X-Force (1st series) #104

Issue Date: 
July 2000
Story Title: 
Games Without Frontiers, part three

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

Brief Description: 

Dr Niles Roman and his associate, Ford, close in on San Francisco. The mad scientist is thrilled to see the chaos that his bio-reactor has unleashed. The city is in flames and people have been transformed. X-Force, meanwhile, have crashed down a cliffside. They are fine, and make their way back up to the freeway, to find all the civilians in their cars unconscious. Cannonball flies Meltdown back to the city, while Proudstar demonstrates his ability to fly, carrying Wisdom and Bedlam. In the city itself, numerous civilians now with powers unleash them on others, killing them. Mid-flight, X-Force are attacked by a transformed person, but manage to escape them. Niles Roman and Ford arrive at an old observation suite, where they promptly set up and observe the chaos around the city on various monitors. Wisdom takes X-Force to another old Cuckoo facility where he wants to set up base, explaining that it was also used as a SHIELD observation post, but long ago abandoned. He reveals to X-Force more about Niles Roman, and explains that he created a bio-reactor which caused mutants to mutate rapidly, frying specific chemical triggers in the brain, but the bio-reactor was buried under San Francisco, only it was on a timer. Wisdom watches the chaos in the city on monitors, while X-Force depart to save the world - from itself.

Full Summary: 

A chopper flies above the city of San Francisco. ‘Closing on San Francisco. ETA in seven minutes, Dr Roman’ someone inside the chopper announces. He looks out of the window and mutters ‘God, this murk. I’d forgotten about it’ he adds. His face partly hidden behind a cloak, the strange-looking Dr Niles Roman tells his companion, Ford, that he knows, and that is why he has always liked the city. ‘Murky. Foggy. Easy to hide things here…to conceal a multitude of sins’ he grins wickedly, while down below, part of the city is in flames.

Nearby, a black jeep containing five certain mutants hangs perilously on the edge of a cliff after falling off the road. ‘Everyone okay?’ someone calls out. ‘Fine, except whoever owns the hand on my thigh, better move it or lose it!’ Tabitha “Meltdown” Smith exclaims. Someone quickly apologizes, while Pete Wisdom tells the kids that he has had enough chit-chat and asks someone to open the door - an instant later, James Proudstar uses his incredible strength to kick the door off with ease, sending it flying into the air. The mutants begin to climb out of the car, and Wisdom exclaims ‘I said open…open! Not kick the bloody thing into orbit! This was a rental!’ he exclaims. Wisdom adds that this is what comes of X-Force being brought up by super heroes. ‘Next time, engage brain before flexing muscles!’ he adds.

Meltdown turns to Jesse Aaronson a.k.a. Bedlam and asks him he if flunked driver’s education, or what. Bedlam responds that the electrics just freaked, like they hit the edge of an EMP wave, or something. Standing up towards the busy road, Sam “Cannonball” Guthrie looks concerned, and tells his team that they better come take a look at this. Traffic is backed up for miles, and the young mutants approach some of the drivers, only to find that they are all unconscious. ‘What happened here? They’re out cold’ Meltdown remarks. ‘All of them!’ Bedlam agrees as he checks another car. Pete looks over towards the city and exclaims that they have to get there right now. ‘James, Sam - you’re carrying the rest of us’ he orders. ‘Flying. Me. I still can’t believe it’ Proudstar remarks as he grabs Wisdom, who replies ‘Take it from me, Jim old son. I’m not done with you all yet. The best is yet to come’ he adds. Cannonball picks up Meltdown and blasts skyward, while Wisdom jokes’ Now, to the skies, my X-Men!’

In the city, ‘They’re coming! They’re coming!’ someone exclaims as civilians converge together down an alleyway, only to find that it is a dead end. Suddenly, ‘No more running, no more time, no more life’ a voice calls out. ‘Dead…end’ the voice adds, as three people are seemingly linked together, and other civilians suddenly glow green, before they are engulfed in energy.

Approaching the city, ‘Look at this. We at war?’ Bedlam asks as he clings to Proudstar’s back. Holding his cane with an axe-like head, Wisdom replies’ Yeah. A war planned forty years ago. This is what Valentina was afraid of. When the meatspores activated’. Suddenly, a burst of energy is fired at the mutants, nearly striking Wisdom. ‘OH BLOODY -’ Wisdom shouts, before the energy streak is revealed to be attacked to something - or someone - flying past them. ‘What’s that?’ Proudstar asks. ‘Trouble’ Wisdom replies, ordering Proudstar to get them out of the air, and fast. The strange creature opens its eyes, and releases beams of energy. ‘Close. Nest time, he’s on us!’ Cannonball exclaims as he dodges the blast. ‘Not if he can’t see!’ Meltdown exclaims as she releases a stream of plasma energy , which engulfs the creature, who shrieks in agony.

Cannonball congratulates Meltdown on her good thinking, and asks Bedlam to release a neural EMP flare, like Pete showed him. Bedlam does as requested, and the energies surround the creature. ‘This’s so cool Don’t know why I never thought of it before’ Bedlam remarks, adding that his mind is an electromagnetic field. ‘I just mess it around some and… ‘ he begins, before the creature releases more energy from its eyes. ‘It’s convulsing! Firing wild!’ Proudstar declares, unable to pull Wisdom to safety, as one of the energy beams strikes his leg. ‘You filthy piece of -’ Meltdown begins, firing another charge of plasma at the creature, which shrieks in agony once more, while Wisdom asks to be taken down, gently.

