by Jason McDonald and Mike Shirley
Assistant Editor: Jason McDonald
in Chief: David Ellis
Rev. Carl Waylon
From Reed Richards' private journal, 20th century
I just had an interesting discussion with Sue about
the nature of religion. It's not a subject I think
about often. I was raised without it, mostly due to my
father, who as a scientist was more interested in
how things worked, rather than why. I
grew up with science as my religion, and the unknowns
of the universe as my faith. Or more specifically, my
faith was in that the universe would hold the answers
to my questions.
I actually hadn't thought about it in those terms
until ten minutes ago, when my wife pointed that out
to me. She and her brother were raised in a more
traditional background, with baptisms and Sunday
school and the like. While she isn't particularly
conservative (quite the opposite, in fact), she
nonetheless had faith as an influence in her life.
In point of fact, in our conversation, she discussed a
desire to have Franklin learn about Christianity,
which I found somewhat disconcerting. I pointed out
that it would be rather confusing to teach our son a
theology that our lifestyles would disprove. At that
point, our conversation became an argument.
I admit, I still have a hard time seeing that point of
view clearly, but I suppose that's what keeps me
interested in universal exploration: there's always
something new to learn. There are always new doors to
"Downtown" New York, Earth, The Year 2099
A world of pain was unlocked within Benjamin Jacob
Grimm's mind. He had no idea where it came from, but
the starburst of agony sent him crashing to his knees,
unable to even think.
Then it was over, and Ben steadily rose to his feet.
He noticed that his Fantastic Four teammates and the
corporate Watchdogs in SItuation Emergency Gear were
out cold; whatever had struck him must have brought
them down as well. He checked on their life-signs,
figuring out that they were okay. Now came the hard
part: getting them to wake up.
"Suzie, Reed?" he inquired, poking and nudging them
gently with a stony finger. "Johnny, how 'bout you? Or
d'you just answer to 'Meathead' these days?" He was
trying to stay irreverent, but he was growing
Turning to the Watchdogs, he muttered, "I'm not that
interested in seein' you SIEGE guys up an' around an'
barkin' orders, but as long as you're okay...." He
quickly confirmed that they were still breathing, and
he breathed a sigh of relief. "Good, 'cause this
place's property values'd really take a hit if any
more people died."
On that somber note, his gaze moved to the bodies of
the slain organleggers sprawled on the floor. Sure,
they were murdering bastards who sold their victims'
body parts on the black market, but he didn't know how
he felt about seeing them dead. "Already seen too much
of that," he mused.
Which brought him to the organleggers' former allies,
the quartet of rogue geneticists from the
Stark-Fujikawa corporation. They'd paid for the
ill-gotten organs and used them in experiments, and
when Ben had exposed the illegal activity, the
scientists had tried to harvest the Four's powers.
They'd tried to inject those powers into themselves,
but thanks to a double-cross by the organleggers and
the Watchdogs regaining control of their SIEGE armor,
their plan didn't exactly turn out the way they'd hoped.
But now the scientists were gone for some reason.
They'd been strapped to chairs to minimize convulsions
when they'd injected themselves with their so-called
Fantasti-Serum, but now even the chairs were missing.
What the hell was going on?
Ben shook his head, trying to piece all this together.
He had a sudden urge to leave the organleggers'
laboratory and clear his head. He slowly moved toward
the door, draped a ratty old tarp over his inhuman
body, and vacated the building, promising himself that
he was just going for a walk. He wasn't trying to
escape the laboratory building, and he certainly
wasn't trying to put as much distance between himself
and anyone who knew him as possible.
Really, he wasn't. And as he trudged his way through
the grimy streets of a place he'd heard described as
both "Lower New York" and "Downtown", he tried to
convince himself he wasn't.
Three blocks later, he belatedly realized he should
have probably left his friends a note explaining his
absence. But what would he have written? 'Reed --
Gone to look for AWOL science guys. Be back
later.' Yeah, right. 'Reed -- Having a mid-life
crisis ahead of schedule. Don't wait up' was more
honest. Which reminded him of an old joke: 'I've gone
to find myself. If I should return before I get back,
keep me here.'
