Zuyevo, Russia. Where, under the canvas of the circus big top, the once warm cheers of the crowd…have become a chilling cry for blood! Jean-Paul “Northstar” Beaubier is slammed against the ground of the circus arena, and blood spurts out of his mouth as the circus Strong Man attacks the one-time Olympic athlete with a crow bar. Northstar dimly remembers returning to the circus. Smells and noises that in their comfortable familiarity bred incaution; taken unawares once more by a past become suddenly hostile…and deadly. As the Strong Man prepares to deal out another blow to Canada’s handsome hero, someone cries out ‘Wait! I don’t want Northstar dead…’
‘…at least not yet!’ the trickster Arcade, dressed up as a circus ringleader exclaims. Flanked by other circus performers, Arcade points out that the audience paid good rubles to be here, so he intends to give therm full value for their money. Arcade remarks that he hopes Jean-Paul appreciates all of the trouble he has gone to, to arrange Northstar’s very own comeback performance under the big top. Arcade grins as he exclaims that there is a rather “enthralled” audience, and motions to his assistant, who is operating a camera which is supposedly broadcasting Northstar’s “comeback performance” worldwide.
Arcade points to the circus performers and tells Northstar that they may not be the ones he once traveled with, but nevertheless they will do. Jean-Paul finds the strength to ask Arcade why he is going to such an elaborate scheme if he wants him dead anyway. Northstar recalls how Arcade framed him for the murder of journalist Ritchie Ward, terrorized his friends and violated his most personal and private memories, dragging him from country to country.
Arcade pushes his glasses back onto his eyes as he mutters that “why?” is what everyone asks, and he gives them all the same answer - he tells them to mind their own business. Arcade declares that it is not enough that he is the master gamesman, the most stylish assassin-fore-hire. For this is the profession where most people’s imagination is a bullet to the brain. He exclaims that it is fun to devise new and interesting ways to die, before remarking that he can tell Northstar is tired of his ramblings and eager to proceed. ‘What is it they say in this profession? Ah, yes…the show must go on!’
With that said, the Strong Man slams the crow bar down, but Northstar uses his super speed and reflexes to slide out of the way. Jean-Paul thinks to himself that his opponent is too strong for him - he already discovered that - but thinks that he might be able to apply the small amount of leverage the position he is in affords him, to pull the bulky man off-balance. Jean-Paul pulls at the Strong Man, and his plan works as the large man comes crashing to the ground. Jean-Paul quickly gets up, knowing that down doesn’t mean the Strong Man is out, and as he hears a growling noise coming from behind him, he deduces that the next threat has claws - and teeth.
Northstar ducks as the savage lion leaps at him, but to Northstar’s shock, the lion lands on the Strong Man and begins tearing into him. The former member of Canada’s former premiere super heroes, Alpha Flight, tells himself that unlike the robots he fought in Paris, these foes are alive, and suspects that they are real performers who have had their minds controlled. Jean-Paul thinks to himself that once again Arcade has created a near-perfect snare, where he can allow no serious harm to befall those around him. As he begins to pull the lion’s tail, Jean-Paul doubts that his enemies will show him the same consideration.
As he continues to pull the lion, Jean-Paul nearly falls into a barrel of acid. He thinks to himself that Arcade has turned the circus into a playground of his own devising - with lethal toys. Northstar swings the lion now and tosses it into a cage, quickly sealing it, while wondering how long before one of those toys finds its target. As if on cue, a large muscular woman tosses three knives at Northstar, though they just miss him.
Northstar tells himself that the knives came too close thanks to the strain the constant effort of this endless day is taking on him. A fat clown throws a pie which almost lands in Northstar’s face. Jean-Paul realizes that he has limits after all - limits that are fast being reached, for even his metabolism is slowing down, refusing to heal wounds that at any other time would be a memory. ‘If it’s blood the crowd wants…they seemed destined to get their wish!’ The knife-throwing woman, the pie-throwing fat clown and the fire-eating man all begin to close in on Northstar.
Meanwhile, outside, Arcade gets into his ice cream truck, thinking that it is time he was moving on, after all, the USA beckons and with it, the penultimate act of this little drama he has been paid so handsomely to stage. Arcade admits that he feels quite sorry for Northstar, as he actually admires him, ‘The courage to bare his soul and all that…but a job’s a job to me…the game is everything!’
Back inside the big top, Jean-Paul spies a scantily-clad machine-gun-toting trapeze artist. As bullets fly all around Jean-Paul, he realizes that the woman is none too fussy with her aim. He thinks that if she isn’t careful, then she will no doubt gun down one of her own. Which is exactly what happens when a spray of bullets hit a clown juggling grenades on a unicycle. Jean-Paul goes over to the fallen clown, remarking that, so far, Arcade has had everything his way. ‘I’ve danced pretty much to your tune, letting you maneuver me into corners, situations now best suited to my powers, anger I thought was fuelling me, was in truth fanning your flames!’
