In the newspaper known as The Daily Bugle, J. Jonah Jameson urges his reporters to look at a newspaper cover showing Spider-Man fighting the Hulk. He tells them it’s all there: the single story in an image. The pain and the pathos; the sound and the fury; the rage and the arrogance. He stresses that if a picture is worth a thousand words, this one’s worth two thousand. The Hulk vs. Spider-Man… the story of the year!
Still, he tosses it aside, remarking that this was last year’s story. This year – today – it’s all about mutants. Evolution’s little joke on humanity. Homo sapien superior. People born with superhuman powers. Jonah recounts what they all saw on CBNC an hour ago: at seven o’clock this evening, the government program called Operation: Zero Tolerance rolled into action and attacked the outlaw group called the X-Men. One of his reporters reminds him that, according to the news, the X-Men attacked first. Jameson argues that the first rule of journalism is: don’t believe what you see or hear from anyone else… least of all the television news!
Jonah goes on to state that he didn’t become publisher of one the nation’s largest-selling newspapers by reporting what he saw on TV! They’re reporters, which means it’s up to Daily Bugle to get the story – the real story – and not what some idiot with make-up and blow-dried hair tells them is the story! It means they do the research, they separate the fact from fiction, they make sure every word they print is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Jonah admits that’s why he became publisher – and that’s what he lives or die by.
However, he also admits he’d be just as happy if every super-powered yahoo in a mask and cape fell into an open volcano. That’s not what that lunatic Bastion and his internationally-endorsed Zero Tolerance is about. It’s about witch hunts; scapegoating; violating human rights. Most of all, it’s about a reporter named Nick Bandouveris disappearing when he got too close to their connection with Graydon Creed. Jameson also reminds his reporters that Creed was a presidential candidate back then and now he’s also dead. Jonah is confident that something about Bastion and his holy crusade stinks like yesterday’s garbage.
Listening to Jameson’s passionate speech, Joe “Robbie” Robertson contemplates that Jonah may be an arrogant, hot-tempered, judgmental sonofagun but they have to give him credit for standing up for what he believes in.
Jameson informs them that Ben Urich is on his way to Washington as they speak trying to figure out what in blazes their elected officials are doing about all this and why some of them even support Bastion. He also informs them that the X-Men known as Cannonball and Storm are being kept somewhere by Bastion’s men. He wants his reporters to find them. He wants Ellis to get a reaction on this from the Thunderbolts, if they’re at home. He also asks him to see if anyone is at the Avengers mansion; squeeze a statement out of District Attorney Tower if he has to!
He then asks from Yin to check with Dr. Swann at Empire State University on the authenticity of those satellite transmissions. Jonah believes it’s a little too convenient the images started after the X-Men’s alleged attack. It’s fine that people are afraid of the X-Men but when he sees an all-out military operation like this, he feels it’s their duty to get all the facts. He asks his reporters if they got it. They assure him they do.
“Then stop standing around here… we’ve got a newspaper to put out, people!” he snarls and everyone hastily gets to work. Jonah asks Robertson where Parker is. Robertson explains that he sent him down to the CBNC studio to get a photo of Henry Peter Gyrich, the special federal agent attached to superhuman activities. “Good. That’s why I pay you the big money, Robertson” Jameson replies in satisfaction. Robertson reminds him they need a new headline and asks for any preference. Jameson tells him to call it “Declaration of War.”
Peter Parker – part-time photographer, part-time student and full-time Spider-Man – is in an alley, crawling on a wall, with a camera hung around his neck. In the years since he was bitten by an irradiated spider that endowed him with amazing powers, he has seen many things that have frightened him. But what he has seen today is the most disturbing of all: the world may have taken the first step toward genetic war. If he hadn’t seen it with his own eyes, he wouldn’t believe it: the X-Men blasted out of the sky like common criminals. What’s worse, there’s an awful lot of people who are happy about it. They’re so scared of mutants that they automatically assume that all mutants are dangerous. If people will stand for this, what’s next? Registration? Relocation camps? What if they come after him? What’s the difference between being born with special powers and gaining them through radiation?
Finally spotting Henry Peter Gyrich’s car exiting a garage, Peter takes a snapshot of him, exclaiming “Gotcha!” He thinks that for a special agent for the National Security Council – and supposed mouthpiece for Zero Tolerance – Gyrich looks almost depressed about it. Peter decides it’s a good idea to follow him for a while… Spidey-style! He immediately changes into his superhero colors.
