X-Man #31

Issue Date: 
October 1997
Story Title: 
The Last Innocent Mind

Mark Bernardo (guest writer), Rick Leonardi (guest penciler), Dan Green (guest inker), Mike Thomas (colorist), Richard Starkings & Comicraft / AD (letterers), Jaye Gardner (editor), Bob Harras (editor-in-chief)

Dedicated to Bill Mantlo & Sal Buscema

Brief Description: 

Nate wakes from a strange dream, where he is rescuing a boy during a storm, only for him and the boy to be attacked by demonic versions of the X-Men. He realizes he has had the dream all week. He dresses and goes to Washington Square Park and thinks about people and events in his life, before noticing two men being rude to an older man. Nate goes to help the older man and sees his newspaper, which has a photo of the boy from his dream. Using the information from the newspaper, Nate arrives in Clairton, West Virginia, where the orphanage the boy was at was destroyed. The local authorities are less than helpful, until Nate disguises himself as a local, and they reveal what they know about the boy’s history, and explain that he was taken to an institute in New York. Nate supposes that the boy is a mutant, and travels to the institute in New York, this time disguised as the boy’s uncle. He is taken to meet the boy, and it is explained to him that he appears to have some sort of multiple-personality. Nate enters the boy’s mind, and learns about his true history - that he is the child of a Dire Wraith who lived as a human male and his human wife, and how the Dire Wraith elders taught him their evil magic and he killed his parents. Nate sees the X-Men attacking the Dire Wraiths like in his dream. He is worried about what he has unleashed, as the boy transforms into the Dire Wraith form, Hybrid, and a lengthy battle ensues. Nate tries his best, but the alien is powerful. Eventually, Nate searches the alien’s mind for any remains of the innocent boy that it once was, and using the essence of the boy, manages to take the Wraith down and is seemingly disintegrates. Nate returns to Washington Square Park, reminiscing on his life and the state of humanity, he hopes that there is still a place for innocence in the world.

Full Summary: 

The wreckage of a modest family farmhouse in rural West Virginia. A storm rages, it has been for what seems like hours. Rain pours down, the staccato pounding of the rain and shrieking of the winds shallow up all sound, and the booming thunder echoes off into forever. But over all of the elemental fury, he can hear the plaintive cry of one young boy, who crawls away from the smoldering home, through the rain-soaked ground. ‘Please… help me…’ the boy cries out. Nate Grey, strange visitor from an alternate time line, and the world’s most powerful mutant telepath, hovers over the boy, suddenly unsure of the identity of the frightened child before him, or unsure of why he is here. Unsure, he suddenly realizes, of how he got to this place. But uncertainty has never before stopped “X-Man” from recognizing an innocent in need of aid. ‘Don’t worry, kid. I’m here now. Everything’s okay’ Nate assures him.

Nate drops down beside the frightened boy and asks him what happened, and who did this. The boy reaches out for Nate and tells him that it was the bad people - the ones with the powers, they killed his parents. ‘Now they’re coming back for me! You’ve got to stop them! They’ll kill me, too! They will!’ he pleads.
Nate picks the boy up and tells him to shush, and to calm down, that no one is going to hurt him now that he is here. Nate looks around and asks who the “bad people” are, when suddenly, a voice calls out ‘I believe the lad is referring to us, Tovarish!’ and Nate is suddenly confronted by demonic looking versions of Wolverine, Storm, Colossus and Nightcrawler. ‘No… it can’t be… they look like the X-Men!’ Nate gasps. Storm orders Nate to surrender the child to them, as this matter does not concern him. ‘Listen to the lady, bub. I guarantee you don’t want any piece of us’ Wolverine warns X-Man.

‘You hard of hearing, Grey? I said hand the kid over, or get a taste of what’s coming to him!’ Wolverine warns X-Man, who simply holds the child closer and tells Wolverine to back off. ‘You’re not getting your meat hooks anywhere near this -’ Nate begins, before Wolverine’s claws scratch his side. ‘Sorry, bub. With me, one warning’s all ya get’ Logan snarls. ‘Noooo!’ the boy screams.

