(Last Gasp Saloon)
Logan is sitting a bar alongside the Guyahoga River called the Last Gasp Saloon. It’s run down, with broken windows and no staff or customers in sight. He recalls a particularly annoying mission which should have been simple, but which ended with him fighting the Thing, and ripping part of his face off with his claws. The time has come to see just how deep those scars really run. He hears an annoying buzz outside, which gets louder and louder; like an insect coming closer. His wait is over.
Ben Grimm steps out of the Fantasticar and enters the bar. Logan asks if he cares for a beer, but Ben replies that he wants Logan to start weepin’, wailin’ n’ beggin’ for mercy… not that it’ll do him much good. This isn’t a good sign.
Outside, hidden in the shadows and disguised as a vagrant, a man gets on the radio and tells his employer that the pigeon is in the coop. Watching him on a large screen is the Thinker. The room is filled with hi-tech machinery. He asks the man, Kerekes, to spare him the childish codes. This line is totally secure. Kerekes says he was trying to be subtle, but the Thinker tells him to leave the subtlety and him, and to concentrate on moving to stage two of his master plan. Kerekes assures him that nothing will go wrong. Naturally, replies the Thinker. His incomparable intellect planned every detail. Ben Grimm is as good as dead. He just doesn’t know it yet.
The Thinker ponders over his latest plan. The machinery and the large screen fades away to reveal the sparse inside of a cell. At last, he thinks, he’ll destroy the Fantastic Four, one by one. He will finally have his revenge for all the times they have defeated him in the past. Without Reed Richards to constantly update their security systems, it was child’s play to penetrate their phone lines. He intercepted Wolverine’s recent invitation, and quickly made the appropriate arrangements. But, the time has come for his mind to leave this simulacrum body, and project it back into his real body.
He turns to see the guards outside his cell. They suspect nothing. They do not realize that no prison can hold the Mad Thinker; not even a maximum security facility for superhuman criminals like the Vault!
(Last Gasp Saloon)
As Kerekes makes his way from his position, Ant-Man clambers out of the Fantasticar, having stowed aboard. He finds it interesting that the vagrant had his own mobile phone. He knows Ben will be furious when he learns he stowed on board, but with him meeting Wolverine, and having spotted the man with the phone, Scott Lang knows that nobody seems to be playing by Ben’s rules.
(somewhere in America’s great western desert)
The Human Torch and She-Hulk are having a training session, with Jennifer tossing rocks up for him to avoid with his aerial agility. They finish up and join the rest of the archaeological team at the camp fire. She tells Johnny that she’s sorry about Reed. She almost can’t believe he’s really gone. She informs Johnny that she’s willing to rejoin the Fantastic Four as a temporary member; at least until they find a permanent replacement. Johnny isn’t sure she’s talking to the right person. He came on this vacation to get away from the team, and isn’t convinced he’s going back.
Jen tells him to look sharp. A woman he’s wanted to meet is nearby. As the woman wanders off, Johnny wants to catch up with her, but he is intercepted by Professor Simon Janson. He wants to apologize to Johnny for the way he acted yesterday when Johnny saved his life. No problem, Johnny replies, as he sees the woman disappear into the darkness. He finds her intriguing, and with good reason. The woman is certain that Johnny would have confronted her if the Professor hadn’t intervened. She rounds a corner, and comes face to face with Bridget O’Neil, who thinks it’s time they had a little chat.
She recognizes Bridget as the woman that Johnny invited. He obviously has designs on her, she thinks. What’s Bridget’s interest in her?
(Last Gasp Saloon)
Logan again asks Ben to relax and have a beer. He slides one over, but Ben swats it away with his massive hand. “Forget it, runt. I only drink with my friends!” Logan takes it from his ‘amiable’ disposition that he still harbors a grudge. Ben says that’s putting it mildly. He asks Logan to take a good look at what he did to him. Maybe he wasn’t a bathing beauty beforehand, but he certainly didn’t help matters. Logan admits he screwed up, and honestly didn’t mean to scar his face. He explains that he was in a real bad way the last time they fought. He was reacting on pure animal instinct; lashing out at Ben without considering the consequences. He hopes he can still make amends.
Ben is offered a beer, but smashes his fist onto the bar top, smashing the bottle as well as everything else. “Not a chance, pal!” he screams. Logan pops his claws, recognizing that the situation is turning ugly, and giving Ben three good reasons to calm down and rethink his position. Logan had lured Ben there to make peace. Now, they’re only an instant away from a full-blown war. Thankfully, the war never comes.
Ant-Man makes a timely appearance and, when asked what on Earth he’s doing there, he explains that he’s their backup. They have company. Suddenly, the saloon wall is destroyed, and three figures appear in the opening - one of them particularly large.
