Issue Date: June 1994
Story Title: Brand X
Staff: John Francis Moore (writer), Ron Lim (pencils), James Sanders III (inks), Lopez & Dutro (letters), Tom Smith (colors), Joey Cavalieri (editor), Tom DeFalco (editor-in-chief)
Xi’an and the other X-Men have gotten a rather desperate message from Krystalin. They move over to New Mexico, where Xi’an had sent her to investigate the “Angel”-sighting. The X-Men arrive at a ranch-like base. There, they get approached by Master Zhao and… the X-Men?! Xi’an and the others can’t believe their eyes, since they thought that Xi’an and his legendary X-Men died during the Corporate Wars. Zhao reveals that he has survived, though his original students did not. Now, Zhao has formed a new group of mutants to fight alongside him in “the upcoming storm.” Zhao wants Xi’an and his X-Men to join him as well, and he has already convinced Krystalin and Victor Ten Eagles to join his fight. Xi’an and his X-Men don’t believe that their friends joined Zhao out of free will. They attack Zhao and the other X-Men. Soon, they are all defeated and imprisoned. Zhao wants to install neural amplifiers in their minds, like he did with Krystalin and Ten Eagles, so that they will join him. The process gets disturbed by Monster (one of Zhao’s X-Men), who literally burns up! Zhao reveals that he created his new team in order to replace his last team of X-Men, who ‘betrayed’ him when they doubted his leadership. And since Zhao’s new X-Men team are mutants he created, Zhao now wants full-blooded mutants in his army. Zhao points his attention to Xi’an and tries to take over his mind by entering it. There, they fight each other on the battleground of Saigon. Xi’an isn’t strong enough and makes a deal with his evil-self to merge together. The bonding makes Xi’an strong enough to render Zhao brain dead. Xi’an goes back to reality, but has seemingly changed. Meanwhile, Bloodhawk gets approached by an old friend of his, who needs Hawk’s help in the Savage Land. At the same time, a rich man named Joseph Gersh is hunted down by unknown prosecutors, who have been hired to bring him home.
The Sangre de Christo, New Mexico
The X-Men have gotten a rather disturbing message from Krystalin. They decide to explore it further and ride to her given destinations in New Mexico. Arriving at a base, Meanstreak grows impatient and replays the message several times in the hope to learn more, but unfortunately, he doesn’t. They get out of their van. Tim wishes that Xi’an enlightened them a bit on why he has sent Krys there in the first place. The other X-Men agree with him and ask a hesitating Xi’an for more info. Xi’an has no other choice and reveals a bit more. He explains to his teammates that a reliable source has informed him of a winged man sighted in the mountains in front of them, and that the flyer could resemble one of the original X-Men.
Tim jokes that Krys only seemed to have found some broken security robots and plays with the machines. Xi’an orders Meanstreak to sweep through the ranch grounds and to scope the security layout, and, if he finds Krystalin, he should bring her to him. Meanstreak wants to, but gets stopped by Krystalin herself! She and Victor Ten Eagles walk out of the base and greet their friends happily.
Meanstreak asks who Victor is. Xi’an introduces Victor and reveals that he is a Keewazi and used to be one of the Lawless and was Krystalin’s contact in Taos. Krys walks over to Meanstreak and is so happy to see him and tells him that he has so much to show to him. Meanstreak has his doubts and tells Krys that she isn’t exactly sounding like herself. Krys laughs with that, claiming that she has never felt better.
Victor walks over to Xi’an, greeting his friend since it has been so long since they last saw each other. Victor is happy that destiny finally brought them together again. Xi’an cuts to the chase and asks Victor if he has seen the “Angel” he asked about. Victor tells Xi’an to be patient, as everything shall be revealed in due time. Victor wants Xi’an to meet someone first. Tim isn’t sure and asks Shakti if she too feels like that Krystalin seems to be acting like a zombie. Shakti agrees and for the first time wishes that her powers included telepathy.
Krystalin apologizes to Meanstreak, and wants to talk to the others about the future she has seen. Xi’an walks over to Henri, telling him that something is wrong. Xi’an informs Henri that, when the Lawless disbanded, he and Victor did not part as friends, since he is far too genius. Meanstreak understands Xi’an’s worries, realizing that his friend is acting like she has been through a serious brainwash.
