(Harry S. Truman High School, three months ago)
Red-headed Madeleine Berry is at school, waiting to speak to good-looking fellow pupil Brad, who is chatting to some friends by the lockers. Brad is in a band, lives in Springwood Estates and has a full ride to any college he wants. He’s also gorgeous. Guys like him don’t go for flat-chested girls like her who live in double-wide trailers and who wear clothes from the church thrift shop. She thinks it says that in the Origin of Species. But, Brad had been texting her all week and saying the sweetest things… saying he’d wanted to talk to her all year but was too nervous. Him? Too nervous to talk to her? Well, Oprah always says you have to go after your dreams, so Maddy does.
She walks nervously over to Brad and tells him she’d love to go to homecoming with him. Brad looks at her. “I’m sorry… Do I know you?” he asks. All of a sudden, Maddy understands. She looks over to Julianne Navarro and her friends who all smile back at her. Everyone knew Julianne and Brad were hooking up. She just didn’t realize how serious they were. Serious enough he’d let her use his phone. Maddy wants to disappear and fade away into nothing. Weirdly, as she thinks about it, she does so as everyone looks on in horror.
(Maddy’s home, that night)
Maddy is talking to her guest. She explains that it was a minute or so before she turned normal and then she was naked, which would have been even worse, except that there was no one around as they’d all run off screaming. Her guest finds it very impressive. She turned into a fully gaseous state and back. At will. On the very first manifestation of her powers. He thinks Maddy is a very special lady. He asks if she realizes that. She has an amazing gift and it’s one he would like to help her master. He wishes to help her become a hero like Ms. Marvel. What does she think of that?
Maddy can’t believe it. She loves Ms. Marvel. She’s her avatar on Twitter. She asks him if he’s sure. Ever since it happened, she’s been trying to do it again just to prove that she wasn’t crazy and has been unsuccessful. What if she can’t ever do it again? Norman Osborn asks her not to worry about that. He has a way of getting what he wants.
(Hank Pym’s lab, three months later)
Maddy is hooked up to a machine being controlled by founding Avenger, Hank Pym. She tells him that Osborn was right. It took a long time but he got her to do it again, even changing into different types of gas. Hank asks how he did that, but Maddy, recalling the horrible experiments, replies that she doesn’t want to talk about it. Hank understands. He can guess Osborn’s methods. He asks how she’s been feeling since. Maddy asks how he thinks she felt. She’s felt stupid and gullible. Apparently, everyone knew Norman Osborn was some psycho super-villain who’d tricked the government into making him Director of National Security. Everyone but her.
Hank disagrees. He reckons Osborn had most of the world fooled. It took all the Avengers to expose him for what he really was. It will always trouble him that it took as long as it did because he hurt far too many. But, he actually meant how does she feel physically. Any pain, numbness, weakness? Maddy says she’s fine. She doesn’t even need her glasses now. Hank says that’s to be expected. When a superhuman ability manifests itself, there’s often a general augmentation of physiology that accompanies it. She then asks him to wait a minute. “Is something wrong with me?” she asks. Hank doesn’t reply directly, but says he’d like to bring in Tigra to talk with her as well. Maddy asks him to tell her, but Hank replies that he’s not very good at this. Maddy tells him she’s sick of people lying to her. Can he just tell her now?
Hank reluctantly explains that by forcing her body to undergo such a significant physical transformation, repeatedly and before it was ready, Norman Osborn damaged her basic molecular structure. Her body therefore is slowly losing cohesion. Very slowly. He thinks she has years, perhaps decades to correct it. And they will. Maddy asks what he means, ‘losing cohesion.’ He tells her that if they can’t figure out a way to prevent it, and he has every confidence they will, there will be a point where she will discorporate. “I’m… I’m… dying?” she asks.
Justice and Tigra arrive just in time to see Maddy turn and leave. Justice decides to follow and calls her by her new name, Veil. She asks if he can talk to her for a minute. Maddy sits down and asks if everyone knew about this; everyone but her? Vance admits that Hank had shared his concerns with them, but they weren’t confirmed until now. He tells her he knows this is hard and he can’t imagine what she’s feeling. But, a friend of his went through something similar.
He asks if she knows who Firestar is. “Your ex-fiancée?” replies Maddy. Vance informs her that her powers were killing her. Hank saved her life, twice. If anyone can help her, he can. What he’s trying to say is that this may be a huge challenge, but she can’t look at is as a death sentence. She can’t let it keep her from living her best life. If anything, she should let this inspire her to get the most out of every day. Maddy listens, but can only think how Justice is like Doctor Phil in Robert Pattinson’s body. He asks her to come meet someone.
