazy, but Briggs informs them that they’ve been breathing in an aerosolized version of the drug for the last five minutes. He brings in his assistants, who turn out to be Coat of Arms, Big Zero and the Enchantress - the former Young Masters. A fight breaks out, during which Briggs painfully removes Reptil’s magic amulet from his chest. He has Enchantress and Coat of Arms look into its magical properties. Half the students are injured due to fighting Briggs’ and his assistants, but the other half are now somewhat indebted to him. Finesse hurls a shuriken at some cables which causes an explosion. The students fall into a hole and land in the rubble below.
(Kauai, Hawaii)Mettle and Hazmat are trying to relax on the beach. Watched by curious onlookers, however, it isn’t easy. Mettle’s body is red and metallic whilst Hazmat is contained within her yellow radiation suit. Hazmat has decided that true hell is being in paradise, watching everyone else enjoy it when you can’t. Mettle adds that with people taking pictures and posting them online, 4Chan has totally let him down. Hazmat thought they’d reopen the academy in a day, maybe two, but this Avengers vs. X-Men crap just keeps dragging on. Ken says that they’re totally breaking the rules of hero fights. At some point, you put aside your differences and team up. It’s like tradition. However, since Colossus sealed off their campus, he’s not even sure that reopening is an option. He never thought he’d miss being attacked by soul-eating aliens.
Hazmat receives a call in her helmet from Jeremy Briggs, who asks if she remembers giving him a piece of her boyfriend’s skin. She immediately stands and moves away from Ken, asking Briggs if he could be any less discreet. She never told Ken about their agreement so he didn’t get his hopes up. Jeremy informs her that she hasn’t enough faith in him. She’s talking to the Alchemist. Boy genius. Billionaire with powers on top. Failure is not in his vocabulary. He informs her that it’s done as promised. Hazmat can’t believe it, but Jeremy states that he can cure Mettle, and he can cure her too. He informs her that his jet will be landing at Lihue airport in an hour. He’ll send a limo for her. As Hazmat turns to see Mettle getting sand kicked in his face courtesy of a playful dog, Jeremy says that he knows they’ve been together a while now, but now can get ready to enjoy their first kiss.
(Florida, at the secret HQ of A.R.M.O.R.)The White Tiger and Reptil are in the presence of the sorceress Jennifer Kale. She determines that they both sport ancient and powerful magical artifacts. The two Avengers students already know this. What they need to know is whether they are good or evil. Jennifer replies that it’s not always that cut and dried. Unlike electricity, for example, magic is a spiritual force. It’s alive. It can grant tremendous power, but it usually wants something in return. Only they can decide whether the burden is worth the gift. But, they should remember this - if they take too long to make the choice, magic might make the decision for them.
She asks them to excuse her as there is a dimensional break occurring. The talking ducks again… White Tiger doesn’t even want to ask what that means. Reptil’s phone rings and one the other end is Hazmat. She asks him to come over, as she doesn’t particularly trust Jeremy Briggs. Reptil replies that neither does he. They can be in New York by tonight so he asks her not to do anything until they get there.
(Miami, Florida)Striker is with Lightspeed at his mother’s house. She has a new movie for them, but advises Julie that there are a few nude scenes… though they are tasteful. Striker reads the script and exclaims, “Manphibian! This is the best we can do? We’re famous?” his mother reminds them that they have no acting experience. This is how you start a career. Brandon reckons this is how you end one. He takes a wild guess and believes that if they sign the contract, the part of ‘sexy mom’ goes to her? She replies nonchalantly that they are interested in her on her own merits.
The phone rings inside the house. Striker zaps the script into oblivion and tells his mom she’s the worst mother of all time. She replies sarcastically that she’s a horrible person… trying to find her ‘unemployed’ son a job. Lightspeed appears with the phone. It’s Veil. She presses a button and a holographic image of Veil appears before them. She apologizes for the interrupting their road to stardom but they’re having a big moment for Mettle and Hazmat in New York and wondered if they’d like to join them. Giving his mom a withering glance, Striker replies that they’ll be there. He just needs five minutes to pack.
