(Texas, some years ago)
Behind his podium, a masked man addresses the crowd of businessmen attending his seminar. Raising his hand and pointing out to the crowd, he tries to sum up what they have learned this week. What are they? What are their lives, if not messy, unhappy compromises? They are miserable trade-offs between their desires and their fears. Grubby deals plea-bargained by their instincts with their conditioning. And they’re not unique in this. Oh, no, they are typical. They are America. Any final questions?
Seated in the mass of attendees, one man raises his hand while winking at the man sitting next to him. With a wry smile, he asks Mister Code why he wears the mask. Scoffing at this question, Mister Code mocks back that, after one whole week of intensive insecurity therapy… that’s the best that he can come up with? Pressing a button on his podium, Mister Code activates a circuit, which sends a lethal dose of electricity through the questioner. When the task is complete, the attendee is dead, his skin charred and his hair burned from his body.
Unflinching from the action he just took, Mister Code calls for the next question and singles out Anthony. Bowing his head as he asks, Anthony haltingly asks Mister Code when they are going to begin to change America. Stepping away from his podium, Mister Code replies that, first, there will be signs. There will be fiery portents in the sky. The mighty will crumble to dust. The children of the west will walk in the hanging gardens. As he approaches the edge of the stage, Mister Code looks down into the eyes of an eager, young attendee. Then, Mister Code continues, it begins. Taking in every word with anticipation, the young attendee, a youth named Spike Freeman, plans for the future.
(present, somewhere in America)
Walking with his mother, a youth in his late teens walks with his mother as she pushes her grocery cart to her car. Reading the contents of the breakfast cereal she has bought, the youth tells his mother that it’s all junk; processed, packaged, sweetened, added color, added flavor. Why is she poisoning her children with this junk? Undeterred, the portly mother replies that the so-called junk was good enough for his father.
A little irate at this defense, the youth begins to tear through the grocery bag, asking if she is speaking about his father, who’s forty pounds overweight, with a spastic colon and furballs for arteries. Stopping him, the mother tells her son, Wayne, to stop this nonsense. Is it the heavy metal records, she asks. Have they told him to act up like this? Smiling through his lip-ring, Wayne replies that she’s right. There are hidden messages on Slip-Knot’s latest single, telling the kids to eat more nutritional food.
Before Wayne’s mother can retort, a loud gunshot rings through the parking lot. At the same moment, Wayne’s mother is pushed backward, her massive frame causing the shopping cart to overturn. As Wayne bends to attend to his mom, another shot echoes through the air and Wayne witnesses another shopper exiting the store be hit with a bullet. But a short distance away, in the same parking lot, other victims, at least five, lie on the concrete, bleeding from their own gunshot wounds.
Terror strikes again at the heart of America, Tracy reports from her anchor desk. A series of apparently random shootings, reminiscent of the infamous Washington sniper, claims fifteen lives outside a Florida shopping mall and a further two victims at a gas station in Denver. Meanwhile, she continues, as hysteria grows coast-to-coast… three joggers are gunned down in San Francisco. Finished with her part, Tracy turns the story over to her on-site colleague, Ben.
Ben, reporting from outside the White House, informs his viewers that he is with Secretary of Homeland Defense Ed Wolfman. Holding his microphone to the secretary, Ben asks if he has any words for their viewers. Looking into the camera, Secretary Wolfman replies that he’d like to ask all Americans to be vigilant. Be alert. Be mindful of their surroundings but do not – repeat – do not panic.
Hearing this, Ben inquisitively repeats the secretary’s words: do not panic? To this, the secretary repeats it once again. Watching this exchange on his television, Mister Code turns away from the screen and speaks to himself. It begins.
Looking out of the window of the team’s lounge, Vivisector asks about the random murders sending shock waves across the national consciousness. Isn’t that the type of high-profile, culturally significant mission X-Statix should be tackling? Asking if he’s kidding, Tike points out Secretary Wolfman on the television screen. Understanding Tike’s line of reasoning, Dead Girl adds that he’s gotten more grey hairs since he’s been on the screen. That job, Tike concludes, is one poisoned chariot.
