X-Men (2nd series) #48

Issue Date: 
January 1996
Story Title: 
Five Card Studs

Scott Lobdell (writer), Luke Ross (guest penciler), Andy Lanning (guest inker), Steve Buccellato & Electric Crayon (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Bob Harras (editor, credited as “pit boss”)

Brief Description: 

Sitting in a café with Cyclops and Phoenix, Bishop confides in them the nightmarish visions he keeps having – visions that may or may not be memories from his life in the alternate reality known as the Age of Apocalypse. Bishop asks for their help to cope with these visions, before being approached by a waitress named Pam, whom he had once met at the same café. Unbeknownst to Bishop, he is being watched by McCoy, the evil counterpart of Beast from the Age of Apocalypse, who crossed over to the present reality about two decades ago, seemingly one of the few survivors of his homeworld. McCoy is soon paid a visit by Sugar Man, a fellow survivor of the Age of Apocalypse. McCoy and Sugar Man realize that Bishop must be slain, lest he remembers information from his time in their homeworld that could concern the two of them – information that could be catastrophic for McCoy and Sugar Man if falling in the hands of Mr. Sinister. Meanwhile, at Archangel’s apartment, four of the X-Men are having a poker game. Gambit and Cannonball are the two last men standing in the game, before Gambit kinetically charges the final card he was about to throw, ruining the table and the game, allegedly to avoid his defeat in the hands of Cannonball. Storm, however, finds out that the card Gambit was about to lay down was a winning card and is puzzled by his stunt. At the mansion, the heavily injured Psylocke, hovering between life and death, tries to soothe Xavier’s sense of guilt, although Professor X is far more troubled with himself that she is aware of.

Full Summary: 

A quiet evening with friends in Archangel’s apartment…

Standing over Beast’s shoulder, an overly enthusiastic Cannonball exclaims that he can’t believe it: four aces on Dr. McCoy’s first draw; he’s never seen anything that amazing before! Upon hearing Sam inadvertently exposing Beast’s cards, all of the other players participating in this poker game – Storm, Gambit, Iceman and the Thing of the Fantastic Four – immediately deal out. Enraged by Cannonball’s goofiness, Beast can’t resist the temptation to deliver Sam a rather menacing response: “Young Mr. Guthrie… Sam, if you will? In the oft-vicious verbiage of Wolverine, our Canadian compatriot… GRRRR!

Remy thanks Sam for what he just did – again. “Ooops,” Sam exclaims, realizing how he spoiled it for Hank, yet again. A furious Hank asks Ororo to grant him the necessary dispensation so that he can throw Cannonball out the nearest window! Storm rebuffs him. “Any suggestions, Benjy?” an amused Iceman asks Ben Grimm on how they are to cope with Cannonball’s repetitive goofs. Not a one, Ben admits. After all, the kid is doing nothing but save him money… so what does he care?!

Beast admits that he cannot comprehend the reason why Sam perches himself over his shoulder and comments, consoles and communicates every hand Hank’s been dealt – especially considering the fact that Archangel’s private loft in Soho, which he offered them for an evening while his girlfriend, Psylocke, recovers from her wounds, is 160,000 square feet on this floor alone!

The Thing urges Hank to give the kid a break and puts on his coat. Ben thinks that’s the problem with mutants: they always take things much too seriously. If Sam was a member of the Fantastic Four, Ben would’ve taken him under his orange wing and taught him how to play the game instead of ragging on the toothpick! “As it is, though, I gotta go save the universe or somethin’… so I’m outta’ here” the Thing adds and departs, with everyone seeing him off.

Hank turns his attention to Sam again. Sporting a vicious smile, he welcomes Sam to the game. “Deal,” he urges Sam, bringing the cards near him. “Ah’m honored to… deal… the…” Sam mumbles, all the while trying to grasp the cards… until they all flip from his hands and scatter all around the table. Sam, Bobby and an even more exasperated Hank start searching for any cards that fell under the table. “This may take a while,” Storm quips.

Gambit seizes the opportunity to have a moment with Storm, hoping that she’s not going to tell him she’s still upset with him after his nickel worth of pop psychology with Sabretooth – especially after it turns out Sabretooth was faking his condition by that point. Ororo admits she was not elated. However, as Remy himself says, in light of how things resolved themselves, Ororo’s mind and heart are elsewhere this evening, with Elizabeth, who is recovering from her wounds, as well as with Bishop, who is currently confronting demons from a past which may not even be his own.

