(Cavalry Cemetery, Queens)
The rain pours as friends and family of photographer John Fernandez attend his funeral. Amongst them is Ben Urich, erstwhile reporter for the Daily Bugle. Robbie Robertson delivers the eulogy, explaining how John, an experienced photographer with tours of duty in Bosnia and Baghdad under his belt, came to be killed.
He was covering the New Warriors, who were filming for their reality television show. When their ill-conceived assault on four costumed criminals resulted in Nitro blowing up the town of Stamford, killing several New Warriors and hundreds of people including many children, John was caught in the explosion.
The wake takes place in a nearby bar, and Ben sits down with Sally Floyd, a reporter working for The Alternative newspaper. Their conversation quickly turns to the Superhuman Registration Act. Ben knows that it will be pushed through, but Sally doesn’t want to believe it just yet. She doesn’t think anyone at the White House could have scripted the Nitro story any better - a school full of kids wiped out by untrained, unsupervised, underaged super heroes.
She asks how Jonah’s taking it. “Like he won the lottery,” replies Ben. Sally can just imagine how he’ll be spinning the story, placing emphasis on disinformation and paranoia. Ben asks what The Alternative’s given her. Between sips of her Diet Coke, Sally informs him that she has carte blanche to write about the erosion of civil liberties in America, and maybe link it to the wiretapping thing.
Ben replies that Jonah asked him to ‘Shove this so far up the liberal’s keisters they think the Wednesday sports page is the Sunday edition.” Sally asks what that means, exactly, but Ben doesn’t know for certain. Jonah was on a roll at the time. They offer up a toast to their forthcoming battle. Sally fancies her chances, as no one wants the government to institute a draft. Ben disagrees, and reckons that for once, Jonah may be right. The timing is perfect to push for super-hero federalization. This Registration Act is going to meet little or no opposition after the Stamford incident. If it passes, everything changes.
Sally is in her gold VW Bug on her way home, whilst Ben heads home by train to his wife. Sally blames 9/11 for providing the conditions for this act to succeed. America jumped into fighting mode then, and they’re ready to do it now. All of a sudden, journalism was going to take a backseat to jingoism, and the fight for a nation’s sentiment would be on. It’s civil liberty versus civil comfort, wiretapping versus terrorism; Fox versus CNN. She would be ready to tell the world about the injustice of the act, while Ben Urich would be asked to push the idea that the act was clean, and anyone who disobeyed it was a dirty little monkey. Sally knows that Jonah’s on to a winner. Nothing sells newspapers like a good old-fashioned disaster.
(The Daily Bugle Newsroom, assignment meeting)
Ben and several of his fellow reporters are seated around a table, as his line editor provides them with their work detail. She asks Duke to cover the Stamford kids’ families and write a piece on righteous indignation and the injustice of it all; something like that. She suggests he try to skew it away from the funerals, though. She doesn’t want to make their readers miserable over their cornflakes.
She then asks Ben to go down to the precinct and talk to his guy there. She wants information on Nitro’s powers and known criminal affiliates. Nitro’s on the loose and the mayor is going nuts for at-large criminals right now. He should play that up, and cover the Iron Man press conference the following morning. She plays footage of the Stamford incident on television, and tells her people that there’s mileage in this story. Jonah is going all out with the public relations guys for a spot on the O’Reilly show that night. It’s his contention that America’s security just came under attack from an out-of-control pack of costumed freaks. Officially, that’s their contention as well.
In the office, Ben is a little frustrated, and vents a little at Robbie. He has kept telling his line editor that they’re missing the big story here. It’s not the explosion, but the ‘why’ that’s important. She says Jonah wants to set up support for this Registration Act they’re putting through Congress, and then she sends him to a freakin’ Iron Man press conference. Robbie Robertson reminds him that Jonah’s a smart cookie. He knows what works here. Their circulation is low, and Pulitzer Prize-winning pieces are their secondary concern right now. Their primary job is to help sell newspapers. How hard is that?
