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Christos Gage (writer), Andrea Di Vito (artist), Chris Sotomayer (colorist), VC’s Joe Caramagna (letterer), Guiseppe Camuncoli & Jim Charalampidis (cover artists), Jon Moisan (assistant editor), Bill Rosemann (editor), Axel Alonso (editor in chief), Joe Quesada (chief creative officer), Dan Buckley (publisher), Alan Fine (executive producer)
Jeremy Briggs has created something called Clean Slate, which he intends to use to depower most of the superhuman community. The academy students, however, are attempting to stop him from carrying out his threat. After escaping, Finesse’s team recovers in time to be attacked by Big Zero. They manage to overcome her, despite Reptil’s injuries and X-23 dying of adamantium poisoning. Elsewhere, Hazmat and Mettle are enjoying their newfound lack of powers and becoming intimate with each other. Coat of Arms is in her mystic lab, carrying out tests on the amulets stolen from White Tiger and Reptil. They locate her and attack but she is ready for them and responds in kind. Meanwhile, Striker is with Veil and Enchantress. He uses a little cunning to get the drop on Enchantress and get his powers back, but this turns out to be a trap. Briggs takes him down and starts to cook him in his own sweat. Veil rushes next door and informs Ken and Jenny what’s happening and, with some regrets, they both reluctantly take the antidote. Ken doesn’t change at all, but Jenny regains her powers and decides to go after Jeremy Briggs.
(The Briggs Building, sub-basement)Lightspeed, Finesse and White Tiger pick themselves up after Finesse blew a hole in the floor for them to escape into. Reptil, however, is in bad shape. Julie tries to wake him up as she can hear the bad guys coming for them. With their powers gone, she can’t do this alone.
Finesse helps White Tiger to her feet and informs Julie that he should only be stunned. She caused the collapse, so the support beams would fall in such a way as to provide protection. Julie asks if she still has her powers. Finesse replies that she doesn’t. She can no longer duplicate the actions of others, but she does retain the knowledge and skill sets that she’s already acquired. As they both help X-23 to her feet, Finesse explains that Laura was able to extend her claws before Briggs stole her powers. However, without her healing factor, the special metal coating them is slowly killing her. Extending the claws has lessened the problem but it hasn’t solved it.
Laura weakly replies that she’s fine and she can still fight. Above them they hear a ‘thoom’ and Finesse reckons it must be Big Zero. They need to form a plan. White Tiger can’t believe that she’s thinking about a plan. What about Reptil? She thought she cared about him. Finesse replies that panicking will not help him. He will be fine. She says the words again to herself, as if willing him on.
Up above, Big Zero moves massive chunks of masonry with her huge hands. She didn’t sign on for this, she says, so she hopes to kill at least one of the academy students; hopefully the Mexican. Coat of Arms replies, using radio contact, that they discussed this. Jeremy doesn’t like this kind of talk. She’s supposed to be a reformed racist. She should maintain radio silence unless she finds something. She’s not even sure the boss wants them to kill them. Big Zero replies that he might be paying them but he’s not her boss. She does what she wants. Coat of Arms, currently in her mystic study, tells her in that case she should make sure they’re flattened in such a way that it could have been caused by rubble instead of her fists. She adds that she is analyzing Reptil and White Tiger’s amulets which is a little more complicated than moving rocks.
Ending radio contact, Big Zero snarls to herself, calling Coat of Arms a smug little art school snob. If she keeps talking to her like that, she’ll see if some rubble can’t fall on her. As she moves more stones, she comes across X-23’s right arm. Before she can lift anything else, X-23 slashes her ankle with her claws and Finesse leaps at Big Zero’s face, almost toppling her and the others run from their hiding places. Big Zero grins, happy that they’re all alive. Even better is that they are putting up a fight. She smashes Finesse out of the way, but X-23 slashes her again on her ankle. Big Zero brings her fists down on Laura, crushing her into the floor. Reptil, Lightspeed and White Tiger, all powerless, are making their escape but Reptil turns to see Laura get caught. He wants to do something but Julie tells him they must stick to the plan.
Meanwhile, Finesse leaps backwards as Big Zero’s fists come down towards her. She informs the giant that they’ve trained against Giant Man. An enlarged human is still human and, without an Achilles tendon, you cannot stand. “Just need one to…” replies Big Zero. “Balance?” asks Finesse. “Wrong.” She knees Big Zero in the face which topples her. Once she is down, White Tiger, Reptil and Lightspeed shove a pile of rocks down on top of her from above, knocking her out.
