Phoenix, Arizona, is noted for 300 days of sunshine a year, “river tubing” lazily down the Salt River, and breathtaking desert scenery. But not for free-for-alls between super heroes and super villains - al least, not until tonight, where right now, down an alleyway, Wolverine a.k.a. Logan and Julia “Spider-Woman” Carpenter find themselves up against a new villain. ‘Are you serious? Your name is Dreadlox?’ Spider-Woman asks as debris from the building behind them falls down around them. ‘That ain’t a name, darling - it’s a haircut!’ Wolverine declares. Hands behind her head, the aggressive villainess replies ‘I am not your “darling”, mutant!’. ‘Well, Spider-Woman?’ Wolverine asks his companion. ‘Well what?’ Julia replies. ‘Aren’t you gonna try talking me into not attacking this Elvira wanna-be unless she attacks us first?’ Logan enquires. Julia points out that she is obviously in league with those two muscle-men they just clobbered.
Noticing that their opponent is massaging her dread-locked scalp, Julia isn’t sure what she is doing that before, but tells Wolverine that she votes they take her out and ask questions later. ‘Y’know, you might not turn out to be as big a pain as I thought’ the X-Man tells Julia as they rush towards Dreadlox in unison. Although Julia is a member of the Avengers West Coast, and Wolverine of the X-Men, they are also members of the Secret Defenders, and they swiftly learn that whatever the reason Dr Strange dispatched them into the Valley of the Sun, it was not to do battle with pushovers by the light of a burning building.
But as they attempt to reach their opponent, she releases some energy, and Julia keels over, ‘What’s happening to me? Everything’s spinning around’ she exclaims, while Wolverine remarks that he was dizzy for a second as well, but standing up, his head is clear now. He turns around and sees Decimator and Tokamak and asks them when they got back on their feet. ‘Since we found out we were fighting a loser!’ Decimator exclaims. ‘Which didn’t take long’ Tokamak adds. ‘I’ll show you clowns who’s a cream puff!’ Wolverine declares, enraged. Tis is hardly the first time he has flown into a berserker rage, triggered by sudden, overwhelming fury. It is the first time, however, this rage was brought on by so mild an insult as being called a “loser”.
Now, as if in a blinding fog, almost as if it were all happening to someone else, Logan feels the rending of flesh and bone as his adamantium claws slice the air like the blades of some deadly threshing machine. He smells the fear of the mystery men, who, only minutes ago, set ablaze the seedy hotel room he and Spider-Woman were searching. He sees the spurt of crimson from shredded pectorals and severed jugular, and then he is awash in a universe of blood, once again the killing machine he was engineered to be - and as he is dowsed in blood and the stench of death fills his nostrils like a heady bouquet.
Spider-Woman, too, finds herself swimming, disorientated, through a translucent miasma towards her intended quarry’ Julia tells Dreadlox that she doesn’t know what she, Decimator and Tokamak are up to, or what it has to do with young criminals who grow old and die before their very eyes, ‘But when I get hold of you, believe me - you’re going to tell me!’ Julia exclaims. But as Julia reaches out to grab Dreadlox, she finds her opponent disappears. ‘Where in blazes did you go?’ Julia calls out, before suddenly, her vision begins to restore, only Julia witnesses her beloved daughter, Rachel, walking in front of a car and being killed. She calls out to her: ‘Rachel, honey - don’t’, but it’s no use. Then, the leering face of Dreadlox fills Julia’s horizons anew: ‘Do you like that, sister? There’s plenty more where that came from!’ she exclaims. ‘No!’ Julia replies, wiping back the tears from beneath her mask, as this time, she sees Rachel trapped and drowning. ‘Mommy!’ the young girl calls out.
Nearby, the haze of blood that has swirled around Logan has dissipated, and he most reverently wishes it had not, as he sees laying at his feet the bodies of his motionless X-Men teammates Cyclops, Storm, Jean Grey, Colossus and Jubilee. ‘Awww…what’s the matter, mutie? Never woke up and found you’d kill your best friends before?’ Dreadlox asks. ‘Never woke up and learned your nightmare was real?’ she screeches. Wolverine goes eyes-wide, while Dreadlox laughs and asks Decimator and Tokamak how they like her power to make lesser mortals see - no, live - the events they most dread? ‘Not half as much as I’m going to like electrocuting those two while they’re helpless’ the armoured Tokamak mutters, while the oversized Decimator declares that the “shrimp with the claws” is his. ‘He actually thought he was slicing me, instead of thin air!’ Decimator adds.
