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Uncanny X-Men (1st series) #448

Issue Date: November 2004

Story Title: Guess who’s back in town?

Staff: Chris Claremont (writer), Olivier Coipel (penciler), Scott Hanna (inker), Chris Chuckry (colors), VC’s Rus Wooton (letterers), Greg Land (cover), Stephanie Moore & Sean Ryan (assistant editors), Mike Marts (editor), Joe Quesada (editor in chief), Dan Buckley (publisher)

Brief Description:
The X-Men return to Braddock Manor, following their battle with the Fury, and find the building mysteriously intact. Brian Braddock and his wife, Meggan, wait for them at the door. Inside, Brian explains that the manor is magic, and somehow takes care of itself. Despite being happy to see her old friends, Rachel senses something is wrong with the whole scenario. Once outside, she accesses a portion of her power and, in place of the pristine manor, she sees Jamie Braddock again. This time, he is standing amidst the ruins of the building. As quickly as the image hits her, it is gone. She seems to shrug it off and the team head to London, chauffeured by a woman with green lipstick. They change into evening dress for dinner with the queen but, once inside their car, they are gassed by their chauffeur, Viper. They wake up inside see-through spheres and with a large hologram of Viper standing beside them. She informs them that they are inside Murderworld and the object of her game is to kill them; especially Sage. They must also find and rescue the queen of England, because, if they don’t, she will die. Rachel is the first to emerge from her sphere, but she is severely beaten up by Viper. Without their powers, courtesy of some well-placed nanites, Viper has an advantage over the X-Men in that she knows the terrain. In their new environment, Kurt saves Storm from being swept underwater, but knows that, in escaping this trap, there’s bound to be another one waiting for them. Bishop and Sage emerge next to an illusion of the Tower of London. Sage somehow breaks her sphere using her fist, which surprises Bishop. Viper then appears and beats up Bishop before shooting Sage. Only her uniform protects her from certain death. She then holds a gun to Sage’s head and, despite Bishop’s warning that she will be hunted to the ends of the Earth, she pulls the trigger.

Full Synopsis:
Following a ferocious battle with a being called the Fury, the X-Men expected to return to Braddock Manor to find it in ruins. They really should have known better. They approach the house to find it intact, as if nothing had ever been amiss. Brian Braddock and his wife, Meggan, await them at the door.

The X-Men are a little wary as they reach the steps to the house, but Rachel at least is enthusiastic. She’s mainly happy that they are okay after all that’s happened. Meggan appears surprised that she would think otherwise. Brian invites them in and asks them to make themselves at home. Meggan flings her arms around Nightcrawler’s neck. She hasn’t seen him in ages. Brian slyly remarks that it’s nowhere near long enough. Rachel coughs to attract Brian’s attention, and he smiles. “And how long have you two been married?” she asks.

Rachel and Brian hug. “What can I say,” she adds, “I still get jealous.” Storm assures Brian that Kurt is the last person in the world to give him cause. Old habits die hard, he replies. He apologizes for not being there when the attack happened. As ruler of Otherworld, his responsibilities keep him so busy that he doesn’t get back here often. The manor usually takes care of itself.

Soon, the gang are all inside, having a drink and a chat. Bishop asks Brian just how the house takes care of itself. Brian explains that it’s like him and his wife: it’s magic. Rachel creates a telepathic image of the Fury, and Bishop asks Brian if he knows it. He says that a man never forgets the creature that tried to kill him. The Fury, he explains, is an artificial sentience, designed to be the ultimate weapon. When they fought, it was eliminating Captain Britain’s like himself from every dimension of the timestream. “It killed you?” asks Sage. Brian explains that he was resurrected. The second time he fought it, with the help of friends, he prevailed. Bishop assures him that this time they took care of business, but Brian wishes he could be sure of that.

Rachel looks at a painting of Brian, Meggan and Brian’s sister, Betsy. For what its worth, Brian tells her, he misses Betsy too, but there’s no cause for sorrow. Rachel manifests a golden Phoenix symbol over her left eye, as she focuses on the painting. Brian tells her that his sister found her true path, as she has found hers. Time now for everyone to move on. Storm offers her help should the need arise, but Brian prays that it doesn’t. Surviving the Fury is a miracle that doesn’t happen twice.

The X-Men make their way out of the manor, but Rachel knows that something’s not right with Brian and Meggan. She takes a sly look backwards and sees the mansion, as it was when they arrived. A quick use of her power reveals a quite different scenario. In place of the manor is a scene of utter devastation and standing in the middle of this horror is Jamie Braddock, wearing only his underwear. “Bye now, baby,” he says. Rachel again can’t believe it is him, and instantly the scene is replaced with Brian and Meggan waving them goodbye. Curiouser and curiouser.