If he were in a better mood, he'd have found that
New York had obviously changed a lot from what the
original Ben Grimm remembered, and what he, the
original's clone, knew now. Or something like that.
Sure, a lot of the buildings and landmarks were
familiar, though crumbled with age and neglect. Some
of the structures the twentieth-century Ben had grown
up around now looked as if bombs had gone off inside
them. For all he knew, that could've been what had
Another major difference was the framework that
surrounded the area. The massive support pillars and
cantilever frame made up the 'superstructure' upon
which the skyscrapers of this era rose like monoliths.
The support structure looked like someone had
cannibalized the Queensborough, Brooklyn, and George
Washington bridges and made the framework out of the
Ben had seen pictures of the current New York skyline
before, and when he and his teammates had been Uptown
visiting Stark-Fujikawa, they'd taken a moment to look
out a window and see the real thing. The sight had
been mind-blowing, but now Ben was seeing it from a
different perspective. Uptown now seemed downright
depressing; the sun had set, but Ben had the feeling
Downtown didn't see much sunlight even in the daytime.
But by far the biggest difference between this
neighborhood and the ideal he carried around in his
head was the people. Everyone he passed looked
homeless, even though they clearly had homes in the
squalid buildings. Their clothes and skin carried the
same thick layer of grime that penetrated every square
inch of this place.
All in all, Downtown reminded Ben of a third-world
Bystanders kept their distance from him, and he
couldn't blame them. Even wrapped in a threadbare
tarp, he was sure he still looked huge and inhuman.
They stared at him from afar, with expressions he
Up ahead, he heard arguing. A multitude of angry young
male voices versus one calm old voice tinged with
wisdom. They were standing in front of a Christian
church not far from Ben's twencen childhood home. As
he'd guessed, there were eight teenage street toughs
hassling a gray-templed black man who dressed like a preacher.
As he moved closer, he could hear their conversation:
"--many time do we have to tell you," the
teens' apparent leader demanded, gripping the old
man's collar, "this is Fenris territory! You
wanna set up shop here, you gotta pray to
"As I've said before," the old man replied, his voice
calm and measured, "I have no quarrel with Thorism or
any other religion. I'm a Christian by practice, but I
see no reason why that should determine where I'm
allowed to live."
"You wanna reason, we'll give you one." He nodded to
his boys. "Let's break in that fancy church of his --
redecorate the place." His buddies stalked forward,
clubs in hands, ready to do damage.
"Is this what passes f'r housewarmin' parties these
days?" Ben asked as he yanked off the tarp and
approached the group. "An' are you idiots supposed
t'be the Yancy Street Gang?"
They all stopped in their tracks and stared. It was
almost a full minute before one of the teens
whispered, "it's him. It's Grimm."
"'Bout time my reputation preceded me," Ben commented,
trying not to sound as tired as he felt. "If you
people know who I am, then ya gotta know I don't put
up with bullies. You jerks got a problem with the old
man, take it up with me." He cracked his knuckles.
The teens took several steps back.
"Wait a sec," the gang leader spoke up. "Don't you see
what this is? He's another fake? Another fake
Harbinger of Thor made by the corporates upstairs!"
"Naw, man, it's gotta be him," another gang member
spoke up. "He's got the rocks an' everything."
"He's a fake, I'm tellin' you. Just like the Aesir
last year." The leader walked right up to Ben, getting
in his face. "What d'you want, man? You tryin' to get
us to worship you? Tryin' to start a ... a Thingite
"'Thingite cult'?" Ben asked in unison with the
"Yeah, or ... or Grimmite or somethin'. Y'know, like
S-Man had the Spiderites."
Ben shook his head. "Junior, that is the stupidest
thing I ever heard. But you're right: I'm not Ben
Grimm. I'm his clone. I didn't choose t'be." That
sounded inane to his own ears, but he felt the need to
say it. "I'm down here 'cause I'm havin' a really bad
"So you're slumming," the gang leader ventured.
