‘Forget it, Simon! You’ve shed enough blood for one night!’ Clint “Hawkeye” Barton exclaims as he and John Walker the USAgent try to restrain Simon “Wonder Man” Williams, their teammate on the Avengers West Coast, on the flaming ruins of the LA mansion belonging to Sol Sterling. USAgent frowns as Wonder Man shouts ‘Not half enough, Hawkeye - not as long as those murderers are still out there!’ Wonder Man tries to break free, and sees some of the gang members start to run. ‘We’ll get ‘em, Williams - but we’ll get ‘em right’. Hawkeye tells his friend. ‘Don’t talk to me about right! They chose violence when they started slaughtering people - now let them pay the price!’ Wonder Man exclaims.
‘What happened to you, Simon? Your problem always used to be your lack of passion - your resistance to playing hero!’ Hawkeye tells Simon. ‘I’m not sure you are Simon’ Wanda Maximoff a.k.a. the Scarlet Witch remarks as she and Julia “Spider-Woman” Carpenter stand nearby. ‘How would you know, Wanda? Did anybody ever really know who Simon Williams was - even me?’ Simon calls back as Hawkeye and USAgent continue to restrain him. Miguel Santos, the Living Lightning, hovers overhead and tells the others that they can fight this out, while he corrals the flying gang bangers. Before Living Lightning can dart away though, several men wearing black and white armoured costumes drop down from above. ‘We won’t be needing you, Avengers. My fellow operatives have the situation under control’ one of the men announces. ‘And who - the frag - are you?’ Wonder Man snarls.
‘ARMED RESPONSE!’ one of the men replies, while another declares that they are the next step in American security. ‘And if the owner of this mansion had subscribed to our service…he’d be alive right now!’ one of them adds. Another then excuses himself and his teammates, stating that they have to demonstrate to their criminal opponents just who has the better technology. ‘What do we do now?’ the Scarlet Witch asks. Spider-Woman suggests that since the sky is suddenly full of media choppers, they should wait until the LAPD arrive, so they can tell them what to do. ‘Media - police - all cowards and idiots!’ Wonder Man exclaims as he throws Hawkeye and USAgent over his shoulder, announcing that he will get the answers for himself. USAgent frowns again and calls out ‘Stop right there, “Wonder Man”! Or do you have another name - an alien name?’ he asks.
The Scarlet Witch tells USAgent that he is right, that Simon is acting almost like one of the Magus’ creations, like Wonder Man’s doppelganger. ‘Can’t face the truth, can you? You know I was there…trapped in the Magus’ trophy room, with all the heroes who were taken over by doppelgangers, while Warlock and the Magus fought over their precious Infinity Gauntlet!’ Wonder Man reminds his teammates, recalling that part of the cosmic adventure. He remembers Warlock and the Magus fighting, and turns to the Scarlet Witch, telling his friend that he was there when their fight disrupted reality, and Galactus had to pull them back into this plane of being. ‘Yeah, I’m the real Wonder Man - more real than the buffoon I’ve been playing for years’. ‘Real?’ Wanda asks. ‘Or just angry? Just insane?’
Simon tells Wanda that the world is insane, and asks if she wants a quick fix, a little action to make everything right, then she can meet her new hero - him. ‘And what do you think happens when one act of violence is met with another?’ Living Lightning asks, shaking his finger at Wonder Man. ‘Look at my neighborhood’ Living Lightning points out, explaining that when cops use intimidation instead of community trust to maintain control, and kids use physical resistance to hang onto their pride, the violence only escalates. Simon frowns, ‘Maybe so, Lightning. But the escalation stops…when it gets to me!’ he smiles. ‘You want everything to end like this? We gotta prevent this, Williams!’ someone calls out. ‘Yeah?’ Simon asks as he witnesses one of the Armed Response operatives shoot down one of the escaping gang members.
Simon tells his teammates that he will leave it to these gentle folk to work out a non-violent solution, while he finds a quicker solution himself. He takes flight, and the Living Lightning suggests to the others that they better keep an eye on him. ‘Something’s wrong with him… I know it!’ Wanda exclaims, while USAgent suggests that perhaps some of the family traits are coming through, reminding the others that Wonder Man is the Grim Reaper’s brother.
