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, Ultragirl stopped livestreaming supervillain Derek Disaster from destroying the Olympic Centennial Park, and 3-D Man exposed him as a paid influencer. Hercules joined the team, but Bobby learned from Ultragirl that he’s supposed to have lost his demigodly superpowers in the Chaos War…which doesn’t seem to be the case. Bobby also struggled with how to present himself on a dating app; there’s some relatable content for you.
Meanwhile, local crimelords the Lark Brothers discovered that the supervillain suits they thought they were buying from the Tinkerer are, in fact, inferior forgeries of his work. They vowed to find a third party to help them get to the bottom of this business; by an astonishing coincidence, a one-time supervillain from New York City’s just come to town…
THE CHAMPIONS #5
“The Last Temptation of Paste-Pot Pete”
From Great Boos Up’s brain directly to your everlovin’ eyeballs
(Scintillatin’ setup provided by Grampton St. Rumpterfrabble)
PAGE ONE (SPLASH)
Big hero vs. villain action on the streets of downtown Atlanta! It’s Iceman leading Firebird, 3-D Man, Ultragirl, and Hercules against the Masked Marauder, the Unicorn, the Melter, the Titanium Man, and Porcupine. (All of whom are of course new guys working for the Lark Brothers, about whom the Champs know nothing.)
MASKED MARAUDER: Destroy the Champions, my maleficent minions!
ULTRAGIRL: Did all the supervillains used to talk like this in your day, Iceman?
ICEMAN: C’mon, it still is “my day.”
The Unicorn tells Ultragirl to prepare for a shock and zaps Ultragirl with the beam weapon from his forehead. She braces, but it turns out to be just a beam of warm light.
Unicorn fiddles with the controls on a control panel mounted on his wrist.
UNICORN: That was supposed to be a full-power blast! It’s—why is this thing stuck on “stun”?
Iceman slides by and wrenches the helmet off the Unicorn.
ICEMAN: I’m doing you a favor. Did you even know these things are rigged with kill switches?
Hercules is grappling with the Titanium Man.
HERCULES: A METAL FOE WORTHY OF MY METTLE!
Suddenly, a shoulder-mounted gattling gun pops out of the Titanium Man’s armor and starts blasting at Hercules. He swats away the gunfire like gnats.
The Porcupine corners 3-D Man and lets loose a barrage of razor-sharp quills at 3-D Man! But Firebird swoops down and melts them in mid-air. 3-D Man thanks her for the assist, and she chases him away.
Suddenly, the Melter takes a shot at 3-D Man. 3-D looks up and starts running, keeping one move ahead of the energy blasts. The Melter says his own name, and it gives 3-D an idea. He keeps drawing his fire and runs past the Titanium Man. The Melter’s metal-melting beam wrecks the Titanium Man’s armor.
The Marauder flees.
MASKED MARAUDER: You may have won this round, Champions, but the Masked Marauder flees to fight another day!
3-D Man punches the Melter out and rips off his helmet.
Hercules tears open the compromised Titanium Man armor like a lobster shell, exposing a man in an undershirt and shorts inside.
Iceman slides down to talk to the undershirt and shorts man, who, despite his embarrassing predicament, sneers coldly.
ICEMAN: You’re safe from the kill switch, “Titanium Man.” Tell us where you got get this equipment.
UNDERSHIRT AND SHORTS: How long do you think I’m gonna live if I tell you anything?
Firebird leads Ultragirl in flight back to the group. Ultragirl is carrying the Porcupine, whose mask is torn off and who is having a coughing fit.
FIREBIRD: We have the Porcupine!
ULTRAGIRL: His suit crapped out too. You know this thing has gas pellet weapons? Guy almost suffocated in there!
ICEMAN: Nice work, you two.
We see, out of sight, ducking into an alleyway, the Masked Marauder. He’s talking into a small communicator.
CAPTION (Iceman): “Anyone see where the Masked Marauder got to?”
MARAUDER: They got them all, Mr. Lark!
COMMUNICATOR: Any malfunctions this time?
MARAUDER: Unicorn and Porcupine.
COMMUNICATOR: Damn. Well, get back here. I’ve just become aware of a new asset I’d like you to collect…
Back on the street, Bobby ices down and takes out his communicator.
BOBBY: Hey Warren. Marauder gave us the slip again, but we got the rest of ‘em. Alive, but they’re not talking.
WARREN (over communicator): I saw the whole thing on TV! Great seeing you and Hercules side-by-side. Just like the old days, right? I was almost tempted to put on my old costume and join you guys out there.