Suddenly, Nate wakes up, wide-eyed, he sits up in his bed at the loft and realizes it was the dream again - the same one he has had every night for a week. ‘I guess telepaths can have nightmares sometimes… but this is just too weird’ Nate thinks to himself. Nate gets out of bed and stands around his messy room, wearing just his boxer shorts. He rubs the back of his head, unable to figure out why his recurring nightmare centers around some blond-haired kid that he has never met before, or why the dream always ends with the boy being threatened by the X-Men.

‘At least I think they’re the X-Men - I’ve never seen those costumes before’ Nate realizes, while wondering if he could be more than just a dream - that if someone is trying to tell him something, maybe send some sort of warning? He puts some jeans and a sweater on and realizes that that doesn’t even make sense - even though he didn’t leave things with the X-Men on the best of terms, he can’t imagine they would harm an innocent kid. Nate reminds himself that on the world he comes from, the X -Men stood for helping people and fighting injustice. He wonders if that could all be a ruse on this world - after what happened with Charles Xavier, the whole Onslaught mess, he doesn’t know who to trust anymore.

Nate decides that he needs some fresh air, and putting on a jacket, he heads to Washington Square Park, in the heart of New York’s Greenwich Village, which plays host on any given day to an eclectic crowd of city dwellers and tourists alike. It used to provide both a refuge and a sense of purpose for Nate, who had been using his psi-talents to help people in need that he encountered here. Now it seems to hold nothing but memories and might-have-beens. Sitting on a park bench while people go about their business, Nate wishes that there was someone he could talk to about the dream - and everything else that has happened lately. Nate knows that he could find Peter - Spider-Man - but he feels weird going to him with his problems all the time when Peter has plenty of his own. He recalls that Threnody was always there for him, but now she has gone, perhaps with good reason.

Nate remembers the girls who found him after his run-in with the Brotherhood, he doesn’t know much about them, but hopes he can find them again. He never thought he would be almost wishing for some trouble to start, anything to distract him from all this. He gets his wish when to teens on skateboards move towards an older man carrying his grocery shopping, and knock him over. ‘Yo, yo, old man! Coming through!’ one of the kids calls out. ‘Move it, man! Make room! World’s for the fast!’ the other declares. The old man falls to the ground, ‘’I don’t believe those kids are just zooming away!’ Nate tells himself, while worried that the old man could be hurt. Going over to the old man, Nate sometimes wonders if this world is really more civilized than his own. ‘Sir, are you all right?’ he calls out. ‘Uh, excuse me, son?’ the old man calls out. ‘I said are you all right?’ Nate asks, raising his voice.

With his shopping scattered around him, the old man replies that he thinks he is, adding that his hearing isn’t what it used to be, and that he didn’t hear those kids coming. ‘That’s no excuse for their rudeness!’ Nate replies as he helps the old man pick up his groceries. The old man thanks Nate and remarks that the world could use a few more like him. Nate looks at the old man’s newspaper, ‘Son? Something caught your eye?’ he asks. ‘This article -’ Nate begins as he looks at a photo of the boy from his dreams. ‘Now I know something odd is going on here!’ Nate tells himself, while reading the article, discovers that it mentions an orphanage in Clairton, West Virginia, and he hopes that he can find the place.

Sometime later, Nate enters a police station, and tells the officers that he is here for some information about the orphanage explosion and the boy who survived. ‘Oh, y’ are now, are, yuh?’ one of the officers replies. The other tells him that everything he and the rest of the public needs to know was in the papers today. ‘No, you don’t understand…’ Nate begins, but the first officer tells him that he doesn’t look like no local, dressed in his leather coat with that freaky skunk-stripe in his hair. ‘With what went on in Clairton a few years back, we’re a mite suspicious of outsiders’ he explains. Nate doesn’t know what the officer is referring to, but realizes that this approach is getting him nowhere, so it looks like a bit of telepathic influencing is called for, so they will see what they want to see.