"--an' you jackasses ain't helpin'. You wanna leave
the old man alone, or d'you wanna find yourselves
across th' street?"
The leader didn't back down. "I ain't afraid of you."
"Then you don't know me." Ben grabbed the kid by his
collar and tossed him upward to the side. Sure enough,
the gang leader landed across the street ... on the
rooftop of an apartment building.
Ben turned to the other teens. "Any questions?"
They took off.
"Hunh, kids these days," Ben commented before turning
his attention to the preacher. "You okay, mister...?"
"Reverend Carl Waylon," the old man replied, holding
out a hand. "And I'm just fine."
Ben looked at the man's hand, tiny and brown, then
lanced at his own, huge and orange. A handshake didn't
strike him as a very good idea.
The reverend smiled broadly and clapped Ben on the
shoulder. "Don't worry about it. I'm glad you came
along. I don't think my church can take many more
visits from those misguided youths." He studied Ben's
craggy face. "So, Benjamin Grimm of the Fantastic
Four, huh? I have to say you're more impressive in
person than in story.
"Right now I don't feel impressive," he admitted,
slouching as even the effort of tossing the teenager
had taken a lot out of his already-low energy supply.
He was about to ask how the reverend knew so much
about him when he remembered that the Four were a
legend to people on modern-day Yancy Street. Then he
remembered who he'd heard that from in the first
place. "Wait, your last name's Waylon? You wouldn't
happen to have a relative named Martin, would ya?"
The old man's expression changed from warm hospitality
to genuine surprise. "Martin? I once did. He was my
son. He died a few weeks ago."
Ben lowered his head. "I know. I ... I killed him."
"Ben could be dead right now, for all we know," Sue
asserted. She and her remaining two teammates were
currently surrounded by Stark-Fujikawa's Watchdog
police -- some in SItuation Emergency GEar, some not.
They swarmed the building, collecting and cataloguing
evidence of the organleggers' activities, as well as
rounding up the bodies of the slain 'leggers
Medics were present as well, attending to Sue, Reed,
and Johnny. The one treating Sue had a difficult time
calming Sue down; she was on a rant. "We've got to
find him. We don't know if he's been kidnapped, or if
he just went off on his own for some reason--"
"Sue, you have to calm down," Reed told her as a medic
checked his vital signs. A tense edge creeped into his
voice, as it was becoming clear that he was losing
patience with her. "Harkness and his men are
organizing a search for him right now." He jerked a
thumb at Sergeant Harkness, who was leading a trio of
fellow SIEGE officers away from the building,
activating their armors' rocket thrusters and rising
into the air.
Pushing her medic away to face Reed, Sue scowled and
stood up. "Don't you even care about what's
happening to Ben? I thought he was your friend."
"Of course I care," he replied, tension continuing to
flow into his voice. "But at the moment, we're not in
the best of shape to handle the situation. Ian Hyde
and the Section M04 scientists managed to extract
quite a bit of cosmic energy from each of us, so we're
only operating at a fraction of our strength--"
"I know that, but that doesn't mean--"
"It means we're exhausted, which means now is not the
best time to run around unfamiliar territory."
"If we're not at full strength, how about Ben?
Strength is all he has, which means once his powers
give out on him--"
"He'll die? The thought has crossed my mind, Susan."
The two of them were standing face-to-face by this
point, and nearby medics and Watchdogs converged on
them to try to pull them apart before frayed tempers
led to flying punches.
"So do something about it!" Exhaustion laced
Sue's words as well.
"I am. I'm trying to come up with a way for us to
replenish our energies. I can barely stretch. I doubt
you can maintain your forcefields or invisibility for
very long. And Johnny?" Reed gestured over to Sue's
brother, who was quietly ignoring an attending medic
while he pressed his fingers to an ancient scrap of
newspaper. "He's trying desperately to light something
on fire with his power as we speak."
Concerned, Sue abandoned her argument with Reed for
the moment. She walked over to him and placed a hand
on his shoulder. His body felt ... colder than usual.
"Johnny? Are you all right?"
"I ... I can't make a flame," Johnny whispered,
staring at his fingers. "Thank god."