Inside Castle Doom, the current master of the house, Nathaniel Richards, is dishing out orders to his Servo-Guards. He tells them he’s finally found his missing son, and he must be retrieved without delay. Sue Richards stands nearby, arms folded and wanting a serious explanation from Nathaniel. She thought he was going to help her find Reed; but now she learns he’s after someone else!? She never even knew he had another son. She asks who he is, and why he’s so important to him. What about Reed? she continues. Everyone thinks he’s dead, but she’s certain that he’s a prisoner somewhere. Don’t you care about him? she asks.
Nathaniel removes the green cloak that helps give him the appearance of the real Dr. Doom and replies that, although she is his most favored daughter-in-law, he cannot answer her questions now. He explains that he’ll reveal everything in his own good time. He must now devote his full concentration on testing his new body armor. Sue doesn’t want to be brushed away so lightly. An invisible forcefield could easily cut off his air until he started answering her questions, she warns. Nathaniel knows this, but asks if she would believe his answers.
Sue opts to give up on him for the time being. She wonders why she lets the old man jerk her around. She knows he can’t be trusted. He kidnapped her baby, and she’s convinced his knowledge of the future could have prevented Reed’s disappearance. She wonders if she should contact Ben and Johnny. As she thinks about it, she senses something behind her. She turns and sees a flaming apparition of herself floating above her; one she’s seen before. The apparition warns her to listen to Nathan. Only he holds the key. Sue reaches up to her, and asks what key? She knows the apparition is trying to warn her of some terrible danger, but she doesn’t understand. Before she can receive any answers, the apparition dissipates, leaving Sue even more confused.
(Last Gasp Saloon)
The three assailants storm into the bar, and Wolverine immediately leaps into the air to avoid an attack by an armored foe with a strange weapon that freezes upon impact. It is supplied by a pack on the man’s back. He tells them to come back later. They’re interrupting a personal conversation. One of them, Kerekes, apologizes, but they were given very precise instructions. He has metallic coils extending from his arms - similar to Omega Red’s.
Ant-Man, as yet unseen, wonders how useful he’s gonna be when there are already two first-stringers one the scene. Ben uses the pool table to hit the largest of the three, whose hands are comprised of blocks of metal called enhancers, but Kerekes manages to snag him around the neck with his coil. The largest of them informs them that the Mad Thinker offered a bonus to the man who bags the Thing, and he’s there to collect. He warns Kerekes to back off, as he wants to be the one who collects.
Wolverine slices through his attacker’s pack, rendering his weapon useless. He knows that, considering the Thinker’s history with the Fantastic Four, it makes sense he’d pay a bounty on Grimm - but what’s he offering on him. His opponent replies that he’s included in the basic job. Wolverine is offended. Doesn’t the Thinker realize that he’s an X-Man? That ought to rate some kind of premium!
The largest informs the Thing that his personal power enhancers can punch through solid concrete. Ben isn’t impressed, and grabs them in his powerful grip. He shatters them as if they were made of glass. Kerekes steps in and loops his coils around Ben’s neck, but Ben simply grabs one of them, and pulls hard. Kerekes is sent flying through the air; his face smashing into the wall beyond.
Wolverine turns to the Thing and says that, after reading the Thinker’s dossier, he can’t believe he’d send in losers like these. It’s got be a joke… right? Maybe, replies Ben, but he ain’t laughing. A massive Thing-like fist smashes through the wall. They have more company. A large silver android steps through into the saloon. One of its fists is like Ben’s. Another is aflame. It introduces itself as the Thinker’s Super Android Model F-4, and it’s come to facilitate their destruction. Without warning, it extends its Thing-like fist at Ben with an elasticised arm. The attack narrowly misses Ben’s head, and he suddenly realizes the android has all the Fantastic Four’s powers.
Under a full moon, Bridget tells her new friend that she’s quite the mystery woman; a subject of much campfire gossip. She’s yet to find anyone on this archaeological dig who even knows her name or where she comes from - and that includes Professor Janson. The woman replies that her name is Laura Green, and she’s a late addition. Her paperwork must have been lost in the shuffle. She didn’t realize she was causing such a stir. She didn’t think anyone had taken any notice of her. Bridget laughs, and informs her that she’s been noticed all right; especially by a certain flaming celebrity. “The Human Torch?” asks Laura, surprised. She thought he was Bridget’s boyfriend. “Not bloody likely,” replies Bridget.
She bends down and picks some white flowers. She thinks that some may find Johnny’s boyish charm and baby face appealing, but she knows better than to get involved with a man like him. Laura asks what’s wrong with him. Bridget replies that he’s recently divorced, but what the tabloids fail to mention is that he loved his wife, and probably still does. She advises Laura to keep her distance. The poor lad wears his grief like a funeral shroud. She doubts there’s room for any woman in his heart right now.
Laura wonders how Bridget would react if she knew that she is the cause of Johnny’s pain… that she is secretly his ex-wife; a Skrull who is only masquerading as a human. Yet, she thinks, maybe this disguise can be used to help ease Johnny’s pain and heal his heart. Maybe Laura Green is the perfect woman to make him forget Lyja.