(the Savage Land)Finesse is with X-23. Jocasta contacts her by phone. She explains that she realizes the deep distrust they feel towards Jeremy Briggs and herself, but she hopes to convince them that they are wrong. If they like, they can come to New York and think of it as being there to protect their friends if it helps. Unless they are otherwise occupied, that is. Finesse replies that they’ll be there. Since the academy closed, she and Laura have been seeking other places where they might feel at home. It hasn’t gone well so they will see her soon. She ends the call as she and X-23 prepare to do battle with Brainchild and a horde of Savage Land creatures.
(later, in Manhattan. The Briggs Building)All the students have congregated to see what’s going on. Briggs says he isn’t shocked to hear that the academy has been closed down because of yet another ridiculous hero fight. It’s a good thing the Briggs Foundation is open for business, no matter how stupid the grown-ups are being. Jocasta quips that interpersonal relations are hardly her forte, but she suspects his smugness is not winning over any doubters. Reptil agrees. He warns Briggs that if he lays a finger on their friends without some serious proof he can do what he says, he’ll be in trouble. Veil steps in and tells him she knew he’d feel that way. The proof is right there.
Veil explains that her body was slowly losing cohesion. Within a few years, she was going to be as insubstantial as a ghost. They should notice the use of past tense. She is cured! Her friends are amazed at her statement and gather around to congratulate her. X-23 assures them that she’s not lying, or at least she doesn’t believe she is. Jocasta says she has the data to hand, a full molecular analysis. Finesse takes a quick look and reckons it looks in order.
Hazmat asks Briggs how he did it. He smiles and explains that the kids he recruited from the old Initiative program told him about something called S.P.I.N. Tech, a program cooked up by the government. It involves super-power-inhibiting nanobots. They’d depower just about any superhuman but each dose costs billions. It had to be tailor-made for the target and it had a high failure rate. So, he continues, waving his hand at a monitor, he got his hands on some, fixed some flaws and now they work on anyone. He explains that they read your DNA, find the code for when you were normal and put you back that way. If you were never normal, they use a baseline human genome as a guide, the point being that, thanks to his genius and Jocasta’s way with machines, they can make people just like regular folks.
Hazmat can’t believe what she’s hearing. “C-can we… can we…” is all she can utter. Briggs holds up a small aerosol device and says that’s why everyone is there. There is no need for needles as it’s aerosolized. He calls it Clean Slate. One pull on that and Hazmat’s days as a walking Chernobyl are over. She takes the device but Reptil warns her that it could be anything. Hazmat snarls that she doesn’t give a damn. She’s trying it. Mettle informs Briggs that Hank Pym always told him that if he negated his powers he would die, because all his skin had to be peeled off to make him like he is. Briggs admits that he was a tricky one, but he thinks he can grow back his skin using stem cells. They’re gonna have to go in through his mouth to access his bone marrow, however.
Reptil asks Ken to hang on. He is there to make sure that all this is on the level but he’s not coming close to being convinced. Behind them, Hazmat takes the aerosol spray and waits a moment. She then says that she is convinced. There is a Geiger counter built into her suit. It measures toxicity and guess what? It worked. She’s normal. She is free. Tears pour from her eyes and a broad smile reaches across her face as she removes her helmet. Ken is immediately convinced. He thanks Reptil for coming but he’s totally doing this. Humberto understands. Briggs asks if Ken will go with his assistants. They have a restoration tank set up in the next room.
Finesse looks around and asks who these people are. Where are the others - Machine Teen, Rocket Racer and the Initiative graduates? Jocasta replies that they are on missions, aiding humanity in whatever manner they think best. They’re using their powers for science, medicine and things so much better and more productive than battle. They believe this is the future - a better way. While the Avengers and X-Men fight each other like children, the children are changing the world.
Everyone follows Mettle into the next room and the assistants place him in a clear capsule where he is hooked up to some breathing apparatus. They then activate the machine and Mettle slowly begins to transform. His metallic skin fades away and his real skin begins to grow again. Hazmat cannot watch as Ken looks like he’s in agony. She asks someone to tell her if he’s okay. In no time at all, a hand taps her shoulder. “He’s fine,” says Ken. Hazmat turns to see him looking like a regular human being. He tells her that she’s never seen his real face before. Is it… okay? Hazmat leaps at him and plants a kisser on the lips.
