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Christos Gage (writer), Mike McKone (pencils and cover artist), Rick Ketchum and Cam Smith (inks), Jeromy Cox (cover), VC’s Joe Caramagna (letters), Rachel Pinnelas (assistant editor), Bill Rosemann (editor), Joe Quesada (editor in chief), Dan Buckley (publisher), Alan Fine (executive producer)
Ken Mack recalls how he used to be a mellow kinda guy who surfed all the time in his native Hawaii. That all changed when he had an accident in the water. Norman Osborn took him in and he became the man called Mettle. Now, he is in the Raft with Hazmat and Veil, attempting to kill Osborn for what he did to them. They are angry, but Osborn is a politician at heart and he worms his way out of being killed by telling them that he could fix them again. They reluctantly believe him and spare his life. As they return to where they’re supposed to be, some of the inmates who escaped when Hazmat created an EMP pulse in order to gain access to the cells come through the wall mid-fight. Trying to contain them are the academy instructors, Tigra, Justice and Speedball. Mettle and Veil fall through a hole into the level below and, there, Mettle meets Juggernaut, part of the Thunderbolts program. Mettle attacks, punching freely, though Cain Marko isn’t bothered too much as he’s much bigger than Ken. Veil comes face-to-face with Man-Thing. She’s terrified, but Cain saves her by clapping his hands and creating a wind which disperses her body. Mettle is surprised that he actually enjoyed unleashing on Cain like that. After the instructors tie-up the loose ends, Luke Cage reprimands Veil, Hazmat and Mettle for what they did. Hank Pym apologizes profusely and takes them off the Raft. Mettle for one, though, has Osborn’s words ringing in his hears as they depart.
(flashback - Hawaii)Kenny Mack is surfing as usual. He’s always been big and he’s always been mellow. Some people think that it’s a weird combo… usually folks who’ve never been to Hawaii. He was born to it; born to the beach and born to the board. His crew was laid back and his folks too. Life was easy. Nothing seemed worth getting bummed about. Things happen, like falling off your board. You simply get back on and try again. First though, you stop and soak it all in, thinking about how awesome it was before the fall. That’s what he holds on to. The sun on his face and the sound of the waves.
He is flipped by a large wave and settles into the water. As he sees another surfer heading straight towards him, this is going to be his last good day. Everything goes black and when he finally comes round, the first things he can sense are the voices of people standing over him. “The hell happened?” asks one. “Stupid wax boy hit ‘im dead on,” replies another. “Get him out of the water! Call 911,” says a third. Ken opens his eyes and sees the strangers standing there. Their faces tell him something bad has happened. One guy tells him to stay where he is and that help is on the way. Kenny sits up and asks what the matter is. He feels fine! What he doesn’t know is that half of his skin has gone, revealing a strange, metallic and red second skin underneath.
Before long, a rescue helicopter arrives along with Kenny’s mother. One guy assures him that it’s gonna be okay. The paramedics will take him to the mainland where there are doctors who know how to deal with this kind of thing. His mother gives him some crystals and asks him to visualize being whole. His body will then heal. “Heal?” asks Kenny. What’s happening to him?
(later)Kenny is linked to a machine and remains silent as a doctor speaks with Norman Osborn. He explains that there seems to be a transformation occurring under the skin. In the region of the trauma, it appears to have accelerated. Osborn surmises that it’s a defense mechanism. Kenny asks if he’s gonna be okay, and Norman tells him not to worry. He asks Ken to breathe deeply. He introduces himself and assures him that everything’s going to be just fine.
(later again)Osborn asks Kenny how he’s feeling. Kenny tentatively replies that he’s okay and asks if he did it. Did he fix him? Osborn replies yes. He did indeed. He looks at Kenny who no longer has any of his original skin left. What remains is a red metallic skin and a skull-like face.