Nate uses his telepathic abilities to make the men see him as a local, hoping that they will tell him what he wants to hear. ‘The boy’s mah nephew. Ah need to find out whut happened to ‘im!’ Nate claims. ‘Shucks, why didn’t yuh just say so?’ one of the officers replies. The officer explains that the kid is a John Doe, and reveals that a farmer named Jeb Hodges was driving back from wheeling one night a few weeks ago.

Flashback images narrated by police officer:

Jeb found the boy wandering a back road in a daze, with no identification and no idea how he got there - no memory even of his own name. Jeb brought the boy to the station, and the officers tried the usual channels to locate his family, but there wasn’t any to be found, and the kid himself was no help in the search, so he was taken to the local orphanage, where the staff called in some psychologists from the area to work with him, to find what left him in the state he was in. They found something disturbing - whereas half the time the boy was quiet, introverted, practically catatonic, the other half, he snapped into his other personality - ranting and cursing, as if the Devil himself was possessing him.


Pouring a cup of coffee, the officer informs Nate that a few days ago, the orphanage blows up, and no one can determine the cause. He adds that twenty-one children are dead, plus all the staff, yet somehow, this kid survives without a scratch. ‘I’m just a county sheriff, I never signed on for any of this “X-Files” stuff! Thought Clairton was done with it years ago!’ he exclaims. Nate asks where the boy is now, to which the sheriff asks him if he didn’t read the paper, explaining that he was sent to some special hospital in New York State. Nate asks for directions, and to the orphanage.

Shortly, Nate has returned to his true appearance, and telekinetically lowers himself down toward the ruins of the orphanage. It looks just like it did in his dream. He is overwhelmed by the psychic traces of pain and terror. ‘All those kids…’ he tells himself, while knowing that he has to concentrate and use his psi-talent, ‘What did Threnody call it, psychometry?’ he reminds himself, on this wreckage to get a “reading” on what exactly happened here. Simply by touching a piece of the rubble, Nate’s incredible power enables him to “see” the horrifying tableau of a few past days. He sees the boy, while everything around him is burning, protected inside some sort of force field. Nate supposes that the boy is a mutant, a psi, just like him, which would explain how he sent Nate that psychic message. He wonders if the boy could have been the target, the explosion set by some anti-mutant hate group, and decides that the only way he is going to find out, is from the kid himself.

Shortly, Nate arrives a the Institute for Abnormal Psychology, Upper Lake, New York. He approaches the building, as it looks like the place the sheriff described, and decides that it is better he maintains a mental illusion for consistency’s sake. He knocks on a door, and a woman asks ‘Can I help you, sir?’ Nate disguises himself as an elderly man and tells her that Sheriff Stone back in Clairton referred him here, explaining that he is here about John Doe, the kid from the orphanage. ‘Ah yes, the Sheriff told me to expect you’ the woman replies, before introducing herself as Doctor Hunsinger. She leads Nate down a corridor as he asks her what is wrong with his nephew. Doctor Hunsinger explains that to put it in broad terms, he is suffering from a form of multiple personality disorder. She adds that she has found at least two distinct personalities manifesting themselves during their sessions.

Doctor Hunsinger adds that multiple personality disorders aren’t nearly as common as some trashy talk shows would have people believe, and that, in fact, they are quite rare, but that when they do occur, they can usually be traced back to some major trauma, child abuse or something on that order. As she opens a door to the room where the boy is being kept, she reveals that she hasn’t been able to get the boy to shed any light on the cause, that all she has seen are two opposite personalities - one is every bit the scared, needy young boy as he appears to be, and the other is a vicious, hateful sociopath who needs to be physically restrained from hurting himself and others. ‘It’s him!’ Nate thinks to himself as he sees the boy sitting on a bed in a dimly-lit room.

Doctor Hunsinger remarks that she has honestly no idea what goes through the boy’s head when he sits there like this, alone in the dark, oblivious to everyone around him. ‘And I don’t mind telling you, sir… it kind of creeps me out’ she adds. Nate crouches down beside the bed, ‘Poor kid, the power he must possess…and it’s all out of his control. I know how he feels’ Nate thinks to himself. ‘Nate? Is that you?’ the boy calls out, turning, he smiles, ‘It is! You came! Like my dream said you would!’ the boy exclaims. Nate appears as his usual self to the boy, and tells him that he is, and everything will be okay now. He asks the doctor if she could excuse them for a few moments. ‘Sure’ she replies, while Nate makes a psychic connection with the boy, hating that he had to mentally push the doctor into leaving, he soon detects that the boy’s core personality has been splintered.