Bobby eyes Hercules (who is talking boisterously to some reporter) suspiciously.
At Denise’s timeshare in South Atlanta. It’s a modest, bland house.
CAPTION: Two days later.
Inside, Peter Petruski1 is sitting on the couch, eating a bowl of something hot, watching TV.
PETE: Hell of a cook, Denise. Hell of a cook.
DENISE: It’s just Spaghetti-Os.
PETE: Hey, before I got here, I’d been on an IV drip for weeks. This is a feast!
DENISE: I’m feeding you because you showed up in the middle of the night a few days back and passed out on my doorstep.2
PETE: Like I told you, I hadn’t had any solid food in—
DENISE: It doesn’t mean we’re back together, Peter.
DENISE: Promise me again. Promise me you’re not just here because you’re hiding out from…from the Fantastic Four or Spider-Man or Moon Knight or somebody again.
PETE: I’m clean, Denise. I’ve been goin’ to Vil-Anon. I’m doin’ so well, I’ve been trying to help other guys get out of the life, too. I was just talking to Boomerang…you know, the guy with the boomerangs?3
PETE: The thing is, New York is the superhero/supervillain capital of the world, and…that’s maybe not the best place for me.
DENISE: Atlanta might not be much better. We have our own heroes and villains fighting in the streets now.
PETE: Anyone I know?
DENISE: I wouldn’t know. I don’t think the supervillain thing is sexy or fun anymore. I went back to school, got a degree.
DENISE: I’m strictly into white-collar crime now.
PETE: Denise…I almost died. I had a moment of clarity.
PETE: I kept struggling to get some recognition, a sense of legitimacy. To live up to my potential as a supervillain. To prove that I’m not just some weirdo with a paste gun. I’m the Trapster! Master of…traps!
PETE: But the truth is, I’m not the Trapster. I’m Paste-Pot Pete. I am just some weirdo with a paste gun, and I overdosed on my own supply. Both literally and, what do you call it, like a metaphor.
PETE: I really appreciate you takin’ me in, Denise. It’ll just be a few days, I swear, and then I’ll be outta your hair.
Denise purses her lips.
DENISE: Well…okay then.
DENISE: You wanna make yourself useful? How ‘bout going on a beer run? The place
Pete finishes up his Spaghetti-O’s.
PETE: Sure, Denise, whatever you want.
PETE: You still like Rolling Rock?
Pete leaves the house, a little glum. It’s early evening. A black limo is waiting just down the street.
DENISE (from inside): He remembered…!
VOICE FROM CAR: Petruski’s finally left the house, sir. We’ll pick him up in a moment.
Pete sulks with his hands in his pocket.
PETE (thought): “Couple of days,” sure. Don’t know how I’m gonna back that up.
PETE (thought): Time was, I’d just knock over a convenience store, just to get a few bucks in my pocket.
PETE (thought): But I meant every word I said to Denise back there. I’m done with—
The limo pulls up alongside Pete, and two guys in suits and domino masks jump out, grab him, and throw him in the car.
Inside the limo, Pete finds himself sitting across from the Masked Marauder, who gestures melodramatically.
MASKED MARAUDER: Allow me to introduce myself, Mr. Petruski. I’m called…the Masked Marauder!
Pete looks around, spooked.
PETE: Wh–who are you working for? Kingpin or Mister Negative or–
MASKED MARAUDER: Relax, Mr. Petruski. I’m sorry for the flamboyant introduction, I just love all the theatricality of the supervillain aesthetic, you know?
MASKED MARAUDER: I am the top lieutenant of the major crime interest in this town, and they want to make your acquaintance.
PETE: How did you find me?
MASKED MARAUDER: Not much happens in Atlanta that escapes the attention of the Lark Brothers, including the arrival of a major supervillain player such as yourself.
PETE: “Major”? Look, I think there’s been some mistake here, pal.
MASKED MARAUDER: Are you telling me you buy into that tired old narrative? That you’re some kind of loser supervillain? That’s heartbreaking, honestly.
RAUDER: You’re the Trapster! You can’t name a dozen people still alive who’ve been a supervillain longer than you! You were fighting the Human Torch since there was a Human Torch! You were original Frightful Four!
PETE: I mean…the Wizard only recruited me because I was easy to push around.
PETE: I shoot glue, you know?
