Old Ventures 2, Ch. 19

Nineteen, Goethe, Germany, 4/11/45

Jack could hear three things, the clatter of the rain on the metal rooftops of the camp, the rattle of thunder not nearly far enough off, and the clamber of his own heartbeat. He couldn’t hear Fleming over the cacophony, and couldn’t wait any longer. “Point the direction!” Jack yelled, and Fleming threw his finger into the wind, west by northwest, and Jack burst off. After less than a quarter mile he finally heard the bursts of gunfire breaking through the sounds of the storm, better than any cardinal direction.

The fighting was taking place inside a quarry, where most of the stones used to build the various camp structures had been ripped from the ground. Jack imagined Heshell overseeing the work, standing at the edge of the pit in the earth. Lightning rent the sky, backlighting a German sniper in the same spot. He was facing away from Jack, lining up a shot at some poor American sap inside the quarry.

Jack raised his sidearm and fired several times without slowing. His shots were wild because of his gait, but two from the magazine struck the Nazi in the rib and shoulder, sending him spinning, his own shot firing harmlessly into the sky.

Jack was upon him before he fell, and delivered a haymaker to him, snatching his rifle as the blow  sent him hurtling into a pile of rock below.

Jack used the rifle’s scope to survey the battlefield beneath him. A dozen Americans were trapped among the rocks, trying to advance but having difficulties because of the varied and unpredictable terrain. The Germans had better positions on the opposite side of the canyon, with cover, though curiously, they didn’t seem to be using it.

Jack watched a shot strike one of the Germans, twisting him halfway around. He spun back, grinning madly as he advanced. “What the hell?” Jack asked. He steadied his aim against a rock, and put a bullet into the German. It struck him in the stomach, doubling him over, but an instant later the German was standing up straight again, grinning.

“Your rifle won’t work,” Jack heard a voice over his shoulder. He spun, swinging the bayonet on the tip of the rifle menacingly. “On them,” the voice said, again from behind him, “it might on me, and I’d prefer not to test that theory.” Jack frowned. The voice was speaking in Hebrew, but for some reason he’d only just realized it.

“Explain yourself. And while you’re at it, show yourself.”

“Very well,” an elderly man unfurled a cloak where an instant before there had been only the wet, shiny blackness of the camp.

“Who are you?”

“I’d prefer to make introductions while people aren’t being slaughtered by Nazis.”

“Fine. Tell me what I need to do.” 

“They’re protected, using the same magic that safeguarded Balder from everything but holly.”

“So I need to kill them with holly?”

“No. Any weapon not made of lead should suffice.”

“They’re protected from bullets?”

“At great expense, yes. I’d wager the spellcraft costs as much for one of them as the entire series of trials that led to your miraculous change.”

Jack looked again down the scope. The German was advancing still, crossing the open ground at the foot of the quarry. A hail of American gunfire buffeted him, but with each shot that bounded off him, his grin grew wider and more unhinged. “That isn’t just a bulletproof Nazi,” Jack said.

“They’re berserkir, Odin’s bear-skin warriors; it’s magic-induced Norse battle-madness,” he said. “These spells are strong, beyond anything I could counter in a timely fashion, all cast by that very large, shirtless seiðmenn.” A man two heads taller than the rest of the Germans stood up. His torso was covered in tattoos, the largest of which was a swastika bisecting his torso twice. Lightning cleaved the sky, shattering a rock several Americans were hiding behind, sending scorched stone shrapnel flying with the violence of bullets in every direction. In his hand he clutched an ancient-looking hammer. “Embedded in the wood is a sliver said to have chipped off Mjolnir itself when Thor struck the world serpent, granting the wielder some fraction of the powers of the Norse god himself.”

“It isn’t an accident that they’re here, is it?”

“Nor I. They have been deployed several times in theaters where you were expected to make an appearance. This is merely the first time you’ve managed to find each other through the fog of war.”

“Let’s go, then,” Jack said.

“You misunderstand me,” the old man said. “I can’t help you. In this fight, my magics would be little more than a momentary distraction. But I can protect you from the lightning.”

“I’ll take what I can get,” Jack said, and started down the rocky hill. Chipped stone began to slide in his wake, nearly taking him off his feet. That gave Jack an idea. He took a grenade off his belt, pulled the pin and let it cook for a moment; he needed it to explode the moment it impacted. He threw the grenade near the far edge of the quarry. Its walls were lined with stones of increasing size the further down the hill you moved.

The grenade’s explosion was lost in another strike of lightning, this one hitting within a few feet of Jack. He spun towards the big Nazi with the hammer; he dragged the weapon across his throat and then shook it at Jack.

Rocks slid in the wake of Jack’s grenade, smaller rocks knocking larger rocks, cascading into an avalanche that swallowed most of the berserkirs. Lightning again struck near Jack, scorching a large bolder. Jack glanced back at the old man atop the hill, but he wasn’t there.

Jack positioned himself under a boulder that weighed as much as two of him, pressed against the rocky wall, and coiled, before springing the boulder into motion. It bounded onto the quarry floor, bowling over one of the berserkirs.

Jack bounded after the rolling stone, landing at the floor of the quarry and rolling. He sprang from the ground, spearing another Nazi in the ribs, and threw him into the dirt. Another berserkir approached Jack from behind, but the seiðmenn raised his hand. “The Jude is mine,” he said.

He and Jack circled one another, with every step Jack trying to cut the distance between them. Closer up, Jack could tell the seiðmenn was missing an eye. He knew his norse mythology well enough to know the significance.

Rain made the quarry floor slick, made it hard for either man to keep his eyes open. Jack wiped a sheet of rainwater from his forehead, smoothing his hair back off his face at the same time. The seiðmenn threw back his head and laughed, then kept his mouth open to catch the rain. “My gods provide,” he bellowed. “Give me strength. Give me sustenance. Give me you.”

“I think that means your god doesn’t like you very much,” Jack said, kicking a ball of mud at the  seiðmenn; it splattered roughly against his bare chest, a chest every inch of which was covered either in Nazi symbols or seiðer runes. The seiðmenn held out his hammer in his outstretched hand, and lightning struck the ground beneath Jack’s feet. “That your god’s forsaken you. That you’re losing your religion, and maybe your other eye, if you don’t surrender now.”

“I would rather forsake my gods, than surrender to a Jude like you.”  

“Any particular god you prefer, when I’m sprinkling your ashes?”

The seiðmenn didn’t respond, only slashed his hammer at Jack. The hammer’s face was a raised square, tapering to a larger base, like a pyramid with its top lopped off, and the edges were sharp enough to slice through Jack’s sleave, and break his skin. “First blood,” Jack said.

“Hardly,” the seiðmenn said, staring at his hammer with a religious adoration, “Magni has bathed in blood of the Juden, and will quaf yours in time.”

Jack knelt down, and picked up a jagged, soft-ball sized stone. He feinted with the rock, leading the seiðmenn to swing wide with the hammer in response. Jack stepped into his swing, blocking the blow at the seiðmenn’s wrist, then brought the rock down in the middle of his forearm. The arm tensed, but still he held the weapon. Jack took hold of his wrist and twisted, nearly tearing it out of its socket, then struck his forearm again with the stone, causing it to snap loud enough to be heard over the rain. The seiðmenn dropped the hammer, yelping as his arm went limp beneath the break.

The seiðmenn lunged at Jack, hitting him in the chin with his shoulder, and Jack stumbled backwards. The German leapt for the hammer, hefting it in his opposite arm as he rolled into a crouch. Jack loosed his stone, and it knocked the seiðmenn onto his back.

Jack pounced, landing knees-first in the German’s chest, following quickly with a punch to the seiðmenn’s jaw. He seized the hammer at the grip, and tore it from the German, throwing it behind him.

The German screamed, landing a haymaker with his left hand that knocked Jack off him. He clambered to his feet, scanning desperately in the dark for the hammer. “You’re going to have to finish this man to man,” Jack said, squaring towards him.

The German howled, swinging wide like the swipe of a bear. Jack ducked beneath the blow, and seized the seiðmenn and lifted him at the waist. The seiðmenn made a fist, but Jack shook him like a rag doll, and he couldn’t get enough leverage to put any real strength into a punch. Jack squeezed until he felt the German’s back dislocate, and dropped him into the dirt.

In the mud, the seiðmenn spied his hammer, and started to crawl towards it. Jack stomped on his forearm, dropped his knee into the German’s face and then delivered several more punches into the German’s head. His breathe bubbled up through the mud, and Jack stood up, letting him pull his head out of the soil with a gasp.   Jack lifted the hammer, and hung it off his belt. Then he looked to the seiðmenn, his blood mixing with the mud and said, “Master race my Jewish ass.”

Pitchmas 2020, Bonus: Gwenpool

We start in on  Duckman – I mean Howard the Duck- during his stint as a PI. He’s narrating, and the dame that waltzes in is Black Cat (though we can always sub someone else in, if her rights are tied up with Sony… maybe Madame Hydra or Elektra?). She’s looking for someone who stole something dangerous from her, but before she did that, this previously unknown and clearly unhinged person dropped a safe on her inside man in the NYPD. We get a flashback, on top of an NYC roof over Black Cat’s shoulder. She’s conducting some shady midnight business with three robed figures, when Gwenpool drives a big bike up a flight of stairs, stabbing Black Cat’s triggerman through the hand and taking his gun, and firing wildly, before snatching what Cat was offering to the robed figures. Gwenpool drives off the other side of the roof, and the camera follows her down. She wonders aloud how she’ll survive this, before landing in the back of a truck, sending feathers flying. “A pillow truck,” she says with a laugh, “Classic!” We hear quacking and the driver yelling about his ducks as we cut back to Howard’s office.

The Black Cat tells him the assailant wasn’t finished with her henchman, that the next day she stopped him on the street, standing over a big chalk X. She wanted to make sure he was who she thought, before dropping the safe on him. We cut back to Howard’s office, and can see he’s anxious, and we pan down and can see why- he’s got a pistol pointed at his crotch. The rest of the scene plays differently; now that we understand Howard is compromised, his questions of his femme fatale have a different spin, and we recognize his loyalties are at least somewhat up in the air until she exits. That’s when Howard rolls back his chair and Gwenpool stands up.

She tells him she figured the femme fatale would pursue her to get the item back, which is why she attacked her henchman- and figured that attack would send her looking for a less likely option, which she pegged as being Howard. He was, until that moment, pacing, doing the noir detective thing, but spins around, as he realizes what she means. He sees she’s aiming her gun at him, and dives for the window, making it out as shots hit the frame.

Howard lands hard in a puddle, flopping around before scrambling to his feet and running, as gunfire rains down around him. Gwen lands impressively in the puddle, before yelling to him, while firing, “No one stays dead for long in the comics; comic movies are the same. Even Bucky wasn’t dead for more than half a movie. And maybe you’ll get your own adult cartoon on Hulu like M.O.D.O.K.”

Gwen’s going to begin to narrate, so we barely hear Howard squawk, “Why would anyone want to watch cartoon M.O.D.O.K. screw?”

“Okay, so… I’m not from around here. I’m from…” we fade to black, and do “Five years earlier.” And after a beat, add, “And in our world.” Gwen narrates, “Yeah, the real world, the one where the MCU is something we watch on the big screen.”

Gwen is nerding out with her friend in a movie theater. They’re psyched they’ve got good seats for the midnight opening of End Game as they make their way to their seats. Gwen is excited to have resolution for Peter, and gushes over Tom Holland. Her friend thinks she has a crush. She says it isn’t sexual; he’s almost a teddy bear, that you want to hold him and tell him the Spider-Man thing will totally work out. Of course, the friend points out, it doesn’t. Gwen says still, she’ll track down Kevin Fiege if he lets anything happen to her precious Spider-Tom.

