Heroes for Hire #16

Issue Date: 
October 1998
Story Title: 
Crisis! (Siege of Wundagore Part 3)
Staff: 

John Ostrander (writer), Paschalis Ferry (penciler), Jaime Mendoza (inker), Jon Babcock (letterer), Joe Rosas (colorist), Mark Bernado (editor), Bob Harras (editor in chief)

Brief Description: 

White Tiger is healed by Iron Fist, much to Dr. Jane Foster’s appreciation. The Heroes for Hire discuss their recent adventure and Jim Hammond asks why White Tiger had attacked Lord Anon. She tells him and the others that it was because he is the Man-Beast, the High Evolutionary’s most implacable foe, and her creator is now in great danger. Suddenly, Ant-Man regresses and Luke is forced to knock him out. They have to find the cure for their condition and that means heading to Wundagore Mountain. On the way, Quicksilver informs them that he has had word sent to Polemachus to try and get Lord Delphis, their greatest scientist, back to Earth. He should be able to help find a solution. Meanwhile, at Wundagore, the Knights take on the Man-Beast and, in the confusion, Bova and Lady Vermin smuggle their creator away. The Man-Beast defeats the Knights before Exodus appears to face him. He tackles the Man-Beast, while ordering the Acolytes to find and kill the Evolutionary and the Knights. Battle ensues, while the Heroes for Hire arrive at Wundagore and enter through the armory where they find blood, as well as the Evolutionary’s facemask. Exodus and the Man-Beast then appear and inform them that, despite their horrific battle, they’ve decided to join forces, which means the Heroes for Hire end up in battle against not only the Acolytes but the Knights of Wundagore too. Against such overwhelming odds, they don’t stand a chance.

Full Summary: 

At the headquarters of Oracle Inc., White Tiger is still being treated for the sword wound she received from the Man-Beast. Her carers, Iron Fist and Dr. Jane Foster, still have her strapped to a machine on a tilted table with foot holders and a waist grip, which keeps White Tiger relatively still while Iron Fist uses his chi to try and heal her. He holds her hand as energy crackles around them both, the pain causing White Tiger to convulse as the energy does its work. Dr. Foster watches her struggle as Iron Fist tries to keep her calm, assuring her that his chi will heal her, asking her not to fight it. Dr. Foster is amazed. She has seen plenty of people with the power to topple buildings but she rarely meets anyone with the power to heal as well as harm.

Elsewhere in the building, several of Iron Fist’s colleagues have gathered while the Black Knight is debriefed by Jim Hammond, Oracle’s CEO. He explains recent events and mentions that White Tiger attacked Lord Anon. Jim asks what manner of creature Lord Anon is and Quicksilver replies that they don’t know, as he is always encased in armor from head to toe. Neither he nor the Knights have ever seen him out of it. He adds that, when he returned to their headquarters, the Haven, after bringing White Tiger there, he found a group of Exodus’s Acolytes preparing to kill the rest of his team. He didn’t allow this and, when they later spontaneously re-evolved, the Acolytes teleported away, after finding neither the High Evolutionary nor Isotope E.

Jim, stroking his cat, understands but still doesn’t know why White Tiger attacked Lord Anon. White Tiger appears with Iron Fist, who has his arm around her shoulder, evidently recovered enough to speak. She tells Jim that she attacked him because he is a traitor. His scent revealed him to be the Man-Beast, the greatest failure and most implacable foe of her creator, the High Evolutionary, and whose destruction was the purpose of her creation. She continues to say that her creator is in great danger, himself advancing and regressing through the evolutionary scale, physically unstable.

Behind her, Ant-Man suddenly begins to take a turn for the worse, devolving once more into an ape-like being. His subhuman state causes him to fly into a rage and begin smashing things as Luke Cage tries to tell him not to panic. Lang roars and punches Luke in the face with his huge fist, which Luke feels, even through his steel-hard skin. He shrugs the effects off and returns the blow, striking Ant-Man’s stomach, which knocks him for six. As he lies unconscious against the wall, he slowly begins to return to his normal human form and the Black Knight tells Jim that they’re all evolutionarily unstable, and their only prayer of getting right is with the High Evolutionary and Isotope E. “Then that’s where you’re all going,” commands Jim.