At that moment, police officers are keeping civilians behind barriers, while a crew of fire fighters tends to the out of control blaze that is sweeping through the old hotel. Dreadlox tells her companions that the bonfire is beginning to draw attention, so they need to get going. The three then depart, surrounded by flames, leaving Wolverine and Spider-Woman to their own devices, struggling with what they have just witnessed, they stagger along the alleyway.
Across the road, two homeless people are searching through trash cans, when one of them alerts the other, George, to the fact that the Regent is on fire. ’That rat hole? Good riddance!’ the other exclaims, adding that they stayed there once when he was flush. ‘Boy, that was a long time ago’ Geroge mutters, before noticing a half-used cigarette and matches in the trash. ‘Even getting rousted by those bank robbers and everything, maybe this is my lucky -’ he begins as he starts to light the cigarette, only for someone to step forward and flick it from his mouth: ‘Don’t you know these things can kill you?’ a voice asks. ‘Hey! What’s the big idea of -’ the homeless man declares, before turning and seeing the vigilante hero Nomad a.k.a. Jack Monroe.
‘You’re one of them costumed guys we say before - even if you’re not wearing a costume!’ the homeless man gasps. ‘So you saw us earlier, huh?’ Nomad asks, realizing that Dr Strange’s spell must not have been cast quite as wide as he thought. ‘Not hardly!’ the homeless man exclaims, before calling out to Mary, his companion, and telling her to come along. ‘Look, we need to talk to you two…’ Nomad tells them, when suddenly Darkhawk a.k.a. Chris Powell stands at the other end of the alleyway. ‘Stop! We won’t hurt you!’ he tells the homeless people.
‘Another one! We’re trapped!’ George mutters, before Darkhawk declares that they saw three young hoodlums knock him down during that bank heist. ‘We just need to know if they said anything that might help us find out who they are’ Darkhawk explains. George replies that they didn’t, and adds that he doesn’t want to get involved, but Mary tells him that just because they don’t have homes, they don’t need to act like animals. ‘Actually, there was something’ she announces. Nomad, with his foster daughter, Bucky, strapped to his back, asks her what that was. Mary reveals that one of them called her “grannie” as they ran by, and that it could be a coincidence, but that since she is younger than she looks, that has been her nickname with a few of the old people on the street that she knows.
Soon, at the precinct house, the sergeant leads Nomad and Darkhawkdown a corridor, while other officers look on at the heroes. Following them are George and Mary. The sergeant remarks that he supposes it won’t hurt for them to take another look at the body. ‘But I don’t know about those two’ he adds, referring to George and Mary. Darkhawk assures the officer that it is important and explains that the guy might have just called her “Grannie” because they thought she was older than she is, when suddenly, in the morgue, Mary sees the body and cries ‘It - it’s him, George! Look!’, while Geroge identified the body as Lester. ‘I told you I hadn’t seen him for a few days!’ Mary declares. ‘Somewhere in between, he shed fifty years’ Darkhawk points out, while Nomad declares that he then gained those years back a couple of hours ago, only to die in the police cell.
Shortly, Nomad rushes from the police station, ‘Somehow, I think things might just start getting nasty’ he declares, while the baby strapped to his back utters ‘Fwyyy’ as Darkhawk soars above them.
Soon, on the slopes of South Mountain Park, outside the city, Nomad and Darkhawk meet up with Spider-Woman and Wolverine, and announce that they may have a lead. ‘That’s good‘ Julia utters, to which Nomad tells the heroes that they look like their just lost their proverbial last friend. ‘…in a way…we did. But I can’t…’ Julia begins, while Wolverine, cigar in his mouth, remarks to Spider-Woman ‘We gotta tell ‘em, Web-Lady’, and so they do, and for a few seconds, the pain of those moments lives within them again. ‘Why, those scummy -’ Darkhawk begins, while Nomad tells Julia and Logan that if they need a breather, he and Darkhawk can investigate, but Julia thanks Jack and tells him that they have to go on, so that Dreadlox doesn’t get a chance to do that to anyone else.
‘Which she will - maybe even again to us’ Wolverine snarls. ‘When I think of what she made me believe I’d done to my buddies - I could almost forget she’s a woman!’ Logan exclaims, unsheathing his claws, before retracting them and muttering ‘We’ll see’. When the two groups have compared notes, Julia asks the others if they think the “Second Chance Institute” diploma that they found in “Tabitha’s” hotel room fits into this at all. Darkhawk suggests that they contact Dr Strange, as he is the one who dumped them in Phoenix. Nomad asks how they reach him, to which Wolverine announces that he has a wild idea.