At that exact moment, Bishop is sitting in a café with Cyclops and Phoenix, confiding his nightmares in them. He confesses that when he closes his eyes at night – indeed, during the day, as well – he sees it. Rather, he sees himself; yet, and another. He is older; he is being hunted. He can’t see his pursuer… but he knows he’s out there.

“Then what, Bishop?” Jean telepathically enquires. “I break,” Bishop explains. In his nightmare, he runs as if a horde of Emplates is descending upon him… and he remembers feeling confused by that thought. He explains that Emplates are parasitic mutants from the future where he was raised – before he traveled back in time and joined the X-Men. However, this is not a memory of his life as an officer in the peace-keeping force of the X.S.E. He’s not in charge in this memory; he’s a prisoner, trying desperately to escape a death sentence.

“By whose authority, Bishop?” Jean asks him – who wants him killed? Bishop admits he can’t say. No matter how many times he’s relived this moment – if he ever lived it at all – he can’t make out his face… The face of the man into whose clutches Bishop finally falls, after all that running. Bishop admits it’s as if his mind will only let him remember so much before it…

“Shuts down?” Cyclops completes Bishop’s phrase. Bishop explains that it’s if some mental circuit-breaker kicks in. Jean reminds him that the brain is a very fragile instrument, with many natural defenses. It may be trying to protect Bishop from… itself. Scott reminds Bishop what they said, that he and Jean may have had a similar experience; Bishop can’t expect to remember decades-long amounts of memories compressed in his head all at once – if ever.

Bishop admits that the thought of being cut off from a huge portion of his life is disheartening; especially in light of the fact he was displaced in time even before the events in Israel. He wonders how Scott and Jean managed to overcome their own feelings of disorientation. Jean explains that they did so partially, no doubt, through the psionic rapport they share. However, she admits that it was also by doing just what Bishop is doing right now: by talking it through with people who care.

The waitress interrupts them, informing them that their table is ready. “Thank you, uh…” Bishop mumbles, struggling to recall the waitress’ name. The waitress informs him that her name is Pam and admits she’s hurt: he had asked her name last time he was here! “Bishop, isn’t it?” she asks him. “Indeed,” Bishop assures her. “Well, Bishop… your table is ready” Pam repeats.

“That’s certainly one way of looking at it,” the mutant known as McCoy, an evil version of Hank McCoy from a parallel Earth, remarks at that moment, while watching the three X-Men, Bishop, Scott and Jean, through a set of monitors in his lair. McCoy admits that he prefers the more succinct term: destiny. From the moment he found himself ignominiously indisposed in this reality some twenty years ago, he’s been eager for his paths to cross with those of Bishop. Unfortunately for Bishop, this encounter can only end in his death!

Suddenly, McCoy hears someone telling him that he’s being impolite. McCoy turns around… only to exclaim in surprise “What are you doing here?”

Sugar Man is standing in the hall, waiting for McCoy to be a gentleman and invite him in! Isn’t that the way it’s always been since he and McCoy made it through into this reality: Sugar Man, the coarse working man, McCoy, the tinkering high brow? Sugar Man knows that they like their parts; why change them now?

Exasperated, McCoy wonders how Sugar Man found him… and also how did he get in here? What did Sugar Man do with his guards?! Sugar Man burps in response and advises McCoy not to ask; it’s better for the both of them! He reminds McCoy that they made a deal: share all info. However, Sugar Man is fully aware that that McCoy is holding out and demonstrates that by pointing at the monitor that shows Bishop.

McCoy furiously insists that he’s done no such thing! He was going to inform Sugar Man of Bishop’s long-predicted appearance in this reality, the moment he received confirmation that he is who they feared he is.

Grabbing McCoy by the hair, an equally furious Sugar Man advises McCoy not to talk to him as if he’s a fool! He reminds McCoy that the two of them are not the babbling idiots they were when they first fell through the M’Kraan crystal two decades ago. Sugar Man also reminds McCoy that he’s not over mindless constructs either and warns him to stop treating him as one otherwise he’ll end up as one of his precious guards!