‘Well no more! I’ve finished playing by your rules!’ Jean-Paul flies up to the trapeze-artist and clocks her on the head to knock her out. He remarks that when people start dying because someone is trying to get to him, then it is time to be very sure each and every move counts. Flying out of the big top, Northstar wonders what his next move is. Setting the woman down on the snow, he tells himself that he cannot leave, for the pattern established in Paris indicates that only by running Arcade’s gauntlet to its conclusion will he gain the next pointer, the next link in a chain leading to whoever is behind all of this.
Northstar knows that he is just a rat in a maze, a dog salivating at an intricately placed set of signals! He decides that he has to rest and think a bit - but where? Arcade hasn’t given him a moment since this all began, if not here, then what has he got left for himself? Northstar’s mind begins to drift, far back through his years….
(flashback prior to Northstar becoming involved with Department H)
Jean-Paul is back there - suspended high above the ring, lost in the twists and tumbles of those restless rewarding years. He was welcomed without question or reservation, and friends soon became the family he had never known. There was warmth and laughter…and yet, not far beneath the surface there was also anger, a low, slow burning flame that when fanned…became an inferno as Jean-Paul and the other circus performers became involved in separatist factions pushing for Quebec to become an independent nation. Expression - after years of silence, afraid to give what voice to who and what he was, now lay in the subversion. Frustration was translated to action. Far from the applause of the circus crowd, the separatists gave him the chance to make a mark on the world.
‘And to my eternal shame…I took it!’ Jean-Paul wonders if he was able to live that time again, if he would do things differently. Or was Mariel right - and good, or bad, ones past makes them what they are today? A voice coming behind Jean-Paul snarls, before exclaiming ‘I’ll tell you what you are today, pal…ours!’ the voice booms as Jean-Paul is smashed through a caravan and across the circus grounds. Jean-Paul lands and rolls several feet, before looking up and seeing who is standing before him. ‘Oh no! Not you - not now!’ he exclaims.
‘Sorry, Beaubier, but as I’m sure you know…it’s Weapon P.R.I.M.E. time!’ exclaims Tigerstryke, the leader of Canada’s newest batch of “heroes”. Yeti, the creature that smashed Jean-Paul looms over him. Killspree stands alongside Tigerstryke, and Double Trouble hover in the air. Tigerstryke tells Jean-Paul that they have unfinished business. ‘Remember? A little matter of tarnished Canadian pride…not to mention murder!’ Tigerstryke tells Northstar that under military ordinance B-6345, he is under arrest. ‘And this time, you are coming with us!’
Meanwhile, in Vancouver, Canada, on a huge private estate nestled a stones throw away from the majestic Rocky Mountains. A man sits at his desk, ‘Yes, yes, I’m aware of all that!’ he mutters on the phone, declaring that the fact is Weapon P.R.I.M.E.’s involvement was not foreseen by either of them. ‘What if they do take Northstar in? It’ll ruin everything!’ The man is speaking to Arcade, who from the safety of his little ice cream truck tells his associate not to worry, as in its own way, Weapon P.R.I.M.E. serves a purpose, an admittedly unexpected wrinkle that will only enhance the game. ‘I hope so, for your sake, I really hope so!’ the man declares before hanging up. ‘What an imbecile!’ Arcade exclaims, before realizing that the man does have a point - if Weapon P.R.I.M.E. does prove to be a nuisance…then Canada will be minus its second super team!
Back in Zuyevo, Weapon P.R.I.M.E. have closed in around Northstar, and Tigerstryke tells Jean-Paul that he doesn’t look too good, so if he is thinking of taking them on, then he advises him to think again. Jean-Paul glances behind him and sees an angry crowd emerge from the circus tent, while thinking that although it pains him to admit it, Tigerstryke could be right. Jean-Paul thinks that if Weapon P.R.I.M.E is part of this, or even a by-product, Arcade will be expecting him to fight - but this time, he intends to disappoint! Jean-Paul holds out his hands and declares that he surrenders.
‘WHAT?’ exclaims a shocked Tigerstryke. Killspree remarks that it must be a trick, when suddenly, he is struck in the back by a crow bar. Weapon P.R.I.M.E. are confused, until they look up and see the circus Strong Man leading an angry mob of performers and patrons towards them. ‘Looks like the natives are restless!’ snarls Yeti as he, Double Trouble and Killspree are attacked. Tigerstryke decides that these people must be in on Northstar’s plan, that he set them up. He is about to use his powers to help his team, when Jean-Paul stops him, asking him if he is insane, as one misjudged shot or blow and there will be dead civilians to account for.
Northstar points out that these people are all innocent pawns in Arcade’s game. Tigerstryke is confused, ‘Arcade? What are you talking about?’ Jean-Paul is equally confused, he exclaims that he doesn’t understand, for if Weapon P.R.I.M.E. are here, they must have seen the broadcast. Then he realizes that Arcade would never make it that simple. He tells Tigerstryke to look into the eyes of the civilians - their minds are not their own. Yeti calls out to Tigerstryke for some help, ‘Sp, Tigerstryke - what’s it going to be?’ Jean-Paul asks.