Meanwhile, Jamie Flores, the daughter of Wonder Man’s friend Alex floats high above the hills. Birds fly alongside her, and she exclaims ‘I can’t believe this! I mean, this is so great! Flying! Me!’ She keeps thinking that she is going to wake up, that it is just another one of her crazy dreams, and she supposes it is, sort of, as her body is back home, asleep, but her mind, her dreaming mind, is free. She comes to the burning mansion and thinks ‘That’s funny. I had a feeling that something bad was going on here. Almost like…well, like in a dream!’ She decides that it looks bad below, with fire, helicopters and shots being fired. ‘Oh!’ Jamie gasps when she sees the gang member called Charlie confronted by two of the Armed Response operatives. ‘You’re the boy the boss wants dead’ one of the gang members announces. ‘Why? Why?’ Charlie responds. ‘You just weren’t a bad enough bad-guy, Charles/ You didn’t play your role’ the second operative replies, before holding his hand to Charlie’s head, ‘Please, I’ll -’ Charlie begins, before the weapons device attached to the Armed Response operative’s wrist is fired at very close range. ‘No’ Jamie utters, closing her eyes and looking very upset.
Back on the couch in her living room, ‘No!’ Jamie exclaims as she wakes up. ‘Mom?’ she calls out, and sees her mother on the phone, she tells the person she is speaking to, Gloria Angel, that she has to hang up. ‘It’s just…yeah, bye’ Alex Flores mutters, before Jamie exclaims ‘Mom! They shot him! They’re supposed to be cops or something, but they -’ she begins, before Alex, clutching her head, replies ‘Not now, I’m so stressed…everything happening…Simon acting so strange…and my head is so…’ her voice trails off as Jamie tells her mother that she saw them, that she was flying - but before she can continue, ‘Not now! I feel like I’ve got a flaming stick between my eyes and if I don’t’ get some quiet I’ll - explode?!’ Alex snaps, as suddenly, a projection or vision of Wonder Man bursts forth from Alex’s head and lunges at Jamie.
And, in his office, Neal Saroyan, Simon’s agent, is watching a news report of Wonder Man and his teammates with the Armed Response operatives, as the announcer states that as the Avengers West Coast battled amongst themselves, the Armed Response wrapped up the gang of killers. Neal is impressed by Armed Response and wonders if he should look into their rates, in case that goliath ever comes looking for him again. Picking up the phone, he gets no response. ‘Come on! Answer! Answer!’ he mutters.
And, in the living room of the boy called Spider, he wears an optic visor over his eyes and looks at the ringing phone: ‘Oh man! You’re just not giving up are you? When’s a man supposed to practice his air guitar?’ He then picks the phone up: ‘Yeah?’ he mutters. ‘Spider! You’re supposed to be Wonder Man’s sidekick, right? So where are you He’s all over the news! Can you find him?’ Neal asks. ‘Ha! Neal, my sister is the living grandmaster at finding Wondy, or is that Grand-mistress?’ Spider replies, adding that his sister is always following Wonder Man around looking for trouble. ‘That’s how we got in on that Angkor bit, and…’ Spider’s voice trails off as he remembers that is also how he got blasted by Wondy’s ionic rays, and wonders if he wants to do this. ‘Yes! This is major publicity! Go!’ Neal shouts before slamming the phone down. Spider looks perplexed and supposes that is what agents are for. He decides he better check the droning news-heads to see where Wondy is. Spider scratches his side and wonders why he is feeling so itchy lately, almost like his skin is going to burst open.
Meanwhile, at Lotus Newmark’s facility, she too is watching various news reports on the Armed Response phenomena, with one reporter declaring that all of Los Angeles is talking about Armed Response. The phone number to contact Armed Response appears on screen, as the reporter adds that another gang assault is stopped by Armed Response, and announces that Armed Response refuse to give interviews. ‘A good opening night’ Lotus’ companion, Andrew, remarks as he stands next to Lotus as they watch various monitors. Andrew tells Lotus that it can only get better when the first Armed Response commercials air tonight. Lotus replies that they did their ground work well - setting up Goliath and Gamma Burn so that LA would begin to fear explosions of senseless violence. She adds that then, with a bit of luck, there was the Angkor debacle, and the double-Earth phenomenon, which most Americans just took as an astronomical oddity, while the LA media insisted upon finding omens in it.
‘By the time we unleashed our “gang war”, this city was primed’ Lotus points out. The reporter states that amongst those at the scene of the carnage was Wonder Man. Lotus hears this and looks angry, ‘Always, always on the scene! He must know something!’ Lotus exclaims, announcing that she wants him gone. Lotus turns to her own super powered operatives - Rampage and Splice, and instructs them that she wants Wonder Man gone.