Suddenly, a bright light shows up, almost blinding everyone from seeing correctly. A man steps forward and introduces himself as Master Zhao. Zhao explains that he has brought them all here to join him in the genetic crusade to come. Zhao wants them to be his holy warriors… the X-Men! “Your X-Men?” a confused Xi’an asks Zhao. Xi’an doesn’t understand it, as he thought that the Zhao whose X-Men fought during the Corporate Wars died in the Los Angeles firestorm. Zhao tells Xi’an and the others to look at him, to make them be certain that he is real. Zhao explains that he has survived these many years to lead a new generation of mutants in their rightful destiny. He is the Master of Midfire. Zhao brings forth his followers, and introduces them as the first of his chosen: Monster, Wingspan, Frostbite, Psycho K and One Eyed Jack.
Tim and his teammates don’t trust them one bit and go into defense. Victor tells them all to relax and Krys says that Zhao has nothing but good intentions for everyone: that’s why they are to be part of the chosen. A protective Xi’an doesn’t understand what “the chosen” are supposed to be. Zaho tells the powerful mutant to relax, and congratulates Xi’an for doing such a good job in gathering this “disparate” band of mutants. But, Zhao continues, they have neither the experience nor wisdom to lead others through the upcoming storm. Zhao warns Xi’an to not let his ego stand in the way of the truth. Zhao tells the mutants to acknowledge him as their leader. Xi’an gets angry at Zhao, telling him that he is crazy if he thinks he is going to surrender his friends to him after what he has done to Krystalin and Victor.
Zhao attacks Xi’an with a psychic energy beam, telling the upstart that he has buried tougher mutants than he. Zhao warns Xi’an that his attack can harm him both externally and internally. That he could kill him if he wishes to. But Zhao only gives this attack as a warning and hopes that an unconscious Xi’an has learned his lesson. Meanstreak and the others want to attack, but get knocked down by Krystalin and Ten Eagles. Tim attacks and defeats Krystalin, but Ten Eagles knocks down Tim. Shakti is left and Zhao can convince her not to attack them all, since her powers are useless against them. Shakti agrees and surrenders.
Meanwhile in Southern Nevada, a cowboy and his dog wait for their “friend” to arrive. The cowboy is certain that he’ll show up, since he owns him from their shared days in the Backlands. The cowboy remembers what hard days they were. He knows he barely escaped one step ahead of the bounty hunters, and on the same time dragging a freaked-out kid and a mangy little furball along him didn’t exactly make his life easier.
Bloodhawk lands down in front of him. Bloodhawk is in a bad mood and asks Liebowitz what he wants. Liebowitz is hurt, and thought that seeing that he has treated Bloodhawk like the brother he never had, he could a least have a friendly hello. Bloodhawk agrees and simply says “hello” and tells him to cut to the chase.
Liebowitz reveals that he has some friends down South wrestling some major league developers. Those developers are tearing up the land and strong-arming the locals. Liebowitz thought that Bloodhawk could help even the odds. Bloodhawk asks how far South. Mexico? A little further, Liebowitz says. To Antarctica. The Savage Land!
Back at Zhao’s ranch, Zhao hismelf has imprisoned the X-Men. None of them can move in any way to set themselves free. Xi’an tells Zhao that his plan won’t work, as they will resist him. Zhao isn’t impressed by that statement, and explains that Xi’an and the others aren’t there by chance, but out of fate. Zhao explains that, until Krystalin and Victor broke into his compound, he was unaware of a new group that claimed themselves with the name X-Men.
Destiny has delivered to Zhao the solution to his current problem. Zhao says that after convincing Krys and Ten Eagles, they gladly joined his case. Zhao says that they too resisted at first, so he found it expedient to use neural implants to diminish their reservations. Zhao says that he has always strongly believed in the benefits of modern technology. Shakti says that she doesn’t understand. Because when they first met, Zhao spoke of a Holy War. Shakti believes that surely Zhao of all people know that igniting genetic discord will only destroy lives needlessly. Shakti asks Zhao why, because she thought that was the core of what Zhao thaught his first group of X-Men. Zhao gets angry and shouts that his X-Men betrayed him!
Zhao remembers, and explains that the long corporate and genetic conflagrations had drained too much of his energy. Zhao says that no longer his midfire burned as powerful as it once did. Zhao secluded himself in the laboratory, attempting to synthesize a psycho-active amplifier that would restore his power. During that time, Zhao continues, outside influences corrupted his X-Men, turning them against his illuminated leadership. Zhao reveals that his X-Men didn’t attack him directly, but sought to undermine him with deception. Feigning concern that his psycho-activities had affected his reason. Zhao says that he had to neutralize his followers, though with great regret. The mutant can’t believe that Zhao actually killed his X-Men.
