Contest of Champions (2nd series) #1

Issue Date: 
September 1999
Story Title: 
The Gathering

Chris Claremont (writer), Oscar Jiminez (pencils), Eduard Alpuente (inks), AS & Comicraft’s Albert Deshesne (letters), Atomic Paintbrush (digital colors & 3D models), Ruben Dirz (editor), Bob Harras (editor-in-chief)

Brief Description: 

All the heroes are teleported away from Earth and into an arena, where they are asked to fight each other for the alien Coterie’s pleasure. In return, they will be provided with glory and a peek at the information the Coterie have gathered on their many travels across the space universe. The heroes all accept. However, none of them have a clue that they have been infected with nanites in their bodies, and are secretly being controlled by the mysterious Emperiatrix. Iron Man is the first hero to fight, and has to battle Psylocke. After a rough battle, Iron Man defeats her. While recovering from the fight, Iron Man discovers the nanites and finds out that he is the only one uninfected. He tries to find a solution, but has little time to do so because his next fight comes up. The Emperiatrix wants Iron Man destroyed before the secret comes out, and therefore lets him fight the entire team of X-Force! Most members are no match for Iron Man, but after Bedlam’s electricity powers disarm his armor, Iron Man gets defeated and a kick from Domino is the final draw. A defeated Iron Man is teleported away to a special place.

Full Summary: 

Sergeant-Major Harry Malone has been called in to help train United States army troops, so that they can fight opponents with supernatural powers. A cadet worries how they are possibly going to win against a powerful enemy like Magneto. Malone replies that is mostly going to be done with the help of technological weapons. Those weapons would be able to counter their natural abilities. Malone is certain that they are going to win this war, because despite their powers, superbeings are not gods. Suddenly, another soldier warns his Sergeant: incoming! The soldiers all look up and see Iron Man and the Human Torch teaming-up pursuing an unidentified person.

Iron Man and the Torch quickly move and find a flying Rogue, asking her what she thinks she is doing here. Rogue playfully replies that she should ask the questions, because the two super-heroes are practically “playing” in the X-Men’s backyard. Iron Man answers that they are helping the soldiers training, and ask Rogue not to interfere with it. Rogue says that depends who the soldiers are training to attack. The mutant flies away at full speed, telling the heroes that if they want her gone, they’ll have to catch her.

Iron Man suggests to Johnny that they follow her. The Torch doesn’t know what Iron Man’s problem is, saying that he likes her just the way she is and follows her example and flies off, following her. Iron Man doesn’t know why he even bothers because Johnny is as hot-headed as Rogue is. Iron Man’s build-in computer provides him some information about Rogue’s past. He remembers how Rogue made her debut as a member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, when they attacked the Avengers. Iron Man doesn’t really trust her, but re-considers that thought when he recalls the Scarlet Witch once being a member of the exact same group, and she is now the co-leader of the Avengers! And Tony trusts her with his life. So he decides to give Rogue the benefit of the doubt.

But Iron Man wonders where he would stand if there ever were a war between humans and mutants. With his fellow humans or with the X-Men, who the Avengers have always fought with side-by-side as allies? Tony hopes that this will never change, but lately, he has begun to wonder.

The Torch finds Rogue over Westchester. He throws some flames at her, but Rogue dodges them and the flames almost hit a watching crowd below. Iron Man luckily defends the crowd. Tony doesn’t like Johnny’s thoughtless attacks, but hopes that he will keep Rogue occupied, so that she’ll only be focused on him and not longer on Iron Man. And when that time has come, he will make his move and defeat Rogue. Tony notices an opening, but as he prepares to attack, the three heroes suddenly all are teleported away!

An alien space ship appears in space above Earth, and everyone who can be considered a hero on Earth finds himself in it.
The Torch comes to in a large palace-like bedroom. He wonders what to do. Johnny fears that he could be in danger and flames on. A beautiful green-skinned woman enters the room and introduces herself as the Hostess. She explains that on behalf of her employers, the Coterie, she bids Johnny welcome.
Rogue too wakes up in a room, and is approached by a handsome male Host. Both aliens explain to Rogue and Johnny – as well as every other hero aboard - that the Coteries are gamemasters, who celebrate excellence and supremacy in all fields of endeavor, but most of all in games of direct physical competition.

Both aliens reveals that the prowess of Earth’s heroes is known across the cosmos. They would like to stage such a contest here to determine the best among them. As an incentive, they offer access to the knowledge accumulated during the aliens’ travels. In return for supplying them brief entertainment, Earth’s species gain the potential to reach untold benefits, to reach the very stars. The aliens continue that no race who has accepted their invitation have ever suffered from it. Indeed, they conclude, the contestants and their worlds have found the experience quite literally transcendent. The aliens say that they offer a glory unlike any of Earth has ever known. They hope none of them will refuse.

Iron Man hears the same story and for safety reasons he records the conversation in his body armor for later observation and analysis. Iron Man discovers that the woman he sees is a robot, with built-in Nanites that serves as a biohazard. But for what purpose? Iron Man intends to find out, but at the same time also accepts the offer.
Elsewhere in the huge space vessel, alien controllers report to their boss that everything is going smoothly and that the contestants await their word to begin. One of the controllers report Iron Man’s thoughts. The unseen leader gives the command to begin, and to let Iron Man be the first fighter, and the first one to fall. The Emperiatrix researches her contestants, and through the nanites in their bodies, the contestants are as happy as they have ever been.