Justice takes Maddy to an observation room. Inside, they see Tigra helping Hazmat (Jennifer Takeda) with her costume. Vance explains that Jennifer can project radiation, toxic waste and a variety of deadly substances. She had a good life - loving family, long-term boyfriend, college-bound. Then, Osborn basically kidnapped her and jump-started her powers against her will. Hank just found out why her parents have been so sick lately, why her dog died and why her boyfriend‘s in hospital. Jennifer finishes off her costume with a helmet making her entirely sealed off from the outside. Justice adds that she’s poisonous. Exposure to her sweat, her saliva, even her breath over time can be lethal. She has to wear the containment suit around others for the rest of her life.
Vance reckons she could use someone to talk to, someone who understands what she’s going through. Tigra brings Hazmat through to meet them and Maddy makes an attempt to speak to her. Her introduction is met with a terse, “Get bent,” from Hazmat. As she walks away, Vance wonders if maybe she just needs some time alone.
As they head through the building, Vance apologizes for that. The point he was clumsily trying to make is that she isn’t alone. All the students have challenges; ones he wouldn’t wish on anybody. What Norman Osborn did to them - drafting kids and molding them in his image… he’ll rot in hell for that. But, he adds, she also has opportunities no one else has. They are all there because, of all the superhumans Osborn found, they are the best. She could change the world. She could make history. “And you’ll find a way to save me? You promise?” she asks. Vance tries to say he can’t promise that, but Maddy closes her eyes and says please. “I… I promise,” replies Vance and the pair hug.
(the next day)
Madeleine looks at her reflection. She is wearing her new costume which is predominantly a tight-fitting black number with facemask. She reckons she looks hideous. Does it have to mash down what little boobs she has and hug her hips? She looks like the Mummy’s prom date. She can only think what Justice will think when he sees her in this outfit. But, they made it for her so she guesses it would be rude to complain. She should just suck everything in and walk out there like she belongs.
She opens a door and finds two of her new companions engaging in battle practice. Reptil flies overhead, shooting at a big red guy named Mettle with a flame thrower. Mettle looks across and sees Maddy and his eyes light up. “Hey, now that’s a costume!” Maddy screams and her body turns into gas. Her costume, which is one long strip wound around her, unveils like a rhythmic gymnast’s ribbon. Reptil asks what happened. Are they under attack from H.A.M.M.E.R.? Mettle replies that it’s him. She hasn’t seen him before.
Veil quickly pulls herself together, literally, and apologizes to Mettle. “Tigra, uh…” she says, nervously. “Warned you about me?” asks Mettle. Maddy tells herself not to make this worse and not top the time she tried to shake hands with a paralyzed kid. She tells him she’s sorry she screamed. She just put on her new costume and guesses she wasn’t looking where she was going. At least it turns to mist with the rest of her. The first time her powers kicked in, she ended up naked.
She berates herself for blurting that piece of information out. Reptil informs her that they are unstable molecules. All their suits are made of them. Mister Fantastic invented them so he wouldn’t get massive plumber’s crack when he stretched. He explains that his suit adjusts to his dinosaur parts. He introduces himself as Humberto Lopez. Reptil. Avenger of tomorrow. He hopes Maddy will back him for team leader. He thinks they vote like on Survivor. Mettle adds that Reptil has already had Initiative training. He’s gonna put them all to shame in the sparring session. Reptil adds that there’s no pressure. If she wants to try out for it, that’s cool.
Humberto calls himself a tool for not asking her name. She introduces herself as Maddy Berry and shakes their hands. She asks them to call her Veil and assures Reptil that the job’s all his. She’s not an ‘Avengers assemble’ kinda girl. She tells herself not to flinch when she holds Mettle’s hand. He asks her who they’re fighting. A voice form behind makes Mettle emit a “Gah!” and Striker tells him he screams more than his ten year-old sister on Christmas morning. Mettle replies that he snuck up on him on purpose. Striker says it’s not like Doctor Doom would ever show up without announcing himself.
Reptil makes the introductions. Maddy has never met Striker or the beautiful Finesse, but she has made Hazmat’s acquaintance. Striker tells Maddy that he thought he had the best costume but he has to give the nod to her. It wouldn’t work on just anybody but she manages to pull it off. Finesse warns her not to let his courtship displays unnerve her. It’s typical behavior for an alpha-male entering a new territory. She reckons Striker is insecure and is trying to assert dominance. Striker asks if talking like a Discovery Channel narrator wins her a lot of friends because he finds it extremely annoying. Finesse throws her billy club at the wall. It rebounds off another two surfaces before finding Mettle’s solid skull. The club lands back in her hand, despite her back being turned.
