X-Factor (2nd series) #4

Issue Date: 
October 2002
Story Title: 
Fear and Loathing

Jeff Jensen (writer), Arthur Ranson (artist), Paul Mounts (color), Paul Tutrone (letters), Lynne Yoshii (assistant editor), Andrew Lis (editor), Joe Quesada (editor in chief), Bill Jemas (president)

Brief Description: 

Having seen the events from the mutant church bombing, Ari Hassan makes a decision; the battle must be joined. After a time training with his father's mutant-hate group, Hassan says good-bye to his parents and goes off to join the fight. Returning from their mission in San Francisco, Agents Gray and Kearse use the key given to them by Director Green to enter his house. There, they find his recorded confession, revealing the secret anti-mutant intentions behind the FBI's mutant civil rights task force. In the basement of Green's house, the two agents make an even more startling discovery; Ashton Wither chained to a wall. After they unchain the tortured mutant, who has been held and beaten by Green for some time, they are startled by the arrival of Agent Duncan, intending to tie up all loose ends. Holding his colleagues at gunpoint, Duncan tells them that, as they speak, a big bomb is en route to the Xavier Institute, the first shot in a war between humans and mutants. Before Duncan can kill them, thereby protecting the same secret he just gave them, Agents Gray and Kearse are rescued by Wither, who kills Duncan with his desiccating powers just before expiring himself. Gray and Kearse race to the Xavier Institute and catch Hassan parking his pick-up truck, filled with explosives in the truck bed. Gray is severely injured while trying to apprehend Hassan, and Kearse, unable to disarm the bomb, attempts to drive the truck as far away from the Institute before it explodes. Both agents awaken in the hospital, having been saved by the X-Men. After their release from the hospital, Gray takes her new lease on life to reconcile her relationship with her mother and husband. Kearse, meanwhile, is offered and accepts the now open position of field director for the mutant civil rights task force. With his own new outlook on both life and mutants, Kearse believes that he can be a better Christian and public servant.

Full Summary: 

Like so many Americans, Ari Hassan was riveted to the television the day a church, packed with mutant worshipers, was obliterated by a powerful bomb. Struggling to make sense of this act, Hassan, 17, poor, uneducated and very angry, made a decision: the battle must be joined. Joining the anti-mutant organization of his father's, Hassan was trained, given a cyanide tooth, and sent on a mission. After saying a quick, emotionless good-bye to his parents, Hassan was given a final command from his father; kill them all. Kill all the mutants.

On an FBI chartered airliner, bound for Washington DC, Agents Catherine Gray and Aaron Kearse, the jet's only passengers, sit in silence. For Kearse, the memories of the doomed raid on the home of Kyle Nakamura, the mutant hater responsible for the San Francisco church bombing, loop endlessly in his mind. Especially the end. Recalling those memories, Kearse recalls the arrival of the X-Men, just after the death of Kyle.


The X-Man know as Beast greeted the young girls, the former hostages of Nakamura and the only survivors of Nakamura's church bombing. The Beast told the girls to come with him. They were now safe. As far apart from feeling safe as possible, Kearse plead with the radiant mutant known as Phoenix, begging her in his frightened babbling to not touch him. Speaking with her mind, as much as her voice, Phoenix told the frightened agent that she wouldn't, but he must prove himself to her.


Back in the airliner, Kearse, having finished his latest replaying of their X-Men encounter, breaks his silence by asking his partner a question. Why didn't she ever tell him that she was pregnant? Taking a moment to think of her answer, Cathy remembers Phoenix's telepathic words to her months ago during the Billy Sumner investigation: His thoughts are dark, his soul is tortured. His heart is knotted with hate. Turning to her partner, she answers that it was because she wasn't sure she was going to keep it. Because she didn't want to hear some damn lecture from him about abortion. Because, frankly, it's none of his business. But mainly, it was because she didn't trust him. Looking back away, Kearse tells Cathy that he wishes she could. He wishes that he was the kind of Christian... the kind of friend... that could inspire that kind of trust. But, he says, he knows that he's not. And for that, he's deeply sorry.