As he starts hopping around, from one roof to the next, he thinks that the X-Men are good people. He can’t stand around and watch while they – and a lot of other innocents – are hunted down like animals. After all, it’s not like he is unfamiliar with being hounded and called a menace. But at least he can take off his mask and be Peter Parker whenever he wants. He wonders: what do you do if you’re born with wings? Or an optic blast that fires every time you open your eyes? If each time you’d go to the grocery store, you’d have to pray that nobody notice the peculiar shape down your back? He tells himself that maybe he’ll ask Gyrich and…
Suddenly, his Spider-sense goes wild, warning him about something. He immediately sees something moving underground fast, tearing up the street, much to the horror of the passers-by, heading right at Gyrich’s limo and knocking it over.
Gyrich’s huge bodyguards, Agents Boyd and Mathers, exit the limo, talking in strangely robotic voices. Mathers pulls out a gun and tells his partner that an ambush program-activation is in progress. “Operation parameters acknowledged, Agent Mathers,” Boyd replies. Puzzled by their behavior, Spider-Man jumps on the limo and pulls Gyrich out of the car, wryly remarking that these two are not the most caring bodyguards in the world. Gyrich disdainfully informs him they’re secret service: professionals. “What am I?” Spider-Man exclaims. “A volunteer?” A voice kindly informs him that just this moment, he’s an impediment.
The voice belongs to Marrow, who’s just emerged from the remnants of the pavement together with Callisto. “Nice talk, lady,” Spidey replies. Marrow clarifies that they’re not here to talk nicely. She also introduces Callisto and herself to the “upworlders.” Callisto tells Gyrich they’re here for him. As a representative of Operation: Zero Tolerance, Gyrich has effectively declared open season on mutants. Being representatives of the Homo Superior, Marrow and Callisto hold him accountable.
Interlude – Somewhere far away…
Gambit drinks water from a small lake, amidst a strange-looking wasteland. Even though he tells himself that he’s not the one to complain, he still wonders why it is that nothing is ever as easy as it could be for the X-Men. Here they are, fresh from saving an entire galaxy – because they were too stupid to know it was impossible – only to get knocked off course on the way home from the mother of all spaceships! He is well aware that this is what he gets from being Gambit, the X-Man instead of Remy LeBeau, thief. He asks himself when is his debt paid; when does he get back to his own life and leave well enough… alone? He suddenly pauses as he spots a reflection on the water: a strange being with horse-like features standing behind him.
Back in the Daily Bugle, Jameson is over at the phone with Senator Ralston. Jonah is furious that the Senator is stating “no comment” regarding the recent developments. He is shocked that some of Ralston’s peers in the Senate have thrown their support behind a man with a messiah complex and no past – and Ralston has absolutely no reaction to this?! He wants to know what Ralston would say if he told him that Bastion may have had one of his reporters killed. As Ralston replies something, Jonah retorts that he has, of course, tried to speak to Robert Kelly but he’s been conspicuously absent during all of this and…
Ralston again says something. Jameson impatiently retorts that he knows the “mutant crisis” has always been Kelly’s cause, but… Ralston yet again cuts him short. “Very eloquent, Senator. Can I quote you on that?” an exasperated Jonah growls. “Well, you can quote me on this!” he tells the Senator and promptly informs him that next election, he’s voting Republican! “Yutz!” he exclaims in disgust upon hanging up.
“Very dramatic, Jonah” Bastion remarks, standing above Jameson’s desk. Surprised, Jonah asks him how he got in here. Bastion realizes it’s always questions with him, isn’t it? He assures him, though, that today he comes bearing answers. Jonah sarcastically wonders: shouldn’t Bastion be out trying to rule the world together with his Stormtroopers? Bastion insists he’s not concerned with ruling the world: he’s concerned with keeping its three billion or so human inhabitants safe from extinction. That’s why he is here to offer Jameson a deal. Jonah retorts that this is a newspaper, not a casino. “Quiet,” Bastion says and tosses a data disc on Jonah’s desk. He advises him not to speak too harshly yet – not before he sees what’s on that disc.
Approximately thirty blocks away
Callisto approaches Gyrich, asking him to forgive Marrow; sometimes her youthful and passionate rhetoric tend to get away from her. She explains that, for years, they lived underground… modern day Morlocks, who felt they had no place on the surface world. There, they thought they’d be safe from humans like Gyrich. She clarifies that their intent here is not to kill anyone. They only want to make their voices heard. Spidey gets in the middle, asking Callisto if the term “talk radio” means anything to her! Callisto argues that he should be fighting with them: he knows what it feels like to be hated and hunted and spat upon just because he’s different. “All the more reason, lady, not to give in to anger!” Peter argues.