For the X-Man Storm, that contains a night out in Tokyo with her best friend Yukio. For T’Challa, the Black Panther, a hunt side by side with his trusted aid, Zuri. For the legendary Avenger known as Captain America, that is a fight with Sharon Carter. For the Thing of the Fantastic Four, that is a moment of peace together with his one-time girlfriend Alicia Master, whom he now has lost to the Silver Surfer.
For Shadowcat, it should have been a reunion with her deceased best friend, Illyana Rasputin. But Kitty doesn’t feel happy at all and shivers from pain instead. Something is burning up inside her and she feels like she is going to die!
For the Asgardian Thunder God Thor, it is a big feast with his first and greatest love: Jane Foster. And for the Incredible Hulk, there is nothing. He doesn’t want any of the things the other superhumans want. He just wishes to be left alone. While the amazing Spider-Man, wants a night out with his beautiful wife, Mary Jane Watson.

Iron Man isn’t allowed a moment of pleasure, and gets teleported down into an arena instead. The announcer teleports down his opponent as well: Psylocke! The telepathic X-Man doesn’t hold her breath and immediately goes over to action! As Iron Man fights her, he recalls how Psylocke was trained by the Hand, who are probably the deadliest cadre of terrorists and assassins in history. Still he doubts that her flesh is going to be a match for his advanced armor. Psylocke attacks him with a move Iron Man recognizes as the Mandarin’s Impact Beam! That can’t be, Iron Man believes, unless the Mandarin himself is here. He doesn’t understand, because Iron Man thought that this was a contest of heroes. However, Iron Man remembers Interpol reports from a while back, that mentioned Psylocke once acting on the Mandarin’s behalf as Lady Mandarin. In that stage, Psylocke was coerced for a while into trying to take over the Hong Kong underworld as the Mandarin’s distaff stand-in.

Iron Man activates his boots jet-pack and flies up, wondering how Psylocke got a hold on the Mandarin’s rings, that provide him with powers. Or did the X-Man have them all along? Iron Man wonders if Psylocke is finally showing her true colors and if playing hero was only a ruse. Psylocke creates a vortex and uses it as a tornado, trapping Iron Man inside it. Afterwards, she uses a Frigi-beam attack and freezes Iron Man inside. Iron Man can’t free himself, even his reserve powers are fading away. Iron Man panics when Psylocke uses a Black Light Beam and blinds Iron Man’s sensors. Psylocke uses an Electro-blast, the perfect conclusion to end the fight.

Suddenly Iron Man remembers that Psylocke is a telepath and realizes that all this is just an illusion, and that she is only making him think he is losing. Iron Man recalls that Psylocke’s specialty is her psychic knife and thinks that she is about to use it to finish him off. He knows that in order to use the knife, Psylocke has to be in arm’s-length. Iron Man’s armor reactivates and brings him back to reality, and just in time he dodges Psylocke’s attack and knocks her out! Iron Man is the winner! He gets a loud cheer from the crowd.

The Emperiatrix isn’t pleased with the victory, and calls forth her servant, the Badoon Brother Royal. She makes him and the rest of the Brotherhood of Badoon promise that they’ll do something about Iron Man, who is the only one who’s able to resist her nanites. He must be eliminated.

Iron Man is brought back to his room, where the robot Hostess repairs his armor. In secret, Iron Man discovers the nanites in Psylocke’s body and that of the others, and finds out that he is the only one unaffected by the machines. Tony wonders what to do about that. Iron Man isn’t given much time to rest though, as his next fight already comes up!

His next adversaries are the entire team of X-Force. Iron Man tries to find some information about the team members in his databases, but some of them are incomplete. So, Iron Man easily defeats Cannonball, Moonstar, Sunspot and Proudstar, but has trouble defeating Bedlam, who uses his powers of disrupting electricity to disarm his armor. The final kick comes in the form of Domino, who defeats the Avenger. The announcer teleports Iron Man back to Earth, and proudly presents the new victors to the crowd: X-Force!

Characters Involved: 

Cyclops, Psylocke, Rogue, Shadowcat, Storm, Wolverine (all X-Men)

Bedlam, Cannonball, Domino, Meltdown, Moonstar, Proudstar, Siryn, Sunspot (all X-Force)

Captain America, Iron Man, She-Hulk, Thor (all Avengers)
Human Torch II, the Thing (all Fantastic Four)

Black Panther
The Hulk
Moon Knight

Brother Royal (servant of the Emperiatrix)
Other servants of the Emperiatrix (various and unnamed)

Sergeant-Major Harry Malone/Hardcase
other various U.S. soldiers (unnamed)

The Hostess
The Host

as astral images with green faces:
Alicia Masters, Illyana Rasputin, Mary Jane Watson, Sharon Carter, Yukio, Zuri

Story Notes: 

Rogue indeed once was a member of the second Brotherhood of Evil Mutants team. Iron Man was one of the Avenger members who fought her (Avengers (1st series) Annual #10).

Illyana Rasputin died as a victim of the Legacy Virus in Uncanny X-Men #303.

Psylocke was indeed once transformed into Lady Mandarin. The Mandarin himself is Iron Man’s greatest enemy. Psylocke was eventually brought back to normal by Wolverine and Jubilee (Uncanny X-Men #256-258).

At this point Psylocke actually shouldn’t use her telepathy, as she used all of it to imprison the Shadow King on the Astral Plane (as of X-Men (2nd series) #77-78). A point could be made though, that due to the influence of the nanites Psylocke was acting more foolhardy and took the risk of letting the Shadow King escape.

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