A stone’s throw from the United States Capitol stands the Smith Building, secret headquarters of America’s greatest menace, the Red Skull. A few hours ago, however, it was the Skull who was menaced when a powerful intruder – Magneto – stormed the Smith Building and caused the Skull to flee. Now, with the building’s power blacked out, the Skull’s two top operatives, Crossbones and Machinesmith, search the building for some sign of their employer.
At some point, the two men come across the remains of the Skull’s robotic doppelgangers. Crossbones motions to Machinesmith: a dozen of the boss’s best robots ripped apart like they were made of straw. Machinesmith reassures him he feels their loss most egregiously. He was the one who built them after all.
The duo moves further ahead. Crossbones notices the boss’ shuttlecar isn’t here. He must’ve taken off with it. “You don’t say…!” Machinesmith exclaims. Crossbones reveals there’s a vidcam and tells him to check it out. Maybe the intruder missed it. Machinesmith complies. His synthetic tube-hand stretches upwards and checks the vidcam. “No go,” he finally reveals. The mechanisms have been mechanically messed with, same as all the others. Crossbones conjectures that if it wasn’t the mutie Magneto who waltzed in and wrecked the place, as some of the staff claim, then it was somebody who can do what Magneto can. He moves forward and urges Machinesmith to stretch these tin legs of his and follow. They’re taking a hike to the end of the line. Seeing the tracks in a sorry state, Crossbones suggestively points them at Machinesmith.
Three hundred meters later, the two men come across the Skull’s shuttlecar. Crossbones kneels down and examines it. He was afraid of this: the shuttlecar derailed… totaled. Machinesmith hesitantly asks if there a body. Crossbones replies he sees no body, but there is blood. Machinesmith is repulsed: organic fluids, euuh!
After a thorough search of the wreckage, Crossbones tells Machinesmith that this is really, really bad. The boss is missing – probably hurt – and it sure looks like that stinking mutie did it. Not only that, but the Controller’s a vegetable, the Sleeper’s a mess, and the building’s suffered several million dollars in damage at least. On the bright side, Machinesmith suggests, Captain America seems to have left the premises. Of course, were he to return, it would be ridiculously easy to get in, considering the shambles in which Magneto has left their security systems.
Crossbones angrily grabs him by the lapels of his coat and alerts him they’re in a lot of trouble. He doesn’t know about him, but Crossbones likes working for the Skull. He’s never had a gig with half the perks he gets here. If anybody finds out about the boss’ disappearance, all kinds of operations Machinesmith and Crossbones don’t even know about may be messed up. They’ve got to keep a lid on it – play the whole thing close to the vest! Machinesmith assures him he knows that as well as him. He asks him to relax; he and their esteemed employer have worked out a contingency plan to be implemented in the event of his absence. If Crossbones kindly releases his lapels, he’ll get on it right away.
At that moment, in New York City, Captain America flies with his sky-cycle above the Avengers Park. He sees that Jarvis hasn’t wasted any time contacting the landscapers. Before they can rebuild their headquarters on this site, they’re going to have the rearrange the greenery somewhat.
Steve lands down to the park. He approaches Jarvis and asks him how it goes. Quite adequately, Jarvis replies. Since Cap vanquished the Mandarin and his cronies, things have been most tranquil. Cap replies it’s good to hear. He decides to keep the sky-cycle here, while he conducts business below. Gazing at the Avengers monumental statue in the middle of the park, he wishes they find a way to retain it. The artist who sculpted it, Alicia Masters, would be crushed if they had to tuck it away somewhere. Not only is it a great work, it also makes a great secret entranceway to what’s left of their old headquarters.
Clicking on a button in his belt, Cap activates the secret passage which leads to the levels below. Descending, he thinks that once he gets through sorting out the various loose ends of the so-called “Acts of Vengeance,” he’ll have to start planning their new…
What the…?! He is suddenly taken aback by some metallic tendrils which move menacingly against him. He realizes somebody’s been tinkering with their security system while he’s been away – and he bets he knows who. Evading the tentacles, Cap shouts at Fabian Stankowicz to turn the restrain tentacle arms off now, before he’s forced to break anything!
