“Yeah, well, I’ve been following this. I know what I’m talking about,” high school student Hank McCoy says to his lab partner. As he doodles a picture of recent celebrity the Human Torch in his notebook, he explains how these super-people seem to be appearing out of nowhere. First it was that Spider-Guy who fought an ex-convict made of sand down at the docks. Then there was the guy who descended into New York City in the midst of a thunder storm and claimed to be the God of storms. And, of course, there was the incident of renowned physicist Reed Richards and his crew returning from space in possession of fantastic powers.
Their biology teacher walks by and plops an old exam on Hank’s desk. “McCoy. B plus,” he says. He would have earned an A had he not messed up the question about Mendelian distribution of inherited traits. He advises Hank to read the chapter again, and Hank thanks him for the criticism. A student in a letterman’s jacket sitting a row back scratches his head like an ape and asks Hank if he inherited his traits from the zoo. The jock and his friend laugh, until the teacher returns their tests. “Steckler, D minus. Case, straight D,” he announces. “Don’t bother reading the chapter again, gentlemen. Just look at the pictures.” The teacher then returns Jennifer Nyles her test, which she aced. Well done, he says.
After class, Jennifer chides her friend for uncharacteristically missing a question on genetics. He tells her it was a lapse of concentration, but she doesn’t believe him. “What’s the deal, Hank? It’s girls who fake dumb to get dates,” she asks. It’s not easy to explain, Hank answers, but gives it a shot. A few years before his birth, his father was involved in an incident at the nuclear power plant. Apparently, the reactor’s cooling system shut down, and while everyone else ran away in fear of a meltdown, Hank’s father entered the chamber and manually got the coolant flowing again. This act of bravery exposed him to ten times the annual safe dose of radiation for a man his size, but he knew of the risk in advance. He only worried the radiation would mutate his genes and adversely affect his children. When Hank was born, he prayed the child would be normal.
“Normal?” Jennifer scoffs. “Let me get this straight. You threw the test so you’d blend in?” Hank reminds her that a B plus is a very respectable mark, but Jennifer reminds him it’s also a big fat lie. She has glimpsed his brilliance before; his brain reminds her of a super-computer on speed. Brilliance is something to share, not hide. Hank insists his intelligence merely places him on the high end of normal, but Jennifer refuses to let it go. “Normal’s not a straitjacket, Hank.”
“You’re right,” he replies, gesturing with one of his mammoth hands. “It’s an anchor.” It’s not an anchor he needs, Jennifer tells him. He’s big, strong, and broad-shouldered; if he just acts like himself, he could become someone unforgettable.
Nearby, the Coach Peppnick berates his football team for their dismal season performance. Think this is a game, he asks? One of his blockers begins to say yeah, it is, but the coach interrupts him. Jump-rope is a game. If they want to play jump-rope, they should go play with the girls! Football demands commitment! He could build a better team by rounding up the guys in the library. The same outspoken blocker claims they are doing their best; Coach Peppnick tells him their best stinks like a rotting corpse!
To make an example, he turns and addresses the first student he sees: Hank McCoy, whom he calls McBean. Hank corrects him. Whatever, the coach says, before telling Hank to come closer. He hands him the football and asks if he knows what it is. “Some kind of oblate spheroid with tapered ends,” Hank replies in earnest. Coach Peppnick tells him to kick it over the goalposts. Supposing it could do no harm, Hank lets go of his books, picks up the ball, and gives it a firm drop-kick. It soars to the other end of the field and, after bouncing off the goalpost, slips through and lands beyond the end-zone.
The coach’s jaw drops; he meant the nearer goalpost. Sorry, Hank says. “No, that’s – absolutely fine,” Coach Peppnick says. “You’re on the team, McFly. Any position you like.” Awestruck, Hank fumbles for a way to deny the offer. However, when one of the players pipes up and asks coach if he really means to put “Monkey-Man McCoy” on the team, Hank changes his mind. What position does he play, he asks the coach? Hank’s antagonistic new teammate tells Hank to run back to the science lab. Actually, he was just about to do that, Hank tells him, until he opened his yawning chasm of a mouth. Now he’ll just have to live with.
“Nice going, mister normal,” Jennifer jokes as she and Hank walk away. It’s only high school football, Hank replies; no one is going to care. Jennifer looks at him with widened eyes. “So that’s what famous last words sounds like. I’ve always wondered,” she says.
As Jennifer predicted, Hank’s excursion into football makes him insanely popular. He leads the school to a surprise victory at the state championship, and his string of broken football records even earns him extensive television coverage. Unfortunately, he also attracts the worst kind of attention. Somewhere, a man with a golden gauntlet clicks off the television after watching a broadcast about Hank. “The gods have spoken,” this mysterious man says. He will find the boy.