A Christian theme permeated the Waylon family's home
-- which was fitting, in that they lived in the back
of their church building. Ben sat at the dinner table
on the sturdiest chair they could find, and he
listened to tales about Martin Waylon. There was a
plate full of food in front of him, and he was hungry,
but he didn't touch any of it.
"Martin was our youngest son," Carl's wife Rose
explained. "He was ... also the most troubled. He grew
up in a church household with the rest of the family,
but the faith didn't ... take with him. We're still
not sure why. He and our other two sons grew up and
led their own lives, but unlike Carl Jr. and Raymond,
Martin rarely devoted any time to helping us with our
mission down here."
Ben raised a craggy eyebrow. "Mission?"
"We originally hail from Uptown," Carl explained. "But
I and most of my family have been doing volunteer work
in Downtown for years. We recently moved down here
full time to give the locals more intensive attention
and supplies. But ... sadly, Martin had distanced
himself from us as soon as he could. We heard that
he'd joined the corporate military at one point; he
started sending us money for the mission. And
then...." Carl trailed off, emotion causing his voice
to break up.
Rose picked up the story as she massaged her husband's
shoulders. "And then, he returned to us after two
years. He'd changed in so many ways. He'd been on some
top-secret mission he never talked about -- he
couldn't legally talk about it, really. He had
prosthetic arms to replace his real ones. Whatever war
he was in had damaged them. He came back to us for
some peace of mind, to get his head together."
"But he couldn't bring himself to open up to us," Carl
agreed. "He had such a weight on his shoulders --
something he'd had to do that haunted him -- and he
could bring himself to let us lighten it. He was in a
deep depression, and we understood that -- wars change
people. But...." He paused, and took a breath. "I
guess he didn't ... understand that we
understood. We didn't judge him; it's not our place.
But pretty soon, he left. Said he didn't have a place
Rose walked to the kitchen sink, restlessness in her
body language as if she needed to keep her hands busy
as she talked about her son. "A little bit later we
found out he was going by the name 'Oldschool" or
something like that."
"'Oldskool' with a 'k'," Carl clarified.
"Yes, that. Anyway, he'd become a bounty hunter. We
tried getting in contact with him, but we never had
any luck. He'd completely cut himself off from us. The
next time we heard about him was when Stark-Fujikawa
shipped us his remains and personal effects."
Ben looked at the floor.
"You know, you haven't touched your food," Rose
pointed out. "You should eat something; you looked
kind of sickly when you showed up. Looks like you
don't have a lot of strength left."
"Probably a good thing," he muttered darkly.
"What does that mean?" Carl asked. "You've got to take
care of your health, son."
Abruptly, Ben looked up at the reverend. "'Son'? Your
son is dead, and I killed him! I crushed his
skull with my fists? Don't you get that? You invited
me into your home, an' you're tellin' me all about
your son, but don't you get it? I don't deserve any of
it! You should be glad I'm wastin' away!"
Carl held his gaze. "You told us you'd been
manipulated. That someone toyed with your mind. If you
weren't in control of your actions--"
"I was! Nobody told me to try to beat th' hell outta
Keith, but I did it anyway!"
"Again, you were manipulated, so you didn't know it
was Martin. It was an accident on your part, and a
ruse on Keith's. And you know that. It sounds as if
you haven't forgiven yourself for something you
couldn't control in the first place."
"I can't control my own strength!" As he shouted, Ben
stood up, knocking over the table and everything on
it. He then wobbled unsteadily on his feet, having
risen too quickly in his weakened state. "I can't ...
I can't control this body. Too strong ... not used to
Rose calmly picked up the broken dishes. "You're more
used to a ... human body? You had a human body as Ben
"I had one f'r five minutes. I'm his clone. But I got
bathed in cosmic radiation right from th' start, so
... I didn't get a chance t'get used t'bein' human."
"But you're not used to this body either."
He shook his head. "D'you have any idea what it's like
t'wake up fully grown, t'kill somebody when you're a
couple of days old?" He turned away from them, staring
at his hands. "This body's too dangerous. I'm
"To dangerous to live?" Carl inquired. "Is that what
Ben glanced sidelong at him, saying nothing.