MASKED MARAUDER: It’s an incredibly advanced adhesive polymer! I remember hearing in the news about that time you framed Spider-Man for murder by duplicating his webbing. 4 Do you know how many people have tried to reproduce that stuff? And for you it apparently isn’t even a major life accomplishment!
Pete smells a rat, but the Masked Marauder puts his hands up.
PETE: You’re…look, if you’re just buttering me up…
MASKED MARAUDER: Hey, look, I know my villains. I’m an aficionado. That’s why I leapt at this opportunity when the Lark Brothers offered it.
PETE: Who are these Lark guys?
MASKED MARAUDER: They come from Seattle originally but have set themselves up as the crime kings of Atlanta.
MASKED MARAUDER: Before they came, local crime was ugly and brutal. Street drugs, gangs. The Lark Brothers wanted to bring a better class of criminal here. Supervillains, you know?
MASKED MARAUDER: They run a very tight ship. No civilians get hurt, understand? And the Lark Brothers get a cut.
PETE: So what do you need me for?
MASKED MARAUDER: Well, the Lark Brothers have gotten their supervillain gear from a couple of different sources, but most of it comes from The Exchange.
PETE: The Exchange?
MASKED MARAUDER: I would’ve thought for sure you knew about The Exchange!
MASKED MARAUDER: Atlanta’s a hub city, right? Same for supercrime. Count Nefaria wants something shipped across the country, it goes through here. AIM, Black Spectre, you name it. And The Exchange manages all this traffic for a cut.
MASKED MARAUDER: The Lark Brothers thought The Exchange was giving them gear straight from the Tinkerer in NYC. But the Tinkerer says it’s not his work.5 So the bosses think The Exchange ripped them off and need to take care of business, you know?
MASKED MARAUDER: I’m good. This helmet belonged the original Masked Marauder, I made sure of that. But the others might all be compromised.
MASKED MARAUDER: You, though…you’re not just one of us guys trying to climb the ladder in someone else’s supervillain identity. You’re an original! And that’s why the Lark Brothers want you.
At Denise’s place, Pete shows up with two arms full of groceries. Denise is surprised.
CAPTION: Another two days later.
DENISE: You bought groceries!
PETE: I told you, I found some work.
PETE: All under the table. Not supposed to talk about it, of course, but it pays, and I’m not out there robbin’ banks.
Flashback to Pete meeting with Bartleby and Milo Lark in their swanky penthouse apartment. Shaking Barlteby’s hand.
PETE: Like I said, I’ll do this one job. Whatever this problem is you’ve got going on with The Exchange.
PETE: But no heists, no superhero fights. All behind-the-scenes stuff, okay?
BARTLEBY: Mr. Petruski, we are pleased to be working with you.
Denise unpacks groceries.
DENISE: How do I know I’m not gonna see your mugshot when I turn on the news?
PETE: I can promise you, you won’t.
Flashback to Pete in a lab, shooting a thin strand of goo out of his pistol.
MILO: Do your facilities meet your needs Mr. Petruski?
PETE: This batch is gonna be strong as my regular paste, but it’ll dissolve over a period of two hours, just like Spider-Man’s web.
PETE: Nothing to tie ol’ Pete to the scene of anything we do, right?
Pete and Denise.
PETE: It’s great, Denise, I tell you. I’m meeting all kinds of new people.
Flashback to Pete, surrounded by various supervillains who are hanging on his every word.
PETE: So I hook up a miniature resonance cap to the gun, right? I shoot it right at the kid. BOOM! The explosion puts his flame right out!
SOME VILLAIN: Man, I never thought I’d be partying with a guy who took out the Human Torch!
Pete puts his feet up, watching TV, smiling pretty smugly about himself.
PETE: It’s just nice to be working someplace where they appreciate me for my brains again, y’know?
Cut to Pete working with schematics.
PETE: So this Exchange HQ…it’s full of booby-traps. Good ones, too.
PETE: Fortunately, you’ve got the Trapster to help you un-trap-ify them!
Exterior of a hideout of the Exchange. On the outside it looks like a disused factory.
On the inside we see it’s a high-tech operation. On the huge factory floor, people are lugging crates, shipping scary looking equipment and guns. On the catwalk overhead, Malone, one of the top managers, watches operations. He’s tall and has sharp features. He’s wearing jeans and a leather jacket, casual but expensive, and also an Atlanta Braves baseball hat. Working class boy made good (or bad because he’s a criminal, you know).
Suddenly, someone calls for his attention. He goes into a security room. There’s a techie at the console.