Finesse replies that she finds her talents and physical attractiveness bring her adequate attention. Whether any are true friends, she’s not equipped to say. Mind you, she doesn’t actually care. She believes she is there to get better and none of the others are helping. She wants to master another fighting style before the training session. As she wanders off, Striker says to the others that she’s a freak - like Rain Man meets Ninja Assassin. Mettle smiles, because there’s a lot of librarian-slash-gymnast going on there. Hazmat asks why he cares. Can he even feel it when someone touches him? Mettle replies that he’s not gonna be like that forever. Doctor Pym’s going to help him get back to normal. Hazmat says she was told that too. She’s holding her breath.
Veil asks Striker if he said they are to spar with an ex-New Warrior and if so, is it Justice? Striker can’t believe it. Not her too. Do all the girls have a crush on him? Veil tries to explain herself but Striker adds that he said Warriors… plural. He guesses there’s more than one on staff but he’s not sure who. As he speaks, they are interrupted by Speedball who almost calls himself Penance by mistake. He explains that he and Justice will be leading the sparring session and he just wanted to introduce himself before the punching starts. He adds that Doctor Pym wanted to say a few words before they start so they should all head to the Atrium.
As Robbie leads them away, they whisper amongst themselves. Striker is surprised that a guy who killed half of the city of Stamford is supposed to be teaching them, but Finesse reminds him that it was the guy he was fighting who did that. Mettle, however, reckons he’s perfect. He asks them to look at themselves. Big monster guy, the human electric chair, poison gas girl, assassin chick, T-Rex boy and Chernobyl in Abercrombie & Fitch. One wrong move and any one of them could be a murderer. He doesn’t know about them, but he’ll be taking real good notes.
Everyone is assembled in the Atrium and Hank is there to greet them. Standing beside a statue of some of the main Avengers, he tells them that the future starts today and so does theirs. He explains that he helped found the Avengers and he’s seen some of their best and worst moments. They’re coming out of a dark period. They fought amongst themselves and let Norman Osborn use the dissension to seize control. However, that is now over and he doesn’t think he’s exaggerating when he says that they are entering a new Golden Age. They are a part of that. Osborn, he continues, sought out dozens of young superhumans and of them all, those standing before him are the elite. They show the potential to become the heroes of tomorrow. Avengers Academy exists to show them how.
He gives them a rundown of the teachers. Tigra is a veteran of the Avengers east and west coast, as well as the Initiative and the police. No one is more qualified to teach them all facets of law enforcement. Justice and Speedball founded the New Warriors when they were the same age as them. They’ve been down this road and will help them replicate their success and avoid their mistakes. Quicksilver, he adds, is one of their most senior Avengers. Just as Osborn tried to shape them in his image, Magneto did the same thing to Pietro. But, like Quicksilver, they refused and he joined the Avengers, training under Captain America. He’ll pass this training on to them. “Starting right now.”
The training session begins, with Speedball and Justice joining some robots in battle against the new recruits. Veil almost instantly discorporates and Justice reminds her that even though she is untouchable she should be mindful of where her team mates are. Her costume temporarily unsights Mettle, who swings blindly. Striker calls for enough of this rookie crap. He learned more from Osborn on his first day. He wants the spotlight, the cameras. He’s ready for field work. “yeah, shoveling,” replies Speedball as he evades Striker’s electric blast.
Watching from the observation booth are Hank Pym and Tigra. Hank asks how Penance is doing. Tigra says he’s fine but reminds him he wants to go back to them calling him Speedball. Hank apologizes. He keeps doing that. It’s probably because he doesn’t act much like the Speedball he remembers. He’s not sure he’s comfortable with how rough he’s being with Robbie. He knows Justice vouched for him, but does she really think he should be teaching kids? Tigra asks if any of them should. They’re the black sheep of the Avengers. They all have issues. Justice killed his father! Hank replies that it was accidental and in self-defense because the man was abusing him and his mother. Justice served his time and has proven himself. Tigra replies that in that case, he should give Speedball that chance. She adds that he’s trusting Quicksilver, and he changes sides more often than a tennis player.