Marrow repeats to Callisto what she told her: the time for words has passed! Jumping in the air, she releases four stake-shaped bones against Gyrich, exclaiming that all surface-dwellers understand is death. Spider-Man, however, grabs the bones via his web-shooters before they reach their intended target. “Spider-Man… don’t!” Callisto cries. “Don’t what, lady?” Spider-Man angrily exclaims. Don’t stand by and watch Marrow murder Gyrich? He ironically remarks that that’d go a long way to promote genetic harmony between the races. Callisto realizes that this isn’t going well. Was she deluding herself to think that after Sarah’s encounter with Cable and Storm, Sarah would be freed by her demons?
Boyd and Mathers finally fully reveal their true nature; the fact they are the human/machine hybrids known as Prime Sentinels. One of them orders Callisto and Marrow to cease and desist. Surprised, Callisto wonders if they’re government agents! At one time, yes, they reply. Now they are much, much more. Their sub-programming was triggered by Marrow and Callisto’s attack. They’ve now become Prime Sentinels: Nimrod Battalion. They are their executioners.
The Sentinels analyze Marrow and Spider-Man with their systems: a target mutant-designate: unknown and an obstacle-designate: Spider-Man. The appearance of a police car distracts Spidey and Marrow and the Sentinels decide to take full advantage of it… and strike! They instantly fire at them with bio-blasts calibrated for specific genetic matrixes.
“Nooo!” Callisto thinks. She’s witnessed too many deaths… lost too many of her own kind. She decides she won’t stand by and let it happen again. As she quickly rushes forward, she prevents the bio-blast from reaching its target… taking the blast that was meant for Marrow. As Marrow approaches her, Gyrich realizes she’s still breathing. Spider-Man believes they have to get her to a hospital. With a weak voice, Callisto urges them not to worry about her and end this now.
At the Daily Bugle, Bastion tells Jameson it’s all there, in the disc; all the available information Bastion’s gathered from a “reliable source.” This is everything he’s managed to decrypt so far regarding the outlaw X-Men and their known associates. He assures Jonah there’s information of far greater consequence that he’s as yet been unable to translate – but he will. He tries to tempt Jameson with what’s contained in the disc: the monsters feared by the public “outed” with their public identities. He tells Jonah this is the story of the year, Pulitzer Prize material, and Bastion’s handing it to him on a silver platter. He further teases Jameson, by wondering what reporter could have given this to him. All Jonah has to do is print it.
Meanwhile, the two Sentinels keep fighting their quarries, while one of them realizes that this operation has strayed dangerously far from its original goal: the covert safeguarding of Henry Peter Gyrich. However, security has been compromised; the Sentinels’ “cover” has been discredited. The other Sentinel takes the hint. His colleague is indicating that they initiate the Scorched Earth Program; there’s no other alternative. The two Sentinels agree that all bio-signatures must be erased and start releasing their blasts against Marrow, Callisto, Spider-Man and Gyrich.
Kneeling above the fallen Callisto, Marrow is astonished that now humans are turning on their own kind: they get more vulgar by the moment! Spidey stresses the fact that humans didn’t choose these two to represent the rest of them. As Spidey creates a webbing shield, Gyrich asks him what he’s doing. Peter asks him not to worry: this shield of his ought to… “Be of no use whatsoever,” he completes the phrase as the shield proves useless against the Sentinels blasts. Peter thinks that whoever created these android guys – or whatever they are – sure knew what they were doing. He hopes there aren’t any pesky Daily Bugle photographers around to snap embarrassing photos of their retreat! As he avoids another blast, he urges Gyrich to duck!
Taking cover behind the police car together with the policeman, Peter assumes that Gyrich didn’t know these guys were some form of Sentinels. “Of course not!” Gyrich retorts. He explains that these guys are – were – considered two of their best agents. He suddenly realizes in shock that these two were the same two who were guarding Graydon Creed when he was assassinated. Spidey tells Gyrich and the officer that he’ll hold off “Dumb and Dumber” as long as he can while they get out of here.
Prepared for battle, Spider-Man tells Marrow that he’d appreciate it if she kept those bone daggers of hers out of his back. Sarah assures him she will if he tells her one thing: why is he doing this? It has nothing to do with him. Peter asks her if she wants the real answer or the witty rejoinder. Either, she replies. He explains that a long time ago he learned that with great power comes great responsibility. Sarah finds this a foolish motto to live by.
One of the Sentinels announces that all his internal energy has been rerouted and diverted to a wide band beam; they must prepare to die! The Sentinel is about to release the lethal blast… and both Sentinels are shot and collapse to the ground!