"That's it, isn't it? You've completely given up on
yourself before you've even had a chance to
"Well, what'm I supposed t'do? Huh? You think I can
live like this? You think ... you think I wanna
live? Every hit I've taken so far ... every injury ...
I've walked away from!" He gestured at the ugly
pockmarked craters on the surface of his rocklike
armoring, where he'd been shot, stabbed, and clawed
at. "None of it's gotten through, an' I want it
to! What's it gonna take f'r all this to end?"
Sadness formed on the reverend's features as he
listened to this. "You don't sound to me like you're
as ready to die as you seem to think. I think what it
might take ... is a different perspective. A different
way of thinking."
Ben turned slightly to face him more directly.
"What're you ... oh. Religion. This is th' part where
you try to turn me toward Christianity. Not gonna
Carl seemed slightly amused. "Why not, if I may ask?"
"'Cause I'm Jewish. Or really, the first Ben Grimm
was. An' he was lapsed."
"And what about you?"
Ben thought about it. "No clue. Never seen the inside
of a synagogue or read the Torah." He tapped his
temple. "I think I got a little bit o'that knowledge
floatin' around in my head, but nothin' definite.
Still, if you're lookin' t'turn me over t'your
religion, keep dreamin'."
Carl stepped into the hallway, moving into the den
where he started rooting through his desk. "Have you
thought about getting in touch with your own
religion?" he called over his shoulder. "Judaism, I
mean? Perhaps if you explore your roots, it could
click with you in a way that it hadn't with the first
Ben. After all, you're not necessarily the same
person, are you?"
"I ... guess not," Ben replied slowly, uncertainly.
"Why? Know any rabbis around here I could get in touch
Carl walked back into the kitchen, carrying a stack of
minidisks in transparent plastic cases. "They've all
been chased off by the local gangs, such as the young
gentlemen you met earlier. But as it happens, I make
it a point to study all sorts of religions. See, while
my chosen faith is Christianity, it's always seemed to
me that religion is more about what people need.
Different approaches work for different people. So I
like to keep an open mind, and suggest different
things to troubles souls like yourself."
Ben gathered the stack in his arms and looked through
them. Each disk was labeled with a different religion:
Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Shinto, Buddhism, Hindu,
Scientology, and one marked "Misc.". "Looks like a
"That's an incomplete list, of course, but it should
point you in some kind of direction. Feel free to have
those; I have plenty more copies." Abruptly, he added,
"oh, and one more thing...." Rushing back to his
workspace in the den, he searched through a drawer and
returned a moment later with yet another encased
minidisk. "I almost forgot: you can have this as
The label read, "Martin". Astonished, Ben locked eyes
with the reverend.
"Pictures and info of my son's life. You could say
archiving information in digital format is a hobby of
mine. It helps me think things through, and in the
case of my son's death, it gave me a way to work
Genuinely touched by this, Ben stared at Carl, eyes
watering. "I ... I don't know what to say."
"Grimm, you're coming with us," a voice shouted behind
him. Ben turned to find Sergeant Harkness and his
SIEGE-armored squadmates standing in the doorway. "You
did not have permission to run off like that. Next
time you do that, you're gonna find yourself in deep
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Ben muttered, and turned to Carl
and Rose. "Guess my ride's here. Thanks. F'r puttin'
up with me. F'r everything."
"It was our pleasure, young man," Rose replied,
stepping forward and giving him a hug.
"You take care of yourself," Carl told him with a warm
smile and a pat on the shoulder. "Come back and visit
sometime if you can, and let me know what you thought
of all this reading material."
"While it's ultimately up to my superiors at
Stark-Fujikawa," Harkness informed them, "I can pretty
much guarantee he's not gonna set foot down here
Ben raised a heavy brow. "You really know how t'ruin a
moment, y'know that?"
"Let's get going." Harkness and his men ushered by out
of the Waylons' home, and out of the church itself.
"What's that you're carrying?" one of the officers
asked as they walked down Yancy Street toward the
organleggers' base of operations.