The tentacles are instantly deactivated. That’s better! Cap thinks. Fabian appears and apologizes. He just got the blamed things operating, and he hasn’t fed in the various Avengers’s bioscans into it yet, so they’ll… Steve tells him to relax; no harm done. He needs him to help him with something. He wants him to access everything on files about Magneto. Fabian complies.
In the Smith Building, a half hour later, Rankin, the Skull’s chief of security, supervises the repairs in his boss’ office. He tells the technicians that now the power’s been restored to the top floors, they have no more excuses. One of the technicians assures him they can repair the hole in the wall, but what are they supposed to be about the floating doorway?! Rankin suggests they brick it up… do anything… just get rid of it!
Crossbones storms in and angrily slams Rankin against the wall. He accuses him of being a sorry excuse for a security chief. He let that stinking mutant breeze in here free as a bird… and what did Rankin do? “Squat!” he rages and punches Rankin. Rankin tries to defend himself: what did Crossbones expect him to do? He didn’t see him anywhere near! Crossbones retorts it isn’t his job…
“Desist, Crossbones,” a voice is heard as someone holds Crossbones’ hand, deterring him from further beating Rankin. It is the Red Skull! The Skull insists he will handle the discipline around here. Crossbones is surprised to see the Skull back with them… until he notices Machinesmith lurking at the door. He realizes it’s just an incredible simulation of the Skull. Must be part of the contingency plan Machinesmith was talking about. Crossbones tells his “boss” to call him if he needs anything, and leaves the office. “Pretty good, hmh?” Machinesmith whispers to him. “Not here,” Crossbones responds and they walk away together.
Soon, the two men are openly discussing what to do in Machinesmith’s lab, in one of Smith Building’s sub-basements – where Machinesmith has also laid the damaged Sleeper on a table. Crossbones explains that, while Machinesmith was getting his Skull robot up and running, he was doing some thinking. The way he figures it out, if they find the mutie, they find the boss. Machinesmith wonders how he proposes they go about that. Studying Machinesmith’s impressive collection of robotic duplicates of various heroes and villains, Crossbones admits he doesn’t know. He placed a few calls… offered the Serpent Society big bucks for information leading to Magpie’s whereabouts… got hold of the Scourge people…
Machinesmith has a thought: what if they were to find a way to lure Magneto into the open – create a simulation so compelling he had to risk investigating in person? Grinning deviously, Machinesmith promises he has just the means to do it, too – and points Crossbones at a Magneto duplicate body waiting to be used.
Meanwhile, at a certain Manhattan drinking establishment catering to the underworld, two members of the Serpent Society, Asp and Black Mamba, are having drinks with their former teammate, Diamonback aka Rachel Leighton. Black Mamba tells Rachel she looks good. Diamonback returns the compliment. She appreciates their meeting here for drinks. She’s really missed them since she left the team. Mamba asks her if she’s looking to come back. The Society would take her back in a minute. Trying to tempt her, Asp clarifies that the Cobra – excuse her, King Cobra – has really gotten his act together. Business is blooming. Rachel admits it’s tempting. The jewel caper she’s been working for fell through, and she’s pretty hard up for cash these days. She’s going to have to restock her arsenal, too. She’s literally all out of her throwing diamonds.
Black Mamba and Asp’s beeper suddenly buzzes off. Asp answers it. Her superior informs her that the Red Skull’s people are offering one hundred thousand for the whereabouts of Magneto. He asks her and Mamba to see what they can find.
Hearing the reference to Magneto, Diamondback thinks she’s got a lead for them. She was hanging around with the X-Men last summer and she heard someone mention that Maggie was a member of the Hellfire Club. Asp asks her if she means the billionaire’s social club. “The same,” Rachel confirms. The girls ask her if she wants to come and check it out with them.