We cut a little later in the movie. Gwen is shifting uncomfortably in her seat, and tries to take a drink from her soda, which is almost as big as she is, and realizes it’s empty… and then realizes where all of that fluid went. She runs, full-speed, to the bathroom. We see her kick her way triumphantly out of a stall, glance at the sinks, and run out, again at full speed, and her hear saying Captain America would understand this is no time for hand-washing. She runs at full-speed into the theater, which is engulfed in light, only to come skidding out of the portal Captain America disappeared in.

She hides, and sees an older Captain America give Sam the shield, nerding harder still.

We cut back to the alley, where Gwen is chasing after Howard. She tackles him, and they talk for a moment, him mocking her outfit. She tells him she needs the outfit.

We see another flashback, her wearing what she was in the theater, as she’s walking through New York. The Fantastic Four fly overhead, and she grins, big and wide. She makes eye contact with a cute guy who’s also staring adoringly up. A Doombot lands on him, splattering him. Gwen’s mouth drops open, and she runs, full-speed, into a costume shop, specifically Big Ronnie’s Custom Battle Spandex. She explains that she needs a costume, that if you have one, you’re a character, but if you’re not wearing one, you’re collateral. A stone gargoyle lands on a taxi driving by outside, crushing the driver and his fair. The seamstress, who seems mad in her own way, sews her something ridiculous (but also kind of rad).

We cut back to Howard and her talking in the alley, or, rather, Howard has slunk away while she’s remembering, and is more convinced than every she’s out of her gourd. Gwen reveals that she sold the bioweapon to Hydra, which seemed the thing to do with it, but it’s no big, because they Avengers will handle it.

Howard dials the Avengers hotline to find that the Avengers are currently in space aiding the Guardians of the Galaxy. Then he convinces Gwen they’ll have to get it back. She takes him to her tailor, who sews him a black variant of her costume; she continues to refer to him as her sidekick, to his chagrin. Inside, Gwen’s knowledge fails, when she misidentifies the bad guy running the lab. She’s unable to beat her in hand to hand combat, but as a last-ditch effort injects herself with the virus, knowing there’s an antidote. The villainess gives it to her, before she kills them all.

Howard gives her a little pep-talk, which makes her feel good, until she realizes she’s broke and homeless as she walks the streets of New York. So she goes to the only other person in the city she knows, her tailor. Ronnie likes her insanity- likening it to some of the biggest mad villains around, like “the Green Gob-” Gwen interrupts her to tell her they don’t have the rights to Norman Osborne, unless Disney bought Sony since she fell into the MCU. Ronnie laughs- she has no idea what Gwen’s saying most of the time, but she has the stuff of greatness. Gwen says she lacks the stuff of hot dugs and bedsheets. Ronnie offers an advance on her first job, including a line on an apartment.

Gwen ends up going to a bank. She figures there’s got to be a reasonable loan program in the MCU to help up-and-coming heroes build their first set of rocket boots, or at least afford a kebab. Things aren’t going well when a five men in ridiculous animal masks come in to rob the place. Using the remains of the guns Ronnie loaned her, Gwen stops the robbers. However, the cops start shooting at her, and she manages to scramble out the back door, and finds the car the cops arrived in still running out front, with one of the perps, Cecil, handcuffed in the backseat. Gwen steals the car and drives off. The terrified perp and her talk as she flees. They agree to help each other- him as her logistical support. He agrees to introduce her to the person who set him up with his last job- which had not mentioned it involved five morons robbing a bank.

It turns out his contact is Gwenpool’s seamstress, Ronnie, who has a side-hustle in farming out merc jobs. She tries to set Gwen up on a cake walk job, since she’s learning the ropes. Gwen insists on taking the hard case, the one Ronnie won’t even show her, it’s so dangerous. Gwen tries to convince her that the only way she stays alive is if she stays interesting- the moment she stops putting butts in seats- or asks Disney for too much money- she might as well walk into New York traffic. Reluctantly, Gwen agrees to a compromise, middle-tier job, and Ronnie offers to make her tea to cheer her up. She returns a moment later (she’s got an insta-hot, because we don’t have all the time in the world to wait for boiling water, damnit), and her smile drops- as does her tea cup. Gwen is gone, as is the fancy hard job Ronnie denied her. Ronnie mumbles that the girl is going to get all of them both killed.

We cut to an alien-looking ship on the harbor. We pan past terrifyingly looking alien squid men, before realizing they’re corpses, a liberal amount of black-green alien blood spattered around the walls. Gwen is sneaking through the bowels of the dark ship, and momentarily we think, “Maybe she did this.” She hears something behind her in the shadows, and spins, slicing at the darkness with a sword. It’s subtle, but it was already dying when she slashed it, but it falls, too.

She continues talking to Cecil as she walks through the carnage, and we start to realize she’s not the reason for all the dead aliens, and is in way over her head- something Cecil grasps and is trying to talk her into running, but which she’s certain she can’t accept. She comes upon an A.I.M. assassin interrogating one of the squid monsters in front of a big open burner. Eventually, he thanks the Teuthidan for the price on his head, as well as all of the fabulous alien tech he’ll be claiming, and cuts his head off.

Gwen tells Cecil she’s about to handle it. She runs up to the assassin and shoves him into the furnace, before saying, “I wonder who he was.” We cut to Ronnie, bent over her sewing machine. She gets a text from Gwen, a selfie of her with the decapitated head of the Teuthidan with a sword sticking out of it.

We cut to Gwen in soaking in a tub in her costume (too be fair, it probably reeks of dead space calamari). Cecil is in the adjoined room, talking to her about the news- that the calamari were apparently intergalactic arms dealers. She tells him they’re blowing up as her phone rings once again. Cecil worries that will change when they find out she didn’t take out the Teuthidans- and he worries that if she had remote support, the assassin could have, too.

The news broadcast cuts to a harangued and angry Captain Samerica. Sam’s annoyed, and barks back, “We were in space, making sure the Shiar didn’t send their Imperial Guard to scour Earth looking for a Phoenix Egg. They don’t search the haystack, the burn it and sift through the ashes.”  

Gwen talks out loud about whether or not she should try and join the Avengers, how Captain Oldmerica wouldn’t work with a merc, but Sam’s from the modern military- contractors are integrated into the service. Come on,” she says, ribbing Cecil, “Gwenpool, Avenger”.

The wall the TV as hung on disappears in a fiery explosion. M.O.D.O.K. arrives (I’d have Patton Oswalt do the role in live action/CG, because that casting is about perfect). He tells her she killed his best henchman, and that means she’s better- and will take his place, otherwise there will be consequences. Gwen actually laughs out loud, because he’s M.O.D.O.K.- M.O.D.O.K. is threatening her. M.O.D.O.K. vaporizes Cecil, and she collapses to the ground, defeated. She narrates, that she thought she was a hero, but it turns out, she’s just a henchman.

The rest of the series is Gwen working with M.O.D.O.K.’s elite team, while trying to figure out a way out. In the books Batroc the Leaper is the putative leader of the team, and also becomes her trainer after figuring out she has absolutely no useful skills whatsoever; you could just as easily replace him with any number of mid-tier merc/villain characters- Taskmaster’s a good option, if he survives the Black Widow movie.

She doesn’t exist in the MCU, on paper, so she can’t be put on M.O.D.O.K.’s payroll, which leads her to track down Dr. Strange and try to get his help. He’s annoyed to be interrupted, but intrigued when at a glance he can tell she truly doesn’t belong there. He’s able to pull her existence out of our Earth, and put it in theirs, creating the trail she needs to live there. He also helps her be able to contact Cecil.

Shortly thereafter, M.O.D.O.K. does the predictable and tries to kill Gwen. By now she’s bought enough high-tech doodads, including a shield, to survive the fight, even give him a brief run for his money. In desperation, she uses Cecil’s skull, which brings him back as a ghost, and he’s able to use the fact that he’s a ghost but also a tech wizard to compromise M.O.D.O.K.’s systems and send him into the atmosphere, before making him eject his fuel, leaving him floating in orbit. It… probably would make more sense to have Gwen’s team aid in defeating M.O.D.O.K., even though they’re sidelined early, since the resolution is all of them deciding to leave A.I.M. and strike out as a for-hire merc team.

Old Ventures 2, Ch. 18

Eighteen, Baghdad

“Would you tell Beethoven to compose faster?” Ian asked from the other side of the cracked bathroom door. 

“He wouldn’t hear you if you did,” Jalal said. “Though I imagine if his family were the ones under threat, he would be moving as swiftly as humanly possible.”

Ian emerged, buttoning a freshly pressed shirt under a clean jacket.

“You changed?” Jack asked. “Where were you hiding that?”

“It’s my apartment,” Ian said.

“Exactly how many apartments do you keep?”

“You don’t really want to know the answer to that.”

“How do you afford the rent?”

“I have… arrangements.”

“You’re sleeping with all your landlady’s? Though that may raise more questions, like how you have the time for all of that.”

“Some, on occasion, though that’s none of your concern. No, they rent the rooms out as hostels when I’m not using them; it was Air BnB before it existed. And we had moment. It’s a lot of data to comb through. Hugh gave me access to some of his server farms to help crunch it faster, but it’s still… there. We have it. Done.”

A heat map of the city and the surrounding ten kilometers began to form across Ian’s screen. “Ten men visited the apartment while you were captive. Um, twelve, actually, if you count these two food delivery men. I colored them in yellow, so we could visually distinguish them, and from their patterns, I feel it safe to say that they weren’t co-conspirators. The five where you were held congregated there, only leaving temporarily for food, or in Umar’s case, what would appear to be a twice weekly booty call. After capturing you, about half of your guards went to a separate location, one frequented by these other five gentlemen, who at one point or another visited you. Comparing all of their movements, you get a third location, in the north of the city, here. All the red indicates hours of time spent in that location, the darkness of the red indicating it wasn’t simply one man but multiple men at any given moment. We’re all but guaranteed to find someone there, and if it isn’t your family they’re holding, they may well know where they are.”

“Good,” Jalal said, and tucked a gun into the back of his pants, “let’s go.”

“There’s no us, here,” Ian said, “implied or otherwise. He stays put.”

“How would you feel?” Jack asked. “If it were Angela? Or India?”

“I’d expect either woman to have broken free before we made it across town.”

“But there’s no way you’d sit it out.”

“No,” Ian said. “Fine. I do owe you one. But I’ll tell you what I’ve always told Jack in similar situations: the mission is paramount. If a moment arrives, where I can only save you or your family, I will save them, and leave you to swing. Understand?”

“I’d be upset if you did otherwise. They are in peril because of me.”

“Even still, you follow Jack’s lead. He’s survived more of these than the SWAT teams of some mid-sized states. Failing that, you follow mine.”

Jalal drove, because he knew the city better. Ian was following along with the map as he remembered it, only to become concerned. “You missed the turn,” he said.

“Yes,” Jalal said, “because I know the insurgents who took me. Who they know, who they share secrets with. If we approached straight, we would have been seen, and if seen, they would know to expect us, maybe even to kill my family.”

“Okay,” Ian said, and sat back in his seat. He thumbed the safety off the pistol in his jacket, just in case.

“Anything you can tell us about them?” Jack asked from the front passenger’s seat.

“Insurgents, definitely, men used to the heft and use of weapons. But not formal military, especially no special forces or specialty training; they made lots of little tactical errors.”

“Such as?”

“The ropes. I wriggled out of them the first night, but I didn’t leave, because they had my family, and I needed to find them, first. They left me conscious to take me to the hideout; even if you hadn’t rescued me, I could have followed their path to their safehouse- a direct path.”

