Several weeks ago:
The aftermath of the first meeting of Norman Osborn’s Cabal.
Only Doctor Doom and Namor are left in the room. Are they alone? Namor asks. They are, Doom informs him. What’s the move here? Namor asks. It is as before, Doom decides. Let Osborn set them up. He will soon implode. Then, when all his is over, Namor gets the seas. He’ll get the land.
And if he doesn’t? Namor asks, referring to Osborn. It’s his nature, Doom assures him. He will. But if he doesn’t? Doom looks away, contemplating.
One year later:
Osborn’s ship over New York: Have things not gone exactly as he planned? Osborn asks. Powers, wealth, revenge. Has he not given them everything he said he would? Perhaps if he had fallen short on his promises, perhaps then he would not be aggrieved that the two of them are the only ones willing to show up when he calls a meeting. They lack a demon, a goddess and a witch… he’ll deal with them later…
Only Namor and Doom are there. Perhaps they’ve grown tired of certain company, Doom suggests. A sentiment he shares, Osborn replies as his Dark Avengers – Sentry, Daken, Venom, Bullseye, and Moonstone – join him. And in that spirit he’s decided to make some changes to their special little club, a small shift in the power structure.
Bullseye suddenly wonders why Doom is wearing a red cloak. This? Doom asks, it was a gift from the Hood.
Doom fought and killed the Hood.
As was this. He shows them the Cosmic Cube.
They are doing this now? Namor asks. He will wait no longer, Doom replies. Osborn orders his Avengers to deal with this. The next moment, they are gone. On the other side of the universe, Doom informs him.
Osborn tries to attack, using his Iron Patriot armor. With the cube, Doom quickly disarms him ands trips off his armor. Namor raises his trident. He gave him back his kingdom, Norman reminds him. Yes, he did, Namor agrees, and he thanks him for that, but his allegiance lies with Doom. He impales him.
Namor turns to Doom, remarking he’s wearing the demon’s cloak, so he assumes he handled the Hood. Yes, comes the reply. And what of the women? They are where they belong, Doom replies, meaning chained to Doom’s bed.
Doom, Namor asks and snaps him out of his reverie. Is he ignoring him? Namor asks in the present as they head to the roof where Namor’s flight is. Doom apologizes. Their meeting… his thoughts wandered. He’s sure, Namor replies. He and his great dreams. Sometimes he wonders what goes on in that mind of his. He takes off.
Doom stares after him, and takes a moment of dreaming of the moment when he will slay Namor as well.
Doom, he replies, always Doom.
Emma Frost remembers. It was Tuesday. Another stupid boring Tuesday. She was awake and wished to punish the world for it. Instead she started her daily slug through the morning’s telepathy period. She said something dumb and bitchy masquerading as clever and naughty and mean.
And that’s when that – it’s okay, Emma you didn’t like her and you can think it – she’s dead now and it can’t hurt her, that’s when that horrible little girl with the bad black clothes and the long dumb name that always smelled of soup said… Miss Frost…
She was teaching a class on the island of Genosha on the day that some nightmare of a woman unleashed remote controlled genocide. Sixteen million mutants died. Seven of them were her students.
It was not the first time she’d lost children she’d pledged to teach. This was Massachusetts then. Her sister Adrienne. Long-simmering family business blew up in Emma’s face. Adrienne infiltrated and attacked the academy where she was training the next generation. She killed a boy named Synch in the explosion. She didn’t want him though. She just wanted to take something of Emma’s she could never have. Well. Emma shot her. You can’t always get what you want, darling.
And Emma already knew it would take more than bombs to kill her. It feels like it was decades before Massachusetts, but it couldn’t have been. Emma was still involved with the Hellfire Club and they were under attack. She was trying to bait the X-Men into helping her. God, how ironic.
She was only involved, so… so she could teach the children. Xavier’s school was so uppity, so elite and closed. Where else, who else was trying to teach young mutants how to use their gifts and defend themselves?
Sometimes… They’re gone, Emma, you can think it… sometimes she forgets what they looked like. They were killed by Sentinels.
She looks back on her life and all she sees is the same horrible pattern repeating itself. The same catastrophe, endlessly resurrecting.
Which brings her to Jean Grey. The most gifted psychic Emma ever encountered. She’d never say it to the cow’s face, but it’s true. And one day Emma upset her so much that Jean killed her. The Phoenix killed her. The Phoenix was Jean. Jean wasn’t the Phoenix. There’s a difference. And she had made the Phoenix mad. So she was cleansed. It shattered her mind and left her gibbering and incontinent for … God, months! She rebuilt herself one neuron at a time. She survived all the tragedy and fire that followed because she’d already been incinerated by the bestAnd how did she survive the best?