(present - The Raft Maximum Security Federal Penitentiary)Veil, Hazmat and Mettle stand outside Norman Osborn’s cell. Veil is surprised that Hazmat wishes to kill him. She told them they were seeing Osborn so he could fix them and tell them how to get back to normal. Veil tells her to grow up. If Dr. Pym can’t fix them nobody can. This is about making Osborn pay! Veil asks her to hold on. She didn’t sign on for this. She asks Mettle to tell her, but Kenny instead grabs the cell door in his huge fingers and wrenches it from its hinges. He then strides inside the cell and grabs Osborn by the throat.
Veil tries to hold him back to no avail. Mettle asks why they shouldn’t do this He deserves it. He reminds Veil that she’s going to die. She will just drift away like a cloud. Dr. Pym says he could live forever like this. He can’t touch or feel. He has a face that make his sister scream. He asks Osborn if he knows what he did to them? Does he have any idea? Osborn smiles back at him and replies that he made them magnificent.
Osborn explains that he gave them the tools to rise above the sheep, and he doesn‘t mean their powers. Yes, he augmented them, but powers without direction is just sound and fury. What he provided them with is the means to control their own destiny. The strength, the motivation and the example. “You ruined our lives,” replies Mettle. Osborn laughs at the idea. He says that Pym is ruining their lives with his colorful uniforms and priority identicards and secret clubhouses. He knows what they’re capable of and he’s trying to leash them before they figure it out for themselves.
Mettle, still with his fingers around Osborn’s throat, tells him they’re not talking about Pym. Osborn took everything they had and now he’s gonna suffer for it. Osborn remarks that he’d forgotten how histrionic his son was at their age. He asks what it is they want. Is it more control over their abilities? The freedom to have awkward inept sex with their inferiors without killing them? He can give them that easily. Mettle is surprised at the last part and he relaxes his grip, letting Osborn go.
Hazmat warns them that Osborn’s lying. Pym’s smarter than he is and he can’t help them. Osborn replies that Pym is shackled by his closed-mindedness and fear. What he would no doubt call “professional ethics.” He never could have brought them to this point but he seems to have no problem exploiting them now that he’s done it. He asks if it has occurred to them that he may already have the answers but is withholding them to give himself leverage over them. He would give them everything they want. He would have given his time, but unfortunately he’s hit a bump in the road. Veil asks if he’s saying what she think he’s saying. “Fix you. Yes,” he replies.
Hazmat reckons that he’s trying to play them and manipulate the team into breaking him out of there when the power comes back on. Osborn informs her that it’s too late for that. The alarms have sounded and the backup systems will kick in at any moment. He’s afraid it won’t be today, but it will be someday soon. He’d like to finish what he started with them and show them the unlimited potential that lies within them. The greatness. The realization of their fondest dreams and some they never knew they had. He advises that they go. They don’t want Pym and his cronies thinking they’re too cozy. But, they should know that he’s very proud of them. “Run along now.”
(Thunderbolts Tower)Luke Cage heads off with Juggernaut. He asks Pym if he didn’t drill his kids into knowing what to do in emergencies. “Many times,” replies Pym. Cage whisks Juggernaut away. They need to find the kids before they get themselves killed. Pym tells him that they’ll search as well. If there’s any trouble with the prisoners, they’ll handle it.
Reptil doesn’t get it. Why would Mettle, Veil and Hazmat leave without saying anything? Striker replies that it’s probably because they’re weenies. They probably ran for the nearest Quinjet the second the lights went out. Finesse reckons that makes no sense. If they’re afraid, the safest place is there with Mr. Cage and the instructors. Tigra says she knows where they went. Pym replies that it occurred to him too. Does she really think… “I would,” she answers. Pym shrinks in size and asks Quicksilver to run him to the cells. He orders Justice, Speedball and Tigra to follow them. They need to make sure the inmates are secure and if he’s wrong about where the kids are… well, he hopes that he isn’t.