Reptil is amazed at how fast Briggs managed to pull it off. Briggs smiles again and replies that they’re not dead or zombies, either. Ava admits that she likes her powers, but she’d love to have better control over them. Does Briggs think he can help her? He points to Sylvie, his blonde assistant and says that she and Lisa are the magic experts. They’d be glad to take a look and see what they can do. It’s her call. Reptil once again expresses his concerns but, seeing Jenny and Ken look so happy, he says that he may not like Briggs, but if he’s honest, he’s done everything he said he’d do. Briggs is glad to hear that. It means a lot to him. He asks him to remember what he said about changing the world. He thinks he just did, but he still wants his help.
Briggs asks them to remember the big super-powered fight that devastated cities, killed a whole bunch of people and changed absolutely nothing. “Which one? Am I right?” he asks only half-joking. They happen about every couple of months and their teachers are in the middle of one right now. They are caused by people with too much power and no sense. Well, he has the means to make sure that never happens again. He can take away that power. He is going to deploy Clean Slate around the world, let is spread and watch as it turns heroes and villains into regular dudes.
Both Veil and Jocasta are shocked at the very thought. Jocasta tells Briggs that this isn’t what they discussed. Their plan was to make it available to properly vetted law enforcement entities in specific situations… to be used on criminals. Briggs waves her argument away. He tells her that plans change and he didn’t spend this much money and work this hard to think small. These aren’t criminals raising hell right now. It’s ‘heroes.’ Jocasta replies that what he proposes is reckless and she will not allow it. Briggs looks at her and asks, “Won’t you now?”
Without warning, Jocasta slumps to her knees and closes her eyes. Briggs tells everyone to relax. He’s just kicked her out of the building to a spare body in their China office. She’ll be stuck there a while. He explains that he was afraid this might happen. It’s tough for her generation to adapt when the crunch time comes, to see what really needs to be done. Finesse tells Lightspeed that she knew he couldn’t be trusted. Julie tells Briggs that he’s crazy if he thinks he can depower all those heroes. Who’s gonna stop all the tsunamis and tornadoes and alien invasions? “Hello,” he replies. “Us. Why do you think I brought you all here?” He admits that down the road he might restore powers to those who deserve it and who can prove themselves responsible. He’s not a fanatic. He’s got powers himself. However, he’s making having powers a privilege and one you have to earn.
Finesse remarks that he is the one who will decide that. Briggs replies that they can take votes and do the spirit fingers like the Occupy Wall Street types. Whatever. They have more immediate problems, namely a few heavy hitters who won’t be affected by his tech. They include people like War Machine, those with natural skills such as Hawkeye and probably non-humans like Thor. They are going to be like Jocasta, offering knee-jerk reactions against him changing the status quo. He’ll need their help to stop them.
Reptil semi-transforms into a dinosaur and tells Briggs that if he needs their help that proves he’s crazy. Briggs replies that he’s already helped. He and his friends have a nice cross-section of powers from different sources and a wide variety of manifestations. That’s why he invited them all; even the ones he figured would be buzzkills. They were the perfect test cases for Clean Slate. “Oh, right,” he adds with a smirk. “I forgot to mention… you’ve been breathing it for the last five minutes.” Reptil continues his transformation and changes into a velociraptor. He tells Briggs it didn’t work on him. Finesse grabs two Billy clubs and informs him that her fighting skills are intact. X-23 snikts her claws and simply growls at him.
Briggs reminds them that he still has his powers, too. He made sure he was immune to Clean Slate. He turns her weapons into steam and asks her to note that he did it to them and not her. He is then joined by the three lab assistants who turn out to be Big Zero, Enchantress and Coat of Arms. He explains to the students that he developed an antidote, too. Anyone who proves they’re responsible enough get to keep their powers. His three assistants started out calling themselves the Young Masters after the Masters of Evil and then they tried running with the Young Avengers. In the end, he adds, it doesn’t really matter how you label yourself… hero or villain. You’re part of the problem.