Because she came from the very worst. Oh, the Frosts were rich and privileged and all of that. That’s not what she means. But her family was a blast furnace no one could survive. A factory made up of parts designed to destroy one another. A miracle of familiar thermodynamics. A perpetual misery machine. Her mother and brother narcotized and counter-narcotized into uselessness.
The Frost girls then were left to tear one another apart for him. Dearest daddy setting them up against one another, looking for an heir worthy of his cruel approval and limitless bank account. He chose Emma. She chose to leave home. She’d already gotten everything she’d ever need from him. Namely the Frost will.
Will to power. Will to thrive. Unbeatable, unbreakable. Pretty like a snowflake, strong like a demon. The will to live. The will to reach, to teach mutant children like her to find somewhere within themselves, the will to do whatever it takes to survive. To save and protect those who can’t save themselves from whatever apocalypse in which they might find themselves. Protection from whatever fires. From whatever flames. No matter how painful. And from whatever hells they find themselves burning in, no matter how they got there.
That’s how she survived. Time and time again. That’s her secret. She survived because she willed it to be. Time and time again she’s seen tyrants crush the powerless, been crushed by them herself – like the Cabal by Osborn.
How did she survive apocalyptic fire? She simply refused to feel the flames!
Hell’s Kitchen, NYC:
The Hood stands in front of a coffin. At a respectful distance stand his people, New York’s super criminals. One day their sun will consume the Earth, the Hood announces. As a boy he suffered from an unhealthy obsession with this concept. If everything is going to be erased, what in this world really matters? It makes life feels… insignificant.
But here today, as they mourn the loss of one of their own, they see the significance of even one life lost. It serves to pull back the veil they use to keep their inevitable mortality hidden. With this curtain drawn back, they see their own lives with a fleeting clarity. They are reminded that life is not a dress rehearsal and this is their one shot at getting it right
The Hood’s memories:
A young father, Parker Robbins is feeding his baby while his wife Sara asks what kind of concrete cutting happens at three a.m.? They are pulling jobs at night to avoid, traffic congestion, he defends himself. How is it with all these late night construction jobs she has never seen him with one tool? she needles.
Okay, he gets up angry. He’ll make the money that keeps the roof over her head, but he doesn’t have to sit here as she questions how he makes it!
Is this where she gets the speech about how he does it all for them? she asks, equally angry. If he wants to do something for them, how about spending more than a few hours a week at home? Does that not seem like the sort of thing a loving and devoted father might do?
Parker kisses their baby and walks out. See ya. His wife looks after him.
It’s important to take stock of what they have, the Hood continues his speech. Unfortunately, it often takes losing someone close to them to do so. As he stands there, looking at their coalition, he truly appreciates all that they’ve accomplished together. This union must not be taken for granted.
He stops in front of Madame Masque. There is one among them who would abuse their trust to fulfill personal agendas. The same traitor who murdered their brother. Who would dare betray him, the Hood, unquestioned Kingpin of crime? Madame Masque demands. The Hood tells her not to worry, he or she will be discovered and dealt with.
Parker enters a waiting car some distance away. As he slams the door, the driver wakes up. Calling him boss, he remarks that he is back early. Business went well, he takes it. Parker takes out the red Hood, telling Sam he’s a good guy, a real asset to the family… But he needs him to remember his place. He needs him to remember how important it is he never tell anyone where he takes him. No worries, Sam promises, his mug is sealed like a safe.
What is all of this, if not a family, the Hood asks. What are they? Scurrying rats climbing over each other, lost in a primal need to compete, to establish dominance. They have evolved from this way of thinking. They work together, living life by their own standard, not those imposed on them. And the most vital of those standards, nothing comes before the family.
Parker gets out his costume and orders Sam to get him back to the car. That moment, Sara, carrying their daughter, angrily bangs against the car’s side window, ordering Parker to get out of the car. What is this? she shouts. Where the hell did he get the money for this?
What does she want from him? he demands, The truth! she shouts back. No more lies, no more of this damn shadow he keeps her in! He needs to trust her! For once he needs to tell her the truth!
Parker is silent for a moment. Here’s the truth, he tells her as he gets back in the car. She ever asks him about his work, ever again, he’ll leave her.
Standing in front of the coffin, the Hood continues that the bond of their family is deep. But in order to maintain that integrity there has to be an unwavering focus on solidarity. When of them dies, they all die. They all lose that part of themselves. Once in their family, they become another’s sister, mother and father… they are blood for life.