On a traffic-clogged freeway, many cars are listening in to reports on Armed Response, with one announcer informing listeners that al lines are open for their opinions on Armed Response. ‘Well, somebody’s gotta make these criminals pay’ someone suggests, while another declares that it sounds like nobody wants to talk about the election today. High above, soaring through the air is Wonder Man, who tells himself that he has been a member of the Avengers for so long, but that suddenly they feel like strangers, enemies. He decides that it is different without Tony Stark, as he shaped his life - when they were rivals in the munitions business, as it was Simon’s even of Stark that drove him to crime, to Baron Zemo, and to becoming Wonder Man. Simon recalls that as Iron Man, it was Stark who cradled him in his arms when he died, and who helped inspire him to be a “hero” when he returned to life. ‘And now he’s dead again’ Simon thinks.
‘Destroyed by the violence that defines our “heroic” existences. What does that say… about heroism?’ Simon asks himself, when suddenly, nearby, two of the gang bangers, armed with jet packs, fly nearby. Simon decides that this is a chance to find out what they are really up to, and why their jet packs look exactly like Rampage’s did. ‘But more than that… a chance to channel my rage’ Wonder Man thinks to himself, as he flies off after them.
Meantime, the Avengers’ Quinjet scours the skies in search of their teammate, and outside, Living Lightning darts about, informing his teammates inside the Quinjet that he has spotted Wonder Man, that he is west bound toward the Fairfax district. Inside at the controls, Spider-Woman tells Hawkeye that she has Wonder Man on screen and that he does look like a happy boy. Hawkeye tells Spider-Woman to stay with Wonder Man, while he goes and tells the others.
Down below, aspiring actress Ginger looks up and sees the Quinjet above her. ‘Some kind of Avenger-mobile, yeah?’ she asks herself. ‘Spider said they might be dogging Simon’s butt…’ she recalls.
And nearby, Splice looks through some binoculars and informs Rampage that he sees the Living Lightning. ‘He may be our best lead’ Splice suggests. ‘Then let’s go’ Rampage replies, remarking that Wonder Man humiliated him, got him thrown in jail, broke up the Recession Raiders. ‘I’d say he has some things to make up for’ Rampage scowls.
Another neighborhood under attack from gang members, one of whom fires a barrage of bullets, before calling out to his gang ‘Yo - somebody coming down! Must be them Arm-Response mothers! Don’t like the way they always showin’ up just when we -’ but he doesn’t get to finish his sentence, as Wonder Man drops down amongst them, and orders them to get down on the street, otherwise he will plant them in it. ‘You ain’t Arm-Response! I thought the boss was getting rid of you!’ the gang member calls out. ‘Don’t hear real well, do you?’ Wonder Man replies, before one of the gang members starts firing at him. The bullets do nothing, so Wonder Man lunges at one of the gangsters and grabs him by the throat, offering to open a new set of ear-holes. ‘No! I’m dropping the piece! Look!’ the gangster calls back. ‘And here I thought you were stupid’ Wonder Man remarks, before asking the gang member who their boss is. The gangster claims that he doesn’t now, explaining that he just takes the cash and does whatever the leader tells him.
‘All I know is we had to speed things up because of you’ the gang member adds. ‘What?’ Simon asks, confused. The gang member tells him that the boss thought Wonder Man was sniffing around and got freaked, said that they had to hit harder, faster and bloodier. ‘So. Another feat for the “hero”’ Simon mutters to himself. ‘I create Angkor, blast my friends with ions, give up my humanity to keep my powers. And now I inspire a blood bath…by scaring somebody I didn’t even know existed!’ Wonder Man shouts, lifting the gangster up he then slams him to the ground, demanding to know which is the leader. One of the gang members then takes flight with the jet pack, ‘Oh jeez…’ he mutters. ‘In a hurry?’ Wonder Man asks, as he reaches up and grabs the fleeing gangster’s ankle, ‘Please. Give me just a moment of your time. Maybe there’s something you can tell me’ Wonder Man suggests as he pulls the gangster down and slams him into a brick wall.
Suddenly, ‘Drop him, Wondy!’ Spider-Woman calls out to her friend as she, USAgent, Hawkeye and Living Lightning appear. ‘We let you go with just a walking to last time! But this time -’ USAgent begins, before Wonder Man leans forward and punches him in the face. ‘This time you’re going to take me down, is that a threat? Don’t scare me, Agent’ Simon declares. ‘Don’t scare me with your awesome power!’ Wonder Man mocks as he then kicks USAgent in the stomach, hard, as Agent cries out in pain. Spider-Woman leaps onto Wonder Man’s back and tells him to stop, ‘You’ll kill him!’ she exclaims. ‘Stop it, Simon!’ Wonder Man mockingly replies. ‘That’s all I’ve heard! Stop the violence! Stop the rage!’ he declares as he grabs Spider-Woman and throws her over his shoulder. ‘I can’t stop it. The world can’t stop it. So some on, Avengers. You try to stop it’ Wonder Man snarls, gritting his teeth.
