Previously, in…THE CHAMPIONS! Warren Worthington III, the erstwhile Angel, decides to put the painful physical and psychological issues he’s been dealing with aside and restart the Champions, his troubled, never-made-it supergroup from nearly a decade ago. His best friend, the Iceman Bobby Drake, has reluctantly agreed to lead 3-D Man (triple human capabilities), Firebird (fire generation, flight), and Ultragirl (strength, flight, enhanced vision) to protect Atlanta, Georgia!
Last issue, the team intervened to rescue people from an apartment blaze in a low-income neighborhood set by the villain Firebrand, with the help of a hero in a Beetle suit who immediately refused to join the team. What they don’t know is that the mysterious “Salamander” that Firebrand is working for is actually Zachary Saxony, the man who built the Champions’ new headquarters…
THE CHAMPIONS #2
“Images of Broken Light”
Written by Great Boos “Cruise” Up
PAGE ONE (SPLASH)
We’re in a luxury penthouse condominium. A guy dressed as the supervillain Mirage stands admiring his suit while a bunch of hologrammatic duplicates mill about around him.
MIRAGE: Look at it: spontaneously generated 3-D holograms, shadow simulation compensators, and an onboard AI for naturalistic, randomized movement.
VOICE (o.p.): You certainly know the specifications for that suit, Mr. Yarborough.
MIRAGE: Of course. I read about it in Popular Mechanics!
MIRAGE: Why else do you think I wanted to be the new Mirage?
Mirage is in front of a mirror. Standing with him is a slim, fastidious, well-dressed blond man by the name of Milo Lark.
MIRAGE: And hey—it fits great, Mr. Lark!
MILO: Well, I should hope so, for what my brother and I paid for it.
VOICE (o.p.): Now now, Milo!
Milo’s older brother, Bartleby Lark, enters. He’s broader and more robust-looking than his brother, balding with curly chestnut hair.
BARTLEBY: The Tinkerer is an artist and a craftsman well deserving of our fee. If dollars and cents were all we cared about, we’d be no better than the criminal riff-raff we’re trying to edge out of the market.
While the discussion goes on, Mirage entertains himself by creating small illusions. Making it look like he’s walking upside-down on the ceiling, turning the condo into a sunny beach, that sort of thing.
MILO: Of course you’re right, Bartleby, I didn’t mean to imply otherwise.
BARTLEBY: Besides, Mr. Yarborough will ensure we get a handsome return on investment.
Bartleby asks Mirage to remember the rules: Mirage is free to act with his equipment however he sees fit, and the Lark Brothers will take an agreed-upon percentage on any criminal gains. However, no civilians are to be targeted. Mirage will pay the Lark Brothers back an extra 5% for each injured civilian on a given job and forfeit all gains if anyone is killed.
Mirage takes out his phone from a pouch on the costume.
MIRAGE: But superheroes are fair game?
BARTLEBY: Of course.
Close-up of phone. News site reads: CHAMPIONS CONVENE! NEW SUPERHERO TEAM TO MAKE PUBLIC DEBUT AT DOWNTOWN HQ
MIRAGE: Well…I certainly know where to find some.
Mirage leaves the luxury condo.
MIRAGE: I’ll be in touch.
BARTLEBY: Good-bye, Mr. Yarborough. Or should I say…Mirage?
Bartleby and Milo are now alone.
MILO: He’s going to fight those new superheroes in town. One against five. Do you think that’s wise?
BARTLEBY: Mr. Yarborough is an industrious young man. His resume and references were impeccable, as you recall.
BARTLEBY: I have every confidence that his will be a successful career…and a very lucrative asset to our criminal syndicate.
Bartleby pours sherry from a decanter.
BARTLEBY: And if he isn’t? Well, we’ve taken the usual precautions.
BARTLEBY: Sherry, Milo?
Establishing shot: The Champions Center, downtown Atlanta. (It would be cool if we could get a schematic of the building here, like in old Fantastic Four comics.)
ICEMAN (thought bubble, from inside): There was nothing I hated more when I was a kid in the original X-Men than having Professor X barking commands at us during a Danger Room training session. But you know what they say…
Cut to the training facility (unimaginately called TRAINING FACILITY 01) is suspiciously similar to the old pre-Shi’ar upgrade Danger Room at Xavier’s: largely mechanical rather than holograms and all that stuff. There is a distinctly retro quality to it. This is what Warren wanted.
ICEMAN (thought bubble): …you always become what you hate the most.
Iceman, riding an ice slide, is leading his team over a gauntlet of obstacles. Firebird flies through a series of rings designed to test her agility. 3-D Man speeds over, around and through a series of electrified grid fences. An aerial Ultragirl batters back an enormous spiked ball that threatened the others.