Moments later and Pietro and Hank are at Norman Osborn’s cell. Osborn calmly informs him that his students just tried to kill him. Clearly, he isn’t teaching them manners. He looks at Quicksilver. “Still his errand boy I see,” he quips. Hank grabs Osborn by his jacket. “Students? How’d you know?” he cries. Osborn tells him he still has more friends then he would imagine. Hank demands to know where they are, but Osborn says he has no idea. They stormed in posturing like the Punisher but lacking his killer instinct. Perhaps Pym beat it out of them?
Pym asks Pietro to remain there until the power comes back on and to make sure Osborn doesn’t escape. Osborn replies that escape is for convicts. He is a political prisoner. He has every confidence he will walk out of there - his freedom won by those who believe in him.
(elsewhere)Mettle, Veil and Hazmat make their way from the cells. Hazmat can’t stand that they believed Osborn. Veil says she doesn’t know. She just knows she doesn’t want to kill anybody. She left him there too. Hazmat knows that and she wants to punch herself because she doesn’t know why. Mettle turns and replies that it’s because they’re all drowning, and he might have a life preserver.
Suddenly, the wall crashes in on them and through it comes a huge guy with Justice, Speedball and Tigra hanging on to him. Tigra warns them that his name is Powderkeg, and anything he hits explodes. Powderkeg scatters the heroes and the three kids by smashing the ground. Veil and Mettle fall through the hole into the room below where they discover Juggernaut standing there. He puts his hand on Mettle’s shoulder and tells him it’s the end of the road. Mettle turns quickly and punches Cain Marko in the face. “Get off me! he cries. He unleashes on Juggernaut, punching him again and again, but Cain is big enough to take it. He tells Mettle that it looks like he’s enjoying himself. He’d better watch out or he could take off someone’s head. That would ruin his whole G.P.A.
Veil has more pressing problems. She is petrified as she faces Man-Thing. Mettle asks her to mist up. He recognizes Man-Thing and he asks her to remember their T-Bolt briefings. Cain says it won’t matter if she’s gas, stone or ice. If she’s scared of him, she’ll burn. “If he touches you.” He claps his hands together and Veil unravels, scattering to the corners of the room. He explains that his teammate is drawn to emotions. He guessing that their teen dramas are like an ‘all you can eat’ sign. He grabs Man-Thing and tells them he’ll get him back to the terrarium. They should head back to the tower. If anyone messes with them, he suggests, Mettle can just hit them. It seems to be his thing.
Veil asks Ken if he’s okay. Mettle looks at his clenched fist and tells Veil that it’s the first time in his life that he’s been in a fight with something alive. He was always so big that nobody messed with him. He never hit anyone before… never wanted to. He knew he could be killing Juggernaut, but he didn’t want to stop. Veil reckons they should find Hazmat. She thinks she’s not far away.
Nearby, Hazmat is surrounded by several inmates who are scaring the guards. One of them notices Hazmat. “Ha!” he exclaims, “Lookee here… a little lost lamb.” He stands tall over Hazmat and informs her that she’s just been elected hostage. She must do whatever he says. Hazmat orders him to get back to his cell or she’ll give him cancer. The guy is visibly shocked, and puts his hands up. He remarks that usually they just smacked you in the mouth…
Hazmat then hears a warning shout, but it’s too late. She is punched from behind by another inmate. Veil and Mettle appear and the sight of downed guards as well as Hazmat upsets Veil. Mettle tells her to mist up and get out of there, but she doesn’t want to leave him. Before he can argue the point, the instructors turn up. Wasp grows to giant-size and grabs one of them whilst Tigra, Justice and Speedball take on the others. The fight is over in seconds.
At that moment the lights come back on and Wasp asks Tigra if she’s okay. She stops clawing Vermin’s face and licks the blood from her hands. “Cat versus mouse,” she tells Hank. “What do you think?” Justice notices that Speedball is bleeding, but he reckons it’s just a scratch. Vance guesses they should get these guys back to their cells and figure out exactly what happened.