Ben glanced at the stack of minidisks in his arms.
"Aw, not much. Just some stuff on religion."
"Sounds like a waste of time to me," Harkness
Eyeing the sergeant with a bit of annoyance, Ben
harrumphed. "Didn't really expect you t'get it."
"Iíve got it."
Reed's announcement was laced with a tinge of
excitement that erased the fatigue he and the others
were experiencing. "I've figured out a way for us to
restore our strength levels."
"Y'mean besides snacking?" Johnny asked, scarfing down
a food ration one of the medics had offered him. He
was halfway though the third packet allotted to him.
"And are you gonna finish your rations?"
Reed picked up his own three rations -- untouched
until his point, and opened the first one, very
pointedly biting into it.
"Johnny, don't talk with your mouth full," Sue
"Nag, nag, nag," Johnny complained. "First it was about being glad my powers're gone, now this...."
"Yes, besides snacking," Reed answered after he
swallowed his first bite. "Food is a short term
solution; replenishing our cosmic energy reserves
requires returning to the Negative Zone, where the
ambient supply of it will sustain us."
Sue mulled this over. "So you're saying that we have
to go back to the Negative Zone to regain our strength
and keep it up?"
Reed nodded as he continued eating. "The original
Fantastic Four had received their powers when they'd
journeyed out to Earth's Van Allen radiation belt. But
they'd aged normally until then, and had been
fully-grown at the time of absorption. We, on the
other hand, had been rapidly aged from single cells to
our present adult forms in a short amount of time in
the containment unit, and we'd absorbed cosmic energy
from Negative Zone lightning in the meantime. As a
result, our development was different than the people
from whom we'd been cloned; I'd theorize that the way
our bodies react to cosmic radiation is different as
well." He handed a notepad full of scientific formulae
to Sue. "I believe we're intrinsically tied to the
Negative Zone in a way our progenitors weren't."
She skimmed it. "Is this supposed to prove your
theory? Because I can't make heads or tails of this."
She glanced up at Reed, frowning. "And anyway, this
cure for all that ails us is all well and good, but
it's not going to help Ben if we can't bring him back
with us." She shoved the notepad back into his hands.
"We need to find him, Reed. And I'm getting tired of
sitting around and letting the Watchdogs do it for
"We've found Grimm," one of the remaining Watchdogs
informed them, stepping forward. "Word just came in
over comm: The SIEGE boys have located him in a
church, and they're going to pick him up now. So it
shouldn't be too long."
She nodded at him, letting out a frustrated breath.
Her nerves were shot. "Thank you," she muttered.
"Told you so," Reed muttered serenely as he finished
his food ration; Sue scowled at him.
"Uh, guys?" Johnny piped up as he looked up at the
shadowed ceiling. "Anybody else feel like we're being
watched?" He pointed up at the rafters. "I could've
sworn I saw something move."
"Three possible matches found," a slightly garbled,
computerized voice spoke, issuing from the darkness.
"Merge and adapt. Merge and adapt."
Ben had to hand it to the SIEGE boys; they knew how to
adapt and take care of business. Shortly after they'd
left the Waylon's church, they encountered the six
Fenris gang members Ben had chased off earlier. Those
street toughs had brought all fifty of their friends.
Unfazed, Harkness and his men fired pellets of stun
gas into the crowd, sending the angry youths packing.
Ben himself didn't have to lift a finger. He wasn't
used to people fighting his battles for him, but he
supposed that may not have been the worst idea. It
wasn't that he didn't trust his own strength; he just
wasn't sure he had much strength left at this point.
"We're wasting time on foot," Harkness announced.
"Let's fly back to the others." He pointed to two of
his men. "Simmons, O'Malley: carry Grimm in the middle
of our formation."
In less than a minute, the five of them were airborne,
propelled by the rocket thrusters in their SIEGE
armor. Ben was being carried by two of them, and he
felt faintly ridiculous. At least they only had about
a block to go.