“Okay,” Jack said. “I’m convinced.”

“Not well armed. Largest ordinance I ever saw was Kalishnikovs.”

“Which likely means independent operators,” Ian offered, “either local thugs or spin-offs from one of the true believer sects who saw an opportunity to poach money from America. And I’d given even odds they planned to keep the money for themselves, not the cause.”

“Agreed,” Jalal said. “These were not what you would call observant men, religiously or otherwise.”

“Crap,” Jack said, glancing down at Ian’s tablet.

“Crap?” Jalal asked.

“That’s our destination.” It was a large manufacturing complex, constructed mostly of brick, no windows until you got thirty feet into the air. “No easy ingress, no opportunity for sniper cover.”

“It’s the kind of building I’d hold up in,” Ian said. “Which is bad for us, doubly so. Because it means they aren’t all the intellectually lazy criminals we’ve encountered thusfar. There’s a mastermind, someone not entirely stupid.”

“I think I see an opening,” Jack said, and opened his phone. “See that sign?” he asked.

“The building is for sale,” Jalal said, but it was almost a question.

“And no one would stage a hostage situation in a building they’re trying to sell,” Ian said, smiling.

“Hugh?” Jack asked, putting the phone on speaker.


“I need you to buy a building for me. And then I need you to demolish a wall for me.”

“Can you give me five minutes? One of those rockets they fired at you did a number on me.”    

“They fired rockets at us?” Jalal asked.

“What kind?” Ian asked.

“There were a dozen. I didn’t have time to get make and model off them,” Hugh sanpped.

“I mean, what quality. Old Soviet surplus as likely to cook off as to fire? Newer, but still black market arms?”

“The one that had my number was modern, high-tech. Probably American, but maybe a high-quality knock-off.”

“That solves that mystery,” Ian said, rubbing the bridge of his nose. “The henchmen aren’t military, but our mastermind is, or at least has some pull with the Iraqi military. This could get complicated.”

“You still going to need me on site?” Hugh asked. “More now, than ever.”

Pitchmas 2020, Part 12: The Sentry

This is it, the season finale of Pitchmas 2020. I’ll still be working on Old Ventures, and Pitchgiving 2021 will likely start September 24th. I’ve been going back and forth on other projects, and what specifically I’ll be pitching then, though the crashing and burning of the Snyder Cut likely means that projects pitched at continuing that continuity are likely out of the running.

The Sentry

This is a big one, like, you could and should hype this as the biggest Marvel TV project, ever. It would cost a fortune, but done right I think would meld prestige TV with superhero cinema.

1. “All That’s Gold Is Gone” or perhaps “Whatever Happened To The Golden Guardian?”:  We start on Robert Reynolds, in bed with his wife, startled awake by a storm- but he doesn’t buy that it’s a freak storm, it drives a terror through him that at first he can’t put his finger on. The episode should be filled with building dread. The tension becomes too great, and Bob reaches for a bottle in its hiding place. There are two, and as he reaches for the one, his hand shakes violently. So he takes a swig from the other, normal booze. He pours a little into the cap of the bottle for his faithful dog to lap up, then tries to polish off the rest, but the bottle’s empty. He returns to the other bottle, and this time he powers through the shakes, and an image of him in a cheap, hand-sewn costume flashes in his mind and over the screen just as lightning strikes outside.

This time he isn’t consumed with nameless worry, this time he knows. He calls his dog Watchdog, and scans the horizon as lightning strikes again, and says they must be vigilant, because they’re humanity’s only hope if the Void returns. Bob’s hand shakes violently as he uncorks the bottle, but then recorks it, and tells the dog they have to be vigilant.

Only this time the dog talks back, and mocks his “vigilance.” We see the dog engulfed in shadow, with black tendrils snaking out from them and snapping at the air like a scorpion’s stinger. Throughout this first episode even Robert can’t be sure if he’s nuts or not, even as he fights his dog, who he thinks is being controlled by the Void to attack him, then has to explain to his wife why he hurt the dog, when its yelp jars her from her sleep.

She sees the bottle on the floor, and scolds him for drinking, and for taking his frustration out on the dog. She says she’s been thinking, for a while, now, about staying at her sister’s, and says she’s going to take the dog. “Okay” is the only answer he can mumble. He talks to himself after she’s gone, trying to make sense of the fact that no one- not even his wife – remembers the Sentry. But he knows he isn’t crazy. He can’t be. He reaches deep into the back of their closet, and for a moment he doesn’t find what he’s looking for, and doubts, but then his hand alights on and pushes aside a panel, and retrieves the costume we saw in the flash earlier.

I think we spend the first episode gaslighting Robert and, vicariously, the audience, trying to convince him that there is no Sentry, there never was a Sentry, and it’s crazy to think there ever could have been a hero who knew and was loved by the entire hero community, who had the power of a million exploding suns and saved the world as many times.

Subtly, his costume shifts over the course of the next few episodes, from the clearly home-made one he first digs out of his closet, until it’s the impressive comics-accurate one he’ll wear for the rest of the series. It still looks like a piece of crap, however, when we see Robert climbing up to the top of a crane on top of high building in New York City, his cape billowed by the wind. As we pan out, we can see a gigantic “4” atop the tower- that’s right, Bob is pretending to fly on top of the Baxter Building. A strong wind kicks up, and he rocks a little bit, but is able to hold his balance- until a pigeon flies into his face, flapping its wings, and he starts to fall, and we cut to credits.  

2. After the first episode, we take a kind of a hybrid approach, as Robert begins to remember his previous exploits with the heroes and confront them, and they start to question whether or not they really do know him, and if they do why they forced themselves to forget; each would combine elements from the mainline Sentry miniseries with the spin-off books. The episodes would be titled to foreshadow who was going to be featured, so the first guest episode, would be “Fantastic Friends,” where Robert confronts Reed. It picks up right where we left off, with Robert catching the crane, then pulling himself back up. Reed is there an instant later, curious how he got past his security.

Bob tells Reed that Reed was at his wedding, and Reed finds the unicorn Bob mentioned that he gave him, as well as a tape from the wedding. Meanwhile, Robert, still unsure whether or not he’s nuts, reminisces about his exploits with the Four, and how Reed really was his best friend… until he betrayed him. Reed is confronted by Dr. Strange, who tries to convince him not to tug at the thread, that the unraveling could very well end the world. But Reed is a man of science, and an unknown is irresistible; Stephen even shows him their shared past, when he begged Stephen to intervene in just this event.

With each subsequent episode, the Sentry becomes more certain of who he is, and also more determined that he must make them all remember the truth, or he won’t be able to rally them against the Void- and he’s going to need everyone to stop the Void. Also, building in the background, are these storms and natural disasters- hundreds, eventually thousands dying in what the world initially writes off as freak storms, but the heroes slowly recognize as the growing influence and power of the Void.

3. Incredible Heroes: Sentry tracks down the Hulk. It’s a time when Banner wasn’t with the Avengers, but was off smashing on his own. He’s a timid, even pitiful creature, smashing not because he’s angry, but because he’s scared, and he hides behind his anger, puffing out his chest- we learn, over the course of the episode, it’s because of how badly thrashed he was by the Void (note: this is basically the state Hulk returns to after his whupping by Thanos). Hulk has a rapport with the Sentry- he helps him not be afraid, helps him not take his anger out on other people. Their reunion should be a really tender moment- and also a terrifying one, because whatever makes he Hulk afraid, should scare the crap out of everyone else. It should also show a pattern: the heroes all lost something important, even vital, to their lives, when the Sentry was erased, something that would have spared them a lot of personal anguish over the intervening years; this was personal for all of them.

4. Amazing Adventurers: Okay… this one would depend entirely on whether or not Spider-Man is part of the Sony deal or not. It’s also probably the most superfluous of these episodes; Sentry’s big contribution to Peter’s life was that he let him take the first picture of the Sentry, a photo which was monetized to a degree that he didn’t have the same kinds of money troubles as he used to- and forgetting him cost him his safety net. But it was also the Sentry’s coming out party- when the character went from blur and urban legend to the Superman of the Marvel Universe (with about as much baggage as that entails).

5. Uncanny Exemplars: This one would basically be a cross-over with the X-Men: The Beginning crew. I’d probably make it more of an ensemble piece, than the book, which was very Angel-centric; in fact, I’d probably focus it more on Xavier/Jean, since they’re going to play a bigger role later, as the MCU’s telepaths have to try and give him the equivalent of telepathic brain surgery to help save him; they also, subtly, share a powerset, so I could see Sentry being able to bridge the gap between the stoic, stern mentor figure who mostly says, “Do as I say, because I don’t do,” and a scared kid trying her darnedest to invent a whole new branch of heroic ethics while trying not to get herself and her friends killed.

6. The Void: The heroes, in particular those we’ve focused on, are gathered at the Empire State building, waiting to war with the Void under the Sentry’s command. This includes Sentry’s old sidekick, Scout, who lost an arm and an eye in one of their adventures, and has since lived without suspecting he was once superpowered, and is ecstatic to be reunited with his mentor.

Only something doesn’t sit right with Reed… and he and Stephen Strange put together the truth. Now, the book is good, so if you haven’t read it before, I’d suggest you go read the Sentry series by Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee. But if you want the spoiler, here goes: the Void isn’t a separate person. The Void is manifested by the Sentry’s powers- a kind of evil version of him. Realizing this, the heroes realize why they forgot the Sentry- they did it to stop the Void- and that they’ll have to forget him all over again. Played right, the energy of the episode goes from heroic determination to tragedy- even the Sentry grasps immediately that their only choice is to put them all back under the same hypnotics that hid him away, and hope that this time it holds.   

7+: I think the back-half will be the Sentry arc from New Avengers, where he joins the MCU proper, now.

First, not because we’re exploiting the joke but because the time-skip actually kind of matters here, we do the five years later thing again. After a break-out of prisoners from the Raft, Sentry is discovered inside, having turned himself in for the murder of his wife. The other heroes dutifully locked him away, because if  Superman  Sentry insists he’s dangerous and should be locked up, you don’t ask questions, you just do it. He assists with containing some of the damage of the break-out, before disappearing. The Avengers then track him down. He’s suppressed who he is, again, and is back with his wife, neither of them the wiser.

Everyone shows up (or, since it’s a TV show, a hitter or two from all of the bigger franchises- preferably at least the characters from the feature episodes earlier in the season). The telepaths engage him, while the other heroes fend off the Void, who appears and attacks them (this time surprising no one). We see some more of Sentry’s past exploits. I think it might be fun to do a flashback of the 80s Avengers banding together to stop the Void, and the Ancient One using her abilities to make the rest of them forget their team-up, foreshadowing what happened shortly before the arrival of Thanos (which is when the Sentry disappeared in our story). 80s Avengers: T’Chaka (Black Panther), Ancient One (Sorcerer Supreme), Howard Stark providing access to his Bad Babies, Odin, a previous Ghost Rider, the previous Iron Fist.

After a fairly epic battle, the telepaths find it, hidden fairly expertly- the memory of his unmaking. Apparently, Sentry gets captured by a villain. The book doesn’t explain, but since Mastermind is involved, I’ll say that he was secreted to the Sentry’s home, where he convinced the Sentry’s mind to keep him asleep even as he was carried away. In the original telling, it was ‘The General,’ one of Sentry’s own arch villains, pulling Mastermind’s strings, but I’d probably instead swap in one of the better-known characters who are actively against super-powers, like Zemo or General Ross (or in the event that Disney buys Sony, Norman Osborne). They used an X-Men villain (and mutant) named Mastermind to convince the Sentry to subconsciously create the Void any time he used his powers, a nemesis he could never defeat, who created atrocity in equal to whatever measure of good the Sentry could do, and then erase his tracks. If we did use Ross or Zemo, we could go a step further with it- that Mastermind was trying to convince all heroes they were just normal people without powers, but that the Sentry fought his influence enough to preserve the other heroes, while losing himself.