Silence returns to the near empty liner, as the two agents consider their exchange. Picking up an in-flight magazine previously sitting between them, Agent Gray looks at the cover. It is an issue of News Time magazine. The cover article is titled Mutant America. Where we are. Where we're going. Shown on the cover is a beach scene, with a young girl in a T-shirt sporting the American flag. The young woman is a mutant, with a scaly face and multiple horns sprouting from her head. Her eyes seem to look at the magazine's reader, seemingly asking the same question as the article's title.

In the terminal of the National Airport in Washington, DC, Gray waits while Kearse is on a public telephone. Moving through the terminal around the two agents, people go about their business. Several of the airport patrons are mutants, one in a business suit, another a young woman with feathered hair, kissing her boyfriend who sports a "Remember Genosha" slogan. Having finished his phone call, Kearse tells Gray that the Director left a message. He wants to see them ASAP. He wants answers... for everything. After commenting that it's not like they have such answers, Gray asks her partner what he wants to do. Holding up a key given to him by Kendall before the raid, Kearse states that he's sure it's to his house and he's pretty sure their answers are there.

That night at the house of field director Kendall Green's house in Reston, VA, Agents Gray and Kearse arrive with the key and flashlights. As they open the door, Gray admits that part of her didn't want that key to work. Admitting that he was hoping the same, Kearse suggests that they leave the lights off. They had better not give the neighbors anything to talk about. As the door closes behind them, the two agents do not notice the parked car nearby, or the shadowy figure watching them from within.

Searching the house by flashlight, Gray comments that it is so clean; it is as if nobody lived there. Kearse tells Gray that Kendall spent most of his time at the office after his wife left. Too many ghosts. When his partner asks why she left him, Kearse answers Ashton Wither. Things went south after he crippled them both. A little frustrated, Gray asks what they are looking for. Something that requires a password, Kearse starts, until he sees a personal computer. As he turns it on, Gray asks Kearse what the password is? "Open Sesame?" Nothing that obvious, Kearse states, typing it in the PC's keyboard. Reading the password, Gray recognizes it, Mountaintop, as being from Martin Luther King's "I have been to the mountaintop" speech.

The password entered, the computer screen springs to life with the image of Kendall Green. Saying hello to Aaron, Green tells him that if he's watching this, then he's dead, and he never learned the truth while he was alive. Green tells Kearse that he's been his conscience and this is his confession. He hopes that, in time, he can forgive him. In five generations, he says, their world will be completely mutant. It's inevitable. Normals, like they, will be extinct as dinos. Continuing, Green tells Kearse that since the inception of the FBI's mutant task force, there has been a secret mandate: maintain the stability, and deter the potential instability during this transition from norms to mutants by any means necessary. This might include the neutralization of militant radicals, mutant and anti-mutant, or any element, however benign, that could agitate the situation. Like, say, a certain mutant sports icon named Tony Robb.

As Kearse watches the computer screen intently, Catherine listens while she continues investigating the room. On the wall she finds a map of the United States, with certain cities noted by colored pushpins. Their first initiative, Gray hears the recorded voice of director Kendall Green say, was to control America's militant subculture. They recruited civilians to serve as moles, infiltrate extremist groups. Agent Gray, finding Los Angeles on the map, discovers a note labeled Billy Sumner/Nathan Plummer. As if in narration to Gray's discovery, Green explains that Billy Sumner was one such agent. After his murder, they were worried that they had been exposed. However, they couldn't be certain since the investigation was thwarted.

In the wake of the Sumner fiasco, Green says, his leadership came into question. His approach, apparently, was too cautious and his superiors have increasingly been putting their faith in Duncan. Duncan, however, has begun mobilizing for a new purpose while weeding out anyone he doesn't trust... like Jimmy Fingers in Oklahoma. We, Green says, set him up to run a mutie sweat shop, which they always intended to bust for PR reasons. Be careful, Green warns, since September 11th, Duncan sees terrorists and conspiracies everywhere and can't be trusted.

Nearby, having continued her search of the room, Agent Gray discovers something behind the bookcase. Calling Kearse to help her move it, she explains that there's a basement entrance behind it. As they examine the bookcase, the oblivious recording of Green tells Kearse that he wanted to bring him in on this, but everyone thought that he was too weak. Now, Green says, he's glad that Kearse is still clean. They've gone too far. He's gone too far and sees that now. Everything is in these files. Whatever he chooses to do, Green tells Kearse, he's sure will be the right thing.