(Last Gasp Saloon)
Logan gives Ben credit where it’s due. He doesn’t let anyone or anything intimidate him. He wades right into the fray, with fists flailing and chin jutting. They’re similar in that regard. Of course, that strategy has its disadvantages. The Thing is knocked with extreme force through the saloon wall, through the next building and into the one after that. F-4 informs them that the Thinker’s underlings were only meant as a distraction until it arrived. It’s too bad, it thinks, that their lack of consciousness prevents them from witnessing its victory.
Wolverine leaps at the android from behind, with all six claws extended. He doesn’t’ think it’ll be a problem. He doubts they’ll miss much. The android is a little puzzled, as Wolverine appears to be composed of skeletal bone instead of the adamantium he was programmed to expect. Wolverine replies that life is just chock-full of little disappointments. He tries to make it up by giving the machine an early retirement. He thrusts his right arm into the android’s torso, but forgot that it’s as pliable as plastic. Its other hand grabs him by the throat. Its grip is like a steel vise, and it has the Thing’s strength all right. Lucky him!
As Wolverine begins to lose consciousness, the android prepares to finish him off but, right on cue, the Thing returns and swipes the android with a telegraph pole. The android blasts the pole as it’s brought down a second time, as Ant-Man wonders how he’s supposed to defeat a synthetic creature that cannot feel pain or fear.
Sue Richards has waited long enough for an explanation, and she confronts Nathaniel. She thought the flaming apparition was connected to their recent encounter with Galactus. If she’s wrong, Ben and Johnny could be in serious danger. Nathaniel asks her to calm down. He was just about to summon her, and provides somewhat of an explanation.
One of Nathaniel’s campaigns within the timestream ended rather badly. Barely on the verge of consciousness, he somehow managed to materialize on Earth, where he was found by a young gypsy woman. He owed her his life. She tenderly nursed him back to health, employing exotic potions and spells which some consider a form of witchcraft. As time passed, they grew closer, becoming romantically involved.
He explains to Sue that it is the child of that union he now seeks - his son, the absolute ruler of Latveria. Sue can’t believe it. That sounds like Reed’s brother is…! Her voice trails at the possibility.
(Last Gasp Saloon)
Outside the bar, F-4 pours flame onto the Thing, who remarks that it barely tickles. It informs Grimm that only the Thinker could engineer his greatest conquest from a prison cell. Logan sees Ben hunkering down under the heat, and removes his jacket. He wraps it around the android’s head; cutting off its sight. As it flails, he asks Ben why he never bothered getting his face fixed. Ben replies by saying he could ask him the same about his claws. “Touché,” replies Logan.
With the android temporarily unsighted, Ben hammers it with an almighty blow. The truth is, he explains, he doesn’t even care about the scars. On his best days he wasn’t no Tom Cruise. He just felt so violated; so vulnerable - and he hated it. F-4 erects a forcefield to protect it from Ben’s mighty blows. Ben asks Logan what his real reason was for arranging this little pow-wow. Logan just didn’t want any unfinished business between them, he replies. F-4 hurls the Thing away using the forcefield, as Ant-Man prepares his move.
F-4 tells his opponents that it is the greatest single threat they have ever faced. It’s insulted that they carried on a private conversation whilst fighting it. Ant-Man can’t believe the android appears to be throwing a hissy-fit. However, a bruised ego is the least of his problems. Using a rubber band as a sling, he fires himself onto the android’s head. The Thinker prepped his machine for the Thing and Wolverine. He bets the villain didn’t even rate a passing thought. After all, what danger could he pose?
He places a container of shrink gas on the android, and leaps off to safety. Suddenly, F-4 begins to slowly shrink, and doesn’t know what’s happening. It should be prepared for all eventualities - so why wasn’t it prepared for this one? It has no defense against such an attack. It stops shrinking when just a few centimetres in height. It continues to fire at Ben, but Ben doesn’t even feel it anymore. The two men look down at their miniscule foe, and Logan says it’ll teach it to be more careful about the company it keeps. Ben flicks the android with one finger, all the way into the river.
Scott grows to normal size, and Ben tells him he’s finally getting the hang of this biz. However, he should stand aside, as he and Wolverine still have a few lose ends. Scott bravely stands his ground between them, and asks if there hasn’t been enough mindless violence for one day? Wolverine agrees, and says that’s why they’re just going to talk.
Over the next few hours, the two men settle their differences and, in the morning, it’s Ben who buys the beers. A few minutes later, at the Vault…
The Mad Thinker awaits news of his android’s success. A guardsman appears at his cell door and passes his mail through the bars. He informs the Thinker that the brass is preparing to strip down the entire cell, and that includes him, so he should read fast. The Thinker knows that they have learned of his ability to contact the outside world, and intend to stop him. He leafs through the mail and discovers a postcard. On the back it reads. “Having a wonderful time! Wish you were here.” The Thinker thinks how unoriginal that is, until he turns the card over to see a photograph of Ant-Man, the Thing and Wolverine enjoying a beer. The Thinker screams.