Over at Wundagore Mountain, meanwhile, the Man-Beast stands over the fallen Evolutionary, laughing insanely whilst holding the scepter containing Isotope E in one hand and his sword in the other. Sir Ram furiously calls him a savage, unnatural creation and questions whether he has killed their lord and maker. The Man-Beast holds his sword to Wyndham’s neck and replies that he hasn’t, as that would be a foolish waste of prime hostage material. He tells the Knights that he knows the hate they bear him but so long as the High Evolutionary’s life is in his hands, they will obey him. Without warning, Lady Vermin leaps at him and uses her blaster to cause the Man-Beast pain and, when he reels from her vicious attack, Sir Ram, Lady Ursula and Lord Tyger waste no time in taking advantage of their opportunity. They leap at him as one, while Bova picks up the Evolutionary; Lady Vermin telling her that he stirs. Bova replies that they will get him to safety.

The Man-Beast, meanwhile, defends himself against the Knights by firing at them with the sceptre, which focuses his psi-blasts. He asks them to count themselves lucky, for if he didn’t need the Isotope for greater purposes they would now be devolved back to their animal selves. A voice behind him makes him turn abruptly as Exodus and the Acolytes appear. Exodus tells the Man-Beast that it is a good place to start, but why stop there. There are so many abominations in the world that need to be cleansed; that is why they seized the citadel and all of the High Evolutionary’s secrets many months ago. As the Kleinstocks, Scanner, Senyaka and Spoor look on, Exodus continues to say that it was very kind of them all to come and deliver themselves, their lord and the Isotope to him, asking if they thought they could sneak into Transia undetected.

The Man-Beast calls his name and Exodus introduces his Acolytes as all being servants of their lord, Magneto and his dream of homo superior’s ascendancy; a dream wherein Isotope E has a profound role to play. “It is mine,” screams the Man-Beast, “I have my own dreams and I will not share. You will be less than human.” With that, he raises the scepter and fires a bright green blast towards them, forcing Exodus to erect his psi-shields immediately. He commands his Acolytes to leave this to him, telling them to find and destroy the Evolutionary and his Knights. He informs the Man-Beast that he has placed a psi-barrier between them and will not fall to the likes of him. The Acolytes quickly attack the Knights present, Scanner high-kicking Lady Ursula while Senyaka uses his energy whips to put Lord Tyger on the back foot, smashing his shield as he curls the whips across the room, making him drop his sword. Scanner asks him not to destroy them all with his energy whips and to leave the rest of them some fun but Senyaka replies that he promises nothing but death!

Very high over the Atlantic Ocean, Thena and She-Hulk fly with the others, piloting their craft as they head for Transia. Thena says that she thought Jennifer only signed on as a lawyer and she replies that the situation’s serious and the Heroes for Hire were short handed; she was once an Avenger after all. Luke tells them that it’s lucky they can both drive as they were the only ones not exposed to Isotope E and it wouldn’t do for them to revert to subhuman in mid-flight. The Black Knight states that this is the reason he dare not summon Strider. He could destroy his own steed and thinks that he may be unable to call him again. Scott is probably the sorriest, wondering about his daughter, Cassie, and he frets over whether he’ll be able to go near her again. What if he reverts? What might he do to her?

Quicksilver reassures them, telling them not to trouble themselves. They will find the High Evolutionary and he will see to it personally that he restores them. He informs them that, before the Avengers and the Fantastic Four left on their respective missions, he arranged with them to have word sent to Lord Delphis, the Knights’ greatest scientist, currently residing in Arkon’s dimension. He will come to help.