A short time later, ‘Yo - Doc? Look this is -’ Wolverine remarks as he speaks into a phone in a public phone booth, only to hear a recorded message: ‘You have reached the answering machine of Dr Stephen Strange. I’m afraid I’m, out just now, but -’, which causes Wolverine to release his claws, and angrily shouts ‘I hate those things!’ as he busts up the phone box. ‘Feel better?’ Nomad asks him. ‘Not much’ Wolverine mutters, before asking the others what they are smirking about, and tells them that if they have any better idea of how to get hold of that Greenwich Village mandrake, he wants to hear it.
Darkhawk mutters that you think it would be easy to get in touch with a guy who is a real-life wizard, to which Wolverine exclaims ‘That’s it!’. ‘What is?’ Darkhawk asks. Wolverine reminds the others that Darkhawk first contacted them all by astral body, by talking through their minds, and declares that there might be still some kind of psychic link-up between them, wherever he is. ‘You mean like he left his mental phone off the hook?’ Nomad jokes, to which Spider-Woman suggests it is worth a shot. Several civilians nearby turn their attention to the costumed heroes: ‘Who are these guys?’ one of them wonders to himself, while Julia asks Logan what they do now. ‘Join hands and sing “Where have all the flowers gone”?’ Nomad suggests, while his baby laughs. ‘Do I look like I got a rulebook’ Logan snaps, and suggest that they could close their eyes and concentrate on Dr Strange.
The quartet does so, to the amazement and consternation of puzzled pedestrians filtering out onto the pre-dawn streets. Seconds go by, slowly, frustrating, like so many hours. Then, just when everybody thinks they can’t think any harder, or any longer - ‘We’re in!’ Julia exclaims. ‘All right!’ Darkhawk calls out. ‘Only - in where?’ nomad asks. ‘Does that give you a clue?’ Wolverine asks as he motions forward in the strange hazy landscape, where Doctor Stephen Strange is up ahead, battling a foe. ‘What’s he doing?’ Nomad asks as green energy lights up the area. ‘Fighting for his life’ Wolverine replies, before announcing that the villain is Nightmare. ‘No wonder he hasn’t been looking in on us’ Julia declares.
‘The Doctor is far too busy to see you now, mortals!’ Nightmare exclaims. ‘Will these little fellows do?’ Nightmare asks he releases a horde of demons at the quartet of heroes. The demons hiss at Wolverine, Spider-Woman, Darkhawk and Nomad, uttering that they need souls. ‘Tasssste good!’ one of the demons utters. ‘Where are we? And what are these things?’ Nomad asks. ‘Does it matter?’ Darkhawk declares as they attack the demons. Julia exclaims that they have to get through to Dr Strange, as Wolverine tells his comrades to hit the demons. ‘If they’re solid enough to grab us, they’re solid enough to bleed!’ he declares. ‘Easy enough for you spandex types to say’ Nomad mutters, while Darkhawk finds several crawling over his armor at once, and exclaims that they are like little fears. ‘They can all be handled separately, but when they come at you all at once -’ he remarks, to which Wolverine agrees, and announces that it is as if they are in somebody’s bad dream.
Julia dodges one of the demons who lunge at her, and she declares that they have to get Dr Strange out of this. ‘NO!’ a voice booms, as Dr Strange tells the Secret Defenders that this is his fight, and only he can win or lose it. He tells the heroes that if they stay here, they merely endanger his entire purpose in gathering them. ‘You must go back’ he declares, as energy swirls around them, and the heroes are shunted back to reality. ‘If you say so’ Logan mutters.
An instant later, Julia, Darkhawk and Nomad land on their feet, back on the sidewalk, while Wolverine falls flat on his face. Nomad suggests that he best leave Bucky with the local under grounders, as this is getting out of hand. Julia asks her makeshift teammates if they have any idea just what was going on in there, to which Darkhawk replies that whatever it was, Dr Strange clearly felt it was out of their league. ‘Maybe out of his, too. Anyway, at least now we know - we’re on our own. And you know what? I think I like it that way’ Wolverine declares. Julia asks Wolverine if he is sure, and suggests that she could contact the rest of the Avengers West Coast. ‘Hey, maybe that’s not a bad -’ Nomad begins, but Wolverine tells her ‘No way’, and reminds everyone that Doctor Strange told them his “mystical subconscious” chose the four of them for this skirmish, and he thinks it is their best bet to assume he knew what it was doing.
