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Christos Gage (writer), Karl Moline (penciler), Mark Pennington (inker), Jean-Francois Beaulieu (colorist), VC’s Joe Caramagna (letterer), Dave Johnson (cover artist), Jon Moisan (assistant editor), Bill Rosemann (editor), Axel Alonso (editor-in-chief), Joe Quesada (chief creative officer), Dan Buckley (publisher), Alan Fine (Exec. Publisher)
Runaway Molly Hayes asks Hank Pym to help her because she believes Nico and Chase were kidnapped, even though her other friends say they just went away together. Hank begins by examining the fact that several young heroes, among them Avengers Academy students, have disappeared around the same time, although all of them seem to have good reasons and most of them are in electronic contact with others. Tigra, however, is convinced it is all just coincidence. When Arcade learns of Pym’s investigations, he sends in a robot version of Mettle, which makes Pym believe everything is OK.
Watching the screens, Arcade is pleased with the pathos. It’s much more intense with teenagers. Pointing at himself in the mirror, he smugly announces he is an auteur.
His flying robot unit Locke warns him of a problem. Oh, for the love of P.T Barnum, Arcade shouts annoyed, what could be important enough to interrupt his creative process?
The robot shows him holographic images of several heroes about to attack. Oh, Arcade admits. It has made its point. He tells the robot it was supposed to deal with this itself. He’s given it the contestants’ body scans, voice prints, AI software that reconstructs their personalities - such as they are - flawlessly. Plus access to their entire passwords. What is so complex it needs his genius?
The robot asks for his authorization to display the trump card. It seems they may have reached the point. Disgusted, Arcade muses they’ve only been gone for a few weeks. His family forgot he existed for months! It’s the helicopter parenting nowadays, producing a generation of pampered, entitled narcissists who fancy themselves masters of their own little universe. That was meant to be ironically self-aware, he adds. He is sure it can handle this. What is it now? A mom? A teacher? The robot shows him.
In front of the Avengers Academy stands young Runaway Molly Hayes, shouting that bad guys stole her friends. She wants them back. She’s sick and tired of people telling her it’s okay because it’s not! She wants someone to do something right now or she’s gonna punch somebody! She berates the patient Hank Pym that he promised to watch out for them. Well, he is doing a really bad job!
Fellow Runaway Karolina Dean and her girlfriend Julie Power come running. Karolina reminds Molly they talked about this. Hank assures her it’s OK. The whole point of their visit is so he can make sure they are all okay.
Karolina explains that Chase and Nico left together. As in together. It makes sense they hooked up. They’d kissed before, but now it got real. They left a note saying they were going away for a bit to figure out what it was.
Molly shouts it’s a lie. Somebody took them! Karolina reminds her they text Molly all the time. But they won’t come home! she shouts. Chase wouldn’t leave Old Lace. She’s so, sad she barely eats!
Hank muses that the dinosaur Old Lace and Chase have a psychic bond, don’t they? Karolina agrees. She’s depressed like a dog if left back. But if Chase was in trouble she’d go to him. Molly suggests the bad guy put a mental blocking helmet on Chase and she can’t sense him anymore.
Karolina assures her she is not going to lose them. She can talk to them. Frustrated, Molly kicks the ground, shouting they are fake. She wants her real friends back. She wants everything back the way it was, she cries.
Julie sighs they never should have let her watch “Taken.” Pym tries to comfort Molly. He knows what it’s like when things change and everyone is moving on without you. But friends don’t stop caring just because their lives go in a different direction. But he did promise to look out for them so he will check this out. Molly thanks him. He’s her favorite Avenger. Don’t tell Wolverine.
The girls leave. Hank asks how long ago Nico and Chase left. About three weeks ago, right around Christmas, he is told.
Later, he discusses this with Tigra, pointing out they left at the same time as some of their students. Doesn’t that seem odd? Tigra points out the holidays can be tough on people who’ve lost family. And if they don’t get along with their family it’s almost worse. Hazmat’s parents were going to pull her out of school because they didn’t want her dating Mettle. She can’t blame them for running off together. Avengers Academy has changed since their full-time students graduated. But it’s not like they vanished into thin air. They either know where the kids are or why they left. Still, Hank wants to talk to their friends.