As they walk home together after the championship game, Hank’s father lets him know how proud he is of his victories. As long as his grades don’t slip, he fully supports Hank’s foray into football. Hank tells him to relax; with Jennifer as his study buddy, he has nothing to fear. Norton smiles with relief. Jennifer is smart as a whip, after all. He looks down and sees his shoelace has broken, and asks Hank to go on ahead without him.
After returning home, Hank calls out to his mother, but stops mid-sentence when he sees his living room full of people. Surprise, they shout in unison! His mother Edna runs up and gives him a big hug. Congratulations, she says. Hank, grinning uncontrollably, asks his mother how she kept this surprise party a secret. “I’m just plain devious. Your dad didn’t know about my country-western habit until after we were married,” she answers.
Hank enjoys himself as he makes the round at his party, whether it’s relaying the events of the game to his young cousin or waltzing with his grandmother. After the party ends late that night, the exhausted Hank falls right to sleep on top of his bed.
A strange voice wakes him up later. Hank opens his eyes only to see the sharp tip of a sword glimmering in his face. Its bearer, a man in gold armor who calls himself the Conquistador, tells Hank to rise and greet his destiny. He claims to be the last surviving member of Ponce de Leon’s crew who gained immortality after drinking from the fountain of youth. He believes himself favored by the gods, and has chosen Hank as his servant. “You may abase yourself,” he commands.
Hank sighs. He tells the intruder and his stone-faced followers the party is over; it wasn’t even a costume party. They should leave before he calls the police. Spurned, the Conquistador thrusts his sword at Hank and fires a surge of electricity into his chest, propelling him off the bed and into the wall. He has already ordered him to abase himself, and warns Hank not to anger him again. After all, he bears the sword of the Aztec god of fire, Xiuhtecuhtli. Ever hear of Prozac, the god of sanity? Ever speak to him, Hank asks? Likely not understanding this jab at his expense, the Conquistador reveals to Hank he has magically spirited away his parents to a distant kingdom to ensure his obedience. “Mom and dad? Oh my stars and garters,” Hank says, suddenly understanding the situation. “You’re insane.”
He asks what the Conquistador wants from him. The Conquistador has already made his desires clear. Hank submits, and finally abases himself by kneeling at the intruder’s feet. Is this good, he asks? Acceptable, the Conquistador answers. He produces a set of blueprints and drops them at Hank’s feet. He is to break into the nuclear power plant where his father works and steal their cold fusion reactor prototype. The map shows its location. Retrieve it, the Conquistador orders. Hank hesitates. The power plant is heavily guarded; he cannot wander in unescorted. The Conquistador waves his hand at Hank in disappointment. “The gods say – use your strength. Your ingenuity. And your father’s identity card. The rest – they will provide.”
The foot-soldiers pull the defiant Hank to his feet. He agrees to follow the Conquistador’s orders, but asks that he release his parents first. Hank will complete the task for the sake of the gods themselves, if he must. “Just as Cortez imprisoned Atahualpa until the Aztecs brought him his mountain of gold,” the Conquistador says with his back turned, “so your parents will remain at the safe house until you do what the gods demand of you.” The safe house, Hank asks? He was let to believe his parents were in some distant kingdom. “Exactly,” the Conquistador answers. “A safe house in a distant kingdom.”
After the subordinates remove Hank from the bedroom, the Conquistador lifts a fist to the sky and shouts to his gods. “Oh Xiuhtecuhtli, torture me no more,” he yells. “I will make sacrifice to you on a pyre burning with nuclear fires!”
In the hallway outside, Hank asks the Conquistador’s subordinates if they realize they are working for a lunatic. They don’t care; that lunatic, after all, has more money than Donald Trump. They arrive in the basement and Hank gathers up a bag containing several of his father’s things from the lab. The soldiers ask why he needs all this stuff, when he was only ordered to grab his father’s I.D. Have any of them broken into a nuclear power plant before, Hank asks? They have no response. Exactly, Hank says, telling them to back off.
The soldiers drive him to the power plant in an old Buick. They park out of sight and have him approach the gates himself, reminding him of the danger his parents face should he fail. Hank approaches the guards at the gate with confidence and presents his father’s I.D. card. Night shift, one guard asks? Pays the rent, Hank answers. I hear ya, mister McCoy, he says, casually glancing at the I.D. After getting approval, Hank enters, descends in the elevator, and makes his way to the research facility. The security door requires two identity checks for entrance: an I.D. card and a palm-print. After swiping the card, Hank realizes he has reached an impasse. He kicks the door down instead.
With the laboratory breached, the security alarm begins to sound, forcing Hank to move quickly. He finds the locker containing the prototype. After tearing the door open, he tucks the device under his arm, just as the security guards enter and draw their guns. Freeze, they shout! Hank ignores them and takes a running jump out the nearest window. He lands on his feet amidst the broken glass, only to be greeted by yet another squad of security guards. They fire their guns at Hank as he runs toward the barbed-wire fence, but he deftly dodges their bullets and leaps over the fence, free as a bird.