McCoy grabs Sugar Man’s wrist and pulls out a syringe pistol, aiming at Sugar Man’s forehead at point-blank range. “Don’t presume to push me too far, Sugar Man… or I’ll push back!” he warns him. Undaunted, Sugar Man also pulls out his pistol and aims at McCoy with it. “Want to start over? From the top?” Sugar Man suggests. McCoy finds himself in agreement with this suggestion.

The Xavier Institute, Westchester County

In the med-lab, Professor Xavier is puzzled by Psylocke’s physical injuries. Judging from the wounds, Sabretooth managed to critically wound Psylocke without killing her. Almost as if he were trying to… say something. “To me?” Xavier wonders.

Professor?” Betsy telepathically calls out to him. Xavier approaches the bed where Betsy lies, hovering between life and death, and tells her she needs rest. “Could insist… same of you… sir,” Psylocke replies in a weak voice. She fancies that Xavier looks like she feels. Xavier retorts that even if that were possible, it’s irrelevant and insists that Psylocke needs only concern herself with recuperating. Betsy insists that he looks so tired…

“Exhausted,” Xavier confirms that. He admits he’s tired of seeing people he knows and respects – his people – wounded, sometimes killed in the name of what seems to be a progressively unattainable goal. He believes that both Elizabeth and himself were lucky this time. But what about the next time? Or the time after that? Psylocke reminds him that each of them knew the risks. It was… is… their choice. “Our choice…” Psylocke repeats and then peacefully falls asleep.

Xavier is aware that he should be touched. Even though Psylocke was broken, battered and bruised, she reached out to comfort him. Charles acknowledges it. But he doesn’t feel it. By accident or design… he doesn’t feel anything. Deep in his heart, he can’t help wondering if he’ll feel anything, ever again.

At Archangel’s loft, Beast dramatically announces to his teammates that they’ve been snookered; duped; bamboozled! They’ve had the wool pulled over their eyes and they’ve been hooked, lined, sunk, folded, spindled and otherwise mutilated by one of their own! In the parlance of the game, they’ve been hustled!

Having amassed the poker chips of all of his opponents save for Gambit’s, Sam acts all naïve and asks Hank what would make him say that! Hank tries to force Sam to admit that he’s played this game before! Smirking, Sam admits that he did, maybe once or twice. What else were his nine brothers and sisters supposed to do during the cold Kentucky winters?! Gambit looks rather menacingly at Cannonball, telling him that it’s come down to the two of them.

Ororo stands up and announces she’ll be in the kitchen, hoping that someone will let her know if anyone draws blood. Iceman hastily follows her to the kitchen, asking her if she’s got a second. Storm quickly rebuffs him: she cannot lend him another five! Bobby explains it’s not about that: he was just wondering if she could tutor him. “Because…?” Storm wonders. Iceman nervously explains that out of everyone on the team, it’s the two of them that have similar element-wielding powers. “Exactly. And the answer is yes” Ororo accepts his proposal. Bobby promises he will take it seriously. Ororo exclaims that he will – starting tomorrow at seven a.m. Until then, she suggests they go watch Remy go down in defeat!

McCoy’s lair – The kitchen

Sugar Man believes that if he’s got to sit here and be bored, he isn’t going to do it with an empty stomach. Looking through the fridge, he asks McCoy what exactly they know about this “Bishop.” McCoy explains that Bishop shouldn’t be there; not in this time or place. Just as Sugar Man and himself were able to piece together after their treacherous sojourn from the bosom of a world dominated by their Genetic High Lord, Apocalypse, the entire empire’s demise was precipitated by the ramblings of a forty-something-year-old mutant named Bishop – who, as McCoy notes, up until several months ago, did not have a counterpart in the reality in which McCoy and Sugar Man currently reside.

“So what?” Sugar Man retorts and wonders why McCoy is wasting time studying Bishop. McCoy stresses the fact that, as near as he can tell, Bishop is a “chronal anomaly,” apparently from a distant future. If that is true, it follows that the reason he doesn’t have a counterpart here is because he’s the same person who existed in their homeworld, where he spent twenty years until he somehow convinced the X-Men of their homeworld to reroute and adjust the time stream. McCoy believes that this act led to the present reality and probably allowed Bishop to access his original body since – technically – nothing actually happened to him in the first place. McCoy thinks that even Sugar Man must understand the significance of this!

