|X-Force (1st series) # 62|| || |
Issue Date: January 1997
Story Title: Human Nature
Staff: John Dokes (writer), Kevin Lau with Adam Pollina (pencils), Andrew Pepoy with Norman Lee (inks), Richard Starkings and Comicraft (lettering), Lee Ann Clark (colors), Bob Harras (editor in chief)
Shinobi Shaw has abducted Leong and Nga Coy Manh and holds them captive in his island installation, using them as test subjects for a machine that may be able to turn mutants into humans. So far, the machine has failed to achieve that. Still, Shinobi believes that, if the machine works, he can use it as a weapon against his father, placing him in a supreme position in the struggle between man and mutant. Unfortunately for him, X-Force infiltrates his base. One of Shaw’s mercenaries, the mutant known as Mindmeld, uses her powers to transfer Domino and Meltdown’s psyches to Caliban and Sunspot’s bodies respectively. All X-Force members are captured, their powers negated by inhibitor collars. Sunspot is shocked to see Leong and Nga, Karma’s siblings, being kept as guinea pigs here. After Bobby turns down Shinobi’s offer to join his Hellfire Club, Spiral appears and teleports herself and the children away, obviously having struck a deal with Shaw beforehand. Shaw’s other mercenary, Clear-Cut, is revealed to actually secretly work against Shinobi’s plans. After Mindmeld transfers her psyche to Clear-Cut’s body and knocks him out, Domino and Tabitha wake up in their bodies, Mindmeld’s influence gone, and free the others with a key Clear-Cut gave Domino. Meanwhile, Clear-Cut is also used as a test subject for Shaw’s machine, his mutant gene seemingly stripped, until X-Force reappears and starts destroying the installation. Shinobi escapes after killing the chief scientist and, confronting a still powerful Clear-Cut and Mindmeld, is knocked out by Tabitha after returning to her body. With the machine and the installation utterly destroyed, Clear-Cut reveals he isn’t a mutant and also urges the X-Force team to tell Cable that his debt is paid in full.
Nga Coy Manh is strapped on a huge metallic platform; a tear rolls down the young girl’s cheek. It is often said that, through a child’s eyes, the world is a wonderful place, full of hope and promise. To Nga’s eyes, however, the world is a dark place full of men who value their own scientific pursuits more than the precious life of a child.
Indeed, watching their monitors, a team of scientists swaps updates over Nga’s condition. “What is the reading of her X-factor?” one of them asks. One of his colleagues informs him that the subject is currently exhibiting the mutant gene. “If we’ve done our work well, not for long,” the scientist who asked the question remarks. He is confident they will stop these creatures from developing superhuman abilities once and for all. As the final tests will prove, they may have found a way to completely remove the X-factor from mutants!
Nga pleads them to let her go. “What are you doing to me?” the girl asks in agony. Trapped behind some bars in a cell nearby, Nga’s brother, Leong Coy Manh screams “Let her go! Let go of my sister!” Leong remembers what it was like to be free and that memory – as well as the love of his sister – is all that keeps him going. As Leong starts screaming his sister’s name, one of the guards argues that they should shut that mutie kid’s trap. The other guard assures him the boy will be quiet soon enough.
“Don’t those idiot guards realize that you can hear every word they say?” Clear-Cut, one of Shinobi Shaw’s mercenaries, wonders aloud, his question aimed at Shinobi himself, who sits rather impatiently on a richly adorned throne. Shinobi assures him the guards will be dealt with in time. Clear-Cult insists they should kill them now and be done with it. He tries to convince Shaw that these men cannot be trusted to keep his secrets. “And if your father were to discover any of this…” he adds, rather suggestively.
Also standing next to Shaw’s throne, his other henchman, the woman known as Mindmeld, seconds Clear-Cut’s suggestion to dispose of the guards. She even suggests taking their minds with her power and placing them into rats. They could even use the guards’ comatose bodies as pin cushions or… “Enough, Mindmeld” Shinobi interrupts her. He stresses the fact that these flatscans are simply the means to an end. He then addresses Dr. Graves, giving him the green light to proceed with the child.
“Initial countdown sequence,” Graves declares. Throughout the countdown – starting with five – Nga agonizes, in the thought that if her older brother, Tran, was still alive, he would surely put a stop to this madness. For that matter, if her sister, Karma – one-time student of Charles Xavier – could find her, she would surely be rescued. If her own mutant powers were fully developed, perhaps Nga could even save herself.
