X-Force (1st series) #103

Issue Date: 
April 2000
Story Title: 
Games Without Frontiers, part two

Warren Ellis (plotter), Ian Edgington (scripter), Whilce Portacio (penciler), Gerry Alanguilan (inker), Avalon Studios (colorist), Chris Eliopoulos (letterer), Lysa Kraiger (assistant editor), Jason Leibig (editor), Bob Harras (editor-in-chief)

Brief Description: 

At Science City 53, somewhere in Russia, Wisdom receives a report from his ally Valentina Rychenko regarding the mysterious Cuckoo, an organisation which was essentially the shadow of the CIA, devoted to analysing, advising on and reacting to “unusual threats”. Dr Niles Roman was Cuckoo’s only known administrator, working with technologies and sciences ten times what Cuckoo’s resources never knew about, but assassination attempts on his life left him transformed X-Force are bored while they wait for Wisdom. Tension runs a little high between Cannonball and Meltdown, before Wisdom joins them and they depart for San Francisco. Elsewhere, Dr Niles Roman receives a report that the San Francisco installation is active, and the mad scientist is pleased that the bioreactor has finally triggered. En route home, X-Force learn that they will be taking up base at an old facility that Cuckoo once operated out of. He reveals to them a story about drugs testing on the general population of San Francisco in the 1950s. In San Francisco, people start changing, mutating, developing powers that are out of control. X-Force get caught up in a traffic jam as they head into the city, and their car is soon shunted off the road and down a cliff.

Full Summary: 

Science City 53, somewhere in Russia, where X-Force - Pete Wisdom, Sam “Cannonball” Guthrie, Tabitha “Meltdown” Smith, Jesse “Bedlam” Aaronson and James Proudstar - have successfully completed the fist part of a black ops mission. Meltdown and Proudstar remove their jackets, exposing their scant black leather costumes underneath, while, in the next room, Pete Wisdom lights a cigarette, and asks Major Valentina Rychenko if he has this straight: ‘Cuckoo was a facet of the US intelligence community, right?’ to which the Russian major replies ‘The shadow of the CIA, if you like’ and explains that when the Office of Scientific Intelligence turned into the CIA, a chunk of OSI became Cuckoo. Valentina continues, revealing that it was an intelligence office devoted to analysing, advising on and reacting to what they termed “unusual threats”.

As they sit in an office, Valentina tells Wisdom that Cuckoo liked their math, and their games, that they were a hawkish, spooky unit who saw suffering and pain in terms of numbers and tables. She puts a video tape on to play, ‘Roll tape’ she remarks, and various images of Dr Niles Roman, Cuckoo’s only known administrator appear on screen. Valentina tells Wisdom that Niles Roman loved his games, that he quietly conducted scientific experiments with stolen or derived technologies that agencies with ten times Cuckoo’s resources never knew about. She adds that they were experiments the scope and strangeness of which weren’t seen again on Earth until Reed Richards started work. ‘Experiments the ugliness and horror of which hadn’t been seen since Josef Mengele’ Valentina adds, revealing that in 1954 the tried killing him twice.
Further images appear, with Niles Roman’s appearance somewhat changed, Valentina explains that Niles Roman survived, Cuckoo repaired him, only he was never the same again. ‘His next setback wasn’t until some time later…’ Valentina adds.

Back in the adjoining room, ‘I’m bored. Bored. Bored…bored…bored…bored!’ Tabitha exclaims over and over, before calling out ‘Hey, Jimmy’. Proudstar turns to her ‘Hm?’ he asks. ‘You bored?’ Tabitha exclaims. Smiling. James replies that he isn’t, and points out that he hasn’t stuffed himself full of sugar and caffeine since they got here. ‘Sacrilege! Chocolate and coffee are essential food groups!’ Meltdown announces, before walking over to Sam, ‘Talk to me!’ she demands, asking him if the “old folks” are still talking in there. ‘And then some’ Sam replies, reaching up, he stretches his arms, remarking that once you hit thirty, a switch gets flipped in your head, turns everyone into their dads, just yapping away. ‘I could seriously do without turning into my dad, thanks’ Tabby mutters, before telling Sam that today was weird. ‘Which part? The attack of the killer Borg-steaks, or the exploding meat finale?’ Sam asks. ‘The part where Mr W was giving orders and you were giving it “yessuh”!’ Tabby smirks, pointing out that Sam is their leader, and that cute as he is, Wisdom is just supposed to be advising, or so she thought.

‘Uh-huh. So you thought’ Sam replies, before telling Tabitha to listen to him - because not listening is her problem. ‘You’ve flipped your switch!’ Tabby exclaims, crossing her arms. ‘Not funny. You’ve seen me and Pete talking, do you know what about? Strategy!’ Sam explains, adding that the moves from earlier - “death from above” and Jesse as an EMP bomb. ‘I wrote them!’ Sam reveals. ‘I didn’t know’ Tabitha replies, staring straight ahead. ‘Cause you don’t listen’ Sam points out, adding that it helps to have someone on the edge of it all, giving an overview, calling the beats. ”
‘And that’s my job’ Wisdom points out as he walks up to Sam and Tabitha, who gets a fright and lets out a scream. ‘That and teaching you how to make the best of what you’ve got’ Wisdom adds, before making his way to the exit, ‘To our black helicopter, my X-Men! To San Francisco! Good food! Good drink! Loose culture! Women!’ he shouts, as he starts to sing.