Considering their options in regards to the bookcase, Gray points out that it's pretty rickety. She could probably move it alone... No, says Kearse, pulling the bookcase down, it's many stacked volumes falling disorderly to the floor. Looking at her partner's work, Gray tells him that chivalry is really unnecessary. Angered, Kearse tells her that it's not chivalry. As they descend the darkened staircase, guns drawn, Kearse asks Gray if she smells that? Asking in turn how she cannot, she identifies the odors of alcohol, urine and feces. At the bottom of the stairs, they find a dungeon-like basement. On one wall are painted messages: Mutie abomination, gene travesty and Satan spawn. On another wall is a billboard, with dozens of horrific or torturous pictures posted. Searching along the wall, Kearse finds a note, written by Green. It says that Ashton Wither will rot in hell, among other rantings.

Searching along another wall, Agent Gray discovers that a hanging sheet is not being used as a tapestry, but a covering for a doorway to another room. After calling Kearse to her discovery, the two agents find another room in which a beaten and bloody man is chained by wrist manacles to the wall; it is Ashton Wither. Recognizing Agent Kearse, Wither asks how the arm is treating him. With a voice clearly strained, Wither tells Kearse that it must be a dream come true for him, to have him chained to a wall with inhibitor bonds. Further, Wither explains that Duncan found him in Jersey City and then handed him over to Green as a gift. The pansy, Wither says, only stared for a few days but eventually found the hate and the rage. Taunted by Wither as to whether he has the ability to go all the way and end it, Kearse goes berserk. Yelling for the mutant who desiccated his arm to shut up, Kearse draws back his mechanical arm in prelude to a punch. The blow, however, does not strike the bound Wither, but the stone wall next to him. As his now damaged mechanical arm crackles from its unleashed electrical current, Kearse asks repeatedly, why? Why? Why?

Moments later, having freed the now collapsed Ashton Wither, Agent Gray examines her partner's damaged mechanical hand. As she does so, Kearse tells her that he wanted to, but couldn't even touch him. Nearby, the nearly inaudible Wither calls Kearse a wussy, weak, and part of a dying species. To the three's surprise a new voice is heard from the staircase, telling Wither that he can say that again. Turning to the voice, the two agents see Duncan, gun drawn and pointed at them. Addressing Kearse, Duncan tells him that he knew he didn't have guts and would have blown everything. Not that it matters now. After Kearse asks what he is talking about, Duncan admits that a bomb, a big one, is in route to Freak Central: Xavier's mutie school. It's the first shot, he tells Kearse. Humans versus mutants, for all the marbles.

With stark realization, Gray tells Duncan that he's insane. Enraged, Duncan retorts that he will tell her what's insane: giving those freaks special rights, just so they can steal their jobs, their land, their right to survive. Sitting on their assess while slowly becoming extinct, Duncan tells the agents, now that's insane. These X-Men, he continues, who force their will and ideology on the world are no better than terrorists. Why do we tolerate them? Why do we tolerate any of this genetic insanity. Having begun to rant about their fighting chance with the militias they now control, Duncan begins to scream. Within seconds, Duncan's entire body dries up, desiccated.

Turning to the half-dead mutant, Kearse demands that he stop. With the declaration that Duncan is dead from Agent Gray, Wither manages a weak chuckle. Looking up with his beaten face, he tells Kearse that he saved his life and to not say that he never did nothin' for... The last of his strength used, Wither collapses onto the stone floor, dead. Waiting a brief moment, Gray reminds Kearse of the bomb. They have to warn them. Offering a weak yes, Kearse suggests that they go. They can call for a clean-up on the way. Yes, he says again, looking at the lifeless body of the man who cost him his arm. They should go.

Later, after hours of silent driving to upstate New York, Kearse reminds Gray about the question she asked him yesterday about the vote in his church on the mutant sanctuary movement. Voicing her regret at asking the question, Gray is interrupted when Kearse tells her that he wants to be held accountable for what he did, or didn't do. The truth, he tells her, is that he didn't vote yes or or no. It's not that he was confused, it seemed very clear that they should have voted to open their church to those in need. However, as it was soon after the incident with Wither, and he was so angry at mutants, the world, and yes, God. So he did nothing, he didn't vote.