Nate realizes that he may be the only one who can put it back together. He knows he is no expert at using his powers this way, like Charles Xavier is, but Xavier is de-powered. ‘It’s time for an astral tour of the boy’s mindscape!’ Nate decides as he enters

Flashback images shown inside the boy’s mind:

Nate enters the boy’s mind, and sees images flash before him. It is like nothing he expected. He realizes that he is on some barren, dying, alien planet, and watching the launch of a space ship on a reconnaissance mission to Earth. The boy’s memories tell Nate that it is an advanced scout for an invasion force. This ship got separated from the rest, in the backwoods of a sleepy little town called Clairton, West Virginia Nate sees the pilot emerge from the ship, an alien shape-shifter - one of the race of ruthless conquerors known as the Dire Wraiths!

Nate realizes that this Wraith is different, cut out from his race, the Wraith decides to forsake their ways and live life as a human being. He morphs into a human form, a farmer named Jacob Marks. The memories start to flow faster, as “Jacob Marks” does the unthinkable - falls in love with a human woman named Marjorie Seaton, they marry, and Marjorie gives birth to a child - this child, the one whose mind Nate is in. And now, Nate knows his name - Jimmy. Jimmy Marks. The memories continue on fast-forward, and Nate rides the tide. He sees young Jimmy being tutored in the black arts by the Dire Wraith elders who’d set up shop in Clairton, and then he artificially aged his mother to the brink of death in seconds - and, using his awakening powers to impale his alien father on a telekinetically-hurled pitchfork.

‘The boy killed his own parents!’ Nate sees now the X-Men again, going after the child like in his dream - they have seen him for what he truly is - a threat to all life on Earth - they have seen his true face, his true form. ‘Do I dare… to see…?’ Nate asks himself, before screaming ‘Noooo!’

Present / reality:

The psychic link is broken, ‘What… have I done? What have I… unleashed?’ Nate asks himself. ‘Awww, what’s the matter, Nate? Didn’t you enjoy your little trip through my head? Are you scared of me now, Nate?’ Jimmy Marks asks, grinning wickedly, his eyes glow red and he starts to transform, his voice changing, ‘Indeed, human. You should be. Your misguided efforts have succeeded…in reintegrating my true, core personality’ the Dire Wraith declares as its true form takes over. ‘Not the weak, simpering human-child, Jimmy Marks… but the first mutant progeny mof a human being and a Dire Wraith… the one your kind calls…HYBRID!’

Nate frowns as Hybrid tells him that he played easily into his hands, and states that after his last encounter with his arch nemesis, the Spaceknight Rom, his atoms were scattered to the wind - explaining that his incomparable mental powers pulled them back together, but that the strain left his brain addled, and his body trapped in his weak human form. ‘All I required was a powerful telepath to draw together the fragments of his psyche, and you fit the bill perfectly’ Hybrid remarks. ‘So that explosion at the orphanage - was your subconscious mind and buried powers trying to break free! You murdering monster!’ Nate shouts as he slams Hybrid back with a surge of energy. ‘It’s my fault you’re free - and it’s my responsibility to put you down!’ Nate declares as Hybrid bursts through the outer wall, taking flight before he hit’s the ground below.

Nate flies out of the hole in the wall, and asks Hybrid why he sought him out. Hybrid explains that both Xavier and the girl Jean Grey have encountered his psi-patterns before, so they would not have been fooled by his dream-sendings. ‘In you, I found the perfect dupe - a stranger to this world, blindly altruistic, easily swayed by my imagined “plight”!’ Hybrid declares, using his power to lift spiked fence posts from the ground, and hurl them towards Nate, telling him that now his usefulness is at an end, and thus, ends his life. Some of the spiked posts strike the brick wall, while Nate throws up a telekinetic force field to block the others. Nate realises that Hybrid is not fazed by the psi-blast that he is using to attack the alien with. ‘You’ll have to do better than that, Hybrid You won’t butcher me the same way you did your father, you abomination!’ Nate swears.