‘Think we can’t, Williams?’ Living Lightning asks as he appears overhead and sends a powerful electrical charge downwards, coursing through Simon’s body. Wonder Man collapses and Hawkeye aims an arrow at him, telling him to take it easy, as this is an electro-arrow with his name on it. The Scarlet Witch walks towards her friend and tells him that they know he is troubled, that they know his powers have been destabilized so that he has to remain angry to remain strong. ‘Troubled? You just won’t get it…will you?’ Simon replies. ‘Playing nice-nice, following your little rules…just being good folks under your costumes. You just won’t see that it’s a lie’ Simon tells them. ‘When you’ve chosen force as a way of life…there’s nothing real you can be…but force incarnate!’ Wonder Man booms as he bursts upwards, throwing dirt at Hawkeye and punching the Scarlet Witch, knocking her backwards. ‘That’s it, man! If you hurt Wanda -’ the Living Lightning begins as he flickers nearby, until Wonder Man tells his young teammate that he talks to much, while grabbing a nearby hose and blasting water at Living Lightning, who screams, and darts back into the sky.
A news chopper is keeping watch, ‘The Living Lightning screams into the blood-tinged LA sky as a berserk Wonder Man…’ the reporter begins, while back down below, USAgent leaps towards Wonder Man, who mutters that everyone’s problem here is that they talk too much. ‘Blast it! You’re faster than you -’ USAgent begins, before Wonder Man grabs him, and shoves his knee into the Agent’s face. ‘Action should be all we deal in - don’t you think so, Agent?’ Wonder Man asks. He takes another punch at his teammate and suggests that they reaffirm what they are engines of destruction and do the world’s dirty work. ‘But don’t even pretend to be -’ Wonder Man begins, as suddenly, someone shouts ‘GANG-WAY!’, and Wonder Man utters ‘No’ as he sees Spider skateboard onto the scene. ‘Made it! I was afraid I’d be too late to make the six o’clock news!’ Spider exclaims.
Wonder Man tells Spider to get out of here, to which the teen replies ‘Hey, come on, you need me, man! For brains, if nothing else. I mean hero vs. hero fights make great media…but lousy PR!’ Wonder Man starts to sternly tell Spider to leave, to which Spider points out that whomping on your sidekick doesn’t look much better. ‘What if Adam west had gone around pounding on Burt Ward? Heck, the whole Baby Boom generation might’ve ended up warped, you know?’ Spider suggests. ‘Of course, considering how the Boomers did turn out, things couldn’t of been much w-’ Spider begins, until Wonder Man leans forward, ‘GET OUT!’ he shouts. Spider decides that he doesn’t like the look in Wonder Man’s flaming red eyes and supposes that it is time he split - when suddenly, Spider does “split” into three other identical beings.
‘What the -’ Wonder Man begins, confused, while the Spiders exclaim ‘Whoa! It’s me! Cool! It’s me!’ Wonder Man frowns and realizes that this is his doing yet again, that he caused this. ‘Can you un-cause it?’ Hawkeye asks, rubbing the back of his head. ‘Whoa! Cool! Whoa! It’s me!’ the Spiders call out. Wonder Man clenches his fists and realizes that this is the same bombardment by his ions that affected Argus, Jamie and the others - only more extreme. ‘And who knows what still awaits them?’ Simon realizes.
‘Everything around me! Twisted by death - by the bizarre - by the inhuman’ Wonder Man shouts, turning away from the others. ‘Wonder Man. The inhuman wonder. The inhuman man’ he laments. The Scarlet Witch approaches him once again and tells him not to say such things. ‘Simon? Come back, Simon’ Wanda calls out. She admits that she doesn’t know all that has happened to him, but tells him that she knows he is human. ‘What’s changed, Simon? What’s burning in you?’ Wanda asks. ‘Is it the doubts - the questions about your past? What’s happened to you?’ Suddenly, Wonder Man spins around, frowning, teeth gritted, he asks, ‘You want to know what I’ve become, Wanda? Let me show you!’ as he leaps towards the woman he loves, ready to strike another blow….