None of these is the case, however: the voice of one of the machine’s operators finishes the countdown. A huge blast is unleashed against Nga’s strapped body. Nga tries to scream but there is no sound – only incredible, unbearable pain. Leong watches his sister suffering, bathed in an otherworldly light: the world has changed for him, much as it has changed for his sister.
One of the operators tells Dr. Graves that he might want to take a look at this, pointing at the readings on his monitor. “What?! That can’t be…!” a frustrated Graves exclaims. Rushing to Shinobi, he informs him that the subject is still exhibiting the X-factor gene. They will need to run more tests. Shinobi confesses to Graves he’s disappointed. “You seem to think that you are in your research lab in Genosha,” he mocks him. Shinobi makes it clear he does not have time for tests – only results. Clear-Cut secretly thinks that this scum, Graves, probably enjoys torturing little girls.
“If you reject want a guinea pig, take me… leave my sister out of it!” Leong is heard screaming from his cell. “Silence, boy” Shinobi replies in an undeterred manner; he assures him his turn will soon come. In truth, however, Shinobi is quite anxious and lost in his thoughts. Much as he loathes admitting it, if the whispered rumors are true, if his father somehow survived their encounter, then his own time will come eventually. However, if this process is perfected, not only will it prove to be a potent weapon for Shinobi against his father but will also place him in a supreme position of power in the continuing struggle between man and mutant.
Suddenly, an alarm is heard from the loudspeakers accompanied by a warning voice: “Security to area three.” “Area three?” one of the guards exclaims. He wonders how anyone could have gotten that close. “It seems we have visitors,” Shinobi gleefully notices. He urges both Clear-Cut and Mindmeld to go and make them feel welcome.
The “visitors,” as Shinobi called them, are five members of the strike team known as X-Force: Caliban, Sunspot, Meltdown, Domino and Shatterstar. As the team advances through the corridors of this installation, Caliban asks Sunspot what “Cable-Nathan” meant when he said things are not always what they seem. “Well, Cal, what he meant was…” Sunspot begins, only for him to finish his phrase in the Askani language! Hearing this, Meltdown turns to Domino, asking her in amazement if the two of them are the only stable members of the team. First, they find out Shatterstar is a reincarnated spirit in the body of a comatose kid and now they have to listen to more of Cable’s Askani battle-language gibberish from Sunspot! Domino urges Tabitha to keep her mind on the mission unless she wants to end up dead. Domino reminds her this is not their turf. They came because they know that Shaw is up to some nasty business here and after their last run-in with the Shaw family, they can’t take any chances.
As Shatterstar steps forward, Caliban urges him to wait because he smells a mutant close. Shatterstar is enthused: finally time for some action! As he unsheathes his sword, the whole team comes face to face with Clear-Cut, Mindmeld and several of Shaw’s guards. “That is far enough, my friends” Clear-Cut states. He explains that if they wish to ever leave this installation alive they will place all weapons on the floor and stand down. “So this is the infamous Domino?” Mindmeld sardonically notes. She assures Domino she has heard much about her. Defying them, Shatterstar suggests they make this easy on themselves and just take them to Shaw.
Clear-Cut assures him he will get there – just not how he would have hoped. In an instant, Clear-Cut attacks Shatterstar brandishing a sword. Shatterstar admits that finally Clear-Cut is speaking his language! As the two men start engaging in swordfight, Clear-Cut admits he doesn’t know how Shatterstar earned his reputation but so far he isn’t impressed. As the swordfight continues, Shatterstar thinks it has been too long since he tested himself against another warrior born. After all he’s learned about himself recently, all the doubts and fears he’s faced, he welcomes the chance to let instinct take over.
“You children are pathetic!” Mindmeld states in contempt. She remarks that even though they have been given special abilities that make more than human, they are still shackled by the same old dreams: Peace. Harmony. Mindmeld never thought Domino would buy into all that from what she’s heard. She assures them, though, that no matter what, they will all be intimately familiar with each other’s dreams and beliefs. Indeed, with a sardonic smile, Mindmeld releases a beam from her hands against Domino. “Domino, meet Caliban!” she exclaims. Domino wonders what’s happening to her as her psyche is transferred to Caliban’s body. Releasing her blast on Tabitha this time, Mindmeld states “Meltdown, meet Sunspot!” causing Tabitha’s soul to enter Bobby’s body. Mindmeld informs them she just transferred their psyches to another’s physical being, a process that can never be reversed unless she wishes it!