They call him crazy, but Zhao grows even angrier when they call him that. Xi’an knows what his friends are doing, to give him the chance to set himself free. But Xi’an hopes that they won’t make Zhao too angry. Suddenly, Monster comes running into the room, burning up! Monster begs his master for help, but Zhao only says that he had hoped he could avoid this. Zhao calls his other X-Men and commands Wingspan to explain him what happened. Wingspan says that they were in the Danger Room, like Zhao had requested, and that, in the middle of the Nimrod simulation, Monster suddenly caught on fire. One Eyed Jack says that he has tried to help Monster, but he was too hot to touch. Psycho K mentions that even Frostbite couldn’t cool Monster down.
Zhao says it is as he feared, and that Monster’s body is rejecting the accelerated mutation treatments he designed in him. Zhao attacks and kills Monster with a psychic beam, calling him yet another failed experiment. Xi’and and his X-Men can’t believe that Zhao killed Monster, who only came to him asking for help. Tim can’t understand that the other X-Men just stand there while one of their teammates has been killed. Zhao says that they won’t attack him, since he is their leader and creator. Zhao reveals that, after his first X-Men turned against him, he needed to assure mutant’s loyalty. Zhao says that he found five children whose mutant abilities were roughly analogous to Xavier’s originals.
Zhao says that, through years of hormone acceleration and neurotechnological augmentation, he has made them into his chosen. But unfortunately, the process made their molecules unstable. One Eyed Jack, panicking, asks if what happened to Monster is also going to happen to them. Most likely, Zhao answers. That’s why Zhao lured Xi’an’s team here: Zhao needs full-blooded mutants to be his elite!
Meanwhile in Huston, at the Texas Republic, a man tries to escape from prosecutors. The rich man known as Joseph Bernard Gersh gets ambushed by his enemies, who have identified him as a Homo superior. Gersh tries to buy himself out, but his plan doesn’t work. The prosecutors say that they have been hired to bring Gersh home.
Back at the ranch, Zhao prepares himself to take over Xi’an’s mind. Xi’an tries to escape, but Zhao notices and enters Xi’an’s mind. In his mind, Xi’an finds himself back at Saigon, in the amusement park that has been build there for the 2016 Olympics, right after the conservative party changed the city’s name back from Minh City. Xi’an finds it impossible to be here, because he hasn’t been in Saigon ever since the Cartel put out a contract on his life. Xi’an wonders why he has returned to the place he almost died in. Zhao attacks Xi’an and Xi’an realizes that he is trapped in his own mind.
Xi’an tries to get a grip on himself, remembering that he survived Saigon. While avoiding some of Zhao’s attacks, Xi’an concludes that he has never met such a strong telepath. Xi’an even wonders if Xavier was this strong. Xi’an doesn’t rest for a minute, but can’t change the fact that Zhao finds a way to trap him in a holding grip. Zhao blows Xi’an far away on a rooftop. Xi’an gets confronted by his former evil self, who says that Xi’an can’t run from the truth: that he is losing. The evil-self offers Xi’an his help, who denies it. Xi’an jumps away, but his evil-self follows. Zhao attacks again and Xi’an is too exhausted to fight back. The evil Xi’an offers his help again. Xi’an sadly accepts.
Evil Xi’an tells Xi’an to not act so defeated, as it was not Zhao who chose Saigon as a battlefield: it was Xi’an himself! And it was because Xi’an knew his evil-self would be there. Just as Zhao is about to attack again, Xi’an merges together with his evil self. Zhao, unknowingly what’s on what is going on, attacks Xi’an again. Xi’an powers up his deadly touch and defeats Zhao, who falls down. Shakti senses Zhao’s mindfire completely disappearing. Xi’an goes back to reality and frees himself. He kicks the unconscious Zhao, mocking that he isn’t so tough when he is brain dead, is he? Shakti asks Xi’an if he is all right. With an evil smile on his face, Xi’an answers “Oh yeah… never been better.”
Cerebra, Krystalin, Meanstreak, Skullfire, Desert Ghost (X-Men 2099)
Victor Ten Eagles
Frostbite, Monster, One Eyed Jack, Psycho K, Wingspan, Zhao (Zhao’s X-Men 2099/The Chosen)
Kimba (Liebowitz’ cat)
Joseph Bernard Gersh
some security robots working for Zhao (unnamed)
Gersh’s prosecutors (faces unseen and unnamed)
in Zhao’s flash-back:
Zhao and his first group of X-Men (all unnamed)
Issue Summary written by: Homer Jay