‘Say, do you guys mind posing for a picture with me?’ one of the locals asks as they approach Wolverine. ‘Are you anybody, mister?’ one of the civilians asks Nomad, who replies ‘Not so’s you’d notice’. ‘That armor is hot! Can I -?’ a boy asks Darkhawk, who replies ‘Sorry’, and asks the civilians to let them pass. ‘Didn’t you hear the man ask you nice’ Logan snaps at the man with the camera. ‘Let us through!’ he shouts. The civilians begin to depart, and one of them exclaims ‘Sheesh! If that’s how these guys act, they can stay in New York and LA!’ one of the civilians declares.
Soon, back at the precinct house, the young woman called “Tabitha” is led away by two officers, and calling them “coppers” she asks them where they are taking her. ‘Hear that? Tabitha here called us “coppers”!’ one of the officers declares, suggesting that there must have been a Cagney move on TV last night, before telling her that all they know3is somebody pulled some strings to get her sent downtown. The first officer asks the other if he noticed something about Tabitha, and the second officer declares that she looks older than she did when they hauled her in. ‘Is your makeup wearing off, lady?’ the second officer asks. Tabitha replies that she isn’t wearing makeup, and nervously asks if she really looks older. ‘Are you kidding? You look at least thirty’ one of the officers begins, before both officers find themselves knocked backwards when some webbing appears out of nowhere and topples them. ‘What the -?’ the other officer gasps.
‘Something tripped us!’ one of them points out, but looking around, the other exclaims that it is gone, before realizing that Tabitha is racing off as well. Indeed, still handcuffed, “Tabitha” runs away, while keeping watch from the roof of a nearby building, Wolverine tells Spider-Woman that she has nice control of her psi-webs. Julia doesn’t respond to the compliment, instead she just asks whether the others think Tabitha will lead them to whoever is behind this. Nomad replies that an experienced crook might guess it was a setup, but that Tabitha has amateur written all over her - so she just might.
Meantime, George and Mary, as well as a bunch of other homeless people have arrived at the rear door to a building, down a dimly-lit alley. ‘Well, Mary. This is the place, all right’ George remarks as he looks at the back of the card he holds up. “Around the back” he reads on the card. Mary points out that you can’t get any further “round back” than this. ‘All right, George - I guess we might as well -’ Mary begins, when suddenly, the door opens, and a man appears. He motions at Mary and calling her “grannie” exclaims that she can come in. ‘And you - and you, and you three’ he adds, before telling everyone else to take a hike, as they are too young. ‘Go out and get a job, for cripes’ sake!’ he adds. George drops the card in surprise.
When the door has closed behind some, and the others have wandered off, Darkhawk steps into the alleyway, and tells himself that Nomad was right - those two homeless people were holding out on them. He notices the card and picks it up - reading “Second Chance Institute. Renewed Health. Renewed Vigor. Feel 50 Years Younger. Harrison - around back”. Darkhawk realizes that this is the same name on the diploma that Spider-Woman saw at the hotel before those two super-hoods burned it down. Chris tells himself that it might now have anything to do with the robberies, let alone why Dr Strange sent them here, but then again, it might.
Chris wonders what he does now, as he was supposed to just watch Goerge and Mary, but he can’t very well watch them if they are inside and he is out here. He uses the strength of his armor to force the door open, and decides that the inside part of this job might come more naturally to his human form, his armor vanishes, his “switchback” working just like it is supposed to. ‘Could be an omen’ the handsome young hero tells himself, and wonders if he can crack this case wide open all by his lonesome. ‘Wouldn’t that be a kick in the -’ he thinks to himself as he walks down the darkened corridor, when suddenly, a voice calls out ‘You -!’. Chris becomes worried, as a young blonde woman walks up to him and asks ‘Which one are you?’ Chris hesitates and replies ‘I - uh -’, so the woman asks him if he is Mel, Norm or Leopold. ‘No, I’m…Cal’ Chris replies. The woman walks past him and utters ‘Looking good’, before telling him that she will see him. ‘Right’ Chris replies, while rubbing his head and wondering what that was all about.
He comes to another door, and peers into the room, while wondering ‘Don’t the people in this place even know each other?’, as he watches the scene in the room - a voice calls out The coming of those three masked beings and the man with the gun changes everything - particularly since Decimator, Tokamak and Dreadlox failed to eliminate two of them’ a woman hidden by a hooded cloak calls out. Dreadlox, Decimator and Tokamak stand before the mysterious woman, while another brightly-clad being in a red suit is with them. Several others stand back further in the room. ‘The authorities arrived - as did a crowd of onlookers - too many for my power to affect at the same time’ Dreadlox declares. Decimator reminds their leader that she said they should avoid detection by the populace at all costs. ‘That much, at least, is true’ the hidden woman declares.