Once he is in the car, the driver Sam, comments that his old lady is wicked pissed, huh? All three months he’s been driving him around and he didn’t even know he had a family. Is that his kid?
His daughter, Parker replies. It’s a grind, Sam replies. He’s got three little ones himself. Seems like there is a new catastrophe every day. But it’s worth it, yeah? He means what else is life about, if not family?
The Hood orders him to drive him to the river; he has some thinking to do. Sam drives him to a lonely spot. The Hood suggests a little alcohol. As they sit at the river, Sam philosophies. Fighting over whatever, it don’t matter. Just one of the difficulties that come with family. Hard as it is you’d still do anything for them. Die for them even. You’d do anything you have to but you keep them safe. Yeah, Parker agrees and draws a gun.
It all comes to sacrifice, the Hood continues. Nothing is free in this life… nothing worth having. He looks at dead Sam within the coffin. My friend Sam was murdered in cold blood, he announces. Shot in the back of his head by a craven coward who lacked the honor to look his victim in the eye. Sam didn’t deserve to fie. Maybe he learned the wrong secret or trusted the wrong person. A mistake they should all of them be careful not to repeat.
A bored Prince Namor sits in Atlantean court. The court now recluses, he announces and warns the others present that even this strains his patience. Why does this now require their monarch to untie it?
One of the two plaintiffs, the woman, begins, but Namor cuts her off. She can wait. He, the male, first.
The man explains it’s a simple matter of custody between Proctidae and he. He’s ashamed this has disturbed Namor.
Their matrimony dissolved in hellish acrimony six years past. In the court’s wisdom, she was awarded custody for their son, Crosta.
This he regretfully accepted. While he tried to explain her immoral nature, the court thought an Atlantean military camp would not suit such a young child. Killers!, Proctidae mutters. Had he known the true extent of her irresponsibility he continues, he would have fought all the harder.
Melodramatic rhetoric is a royal prerogative, Namor points out and orders him to hurry along. The husband continues his tale.
He recently discovered that after Atlantis’ destruction, rather than join sleeper cells in human society, his ex-wife continued to live beneath the seas. In direct disobedience to Namor’s wishes.
His son is no longer a child. And she has proven herself unsuitable as a mother. He demands custody.
That seems logical enough, Namor agrees. But what he doesn’t understand is… he addresses the woman, how that she requested royal fiat. Does she think her king is fond of rebellion? Perhaps she thought she could win his favor by spitting in his face? Tweaking the regal earlobe? Mocking his choice of investments?
She had no choice, she replies, head bowed. This is her son. The boy is shown now, his head not Atlantean looking but rather a monstrous almost featureless bald head with red eyes. Even those apes would have noticed something was different about him, he explains.
Namor agrees, this point is plain. The boy continues to speak and Namor orders him to be silent. He addresses the mother again. Her son’s nature explains her disobedience, but does not excuse their secrecy. Why not, say, live in Latveria, with the military?
Her son’s appearance is only part of the change, she admits.
the wife’s story:
He awoke to find himself like this. She screamed. She wishes she hadn’t but she didn’t know that and… she wishes she hadn’t. He ran to a mirror and then… in his distress he created direct shockwaves and they are explosive.
He can control it, the boy claims. He can control it mostly, the mother explains. So they moved away. When Namor ordered everyone to hide amongst the humans, they stayed where they were. Because if Ophisto discovered what Crosta could do, he and the military would have tried to turn him inot a killing machine. And she was right.
And it is only right that such power should be tempered for Atlantis’ greater service as soon as possible, Ophisto replies hotheadedly. She thinks all warriors are killing machines! Crosta needs to be trained! That power needs to be harnessed!
Trained into a killer like him! she shouts. He is a boy! He’s lost so much! They can’t take the rest away from him.
He believes it is traditional to settle cases like this by threatening to cut the child in two and then watching their reaction. He doesn’t feel like that. He feels like cutting the pair of them in two. She in her fear, only endangered the boy! Alone in the seas? Away from all help, all security, with a power he neither understands nor fully controls? She’s lucky to be here to receive his wrath.
He whose fervor has slid into fanaticism. An Atlantean child is not an animal to be trained or harnessed. He’s a citizen. His citizen. They do not turn children into warriors. Until the boy comes of age, he will be Namor’s ward. He has spoken.
No! the boy shouts. Namor does not speak twice. No! Crosta repeats and directs shockwaves at Namor. Powerful… yet a child, he observes and takes the boy out from behind.