The telepaths are able to hold the mind-control at bay long enough for Robert to become the Sentry, enter the memory of his brain-washing and destroy it (I’d say when he does, that’s when he learns who it was who captured him- that while we can hear them and see them in silhouette, they aren’t clear until he invades the memory and symbolically destroys its influence). In an instant, the Void disappears, and the Sentry flies away, leaving everyone else uncertain whether they won. Sentry reappears a moment later, his manipulator grasped in one hand, and Mastermind in the other, and he drops them to the ground, where they vomit profusely. He says he must have flown too fast for them. Captain Samerica offers his hand, and a slot on the Avengers, which he declines. He says he has a lot to process, scoops up his wife, and adds that he’s got a lot of lost time to make up for, too. Captain Falcon asks if they can call him if something happens, and he says, of course, and nods at the sky, at his Watchtower floating above them, and adds he’ll be watching, and flies away. Fade to black. White text: The Sentry will return… when we need him most. Then roll credits.

Old Ventures 2, Ch. 17

Seventeen, Goethe

Jack was alone inside a warehouse, crates stacked to the ceiling with the personal effects of prisoners. He couldn’t stop staring at the intricately interlaced filigree on the ring, and the way that it raised into prongs holding the single round-edged sapphire in its center.

He heard someone open the door behind him, and slipped the ring into his pocket. “I was hoping I’d find you here,” Fleming said. “This is Heshell. I wanted him to tell you how he ended up here.”

“I hear the Kristallnacht was widely reported,” Heshell said. “Maybe you know more about that night than I do, about what happened all over Europe. I only know what happened to my family, my synagogue, my home, my family’s business.

“I was up late, unable to sleep. My wife, Genana, and I, we were having troubles, though it’s hard to even remember what they were now. I was at the shul, talking to Rabbi Yiftach in his office. I remember it was bad enough that I thought my wife might bed some other man, and thought perhaps I should leave, that we both might be happier that way. But we didn’t finish the conversation.

“Smoke was billowing in from the sanctuary. We thought maybe a candle had fallen, and I went with the Rabbi to help him. The entire shul, the synagogue, was on fire. The Sturmabteilung, Nazi stormtroopers, were smashing everything inside. The Rabbi watched in horror as they tore down the parochet. I had to hold him back when they opened the Aron Kodesh, and took out the Torah scrolls, and put them, too, to the torch. He wept in my arms, as the fight went out of him, and still, we had to wait for them to leave to sneak away. I left him with the family that tended the grounds; I can’t remember their names. 

“The entire city was on fire, being broken or smashed. It was the end, the end many of us knew would come; my wife insisted we keep cash enough to run away with, and I humored her. I always thought, if that day came, that it’d come during the day, when I was at work, so we stashed our money there. My father was a successful stonemason. He worked until he could barely grip a hammer, and then, he hired me. He would tie string, around his hand,” he pantomimed circling his hand with yarn, “so he could still hold a pen, so he could keep the books, or annotate my designs.

“I ran, to our shop, crying, thinking of the Rabbi. I had known him my entire life. I thought of his faith as almost quaint. I was a modern Jew, a business-minded, cosmopolitan man. But he, he loved his shul, the Torah, his study, he loved them the way my father loved stone work. I think, in that moment, I found a faith like the Rabbi’s, or at least an appreciation for someone else loving something so thoroughly, and losing it, and I knew how every second I was closer to losing the things I loved if I couldn’t flee with them.

“Every business on the block had its windows smashed in. Some were on fire, others were being looted. My father’s shop was near the end of the street, an alley closed with a wall. I snuck inside, under cover of the dark.

“The shop had been ransacked. Anything that could be taken had been, including all our tools, and even several slabs of an expensive ornate marble. Many of the tables had been broken or charred. I ran into my office, unable to breathe; my desk looked untouched from the door, but as I rounded I saw that the drawers had been painstakingly smashed one at a time. The secret latch, unlocking my private drawer, had been gouged out, the small metal that secured the latch in place had been nearly torn from the surrounding oak. Our money was gone, and along with it any real hope at escaping.    

“I wasn’t crying any longer when I reached home. I thought if I could move faster, maybe think clearer, maybe we could escape. I burst through the front door panting like a madman. Security forces were a few steps behind, though I couldn’t know if it was just my poor luck, or if they followed from the shop.

“It didn’t matter. They arrested me. When my father protested, they beat him. They didn’t take my wife, or my father, then, just young men, ones who might fight against the Nazis.

“They threatened them, that if they fled, they would kill me. But eventually they knew that whether they killed me or not had little to do with them, and tried to run, but were caught.

“By then I had made myself useful here, as a foreman. Stonework and masonry made me invaluable in building out the camp. I wrestled with that, that I was helping make more space for prisoners, but making space with prisoners as workmen meant I could help save some.” His hand shook. “But never enough,” his voice broke, “never as many as I needed to. Never every man who had been kind to me, or who took ill.

“But the Nazis saw the danger, too. They gave me privileges, but needed to also have a stick. So when they caught my father and wife, they brought them here, for leverage. My father took ill, and medicine was scarce. Rather than risk the spread of disease, they shot him. They did it in front of me, not because I had transgressed, but so I knew that I lived at their pleasure- and how difficult they were to please.

“It had the opposite of the desired effect on me, and even my wife. It made us more angry, more defiant. We sought out ways to undermine; we organized laborers to smuggle out supplies, built holes in the foundations for us to hide valuable materials, and started stashing away guns- the ones we used to take the camp. We were careful, and we were smart. But it didn’t matter.

“The Oberst’s cousin was killed, fighting on the Eastern Front, though I didn’t find that out until later. He called me into his office, and a guard dragged my Genana in. He accused us of undermining morale, of plotting; his ‘proof’ may as well have been a copy of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. He was drunk, nearly weeping. And then he smiled. Told me how much it all reminded him of killing my father. His guard pushed her down, to her knees, and he shot her in the head. I was numb. I didn’t cry, or scream. I just remember thinking that her name, it meant ‘grandmother,’ or ‘old woman’ and now she would never be either.

“She talked about dying, more sometimes than I could stand. But it meant she had told me that when she died, and it broke my heart because it was always when, that I had to make them pay. But not with vengeance, not with violence, but by living, by standing over the grave of Nazism and pissing on it. Not that that precluded violence, you understand- she was the one who pushed me to stockpile stolen weapons- but she wanted, more than anything, for me to outlive them. All I wanted for myself was not to outlive her,” he said, his voice catching as he latched onto Fleming, as the nearest of them.

Jack hadn’t realized, during Heshell’s story, that his muscles were tense, his fists balled so tightly they hurt. “Bring me the biggest goddamn Nazi you can find,” Jack said, anger flattening his voice.

“Surely you’d prefer to punch a free man rather than a prisoner,” Fleming said, patting the crying man’s back.

“You get on my nerves, but not that much.”

“I wasn’t offering myself. But fighting is still ongoing at a neighboring camp, where they met with extraordinary resistance, perhaps even… transhuman.”

“And you let me sit down for story time?”

“Edwards’ superior didn’t want to ask for help. Thought it would damage morale, and once that decision gets made, it’s difficult to reverse. But if you were to surreptitiously hear about the stalemate, and intervene unilaterally…”

“Edwards asked you to get me…”

“York, actually.”

“And Heshell?”

“Was my idea. I think, sometimes, in modern warfare, because of the way we compartmentalize, we forget what we’re fighting, and what we’re fighting for. In the Resistance, and in intelligence, we baste in the reasons to fight, and who our enemies our. But soldiers, most are just told where to go, and who to hit. It can be numbing, if you don’t remind yourself from time to time the evil we stand against; we can’t resist it properly if we forget the great cruelty it’s capable of.”

“Consider me reminded,” Jack said, and pulled Heshell to his chest. “I’m sorry,” Jack said. “For everything that’s happened to you, for failing to prevent it, for not intervening sooner.”

“My wife,” Heshell said, “was a wiser person than I. No regrets,” he said, and clapped Jack on the cheek, “just live to piss on their graves.”

Jack put his hand on Heshell’s shoulder and squeezed it, and let his forehead touch Heshell’s. “We will.”

Pitchmas 2020, Part 11: Avengers Academy

This show is kind of New Mutants for everyone else, letting us seed in characters that will make up the Runaways, more Young Avengers, maybe the Champions, if we’re feeling squirrely, New Warriors, Defenders, and of course there’s likely to be churn amongst the main Avengers team, too. And really, there are so damned many X-Men we probably can’t cover all of them in New Mutants, or maybe some who don’t want to be X-Men or join Magneto’s Brotherhood.

But honestly, it’s also so we can have the dark sequel series, where we feed them all into a woodchipper, Avengers Arena. Because that series is basically Battle Royale meets a world full of teenage sidekicks. It is darkly addictive fun.

In the books, the Avengers Academy is a reaction to Civil War, specifically that now that heroes have been drafted, there’s an Avengers Initiative to have a team in all 50 states, which means they need a hell of a lot more heroes, and they need them trained and not just winging it.

I don’t know that I was ever sold on that set-up, and it’s not available to us, anyhow. Possibly we could build something with the New Warriors, and a disaster like the Stamford one that precipitated Civil War in the books. But there’s lower-hanging fruit, since I set up in last year’s Pitchmas (and Marvel have been following a similar plan in everything they’ve been releasing) setting up Young Avengers.

The existence of untrained knock-off characters would likely prompt the Old Avengers to want to make sure a whole new generation of untrained heroes weren’t suddenly joining the fight, and start off a training program.

In lieu of getting into the weeds on the set up I’d want to see, I’d probably set up a core of characters that would be with us for a five season arc. The first three would cover their training and origins; we’d probably Lost it up a bit, with entire episodes basically being where characters came from, so we could show some of Bloodstone from Cullen’s perspective, do some of Runaways as told by Nico Minoru, an episode telling about X-23’s origins (presumably her having become something of a character in her own right on New Mutants by then- maybe even with Dafne Keen reprising, if the timelines worked out all right) that kind of thing- and yes, the clever amongst you see how it’s basically a series of backdoor pilots intermingled with the hero academy storyline.

I think in the books the Academy was largely the brain-child of Hank Pym, but I imagine that might be a tall order, getting Michael Douglas to commit to. Paul Rudd would probably be a fun alternative, and you could get him interacting with his daughter, Stature, again, and try to rebuild that rapport with the now adult(ish) version of his daughter. Better if you could get both (and/or with a Wasp or 2), since I think the Ant Man family already have a pretty solid family feel and training capabilities.

The first three seasons would be a beginning, middle and end for the Academy, season 4 maybe technically being a spin-off as the characters are captured by a powered-up Arcade and forced to fight for survival, and season 5 being a revenge arc, as those who survived 4 delve into the world of anti-heroics in a bid to hunt Arcade for what he done did, while also being secretly groomed by Zemo to do his bidding.

Season outlines

1. This functions similarly to the way New X-Men series does for mutants, but pulls from all groups, including borrowing some characters from that show (if Wolverine can be an Avenger and an X-Man, I don’t see why we can’t put his clone in both shows)- especially for characters who will go on to be part of the government-run X-Factor. It’s a training program for everyone else, and borrows adult characters when/wherever possible. It might be hard to have too many of the important characters pop up, beyond maybe the Ant Man crew, but we can bring in really anyone; need a magical character, draft Agatha Harkness. Or Damian Hellstrom (actually- I’d suggest Hellstrom, since his character features into the story in 5). 

