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, a new Mirage, backed by local crimelords the Lark Brothers, attacked the Champions at their public debut using his hologram-generating suit. A malfunction caused the suit to randomly generate holograms, and the streets were in chaos until Iceman could shut him down. However, the Larks detonated a boobytrap in the Mirage suit before the villain could tell our heroes anything. Meanwhile, the man in the Beetle suit overheard the mysterious “Salamander” giving Firebrand, the Scorcher, and Jack O’Lantern instructions for an arson spree…
THE CHAMPIONS #3
Peerlessly posted by Great Boos Up
PAGE ONE (SPLASH)
The Champions Center: Atlanta, Georgia. In a conference room on a high level, a board meeting (presided over by Warren Worthington) is interrupted when the man in the Beetle suit appears outside the window, crawling up the wall! Big surprised looks on everyone’s faces.
The Beetle keeps climbing out of view, and Warren and Bobby (also at the meeting) look out the window.
BOBBY: That’s him! That’s the Beetle guy!1
WARREN: He’s headed for the roof!
Warren and Bobby emerge from a door on the roof of the Champions Center. The Beetle is waiting for them. Warren looks mildly defensive, Bobby less so.
BEETLE: Hoped that would get your attention.
BEETLE: You’re Worthington, right? You’re the boss?
WARREN: Can I…help you with something?
The Beetle says he has information. He asks Warren if he’s heard about the recent string of fires across the city in low-income neighborhoods. Warren says he has. The Beetle says he’s been looking into them and got a tip to check out a certain warehouse. He says he found three villains with fire powers—he thinks from what he heard they’re called Firebrand, the Scorcher, and Jack O’Lantern—taking orders over a communications device from someone called the Salamander. Apparently they have an arson ring going on, and because of the Champions making their debut earlier than anticipated, they have to step up their plan, meaning lots more fires over the next couple nights. The Beetle wants to give Warren the address of the warehouse so they can ambush the fire villains.
BOBBY: Does this mean you’re joining the team?
BEETLE: I told you the other night: I’m not a superhero. I’m fine busting up liquor store robberies and gang stuff, but this is out of my league
WARREN: So you’re giving us an address and you’re not coming with us. I want to believe you, but you have to see how this looks like it could be a trap.
WARREN: Work with us. Join the team. You’ll draw a salary, get full medical benefits, 401(k).
BOBBY: You said something about having kids, right? We’ve got lots of apartment space, you could all move in.
BEETLE: Hm. Live in your fancy new building, huh?
Beetle walks up to Warren and points.
BEETLE: Like I told Popsicle Boy, I know people who got turned out of this neighborhood to make way for this place.
WARREN: The meeting you just interrupted was actually discussing how to reach out to those people and provide some financial assistance, help find newer housing, maybe in the building itself.
BEETLE: You can try to make it right after the fact, but you chased people out of their homes…
WARREN: You know that building in Vine City you helped evacuate the other night? The place was a fire trap. If it hadn’t been a supervillain that night, it might have been an electrical short the next night or a stray cigarette the night after that.
WARREN: Zachary Saxony’s building a new project there now. Modern, safer housing. Better housing.
BEETLE: Affordable housing?
WARREN: Uh…I would hope—
The Beetle departs, starting to crawl back down the side of the building.
BEETLE: Look, go or don’t go. If you don’t, you’ll know you could’ve prevented it.
BEETLE: Do me a favor and don’t follow me, hey?
Bobby and Warren watch him go.
Ultragirl (Suzy) is in a hospital bed in the Champions’ small in-house medical unit. She has shaded goggles over her eyes.
DELROY (off-panel): Hey, Suzy. Looking good.
SUZY: I’d say the same to you but like I’d just be guessing.
3-D Man (Delroy) and Firebird (Bonita), both out of costume, come to visit Suzy in her bed.
BONITA: Has your vision come back at all?2
SUZY: I’ve got like infrared and ultraviolet back a little but the visible light spectrum’s still pretty fuzzy. Couple more days at least.
DELROY: They treating you well here, at least? Facilities look at least as good as we had with the Initiative.
SUZY: Yeah, the doc here’s even consulted with SWORD3 cause like you know, being mutant and Kree, I’ve got all kinds of weird stuff going on.
Suddenly, all three of their mobile communicators go off. Delroy is first to answer.
COMMUNICATOR: Hey guys, it’s Arian from down in Support. We’ve got a user-submitted alert! They’re asking if anyone’s available to help.
Delroy says they are. He tells Suzy to rest up and then he and Bonita hit a classic “Heroes rushing toward danger” pose!
SMASH CUT TO: A jackknifed truck on the edge of the city, which has released its cargo all over the street: dozens and dozens of chickens, which 3-D Man and Firebird are dutifully rounding up.
3-D MAN: This is, uh, not what I expected.