Days later, in the secret base beneath the Avengers Park, Captain America and his allies are having a quiet day. Jarvis offers some tea on a tray. “No thanks, Jarvis,” Cap replies. One of his allies asks what’s on the agenda today. Cap admits he doesn’t know yet. He notifies Peggy Carter that he’s expecting a call from a fellow named Eric Masterson. He’s an architect Thor recommended to design the new building.
From the control panel, Peggy tells him to wait a minute. She’s getting a priority red. Magneto’s apparently shown up in a pro-mutant demonstration right in front of the Capitol. Cap notes it’s odd; it’s not like Magneto to do something so high-profile. He tells her he’ll check on it and asks her to have the rest of the team stand-by. He’s got a few questions to ask Magneto about an old enemy of his. Putting his mask on, he asks Colonel John Jameson about the flagship. John explains it’s fuelled and ready to roll on the East River launch barge. Cap suggests they haul then. He’ll fly them over in the sky-cycle. From there, it’s all John’s.
In Washington, D.C., a pro-mutant demonstration takes place outside the Capitol, with ‘Magneto’ – actually the robotic doppelganger devised by Machinesmith – floating arrogantly in the air above their heads. The protesters are clad in the costumes of the Resistants, the pro-mutant activist group. They are furious with Magneto. Why did he show up for if he’s not going to come down and join them? Is he trying to upstage them? Someone urges him to come join the Resistants! What is he waiting for? Why doesn’t he speak? One of the protesters jeers at him: “Glory hound!”
Burner, one of the veteran members of the Resistants, doesn’t like this. After getting the original five of the Resistants together years back, Magneto left them high and dry. He’s never trusted him since. Fellow member Mist Mistress urges Magneto to talk to them.
The Magneto robot believes he’s stirred up crowd interest sufficiently as well as given news crews time to get the word… time to do something very un-Magneto like! Without warning, he lashes out at the protesters, assaulting them with his blasts. The demonstrators disperse in surprise. One of them asks him to wait: this is supposed to be a peaceful demonstration! ‘Magneto’ pretends to be furious: they want him to join their miserable little protest?! They are unworthy of being called “mutant”! He, Magneto, deems them an embarrassment to Homo superior!
One of the Resistants asks him what’s wrong with him – they’re mutants like him! “Don’t make me laugh!” the fake Magneto scoffs. They are different as a man and a machine! He decides to seal this entire area so they can settle this without outside interference. Some police officers arrive and wonder what’s happening – what are those mutants fighting about? One of them realizes they’re encased in some kind of force field. Within the enclosed area, ‘Magneto’ provokes the Resistants. He challenges them to take him on – can’t any of them stand up and fight like a mutant?
Above, an Avengers jet drops off Captain America in the area. Cap notices that it sure looks like Magneto, encased in a magnetic dome… but what’s he doing fighting the Resistants? He’d have thought he’d champion their cause. Landing outside the force-field, he asks the police officers to keep back – super-powered menaces are Avengers priority. Before Cap can do anything, though, he’s going to have to breach the barrier.
Try as he might, Cap fails to breach the force-field. He was hoping his shield might weaken it, but no such luck. There must some way through it – all he has to do is find it. Inside, the counterfeit Magneto further provokes the protesters. What audacity they have to call themselves Resistants – they cannot even resist him!
Steve comes up with an idea. He wonders if the magnetic force forms a sphere around Magneto, or if it stops where it meets the ground. One way to find out, he decides and begins battering at the ground with his shield. A few minutes later, he gets his answer. The field forms a hemisphere with a definite boundary at ground level. Bizarre, but convenient. He’s got his way in!
“Unhand him, Magneto!” Cap demands as he infiltrates the encased area and sees ‘Magneto’ brutalizing one of the Resistants. He hurls his shield against him – and the shield clinks on his opponent’s helmet, brutally jarring him, before it is ricocheted back to Cap’s hands. Steve it at loss: he didn’t expect to clock him like that. He was just trying to gauge the depth of his magnetic field. He wonders why it wasn’t up.