2. It becomes clear that the Academy is more of a daycare than a training facility; the kids aren’t allowed to hero outside of their bases, and are forbidden from joining other teams during that time. It’s only when they reach 18 that they’re allowed to join the big boy leagues. But that doesn’t stop an old Avengers Threat (I’m going to say Zemo, since he’d see this as an Ubermensch program and want to dismantle it) manipulates a team of villains into attacking as a way to gut the hero community and get their collective revenge, but to everyone’s surprise, the kids are able, Red Dawn style, to beat back the villains long enough for the grown-ups to arrive (or maybe just some clever smoke and mirrors by the kids).  

3. Realizing that they can’t child-proof the world, Hank hires on a nerd nicknamed Arcade; basically, he wants something like the X-Men’s Danger Room, but encompassing an entire city and suburb, a place to simulate combat as these kids will meet it in the outside world. Arcade feels mistreated, and eventually takes all of the teachers hostage, forcing them to watch as their students run a life and death version of the obstacle courses he was supposed to build. They’re eventually able to help free the heroes, who stop Arcade. Losing control of the school and training that way gets the school shuttered for good, with the government pulling its support and the kids all getting sent home.  

4. A powered up Arcade, snotty about his humiliation the year before, starts kidnapping the children who were returned home, and pits them against one another, Battle Royale style, on a remote island. It’s all an elaborate revenge for foiling his plans in the previous season. The meddling kids, however, manage to disrupt his plans yet again- though not all of them survive the experience.

5. Angry that Arcade escaped, the survivors go underground, and start running with a bad crowd, because they’re the only ones who know where Arcade is hiding. The remaining instructors basically fall into two camps- one trying to find the kids and save them from themselves, and the other hunting Arcade to bring him to justice themselves. But that’s all background noise. The main attraction is the kids being set up by Zemo to do something so publically villainous it will taint the kids, their teachers, and all of the superhumans- with Arcade’s fate hanging in the balance. But will the kids realize in time that they’ll be destroying their world if they win? Or will Zemo finally manage to deal the Marvel heroes a death blow?

What? You think I’d spoil the answer here? Think again, True Believers.

Old Ventures 2, Ch. 16

Sixteen, Baghdad

“You’re lucky,” Hugh said, taking in the lights of Baghdad nearly a mile beneath him. 

“That you have the ethics of an NSA agent at the end of a night of binge drinking?” Ian’s voice came over his comms.

“Says the kettle. No, you’re lucky that Iraqi cell phone carriers aren’t terribly particular about how they license user data, so this falls under an agreement my company made studying citizen’s aggregate movement through GPS. Otherwise it would have taken me several more hours to assemble all the data, and possibly breaking several international laws.”

“What were you doing with cell phone data?”

“It started during the occupation, a next level terrorism study, testing whether or not terror attacks during an insurgency were truly stochastic, or whether, given enough data, they were individually and not just statistically predictable.”

“Find anything useful?”

“Nope. Funding for the study cut off abruptly, and since there was a high likelihood of the study being used for the purposes of profiling, we were happy to plow the data into other areas. Like some interesting insights for 21st century city planning, some useful improvements to our GPS tech, even information we’re going to use to give our self-driving cars an edge. And since those carriers weren’t interested in locking down how the data was used or how long we had access, we’re still getting the data for a song. Even if we weren’t using it currently, we’d probably keep paying, just to keep amassing potentially useful data.”

“You sound an awful lot like Big Brother in training. I’ve never felt closer to you,” Ian said.

“Praise from Caesar,” Hugh said, “of the kind that makes me worry we’ve got a similar flaw.”

“Nah,” Ian said, “your flaws are much stranger than mine. But at least you’ve got the excuse of having legitimate mental and physical health challenges. I’m just an emotionally closed off mass-murdering narcissist with no sexual scruples and a damaged moral compass.”

“I take it things haven’t been going well reconnecting with Angela.”

“I don’t know,” Ian admitted. “In a lot of painful ways she’s just like me. Closed off. Insightful. Resourceful. I got a daughter out of it… but I missed a lot, too. And she isn’t wrong about me; there’s nothing she’s said about me I haven’t worried about myself. She might as well be my conscience.”

“I feel like I should get her a Jiminy Cricket costume for next Halloween,” Hugh said.

“She’s angry at me, for not figuring it out sooner; I am, too. I… wouldn’t have been ready to be a father for her when she was young. I’m only just mature enough now to have an adult relationship with her. But I think there’s some small element in either of us that’s… it’s difficult to accept.”

“Give it time,” Hugh said.

“All the time I have remaining, if that’s what it takes.” Ian said. “But what about you and Laney? You told her, right?”

“I’m going to ignore the uncomfortable connotation of you transitioning from your daughter to my love life.”

“They’re both the most significant relationships with women in our lives,” Ian said.

“Only because you continue to sidestep the most significant relationship with a woman in yours.”

“I tried,” Ian said, his voice hollow, “but your mother stopped returning my calls.”

“Could be because she’s dead, though that’s just a theory.”


“She’s been dead almost as long as you’ve been alive. And yes, I told her.”

“You’ll have to tell me how it went.”

“Well and terribly at the same time.”

“Not ‘terribly well?’”

“No, I-” Hugh paused. “You have incoming.”

“I didn’t know you’d take a mother joke so seriously.”

“Not from me,” Hugh said. “Though on the bright side, I can intervene.”

“What happened to your noninterference pact?”

“That’s complicated. I asked the Iraqi government for permission to operate in their borders. Unlike you and Jack, I can’t quietly intervene. They thought having bleeding edge US tech used in an interdiction would undermine the progress their security forces have made. They did, however, give me the go ahead in certain circumstances. Like intercepting rockets.”

Hugh’s vision stopped focusing, instead taking in the entirety of his radar range, his consciousness blending with the computers controlling the suit, until they both selected thirteen projectiles, and selected the best impact angle to stop the missiles. Every ancillary weapon system compartment in Hugh’s suit opened at once, as he unleashed a storm of projectiles.

Twelve exploded on impact, but the thirteenth was sheered in half, the front half falling in a predictable parabola, while the back end arced upwards in lopsided spirals. Hugh turned his body and thrust his engines.

The front of the rocket’s momentum with acceleration due to gravity wasn’t going to be a problem; Hugh and his suit both crunched his own acceleration and saw he’d intercept the front one hundred feet above the city.

The problem was the rear of the rocket. It was continuing to gain distance and momentum, even as it lost altitude. Hugh calculated that he wasn’t going to be able to catch the rear, that he couldn’t change directions fast enough to make up the difference- fifteen Gs of force would be enough to knock him out.

“Suit, autonomous mode. Record instructions.” Hugh thought through the next few steps, catching the front of the rocket while he turned, then pouring on speed to catch up to the rear of the rocket and striking it at the right angle to knock it onto a course to land outside of the city.

He had just finished setting autonomous instructions mentally when the suit began to pitch upwards. He could feel the inertial resistance of his bodily fluids, that strange pull as his body separated based on its density, overcoming regular gravity exponentially, and even the beating of his heart. His vision went black at the corners, before darkening. The suit had landing protocols, that theoretically would set the suit down if he lost consciousness, but he had never successfully tested them, which wasn’t the most pleasant thought to have as he lost consciousness.

He came to to the sound of an engine roar. He was still gripping the front of the rocket, but he couldn’t see the source of the sound. Were his own engines malfunctioning? He checked a sonic map, but the sound was coming from above him, vibrating through the suit. During autonomous mode, the suit had landed the spiraling rocket on his back, and was holding it in place as he guided it outside of the city. Hugh did a quick calculation, and found that the rate of success for the maneuver was a good 50% better than trying to knock it onto a different course; the suit had made a better decision than he had.

The heat sensors on the back of the suit went into alarm. The engine built into one of his legs was overheating- it must have come too close to the rocket. There was a chance it would blow if he didn’t shut it off, and he could land with only one.

His remaining engine burst into flame, before shorting out. The suit played back external video, of fuel leaking from the rocket, pouring all over his leg before the engine ignited it.

Hugh was losing altitude, fast. A quick sim showed he and the rocket would land just outside the city limits, if he could hold on. He forced his fingers to clamp into the rocket’s casing, then zoomed his lenses. He was going to come in hot, and couldn’t afford to be holding the warhead in the tip when he and the rocket landed. He found an empty patch of land, devoid of life or structure, and hurled the warhead away. “This is going to,” he struck the ground, and was torn away from the rocket’s engine. He and it cartwheeled across the sand. The suit compensated, cushioning each roll and absorbing as much impact as possible, but it was still like being in a car accident, his entire body stopping too quick against a seatbelt that covered his entire body.

He was still breathing when he finally came to a stop, even if that breath hurt. He checked the sensor data on his engines. The one looked like it would be good to go once it cooled, the other could likely function, if he could bypass the burnt-out circuits. Failing that, his jet was parked in Baghdad, and he could have the suit towed to it. Either way, he was going to be out of commission for several hours.

Pitchmas 2020, part 10: X-Men: The Beginning

Pitchmas this year is a weekly pitch for a new Disney + series set in the MCU, lasting 12 weeks.

10. X-Men: The Beginning

This is basically X-Men Evolution, but in live action, featuring the first five students (maybe eventually introducing younger versions of those who were teachers at the beginning of New Mutants, too, and the rest of the Giant Size X-Men crew). Could probably even use the same sets as New Mutants on a rotating schedule, too, to get double the value out of them.

I think to make this not perfunctory, we’ll need to really make it sizzle. The pitch is basically the first class of X-Men by way of Stranger Things.

I think the first half of the season would be assembling the team, which in our case means them being found by Xavier. I want to tell the stories from the perspective of the teens, and only briefly touch on Charles- at least for the first half. The second half of the season is entirely Xavier-based, his friendship (and its fallout) with Magneto, and his strained relationship with his brother, Cain Marko.

1. Phoenix: Jean is a special girl. Everyone knows it, and they all tell her so. Every one does. We spend a day with her, at first, and slowly, subtly, the creepiness sets in- they all have the same wooden expression, say the words exactly the same way. Everyone except her parcel carrier (not USPS- a private label). He speaks candidly with her, a little too candidly for someone of her age, and we think his eyes start to glow, and his teeth look too sharp. The young Jean screams out, and every neighbor on the block comes outside in lock step, and he doffs his cap and leaves. A SHIELD touchstone (Fury is always the preference, but Samuel L. Jackson can only be in so many places at once, so it could be a Coulson, Hill or someone else) delivers Professor Xavier to the town. Xavier knocks on the Grey residence’s front door, and is greeted by her father. He says that she’s studying, because she’s an extraordinary girl and can’t squander those gifts. Xavier smiles, and says those are his sentiments exactly. Mr. Grey’s eyes glow, and he shakes off the manipulation. Xavier explains that he’s come at the request of SHIELD because their daughter has formed a psychic cocoon around herself; everyone in its radius gets drafted into her army. Her father laughs off the idea, because the things that feel frightening to girls her age include boys and algebra tests. But Xavier doesn’t hear it, because his attention is drawn by the parcel carrier. Xavier sees him clearly, surrounded by a purple psychic flame as his eyes glow red; his teeth appear too sharp. Xavier tells him his daughter’s instincts are sharper than he realizes, and asks to see the girl. The parcel carrier tries to ring the doorbell, but it doesn’t sound. Xavier turns to look at him through one of the windows in the front door, and he glares as Xavier regards him coolly. Mr. Grey brings Jean down. Xavier explains mutants, and their gifts, and tells her she’s one of the strongest people he’s ever met- that the danger she sensed was drawn to her because of that power- he is a monstrous being known as the Shadow King. Xavier encountered him before- but managed to pierce the veil of his thoughts, and discovered that the Shadow King wished to use him as a host to regain access to the physical realm. Jean accuses Xavier of trying to manipulate her, the way the Shadow King had tried to manipulate her, the way her parents had. She demands that he leave, and he does. The Shadow King, in the form of the delivery man, blasts through her front door. Suddenly, Jean is in her home in the psychic realm. The Shadow King stalks through, and as she tries to defend herself with very limited control, he’s clearly able to shape this realm with a whim. It’s terrifying, looking like he’s won, towering over a terrified Jean, before he drops to his knees. Xavier is behind him, with his fingers outstretched, and yellow tendrils burrowing into the Shadow King’s head. We flash back. The moment Shadow King blasted through the door, Xavier was there, behind him, tendrils piercing his skull. Jean stops cowering and stands, triumphant. Xavier tells him he’s going to be furious, but it was the little girl’s plan- the second he walked through the door; he told her what mutants were as they traded details of her plan. She let him think he was in control, that he was winning, as she systematically took away every element of his power. They’re both fairly certain he’ll be trapped on the psychic plane forever; psychics may stumble upon him from time to time, but he’s lost most of the gimmicks that allowed him to trick his unwitting victims. They leave him, chained, on that plane, and return to Jean’s room. She admits to Xavier that she didn’t mean to manipulate people around her, but she couldn’t control it. She asks if he could teach her how, and he smiles, and says of course.