The foot-soldiers can barely believe he survived the assignment. Nevertheless, they start up the engine and make their getaway, passing a trio of police cars en route to the plant as they escape. The safe house turns out to be an abandoned commercial building uptown. Upon entering, Hank sees the Conquistador standing next to his parents, both of whom are bound and gagged. The Conquistador commends Hank on a job well done and asks for the prototype. As Hank hands it to him, he asks for his parents’ release. In good time, the Conquistador says. First, he intends to incorporate this stolen technology into his armor and sword. “So, like Hercules, you have other labors still to perform.”
“Oh yeah?” Hank sneers. “Well Hercules is a Greek myth, you moron. And didn’t anyone ever tell you – Xiuhtecuhtli the fire god hates cheats.” The cold fusion prototype suddenly produces a bright white light, illuminating the room to the point of blindness. Hank, however, knew to cover his eyes. With his enemies now dazzled, he leaps around the room, knocking them unconscious one at a time. Soon only the Conquistador remains. It seems Hank has his own divine patron, he says, firing a bolt of electricity at the young mutant. No, Hank replies, just some wiring and a high-powered bulb from the electronics store. As he lunges at the Conquistador, he asks if he feels stupid for being tricked. If he does, the feeling is nothing compared to how he will feel once Hank finishes with him. He lands on the lunatic’s chest and while holding his sword at bay with one hand, rips off his body armor with the other. Surprisingly, Hank sees it contains several wires and accumulators. He doesn’t have any gods working for him; he only has tricks! Stupid, pathetic tricks. He smashes the Conquistador’s head into the brick wall.
With all the villains neutralized, Hank frees his parents from captivity. Instead of relief and appreciation, however, they greet their son with fear and anxiety. How did Hank do those things? What is he, they ask? “I’m – your son,” Hank answers. His answer does nothing to reassure them, so he continues. He has been reading up on the subject, and thinks he may be a mutant. As he begins to explain Reed Richards’s theory of genetic and environmental triggers, Norton interrupts and says this must be a nightmare. He embraces Edna as she bawls into his chest. Hank may be a mutant, Norton says, but they will work through it as a family. Somehow.
Exasperated, Hank reminds them nothing has changed. He is still Henry McCoy, their son. Why are they acting like this? His father ignores him and continues rambling nervously. They will have to keep this a secret, he says with a solemn look on his face. “I – I don’t…”
Suddenly, both Edna and Norton’s facial expressions change from disappointed to elated. I don’t know how to thank you for changing that wheel for us, Norton says to no one in particular. They could have been stuck here forever had he not helped! The instantly happy married couple smiles and walks out of the building, leaving their son behind without saying a word of goodbye. Hank is stunned; he calls out to them, but for some reason, they don’t seem to hear his voice.
“Best to let them go, Henry McCoy,” a mysterious voice declares. “Your destiny lies elsewhere.” When Hank turns around, he is greeted by the sight of a bald man in a wheelchair, backed by a man with wings, another with an eerie red visor, and another seemingly made of snow. The bald man introduces himself as Charles Xavier, proprietor of a school for people with amazing abilities like Hank’s. He had hoped to arrive earlier, but had difficulty pinpointing his location. These young men with him are his other students. “I hope you’ll consider coming along with us when we leave,” Xavier says. “And in the meantime, I’ve taken the liberty of erasing the fact of your existence from the minds of everyone who ever met you.” Hank approaches Xavier in awe; can he really control people’s minds, he asks? Of course, Xavier answers, but for ethical reasons he only does so as a last resort. In this case, he manipulated the minds of Hank’s friends and family to protect them from the consequences of Hank’s destiny.
After first asking forgiveness for speaking so bluntly, Hank reminds Xavier he is the second person today to wave his destiny in his face. What is he supposedly becoming? Xavier looks at him with icy consternation. He will become a hero and a champion of the mutant race. He will become an X-Man. Hank is speechless, but not from this honor. Instead, he is horrified no one will remember him at all. Professor Xavier asks if he would rather they remembered him with hate, and fear, and regret. In his opinion, it’s better this way. However, if Hank wishes it so, he will change everything back to normal. “It’s your choice,” he tells Hank. “Because it’s your life.”
A great while later, Hank returns to his old neighborhood. He sees Jennifer Nyles walking down the sidewalk with one of the football players. Hank hides his face as they pass, but the gesture is pointless; Jennifer would not remember him anyway. Jennifer, now with blonde hair, giggles and gives her new friend pointers on how to cheat on homework assignments. She then asks if he is coming over tonight. No, he replies; he has football practice. Jennifer tells him to call her anyway; she is all by herself tonight.
After the two pass by, Hank recalls something Jennifer once said to him: Normal’s not a straitjacket, Hank, she said. Just be yourself. You’ll be something pretty unforgettable.