FIREBIRD: I think it’s nice to be able to just help people once in a while without having to fight anyone.
FIREBIRD: This is part of the team’s outreach efforts the Angel—Warren—keeps talking about.
Bonita is shooing the chickens toward cages while 3-D Man is running around at triple-speed plucking them up to get this over with.
3-D MAN: So what do you think of this whole Champions thing so far?
3-D MAN: I heard horror stories about the first team, but Worthington seems to have his stuff together. I’m glad he’s getting Suzy the best care. She’s just a great kid, you know?
FIREBIRD: You really do care for her, don’t you?
3-D MAN: The little sister I never had. I mean, say what you want about the politics—and I have—but the Initiative4 really brought a lot of the superhero community together like never before.
FIREBIRD: The Rangers5 were already an established team, but the Initiative resources were a godsend. Not many people know we were using a retired meat-packing plant as a headquarters at one point because it’s all we could afford.
FIREBIRD: That’s why I appreciate what Warren is trying to do here in Atlanta. When you combine money with the mission, you can achieve great things.
3-D MAN: I agree, of course, but…
3-D MAN: Okay, honesty time? What do you think of Drake? Leading the team, I mean.
Firebird smiles but looks away slightly. 3-D Man laughs.
FIREBIRD: Iceman is…new at this.
3-D MAN: Oh man, I do believe that’s the closest thing to shade I’ve seen so far out of Miss Sunshine.
FIREBIRD: You have concerns?
3-D MAN: Honestly? Nice guy and all, and I know he’s been doing this since he was a kid since practically back in early Fantastic Four days, but…I mean, Suzy’s still a kid and she’s got more discipline.
3-D MAN: Arguably, you or I should probably be calling the shots. I hate to pull the elitist “We were in the Avengers” thing, but…
FIREBIRD: He’ll be just fine, you’ll see. I have faith in Warren’s decision.
3-D MAN: Yeah, well, faith isn’t something I’ve got a lot of anymore…
Awkward silence. Then they break it by going back to work.
3-D MAN: Uh, we should get these chickens packed up.
3-D MAN: Look, I want you to know I’m not gonna be undercutting Drake, I just would rather the best person for the job do the job, whether it’s you or me, and…I just wanted to get it off my chest.
FIREBIRD: I do appreciate you confiding in me.
3-D MAN: Well, I’d appreciate it if you’d keep this under your cape. I don’t want to be the team disruptor. I did that once.6
The chickens now secure, Firebird and 3-D Man talk to the cops, who sincerely thank them for pitching in.
COP: Y’know, I thought the whole “heroes for the little guy” thing was just PR, but—
3-D Man’s mobile communicator rings again.
COMMUNICATOR: Delroy? It’s Bobby. Where are you guys?
3-D MAN: You’re not gonna believe me when I tell you.
COMMUNICATOR: When you and Firebird get back, we’ve got something to discuss…
That night: exterior of the warehouse that the fire villains are holed up in. Silently, Iceman, Firebird, and 3-D Man descend upon the roof.
ICEMAN: This is the address the Beetle gave us.
FIREBIRD: The windows are blacked out. No way to tell who’s inside.
ICEMAN: Wait. I’m gonna try that trick again.7 Get a sense of the moisture inside, see if I can read the room.
He closes his eyes and goes still.
Firebird and 3-D Man look at each other and shrug.
Bobby’s eyes open.
ICEMAN: I think I made three bodies.
3-D MAN: You think.
Delroy puts his ear to the ceiling.
3-D MAN: I’m gonna need everyone to be real quiet. Triple-hearing, right? But I don’t know if it’s gonna be…
TINY WORD BALLOON: –tell me you’re not worried at all?
Cut to inside the warehouse and we see that Bobby Drake is right indeed. There’s Firebrand, the Scorcher, and Jack O’ Lantern.
JACK O LANTERN: I don’t know why you’re so anxious about this, Scorcher. We’re getting paid. The Salamander says “Jump,” I’ll say, “I’ve got this floating platform thing, how high would you like me?”
SCORCHER: But we don’t know why. What’s the angle?
SCORCHER: I don’t know, maybe I wasn’t cut out to jump to supervillainy. I shoulda never gotten mixed up with the Masked Marauder!
Firebrand tells them to break it up, and they start to split up their assignments.
Cut back outside. Delroy still with his ear down.
3-D MAN: Real faint, but I’m pretty sure I got “Scorcher” and “Salamander,” at least
ICEMAN: So it looks like the Beetle was right.
FIREBIRD: Do we attack now, or do we need to sneak inside to be sure?
3-D Man and Firebird both look at Iceman. He has a moment of hesitation.
ICEMAN: Well, uh.
See 3-D Man and Firebird, waiting for him. He sets his jaw, determined.
ICEMAN: You know what? I’m feeling pretty confident about this. I say we bust through the front door.