Their destination is a scene of turmoil. Exodus and the Man-Beast are fairly evenly matched as they try and force the other to make a mistake. Scanner and Senyaka gloat about having forced Lady Ursula and Lord Tyger into a dead end, telling them that it is a good place to die, but Ursula replies that if they must die then they shall, but she and Lord Tyger have sought only a delaying action. Lord Gator continues her sentence, telling the Acolytes that it was to allow the cavalry to arrive. He and Sir Ram fly overhead on atomic steeds, blasting away at the Acolytes, which allows their comrades to flee to the armory and see what they can make use of.

On their way there, they meet Bova and ask her if their lord shows any signs of recovery. Bova replies that she fears not, although she doesn’t know whether his unconsciousness is due to something that the Man-Beast did, or the stress of the rapid changes his body now endures. Lady Ursula picks up a ‘really big gun’ and replies, “Then we will fight for him!” Bova reminds her that the plain truth is they cannot hope to defeat both Exodus and the Man-Beast can they? Ursula, now sporting a host of accessories, turns to her and admits that they can’t. The attack on the citadel was a mistake from the first, but they must still find a way to destroy their foes and regain Isotope E. They will die to protect him and asks, “Is that not why we were created?” Bova replies by asking whether that is the reason they were created. She had always hoped it was for something greater.

Lord Tyger and Lady Ursula fly from the armory on their atomic steeds and enter the battle, finding Lord Gator and Sir Ram taking on a group of Acolytes in a vicious confrontation. The tall and muscular Javitz grabs Sir Ram’s steed and topples him but he draws his sword and prepares to defend himself from Gargouille, who swoops toward him. Melloncamp swipes at Lord Gator, sending even him rocking backwards.

As the fight continues, in Transian airspace, the Heroes for Hire and Quicksilver discuss plans for their arrival at Wundagore. Pietro tells them that the first place the Knights would go would be the armory, if it survived intact, as they would want weapons. White Tiger agrees. Luke asks Danny whether his iron fist might possibly have some healing power, which would stop them from reverting, but he replies that he isn’t sure. Overextending himself again might have adverse results like it has in the past. Luke says he doesn’t want that, it’s just that all his life he has battled for some dignity and respect. Reverting to subhuman makes him less human than he’s made himself. Danny reminds him that it’s only his body that changes. If the body fails, the soul remains and they are still who they are, and his is a great soul. Luke smiles and tells him that when they get back, they’ll have to find him a storefront and install him as a preacher, ‘cause he’s got the calling.

Once their craft arrives at the citadel, Quicksilver immediately carries out a reconnaissance. He says that there are signs of battle but no trace of the High Evolutionary or the Knights; and there is blood within the armory itself. The team head inside and White Tiger sniffs, finding signs of blood but not the Knights, and Pietro says that it’s probably Acolyte blood. She-Hulk doesn’t like the feeling she’s getting and her concerns grow when Thena holds up the Evolutionary’s helmet, which she found kicked to one side. There are traces of blood on it and some energy scoring. She-Hulk says this is definitely bad, at which point a voice behind her says that it depends upon your outlook. She looks over her shoulder and finds Exodus and the Man-Beast gloating smugly behind her. The Man-Beast informs her that, after a horrific first encounter, he and Exodus have come to a meeting of minds as it were, deciding they have much in common. Exodus adds that they have joined forces to share Isotope E, and their next step, he suggests, is to surrender.

White Tiger begins to change into her feral form but Iron Fist tries to calm her down, telling her that he knows she wants to kill the Man-Beast but they must first see where they stand. Astonishingly, especially for Pietro, he finds the Knights standing with the Acolytes. Lady Ursula tells him that they must do as they say. They have taken their lord and if they do not do their will, they will slay him. She bids him surrender. Quicksilver’s impetuousness takes over as he says, “What! Have we come all this way for nothing?” He rushes towards them, saying the battle is not yet joined, let alone lost. “Once I have Isotope E…”

Before he finishes, he is prevented from reaching the Man-Beast, who creates a shield with but a thought, and Pietro bounces away. The Man-Beast has plans for the Heroes for Hire but, before he can inform them what they are, the Heroes prepare for action; Ant-Man upon Ignatz, Thena, Iron Fist, the Black Knight, Luke Cage, She-Hulk and White Tiger, all standing in a large room facing overwhelming odds. Scanner leaps towards them, telling them that they don’t understand. The Knights have no choice and they go up against the combined forces of the Acolytes and the Knights. Luke remarks that he now knows how Custer felt.