Nate sees some powerlines nearby and decides that they could be useful. He flies towards them, but Hybrid follows. ‘Trying to appeal to my human side, are you, “X-Man”? You waste your breath!’ Hybrid calls out, stating that he is neither human nor Dire Wraith, but a new breed of being - superior to both. He boasts that this misbegotten planet will soon tremble before his power. ‘Not today, it won’t!’ Nate replies as he telekinetically rips some of the power lines out, and wraps them around Hybrid: ‘I’m betting a few thousand volts of juice will take some of the fight out of you!’ Nate declares, but Hybrid calls him a fool and tells Nate that this childish ploy merely delays his inevitable end. Hybrid manages to put his hand on Nate’s face and boasts that he is beyond harm by any paltry invention of man, and that the current from the electrical cables merely feeds his rage.

‘I’ve seen into your mind, youngling. I know that your own mutant power is killing you - that every time you use it brings you closer to the grave!’ Hybrid declares, while suggesting that Nate should thank him, as he was never destined to see old age, and now Hybrid will grant him that gift, albeit for the last moments of his worthless life. Nate goes wide-eyed, and feels his body aging, weakening by the second. Nate knows that he can’t die this way, that he can’t let Hybrid do this. ‘Let GO!’ Nate shouts, slamming Hybrid to the ground with telekinetic fury. Nate drops to the ground, and thinks to himself that the trip through Hybrid’s mind was so horrifying, so alien, and now, his cold, clammy touch. He as never fought anyone who filled him with such revulsion. ‘Pull yourself together, Nate, you’ve got him off-balance, press your advantage’ the young hero tries to encourage himself.

‘Get up, Hybrid. Let’s find out who truly has the superior mind!’ Nate challenges the Dire Wraith. Hybrid gets to his feet and just laughs at Nate, ‘You amuse me’ he remarks, adding that there are few things more pathetic than a frightened little boy attempting to prove himself a man. ‘Now taste the psi-power that once held the entire X-Men at bay!’ Hybrid blasts as he prepares to attack Nate once more. ‘Frightened little boy? My God, that’s the answer -’ Nate begins to tell himself, before being knocked aside when the Dire Wraith causes the wall behind him to explode. Nate realizes that this might be his opportunity, though. The Dire Wraith picks Nate up by his jacket collar, ‘Where are the defiant words now, Nate Grey?’ Hybrid asks, but gets no response.

Hybrid picks Nate up, asking him where is the incredible power that drew them together and set him free. ‘It would seem I have already overwhelmed the young fool. He is no longer a threat’ Hybrid decides, realizing that it is time to dispose of Nate and begin in earnest his campaign of conquest. ’You, then, Nate, will be the first casualty as I expunge the blight of humanity from this world!’ Hybrid announces. However, in the labyrinthine corridors of Hybrid’s mind, Nate Grey’s astral form attempts to put the lie to the alien horror’s words. As his astral form makes his way through the alien’s mind, Nate tells himself that he doesn’t want to be here, as Hybrid’s mind is the most frightening place he has ever experienced, but a moment ago, he realized that Hybrid’s dominant personality is pure evil - but he knows that he wasn’t always this way before the Wraith elders came.

Because, there was an innocent boy named Jimmy Marks, and Nate decides that even if a trace of that remains, he can use it against Hybrid. Suddenly, in the darkness of Hybrid’s mind, alone, in the darkest reaches of his subconscious. ‘The question is, can I forgive myself…for what I need to do?’ Nate wonders, before calling out to Jimmy, asking him if he can hear him. At the same time, Hybrid realizes what Nate is doing, ‘So, you are inside my mind, stripling! Very clever!’ Hybrid declares, but tells Nate that ultimately, a wasted effort, for this time his aging touch will bring Nate’s body past the point of death, and his mind shall perish with it. Suddenly, though, Hybrid cries out in pain, ‘What?’ he gasps, clutching his head. ‘Nate, is that you?’ young Jimmy’s voice calls out. ‘No! Curse you! You’re trying to reawaken my human persona! I refuse to yield control!’ Hybrid declares.