The red and white clad man replies that he doesn’t know, as there was no allowance for this eventuality, no contingency plan. Northstar grabs Tigerstryke and pulls him up above the crowd, face to face they talk high in the air, where Northstar suggests to Tigerstryke that his people take evasive rather than offensive action, while the two of them take a somewhat more elevated view of the situation. With that, Jean-Paul propels the two men even higher, before asking Tigerstryke if his battle suit works on the same principles as Guardian’s.
Tigerstryke replies that it does, but he doesn’t see what that has to do with anything. Northstar tells him to recalibrate his optical range and scan for any large or anomalous energy readings. Tigerstryke does as his uneasy ally requests, and discovers the strange energy emanating from a trailer at the circus. Northstar explains to Tigerstryke that Arcade uses gadgetry and machinery, so to control so many minds at once, he would have needed to generate a very powerful signal. Northstar asks Tigerstryke if he reads any life signs, to which the reply is ‘No’. ‘Then what are you waiting for? Destroy it!’ Jean-Paul declares. In a spectacular display of pink energy, Tigerstryke blasts the trailer, causing a massive explosion.
Soon, Killspree informs Tigerstryke that he thinks the humans are all normal, but points out that his Russian is basic to say the least. He reveals that what he died gather however is that the logical law is on its way, so he thinks they should be gone before the law arrives. Tigerstryke agrees, before telling Jean-Paul that he is sorry, and that he believes him, but Arcade or no Arcade, he has his orders to bring him in. Northstar is searching through some wreckage of the trailer. ‘Beaubier?’ Tigerstryke calls out, while Jean-Paul picks up a card with Old Cult Magic Shop New Orleans on it.
‘Beaubier, I’m warning you!’ Tigerstryke exclaims, adding that he really did want to resort to violence, but he has no option. ‘Prime - take him!’ but as Tigerstryke gives the order, all of the lights at the circus go off. ‘What happened to the lights?’ Yeti mumbles, to which Tigerstryke suspects that the main generator is down, and adds that it is no coincidence probably. Killspree exclaims that he cannot see anything, so they are going to lose him again. Tigerstryke declares that they wont lose him, and switches to Star Light mode, his sensors now enabling him to see Northstar streaking out of the circus in the air. Tigerstryke calls out to Northstar, telling him that as fast as he may be, he cannot outrun a high intensity electromagnetic burst. But before Tigerstryke can administer the blast, something knocks him out.
Northstar thinks to himself that it seems he has a guardian angel, and wonders who it was. He supposes that it could have been Arcade, because he imagines that his capture would throw a large wrench in the works of whatever he has planned for him in New Orleans. Jean-Paul recalls the tarot card he found - the five of Batons. He knows that reversed, its divinatory meaning is fraud, defeat through trickery. Jean-Paul supposes that means the end of the preliminaries, so now it is all about him and the false murder charge over his head. ‘Good!’
Shortly, in New Orleans, the French Quarter. Jean-Paul has a long blue jacket on covering his costume, and thinks that it is strange, as he has no past link with this city, so why should he be here? He regrets that he does not have a plan, something is better than stumbling blindly from one glaring Arcade clue to another. Northstar’s head feels stuffed with cotton wool. He needs desperately to rest. ‘But I cannot!’ Jean-Paul begins to enter the magic shop, knowing that Arcade may chose to target another close friend - Raul or Philippe - anyone who has had the misfortune to care for him.
Jean-Paul approaches the counter and calls out, ‘You - old woman. I am here concerning a tarot card - the five of Batons. The old woman doesn’t turn from what she is doing, so Jean-Paul asks her if she heard him. The old woman replies ‘The five of Batons? You must be mistaken. The only card that need concern you, Monsieur Beaubier…is DEATH!’ the old woman turns, and Jean-Paul is shocked to discover she is practically a corpse, when suddenly the corpse - or rather, robot - opens its mouth and shoots something at Jean-Paul, who falls to the floor unconscious.
Sometime later, Northstar wakes to find himself in a reconstruction of the Quebec City bus terminal, which shocks him to the core. ‘No! Please…not this!’ he exclaims as he gets to his feet, while thinking that it is an uncannily perfect reconstruction - almost as if Arcade really has looked inside his head and plucked out an image. Jean-Paul tells himself that he should have known it would end here, ‘In my own personal Hell!’ Jean-Paul calls out to Arcade, asking him if that is what his employer wants - ‘To hear my confession? To see my shame?’
Suddenly, a voice calls out ‘You…you did this!’ and robots of the undead begin to rise. ‘You killed us…with your bombs and ideals!’ Jean-Paul is shocked. ‘You murdered us all!’ ‘NO!’ screams Northstar. ‘No! No! No!’ ‘You! You! You!’ cry the zombies all pointing at him. ‘Yes…’ he whispers as he falls to the ground, hanging his head.
Suddenly, someone grabs his head, and pulls a scalpel to his neck. The man has a scar down his face, and exclaims that the boss figured this little trip down memory lane would take out whatever fight was left in Northstar. The man remarks that it was a shame really, and turns to his equally nasty teammates, who all stand before Northstar. ‘I don’t know about the rest of you…but I was looking forward to a bit of a struggle!’