Sugar Man admits he doesn’t understand anything other than his head is going to pop trying to figure it all out. Exasperated, McCoy explains that this means that Bishop has information in his mind, regarding both Sugar Man and McCoy himself. Information that would be of interest to a certain someone… “Ya mean… him?” Sugar Man mutters, his visage suddenly darkened by fear. “Yes. Sinister,” McCoy simply replies.

Back at Archangel’s apartment, the poker showdown between Sam and Remy continues. Hank hangs upside down, looking at Remy’s cards and trying to make suggestions to him, even though Gambit is urging him to shush. “Feelin’ a bit tense, are we?” Cannonball quips and reminds the guys that this is supposed to be fun. “Was. Before it became a class” Gambit retorts. Sam asks them what they’re all teaching. “Life 101,” Gambit’s response comes.

Gambit admits that Sam has got the bluffing down good… but anyone can pretend to be something they are not; pretend they’ve got something they don’t. However, that’s only half of the game. “Really, o Ancient One? And what’s the other half?” Sam sarcastically enquires. “De ability to… distract” Remy replies, arguing that distracting is sometimes more important than bluffing.

“By the stars and garters of Betsy Ross… that’s it!” Beast suddenly wails, in a moment of epiphany. He crashes down on the floor, realizing that he’s been excruciatingly exercising all his scientific expertise exactly where he expected he would. Hank realizes that the whole time they were ferreting out the truth about Stryfe’s Legacy Virus they were actually chasing their collective tails! Stryfe was indicating in one direction… and in their zeal and ignorance, they acquiesced accordingly! Beast exits the room, mumbling “Now to see what we shall really see…”

Sam asks Remy if he has any idea about what that was about. “Not a clue, Sam. Your bid” Gambit coolly replies. “Is this okay?” Sam asks him as he bets some poker chips. Gambit’s glib “wisdom” follows swiftly: “a man ought never to bet more than he’s willing to lose.”

In McCoy’s lair, Dark Beast presents Sugar Man with his latest guinea pig. Sugar Man looks through a hatch only to be shocked at the sight of a slimy, pink creature, akin to a giant brain mass, all chained up and connected to various wires. Sugar Man admits that he is stunned if this is an example of McCoy’s genetic manipulations. “Impressive, no?” McCoy gloats. “What… is it?” Sugar Man wonders. McCoy admits that he’s not sure. He or she or it started as an experiment in cerebral cloning – little more than a slice of mutant brain matter in a Petri dish. McCoy turned his back on it for five or ten years and… voila! Sugar Man wonders what the creature does. McCoy explains that if filters in every thought, every image from all his constructs, transforming ambient psionic thoughtwaves into digital resource data.

“Show off,” Sugar Man remarks and reminds McCoy that he still didn’t answer his question: what do they do to make sure their mutual survival is ensured? What do they do about Bishop? McCoy tells Sugar Man that, since they agree that the potential accessing of Bishop’s memories by the X-Men may threaten everything they’ve planned over the years, the only true question is “who will be the one to do the dirty deed?” Who will kill Bishop before Sinister realizes that Bishop is the key to the mysteries which have plagued him for the past two decades?

Back at Archangel’s apartment, Gambit urges Cannonball to play, informing his opponent that he is thawing here! Storm agrees that it is time for Sam to show his hand. “Ya foldin’?” Gambit asks him. “Does this look like ah’m foldin’?” Sam retorts and lays his cards on the table, presenting three tens and a pair of nines: full house.

“Here’s another lesson, kid. Never rush. Take y’ time. Don’t never let anybody rush ya,” Gambit remarks and lays his own cards on the table: a ten of hearts, a jack of hearts, a queen of hearts, a king of hearts. As he’s about to show his final card, a smiling Remy advises Sam never to show all his cards at once.

Suddenly, Gambit charges the final card with kinetic energy, sending it over the table and causing it to explode! “Oops,” Gambit exclaims and tells the others that in all his excitement, he wasn’t paying attention; his mutant power to charge things must have kicked in! “Sorry, mes amis,” Gambit apologizes.