Suddenly, Meltdown and Domino look at their own unconscious bodies through the eyes of others: Sunspot and Caliban’s eyes respectively. Both women are shocked to find themselves trapped in the bodies of their teammates. Domino can’t believe she’s in Caliban’s body. “Caliban here, too, patch-eye. Feels funny,” Caliban admits, now sharing his body with Domino.
Two of the guards approach Domino and Tabitha’s unconscious bodies, one of them carrying a pair of inhibitor collars and urging his colleague to hurry with these collars before they wake up. His colleague assures him he shouldn’t worry. They’ve got time: the battle is over for these two.
Agonizing, Sunspot asks Tabitha what she is doing to him: he feels like he’s losing control. Tabitha’s psyche is heard inside his head, explaining she’s just trying to… Without finishing her sentence, she exclaims, “Bobby, your mind… what did Cable do to you?!” Overwhelmed by the strange images buried deep within Sunspots psyche, both mutants are lost to the battle.
Domino – through Caliban’s body – addresses Mindmeld as “mind-witch”, assuring her she won’t go down that easily: “You wanna scrap… let’s do it!” Clear-Cut, however, moves rapidly and jumps right in front of Caliban/Domino. He suggests Domino reconsiders her next move. Materializing a bladed weapon in his right hand, Clear-Cut holds the blade suggestively in front of Domino’s unconscious body, asking her not to make him destroy her body. Shatterstar furiously declares that he will not surrender to that. Domino orders him to stand down; that’s her body Clear-Cut is holding. However, silently, quickly, an inexplicable gesture on the part of Clear-Cut – namely, slipping a key in the belt tied around Domino’s waist – goes unnoticed by all save for Domino.
The guards lead the captive members of X-Force – their powers neutralized by inhibitor collars – sans the unconscious bodies of Domino and Meltdown to the cells. One of the guards orders the others to remove all prisoners’ weapons. Sunspot is shocked to see Karma’s brother and sister, Leong and Nga being locked in the cells and wonders what they are doing here. Leong and Nga, kept in separate adjacent cells hold out their hands trying to touch each other in despair. Leong asks his sister if she’s alright to which she replies she feels dizzy.
Seeing Dr. Graves stand above her body with a syringe at hand and remark that this one will make a fine test subject, a furious Tabitha screams that he gets away from her body! Only Sunspot can hear her voice inside his head and asks her to wait. Tabitha, however, fiercely rushes forward, controlling Bobby’s body, when suddenly bars materialize in front of Bobby/Tabitha, cutting his/her way and trapping them into a new cell.
Caliban/Domino, Sunspot/Meltdown and Shatterstar find themselves trapped in the same cell. Domino’s voice in Caliban’s head urges him to stop it now! Caliban wonders what he did wrong. Domino’s voice orders him to stop thinking this stupid song! Nearby, Sunspot is tortured by guilt, wondering how he could have let this happen to those kids, meaning Nga and Leong. Tabitha’s voice asks him why he is blaming himself. Sunspot explains he was a member of the New Mutants when he let Karma go off by herself to find them. He laments that: they – he – should have been there with her. “You mean instead of saving the world several times over?” Meltdown retorts. She urges Bobby to cut himself some slack and go talk to Nga.
Bobby approaches the bars of the cell he’s kept in and introduces himself to Nga, who is kept in the adjacent cell. He tells her his name is Bobby and that he’s a friend of her sister. Their sister misses them very much and she’s been looking for them. With hope in her eyes, Nga asks him if they are here to rescue them. Bobby replies affirmatively and tells her not to worry: everything will be just fine.
Shinobi intervenes, stating that he’s afraid DaCosta is misleading the child. “Shaw!” Sunspot exclaims upon seeing him. Approaching the cell where Bobby’s kept, Shinobi asks him why he bothers with this trash when he can take his rightful place by his side. Bobby’s father would have loved to watch Bobby rise through the ranks of the Hellfire Club. Sunspot assures Shinobi he’s wasting his breath. “Am I?” Shinobi wonders. He asks Bobby if they – meaning his teammates – know how powerful he is; if they know what he’s done. Shinobi is willing to make a deal with him: if Bobby joins him, Shinobi will release the children and Bobby’s friends.