He addresses Finesse, who is training. Hank asks if she knows something as she is friends with Reptil and X-23. Was, she corrects him. Laura and she drifted apart. She refuses to go into the reason for that. She isn’t good about feelings, she points out.
Tigra remarks that she thought she and Reptil were close. Were, she repeats. She made it clear he was taking things too seriously and he finally accepted it. If they want further insights, ask White Tiger.
Tigra does just that. The girl replies she was home for the holidays when she got a text. Humberto had a line on finding his parents… something to do with other dimensions… magic. She offered to help, but he said it was personal. And she gets that.
Pym calls Wolverine, who remarks X-23 went walkabout. He used to do that himself before he opened this damn school. Pym asks if that doesn’t bother him, considering Laura is his adopted daughter. Wolverine replies she texts Jubilee whenever she is somewhere that has reception. She said something about a fight with a friend, wanting peace… he gets that.
As they speak, in the background is the usual Jean Grey School chaos, as the Bamfs steal Logan’s whiskey and Glob Herman leers at Transonic that her costume is really just being naked, right? A moment later, she attacks him.
And none of his students are missing? Pym asks. He wishes, Logan sighs. They keep adding more, like it ain’t like a lunatic asylum already. He did hear something about some of Captain Britain’s kids. Sounded like your basic truancy, though. ‘scuse him, he’s got to crack some skulls.
Pym next calls Captain Britain, who informs him that some Braddock Academy students did indeed abscond. The usual troublemakers.
Doesn’t it worry him, not knowing where they are? Hank asks. Oh, he’s afraid he knows exactly, Brian sighs. Have a look. He shows Hank screenshots from their social network pages. They delight in updating Fritter and Wastebook with their latest adventures.
Apex’s page shows them hanging out in a tub in the Playboy Mansion, much to the girls’ distaste. Other images show them making fun of the exhibits in a museum.
Always after they’ve moved on, of course, Brian adds. By the time he arrives, there’s just a dreadful mess he has to pay for.
Another image shows Kid Briton dressing up in Captain Britain’s original costume and the others laughing. Brian sourly explains this is from his house. It’s ridiculous! He enjoyed Ferris Bueller as much as anyone but it’s been three bloody weeks!
Hank asks Brian if he doesn’t find it suspicious that all these young superhumans are running away at the same time. Cap points out they haven’t really cut off communication. Union Jack and Peter Wisdom went on a pub crawl about the same time. Ended up introducing Karaoke to the Savage Land. Dragged themselves back a week later. There was no conspiracy. Just grown men acting like fools. Don’t they have security?
Hank explains that Hazmat knocked out their entire network before she left. Brian remarks his lot did the same but their more responsible students sorted it out soon after. Is there no one who left his place he could talk to? Looking at an image of Juston Seyfert, Hank replies it’s… complicated.
In the meantime, Tigra calls Mr. Seyfert, asking about Juston. Angrily, the man replies he wants them out of his son’s life. He never approved of him going there. He doesn’t have powers. He’s just a boy! He finally convinced Juston to come home, go back to school and keep the damn robot in a barn and he is not letting them change his mind.
Tigra promises that’s not what she wants. But some of their other students left around the same time. She just wants to make sure everything is okay. Mr. Seyfert replies Juston doesn’t know anything about that. He saw the radioactive girl fighting with her parents. He decided he didn’t want his family to be like that so he came home. He is in the yard right now, playing with his brother.
He is unaware that “Juston” is a life decoy model.
Mr. Seyfert warns Tigra that, if she contacts him again, he is going to get a restraining order.Tigra summarizes four of their students and five of Captain Britain’s are missing. All with explanations and regular contact. Nobody’s missing from the Jean Grey School, the Future Foundation or the Wakandan school. She just isn’t seeing a pattern.
Hank does. He doesn’t know Brian’s students but all of theirs are what he would term vulnerable. Some circumstances in their life created a plausible reason they’d leave.
Tigra asks does he really thinks someone could snatch eleven super-powered kids without leaving a trace. Hank is convinced there is always a trace. He’s taken data from a SHIELD observation satellite covering LA at the time, scanning for traces… unusual energy, that sort of thing. He sees teleportation energy on the map. A type he has never seen before. It occurred at the same time the students left. He broadens the search to see a lot of such events.
