|Weapon X (2nd series) #20|| || |
Issue Date: April 2004
Story Title: Countdown to Zero - part 2: Under the Mask
Staff: Frank Tieri (writer), Jeff Johnson (penciler), Don Hillsman II, Karl Story and Dexter Vines (inks), Tom Chu’s Color Dojo (colors), Dave Sharpe (letterer), Stephanie Moore and Cory Sedlmeier (assistant editors), Mike Marts (editor), Joe Quesada (editor in chief), Dan Buckley (publisher)
Marrow joyfully watches TV reports on Gene Nation’s latest activities, when, suddenly, Agent Zero breaks in and flips a wire around her neck. He threatens to choke her to death, unless she reveals him where her terrorists will strike next. Having no other choice, Marrow says that the next target is Grand central Station, but at least she catches him off-guard with the revelation that Maverick has joined her cause and will be performing the bombing. Zero distracted, Marrow breaks free and summons her most loyal members of Gene Nation. Knowing that fighting all of them would take too long, Agent Zero escapes, to try and stop Maverick before its too late. Before long, he spots him among the crowd at Grand Central Station. Although he could easily kill him, Zero approaches Maverick and asks him to reveal who he really is under that mask. Maverick has no intention of telling and, when he reaches inside his coat for a gun, Zero shoots him in the chest. However, Maverick wanted to shoot the real bomber, a female mutant who blows up, taking along most of Grand Central Station. Both Zero and Maverick survive, the latter just barely, and Zero curiously unmasks Maverick only to be shocked by the sight of a familiar face. Meanwhile, Chamber intends to free the many telepaths exploited by Weapon X to shield the compound from outside probing, but they tell him they are beyond saying; instead they tip him off to what’s happening at Neverland. Shocked by the dark events going on at the concentration camp, Jono gets overeager and uses his mobile phone to cancel the scheduled meeting with Logan, for he plans to stow away on a prison transport to Neverland. Despite Logan’s warnings, Jono goes through with his plan.
Several dead people are shown in the devastated streets of St. Louis and in front of a destroyed casino in Las Vegas. Next, a shot of the Washington monument is shown. All these places were the center of the terrorist activities of Gene Nation. A female reporter comments on the killings, asking who the Gene Nation are and what their purpose is. Regardless of that, though, she says that the violence and terror left in their wake is all too real.
Sitting in the communication room of Gene Nation’s base, Marrow follows the TV reports and mocks the newswoman. Suddenly, though, a figure approaches from behind and flings a wire around her neck, pulling on both ends. It’s Weapon X’s Agent Zero. He asks Marrow where they are. Choking for air, Marrow asks who they he is referring to and Zero replies that he means they, whose whereabouts she will cough up unless she wants to find out what her larynx tastes like. Marrow pulls on the wire but, as Zero’s hold is stronger, she says that it’s a waste of time to bring her back to Weapon X, as she is willing to die for her cause. Agent Zero doesn’t believe her. If she really were, then why is she safe and sound in the base, while her foot soldiers are about to give their lives for her cause. It’s always the same with terrorist leaders, Zero continues. He increases the pull on the wire, once more demanding to know where they are. Marrow asks him to wait but he says the time is up and demands an answer now.
“Grand Central Station,” she mumbles. Releasing the wire to a certain degree, Zero asks whether they are going to kill innocent people at Grand Central Station, but the proud Morlock leader answers it’s more than that – they are going to blow it up. Sickened by her attitude, Zero increases the pull again, asking whether she is happy with herself for turning Cable’s Underground movement into this new and nasty Gene Nation, only to make herself a name. Not expecting an answer on that, he inquires about how Gene Nation is to blow up the station. Slowly slipping the fingers of her left hand under the wire, Marrow answers that Zero should be asking this question to their newest kamikaze mutant – Maverick.
Marrow uses the brief moment of Zero’s distraction upon hearing this name to create some bone claws in Wolverine-style and cut herself free off the wire. She holds up her claws maliciously, saying it’s too bad that Zero won’t be able to stop Maverick, but the Weapon X agent is unimpressed. He reaches for her claws and upon making contact he uses his corrosive touch on them. As the claws fall off, Marrow holds her hand in pain. Soon she finds Zero’s gun pointed at the back of her head, the man stating that her terrorist movement ends here and now.
Marrow reaches for her nose and, blowing some air into it, she releases a peeping sound. Zero nervously asks what she is doing, to which she replies not much, besides reconfiguring the bones in her nose so that she could signal the rest of her Gene Nation cell. Right on cue, Hemingway and Vessel break through a nearby wall, accompanied by a few other mutants. Now having the advantage in numbers, Marrow asks her “visitor” whether he wants to try and take them all down, or whether he would try to stop Maverick and the bomb – there being not enough time to do both. Agent Zero knows there is only one decision he can make and, fading back into the dark corridor he emerged from, he promises to be back. With a smile on her face, Marrow says she’ll be looking forward to it.