2. Cyclops: Scott Summers as a child is on a plane flying over Alaska. The plane shimmies, and his father, the pilot, tasks him with checking to make sure his younger brother Alex is fastened tight, then check the cargo. Out of one of the windows, he sees the engine start to smoke, burst into flame, and is completely torn from the plane, taking some of the wing and the door nearest it, sucking out the parachutes. Scott runs back to the cockpit to tell his father. He looks at his boys and smiles. “Lucky I always bring a spare,” he says, and pulls one out from behind his seat. “You two’re small, so it should work for the both of you.” Scott asks about him, and he tells him he should still be able to land it, but he’s not putting all of their mom’s eggs in one basket- “especially since this world is out of perfect eggs.” He helps Scott get Alex clamped into the chute, then tells him to hold on, tight. His father helps him out of the plane. One of the chute straps breaks, and they start to fall, too fast. Scott wraps himself around Alex, to shield him from the landing, and we cut as they hit the mountain. We pull back, to see their father’s plane overhead, a moment before it smashes into the mountain.

We cut later, as Scott, blood dried along the side of his face from a nasty impact with the ground, drags his brother, whose leg is splinted, in the remains of the parachute, towards the nearby town. At the edge of town, Scott collapses beside a chain link fence surrounding a dour-looking building (it was an attempt by a priest to capture the majesty of a cathedral, but scaled to this remote community- the effect is more sinister than anything). We see a sign on the fence, too, “Essex Home For Special Boys.” A man with sharply-defined facial hair is standing with a gloved hand threaded through the fence, just on the other side of the two boys. We pan up his arm, and stop when we reach his jaw, as a thin smile spreads over his lips.

Scott plays with Alex, who can’t really join in the other reindeer games because of his leg (now in a cast). That is, until another boy, a burly one, with big hands and feet and a toothy grin, tells him they need another to even out teams for a game of touch football. Scott’s reluctant at first, but Alex snaps at him, like he wants his pity attention. Scott’s hurt by that, and goes off with Hank. We linger on Alex, reversing the shot as Scott starts to play (he quarterbacks, because he’s got a good eye, a good arm, and talent for leadership; Hank, meanwhile, is a natural catcher with those hands, and is agile to boot), and we watch a knowing smile spread across Alex’s lips.

Scott tries to loop Alex back in, but Hank and his friends are slightly older, and especially having been wounded, Alex is extra socially handicapped. At lights out, Hank nervously confesses to Scott that he’s anxious about an upcoming dance- that there’s a dance with the “Frost Academy for Talented Ladies.” He’s worried no one will want to dance with him. Scott thinks a moment, before telling him that women like to be held- his mom told him that- and with his hands he figures Hank would make any woman feel extra safe and secure. The moment is sweet enough Hank gets quieter, more conspiratorial. He tells Scott he’s not sure it’s safe there, that he isn’t an orphan- that his parents are still alive and he was taken– that they need to get out of there, and Scott’s eyes go wide- so wide we know what’s coming next as ruby red energy bursts from his eyes, shattering through a window. Hank hits him from behind, as Essex appears behind him. Hank explains that he didn’t know what else to do- that Scott might have hurt someone. Essex pats his shoulder gently, telling him he did the right thing.

3. Beast: The episode opens largely as the last ended, only Hank and Scott are asleep on their cots. Mr. Essex, the smiling man who put a gloved hand through the fence in the last episode, preps a syringe. He slides it into Scott’s arm with inhuman precision, then twirls in his heavy dark blue coat (that’s almost a big cape). Essex opens a secret panel into a small lab behind his study. He feeds Scott’s blood into a machine, and lights come up on the room, showing a host of gene-sequencing machines.

We go back to Hank, sleeping fitfully. We hear a voice, Essex’s, but I want it to be supremely subtle, almost subliminal, where some portion of the audience won’t catch it during the first viewing. His eyes open manically, and he yawns, before stumbling out of bed. He uses the same secret entrance to Essex’s lab, and clearly knows his way to Essex once inside. Essex calls him, “Young Mr. McCoy” and claims he was quite the discovery. Hank pouts, and Essex chides him; he says his gift would have been wasted living with his parents- that Hank is free to hate him, if need be, but his education is paramount.

Indeed, once Essex begins speaking to him about Scott’s DNA, he comes alive. While the testing is ongoing, it seems that Scott is one of the catalysts he’s been searching for, that his ability allows him to harness great amounts of energy- possibly enough to finally finish his work. They work together through the night, testing the sampled blood, until Hank falls asleep, and Essex gingerly carries him back to bed.

The next morning Scott wakes slowly. He’s attached to an IV, keeping him partially sedated. Hank tells him that most so-called mutant powers are controlled via the brain- which would explain the catastrophic damage caused by his head injury, preventing him from being able to control it. He segues awkwardly via a joke about controlling himself that evening, when they go to the Frost Academy for the dance, and notes it’s good they aren’t having it there, because of the hole Scott blasted in the wall.

We have a scene where they boys dress. Despite the short notice, Essex was able to have the seamstress in town customize clothes for both Summers boys. Alex doesn’t want to go, especially since he can’t dance on his leg, but Scott convinces him to try and have fun.

At the dance, Essex greets Ms. Frost as Hazel, and tells her it’s lovely to see her, and kisses her hand. She’s a wealthy socialite, her family money coming at least partially from Alaskan oil, hence her interest in giving back to that community. With her is her daughter, Emma; she wears white with furs, not as revealing as the outfits adult her will wear, obviously, but just as sharply stylish. Hank asks if she wants to dance, and she stares at his big hands and says she wears the fur of beasts, she doesn’t dance with them.” He says something cutting in reply, and they both stomp off. Scott follows Hank, and consoles him, and tells him he’s a sweet guy, and he’s going to find someone who loves him for who he is, not the size of glove he wears. Scott convinces him to try again, with another girl, this one staring at him. Scott watches as she smiles, nods, and follows him to the dance floor.

Scott starts looking for Alex when he hears sobbing, and follows it back to Emma. She insists she wasn’t crying. He smiles, and says that doesn’t mean she isn’t upset, and if talking would help, he’s there. She’s stand-offish, and rude, but it also becomes clear that she’s lonely, and scared, and doesn’t really know how to handle people at all. He explains that she sounds like Hank; he was worried no one would dance if he asked them, but that he found someone who said yes, that sometimes to really get to know the best side of people, you have to give them a second chance. He asks if she’d like to dance, and she says yes. We follow them to the dance floor, but as we pan past Essex chatting with her mother, we stay on them.

Essex is boring her, it’s plain. He’s chatting her up because he’d like more funding, and mentions that his work is focused on helping people just like her daughter, that he isn’t looking for a hand-out. She isn’t paying attention to him, because a late guest has arrived. She tells Nathan she has to introduce him to a dear friend of hers, a fellow philanthropist, Charles Xavier. Essex goes white, as we pan to see Xavier. He’s also brought along Jean Grey, as well, both dressed appropriately for the occasion. Xavier peers at him curiously; he can’t seem to read Essex’s mind, which is peculiar. 

Back with Scott and Emma, she tells him she knows he’s scared. He tells her he’s not; his mom taught him how to dance before she died (though he trails off before saying the word “died”). She says not about that. About last night, what happened with his eyes. He stops, and she tells him it’s okay, she’s special, too. That his secret’s safe with her, just like she feels safe with him, she says, nuzzling into his shoulder. As the music fades, Emma leans in and kisses him, and Scott’s eyes go wide. “Oh, no,” she says, realizing her mistake. Scott’s eyebeams blast through the wall and the ceiling.

Ms. Frost screams for her daughter, and runs to protect her; Emma protests that she’s fine, she’s safe, Scott would never hurt her. Essex moves towards Scott, but Charles grabs his wrist, and tells him he doesn’t know who he is, or what his designs on the boy are, but it ends tonight. He calls him a “Sinister” man, and tells him to leave all of the children behind, that he and Emma have contacts that will get them situated in proper homes- we see an overlay of Hank, as he says he was taken, and rage spreads over Xavier’s face. Essex shoves Xavier, knocking him into the wall hard enough he dents it, as his eyes begin to glow red, and we think this is going to go downhill quickly, only Essex’s eyes roll back in his head and he falls over.

Jean tells Xavier she turned him off, like a light switch, and asked if she did good, and he says she did very good. We stay on Essex, who watches a single hair fall from Jean’s shoulder. He can barely move, but with great effort manages to grab the hair as it falls.

Later, we pan through the now empty orphanage, into the no longer shut lab. Essex is extracting DNA from the hair, and that same sinister smile spreads over his lips.

I’m going to be a little less thorough with the remaining episodes, but to give you a taste of what we’re looking at.

4. Angel: Angel flies. Depending on budget, this can be POV, and just be some drone footage, or it could be fairly elaborate. But then Warren wakes to his father knocking on his door. He’s low-key abusive about hiding his son’s shame, binding his wings and tying them down in a way that’s painful. When Warren cries, he shames him for that, too.

Warren goes to his school, something private and high-end. His father shoves him along, past students picking on a girl there on a scholarship, her uniforms second-hand, her supplies in some disrepair. Warren tries to direct his father’s wrath in their direction, only for him to state that she’s “beneath” them, and Warren stares daggers back at him for that.

We recognize one of the boys picking on the girl when he slides into a seat next to Warren; he acts friendly towards him, but Warren doesn’t return the warmth. Cameron asks what’s up, says their families have been friends for generations- that the Worthingtons and Hodges have been thick as thieves since before either family bought their way into respectability. Warren complains about his treatment of the girl, and he says they were only having fun- that they wouldn’t hurt her. Warren isn’t interested. Cameron says this is a lousy way to end a friendship, and Warren spits back that they were never friends, that he was a jerk his father made him be nice to- but he’s tired of being a cog in a machine of jerks that only mints fresh jerks and money. Warren leaves, tells the teacher he needs to use the bathroom.

We linger a bit on Cameron’s day, as he stews.