Voicing what he felt, Gray tells Kearse that he felt alone, miserable and isolated. He felt like a wrong had been done to him, that there was no justice for him. When he Kearse tells Gray that he is exactly right, she tells him about her baby. She was in the hospital for two months after the first flare-up. The doctors were confident that they had suppressed her pyrokinesis, so they took her home. Ramon, who had just published a book of poetry, was on a reading tour. Then, Gray says, she was alone in her room, watching her breathe so peacefully, when she burst into flames. Holding up his damaged mechanical hand, Kearse tells her that he wants so much to hold her hand and tell her that she's not alone... except she would need a Tetanus shot afterward. Chuckling a little, Gray asks Kearse if he just made a joke; who knew he had it in him.

Arriving at the front gate of the Xavier Institute, Gray and Kearse see a man flee a parked pick-up truck. Emerging from their vehicle, Kearse draws his gun on the fleeing man, yelling for him to freeze. Gray, having looked inside the truck, calls Kearse's attention to the bomb, counting down from three minutes. She tells him that if she's reading the counter correctly, things are going to BOOM real soon. Pointing out that he's had training in disarmament, Kearse suggests to Gray that she take the suspect. Besides, he tells her, if the thing blows... The baby, she says, finishing his thought. Agreeing on his suggestion, Gray runs after the suspect. As she does so, she yells to Kearse to not be stupid. If he can't disarm the thing... run like hell.

After tracking the suspect into the woods, Gray yells for him to freeze. Turning suddenly, the runner fires a handgun, narrowly missing Gray, who has dived to the ground. Firing from this position with her own weapon, she wounds the fugitive in the knee. As he falls, she thanks him so very much for giving her just cause, and tells him he can thank her for not aiming at his damn head. Back at the pick-up truck, Kearse tries to decide between the red and blue wire before eventually settling in on the green. In the woods, Gray cautiously approaches her wounded suspect, while yelling for him to get his hands away from his mouth. As she tries to remove the cyanide capsule from his mouth, Gray hears the honking horn from Kearse in the pick-up. Seeing the agent distracted, the fugitive grabs her gun and bludgeons it across her head, yelling that he will not fail. Rising above the collapsed form of Agent Gray, the bomber points the gun at Gray's head and repeats once more that he will not fail. Driving the pick-up away from the Institute as fast as he can, Kearse asks for God to watch over his family. The counter, already at nine seconds, continues its way to zero.

(sometime later)

A whole day, Kearse asks? His wife, Amy Kearse, repeats again, a whole day. He hasn't slept that much, she tells him, since their honeymoon. Regaining his sense of humor, Aaron asks if she is never going to let him live that down. When he asks what happens, Amy tells her husband that while he was busy trying to save their lives, the X-guys were watching the Osbournes. Referring to the Beast, Amy says that the funny furry one said at the press conference that he woke the one named Jean and she used her telekinesis, or whatever, to disassemble the bomb and knock out Hassan. Further, she tells her husband, they didn't bring him in for several hours, which pisses her off, but she guesses that the procedure took some time. Looking at his right hand, now repaired, Aaron says that the prosthesis feels and looks so... normal. Holding out a small note card, Amy says that they left it with the flowers. It sounds like, she says, that he made some friends. The handwriting on the note tells Agent Kearse that he has proven himself and that if the hand isn't to his liking, Dr. McCoy will be happy to make changes. With stark realization, Aaron looks up at his wife and asks about Cathy. How is she?

In another room in the hospital a doctor answers the same question, which has just been asked from the bedridden Catherine Gray. The doctor tells her patient that apart from the concussion and the stitches, she's fine. And the baby, Catherine asks? Just fine, the doctor answers, through she's advise that she take some time off. Her job isn't exactly conducive to a safe pregnancy. One more thing, the doctor tells Catherine, her mother has been waiting for hours. She was told that she could come in, but didn't know if she was wanted to. Speaking softly, Catherine tells the doctor that yes; she would like very much to see her mother. When Moira enters the room, she begins to ramble, not knowing what to say. Silencing her mother, Catherine tells her that she doesn't want her to say anything, just to come here. Walking over to the bed, Moira leans down and embraces her previously estranged daughter.