Iceman is somewhat awkwardly giving encouragement and criticism.
ICEMAN (off-panel): Firebird! Try to tighten your turns! Uh…if that’s possible.
ICEMAN (off-panel): Watch out for those electrified bars, 3-D Man! They’re…not set to really hurt you or anything, I don’t think, they just might kinda sting.
ICEMAN (off-panel): Ultragirl! Um…good work, Ultragirl!
Suddenly, a set of a dozen training robots pop up out of the ground. These are pretty low-tech (by Marvel robotics standards): largely crash dummies with just enough mechanical aspects to make them ambulatory. In the one touch of creativity, they are all dressed like Rampage, the old Champions’ sort-of archenemy.
ICEMAN: Okay, guys, here’s the plan!
Iceman and Firebird both circle around the robots, on opposite sides of the ring.
ICEMAN: Firebird and I will make a perimeter to box them in so 3-D Man can…
But Firebird’s flame trail weakens the ice shields so that they start to collapse, raining down ice shards on 3-D Man.
Ultragirl calls down, asking what she should do from up in the air. Before Bobby can answer, that spiked ball comes back and hits her.
Firebird fries the lot of the robots.
FIREBIRD: Don’t worry! I’ll take care of them!
ICEMAN: Nice work!
ICEMAN: But, uh, I meant for us to pretend that they’re real people and not just robots, so we shouldn’t just destroy them. I—I didn’t mention that part, did I?
WARREN (off-panel): Nice work everyone! We’ll break here! Have to be rested for this afternoon!
Iceman de-ices back into Bobby and asks 3-D Man if he’s okay. Ultragirl swoops down too.
3-D MAN: Uh, yeah. It…happens.
ULTRAGIRL: I’m okay too. That one was my bad.
BOBBY: No, I should’ve—
ULTRAGIRL: Of course, in a real combat situation, you would’ve just immobilized them all, right?
ULTRAGIRL: You’re an omega-level mutant. I’ve read the report, you can do more than just ice slides and ice blasts.
BOBBY: Yeah, but I—
WARREN: Hit the showers, everyone! Then clean uniforms for this afternoon!
Warren and Bobby go off by himself. Bobby is wearing a blue and white costume under his ice (like his 90s X-Men uniform, minus the X) and Warren is wearing a real preppy sweatervest and slacks combo.
Bobby says it was a disaster, and Warren is vaguely reassuring. Bobby says he’s confident in his powers and abilities—he can execute orders and he can improvise on his own, but he’s not used to being a leader.
BOBBY: I’m not the professor, I can’t think up elaborate battle strategies for how I’d fight bad guys with other people’s powers.
WARREN: You don’t have to. Everyone on the team’s pretty experienced; we have ex-Avengers! Trust them to make their own calls, and just limit yourself to high-level executive decisions.
BOBBY: I’ll ask again, Warren, you sure you don’t wanna be leader?
WARREN: I told you, no field work for me. I’m dedicating myself to the business side. I’ve been coordinating the presser…
BOBBY: Was it a great idea to go public so soon? I mean…maybe we could all take another week and, like, get to know each other a little bit.
BOBBY: I’m still a bit vague on some of their powers. What’s this about Firebird being “possibly immortal”?1
WARREN: You always have to move forward, launching a new venture. You hesitate one week, you’ll hesitate another, and another.
BOBBY: Sure, I mean…you’re the business guy.
BOBBY (thought): But I’m worried you’re rushing this because you’re trying to run away from your Archangel problems.2 Regressing to when we were in our early twenties and your biggest problems were a malfunctioning Champscraft and which rich-guy yacht thing to go to over the weekend.
Warren and Bobby sitting in Warren’s office. It’s very old-fashioned.
WARREN: So I wanted to make sure I asked…have you been seeing anyone?
BOBBY: I mean, I’ve only been in town a week, helping you set up.
BOBBY: I don’t know where to meet guys anyway. I never even knew where to meet girls, I just used to wait till one showed up on a team I was on and then be weird and aggressive around her.
WARREN: It may interest you to learn of a recent revolution in home computing: I understand the world wide web can now help with finding dates. I am told it’s like Cerebro, for available local singles.
BOBBY: Okay, okay, I’ll try one of those apps, all right?
They look out the window. News vans are already starting to set up in front of the building.
BOBBY: So…you think this is going to go well?
ANGEL: At the original Champions dedication, we got attacked by a band of neo-Soviet super soldiers.3 Nowhere to go but up.
Cut to hours later. At the debut. Zachary Saxony stands in front of a screen showing scenes from the team’s history.
TV REPORTER: –checkered history of the original Champions, including a string of precedent-setting negligence suits related to faulty crimefighting equipment and headquarters, which exacerbated internal fighting and—
TV REPORTER: It looks like it’s starting. That’s prominent local real-estate developer Zachary Saxony, introducing the team.