At lunch outside, Cameron and his buddies make fun of Warren. They intimate that he’s got a thing for the girl, that that’s why he’s being such a girl about it. And he shrugs. He doesn’t care if they think that, because what would be so wrong about it. Not getting what they want, they leave, and Warren watches a bird fly by, and we intercut with his dream from earlier, until a dropped lunch try stirs him from his daydreaming.

It’s Cameron and his buddies, surrounding the girl again. Only Cameron shoved her. His friends are half-shocked, half drooling for more. Cameron’s clearly agitated, realizing he’s probably gone too far, and at the same time feeding off the energy his friends are putting off. He reels back to hit her, and his hand comes down on Warren’s back. That’s enough invitation for all of his friends to start attacking. For a moment Warren hunkers over her to protect her from their fists and feet, until…

Warren tears through his harness, and his school blazer in one motion, then spins, knocking Cameron and his flunkies back with his spread wings. Warren pulls the girl to him, and kicks off the ground, taking flight. We linger a moment on Cameron, as someone approaches, and offers him a hand up. He calls Warren a filthy “mutie,” and says they’re no “friends of humanity.” Then introduces himself as Graydon Creed.

We join Warren and the girl in the clouds, as her scream turns to excitement. He flies them down to a picturesque spot on top of a hill. She tells him he didn’t have to do that. He says he couldn’t stand idly by. They have a cute, flirty sort of thing, and she is very gentle and understanding about his, er, coming out. She asks if she can kiss him; she wants to, but she doesn’t want to make something really powerful and brave about her. He kisses her, and tells her it was about her, that he would have been too scared to do it if it wasn’t for her. She kisses him back, and we linger on that happy moment, because we’re going to need that to power through what comes next.

Warren’s dad berates him on the way to school, treats it like something Warren did to shame him, and the family name, and legacy. He protests, that they were going to hurt her, to which he says, “So?” They pull up at the school. Angry parents have formed a human chain outside, and are wearing, “FoH” arm bands, standing beneath a banner that says something to the effect of “Mutants Stay Out.” The Elder Worthington slides lower in his seat, when there’s a knock on the car window.

It’s Charles Xavier. He offers his help. Worthington asks if he’s a lawyer, and Charles smiles that no, he is not. Xavier walks inside, past the crowd, who murmur. One, who recognizes him, steps to him, and he smiles, and the person steps back, cowed.

Warren watches a bird fly by, and his dad snaps at him, telling him he’s never flying again. Xavier emerges, walking lightly. Behind him comes the principal, who tears down the banner. Xavier says he was glad he could change his mind, before turning to walk away. The protestors howl at the principal as he balls up their banner, and points to their cars. If we can hear him, he’s telling them they have to disperse, and if they don’t, he’ll be forced to call the police.

Worthington asks if his son can go inside. Xavier says that he can- but that he shouldn’t- that this school isn’t good enough for him. He deserves a school where he can be who he wants to be, and where he doesn’t have to threaten legal action or use of the ADA to keep the wolves at bay. He hands Worthington a card, saying he happens to run just such a school, a school designed for special people just like his son. Worthington is skeptical, downright hostile, until he says that it’s remote, far away from prying eyes and ears, from society gossip or any of the other arenas where they might look down on his son’s gifts. Worthington stops himself, and in an uncharacteristic moment of humanity, says that it should be up to his son to decide.

Charles opens Warren’s door, and says that nature has given Warren wings, that it would be his honor to give him a chance to fly.

5. Iceman: Bobby Drake is a pain in the butt. He can’t stop complaining about his mom’s traditions, about her weird smelling fish, or the fact that their “Christmas” presents are wooden and from another century; specifically, they’re getting ready for Purim. She’s hurt by the assertion, but hides it, and tells him it’s important for him to know their heritage. People died for that heritage. Carrying it was honoring their sacrifice, and their strength, and the determination that carried them through centuries of oppression and discrimination. For a moment, it seems like she’s getting through to him, before he says, “Yeah, but my bringing stink-fish on wrye for lunch is ensuring further centuries of oppression.” She glares comically at him. He clarifies that he’s not saying they have to 86 all the Jewish stuff, but dad’s Christian, so can’t this be the half of their heritage they don’t talk about, like how he’s not supposed to talk about anything covered by his jeans when they have company. She glares again, before breaking into a smile, making it clear that she loves him, despite his being a pain in the butt.

There’s a knock on the door, and we see a man we assume is her husband. She greets him as Erik, and he asks if he’s late for the kiddush, and she says they waited for him. They all sit at the table, and she lights two candles, and says a blessing. Then they have a meal, during which Erik asks about her husband, who works swings and isn’t ever there that time. She asks after his work; he does aid work for Jewish charities and the like, and is planning another trip to Israel soon. She tells him she’s struggling to get Bobby interested in his heritage. I think he tells a story from Jewish history, showcasing one of their many struggles just to survive (I’m not sure which would be more on point).

Erik mentions that his parents were both children during the Holocaust, each was the sole survivor from their families- entire lines wiped out but for those single branches. I’m kind of assuming that for this generation of Magneto, he won’t be a Holocaust survivor himself, but have been conceived by two people who lived through it, who were scarred by it, who were orphans of it, that it colored every aspect of his growing up, that everywhere his family ever lived they had contingency plans for escape, not just from the house, but from the city, from the country, from the continent, that it wasn’t until they finally settled in Israel that they found a home they weren’t looking to escape from.

Bobby attends a Purim carnival with his mom. He eats some hamantaschen, and goofs off to impress a girl. He also draws the ire of a bully, who follows them to the Ferris wheel. He shoves Bobby into the cart, elbowing the girl out of the way; the not-paying-attention operator starts the wheel with the two of them on it. The bully is fuming; he doesn’t like the way Bobby was looking at the girl. He says she’s okay, but there’s someone else, someone who he sees when he closes his eyes, when he thinks about sharing his first kiss. The scene is, essentially, Bobby coming out as bi, the dialog reading ambiguously, and thinking the bully shares his feelings (because he’s a dumb, inexperienced kid). He takes the bully’s hand, squeezes, and kisses him. And… it goes okay. The bully was jealous of the girl and not him. Except…  when he took his hand, Bobby accidentally froze it- froze their hands together in a block of ice. That freaks him out. He tries to get away, even trying to climb out of the Ferris Wheel enclosure as Bobby fights him. As the car reaches the ground the Bully punches him in the eye and stumbles backward, shattering the ice, and running. The commotion catches the attention of others at the carnival that a crowd has gathered, who look like an angry mob.

Next shot is Bobby getting locked in a cell. He uses the block of ice still around his hand to ice his black eye, and tells the Sheriff it helps. The Sheriff explains that he had to take him into protective custody; he’d seen that look before, and didn’t want to have to try and ward off a lynch mob at gun point. He says he can release him once the mob disperses and his parents can come for him.

Bobby notices another young kid in the cell beside his, and asks what he’s in for. He says it’s arson- though he didn’t do it, before using flame from a lighter to create a small dragon that melts the ice around his hand. Bobby thanks him, just as the wall behind them collapses, and in walks Magneto. From inside, a door opens, and a bald man in a nice suit strolls in. “Erik, I see you’re still tearing down walls.”

“I prefer to think of it as removing barriers to our people, Charles,” Magneto replies.  

Xavier tells Bobby that he’s secured his release and return to his mother, and can escort him safely out of the building. Magneto tries to coax him to go with him- that he needn’t fear those weaker. Xavier appeals to the bonds of family- to his mother, who is scared, and wants nothing more than to hold her precious child in her arms and tell him everything will be okay. The Sheriff returns, and his eyes go wide. Xavier tells him not to notice Magento until they’re gone, and he unlocks Bobby’s cell. Bobby glances back at Magneto, before leaving with Charles.

We cut to later, Bobby at home. She’s reading the Purim story, and mentions Hamen, and he uses his noisemaker, but peters out. He says he has to tell her something, that he’s different. She corrects him- that he’s special, and she’s known he was special from the moment she first held him in the hospital. He tells her he kissed his first boy today. And accidentally froze their hands together. She asks how it was. “Cold,” he says, then, “not bad, though. Moister than expected. But pretty good, until I got hit in the face.” She smiles, and tells him it took her a while to get the hang of kissing, too, but it was all worth it, because that’s how she got him. He groans. “Mom, you’re going to warp me.” She tells him she’s pretty sure that ship has sailed.

6-10: Now we focus on the X behind the Men. 6 starts with a young, even arrogant Charles Xavier. I think the framing story is the 5 original X-men talking, coming to realize that while they’re grateful for his help, they don’t really understand why he does what he’s done. He finds them, and Jean asks. Now it’s flashback time.

He’s kind of an obnoxious, arrogant prep school jerk. His mother calls him away from his prep school to return home because his father is dying of cancer, presumably related to his work in nuclear physics. Charles decides to stay home with his grieving mother after his father’s death, and witnesses her seduction at the hands of Kurt Marko, a family friend who provides a shoulder for her to cry on. Kurt’s son from a prior marriage, Cain, is in tow; he’s resentful of Charles and bullies him relentlessly. Eventually Charles’ mother and Marko marry. Large portions of the Xavier fortune are put into a trust for Charles, including the mansion where the new family live. Xavier’s telepathy develops, and he discovers, too late, that Kurt is only interested in his family’s money, and doesn’t care for either he or his mother. He tries to convince his mother to leave the emotionally neglectful Kurt, but she refuses, so he seeks refuge by returning to school.

At school, Xavier met and fell in love with Moira. The two had a whirlwind romance, until Xavier received a call from his step-brother. Cain was struggling with a deal going south in Cairo, and needed Charles to bail him out, literally, from prison. Charles, however, isn’t about to unleash Marko on the populace, and follows him. That’s where he bumps into a young thief named Ororo Munroe, being forced to work by a man she knows only by the name Shadow King.

But Xavier’s first concern is limiting the damage his step-brother can do, so he follows Marco. Cain was using their family’s resources and connections to fund an archeological dig. However, the Egyptian government got wind of the unsanctioned archeology, and seized his prize, including a crimson gem, that had ensorcelled Cain on sight. Because of his control over the family fortune, Charles is able to cut off most of his resources; Cain uses the last of his cash on hand to purchase a group of mercenaries to help him fight past the Egyptian authorities. Charles is too late to stop them from penetrating the chamber, and when he attempts to stop Cain’s mercenaries telepathically he finds they’re dead, save one, who is merely dying, all murdered by the vicious Juggernaut his brother has become. Charles tries to stop him mentally, but is unable to so much as speak telepathically to his brother.

Ashamed of his failure, Xavier falls into a depression. He starts drinking, though isn’t too deep in the bag when he senses the presence once again of Ororo Munroe. He feels her fear even more acutely than the last time, and goes to her. This time he listens as she tells him the full story of the Shadow King, how he can control people with his mind, how he uses innocent people as his hostages, threatening to harm them if she doesn’t steal for him. In that way he’s become the premier underworld figure in all of Cairo, and is well on his way to controlling all of the levers of government.

Xavier promises Munroe he will free her. He doesn’t get far, before he’s accosted by local police, but sensing a presence behind them, he severs it, and they crumple to the ground like puppets with their strings cut. Ororo leads him to the Shadow King, still a human at this point. His guards attack, only for them to freeze. Ororo turns, her eyes flashing white and subtly crackling with electricity, before she freezes. Xavier leaps over Shadow King’s desk, and they start to fight, before Shadow King tears him onto the psychic plane.