Sally Floyd sits by her window, cuddling the Elmo doll that her daughter Minnie loved so much. A message on her answering machine from Doctor Madden’s office asks her to clear up a few things on her medical form. Another message is from Eric, who is wondering if they’re still on for Friday. A third message is from her editor, Neil. He wants her to call him about the Havok thing. He’s still missing copy from her. As the message ends, Sally is startled by a voice coming from behind her.
She turns to see a costumed man stuck to the wall, though it’s only Spider-Man, and he quickly assures her that it’s him. She asks how she knows that. “What happened to his costume?” she asks, referring to his new version. “How the hell did he get in?” Spidey replies that she left the front door open. He doesn’t always come in through the window. Sally throws the Elmo doll at him in her annoyance, and calls him an idiot for scaring the hell out of her.
Spidey realizes that she’s not in the mood for conversation and prepares to leave, but Sally apologizes and says she’s a little edgy after the business with the Ghoul. Spidey apologizes for his dramatic entrance. He’s an idiot and was just trying to be spooky. Sally tells him that she’s waited a long time to talk to him. Spidey replies that she’s one of about three journalists that can be trusted to tell it like it is. He read her report on Marrow and that was pretty fair.
Whilst Sally pours herself a glass of bourbon, though she knows she shouldn’t, Spidey proceeds to say that he’s been thinking about what might happen if people knew who he was. So far he’s managed to skirt around the legal aspect of what he does. He hasn’t done half the bad things he’s been given credit for. He continues to say that there’s going to be a lot of pressure on him to reveal his identity. He doesn’t want to be on the wrong side of the law should the act be passed.
He tells Sally that he knows that she lost her little girl last year. He read about it and it broke his heart. He’s lost people too, directly as a result of what he does. He still has people he cares about, and now the government want him to register his identity or go to jail. Didn’t it occur to them what this might do to his family?
Sally asks if he really wants the world to know he has a family. Spidey replies that he does. Maybe it’ll force people to understand the pressure they’re under in this business. They’re husbands and wives, sons and daughters. They already sacrifice enough. What kind of sacrifice do people want? he asks rhetorically. If he shows his face to the world, all of the people who hate him will go after those he holds most dear. Spidey makes his way towards the window and explains that the people behind this act are going to force them into the open. They think that they’re doing it for a good reason, and they probably are, but there’s a cost. That’s all he wants people to know. He asks Sally to ask herself what she would do in the same situation.
He says he has to leave, but he gives Sally a hot tip. He suggests that she go to Iron Man’s press conference tomorrow. She’ll be glad she did. “Iron Man, huh? Is this, like, insider trading?” she asks. Spidey asks her to trust him. She won’t want to miss it. As he clambers through the window, Sally tells him he’s kinda dorky which she finds cute. If he wants to come by sometime she cooks a mean lasagna. They can keep it off the record. Spidey reminds her about what he said earlier regarding family. One of those people would be his wife. The situation becomes a little uncomfortable for both parties.
(the next morning)
Sally makes her way to Iron Man’s press conference where she meets fellow journo, Moni. She mentions that the big guns, Fox and CNN, are there, so it must be something. Sally guesses Iron Man may be getting a new costume. They love to make a big deal out of things like that. She adds that Spider-Man showed her his, last night. “Spider-Man showed you his what…?” she replies, before shushing. Iron Man is ready to speak.
Flanked by two secret service agents, Iron Man addresses the assembled press. He informs them that one hour ago he met with the president of the United States. Amongst the items they discussed were the Stamford incident and the proposed Super Hero Registration Act, currently making the rounds of Congress. As they know, this is an historic moment. If the act is passed, as expected, then roughly half of those currently serving them as protectors will be in violation of the law. Over the years, he continues, he has always endeavored to do what is right for the country’s citizens. He has served without question, but as he informed the president this morning, the question of the mask he wears has nagged at his conscience since the day he put it on. He asks who he is hiding from: his enemies or himself?
He tells the press that, in his speech to Congress yesterday, the president spoke of the next logical step they must take to ensure the security of all Americans. He has his own series of ‘steps’ that he long ago promised himself he would take. He asks the audience to look up. As their eyes are raised, they see descending from above, two versions of his armor. On his right is his original grey armor, and on his left, an earlier gold and red version. They hover beside him, as he informs the press that they are some of the many automated suits he has constructed over the years for the sole purpose of protecting his identity. He did this in order to pretend to be in two places at once. In other words… he lied.