Big Zero grows in size and grabs X-23 in her enormous fingers. Briggs explains that they came to him for a second chance to do something that matters. He didn’t trust them at first and he made them prove that they meant it. They let him depower them and make them earn it back. They’ve done that a dozen times over. They understand that the old model doesn’t work because they’ve been burned by it. They’re ready to be the start of something new.
Coat of Arms attacks Finesse with a dagger and Finesse only just manages to get away with a sliced uniform. Coat of Arms tells her that the hero/villain paradigm worked as art for a while but art has to evolve. When you think about it, de-powering every superhuman on Earth is a brilliant idea. As a performance piece, it beats the Civil War all hollow. The Enchantress uses her magic to levitate Reptil and she holds him up in front of Jeremy Briggs. He thanks her and then lifts Humberto’s top up revealing the glowing amulet in his chest. He informs him that Clean Slate doesn’t work on magic which means he has to get creative. Sometimes it’s just best to rip off the bandage. He grabs the amulet and yanks it from Humberto’s chest. He cries out in pain as Briggs turns his attentions to X-23.
He informs her that her healing factor’s gone and that she’s probably dying from adamantium poisoning. If she stops fighting, he’ll fix her up. He tells them all that there’s no need for any of this. He turns to see the struggling students. He knows that some of them aren’t on board. That’s fine, he says. He’s not going to kill them or put them in deathtraps. That’s not how he rolls. But, they cannot leave until after he’s released Clean Slate. It won’t be long, though, and until then he’ll keep them locked up but comfortable.
Briggs then turns to the others; Veil, Hazmat and Mettle. He informs them that he’s given them their lives back and, as for Striker, he can make him more famous that he ever dreamed of. He asks him to imagine being the last super hero on Earth. Striker is lost for words. Briggs adds that it’s over. The old ways are lost. This is their chance to write the future.
Finesse continues her fight with Coat of Arms. “Right, I’ve about had it with this dance, Audrey Hepburn,” snarls Coat of Arms. “You throw that thing and it’s all over.” Finesse tells her she’s correct and she hurls a shuriken at some cables above them. Big Zero warns everyone to look out just as the cables explode, leaving a hole in the floor. When the smoke clears, Briggs and his team sees that Finesse and her team have gone. He tells his assistants to find them. If they’re alive they should get them medical attention and then lock them up. He turns to the students and tells them it’s decision time. Are they with him or not? Veil pauses, but Striker steps up and replies, “We’re with you.” Briggs is pleased and he asks them to follow him. They have a lot to talk about.
Briggs asks Enchantress and Coat of Arms to analyze the artifacts. They’re going to need a hell of an arsenal to take on Dr. Strange and his allies. Big Zero turns to Coat of Arms and asks if Briggs is serious about giving these punks medical attention. They almost killed them all! Coat of Arms replies that she doesn’t think it matters. There’s no way they’ll make it out alive if she knows what she means. Big Zero tells her that they’re definitely on the same page.
Down below in the hole lie Lightspeed, Finesse, Reptil and White Tiger and none of them are moving.
Finesse, Hazmat, Lightspeed, Mettle, Reptil, Striker, White Tiger, X-23 (full-time students)Jennifer KaleStriker’s mom
Big Zero, Coat of Arms, Enchantress
People on beach
(on screen)Emma Frost
4Chan is an image-posting website created by Christopher Poole, aka, Moot, launched in 2003.
Hazmat gave Jeremy a piece of Hazmat’s skin in Avengers Academy #26.
A.R.M.O.R. stands for Alternate Reality Monitoring & Operational Reponse Agency. Jennifer Kale first appeared back in Fear #11.
The 1986 Chernobyl disaster involved explosions and a fire at a nuclear power station in Chernobyl, Ukraine.
The Young Masters first appeared in Dark Reign: Young Avengers #1. The other members were Egghead, Executioner and Melter.
Audrey Hepburn was a beautiful Oscar-winning movie actress and humanitarian who, for a while, had a haircut similar to Finesse’s. She is best known for classics such as Roman Holiday, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Sabrina and My Fair Lady.