(two days later)

In the house of former field director Kendall Green, Agent Kearse gathers the evidence of Green's previous secretive operations, and burns them in the house's fireplace. As he does so, Kearse thinks back to his meeting with FBI Director Stone.

Stone had told Kearse that his report troubled him, beginning with the implication that this operation had higher sanction. After Kearse reassurance that there was no such implication, Stone responded that still, he would be interested in Kearse's thoughts on the intentions of the scheme. Bluntly, Kearse told his superior that Green and Duncan were perpetrating a black op whose goal was the subjugation, if not extermination, of mutant Americans. Their intention, he said, was disgusting and their tactics illegal. After telling Kearse that his candor is appreciated, Stone went on to say that operation of these criminals must be dismantled, quietly and without drawing needless attention. Adding this task to the already considerable responsibilities of the new director of the FBI's mutant civil rights task force, Stone asked Agent Kearse if he thinks that he could be that man.

Parked outside of the Crystal City Medical Center, Ramon tells his wife, Catherine, that they are there. Yes, Catherine repeats, they are there. Turning to his wife, Ramon tells her that before she goes in, he wants her to know something; he loves her with all of his heart. He trusts her and respects her. Her freedom of choice is sacred to him and whatever she chooses he will support without reservation or recrimination. For two years now, Catherine responds, he has been ruled by fear; fear of the world, of pain, of being alone. But now, she doesn't want to be afraid any more. This isn't to say that she's choosing to keep the child, she says, yet if she did end this now... it would be out of fear. Turning to her husband, Catherine tells him this is what she wants to do: she wants to go home and get into bed with him. Afterward, she wants to talk. To hear everything that's in his heart. She swears, she says, that she won't shut him out anymore. Okay, Ramon responds, he can do this. Cool, Catherine responds in turn. But first, she asks, can she get something to eat? Because, right now, she's totally craving a Big Mac.

Finding his father in his workshop, hammer in hand, Matthew asks what he is doing. Actually, Aaron responds, he is building a frame for something that he gave him. Showing his son the frame, picture already inside, Aaron says that he's going to hang it in his office as a reminder of
that he's called to do... as a Christian and as a public servant. Examining his framed picture, Matthew asks his father if he's going to take the promotion. Leaning down, Aaron tells his son that he and his mother talked about it, prayed about it and believed that it was the right thing to do, regardless of the danger.

Changing the subject slightly, Matthew tells his father that there's so much he's confused about; the world, mutants. Aaron replies that he understands, and wishes that he had answers, but he doesn't. Together, he says, they will figure it out together. God has always been faithful to them. It's not always easy to see that, but he believes it to be true. Walking his son out of the shop, Aaron asks if he minds hitting some balls while they wait on the Big Guy to explain it all. Enthusiastic, Matthew asks his father to promise, no curveballs.

Characters Involved: 

Agent Catherine Gray, Agent Aaron Kearse (both FBI's Mutant Civil Rights Task Force)

Ramon Gray, Catherine's husband

Moira, Catherine Gray's mother

Amy Kearse, Aaron’s wife

Matthew Kearse, Aaron’s son

Agent Duncan

Ashton Wither

Ari Hassan

Hassan's parents

Members of mutant hate group

Human and mutant airport patron

Hospital doctor

In flashbacks :

Beast, Cyclops, Emma Frost, Phoenix IV, Wolverine (all X-Men)

Four unnamed mutant girls from the sanctuary church

Kearse's church's pastor and congregation

Moira, Catherine Gray's daughter

on computer screen :

recorded image of Field Director Kendall Green

Story Notes: 

The National Airport in Washington DC is actually the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Previously simply Washington National Airport, it was renamed in 1998 after the United States' 40th president. This change has been met with some controversy as some groups, not fond of the former president, refuse to refer to it as anything other than the National Airport.

The airport patron's "Remember Genosha" T-shirt refers to the attack on the island nation by Cassandra Nova's super sentinel, where 16 million mutants were killed. [New X-Men #115]

Martin Luther King Jr. delivered what is referred to as his "mountaintop" speech, on April 3, 1968 in Memphis, TN one day before he was assassinated by James Earl Ray.

The Osbournes is a reality based television show produced by MTV where cameramen follow the family of rocker Ozzie Osbourne during his daily life.

Issue Information: 
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