The term, Vivisector retorts, is “poisoned chalice.” Sniping back that he knew that, Tike asks if a brother can’t mess with the Queen’s English when he wants. Speaking of queens, Spike says, entering the room. To this beginning of an apparent insult, Vivisector furs-up, snarling that, if he says it, he’ll scratch out his eyes. Not flinching at this threat to his life, Spike asks the team if they decided on how they’re going to kill a certain… popstar? Adding to this, he points out that, as Henrietta’s a zombie or whatever, it might be difficult to decease her. Tight lipped, Guy replies that it’s nothing X-Statix can’t boldly handle. Unknown to either Spike or Guy, or the rest of the team, this confession of intent is heard by the spectral Lacuna, who uses her powers to slip between the moments.
Completely oblivious to this, Dead Girl suggests that they could chop Henrietta into forty pieces, encase them in hermetically sealed caskets and scatter them to the mysterious and dangerous places around the world. Her statement made, Dead Girl turns to Doop’s camera and sticks her tongue out in jest, causing Doop to snipe back in his language.
Nearby, Spike reaches into a cooler for a canned drink and tells Dead girl that he likes that. He really does. Angered by this statement, the Anarchist grabs Spike by the shirt and draws back his free hand in a fist. Threateningly, he tells Spike that no one cares what he likes. He’s still on trial for setting them up. First, they’ll deal with Henrietta… then they’ll deal with his scheming butt. His point made, Tike pushes Spike down into the open cooler, full of ice. The decision made, Venus asks the group where Ms. Hunter is, anyway.
Sunbathing on a yacht, Henrietta Hunter thinks of how she was always rather fond of the Caribbean. It’s good to get some peace after all the chat-shows and merchandising deals. Sitting up on her blanket, Henrietta calls out to Omar, telling him that she is starting to burn. Would he be a darling? As the handsome and fit Omar, dressed in his seaman’s uniforms, approaches, Henrietta thinks to herself that Justin wouldn’t begrudge her Omar. She needs a little fun sometimes, after all the pain.
Henrietta’s time with Omar is short, however. Just as he begins to rub suntan lotion onto her back, X-Statix emerges from Venus’ teleportation effect. Wasting no time, Phat uses a phatted hand to slap Omar overboard and into the Caribbean. Enraged at both the treatment of her attendant and the interruption, Henrietta asks coldly how dare they, followed with asking what they want. The question asked, Dead Girl turns to Tike, asking if he is going to tell her. In turn, Tike tells Dead Girl to do it; she’s a woman… kinda’. Hearing this indecisive proclamation, Guy voices a snipe at Tike, commenting that he is supposed to be their leader.
Worried that no one wishes to tell her, Henrietta weakly asks tell me what? Her answer comes not from the team, however, but from Lacuna, who informs Henrietta that they’re going to kill her. Having appeared from thin air, Lacuna now garners the team’s attention, which she punctuates by taking Omar’s hat and places it upon her own head. Continuing, she asks the team how they are going to do the deed. Make her walk the plank?
When Myles tries to answer this, citing that that particular method of pirate behavior was entirely mythical, Tike tells him to shut up. Now turning his attention back to Lacuna, he asks her how she got there. Same as she always does, Lacuna replies, placing Omar’s hat now on Henrietta. She slipped between the moments and caught a ride on Venus Dee Milo’s coattails.
Finally grasping the conversation, Henrietta asks for confirmation: they’re trying to kill her? But… why? Because she’s annoying, Tike replies. Because she’s interfering, Dead Girl adds. Because she’s white, states Phat. Sensing the real reason, Henrietta backs herself to the railing and looks into the blue water below. Because I’m more popular than you are, she states. That too, Tike concludes.
Standing next to the frightened Henrietta, Lacuna tells her that they are just trying to scare her. If they killed her… then what? A special “X-Statix kills Henrietta” show? Enraged by her interference, Tike asks Lacuna why she’s helping her. She’s almost one of them. The eighth X-Statix, mocks El Guapo.