SAXONY: Ladies and gentlemen, it is an honor for me to introduce…your new Champions of Atlanta!
The team takes the stage in costume. Bobby is iced up. Warren is wearing a smart business suit, but his wings are proudly displayed. There is applause.
Warren delivers a speech.
WARREN: Ten years ago, the original Champions and I had a dream: a superhero team for the common man. A group that would be as equally dedicated to social justice and progress as to beating back supervillains and aliens.
WARREN: Ever since the dissolution of the Cavalry,4 your city has been vulnerable to crime, to supervillains. Our first promise to you is that we are going to put a stop to it.
WARREN: But that’s not enough. Our second promise is that we need to make the city better, its communities better—
PROTESTERS: Better for who?
Suddenly a bunch of protesters muscle their way to the front. They are largely though not exclusively of color and carry signs: STOP GENTRIFICATION. GENTRIFICATION IS RACISM. WEAPONS OF MASS DISPLACEMENT. WE WANT OUR CITY BACK.
LEAD PROTESTER: Rich white guys pump a bunch of money into downtown, you think that goes to the people who live here?
LEAD PROTESTER: They kick people like us out so that more rich white guys can move in!
Warren is taken aback.
WARREN: Sir? Sir, I…I assure that’s not the intent. We’re not going to–
OTHER PROTESTER: You already did! Whaddaya think used to be here before your building?
Bobby takes Warren aside.
BOBBY (whisper): Warren, this is what I was telling you about.
BOBBY (whisper): That guy in the Beetle suit last night…5said he knew a bunch of people who lived around here and got pressured out to make way for the Champions Center.
WARREN (to protesters): Sir, if you’ll…
WARREN (to protesters): I’d like to hold a meeting with you and your—
Suddenly, people start yelling about something up in the sky. They look up. An enormous flaming meteor is falling from the sky. There’s general panic, but Ultragirl, like the pro she is, fearlessly flies up to catch it. She passes right through it, and the comet bursts into a shower of flowers.
Looking back down among the protesters, we see Mirage is among them. He starts very confidently, addressing Warren.
MIRAGE: You don’t seem too popular here, Champions! Maybe you should leave town now before…there’s a stampede!
A stampede of jungle animals comes crashing through the stage, sending the crowd into a panic, but of course they’re holograms that pass through people (thus dispersing them from the stage).
Warren steps forward to talk to Mirage, who is still positioned below him. Threats are exchanged.
Suddenly, the real Mirage appears right beside Warren, with a gun to his head, and the hologram Warren was talking to below disappears.
But 3-D Man hits Mirage’s arm, causing him to miss his shot.
3-D MAN: Triple peak human reflexes. I got this.
Mirage splits into a dozen copies of himself.
MIRAGE: You sure about that?
Firebird moves to act, but Iceman stops her, telling her they don’t know which one’s real.
Now Ultragirl, her eyes glowing, swoops down and with no confusion or hesitation grabs the one true Mirage while the rest dissipate. She carries him off a safe distance into the street.
ULTRAGIRL: This is Mirage, guys! Or a new one!
Her eyes are glowing. Meanwhile, Mirage looks concerned and is murmuring about something.
MIRAGE: You—I think you broke something—
ULTRAGIRL: He’s using holograms!
MIRAGE: Something’s…something’s wrong with the—
ULTRAGIRL: But like, with my enhanced vision I can see right through—
There is an enormous explosion of light in Ultragirl’s face!
And then the entire street is covered in out of control, shifting illusions. Randomly generated illusions: Dali and Escher landscapes, Toontown buildings with eyes, dinosaurs, a Jetsons-like future cityscape. Everyone is confused.
ICEMAN: What happened?
ULTRAGIRL: I dunno! Something blew up on his suit!
ICEMAN: Where’d the guy go? Find him!
ULTRAGIRL: I…I can’t see anything! When I’m using my vision powers, my eyes become super-sensitive! That huge flash—!
ICEMAN: Jeez! 3-D Man! You’ve got…uh, triple-senses, right? Can you tell what’s real and what isn’t?
3-D MAN: Maybe. I’m trying to see if there’s a…flicker or something, but I can’t….
ICEMAN: Warren? What do we do? Warren?
Iceman shouts at the constantly shifting, senseless landscape.
Back in the Lark Brothers’ penthouse, they’re watching the dedication ceremony on TV, and they see all the crazy illusions.
MILO: Bartleby? Bartleby, what’s happening?
BARTLEBY: I don’t know, Milo, it—
BARTLEBY: It looks like something went wrong with the Mirage suit.
MILO: But that’s impossible! The Tinkerer himself made that suit!