In Sunspot’s mind, Tabitha screams “He’ll never join your brat-club, you pretty-boy loser!” Shinobi still waits for Sunspot’s answer: “what say you?” Sunspot angrily tells him to shove his offer. “Very well… Spiral… The children are yours… Take them,” Shinobi states. One of the guards wonders in amazement where she came from. Indeed, Spiral makes her appearance and instantly teleports away with the children, telling them it’s time for a ride of sorts; she’ll take them to a place most wondrous. As Nga vanishes, she urges Bobby to “Tell Xi’an, please!”
Shinobi tells Bobby that he can’t avoid his destiny and takes Clear-Cut as an example. He explains that Clear-Cut comes from a long line of noble warriors and yet he tries to pass himself off as a cold-blooded mercenary. He asks Clear-Cut if he really thought he could deceive him. As Clear-Cut is surrounded by several guards, he expresses a sudden wish to leave Shaw’s island! Moving incredibly fast and slashing several of the guards with blade-like weapons generated in his hands, Clear-Cut asks Shinobi how his foolish lackeys could dare raise their weapons against him: he helped train them!
“How could you betray us?” Mindmeld shrieks as she transfers her own psyche to Clear-Cut’s body. Clear-Cut hears her voice inside his head telling him it’s time for a little nap. As he’s rendered unconscious by Mindmeld the guards inform Shinobi the prisoner is secure. Satisfied, Shaw orders them to prepare him for testing.
Meanwhile, twitching a finger, Domino realizes she’s back in her own body and things might finally begin to fall into place. Indeed, a short time later, she urges Tabitha – also back in her own body – to make no sound. Having taken her own inhibitor collar off, she explains she did the same with Tabitha’s. She also explains that when Mindmeld went into Clear-Cut’s body she must have lost her power over them. Apparently, there’s a limit to how long she can maintain the transference.
Tabitha asks her how she got the key. “From Clear-Cut” Domino explains. She hands the key over to Tabitha, telling her to release the others from their inhibitor collars. As Domino walks behind the guards’ backs, she hopes they haven’t blown this whole shebang. It’s been amateur hour all the way so far. She realizes Cable’s not going to like this but, then again, he’s the one who had more pressing business in Egypt.
At the same moment, Clear-Cut is strapped on the same platform Nga previously was. Mindmeld has done her duty but perhaps too well: in order to defeat Clear-Cut she had to enter his mind and body but now she is seemingly trapped there. Mindmeld’s psyche urges Clear-Cut to let her out; she can’t understand how he is doing this! Clear-Cut maliciously reminds her that she wanted to be here. If he goes down, she’s going down with him!
Shinobi orders Dr. Graves to begin the process. Graves argues that the subject is not prepared. His DNA is still being scanned for analysis. Shinobi menacingly informs Graves that he’s wasting his breath – and Shinobi’s own time. “As you wish, sir,” Graves complies. Mindmeld screams through Clear-Cut’s mouth, pleading Shinobi to hold the countdown as she is still in Clear-Cut’s body! Shinobi argues that sacrifices must be made in the name of progress and Mindmeld’s life is a very small one, at that matter.
As Graves orders the beginning of the countdown, the entire X-Force quintet shows up, ready to fight. The ever-humorous Meltdown asks Shinobi if anybody ever told him the ‘80s are over: who gave him that haircut? Sunspot asks Shaw where Spiral took those kids. Domino informs the team that she wants this done by the numbers and orders Meltdown to use her plasma bursts to lay down a suppressing line of fire. Tabitha complies, remarking that it’s times like these they need their own theme song. “Guess I’ll make my own music. I’ll call it Boom goes the weasel!” she jokes while unleashing her bursts. Shinobi watches as his best laid plans crumble around him but before the day is done he’s determined to cause some damage of his own.
Moments later, Mindmeld finally manages to break herself free from Clear-Cut’s body to return to her own. A surprise awaits her, though, as she is shocked to see she’s wearing an inhibitor collar. Meltdown stands nearby, singing the Welcome Back, Cotter theme song! “Now, Mr. or Mrs. Mindmeld… what is your real name? Pat…? Chris?” Tabitha mocks her. “I know… I’ll just call you sleepy!” she concludes, knocking Mindmeld out with a punch!
As the destruction of Shinobi’s base continues – in large part, thanks to Tabitha’s time bombs – one vital piece of equipment has yet to be destroyed: the machines. After another countdown, the perseverant Dr. Graves unleashes a blast against Clear-Cut’s strapped body. The readings in the monitor indicate that the gene analysis shows no trace of mutant factor.