Their altitude over some of the shorter buildings
allowed them to see from a distance the organlegger's
building where Ben's teammates were camped out. A
sudden burst of flame seen through one of the windows
caught Ben's attention, and his first assumption was
that Johnny was flaming on. Yet as they neared the
building, the burning figure inside caused a roaring
inferno that caused the building's occupants to
quickly evacuate. And Johnny was one of them; he
wasn't in Human Torch mode.
"Battle configurations, people," Harkness declared,
watching the burning figure exit the building. Within
the bright aura of flame, a vaguely feminine figure
was visible ... a figure that suddenly stretched
itself. "We've got a situation."
"You can say that again, pal," Ben replied, wrenching
himself free of Simmons and O'Malley's grasps, falling
the rest of the way toward the ground. He landed on
the burning figure, bouncing off of its pliable body
before hitting the ground and rolling across the
concrete a few times. "Miss me?" he asked his
"Ben!" Sue shouted, sprinting to him and hugging him
quickly, even though his rocky hide was still hot. "We
were worried about you--"
"Worry about this joker when we're done with 'im," he
replied, jerking a thumb at the burning, stretching
figure. "What is that thing, anyway?"
"We're still compiling data on that," Reed answered,
"though it appears to possess our powers. Perhaps this
is Ian Hyde or one of his scientists."
Ben shrugged and cracked his knuckles. He still didn't
quite feel up to fighting shape, but at this point he
didn't care. "So what're we waitin' for? Let's ask
The burning creature flared even brighter in response.
The burning building could be seen for blocks. Similar
fires were a common occurrence in Downtown, though it
was rare when anyone actually put one out. There was
no standing fire department, and the Watchdogs only
deigned to assist when the property owners had their
accounts paid up. Some Watchdogs were even known to
cause the fires.
The silver-clad vigilante known as Moon Knight was
relatively new to Downtown, and he'd only been its
unofficial protector for a matter of weeks, but in his
limited experience he was already finding all this to
be true. He'd intervened in four building fires, put
out two of them (once he figured out how the archaic
fire hydrants worked), rescued ten people and three
pets, and bludgeoned eight pyromaniac Watchdogs. It
kept him busy.
His first assumption was that -- given the large
amount of Stark-Fujikawa vehicles and personnel
positioned outside the building -- this was another
Watchdog fire. But the presence of a being composed of
fire punched a hole in that theory fairly quickly.
Then the arrival of a large rocklike being and a
quartet of armored Watchdogs made the situation even
He sighed. This was going to be a long night....
"We had such a long night," Johnny reported to their friend Shandra Willis as soon as he, his teammates, and Harkness'
SIEGE officers vacated Hikaru's conference room.
They'd returned after several hours in Downtown, and
they'd spent another hour in debriefing. As soon as he
saw her, Johnny had launched into his own account:
"first we were lab rats, then we weren't lab rats,
then Ben went missing, then this crazy thing calling
itself Flipside showed up, then Ben came back, and
this weirdo named Moon Guy--"
"I'm not in the mood, Johnny," Shandra shot back as
she moved off the hallway wall. She'd leaned against
it waiting for them, and as the group progressed
toward the elevator to take them to the Homegate room,
she fell in step with them. "Let's just get out of
here. We've got stuff to do at Station 4." Her posture
was rod-straight, and her boot heels clattered loudly
on the floor, echoing through the hall in time with
"Damn, what's eating her," she heard Johnny mutter.
"I don't think this is the time to ask," Sue whispered
Shandra refused to pay them much attention; it was all
she could do to keep her composure after all she'd
discovered about her longtime friends in a short
period of time. People she trusted. People she loved.
The M04 scientists, her close friends at Stark-Fuji,
had gone crazy. She'd befriended and loved them, and
even courted one of them ... but now that their
illicit and sadistic activities were exposed, and she
doubted she'd ever really known them. Even the times
they'd hung out together, laughing and talking about
nothing and everything under the sun, had taken on an
ugly new dimension. As had her former relationship
with Christi Wood....
The Hotwire Martyrs, her former gang and former
family, were dead. Zero, Phrack, 2800, Warewolf ...
all murdered months ago by a rival gang over stolen
corporate data. They'd raised her, taught her how to
survive on the streets of Transverse City, and even
taught her how to hack into the most secured databases
in the world.