Marrow and Spider-Man look at Gyrich in disbelief: he just shot the Sentinels. He remarks that, from the look of these things, several rounds of ammo will keep them down enough for him to get some of his people down here. He believes that the Sentinels were as much a threat to public safety as the mutant they nearly terminated.
Enraged, Marrow rushes to his direction, flaunting a bone, assuring him that he doesn’t know what a “threat” is. For years, they’ve been afraid of mutants… hated them. Thus, many of them decided to hide… to try and fit in. She proclaims that these days – like their pathetic lives – are over! Terrified, the officer wonders if that’s what they get for spending all their shells on the Sentinels!
However, Sarah’s ankle is suddenly entangled in a web, courtesy of Peter. He maneuvers his web and slams against her wall, telling her he’s got one word for her: Calmdownlady! He assures her that no one argues with the fact her friend is hurt and that’s bad. However, Callisto was slammed trying to save Marrow’s life and that means Peter is not about to stand by and watch her throw it away. “Got it?” he asks her. Marrow retorts that what she “got” is a reason to kill him, too!
In his office, smoking a cigar, Jonah tells Bastion it’s not that simple. He explains he’s already knee deep working on his own story for weeks – ever since Bastion tried to scare him off of Creed a few months back. He tells him it’s all here in the computer, under “Bastion.” Bastion remarks this is pretty impressive. Jameson tells him there’s nothing there. He finds it pretty curious that the man who has managed to ingratiate, intimidate and dominate his way into a position of power in over a dozen countries doesn’t even seem to exist. Jonah clarifies he’s been a reporter most of his life. His guts tell him that Bastion is the story.
Jameson remembers sending a reporter to Europe a few months back to try to uncover some facts about Graydon Creed – but he didn’t make it back. Neither did his story. Jonah knows that someone made sure of that; someone who would anything to promote his secret agenda; someone who would kill to keep those secrets. Shocked, Bastion realizes that Jameson he’s destroying the information he’s offering him! Jameson disagrees: he’s postponing it. He has every intention of learning everything there is to know about Bastion, about his reasons for hating mutants, about the X-Men themselves. But he has no reason to take the word of a murderer.
Setting the disc ablaze with his cigar, Jameson clarifies that the Daily Bugle’s soul isn’t for sale. Jameson himself isn’t for sale. The printed word has tremendous power and that power comes from the truth – not from someone’s ability to twist that truth to manipulate it from his own end. He then tells Bastion to get the blazes out of his office… before he throws him out. He assures Bastion of one last thing before the latter goes: he will see him charged with Nick’s murder.
Meanwhile, Spider-Man tells Marrow that, if he thought her killing him was going to stop her from hurting other people, he might even let her do it. Angry, Marrow asks him how he knows what she feels. Spider-Man knows very well that she’s not the first person who’s ever been hated for being different. He lets Marrow in on a secret: even before he became Spider-Man, there was a very small number of people who genuinely cared about him and loved him. “So what?” Sarah exclaims. Why help people who’d rather see him dead? Remembering the death of his uncle, Peter explains that once, a long time ago, he got so wrapped up in himself that he lost everything. He doesn’t want to see that happening to Marrow. “And… if I have nothing to begin with?” Sarah wonders. He believes there is no such thing as nothing.
Gyrich suddenly aims at Marrow with a gun. “Touching,” he wryly remarks. If he had both hands free, he might applaud. He claims he’s not the biggest supporter of Operation: Zero Tolerance in the world but Marrow is obviously a terrorist and he’s bringing her in. Spider-Man commends his nice try but he happens to know his gun empty of bullets – his spider-sense isn’t going off. Peter tells Gyrich to let Sarah go. Gyrich wonders why: because a masked vigilante tells him? Spidey explains the reason: because she’s learned something today and if she does try to pull this kind of stunt again, he’ll bring her in himself.
Seeing Marrow ready to go, carrying Callisto in her arms, Spidey asks her where she’s off to. Gyrich believes that Callisto needs a hospital. Marrow disagrees: Callisto needs a healer; needs to be among people who can help her. She’s going to bring her there but then she’ll be back. She then vanishes with Callisto in the sewers. Spider-Man also departs, believing that all should keep their fingers crossed that when Sarah’s back, the world won’t be as miserable a place to come back to.
At the Daily Bugle, Robbie puts out the fire in Jonah’s desk with a fire extinguisher. Robbie asks him what this is all about. As Jonah remains silent, Robbie calls his name. “Nothing, Robbie. It’s about nothing” a brooding Jameson replies.