(soon)“Sweet Christmas!” bellows Luke Cage. Veil, Hazmat and Mettle are on the receiving end of a verbal tirade. He tells them that if they wanna kill Osborn, then fine. They can get in line. However, there’s no excuse for being stupid. They could have set him free or got who knows how many people killed… not to mention themselves! Hazmat replies that he doesn’t know what Osborn did to them, but Luke informs them that Osborn put a bomb on his heart and went after his wife. Do they see him trying to tear off the door to his cell? He asks Hank to take over before he starts cursin’ for real.
Hank apologizes to Luke. He knows he is right. It was reckless and dangerous and he shares the blame. Given their history, he should have thought twice before bringing them to the Raft. He tells the students that he understands how they feel, but they need to understand the magnitude of what almost happened. He asks for an honest answer. Did they have anything to do with the blackout?
Veil, Mettle and Hazmat don’t know what to say. Mettle realizes that it might be the last chance he has to ever be the guy he once was. However, he tells Hank no… they wouldn’t even know how. They talked about going after Osborn and fantasizing, but when the lights went out it seemed like fate. However, they couldn’t hurt him, even after everything he did. They just couldn’t.
Hank says all right. He accepts that they made a mistake and they will be disciplined for it. But, what they didn’t do today is just as significant as what they did. They all understand why they wanted to kill Osborn, but when the time came they walked away. That speaks to their character… to the kind of people they are. He doesn’t want to minimize what they did and how wrong it was, but they made the right choice in the end. It gives him hope for everything they’re doing.
Hank then tells Luke that he’ll work with him to pinpoint the blackout’s cause. There are no shortage of suspects. He’ll be back tomorrow with repair-bots to fix the damage. He’s sure he can improve the backup systems’ response time. Luke doesn’t really care. He just wants Hank to leave the kids at home next time or they’ll end up in the cell next to Osborn.
The kids climb aboard the Quinjet. Mettle looks at the water below. He can still hear the waves but every day it’s a little harder to remember what the sun feels like. The wind, the sand, a board under his feet. Being mellow, even. He looks at Veil and thinks she looks ashamed; like she wants to say something. Hazmat looks like she’ll stab her in the neck if she so much as writes it in her diary. He believes that Hazmat’s right, though. They couldn’t tell the truth or they’d never get near the place again, and he can’t close that door just yet. He’s not sure what Veil and Hazmat are thinking about regarding Osborn. He isn’t sure what he’s thinking himself. But, he can’t give up on that chance that someday he’ll look in the mirror and recognize himself again. He used to cling to that last good day on the surf like it was a life preserver, but every day that passes, it’s more like an anchor. And man, is it dragging him down.
Finesse (Jeanne Foucault), Hazmat (Jennifer Takeda), Mettle (Ken Mack), Reptil (Humberto Lopez), Striker (Brandon Sharpe), Veil (Madeleine Berry) - all Avengers Academy students)
Justice, Quicksilver, Speedball, Tigra, Wasp (Avengers Academy faculty)
Luke Cage, Juggernaut, Man-Thing (Thunderbolts program)
Powderkeg and friends
Raft Prison guards
(in flashback)Mettle/Ken MackKen’s mother
Waxboy and other passer’s byParamedics and Osborn’s doctor
Avengers Academy is an ongoing series starring young people with powers who are currently training under the tutelage of Hank Pym and his instructors. The students are Veil, Striker, Reptil, Mettle, Finesse and Hazmat. They were manipulated by Norman Osborn whilst he was still in power. Except for Reptil, they all first appeared in Avengers Academy #1.
Hazmat used an electro-magnetic pulse to shut down the power in the previous issue.
Powderkeg is a villain who first appeared in Captain Marvel Special #1 (1989).
G.P.A. stands for Grade Point Average.