Lord Gator has the first strike, left-hooking Luke Cage’s chin as White Tiger and Lord Tyger duke it out and Ant-Man once again takes on Lady Vermin. Iron Fist, meanwhile, knocks the breath from Melloncamp and She-Hulk uses her super strength to clear a path through several Acolytes. Carmella Unuscione uses her psionic exoskeleton to prevent Thena from breathing and she feels herself beginning to black out. Sir Ram once again takes on the Black Knight, to determine who the better swordsman is, whilst Milan takes out Iron Fist from behind. In the midst of battle, Luke begins to revert to his subhuman form and, as the fight rages uncontrollably around him, he begins to lose his self-control. Lady Ursula manages to knock the wind from the Black Knight, as She-Hulk finally succumbs to overwhelming numbers.

Though the Heroes for Hire fought valiantly, their numbers, in the end, just weren’t enough and they lie on the floor, beaten along with Quicksilver as a low growl starts to erupt from Cage. Suddenly, he stands, now in full subhuman state, and throws off several Acolytes, including Senyaka and the Kleinstock’s, shouting, “Still am Cage! Am Luke Cage.” He is trying to grasp onto the last remnants of his humanity but a voice nearby simply says, “So what?”

Cage sees Exodus and the Man-Beast standing a few feet away from him and Exodus taunts him, telling the Man-Beast that it is turning towards them, asking, “Should we be afraid?” The Man-Beast smirks as he replies that he doesn’t think so. It bellowed its name as if that meant something but, in truth, it never did. All it has done, he adds, is to show them its true nature. For all its posturing, it is simply another animal after all. Luke attacks with a roar but the Man-Beast blasts him with the sceptre, which not only knocks Luke unconscious, but also reverts him to his human state. With the battle won, the Man-Beast raises aloft the sceptre, which glows green with energy, and adds that it doesn’t matter; soon they will simply be carrion.

Characters Involved: 

Ant-Man, Black Knight, Jim Hammond, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, She-Hulk, Thena, White Tiger (all Heroes for Hire)

Ignatz

Dr. Jane Foster

Quicksilver

The Man-Beast

The High Evolutionary

Bova, Lady Ursula, Lady Vermin, Lord Gator, Lord Tyger, Sir Ram (all Knights of
Wundagore)

Joanna Cargill, Exodus, Gargouille, Javitz, Harlan and Sven Kleinstock, Seamus Melloncamp, Milan, Scanner, Senyaka, Spoor, Carmella Unuscione (all Acolytes)

Story Notes: 

Dr. Foster has seen plenty of people with the power to topple buildings, considering that Thor is a close acquaintance.
Around this time, the Avengers were on a mission against Moses Magnum, an old X-Men foe, while the Fantastic Four were probably in Genosha, duking it out with Ayesha and the Crucible.

It is suggested elsewhere on this site that Javitz and Milan could possibly be psionic projections created by Exodus to make it appear that there are more Acolytes than there actually are. Seamus Melloncamp, however, appears in later issues and, therefore, might be real, though he was supposedly killed by Jamie Madrox back in X-Factor (1st series) #92.

Iron Fist overextended his powers in Heroes for Hire #12 when saving Luke’s life after a battle with Strike Force One.

General George Custer, along with around two hundred of his men, was killed during an ill-conceived attempt to return Sioux and Cheyenne Indians to their reservation. Only a horse called Comanche survived. This rout brought an influx of government troops, who forced the Indians to surrender.

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