And they do! The villains are totally unprepared!
All out fight scenes, and I will leave it to my hypothetical artist to choreograph it as cool as they want to make it after me forcing them to draw pages of chickens earlier. But the basic breakdown is:
Iceman tells Firebird to take Jack O’ Lantern (because they both fly), 3-D Man to take the Scorcher, and he’ll take Firebrand. And then…he lets them go. Trusting them, like Warren suggested last issue.
The Scorcher basically shoots jets of flame at 3-D Man. 3-D Man jumps over them like hurdles, but it’s REAL hot. But he notices the Scorcher isn’t sweating. So he gets close enough and smashes the glass temperature-controlled dome. Exposed to the heat, the Scorcher quickly gives up.
Jack O’ Lantern shoots fire bombs at Firebird, but she doesn’t feel the heat. So he tries another tactic, he throws some bombs at 3-D Man. She shoots these out of the air, then blasts Jack’s floating platform, which sends him plummeting to the ground. (She, of course, catches him right before he hits.)
Iceman’s having a hard time with Firebrand. His chemical flames are extremely hot and do a good job of melting his ice. So, remembering the incident last issue, he hatches a plan. He slides above Firebrand on an ice slide. The flames melt the ice, sending a rain of cracked ice shards down on him, just like on 3-D Man last issue. Iceman takes advantage of the momentary confusion to swoop in, give him a really good punch, and snap the cables to Firebrand’s jets.
The aftermath. Fire trucks have arrived to put out any incidental fires. The three villains are being kept, costumes neutralized, upside down in cocoons of ice while Bobby walks by.
ICEMAN: Okay, guys, who’s talking?
SCORCHER: We don’t know anything!
FIREBRAND: Scorcher, shut up.
SCORCHER: Don’t call me that! My name’s Paul Edward Grant. Look it up, the police have a file.
The Scorcher spills it. They were hired through various underworld channels, but they never actually met the employer, the mysterious “Salamander.” He gave them a list of addresses to target, and that’s it. He says the timetable got moved up because the Champions debuted early. Huh, Bobby thinks, why would the Salamander think it would be later? Bobby has Firebird melt the ice so that they fall out for the cops to pick up.
From the shadows, the Beetle watches.
The next morning, Warren’s office. Bobby’s sitting on his desk, saying that the guys didn’t really know anything other than that list of addresses that the Scorcher told him and that he gave to Warren’s assistant.
WARREN: Three arsonists using dead or retired supervillains’ equipment. Maybe this is related to whoever sent Mirage after us?
WARREN: You did good, Bobby.
BOBBY: Yeah, I felt good, actually. Look, we took these guys out and saved a lot of peoples’ homes. Maybe let’s call that a win for now.
Just then, Warren’s assistant, Laura walks in.
LAURA: Mr. Worthington.
WARREN: “Warren,” Laura. Or else you’re “Ms. Green,” I can do either.
LAURA: So I looked into those addresses.
WARREN: They’re all low-incoming housing, right? I can’t figure out what the Salamander’s angle was.
LAURA: That’s the thing.
LAURA: I think I know.
Night. Exterior of a building labeled Saxony. Zachary Saxony’s HQ.
Saxony is inside, grumbling on his phone about business. He’s middle-aged, a little paunchy. Then he steps out onto the balcony without looking.
Warren and Bobby are there, waiting for him.
Saxony hangs up the phone and asks what the hell is going on.
WARREN: Here’s a kind of generic superhero story for you: Three supervillains are given a bunch of targets to burn. Some of them burned. More of them would have if the Champions hadn’t stopped them.
WARREN: Now here’s an interesting real estate story: An awful lot of these properties have been bought up for redevelopment by your company. Even the ones that were still standing, the prelim paperwork was in.
SAXONY: Do they all correspond to my developments?
WARREN: Well, no, there’s a few—
SAXONY: Well then.
WARREN: –there’s a few that were maybe mixed in there to throw us off the trail.
SAXONY: I’m sure the police department will find this all pretty tenuous.
BOBBY: Come on, man, you’re the Salamander! You wanted the buildings destroyed so you could develop over them!
SAXONY: “The Salamander”?
SAXONY: Shoot, I’m a boring old real estate developer that never cared a day in his life for anything but money. I wouldn’t expect someone like me to know that in the ancient world, the salamander was associated with elemental fire.
SAXONY: That would be someone who contains multitudes.
BOBBY: If we can’t go to the cops, we can go to the press.
SAXONY: Worthington, your young friend here might not know much about libel laws in business, but I’m sure you do.
WARREN: Any ties between Worthington Industries and Saxony Development are cut. Immediately. We will not be seen together at charity fundraisers. We will not discuss your role in the building of the Champions Center. We will outbid you on any development deals you pursue in the future. You are going to lose potential millions.