While the rest of the X-Force members still battle Shaw’s guards, Meltdown asks Domino if Clear-Cut is alright. Untying Clear-Cut and putting his hand over her shoulder to carry him, Domino explains he’s unconscious but still breathing. Shatterstar, slashing guards with his sword nearby, argues she should worry about him later as there is still a battle left to win.
Domino tells Clear-Cut she has to get him out of here. Suddenly, though, Shinobi appears, telling “dear Domino” she is not going anywhere. Phasing his hand right through her chest, he asks her whether she has forgotten he possesses the power to alter his tangibility; to phase into a solid object such as her chest cavity and then make himself solid once more.
“Bad idea,” the now conscious Clear-Cut suddenly informs him, getting in the middle. Shinobi is shocked to see him, mumbling about the machine… Clear-Cut’s power… Clear-Cut informs him he is full of surprises and Shinobi’s phasing ability will do him no good against the blades he can manifest at will! Indeed, he slashes Shinobi with one of his blades, sending him hurling against Dr. Graves. As Shinobi rises from the ground, he accuses Graves this is all his fault. Graves argues that’s impossible: Clear-Cut’s mutant power read zero! Shinobi tells him he has failed him for the last time and phases his hand through Graves’ throat, killing him in the process. Domino, realizing she has to get Shinobi while he’s still tangible, instantly attacks him with a punch, looking for a payback. She is soon joined by Clear-Cut, who also starts punching Shaw.
Meltdown stands in front of the machines Shaw used to turn mutants into so-called normal humans. She thinks the machine is now going to experience a meltdown and starts generating her explosive spheres of energy. Tabitha cheerfully urges Shinobi to go ahead and phase away: he may survive the explosions but he’ll never use this base to harm anyone again! “Oh… by the way… we saw your daddy recently… he’s coming for you” she happily informs him. Shinobi assures her they’ll meet again and they will all regret ever crossing his path – and then phases away.
X-Force and Clear-Cut make their exit from the installation moments after the final explosion takes place. Tabitha thanks Clear-Cut for the assist. Domino tells him that, when she was in Caliban’s body, she detected that he was not a mutant. “How…?” she asks him. “You think anyone who has special powers is a mutant?” Clear-Cut responds. He accuses them of being arrogant. “By the way… tell Cable my debt is paid in full,” he adds with a mischievous smile.
Caliban, Domino, Meltdown II, Shatterstar, Sunspot (all X-Force)
Leong Coy Manh, Nga Coy Manh (Karma’s siblings)
Shinobi Shaw (Black King of Hellfire Club II)
This issue marks the first appearance of Nga and Leong in over 10 years. They were last seen in New Mutants Annual #2 and went missing in New Mutants (1st series) #46.
The villainous Tran Coy Manh, brother of Nga and Leong, was killed by his twin sister, Xi’an aka Karma in Marvel Team-Up (1st series) #100.
Karma quit the New Mutants to look for her missing siblings in New Mutants (1st series) #54.
Shinobi Shaw seemingly killed his father, Sebastian, in X-Factor (1st series) #67. Sebastian was revealed alive in X-Force (1st series) #48.
Cable healed Sunspot of the “Reignfire” personality dominating his mind in X-Force (1st series) #43, transferring some of his Askani knowledge into Bobby, thus unwittingly allowing him to speak the Askani language and know their meditation techniques. Reignfire will later be revealed to be a being independent of Sunspot. [X-Force (1st series) #79]
X-Force encountered Sebastian Shaw in X-Force (1st series) #50.
The startling revelations about Shatterstar were made in X-Force (1st series) #61.
Tabitha sings the theme song of Welcome Back, Cotter, a 1975-1979 American television sitcom.
The fate of Nga and Leong is followed up on in the Beast limited series.
First – and last to date – appearances for Clear-Cut and Mindmeld.
The subplot of Clear-Cut’s involvement with Cable is never followed upon.
This issue has a preview of the Top Cow/Marvel crossover, “Devil’s Reign,” specifically parts 2 and 3, Ghost Rider/Cyblade and Ghost Rider/Ballistic.
Shinobi Shaw won't appear again for the next twelve years, until his comeback in X-Necrosha #1 (2009).
Issue Summary written by: Mesmerizer