He calls Mariah Hill on the SHIELD heli-carrier. She explains it’s like a computer virus. Someone comes up with a new teleportation beam. Sells it to a bunch of guys. They know as soon as they start using it SHIELD starts working on a way to stop it. So it’s programmed not to function until a pre-arranged time. When zero hour comes, everyone goes crazy. They’ll get half a dozen bad guys zapped out of prison at one time.
The day he’s talking about, there was a ton of teleporting supervillains. In LA, Count Nefaria vanished from his cell. In London, Slaymaster suddenly wasn’t in solitary anymore.
Hank asks for the location of each of those cases and the names of whoever vanished. Sure, Mariah scoffs. How about their nuclear launch codes too? She can trust him… it’s not like he ever had a mental break-down or invented a mass-murdering killer robot or- oh wait! Just anyone who was an enhanced superhuman youth, Hank asks. Mariah refuses. Hank pleads their lives could be in danger. Then why aren’t the Avengers pulling all the stops to find them? she asks.
Hank explains he hopes it isn’t a real thing but, if it is and he doesn’t do something, he couldn’t live with himself. Hill gives him a tidbit that fits his criteria. A cyborg girl… Deathlock tech. But they know who took her. It’s a time travel thing. An attack from the future.
Back at the Academy, Tigra tells Hank he is making himself crazy. Has he found one shred of evidence the kids are in trouble? He is one of the smartest men on the planet. Doesn’t he think if there was something there, he would have seen it? He agrees but he has no proof they are not.
Finesse enters, telling Hank there is a phone call for him… by Mettle.
Soon, Hank and Tigra are at their destination. Hank scans the area to find nothing special. Does a rental car count? Tigra asks. Mettle leaves the car and greets them. Tigra hugs him and Hank asks if he is okay. Mettle explains Jenny didn’t want to come. Too paranoid they’ll make her go back to her parents. His parents are more tolerant. Even send him money. He can‘t really stay. Can they hurry up and scan him or whatever it is? He’s gotta go.
Hank finds everything matches. He is not a Skrull, though his skin is too dense to do a proper scan. He wishes Ken would come back and let him run some tests on more advanced machinery. Ken refuses. Jenny’s parents filed kidnapping charges. He’s not taking any risks. It’s nice to know, though, they are missed. Tigra tells him to take care and to tell them if they need anything.
As Ken drives away, Hank muses he and Molly don’t do well with change. Tigra announces she gets it. People come up with conspiracy theories to not have to face the truth that nobody’s really in charge. She suggests they head home.
Arcade watches all of this. He isn’t too thrilled they had to play the trumpcard already, but it had the desired effect. The kid’s skin hid his cybernetics nicely. Can he pick ‘em or what?
The robot Locke asks what the preferred end result is. To restore his reputation, Arcade reminds him. The robot points out to do that Arcade must reveal what happened. And that will instantly make him a total enemy of the world’s most powerful beings. The Avengers, the X-Men… coming after him all at once. It sees only two possibilities: That he is committing suicide by cape or that he is actually delusional enough to think he can get away with it.
He’s overlooked a third option, Arcade replies. One he likes to call: Shut your filthy robot mouth! He detonates the unit and activates a new one, Locke 2.0. Does it have any doubts he can continue to outsmart everyone on Earth? None whatsoever, he is told. Good, that’s the problem with sophisticated AI. Sometimes it develops unpleasant quirks. Occasionally, it can’t see what’s right in front of it. But really… So few can…
Hank Pym, Tigra (staff of Avengers Academy)Karolina Dean, Molly Hayes (Runaways)Finesse, Lightstreak, White Tiger (Avengers Academy)
WolverineGlob Herman, Transonic (students at the Jean Grey school)Bamfs
Mr. SeyfertArcadeLocke-1 and 2
As holograms:Hank Pym, Hulk, ThorWolverineCaptain Britain
Life Decoy models of Juston Seyfert and Mettle
On screens:Death Locket, Nico Minoru
The title refers to a quote by Beaudelaire: “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing everybody he didn’t exist.”
The story is guest-written by Avengers Academy writer Christos Gage.
P.T Barnum was an American circus pioneer.
Finesse’s and X-23’s friendship soured after Finesse used the unconscious X-23 as a murder weapon.
“Ferris Bueller’s day off” is a 1986 comedy about a student skipping school.