SAXONY: Now that is a shame. It’s a substantial chunk of change, I’m not going to lie. But I think I’ll survive.
SAXONY: Do you know there’s been Saxonys in Atlanta ever since there was an Atlanta? One of us watched Sherman march across our city and set it aflame.
SAXONY: Atlanta came back from the ashes, and it came back stronger.
SAXONY: Just like each one of these developments will be better, cleaner, safer for the people of Atlanta than what they replace. Your own headquarters is a testament to that, son. I’m not gonna cry if we had to burn some of the brush to let the flowers grow.
BOBBY: Oh what, it’s threatening gardening metaphors now? C’mon, Warren, let’s—
Bobby looks at Warren. He’s shook. He flies away, leaving Bobby behind.
Bobby turns to Saxony.
BOBBY: You better…
He chases after Warren.
BOBBY: Screw it.
Back at headquarters, in the Champscraft hanger. Bobby lands the craft. Warren is there, taking his shirt off, like he’s molting.
BOBBY: Warren! What’s the—
WARREN: It’s exactly what I said to the Beetle.
WARREN: Yesterday morning. I told him the new buildings that are going up to replace the tenements are good for the city. “Can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs,” I said.
BOBBY: You didn’t actually say that.
Warren is almost tearing at his hair.
WARREN: It’s hard, Bobby. I have all this money…and I want to do the right thing…but you touch one thing and it affects someone else.
Warren is turned away from Bobby. His skin looks paler. Almost blue.
WARREN: It’s like scales, and you can’t balance them…
Bobby puts his hand on Warren’s shoulder. Warren’s skin goes back to its normal color.
WARREN: I’m sorry, Bobby. I’m in control.
WARREN: I’ve made some mistakes, and I need to think about how I’m going to fix them.
WARREN: I’m going up to my apartment.
BOBBY: Uh, if you’re sure you’re…okay to be alone right now.
Bobby leaves the office. Closes the door. Walks off.
Meanwhile, against the moon we see the black silhouette of Warren in flight.
Three days later: Ultragirl is hooked up to some sci-fi eye examination equipment. A doctor is working the equipment.
DOCTOR: That was the microdot row. You’re back to normal…normal for your vision, anyway.
Ultragirl disengages from the equipment and thanks the doctor. But at that moment, her communicator goes off.
COMMUNICATOR: Arian in Support again, Ultragirl. Maybe this isn’t a great time, but you should see this thing on the internet.
SUZIE: Aw man, what did Kanye get up to now?
COMMUNICATOR: This is about you.
On a YouTube-like app, a video is playing. In the video, a young man in a black message T and a leather full-face mask is sitting at some unfathomable and sinister (although very homemade-looking) control panel, speaking directly to the camera in front of him.
MASKED MAN: What up, Ultragirl.
MASKED MAN: You got lucky last month. All twelve bombs in forty-seven minutes.
MASKED MAN: But I’ve got a sick new challenge lined up. Noon tomorrow. Events TBA, so zero prep time.
MASKED MAN: And leave the new squad at home. Anyone else but you shows up, I call forfeit.
MASKED MAN: And all you loyal chaos-freaks and abyss-gazers can check it out…
MASKED MAN: …on Derek Disaster’s Livestream of Doom.
MASKED MAN: Smash that Like button till it bleeds!
Shortly, Ultragirl, Bobby, and Warren are walking down a hallway to the central living quarters and meeting area.
BOBBY: So this happens once a month?
ULTRAGIRL: It’s been more like six weeks this time. I’d actually thought maybe he wouldn’t be back…
WARREN: It’s some sort of game.
ULTRAGIRL: Yeah, there’s never any lives at stake. Last time it was mini-EMP bombs in banks.
WARREN: Okay. We’ll call Delroy and Bonita. Full team meeting in five minutes.
ULTRAGIRL: No! You can’t help me or he’ll—
His assistant Laura runs up.
LAURA: Warren! Warren, something weird’s just come up.
WARREN: I know, we’re on it.
LAURA: No, this is something else. You have a visitor. He wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Warren opens the door.
WARREN: What? Who’s—
VOICE: GREETINGS, FRIEND WARREN! AND FRIEND BOBBY, WELL MET!
BOBBY: No way.
In this swanky lounge area, Hercules is maxin’ and relaxin’ on a big comfy leather chair with a huge stein of beer.
HERCULES: I HELPED MYSELF TO SOME OF THE CONTENTS OF YOUR BAR! I HOPE YOU DON’T MIND.
HERCULES: THE LION OF OLYMPUS HERCULES HAS COME TO JOIN THE CHAMPIONS!
NEXT: You’d better believe things get weird from here on out, True Believers! There’s Derek Disaster! There’s Hercules! There’s the Lark Brothers and the Tinkerer! We just hope you’ll be there too, in two weeks!