Elsewhere, in a dark office, a computer suddenly receives a signal, and a long thin piece of paper starts being pushed out of a machine, while on a monitor, the following appears: “San Francisco installation active. This station no longer in use. Forwarding”.

‘My God’ a voice utters inside an architecturally-designed house, wedged between two cliff-faces, calls out. ‘What is it, Ford?’ a man in a wheelchair, gazing out the window asks. ‘Your computer, Sir. It’s just received a message from First Station’ Ford announces. ‘We abandoned First Station in the Sixties, Ford’ comes the reply. Ford explains that he knows, but that the switching system would have been left open. ‘Show men’ the other man orders, extending an odd hand, he takes some files that Ford hands him. He smiles, his scaly-face excited as he reads the papers. ‘Incredible. The San Francisco bioreactor has finally triggered’ he exclaims, stating that they must go to California at once.

‘Okay. A genuine black op’s helicopter we can cope with. But where did you get a hypersonic jet from, Mr W?’ Tabitha asks as the jet speeds across the sky. ‘Ask no questions, I’ll tell you no lies’ Wisdom replies, puffing on a cigarette, he tells the younger mutants not to get too comfy, as they will be landing at an old spook show airstrip that he knows of, and they can drive into town from there. ‘I have a place we can use. You’ll like it’ Wisdom tells the team, smiling as he reveals that San Francisco Cuckoo operated out of it. ‘You sneaky English - I knew you agreed to San Francisco way too easily!’ Bedlam exclaims. Wisdom reclines in his chair and tells Jesse to take it easy, as he is about to tell them all a story. ‘See, back in the Fifties, certain suits in the yankee intel hierarchy became fascinated by drugs’ he begins, adding that it wasn’t about a war on drugs, but a war with drugs, particularly their effect on the American public.

Wisdom continues, explaining that this led inexorably to the CIA releasing a quantity of lab pure lysergic acid diethylamide, otherwise known as LSD gas, off the Golden Gate Bridge. ‘My God! They tested it on people?’ Cannonball asks, shocked. ‘Not quite. This being the mighty CIA, they didn’t check the weather reports first’ Wisdom replies, revealing that their very expensive sack of trips was blown straight out to sea, the most they achieved was to expand the consciousness of a bunch of terminally confused fish. ‘So, what’s it all mean?’ Tabitha asks. ‘Sam?’ Wisdom calls out, and Sam announces that it means that experimenting on its people was deemed legally permissible by stateside intel. ‘That and the San Francisco CIA station was remarkably corrupt and stupid’ Wisdom adds. ‘Stupid enough that they collaborated with Cuckoo on several occasions, including undisclosed ops actually in the city of San Francisco, which is partly why we’re setting up shop there’ he explains. Wisdom smiles and announces that is him done, and that he needs some sleep now. ‘We’re touching down in thirty minutes. Has everyone been to the bathroom?’ he asks.

San Francisco, a glorious sunny day, people are going about their business, walking through the city, near the famous bridge. Suddenly, a man has explosive fire-like energy burst from his abdomen, ‘AGHHN!” he calls out in pain, before he starts to bleed. People gather around him, ‘It’s okay, I’m a doctor!’ a woman announces as she rushes forward to assist him. ‘Let me-’ she begins, putting a hand on his shoulder, but more explosives burst forth from his neck. ‘What’s going on? What’s happening?’ the man exclaims, as energies leap upwards, bounce off a street lamp, and then onto nearby vehicles. Suddenly, another woman screams, and drops to her knees.

‘Is she sick?’ a passer-by calls out, but huge spikes burst from the woman’s back, her face stretches and her eyes bulge out, yellow. ‘GRIIIEEE!’ she screams as she crawls around on the ground, before leaping up and lashing out at someone. ‘Hurts. It hurts…IT HURTS!’ another man declares as fire bursts from his head, and engulfs half a dozen people in front of him. Another strange occurrence happens when a young person bursts through a car roof in a watery form, and soars upwards on a spout of water, screaming for their mother, they then smash into the side of an apartment block.

Shortly, in a vehicle, Tabby asks Wisdom how he got to be a big bad secret agent if he never learned to drive. ‘That’s what girlfriends are for, petal’ Wisdom replies, while Bedlam drives the vehicle. He adds that British intel isn’t James Bond, apart from all the beautiful women who wanted to sleep with him, anyway. ‘Riiiight’ Tabitha mutters. Wisdom flicks some ash from his cigarette out of the window, and tells X-Force that half the kids in the underground evil-villain bases across the planet look like him.’ Talking of which, we should be in ours in a bit. You’ll like this -’ he begins, when suddenly, the hood of the car pops up, and energy flares about. ‘I’m losing it -’ Bedlam announces as the car swerves into another vehicle, then teeters on the edge of a cliff-face!

Characters Involved: 

Bedlam II, Cannonball, Meltdown, Proudstar, Wisdom (all X-Force)

Major Valentina Rychenko

Dr Niles Roman


Civilians in San Francisco

Story Notes: 

Part 2 of the “Counter X” storyline, which takes place six months after X-Force (1st series) #101. A flashback in X-Force (1st series) #106 depicts the event that lead to the change in the membership and direction of X-Force.

Issue Information: 
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