She'd taken that knowledge and stolen data about the
Negative Zone from Stark-Fujikawa before leaving
Transverse. Now she was working for the corporation,
and she'd just discovered that Hikaru knew about her
Which led to her making a very disturbing deal with
"Shandra?" Sue's voice interrupted her thoughts. "Are
Shandra shook her head, looking around. She realized
she'd been so preoccupied that she'd practically
sleepwalked through the rest of the trip to the
Homegate portal, including the elevator ride. Now the
portal was stretched out before her, a thin energy
membrane of swirling particles and colors in seemingly
random patterns. She normally enjoyed trips through
the portal into the Negative Zone, but at this moment
she couldn't bring herself to care. She just wanted to
go home, go to sleep, and hope the events of the past
24 hours would turn out to be a simple nightmare.
She crossed the threshold, hoping all the horror and
misery would stay on the other side of the gleaming
vortex. She had no intention of ever coming back.
Discuss This Issue.
Well. That was an unusual issue, wasn't it?
For those of you wondering, the villain briefly glimpsed in this issue is in fact Flipside, a shapeshifting simulacrum first created in the 20th century to mimic superheroes. The full story of the Fantastic Four's encounter with Flipside (and their teamup with Moon Knight 2099) is a tale for another time, I promise.
Meantime, onto the lettercol! Take it away, Rena:
Okay, first it was a long wait, and the stuff I've been looking forward to, Yancy Street, an encounter with Old Skool's grieving relatives and the continuation of the big New Years Eve shocker with Ben and Sue are still to wait for. Even so it was a good issue. Almost a little bit more of a 2099 story than an FF story I think, but I enjoyed it.
Thanks! I hope I've managed to wrap up the Downtown storyline nicely (well, except for the stuff with Flipside and Moon Knight, of course), and set Ben on the direction that leads to the story in the 2099: New Year's Eve Special, in which he studies Judaism and develops a romance with Sue.
The 2099 world is like a cool What If? universe that one would want to explore thoroughly in multiple ongoing series. And to explore it with familiar characters like the FF is definitely one good route to go. Even though they're clones, of all the FF series out there again I will say I think you represent them better than anybody else has.
Yeah, these past few issues have been a look into 2099 as much as they've been a look at the characters, in that 2099 is the environment to which characters react and develop. The character growth for the FF clones is primarily a study on nature vs. nurture, so consider 2099 a very harsh 'nurture' environment for them.
Johnny at the end there however, I don't know, he might have been just a little too flippant? Or maybe not, with how he is and everything being so whacked. It's just how it kinda struck me. I think like all of them, his personality can be easily exaggerated beyond what it is if one is not careful. Not saying you did that.
It's a fair statement to make. But the stuff I've been doing with Johnny is building toward an evolution of his character that's different from the twencen Johnny's, kind of like I've been doing most noticeably with Ben. Stay tuned.
Sergeant Harkness, I highly doubt it, but could he be any relation to Agatha? Just because of the name, and in an FF title, she just naturally comes to mind to me.
There's no known relation between Agatha and the Sergeant. I was just amused by the idea of the FF 2099 being "babysat" by SIEGE Watchdogs, so it seemed natural to give him the last name of one of Franklin's twencen babysitters.
And while the FF is on earth will they run into anybody like Miguel or Moon Knight or the X-Men? Either in their own title or guest-starring in one of their series? Could the new Frightful scientists show up in other titles too as villains later on? Maybe Hikaru sends the Hand after them in UGR Unlimited?
Funny you should mention Moon Knight. :)
There's a lot of interesting stuff you set up in the Negative Zone to be gotten back to, and stuff at the same time that could happen on earth that I really wish you were able to write faster than you do and put this FF title out monthly. I like Blade a lot, but if it meant getting out the FF much more I could live with less of him.
--Rena, via e-mail
So far bimonthly has worked out the best for this title, Rena. Hope you don't mind too much!
--David Ellis, 05.21.06