“She’s right you know,” comes a voice from the shadows. Quicksilver says his father taught him to be a terrorist, not a hero With Magneto active again, he is keen to disassociate himself from him. But, he adds, speaking objectively, he would have picked Captain America or Thor over any of them, and that includes Hank Pym. He knows that Tigra doesn’t wish to be reminded of a few bad decisions, but certain people seem unable to let these things go. Hank corrects him. He says he wants to be reminded. He had a nervous breakdown, attacked his wife and friends and he reminds himself of this every day. They’ve forgiven him and moved on. He intends to do that too, not by forgetting what he did but by learning from it and helping others achieve their full potential. He thinks Tigra is right. Speedball deserves the same opportunity.
They look inside the training room and see Speedball congratulating the team before turning up the difficulty setting. Hank continues to say that, as for Cap, Thor, Iron Man and the others, they will be a part of this. Everyone’s agreed to serve as guest instructors and he intends to call on them. But, as full-time staff, there is no one better suited than them. The children’s circumstances are… unique. Pietro agrees with that point, which leads him to say he thinks it’s a bad idea to lie to them. Hank replies that studies show that, if you tell young people something negative about themselves, they’ll internalize it. Remind them often enough and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. One might argue that Pietro is living proof of that. He doesn’t like keeping the truth from them but he doesn’t see any other option.
Inside the training room, Hazmat responds to the increased difficulty by removing her gloves and blasting one of the robots. Speedball asks what the hell is wrong with her. That was a radiation blast. They said nothing dangerous. She replies that her name is Hazmat as in Hazardous Materials. That’s what she does! Robbie reminds her that there are non-lethal options. Until she has total control over her powers, that’s all she should use. Does she want to kill someone? he asks. Does she want to go in to take down some psycho and accidentally incinerate a bus full of kids? Does she want to wake up every night hearing screams and smelling burnt pork? Justice steps in and asks Robbie to calm down. He has this. He should take a break. Hazmat turns her back and asks him to pop a pill.
Robbie wanders to the observation booth where Quicksilver, Tigra and Hank are. Pietro sees him coming and says he thinks they should ask Mister Baldwin if he thinks deceiving the cadets is a good idea. After all, he’s not much older than them. Tigra asks Pietro to leave him alone. Speedball grabs Pietro and barks at him that they have to lie to them. “If they ever find out the truth about themselves…”
In the training room, Finesse is evading one of the robots but also staring intently through the window, following the conversation.
Later that night, she gathers the others together and informs them about what she heard. Those words were the last she managed to glean before Speedball turned his back on her. He was talking about some big secret that they’re keeping from them. Mettle asks if she’s a lip reader. Finesse replies that, since she was five, she’s been a polymath. She acquires skills and knowledge at an accelerated rate. She graduated M.I.T. at fourteen and was in training for the Olympics when Osborn found her. She doesn’t make mistakes and knows what she saw.
Striker reckons they must keep files on them… permanent records. Everyone’s away tonight except for Pym and he’s locked in his lab making sweet love to test tubes. They can hack into the system. Reptil quips that it seems MacGyver joined up and he missed it. He reminds Striker that this is the Avengers and they have security. Who there knows advanced computer programming and counter-espionage? Finesse raises her hand, matter-of-factly.
Veil provides the cover and gets them into locked rooms whilst Striker shorts out security devices and make the cameras go fuzzy. Finesse does pretty much everything else. Veil feels that it might be wrong as the teachers have been so nice to them, but there was a nagging in the back of her mind; the thing she didn’t listen to when she thought Brad was sending her texts. It’s the thing that says in the real world Prince Charming doesn’t rescue Cinderella. He hooks up with the wicked stepsisters and drives off in a Jaguar. That you’ll never find out those jerks who raised you aren’t really your parents and never get taken away to a school for witches and wizards. It’s the voice that tells you all the stuff you worried people thought of you isn’t what they think about you at all. What they really think about you is much worse.
The trio later report back their findings to the group. Striker explains that they’ve been telling them that of all the young superhumans Osborn tracked down, they are the best. The ones with the greatest potential to be heroes. Well, it’s a lie. They’re not the most powerful or the smartest and they’re not the most highly trained. They’re the ones Osborn tortured the worst… the ones whose psych tests set off alarms. The ones who could take out a city block. They’re not there, he adds, because they think they have what it takes to be the next Captain America. They are there because they’re worried they’ll be the next Red Skull!
“They’re afraid of us,” adds Striker.
“They should be,” replies Finesse.
Veil feels she should have known. She should have known what they really thought about her.