Chris tells himself that he has to get a closer look at the one who is bossing the others around, deciding that she has a voice like an angel. ‘I told you you should have sent me along’ the man in red exclaims. ‘That was not for you to decide, but for Macabre!’ the cloaked woman declares, revealing her face - a skeleton. ‘Whoa! I never would have dreamed -’ Chris thinks to himself as he steps backwards after seeing Macabre’s face. But in doing so, he knocks a container over. ‘Apprehend the intruder!’ Macabre orders.
Chris runs from the room, and tells himself that he has to find some place he can switch back into Darkhawk. Suddenly, Chris sees Tabitha, and calls out to her, but she doesn’t recognize him. ‘Who in blazes are you?’ she shouts. ‘Forget I said anything’ Chris mutters as he runs past her, and realizes that he should have blurted out her name, for Chris Powell has no way of knowing who she is. He decides that he has no choice now, even if someone sees him, he has to change. But attempting to do so, nothing happens. ‘Why me, Lord? And most of all - why now?’ Chris wonders.
Suddenly, the being in red appears behind Chris. ‘Ah! Here you are! I’m so glad it was I who found you first!’ he exclaims. ‘So am I! This guy looks like a real wimp’ Chris tells himself, deciding that if he can make it past him, he can probably run back out into the alley. Chris moves forward and punches his opponent in the face, but he doesn’t even move. ‘I’m not that weak!’ Chris exclaims. The villain rubs his face and replies ‘On the contrary, that was a fairly strong blow for one of your age and physique. As for how hard it was - it was precisely this strong!’ he declares as he whacks Chris, knocking him backwards. Chris falls to the floor, and Macabre, Dreadlox, Decimator and Tokamak appear over him. Macabre calls the man in red “Stasis” and tells him that if the young man had known his name, he might have realized he represents the stats of equilibrium at which two forces balance each other out, so that he automatically absorbs any forced hurled against him, and can return that exact amount.
Stasis remarks that if the young man simply bypassed him, he could never have stopped him. ‘I wonder who he is. He is not one of ours’ Tokamak announces. Suddenly, ‘No, lightning-bug - he’s one of ours!’ Nomad declares as he, Wolverine and Spider-Woman burst through an outer wall. Logan tells Julia that he didn’t know she was strong enough to knock through a wall, to which Julia replies ‘Proportionate strength of a spider and all that, X-Man. It’s all the rage!’. Wolverine remarks that there is nothing like making an entrance, and as bricks fall on the young “punks” as Logan calls them, he adds that this is a bonus. Another brick hits Dreadlox in the head, and Wolverine declares that taking her out before she could put the whammy on them again was a real must.
‘Now, whoever you guys are…lets boogie!’ Nomad exclaims as he, Wolverine and Spider-Woman move towards Macabre and the others. ‘Dreadlox is down!’ Decimator exclaims. Macabre tells the others that this is their chance to prove they can handle these fools without Dreadlox, and orders them to attack. ‘You just said the magic word’ Wolverine snarls, while Nomad asks Julia where Darkhawk is. ‘That Avenger communi-card you loaned said he’s here, as well as Tabitha - but I don’t see hide nor hair of him’ Nomad remarks. ‘We’ll worry about him - after payback time for what those creeps did to Logan and me!’ Julia calls out as she throws Decimator aside, telling herself that she is pleased he got over-eager, or this might have been a whole lot harder.
‘You cannot dodge my fusion bursts forever!’ Tokamak tells Nomad, who asks ‘Who says I intend to?’, while Wolverine approaches Stasis and tells him that if he makes a move he will be shredded wheat. ‘Actually, I’d prefer you make the first move’ Stasis replies. Suddenly, ‘STOP!’ Macabre calls out, as she grabs the unconscious Chris and Tabitha, and declares that they will truly be just as dead and desicated as he powers make them appear to be, holding them up, they appear as skeletons. ‘No - please don’t!’ Tabitha calls out. Macabre tells the heroes that if they don’t believe she has the power to do what she says, then all they need to do is continue their defiance. ‘You have, as I believe the custom is, to the count of three’ she warns them.
Spider-Woman, Wolverine and Nomad turn to Macabre, and Julia remarks that she doesn’t recognise the boy, but that the girl is Tabitha. ‘We can’t let that skull-faced devil kill them!’ Julia exclaims. Claws barred, Wolverine points out that if they surrender, they all get deep-sixed. ‘Definitely a lose-lose scenario!’ Nomad exclaims. Decimator, Tokamak and Stasis stand behind Macabre, who has a hold of Chris and Tabitha, while the motionless Dreadlox lies before them. ‘Two…and you do know what comes next, don’t you?’ Macabre asks as her skull-face grins wickedly….