In a special room at the 13th floor of the Weapon X compound, Chamber calls the sight in front of him abominable. There are dozens of telepaths lined up, all their heads shaved, wires attached to them, connecting them to the room’s equipment. The telepaths in the upper rows are held in stasis tubes; only those in the bottom row are out in the open, their lower body halves stuck in machinery. Weapon X are using them to safeguard the program’s secret from outside probing.
With horror in his eyes, Jono approaches one of the telepaths, noting that he is barely alive. Jono is startled, as the telepath opens his eyes and touches his face, telling Jono that he doesn’t belong there. The telepath tells him not to be afraid, it’s only that he senses that he is not like the other people at Weapon X – not evil. Chamber confirms that, saying he is there to help and wondering how he could release them all. However, the telepath doesn’t want that, explaining that it’s too late already for them, but there are many others that need to be saved. Jono replies that this is exactly what he came for and wants to learn more, but the telepath says that showing is much better. He asks Jono whether he is telepathic too, to which the former X-Man says sort of, though not very good at it. The telepath doesn’t mind, reaching out with his hand towards Jono and the other exploited mutants joining him on the effort. As telepathic images flood Jono’s brain, his eyes widen in shock...
At Grand Central Station, New York, Maverick has disguised himself with a hat and a trechcoat and is walking among the crowd. Sitting on a pillar, Agent Zero spots Maverick and aims his weapon at him. He then decides not to shoot at him and, instead, leaps down to confront Maverick directly. Zero silently approaches Maverick and, pointing a gun at him, tells him to not even breathe. Normally, Agent Zero says, Maverick would already be dead by now, but he couldn’t kill him, not without knowing. Zero outright says that he knows he is not Maverick, well, not the real one, as that one is dead. So who is he, Zero wants to know.
Maverick answers that he doesn’t have time for this and reaches into his jacket. Zero warns him not to go there but Maverick tells him that he doesn’t understand – he has to do it. Agent Zero somewhat mocks him, saying that he sure does not have to activate his detonator. Maverick’s claim that he has got him all wrong doesn’t convince Zero either and he repeats his order not to move. Maverick does so anyway and Zero shoots straight at his chest. Still, Maverick manages to get his gun and he intends to shoot, but Zero knocks his hand down on the floor, as the bullet goes off. Some blood from his chest wound splattered across his mask, Maverick calls Zero an idiot; he wasn’t going to shoot him – but her.
Zero looks in the direction that Maverick point at, seeing a female mutant, apparently composed of explosive energy. As she glows brighter and brighter, she tells Zero that she must have spent too much time with humans, only to forget what mutants are capable of. They don’t need weapons to destroy – they are the weapons. She recites the Gene Nation’s motto, “Live Free or Die,” before blowing up. The huge explosion tears through the entire building, rocking its foundations.
Meanwhile, Wolverine is enjoying the strip show at the Hellfire Club, when his mobile phone rings. It’s Jono on the other end, excusing himself for not being able to make it to their rendezvous. Logan doesn’t believe his ears but Jono continues saying that he finally found the break they have been looking for all along. Logan asks the X-Men’s undercover agent what he means by that, but Jono says he has no time to explain. There is a transport leaving for Neverland in 20 minutes and he is stowing away on it. Even as they speak, Jono is already hiding in the hangar, watching, from a safe spot, a few Boxbots lining up some prisoners for the transport. Wolverine tells Chamber to slow down and wait, they need to talk this over first, but Jono doesn’t see the need for that. Exposing Neverland is the reason for him infiltrating Weapon X and it’s time for a little action by now.
Logan wants to reason with him but Chamber has already hung up. The X-Man angrily smashes his fist on the table, breaking it, prompting club owner Sebastian Shaw to come over and remind Logan of the rules. Wolverine apologizes and hands Shaw a credit card to cover for the damages, the name on the card reading Scott Summers. As he drinks another beer, Logan hopes that Chamber knows what he is doing.
The outer walls of Grand Central Station are still standing but inside everything has pretty much been reduced to debris and rubble. Agent Zero and Maverick both survived the blast, the latter though, lying on the ground and covering his chest wound with one of his hands. Weakly, he accuses zero that this is all his fault. The only reason Maverick let Marrow think he had joined her cause was to stop her, but now it’s all gone wrong. Zero angrily grabs him by the collar, once more asking who he is. As Maverick doesn’t answer, Zero intends to find out all by himself. First, he removes Maverick’s chest plate, then he reaches for the mask. Seeing the face underneath, Zero is surprised, “What the -- Oh, no... no...”
Chamber, Agent Zero (both Weapon X)
many unnamed telepaths
Marrow, leader of Gene Nation and former Weapon X agent
Hemingway, Vessel and several other mutants (all Gene Nation)
Maverick II (Underground)
staff and customers of the Hellfire Club
people at Grand Central Station
Grand Central Station is the main railway station of New York City. It covers an entire block and serves as a connection point of most of the city’s many subway lines, as well as long- and short-distance trains arriving at and departing from New York.
Sebastian Shaw having turned the Hellfire Club into a strip club was first shown in New X-Men #142.
Issue Summary written by: Peter Luzifer