Reptil is concerned that they may have fractured her skull, but Finesse is not so caring. Instead she helps Laura, who is weakening every second. Reptil knows this is bad. They have to get out of there. Julie reckons that is exactly what Jeremy Briggs will expect. He’ll have security measures in place and when he releases his power-neutralizing nanobots, the whole world’s in trouble. They need to get their powers back and stop him. Reptil admits that he’s not even sure they can get them back. Julie replies that Jeremy said he took the Young Masters’ powers away then made them earn them back. He has an antidote and they just need to find it. Reptil reckons it’ll be heavily guarded and Julie agrees. She thinks that, before they fight their way in, they need to get the magic items that give her and White Tiger their powers. The bad guys think that they’re dead, so when they find out they’re not they will expect them to run. Instead… they’re gonna go Die Hard on these jerks.
(the penthouse suite)Ken and Jenny are getting to know each other by touch. She brushes his cheek and tells him that he’s soft. He jokes that it’s not what a guy wants to hear. Jeremy Briggs enters and says there’s no need to thank him. They can just help him save the world and they’ll call it even. He asks them to take a couple of hours for themselves and use them however they want. The suite is all theirs; total privacy. But, they are releasing Clean Slate that night and there is going to be a world of de-powered folks who aren’t happy and some whose powers won’t have gone away. He’ll want them around to talk to any Avengers who show up. Thor, Dr. Strange… they can explain to them that what they’re doing is right. “Until then… don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. Spoiler alert; I’d do a lot.”
As Briggs departs, Jenny asks about their friends. He replies that there is no word yet, but they will get medical attention. He’s sure that they’ll be fine, though he still can’t believe they’ve been so brainwashed that they would risk their own lives. He asks them to put it out of their minds. When he knows something he’ll let them know. This is their moment and they should make the most of it. Once he has gone, Ken and Jenny kiss passionately. Jenny soon breaks away and turns her head. She tells him she can’t stop thinking about them. Ken admits that he can’t either. Is it wrong that he’s also so damn happy? Jenny strokes his cheek again and smiles. If it is, she replies, then they’re both horrible people. They kiss once again, whilst elsewhere…
Jeremy goes to a lounge where Enchantress and Striker sit on a couch and Veil stands near the huge windows. “The others?” asks Veil. Briggs informs them that there is still no news from Big Zero. It could take a while to dig them out. He tells them that he hates to seem cold, but they need to stick to the timetable. Jocasta is secured in his China office but he wouldn’t put it past her to find a way out and warn the Avengers. Enchantress asks if he knew that Striker had an agent. He said he’d get her a meeting. And, he’s just taped a Morning-O’s commercial. “That’s great Sylvie,” he replies with little-to-no enthusiasm.
Striker asks when he’ll get his powers back, because if he’s going to be taking on Avengers he’ll need to be able to throw down with them. Briggs asks him to take it easy. Like he said, he’ll get his antidote when he’s earned it. Veil asks if she has to earn it too. Briggs replies of course not. The antidote to Clean Slate is permanent. Once your body has immunity, it’s always there. He explains that her powers would have made her insubstantial as a ghost in a few years. He’d never ask her to go back to that. He’s doing this to make the world better for people like them. For everyone!
As he leaves, he asks them to work on their statements. He wants them ready to be taped and ready for release in two hours and they should be sincere. Joe six-pack has to believe they are just like him. He tells them they’re doing great and adds that he’ll be back soon. Sylvie gets straight into her rehearsals. Veil and Striker exchange a glance as she speaks. Brandon asks if she’s on board with the whole ‘No more super heroes’ thing. Veil replies that things are getting worse. “All those people who died in the war with the Serpent…” Striker reminds her that the Serpent was Asgardian. Clean Slate wouldn’t have worked on him or his army of monsters and Nazi robots. Veil says he’s right, but then Thor and Iron Man and a few others would have been around to fight them. Striker adds that Jeremy did say he would give him powers back to those who can prove they can use them responsibly.