“You!” ‘Magneto’ howls as he turns to face him. Now that he has Magnus’ attention, Cap asks him to explain what he’s doing here. ‘Magneto’ snarls that he needs explain nothing to him and tells him to go – he’s got more important enemies to fight! Dodging one of his opponent’s blasts, Steve quips that he’s got to hand it to him – he sure know how to make a guy feel welcome! “No, let me hand it you!” ‘Magneto’ suggests and again blasts him.
Taking cover behind his shield, Steve wonders what it was Magneto shot at him – it sure didn’t feel like magnetism. Has Magneto learned new tricks since the last time they clashed? He again hurls his shield against him. “This again?!” ‘Magneto’ scornfully remarks – Cap doesn’t have very many moves, does he? Steve sees him repelling his shield back to him faster than he threw it. He avoids being hit and barely manages to grab his flying shield.
“Got you!” one of the Resistants sneaks up on ‘Magneto’ and grips his throat. “Oh, stop!” the Magneto simulacrum puffs and repels him. Cap decides that, if Magneto doesn’t have his field around him for some odd reason, this means he can do this up close and personal. Cap lunges at him, but ‘Magneto’ draws the shield to his hand. “It’s my shield now, Cappy old sport!” the fake Magneto gloats. Bemused by his manner of speech, Cap wonders since when Magneto talks like that. ‘Magneto’ ponders that he should dispatch him quickly, before the real Magneto shows up, but he just can’t resist toying with this guy. He teases Cap. Does he want his shield back? He urges him to take a shot – how he likes smacking metal.
“If you insist…” Cap replies. He doesn’t know who this guy or how he’s simulating some of Magneto’s powers, but he knows this isn’t Magneto he’s dealing with here. ‘Magneto’ urges him to come – is he afraid to bruise his knuckles on his own shield? Steve studies his adversary and calculates his own moves as he approaches him: feint to the left… feint to the right… and connect with the foot. He succeeds in kicking ‘Magneto’ hard in the head, knocking the robot’s head backwards!
Cap is at loss initially: did he only knock his helmet backwards or… Short-circuiting, ‘Magneto’ considers micro-beaming out. The robot’s hold on the shield is severed and, unstuck from the robot’s hand, Cap makes for grabbing it. Steve deduces that all the evidence adds up to one thing: robot! Without holding back now, he attacks with his shield and decapitates the robotic double. Steve boasts that when he’s right, he’s right. A Magneto robot doing a fair job simulating his powers… who built it and why? He’s reminded of all those broken robots in the Smith Building. He didn’t find out who built them or wrecked them.
He suddenly recalls seeing a Magneto robot in Machinesmith’s lab once. He wonders if he’s in league with the guy who claims to be the Red Skull. Machinesmith was the animating force behind the revival of the Skull’s Sleeper robot. Anyway, he’s sick of fighting battles without finding out what they were about!
By nightfall, Machinesmith and Crossbones have returned to Smith Building, their plan to lure Magneto out of hiding a shambles. Meanwhile, in the Hellfire Club headquarters in Manhattan, its Black Queen, Selene, watches the news. A newscaster reports that in Washington earlier today, a man purporting to be Magneto, the militant self-appointed spokesman for the segment of population called mutants, attacked a lawful assembly of pro-mutant sympathizers. Selene is baffled at the news. The newscaster adds that the battle with the Avenger Captain America revealed Magneto to be a lifelike robot and not the mutant at all. The Captain was baffled as to who…
Selene ponders if this is an attempt to discredit Magneto. He wonders where he is, anyway. He hasn’t been here in weeks – not since all the commotion over the Super-Powers Registration Act began. She wonders how much of the resultant unrest he orchestrated. Whatever the case, Magneto seems to have forgotten about his responsibilities as their Gray King. Apparently he is unconcerned about the opportunity he is giving her to consolidate her own power base.
At that moment, high above the Southern Californian coastline, the true Magneto finally reaches his target. “Wanda…” he utters, as he approaches his catatonic daughter, the Scarlet Witch.