Bartleby gets a notion.
BARTLEBY: The Tinkerer…was supposed to make that suit.
BARTLEBY: Do you remember what happened to Mr. Travers last week? Our new Blue Streak?
MILO: His left rocket-skate blew out right in the middle of a jewelry heist. He was lucky to walk away with his life, much less escape the police.
BARTLEBY: I thought it was just an isolated incident. Given the Tinkerer’s impeccable reputation, likely down to Mr. Travers’ own negligence or incompetence, but…
MILO: Bartleby…are you suggesting we paid for substandard merchandise?
Bartelby becomes very grim.
BARTLEBY: We need to get in touch with The Exchange, Milo.
Back downtown, the Champs spread out to try to find Mirage and shut down this nonsense. 3-D Man tries walking forward onto seemingly flat ground but then falls off the stage. Firebird starts to fly but smacks up against some invisible obstacle hidden by illusions. Iceman can’t find Warren.
ICEMAN: Warren! Warren! Warr—
Iceman trips over Ultragirl, who was hidden behind an Audrey II-like carnivorous plant.
ICEMAN: Ultragirl, your eyes getting any better? We could really use some “see-through-holograms” powers right now…
ULTRAGIRL: Not yet. I heal real fast, you know, but…Iceman, what are we gonna do?
And then it hits Iceman. He’s the leader. 3-D Man and Firebird are there, waiting for him to do something.
He thinks about what Ultragirl said about being an omega-level mutant and recalls how he started to make an excuse. His fist clenches, then relaxes.
Iceman closes his eyes.
We see a stylized representation of what Bobby is doing. It’s just him in an ocean of blackness. Suddenly, drops of frozen water vapor in whitish-blue start to form all around. The narration helps us out with what we are seeing. Iceman concedes that he does tend to sell himself short, and his powers are no exception. When he makes ice slides or ice blasts, he directs the water vapor in the air towards him. Now, he lets the water vapor lie where it is. It forms shapes delineating the edges of his surroundings. He feels those water droplets, where they are, and he walks forward, using them to navigate without vision.
He walks until the water droplets delineate a cowering body on the ground. It’s Mirage. His eyes still closed, Iceman picks up the form. There’s a red glow indicating where Bobby feels heat emanating from. It must be the source of the suit’s power. He reaches out and drops the temperature, freezing the heat source and–
–shorting out the suit! The illusions vanish. Everything is as it should be again!
Warren flies over to him.
WARREN: Bobby, how did you do that?
BOBBY: Put my mind to it.
Bobby demands to know whether Mirage one of the new crowd of criminals in Atlanta using old supervillain equipment to commit crimes. Mirage, panicky, says he is. Bobby asks where he got the stuff. Mirage is freaked out. He keeps blubbering that he can’t go to prison, he can’t go to prison. He’ll talk, he’ll tell them anything.
Cut back to the Lark Brothers’ penthouse. They’re listening in; apparently the suit is bugged.
MILO: I do believe he means to rat us out!
BARTLEBY: Very disappointing. Still, this is why we take precautions, isn’t it?
On a console, Bartleby presses a button labeled MIRAGE.
There’s an electrical burst in Mirage’s headpiece. Bobby’s thrown back. They crowd around Mirage, but he’s dead, and now there’s no one to tell them who’s behind the villains.
WARREN: Not an amazing start to the new Champions, but it could be w—
PROTESTERS: What the hell did you do?
Warren sputters as the protesters reconvene. He’d assumed the protesters had been holograms too—part of Mirage’s attack, for demoralization. But they are all too real, and they’re still pissed. He promises to set up a meeting, but Warren realizes the Champions have deeper and more complicated obstacles to face than even he’d anticipated.
Later that night, in the same dimly-lit warehouse where Firebrand was holed up at the end of last issue, Firebrand, a guy in the Scorcher suit, and a new Jack O’Lantern—three fire-related guys—huddle around a communications device, receiving instructions from the Salamander.
SALAMANDER: I trust you all saw the news today.
SALAMANDER: The Champions have made their public debut earlier than anticipated, which causes a problem for my plan.
SCORCHER: We still don’t know what exactly this plan is, Salamander!
SALAMANDER: The details are none your concern. All you need to know is this: our timetable has been escalated. You have your targets.
We now see the Beetle has infiltrated the hideout and has been listening to the proceedings from a hiding spot.
SALAMANDER: Burn them to the ground. All of them.
NEXT: The Salamander! Firebrand! The Scorcher! Jack O’Lantern! The Beetle! Add in our usual gang of Champs and you’ll have more super-characters than any AV Club-spinoff website oughtta have in one location! It’s a fiery fable we’re callin’ “Controlled Burn” and you can read it in 14 days!