They both know that they are trying to talk themselves into doing this. Striker rubs the back of his neck and tells her he’s going to go run lines. As he turns, Sylvie asks if he can help her rehearse. She’s been taking classes - the Stella Artois technique. “Stella Adler,” replies Brandon. “Stella Artois is a beer.” She laughs and calls it a blonde moment. Striker smiles back at her and asks how Jeremy is going to give her power back exactly. She explains that he never actually took her powers away, because they’re magic. With Coat of Arms, he just locked up her coat but she saw how he did it with Big Zero. She then says that Jeremy told him he wasn’t ready yet. Is he thinking about going behind his back?
Striker stutters a little and then lowers his head, saying he feels stupid even saying this. He informs her that, from the time he was a little kid, he always knew he was meant to be something special. There he was, trapped in this tiny life in a tiny place full of tiny people who didn’t even know how insignificant they were. He started to think that he’d be stuck there forever… that he wasn’t special after all. He started believing the people who told him to forget his dreams.
Then, he got his powers and everything changed. It was like waking up; like his real life was finally starting. The world was realizing what he always knew. Now, he knows it’s lame, but this whole time, in the back of his mind, he’s been waiting for someone to say, “Sorry. There’s been a mistake. You weren’t meant to have this. Go back to your loser life, loser. ” Not having his powers… it’s like that finally happened. He feels like that lost kid again. Enchantress flaps her hands dramatically to cool herself down and cries, “Oh, my gosh. What you just said… It’s me. It’s my life.” Striker shrugs and asks what are the odds of that.
(elsewhere)Finesse and her companions are sneaking through the building. She uses a throwing star to disable a camera. Julie asks if disabling the camera won’t raise the alarm. She replies that it will, but at least they won’t know their exact location or how many of them there are. White Tiger can tell that her amulets are on the same floor as them. She can feel them. Julie takes charge and tells them that she and Finesse will go up a few floors and take out some more cameras. It’ll throw them off their trail. The rest of them can wait there. Ava begins to shiver and Reptil asks if she’s okay. She replies that her brother Hector talked about this. If he was separated from the tiger amulets it hurt. Reptil asks if she means like withdrawal.
Ava snaps at him and tells him he makes her sound like a drug addict. It’s not that way at all. Humberto asks her to hold on. That’s not what he’s saying. Ava sighs that it’s what Hector once said. It’s why he gave them up the first time. They were taking over his life. She says that she’s doing this, being the White Tiger, to honor his memory, but what she never tells anyone is that he wouldn’t have wanted her to. He’d be horrified if he could see her like this. So who is she doing it for, she asks. My family… or me?
Reptil says that he thinks he knows what she means. But, he doesn’t think it matters why you do something. The important thing is that you do it. He admits that he’s been wasting his power. Talking about being a hero, finding his parents, being a leader… he had all these grand plans but what has he actually done? If they get a second chance, she can do anything she wants; and she can trust him when he says that from what he knows about her, Hector couldn’t help but be proud of that. They turn when X-23 coughs. Ava chastises herself for whining when Laura is hurt and asks if she is okay. Laura replies that she is dying. She finds it interesting that she she’s thinking about things she hasn’t done that she won’t get chance to do. She wonders if this is how the people she killed felt.
Humberto leans over to her and replies that she’s going to get her powers back and she’ll be able to do all those things. Laura raises her fist with her claws still extended. She tells him that there is one thing she will do. Jeremy Briggs is using people and making rules for them that don’t apply to him. He is treating them as his lab experiments… as his property. This has been done to her before and it’s not right. She will live long enough to stop him.
Julie asks if everyone’s set to go. The way she sees it they get exactly one shot. Strike hard, strike fast and take ‘em by surprise. Moments later, they charge towards the lab, but they are surprised when Coat of Arms blasts them backwards. She tells them they are dense. As she holds out several blades in her numerous hands, she dangles the two amulets teasingly in the others. Did it not occur to them that if they could sense their amulets, the amulets could sense them? She explains that they’ve been having a heart-to-heart and it seems they’re feeling unappreciated. She can offer them so much more. Of course, she adds, the way magic works, they’re bonded to them so they shouldn’t take the fact that she’s going to kill them personally.
(meanwhile)Enchantress explains to Striker that Jeremy keeps the antidote in a vault but it has, like, super-quadruple locked retina scans and all that movie stuff. Only he can open it. It’s also blocked against teleporters, phasers and magic. She then casts a spell that goes back in time to when Jeremy opened the vault for Big Zero. With the defenses down, she takes out one vial, telling Striker that he won’t miss one vial out of a hundred. “And they all think I’m stupid,” she adds. Striker doesn’t know what to say. Sylvie asks him not to say anything, but to keep it on the low until Jeremy gives it to him himself or they get attacked. As Striker swallows the vial’s contents, she asks him not to forget how powerful she is or what she’ll do if he gets naughty.