“Ya… ya… ya cheater! Ya done that on purpose!” a furious Cannonball exclaims, thinking that this was a trick on Gambit’s part, apparently because he could not make a quintet with his final card. Shrugging, Gambit exclaims that the pot is Sam’s; Remy himself lost. As Remy exits the room, Bobby can’t believe that the best Sam could come up with to call Remy was “cheater”! Standing over the remains of the table, Storm picks up the final, now half-burned card Remy never revealed… and realizes it was an ace of hearts; a winning card; Remy had a royal flush! Ororo cannot understand; why did not Remy want to win?

Characters Involved: 

Beast, Bishop, Cannonball, Cyclops, Gambit, Iceman, Phoenix IV, Professor X, Psylocke, Storm (all X-Men)

Thing (Fantastic Four)

McCoy/ Dark Beast

Sugar Man

McCoy’s guinea pig

Pamela Greenwood

In Bishop’s memory/dream:

Bishop (Age of Apocalypse version)

Mysterious man

In McCoy’s monitors:

Bishop, Cyclops, Phoenix IV (all X-Men)

Story Notes: 

Sabretooth was staying in the mansion for a while, originally undergoing psychic therapy with Xavier and then reduced into a vegetative state after Wolverine popped his claws through his brain. However, it was revealed that Sabretooth was faking his condition and he was locked down, before finally escaping, almost eviscerating Psylocke in the process. [Uncanny X-Men #328] Shortly before that happened, Gambit had tried to psychologically torture Sabretooth by presenting him with holograms of all those people Creed had slaughtered in the past, before Storm put a stop to the show. [Uncanny X-Men #326]

Bishop, originally from a timeline 80 years into the future, crossed over to our timeline in Uncanny X-Men #282 and joined the X-Men in Uncanny X-Men #287.

Bishop and some other X-Men traveled 20 years back in time, pursuing the mentally unstable Legion, and were present in Israel when Legion slew a younger version of his father, Charles Xavier, an act that caused a ripple in timestream, thus spawning the parallel reality known as the Age of Apocalypse. Being a chronal anomaly already, Bishop, now partially amnesiac, was trapped in that dimension, spending over two decades there before encountering the X-Men of that world, regaining his memory and traveling back to that fateful moment in Israel, preventing Xavier’s death and thus repairing the ripple in time. Even though the older Bishop faded away as soon as that happened, some of his memories were incorporated in the young, “standard” Bishop. [Legion Quest & Age of Apocalypse crossovers]

Dark Beast and Sugar Man jumped into the M’Kraan crystal, thus crossing over to the Marvel Universe proper, in X-Men Omega.

Bishop first met waitress Pamela Greenwood in Uncanny X-Men #299. Pamela’s true identity and agenda will be revealed in X-Men (2nd series) #49.

Cyclops and Phoenix indeed had a similar experience to Bishop, as both mutants’ minds were transferred 2000 years in the future by the Mother Askani, raising young Nathan Summers for twelve years, before their minds were transferred back in time, at the exact moment before they had time-traveled, leaving Scott and Jean with only the vaguest of memories of this experience. [The Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix #1-4]

Stryfe, Cable’s clone raised by Apocalypse 2000 years into the future, once tricked Mr. Sinister into releasing the Legacy Virus – a deadly virus affecting only mutants – into the atmosphere. [X-Force (1st series) #18]

This issue contains a rather frustrating number of subplots that are never resolved. These include: Beast having an epiphany about a possible solution for the Legacy Virus problem; Xavier’s assumption that Sabretooth sent a message by critically injuring rather than killing Psylocke; Storm’s promise to tutor Iceman and the motives behind Gambit’s “stunt.”

McCoy and Sugar Man’s fear of Sinister can be attributed to the fact that their knowledge on genetics comes from the Age of Apocalypse version of Sinister. Sugar Man’s genetic handiwork on the Genoshan mutates was based on Sinister’s theories, as was McCoy’s work on the Morlocks. However, after the Marvel Universe proper version of Sinister recognized these two cases as being based on his own studies, he was extremely displeased to the point he even ordered his team of Marauders to massacre the Morlocks. [X-Men Prime, Cable (2nd series) #28]

Petri dish is a glass or plastic dish used by biologists for microbiological culture.

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