Answering Tike’s question, Lacuna replies that she’s helping her because… because she stands for something. Ignoring Henrietta subsequent exclamation of surprise, Lacuna continues, explaining that she stands for all women who were used and then thrown aside when she started to grow, when she started to take control. Nearby, Vivisector makes a gagging motion and asks for Lacuna to stop; the yacht is making him sick enough as it is.
Sensing a lull in the group’s murderous intent, Henrietta speaks up, asking if they are going to kill her or not. Because, if not, she’s going to need one of the big, strong boys to cream her legs. Hearing this, Venus glares back at her boyfriend, Guy, who is speechless.
On a battlefield in Afghanistan, Tike uses his acid blasts to demolish a tank. Musing about the team’s actions on the yacht, he states that he still thinks they should have killed her. Battling ground troops nearby, side by side with Venus, Guy replies that this way is more diplomatic. She’ll either be killed in this lovely, nasty little scrap… Venus starts. Or she’ll see so much blood and slaughter… continues Dead Girl. That she’ll stick to yachting in the Caribbean, finishes Venus. Exactly, muses Guy, as he opens the flap to a tent containing the hostages. Greeting the now freed prisoners, Guy gives an enthusiastic hi, fellas.
Skating through the air, avoiding two missiles, El Guapo asks what is going on there, anyhow. Is this another one of Spike Freeman’s setups he hears so much about? Not this time, replies the Anarchist. It’s for real. As real as anything gets nowadays, Guy adds. Their mission, the Anarchist continues as he torches an airborne helicopter, was to rescue the cast and crew of a reality TV show that have been kidnapped by Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.
Hearing this, Vivisector announces that, if he finds out this is all just part of the reality TV show, he’s going to seriously consider changing his agent. Pulling out his friend from the crater he was blown into, Phat asks Vivisector if he is still with I.C.M. Nah, he replies, some of those guys are hot but they don’t really know how to place mutants. Try being a brother, adds the Anarchist, still blasting away. He gets typecast more’n Bernie Mac. Hearing this, Phat agrees. “Always trying to keep the brothers down.” Scoffing at the idea, Venus retorts with a white boy, please.
Noticing a tank moving over a ridge, the Anarchist calls to Venus, telling her that they’re bringing up the heavy brigade. Jumping into action, Venus levitates the armored vehicle, noticing as she does so that it is “Made in America.” To this, Vivisector jokes that it’s good to see their brave exporters can still compete with the Brits and the French. Moving his attention elsewhere, the Anarchist tells Guy to look at Henrietta. As he tries climbing out of the rubble that fell on top of him, Guy asks if its battle trauma. Or a complete psychological breakdown. The Anarchist states that he wishes. She’s a mutant, remember, he states. As the two X-Statix look up, they see Henrietta emerging from over a hill, standing atop several dead Taliban soldiers and holding two more in her grips. Regarding this, the Anarchist states that she’s turned into the all-singing, all-dancing, all-butt-kicking Henrietta, the Taliban Slayer!
The battle having ended, Vivisector takes a moment to pull out a sketchpad and begins to draw terrain. Citing that they now seem to be redundant, he might take the time to do a little water-coloring. My god, he states, what Monet would have done with these desert sunsets! Angered by such flippancy, the Anarchist knocks the pad from Vivisector’s hands, telling him to keep giving him reasons to ground him. Ah, Vivisector exclaims, the rage of Caliban!
As the two argue, Phat notices something and yells incoming. Running into action, he phats-up and steps in front of Henrietta, using his rubbery mass to deflect a missile, which explodes some distance away. Watching the fiery explosion, Henrietta thanks Phat enthusiastically, telling him that he just saved her life. Realizing that he has just done so, Phat guess aloud that he did. His emotions quickly turn to horror, however, as he sees El Guapo climbing out of the newly formed crater. His legs are now missing from above the knees and what remains are blackened and charred stumps.
Back at HQ, Tike reminds Phat that he saved her life and asks him what the hell he was thinking. Replying haltingly, Phat states that it was just instinct. Not accepting such a statement, Tike continues his tirade, asking if he has the hots for her. This is getting interesting, Dead Girl states, watching the argument. That’s crazy, Phat states defensively. He’s gay. Ostensibly, Vivisector adds.