At that moment, the chopper containing Dr Niles Roman lands, and Ford helps Niles out of the chopper. ‘Is the old observation suite intact?’ Niles Roman enquires. Ford confirms that it is, and Niles orders him to take him there. They enter, and monitors depict the events taking place in San Francisco. ‘Excellent! Are we getting it all? Are we recording everything? The cameras and sensors have been in place for decades. They may have perished -’ Niles exclaims, but Ford assures him that everything is working perfectly, and helps him to a chair. ‘Please be seated -’ Ford asks, but Niles shrugs him off, ‘Get off me, man. I’m not a cripple!’ he exclaims. He pulls his cloak back, revealing his disfigured form, and smiles. ‘Wonderful. How wonderful and beautiful it is. Every aspect of this moment. Monsters hunting humans, being recorded for posterity’. He reaches out to the monitors and raises his arms as he watches the civilians in danger. ‘My war. My lovely war’ he declares.

On a street, Cannonball and Meltdown help Wisdom to walk, with Meltdown suggesting they get him to a hospital, but Wisdom announces that he doesn’t trust doctors - never did and never will. He adds that he isn’t bleeding, as the wound has been cauterized. Wisdom tells X-Force to shush, as he has to get his bearings, before pointing down an alleyway. ‘Down there’ he orders. They walk down the alleyway to a door. Wisdom sticks his finger nail in the keyhole, and the door swings open. Wisdom explains that a couple of his mates cracked this place a few years ago, but they couldn’t erase the DNA lock to stop the previous owners entering, so they inserted new codes instead, to let the likes of him in here.

X-Force make their way through the warehouse complex and into a room which Wisdom states is a SHIELD observation post, an invisible surveillance ghost web, tuned into the city - naughty and illegal. He adds that congress got wise, so SHIELD had to abandon it. ‘Lucky for us, cause we’re going to be making a lot of use of it today’ he explains, adding that this place is a window on a war game, one someone’s fighting with live ammunition - the same someone whose crap they went up against in Russia.

Shown with some flashback images, narrated by Wisdom in the present:

Wisdom begins to tell X-Force what he knows, explaining that back in the 1950’s, ‘Ancient history, I know. But try to stay awake’ he suggests, an intel outfit was sanctioned to study and extrapolate ways of reacting to a perceived mutant threat, and that it was called Cuckoo and run by Dr Niles Roman, an authentic nutter scientist. Wisdom explains that Cuckoo’s primary aim was to make projections on a theoretical mutant / human ground war, but the problem was, there were too many variables, and they needed hard data to work from - so they decided to make some. Wisdom informs X-Force that Cuckoo built a bioreactor, an engine that beamed signals into nearby mutant genomes, causing them to mutate fast and furious, and that it fired specific chemical triggers in the brain.

‘So it made latents into full mutants like us?’ Meltdown enquires. But Wisdom explains that it made them into full mutants obsessed with killing humans, to enforce a genetic imperative - survival of the fittest. ‘Without that last trigger boosting their aggression centers, Roman wouldn’t get what he desired - data on an inter-species war fought over the idea that mutants wanted to seize control’ Wisdom explains. ‘Get them before they get you. Old man’s thinking paranoid’ Bedlam remarks. Wisdom continues, explaining that at the eleventh hour, Washington realized a small, contained civil war just to see what happened was not a vote winner. He adds that Cuckoo’s permission to test was rescinded, and they were ordered to destroy the device.

Roman was disgusted, but not defeated, and his tame CIA team in San Francisco were seconded to supervise the dismantling. ‘A lie’ Wisdom announces, revealing that the team set the bioreactor to standby, equipped with a slowly degrading lock on the activation mechanism and buried it under San Francisco.


Wisdom flicks his cigarette away and states that sooner or later, Cuckoo would get its data, that it is happening right now. He explains that Valentina’s team figured it would fire in several pulses to affect the widest number of people before going to phase 2. Sam supposes that they must have been at the edge of the last pulse, and Wisdom agrees, and points out that as full mutants, if they got any further, they would probably be butchering people and laughing. James asks what the plan is, and Wisdom reveals that he will liaise with Russia, get as much information as he can, as the bioreactor is the key. He looks at a monitor showing some of the changed civilians in the city, and Wisdom points out that they are enslaved to it, that it is still feeding hate into their brains. He exclaims ‘I need you to find the bioreactor, my X-Men. Find it and kill it…now!’

X-Force depart, and Wisdom stays in touch via com-link. Meltdown, Cannonball, Proudstar and Bedlam stand together as Wisdom tells them that they are in a city of hate, and that those not dead or hiding are monsters and will try to kill them. ‘Be gentle with them…if you can‘. He adds that they are on their own, with no back up, no cavalry. ‘Don’t take risks. Destroy the device. Stop the war’ he tells them. ‘Understood, Mr W’ Cannonball responds, before telling X-Force that they heard them, and it is time to roll. Leaning backwards in his chair, his injured leg raised, Wisdom has another cigarette in his hand and watches the monitors, ‘Just you and me, children’ he remarks. ‘Saving the world. From itself’.

Characters Involved: 

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

Dr Niles Roman


Civilians in San Francisco

In Flashback images

Dr Niles Roman

Cuckoo scientists

Story Notes: 

Part 3 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.

X-Force were in Russia in X-Force (1st series) #102 - 103.

Issue Information: 
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