He proves both his parents correct. Namor overwhelms him. While he understands rage, they have failed to teach the boy proper respect. He is going to a school in San Francisco. There he will be taught what it means to be a mutant and how to live with his gifts. He will grow and become the man he should be.
He releases the boy… But he wants his… the boy begins to protest. “Cease!” comes the order. His wants matter not. As his subject, obedience is his duty to Namor. As his king, Namor’s duty to him is to give him what’s best. To give him what’s best, whether he likes it or not. And in that matter the court never rests.
Weeks ago, Latveria:
Loki lifts a chicken leg to her mouth. Her food has been poisoned, she remarks. Excellent. It shows Doom takes her visit to Latveria seriously. The toxins are nothing that should trouble a god from Asgard, Doom replies. It is well Loki forewarned him of the change in her appearance. Yet surely a sorceress of Loki’s stature could appear in any guise he so wished. But that would be trickery, pretense, comes the reply. And there should be no pretense among partners. Doom is no man’s partner, Doom corrects her. He considers Osborn’s Cabal more of an… association. Strictly speaking she s no man, Loki points out. Nor is she referring to that august body, the Cabal. She’s suggesting a new partnership between them.
Doom interrupts her. There is a klunking noise. It means this room has now been sealed. The walls and doors are now nine inches of hardened steel.
Very secure, Loki remarks unimpressed and continues eating. By the way the local cuisine is delicious. A picture from the wall suddenly emits a stream of fire, setting the room ablaze. Still uncaring, Loki continues, the devilled fish is outstanding. The spices remind her of what one might find in Nidavellir. Those dwarves are fiendish in matters of gastronomy, as they are in most things they put their twisted little minds to.
Flames engulf the entire room and the two waiters beg Loki for help. They have wives, children! Undeterred, Loki continues musing that most of all those dwarves are renowned for their love of curry. Blistering hot curry. They are slaves to the stuff. Probably helps remove the bitter taste they always seem to have in their mouths. The waiters die burning as if from the inside.
Doom seems to melt. Hmm, Loki muses. Don’t mind her, she’s used to talking to herself.
Doom, the real one, watches the proceedings on a screen. Loki’s face turns to the camera. She presumes he’s watching this. Is he convinced yet?
An immunity to poison and pain, comes the verdict. A callous disregard for human life. He is willing to concede that she is Loki. Make your way through the locked door.
Loki tears apart the molten wall. Welcome to Latveria, Loki, Doom greets her. Doom, she takes it this is actually him this time.
He walks ahead of her down a hallway. She might consider his precautions excessive. A little heavy handed perhaps, but quite understandable, comes the reply. He is a busy man. She said she wished to see him on a matter of some importance. A proposal, she replies with a smile. One that will be mutually beneficial.
Long has she sough to assume her rightful position as ruler of Asgard. If her ambitions do not interfere with his own plans, he will not impede her, comes the reply. Loki reminds Doom that even proud Latveria has been prey to attack. Might not an alliance with a powerful friend be a useful bulwark against future molestation?
Perhaps, Doom concedes, under certain circumstances… Oh the circumstance can be whatever he wants them to be, Loki shrugs, if he would assist her in her ambitions.
Doom warns her to get one thing clear: Doom does not assist others. Others assist Doom! If that is all she has travelled to Latveria to say, she has wasted the journey. And he has wasted one of his Doombots.
Loki begins to explain the Asgardians are not wanted in Oklahoma. They tire of the desert. They dream of more temperate climes… like Asgard of old. She is quite sure they could be persuaded to abandon their present home. With Doom’s agreement, the Asgardians might emigrate to Latveria.
Doom stops and turns around. It will take more than his agreement.
He means Odin? Old One-eye is yesterday’s god. A relic. Balder would need convincing, of course. But though brave and good, Balder is weak. And sadly not quite as intelligent as he believes himself to be.
The purpose of this migration? Dom asks curtly. She’s coming to that. By emptying or dividing Asgard, she will finally be in a position… to become absolute ruler? Doom asks. It has a pleasant ring to it, does it not? Loki asks smiling.
Doom remarks she hasn’t mentioned Thor. Or is she suggesting he throw open his door and invite his old enemy into his house? Oh, she has plans for Thor, Loki assures him. He will be removed, he will be… neutered.
Doom sees what Loki has to gain by this. But what of Doom? He is supreme ruler of his own state, Loki replies. He is feared, he is the mighty Victor von Doom. But there is one thing he lacks. She thinks she can help him get it.
Doom considers for a moment. Latveria is not so very different from Asgard, he finally replies. They should feel quite at home here.