Wolverine grabs her attention and she gasps, as she is brought back to reality. Logan says she looks as if she’s seen a ghost, but Rachel insists it’s just her imagination going haywire. She doesn’t know what could have possessed her. The team heads back towards the Blackbird, where a Jaguar awaits along with a chauffer. Bishop asks what’s going on and Wolverine replies that they’ve been invited to Buckingham Palace for dinner with the queen. Bishop asks if this is usual for the X-Men, and Rachel tells him that it’s her fault. She, Kitty and Logan once saved her from the Nazis. “You’re kidding?” says Bishop. God’s honest truth, replies Rachel and asks Logan for confirmation. Logan eyes up the chauffer, as if he’s noticed something strange or familiar, but he seems to ignore this and replies, “Absolutely.”

(London)
Storm, Sage, Nightcrawler and Bishop are dressed to the nines and ready for dinner with the queen. Sage informs Storm that Logan was called away for something urgent. Bishop wonders how he does it; juggling all these commitments. Kurt reminds him that he’s the best there is at what he does. Rachel is also there, talking on her mobile with Kitty. She is sporting a skimpy black number and has her red hair tied up. It attracts admiring glances, but her elegant appearance is soon undone as her heel breaks descending a flight of stairs. Rachel goes tumbling; coming to a halt at the bottom. She covers her face with embarrassment, as a mother covers her child’s face to save hers.

Sage rushes forward to help her, but Rachel is already on her feet, still covering her face and wishing she could die. Bishop asks Sage for a break. He’s the hero with the muscles, so how about he gets to save the girl? Climbing into another car, this time a Rolls Royce, Rachel is still embarrassed and asks if she can stay home. “Just tell the queen I’m sick.” she asks, but Sage is having none of it. Sage checks out the driver, as she enters the vehicle, just as Wolverine had earlier, but climbs in anyway. The driver is seen to be a woman with green lipstick; her face hidden by a chauffeurs cap. Rachel, still unable to show her face says, “I’ll die now, please.” The chauffer is only too happy to oblige, and gas fills the rear of the car, rendering the five X-Men unconscious. The X-Men awake to find themselves trapped in see-through spheres, lined up vertically. A massive holographic image of Viper (their chauffer), stands before them, grinning. She asks if they had a nice nap, before adding that, from there on, they should be careful as their next one might be eternal. She finds it fascinating how easily the unstable molecules of their clothes can be reconfigured into their uniforms. Almost as amazing is what can be picked up on eBay. “Welcome back, X-Men, to Murderworld!” She tells them that ownership may have changed, but the object of the game is still to kill them, especially Sage.

The spring is sprung and the spheres begin their descent into Murderworld proper. Viper, though, has a little additional information for them. They have their uniforms, but not their powers. A judicious use of nannites has ensured that. Every location is a potential death trap; every person a killer. Finally, the icing on the cake, an incentive for them in case they needed one, is that they aren’t alone in the game. The game ends at sunrise, and if they don’t find and rescue the queen of England; so does her life.

Each member of the X-Men is inside their own individual sphere, and Rachel’s is the first to crack open as it lands at the foot of a long flight of stairs. She checks out her surroundings and finds that she’s in an industrial landscape. She can’t get her bearings, and her head feels so empty. She notices Viper too late to avoid her. Viper tells her that’s the idea. Take away Rachel’s mental powers and there doesn’t appear to be much left. She kicks Rachel in the face - twice, and shows off her clear superiority in hand-to-hand combat. She follows up her initial attack with a strong elbow to the face, which leaves Rachel flailing on the ground, unable to fight someone as strong and skilled as the former Madame Hydra. Viper grabs her in a headlock and squeezes her neck until Rachel begins to black out. “Say hello to your mother,” Viper says, with a nefarious grin highlighting her green lips.

Meanwhile, Nightcrawler and Storm find their journey ended with a splash. They land in a large, arched, sewer system and their spheres break open upon impact with the water. Kurt comments that Viper’s certainly getting her money’s worth from Murderworld. That was some wild ride. Storm questions just what might be next. They peer into the tunnel from where they emerged, and consider going back the way they came. Suddenly, Storm hears something, and looks up to see a huge volume of water descending from the ceiling towards them.