Striker gives her a hug and thanks her, telling her that she’s a really nice kid. Sylvie thanks him back for not double-crossing her. He asks what kind of a jerk he would be if he did that. Besides, she’d have been ready for it, right? “Ha,” she laughs. “You got me.” Striker raises his hands and begins to manipulate his newly-restored power. He informs her that there is already electricity inside her brain. He can just tweak it a little and affect her vestibular system to make her dizzy. As she drops to her knees and throws up, he apologizes to her but then turns to Veil. He tells her he’s going to find the others and take Jeremy down. Does she want in? Veil puts her hand up and replies that she doesn’t want her powers back.
Jeremy Briggs then appears and zaps Striker using his own power. He reels from the attack and drops the vial. “Well, I’m glad to hear that, at least,” says briggs. He stands over Striker and tells them there is a fight coming. He needed to know whose side everyone was on, fast, and get those who aren’t with the program out of the way. He tells Striker that he really disappointed him. He thought he, of all of them, would have seen the bigger picture. He wanted his powers back? Fine. He’s got them but it’s at a cost. He will show Striker what it’s like for normal people who get caught up in his fights. He jacks up the salt content of Brandon’s sweat which helps conduct the electrical power inside him. Striker sparks wildly and cries, “Make it stop!” Briggs is hurled backwards and he asks Enchantress for a little help.
Veil dashes into the next room where Ken and Jenny are standing arm in arm. “They’re killing him,” she cries. Jenny asks if she couldn’t have knocked. Ken asks who’s killing who. Veil explains that Striker stole the cure for Clean Slate in order to give everyone their powers back and fight Jeremy, except it was a trap and Briggs is murdering him. Jenny replies that she knew there was something off about that guy. Veil holds out the vial and explains that she now has the cure. There’s only enough left for a couple of them. She’s going to take it in order to save him but she can’t do it alone. Jenny asks if she’s serious! They just got to be normal again after all this time. Veil says she knows. She doesn’t want it either but then they didn’t hear his screaming. There was smoke coming from his face and a smell… like bacon. Veil scrunches her eyes and replies that she’s not going back to that.
Veil reiterates that they’re going to kill him. Ken reaches out his hand and says he’ll do it. “No!” cries Hazmat. “Don’t you dare.” She grabs his arm but he reminds her that they’re his friends. As much as he loves to rank on them, they’re her friends, too. Veil can’t believe it. They didn’t have enough time together, she exclaims. It wasn’t enough. Ken says that it was for him. He got to kiss her and feel her skin against him. If he has to he can go the rest of his life on that memory. He can live with it, but he can’t live with letting those guys die. “I love you,” says Jenny. “I love you, too,” replies Ken. They kiss passionately for the last time and then Ken swallows half of the antidote. He hands it over to Veil, but Jenny intercepts it. “No, let me,” she says. Ken is surprised and Veil tells her she can’t do that. She was so miserable. Jenny asks them both to shut up. She’s the most powerful of them and she isn’t letting her friends die either, or the guy she loves. Ken asks her not to do this for him. He definitively couldn’t live with that. “And I couldn’t live without you,” replies Jenny as she takes the antidote.
She asks how long it’ll be before her powers kick in, but she doesn’t have to wait long. Power returns to her hands with a green glow. She turns to Ken with tears in her eyes and tells him she wanted one last kiss. Looks like she doesn’t even get that. Ken looks at his body and wonders why he’s still normal. Veil admits that she doesn’t know. Hazmat’s now glowing pretty bright so maybe they should get some distance. Jenny opens the door to leave and asks them to find her containment suit. She’ll go pay Jeremy a visit. He’s got some things to answer for!”
Finesse, Hazmat, Lightspeed, Mettle, Reptil, Striker, White Tiger, X-23 (full-time students)
Big Zero, Coat of Arms, Enchantress
Die Hard is a movie starring Bruce Willis that has spawned several sequels. In the first movie, off-duty cop John McLane successfully fights a group of terrorists, who take his wife’s company headquarters by force.
Stella Adler was an American actress who appeared in numerous Broadway productions throughout the thirties and forties. Students who have attended her school include Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, Mark Ruffalo and Salma Hayek.