TECHIE: Perimeter sensors just went down, Mr. Malone.
MALONE: Is this a glitch?
TECHIE: Laser grids are failing now.
MALONE: Guards! Which floors?
TECHIE: Not sure. First, third, and fifth?
MALONE: Well, check the cameras. Do we have visual?
TECHIE: Someone’s hacked it. Monitors are all showing…opera?
MALONE: Damn! It’s the Larks!
All of a sudden a door bursts open, blasted by the Masked Marauder’s Opti-Beam. There’s the Marauder, the Trapster, Bartleby and Milo Lark. Bartleby is shaken but is already wheeling and dealing.
MILO: Exceptional work, Mr. Petruski!
BARTLEBY: Mr. Malone. We want to discuss the equipment we bought from you.
MALONE: Mr. Lark! I was just about to reach out to you myself.
Malone insists he obviously doesn’t want the Larks unhappy with their service. But, he reminds them they’re just the middlemen, and they’re just as concerned to be associated with inferior merchandise. He’ll pass on the name of the supplier to the Larks, and asks them to “give ‘im one for me.”
Pete goes off to talk on his cell phone.
PETE: Hey, Denise, listen. I know we were talking about maybe catching a movie tonight, but something’s happened at work, and I’m gonna have to head out of town for a couple of days…
A grimy office. The Trapster has Devlin DeAngelo bonded to the wall, encased in Trapster’s paste, looking terrified. Bartleby is menacing and Milo is getting an almost perverse joy out of seeing DeAngelo squirm.
CAPTION: The Florida panhandle.
BARTLEBY: Devlin DeAngelo.
BARTLEBY: My associate the Masked Marauder has told me about your career. Arms dealer, specializing in supervillain equipment. You operated for years in absolute secret.
MILO: But you got greedy, didn’t you? You thought you could manipulate Bruce Banner to work for you. Only he reprogrammed the Super-Adaptoid to destroy your entire operation!6
DEANGELO: You got my number, okay? I’m washed up, and I know it.
DEANGELO: Do you think I’d risk what’s left of my career dealing in knockoffs? I thought I was getting legit equipment straight from the Tinkerer!
MILO: Well, we’ve talked to the Tinkerer. He says he hasn’t made a deal with you in years.
DEANGELO: I was contacted by this kid, right? Said the Tinkerer had moved shop to Reno, had some new stuff he was looking to unload. Yeah, I was desperate. Look, I can give you the address!
On board the private plane to Reno, the Larks and Pete discuss the plan. Pete sips expensive whiskey.
The Larks provide the name, address, and contact info of the guy who built the suits. It’s a residential address just south of Reno. The Larks ask Trapster if they think it would be wise to storm the house.
PETE: Nah. The Exchange’s HQ, you had schematics on. Here, we’d be working blind. No telling what’s in this guy’s workshop, even if half if it doesn’t work.
PETE: I say we set a trap for him.
The Larks leave for another compartment on the plan to confer. The Masked Marauder walks by and congratulates him.
MARAUDER: Gotta say, it’s been an honor working with you, Trapster.
MARAUDER: You ever consider joining up with us full time? You and me, we could be the supervillain kings of this whole city!
PETE: It’s sounding better and better.
PETE: Look, let me call my gir—uh, somebody, let them know I’ll be away a couple more days.
We see Denise at her house answering the phone.
DENISE: Pete, hi!
DENISE: No, of course I understand. I just…
DENISE: I guess I’m surprised at how much I miss you.
The top four panels are all Denise talking on the phone, pacing around the kitchen, struggling to express herself. We don’t hear anything from Pete.
DENISE: You know…I really didn’t think you’d ever change. You’ve been living this life for so long.
DENISE: And I told myself I wouldn’t get mixed up with you again, but…you know, things probably would’ve gone back to the way they were, even if you’d gone back to your supervillain stuff, even if it’d make me miserable. Maybe I can’t help myself either.
DENISE: But you can. You promised me you weren’t going back to the life and you kept your promise. I—I never thought you could do that.
DENISE: I just—it’s really something, Pete. This is something maybe you could build a life on.
DENISE: No, I realize…that’s a lot to drop on you, hey? Ha.
DENISE: Yeah, we can talk about it when you get back.
Pete looks at his phone and hangs up.
Pete turns back to the group.
PETE: Okay…so here’s how we’re gonna spring the trap.