“So what?” asks Tike. Henrietta has always had a big gay following. His type, have a thang ‘bout those tragic femalians. Taking this as a slur, Vivisector furs-up and leaps at Tike, exclaiming that he really resents that. Unflinching, Tike counters that he really cares. Think about it, he tells Vivisector. If Phat helped anyone… it shoulda been El Guapo, not Ms. I’m-so-popular Henrietta. His anger now reduced, Vivisector tells Phat that Tike’s got a point. El Guapo is one of them. He wishes, states Dead Girl. Glaring at Dead Girl, Venus asks if she’s just going to stand there like a corpse and make glib one-liners. It’s a possibility, Dead Girl retorts.
When Phat gives a halting apology to the team about El Guapo, Vivisector’s anger returns, this time aimed at Phat. He points out the kid put so much stock in his physical perfection and, now, he’s… he’s going to have to deal with so many body image issues. So maybe, Phat rejoins, he’ll stop followin’ him ‘round like a lovesick dawg’. As this is about to lead Vivisector and Phat to blows, Guy steps between the two, telling them that they’ve got to pull together. If they aren’t careful, Henrietta will succeed where super-villains, super-egos and megalomaniacs failed… she’ll destroy X-Statix!
On a street, somewhere in America, a couple walks together, the guy pushing his bike. Voicing her opinion, she states that she really likes Henrietta. She thinks she’s an icon for the new century. Replying in agreement, the guy adds that he doesn’t know about the mutants she hangs with. They’re kind of… The youth’s statement is cut off, as a hail of bullets rips him and his companion to shreds, ending their lives.
Reporting from her anchor desk, Tracy states that eight more are dead, eviscerated in Milwaukee. Death, she states, continues to stalk their land. All the more terrifying for its apparent random nature, who will the random killer cut down next? Will it be her? Or they, the viewers?
Drawing her attention to her guest, Secretary Wolfman, Tracy introduces him as the man who just might be able to provide some answers: the Most Hated Man in America… the man who should be protecting them but is clearly not up to the job… Secretary of Homeland Defense Ed Wolfman. So, she continues, now posing her question to the sweating and nervous secretary, after fifty-six deaths, gallons of red blood on his hands and no leads, what does he have to say?
Haltingly, Secretary Wolfman replies that he tried. To this, Tracy points out that Adolf Hitler did as well. If he can’t cut it, he should do them all a favor. Now in tears, the secretary buries his head in his arms, declaring that he’ll resign. He’ll go home and shoot himself. Unaffected by this declaration, Tracy asks the secretary to look into the camera when he humiliates himself. Raising his head, Secretary Wolfman asks about those “Fancy-Dan super heroes who are supposed to protect them. Why don’t those X-Statix types get out of their Ferraris and try helping the normal people?
Watching this back at X-Statix HQ, Henrietta states that the secretary’s right. Stopping the random killer is exactly the kind of job they should be doing. Taken aback, Tike asks Henrietta if she’s crazy. That is one poisoned char… Tike’s statement is interrupted by Guy placing his hand over Tike’s mouth. Well, Guy states with a smile, she is their new leader now. So it’s her decision.
On the balcony of X-Statix HQ, Tracy stands among dozens of other reporters, stating that the nation’s favorite mutants are about to make an announcement. Addressing the press and attired in her costume, Henrietta declares that, as new leader of the team, she’s decided… to stop the random killings. Pushing her microphone toward Henrietta, Tracy asks if she means she’s taking over the role of homeland defense. Closing her eyes in resolution, Henrietta replies that that’s exactly what she means.
Across the country, those watching rally at the announcement, declaring that they are saved. God bless Henrietta! In the Oval Office of the White House, the president tells Chuck to get in the office – he’s just seen his next running mate. Back at X-Statix Tower, the Anarchist leans into Guy’s ear, noting that the people love her. The bigger they get, Guys replies, the harder they fall.