An ABC news reporter raises his hand and asks if there isn’t a certain amount of hypocrisy in calling for support of the Registration Act, yet continuing to keep his identity secret. Iron Man replies that the Registration Act doesn’t specifically call for persons to reveal their identity publicly; merely to register with authorities for the purposes of identification. But, for himself he adds, some might call him a hypocrite unless he shows his face to the world… and they’d be right.
Moni turns to Sally Floyd and asks if he just said what she thought he said. Iron Man fiddles with the helmet attachments and informs them that he’s done this before, but always with a clever take-back. Today he is coming clean with the American people, as he should have done from day one. He can think of only one way to make them understand why. With a ksssh, gas is released as his helmet comes away from his body armor. He then raises the helmet over his head, revealing his face to the press. “Hello,” he announces. “My name is Tony Stark, and I am an alcoholic. And now it’s time to come clean.”
(Stockton, upstate New York)
A police officer named Pete is in the woods at night with his friend, Albie. Albie has seen something he describes as being like a missile, and he is eager to investigate. Pete swears that if this is one of his alien spaceship encounters, he’s taking him back to the station, sober or clean. They soon come across an area of trees that have been destroyed. One is still aflame. Pete calls it in to dispatch, informing them that he’s gonna need backup and medical teams. They have a possible light aircraft down and he’s proceeding to investigate.
Using his torch, he approaches something lying in the middle of a nearby field. As they get closer, they realize that it’s a man. His appearance is accompanied by a strange noise, which they can’t identify. They approach the man gingerly and Albie recognizes him as being Speedball, one of the New Warriors. He asks Pete if he knows CPR, which of course, he does. Before Pete can touch him, Albie notices that Speedball isn’t touching the ground. The noise suddenly becomes louder and turns into a screech, destroying the torch and causing the two men to cover their ears. An explosion follows, disintegrating the two men and causing Speedball even more bodily damage.
“Speedball is dead.” The doctor’s colleague asks what he means, “He’s dead.” The other doctor explains that Speedball absorbed the brunt of the explosion in Stamford. By all rights he should not have survived, but he did. He’s surrounded by some kind of protective kinetic energy field, He suspects this saved his life, but it’s also fried his circuits. The results have been checked and rechecked, and his powers are completely dead. No kinetic energy field - nothing.
The doctor continues to point out that they found him on the western side of New York State, which is over five hundred miles from the blast zone. There’ll be an awful lot of people who will want to know how he survived. At the moment, their patient is in no condition to inform them.
The New Warriors are staking out the hideout of several escapes from the Raft. They are spotted by a villainess named Coldheart and are forced to attack immediately. They fail to realize that Nitro is out of their league. The last thing Robbie remembers is being caught in a massive explosion, courtesy of Nitro.
As one of the doctors comments on how terrible the Stamford incident was, the EEG machine gets a spike from Robbie. His readings go off the charts, and security is asked to get someone in there immediately. Before long, Robbie opens his eyes, revealing the blurry face of a man looking down at him. The man introduces himself as being Eric Marshall. He’s attached to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s anti-registration terrorist violation squad via the N.S.A. He hopes Robbie isn’t attached to the number four because he has four pieces of bad news for him.
One, he’s afraid that his fellow New Warriors didn’t survive the explosion at Stamford. Two, the explosion killed somewhere in the neighborhood of six hundred and twelve Stamford residents, at least sixty of whom were schoolchildren. Robbie is in a daze, and doesn’t fully take in what is being said to him.
Three, Eric continues, the resultant blast reacted with his kinetic energy field and bounced him across half the state, only for him to be discovered in a wheat field in New York. However, he survived the brunt of the explosion thanks to his kinetic powers. The tremendous amount of released energy was transferred into his body. They believe that the series of unique synaptic and nerve-ending connections that allowed him to access his abilities were burned out as a result of this. He’s now powerless. “And four,” he adds, holding up his S.H.I.E.L.D. badge, “You are under arrest.”