Inside Hybrid’s mind, Nate’s astral form kneels down beside Jimmy, and tells him not to be frightened, that he is here to help him come out of the dark. ‘I’m scared…I’ve been here so long’ Jimmy replies. Nate tells Jimmy that he is scared as well, but suggests that together they can be brace, be strong. ‘Together, Jimmy… we can win’ Rain begins to fall and Hybrid steps back, as Nate regains consciousness. ‘You hapless fool!’ Hybrid calls out, asking Nate if he has faced the truth - the Jimmy Marks is no more, that there is only Hybrid. ‘Guess you’re right, ugly. “Jimmy” was gone a long time ago’ Nate points out, before revealing that his essence now resides within him.

‘All the innocence, the innate goodness, the humanity - the stuff that’s anathema to a creature like you - is feeding my power! I’ve seen the child at the core of you, Hybrid - and I’m not afraid of you anymore!’ Nate shouts, unleashing a fury of energy, that tears Hybrid apart, reducing him to a pile of alien ashes on the ground. Nate stands solemnly over Hybrid’s remains, the rain continues to pour down. There is no trace of Hybrid’s psi-patterns, but that doesn’t mean much, for if he reassembled his body before, he can probably do it again. ‘But next time I’ll be ready for him’ Nate tells himself.

Washington Square Park, the following day, as an unusually somber Nate Grey once again sits alone. He rests his head on his hands and supposes that there was no other way, for whatever innocence Hybrid had within him was lost when the Wraith elders found him. ‘So why do I feel like I offered the last vestige of humanity within him a chance at redemption…even though I knew there was no hope?’ Nate asks himself, deciding that in the final analysis, he and Hybrid weren’t that different - they both both had a chance at a normal childhood taken away from them. Two men walk past, one carrying a stereo on his shoulder, where an announcer can be heard stating that people in Upstate New York, are still baffled by the disappearance of an unnamed orphgn child after being visited by a reputed relative.

The report continues, stating that eyewitnesses claim to have seen a battle between a young costumed man and a semi-human monster soon after the child’s visitor arrived. ‘Rumors persist that mutants are involved in these strange circumstances’ the report concludes. Nearby, a young boy calls out to his father, asking him if it is true, that mutants are bad like the radio said. ‘Daddy, they scare me’ the boy adds. The boy’s father tells him not to believe everything he hears, as sometimes appearances can fool them. ‘If we’re not careful, I’d like to think that most of them are just like you or me’ he tells his son. Nate watches and thinks to himself ‘Listen to your dad, kid. Maybe if enough of you follow that advice, your world won’t turn into mine’. Nate decides that there is always hope, hope for the future, hope that you can hold on to your innocence a little longer than Jimmy Marks and he did. ‘I hope there’s still a place in this world for innocence. I really do’.

Characters Involved: 


Jimmy Marks / Hybrid
Old man

Kids on skateboards

Police officers

Doctor Hunsinger

Father and son

In X-Man’s Dream:


Jimmy Marks
Colossus, Nightcrawler, Storm, Wolverine (all X-Men)

In Flashback Images

Jeb Hodges

Police officers

Dire Wraith / Jacob Marks

Marjorie Seaton-Marks

Jimmy Marks
Colossus, Nightcrawler, Storm, Wolverine

Story Notes: 

Nate most recently encountered the X-Men back in issue #23.
The X-Men fought Hybrid alongside the space knight Rom way back in Rom #17-18.

Threnody disappeared in X-Man #25.

Nate encountered the three mysterious girls - Bux, Jam and Marita - in X-Man #29-30.

This issue is dedicated to Bill Mantlo, who created the Dire Wraiths, and Sal Buscema, who penciled the majority of the Rom series which featured the Dire Wraiths. The Rom series was written by Mantlo.

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