An empty bus terminal in Reno, one AM. Outdoors, there’s only one guy there. A husky guy in his late twenties with a beard and long hair wearing a Boston (the band) T-shirt. He looks around nervously. He’s carrying a large case on wheels.
Suddenly, two jets of paste are shot at his feet, sticking him the floor. He’s freaking out.
PETE (off-panel): You really are an amateur, aren’t you, kid?
PETE (off-panel): This was a trap. Wasn’t hard to set, and you walked blindly into it.
The Trapster appears in full costume, slipping out of a trenchcoat he’d been wearing.
GUY: You’re the Tr—the Trap—
PETE: Paste-Pot Pete, yeah.
PETE: What’s your name?
KID: Corey. Corey Kiley.
Pete asks Corey to see the case. He opens it up. It’s a replica of the Blizzard’s suit.
PETE: The Tinkerer didn’t make this. He’s in New York, he’s never heard of you.
PETE: You built this thing, didn’t you?
Corey admits it. He tells the story. He’s an engineering grad. Top of his class, but he’s crushed by student loan debt. He heard about Devlin DeAngelo and figured he’d build him some knockoff supervillain stuff, take the money and run. He figured the suits were going through so many middlemen, they’d never find him.
PETE: Well, that’s the trouble. Whether you meant to do this with your life or not, you’re a supervillain now, Corey. And supervillains…we always seem to get caught.
PETE: It’s like…look, I’m not a poet, but it’s like a trap, right? And you build it for yourself.
PETE: The thing about traps is, everybody thinks they’re too smart to get caught in one. So you get caught cause you weren’t careful, and everyone else, they think, “That was dumb, you got what you deserve.”
PETE: So that’s the whole world. Someone walks into a trap, they yell for help, you laugh at ‘em, then you walk into a trap and you yell for help, and someone laughs at you.
PETE: Ahh, this sucks, but do you kind of get what I mean? I told you I’m not a poet.
Pete shoots solvent at Corey’s feet, releasing him.
PETE: The point is, I’m gonna be the guy who listens, just this once.
PETE: I’m gonna un-trap-ify this for you.
Pete says although he was supposed to kill Corey, he’s going to give him a second chance. That’s why he arranged for this to be at a bus station. So Corey could get out of town, and then Pete could do the same (because he’s gonna be in some serious trouble for double-crossing the Lark Brothers).
Pete says Corey can run and hide like he’s going to. Or he could face the trouble head-on and go down to Atlanta, talk to the Champions, tell them what’s going on and face the Larks directly. Choice is up to him. Pete hands Corey an envelope with information on the Larks.
Pete puts his trenchcoat back on, slips his hands in his pockets and starts to walk away, like the protagonist of a noir story.
PETE: But if you do go to Atlanta…
PETE: …and you happen to meet a sweet little lady named Denise…
PETE: …you tell her that Peter Petruski is out there somewhere.
PETE: And he will always—
Pete slips on some his own solvent.
He lands hard.
A moment passes.
He looks up at Corey.
PETE: Look, that was pretty embarrassing, would you mind just getting the hell outta here?
Bobby and Warren, back at the Champions Center, doing a walk and talk past the gym area.
BOBBY: So it doesn’t bother you at all that last anyone heard, Hercules lost his powers, and now he’s got them back somehow?
WARREN: Bobby, it happens to all of us! We get our powers, we lose them, we get new ones, we get the original ones back.
WARREN: You know what I’ve been through.
BOBBY (thought): Yeah, that’s kind of what I’m worried about, Warren. I think having Hercules around like “the good old days” is tempting you to regress, instead of dealing with your problems…
WARREN: Besides, his scans check out against the Avengers files I requested. He remembers all our old cases. I don’t know what you–
Bobby’s phone pings.
WARREN: What’s that?
BOBBY: Oh, it’s an alert from that dating app you made me sign up for.
BOBBY: Maybe it’s finally got a match.
He pulls out his phone and logs in.
BOBBY: I have the worst profile, I probably won’t—
Close-up on the app. It reads “93 MEN IN YOUR AREA WANT TO MEET YOU!”
Close-up on the app. It now reads “94 MEN IN YOUR AREA WANT TO MEET YOU!”
NEXT: How many first dates can a man go on and retain his sanity? Bobby Drake is determined to find out! Plus: The Faux Tinkerer comes to town! Intrigue with the Beetle! (We didn’t forget about him!) A surprise villain and the unexpected return of the last character you’d expect to show up here! That’s so much plot, you should be paying for this, but you’ll get it for free in fourteen days!