Caught up in the turmoil, Storm manages to grab some brickwork and also Nightcrawler’s tail. She knows she can’t allow them to be swept into the tunnel. Nightcrawler uses his prodigious finger strength to grab the wall, but Storm isn’t so fortunate, and is forced to let go. She is dragged underwater by the strong currents, and Kurt instinctively spears his tail underwater to grab her arm; his tail’s prehensile abilities coming in useful once again. Though he is unable to teleport, Viper has left him with his strength and his agility. He climbs the wall and drags Storm out of the water. She is unconscious, but alive. He carries her up some steps and out of trouble, but knows that escaping Murderworld’s many death traps invariably lead to something worse.

Meanwhile, Bishop and Sage descend into their own environment. As they roll, Sage punches the sphere, and somehow it shatters. Bishop’s also shatters but, once he is upright, he queries just how the ball cracked. He notices blood on Sage’s hand, and she whips it away from him, so as not to allow him to see it. “It’s fine, Bishop,” she replies. They look at their environment. It is a night time illusion which is a near perfect representation of the real Tower of London. Sage figures that it’s probably generated by pirated X-Men Danger Room technology. Bishop asks how they find Viper. Sage replies that it’s her game. She’ll probably find them.

Sage’s notion is correct. Rachel is hurled to the ground before them as Viper appears. She tells them they needn’t worry; Rachel isn’t dead. For her tastes, she is below the ‘legal limit,’ so there’s no satisfaction in killing her. Bishop, though, and especially Sage - well that’s a whole different story. Bishop is ever ready for whatever she brings on.

Viper shows that she isn’t just talk. She leaps towards Bishop and kicks out at him. He parries her first effort, but she back-flips and catches him with a solid knee to the chin, which sends him sprawling. She follows up this attack with a right hook and then a left. She taunts Bishop, whilst punching the living daylights out of him, that maybe he is so concerned because he cares for Sage. She informs him that there are better bodies in the world, especially among the X-Men. Does he cherish her for her intellect? A good laptop will do just as well, and will probably keep him warmer at night.

Bishop is a fighter, and he tries to counter her assault. As he strikes, she vanishes into thin air. She then appears right behind him and, as she shoves him effortlessly from the crenellations atop the tower, she says that she forgot to mention that she possesses a short-range teleport ring. As Bishop falls, Viper turns to Sage and asks her if she’s wearing Kevlar. Not hesitating for an answer, she shoots Sage, whose cyber glasses fall from her face. She hits the ground and Viper strolls across the roof and stands over her.

Viper exclaims how she loves the way the unstable molecules of their uniform makes such good body armor. She kneels down over Sage, and puts a pistol to her head. There’s no lasting damage, but she bets that shot really hurt. Bishop, it seems, didn’t fall after all, and he pulls himself up over the edge of the tower and warns Viper not to do this. They’ll hunt her to the ends of the Earth. “You call that a threat?” asks Viper. Nothing they can do will bring her back. There’s no uniform protecting her head; no armor and no salvation.

Viper puts the pistol to her forehead, as Sage looks up helplessly. She admits she is done, but asks for Viper to at least give the others a chance to save the queen. Viper grins. “Determined to the end to be the hero; I do so like that. The queen is in the eye. Save her - if you can.” She pulls the trigger, and Sage’s four fellow X-Men look or listen on in horror.

Characters:
Bishop, Marvel Girl, Nightcrawler, Sage, Storm, Wolverine (all X-Men)

Captain Britain and Meggan
Jamie Braddock

Viper
London residents

(in photographs/paintings)
Captain Britain
Meggan
Psylocke

(as a telepathic image/hologram)
The Fury
Viper

Notes:
Cannonball doesn’t appear in this issue. He sustained a broken leg in the battle with the Fury and is presumably recovering.

Brian Braddock and Meggan married in Excalibur (1st series) #125, the final issue of that series. He took over as ruler of Otherworld in Excalibur (2nd series) #4.

Captain Britain was killed by the Fury, but was resurrected by Merlin and Roma from a rag, a bone and a hank of hair.

Kitty, Rachel and Logan met the queen in X-Men: True Friends #1 - 3.

Murderworld was created by Arcade and was first seen back in Marvel Team-Up (1st series) #66. It appears that he has either leased the park to Viper or has fallen on hard times and sold it.

eBay is an internet auction house.

In the scene with Bishop and Sage, several ravens fly around them. Ravens have been permanent fixtures of the Tower of London for centuries and the story goes that, if the ravens ever leave, then the kingdom will fall. To prevent this, one of their wings is clipped by the Raven Master to prevent flight, so the ones in this story clearly aren’t the ‘official’ seven residents.

This Issue has been reprinted in:
Uncanny X-Men - The New Age Vol. 1: The End of History (Trade Paperback)

Issue Summary written by: Fantomex


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