They battle for a time, before Xavier reveals that he’s sealed Shadow King off from his own body. They both race for a door out, each hoping to take control of Xavier, instead. When they reach the door at the same moment, we cut back to Xavier, probably a close-up on his eye, zooming out, before he starts to move. Everyone in the room resumes moving. Charles directs Ororo away from the desk; on instinct she wanted to make sure the Shadow King was really gone, like checking for a monster under the bed, but he doesn’t want her to see the catatonic body of the Shadow King. We zoom in on his pupil, and inside, in the psychic realm, we see Shadow King banging on an invisible wall, unable to escape.

Through his contacts, Xavier is able to find someone to help rehome Ororo- to take her back to her original home, really. And this is where he meets Erik for the first time. Typically, he works with Jewish charities, and, more secretively, for underground mutant-supporting ones, but he happens to be in the area, and is happy to help the child find her home. He says something to the effect that aren’t we all just searching for a place, to be happy and safe?

Their meeting, and his time in Cairo changes Xavier. He tries to go back to school, but Moira has moved on, and he realizes that academia isn’t for him, that his calling lies in helping. So it’s no surprise that the next episode finds him working in Palestine. We see him doing the hard aid work within the Gaza Strip, sweating through his suit out doors, helping to soothe angry refugees. There is a conflict at the border; it seems an NGO has accidentally promised the same supplies to both groups on the Israeli side as well as those on the Palestinian one. Feeling that the Palestinian need was more urgent, they tried to direct the supplies to Gaza, but were stopped at the border. Word of what was happening got back to some Palestinians, and a protest ensued, that threatened to spill over into violence with the addition of Israeli security forces. Peace is finally brokered at the arrival of Xavier on one side, and Erik on the other, each subtly influencing their sides towards piece, Xavier by calming the crowd somewhat, Erik by causing tanks and trucks to break down before they can reinforce the troops there. The two of them are able to build a compromise, though it’s to stop bloodshed, not for ideological reasons.

That comes later, when the two men share a drink on the Israeli side of the border. They talk well into the night, Charles learning of Erik’s parents surviving the Holocaust, and then dying in a terrorist attack in Israel in front of him. Charles argues that in this scenario, the Palestinians are the ones in camps- that to protect itself Israel is perpetrating something like the worst sin committed against them on another people. Erik is horrified, even angry, but he also recognizes there’s some truth there, too… that maybe the way to protect his people isn’t with a closed fist.

Author’s Editorial Note: After concerns were raised about this passage, I am adding this clarification of the purpose of this passage: Xavier, without using the word mutant, is able to convince Erik that Jews were the mutants of World War II, just as Palestinians are the mutants of that moment in the Middle East- that they deserve to be sheltered from the storm just as he wished his family was, just as he’s dedicated his life to doing for mutantkind. Xavier’s true power, to me, has always been his deep well of empathy; he doesn’t need to manipulate anyone, because he’s seen so deeply into the human soul- including his own- that the pain of others is his pain, and briefly, he’s able to share that gift with Erik in words.

Erik is still proudly Jewish, and I don’t believe he would be able to be completely won over- but that wasn’t ever Xavier’s hope- he views any dichotomy as a false one, any splitting of people into the deserving and the damned to be ceding the solution to the worst of human instincts. So for a time, he convinces Erik that there can be that fragile peace; Erik doesn’t stop believing Israel has a right to exist and protect itself, but he’s more easily able to see the humanity of those who get caught in that crossfire, too, regardless of which side of a border they’re on. -Nic

They work together for a time, building aid agencies that aren’t for either Israel or Palestine, but that coordinate aid between them, and build greater ties between both groups. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship… until it ended.

Gabrielle Haller was a fellow aid worker. She mostly worked on the Arabian Peninsula, but was moving medical supplies through Egypt because of an outbreak. While making their way through some largely overgrown roads, their caravan was caught in an earthquake. Their vehicles were swallowed up, as the quake broke open an underground chamber that had been covered for centuries with sand. The rest of the caravan were lost, supplies, vehicles, everything. Gabrielle was able to crawl from the hole, but had been rendered speechless by her ordeal, and sunk into a catatonic state once she reached help.

She was brought back to the camp used by Xavier and Erik. Not only did it have some fairly advanced equipment, but it was where her friends and coworkers were. There didn’t seem to be anything medically wrong with her, but she remained catatonic. Using telepathy, Xavier was able to help her push past her trauma, and regain consciousness. She was still traumatized, and still feared the evil stench of the thing in the hole, but with time she was able to go back to work helping people, which seemed to be the best medicine for her. It was only at night, when her mind was unguarded, that she succumbed to the fears, and would often wake up screaming. Because of their proximity, because of how much he’d helped her, because they were both going through something of an existential crisis, Xavier and Gabrielle cleaved to one another. Sleeping in his arms the terrors finally began to fade. For her. Unconsciously, Xavier finally felt the full brunt of her terror, and just as unconsciously, reached out telepathically to the place where her horror lied… and discovered that it was real.

Charles woke in a sweat, and got up, to find Erik pacing. He had a problem he didn’t think he could bring to Xavier. Xavier, exasperated, tells Erik they both know they’re both mutants, and that Erik’s untenable problem involves them- and that he’s happy to help. But perhaps more importantly, there is a graver threat to humanity, one hidden beneath the sands for millennia, an evil so unspeakable history scoured its existence from all record, a doom sleeping in an ancient tomb, waiting for the ripest moment to spark an Armageddon that would make the Holocaust look quaint by comparison- a living Apocalypse.

Magneto tells him to shut up. Xavier, thinking he sounds like a raving lunatic, persists, only for Erik to silence him more forcefully with a shout. Then he hears it, too: gunfire. They rush through the camp as people run in the other direction. But the sounds of gunfire are becoming further, and they find Xavier’s tent has been shredded, the bedding he shared with Gabrielle empty and torn. Xavier reaches out with his mind and tells Erik they have her, and he needs his help… and that Gabrielle is pregnant. And that the child will be like them. Magneto tells him “Mazel tov, Charles,” but protests that he didn’t need further motivation than rescuing Gabrielle.

Xavier tells him he needed Erik to understand what was at stake for him- and that she doesn’t know yet. Xavier is able to track them to the place we saw in Gabrielle’s flashback, the sinkhole where her caravan disappeared.

When they arrive, they find a decent size encampment of Hydra soldiers. Magneto is incensed at this, seeing them as little better than Nazis. Xavier tries to argue him down, reasoning that they can get to Gabrielle with no loss of life. Magneto’s having none of it, that Charles’ solution leaves them alive to keep spreading their poison. Xavier does what he can to stem the loss of life, but Magneto rampages. It all comes to a head when they find the officer holding Gabrielle, Baron Strucker. Magneto uses his powers to rip the rifles from the arms of Strucker’s guards, turns them on the Hydras, and fires. Xavier yells out in protest.

Strucker calls them “Ubermensch” and explains to them that the most fervent search Hydra undertook was looking for this buried messiah. “He was waiting for the rise of mankind’s superiors;” Strucker sees mutants and Hydra as natural allies, both representing the pinnacle of human achievement. Magneto is bemused at his arrogance, and sees Strucker as far beneath him, and tries to kill him. Only he can’t. Xavier has restrained him telepathically. It’s hard to put into words the depth of this betrayal to Erik; they’re friends, and Xavier has violated his mind- all to protect a man no better than a Nazi.

Xavier knows what he’s done, but he’s consumed by the evil thing pulsating beneath them. He shares its thoughts with Magneto, in an attempt to persuade him to stay and help. Only Magneto sees the creature differently; he feels that if Strucker’s right, then it was waiting for them- it is doom merely for the humans. “I now see which side you’ve always been on, Charles,” he sneers, before flying away.

Xavier telepathically flattens Strucker, then gets Gabrielle into a truck so she can drive herself back to safety; she says she knows the way, but she wants him to come with her. He says he can’t; he’s seen the thing in her nightmares, felt its rancid breath on his face. He can’t sleep, knowing it draws breathe still- he has to face down this demon. She’s heartbroken, because they both understand, on some level, this is him leaving her, him deciding to go down a dangerous path she cannot possibly follow, that even if by some miracle he survives the ordeal, their love is over.

Alone, now, Xavier descends into the sinkhole. The architecture is Egyptian-esque, think pyramids mixed with alien tech (Celestial, if memory serves). In the center of the chamber is a black cocoon that is nearly an obelisk. As Charles approaches it, it begins to send out pulses of force that nearly knock him over. But he continues forward, struggling against the tide, before eventually touching the obelisk. I think from this point forward we go to a battle on a psychic plane. Probably to preserve long-term casting possibilities, Apocalypse appears as a young Egyptian boy. He tells Xavier that only the strongest should survive, so he welcomes his challenge. Then the boy grows in size, until he’s replaced by a giant blue boot trying to stomp on Xavier. Charles tackles through the foot, ripping the boy out of the construct, grabbing hold of his head. Xavier’s eyes glow, then his hands, then the boy’s eyes, then everything is engulfed in light.

The psychic feedback sends out a bigger pulse, throwing Xavier into the wall, and causing a second cave-in. Most of the architecture collapses inwards as sand rushes in. We cut to the remains of the Hydra camp. The soldiers fled, taking everything they could quickly grab. Out of the sand Xavier thrusts a hand. He crawls out of the hole. And keeps crawling, his legs pulled limply behind him. He manages to pull himself by morning to a small village, and he’s airlifted back to Cairo for medical treatment.

I’ll be honest, I hadn’t anticipated seeding Apocalypse like this, and so hadn’t expected to injure Xavier… but I’m toying with 6th Sensing it. So characters who can see through telepathic manipulation talk to him as he is- a man in a wheelchair (off the top of my head, Jean, Essex, Shadow King, Emma). And everyone else sees him walking- that he admits at the end here that it was a crutch, that he felt he needed to project strength- but he understands now, having gotten to know all of them, that true strength comes from being who you really are, not projecting what you think others need to see.

The finale of the season is Cain Marko, now the Juggernaut, attacking the school as Xavier wraps up his tale. His young X-Men have to deal with the Juggernaut, showcasing their new attempts to work cohesively as a team. Iceman freezes the ground, Cyclops knocks him over with an optic blast, Beast grabs him by the ankles and spins him to keep him disoriented while Jean Grey telekinetically unbuckles his helmet, which Angel flies off with, leaving Cain vulnerable to his brother’s psychic assault.

Bonus Pitch: I could absolutely see a spin-off out of this being Magneto: Hydra Hunter, covering the time from after he and Xavier part ways, until he graduates to Supervillainy, basically him going after Nazis/Hydra and doing a riff on Munich (the Spielberg movie) as he tries to wrangle with his own demons; because I don’t think he’s quite there, yet, as a villain. I think what would probably get him there is him trying to focus on just killing the worst of the worst, in the hopes that without the Nazis and Hydra, humanity could learn to get along with mutants, and then with the rise of the Friends of Humanity movement, with the return to the public square of Nazis- it all just becomes too much for him to bear- he starts to think it isn’t a few bad apples, that the whole damn orchard is the problem.  

Even still, I could see needing a third series for Magneto to really gel as a villain. I’d probably go for an Asteroid M storyline, him trying to have his own mutant Israel, only learning that if they displaced anybody they could never have peace so he builds an asteroid out of metallic space debris for his people to live on. And of course, when human governments can’t abide what is basically a weapons platform floating above their heads and attack what was meant as a peaceful gesture, that seals things for him. That is a Magneto you probably could get away with selling shirts saying, “Magneto Was Right.” Not that I think you should… even pop-culturally ironic endorsements of genocide are a bad idea, no matter how sympathetically you build out an origin story. But that is a damn fine villain, if I do say so myself. And I just did.

Old Ventures 2, Ch. 15

Fifteen, Goethe concentration camp, outside Weimar, Germany, 4/11/45

Something was wrong. There was a strange energy in the air, as Colonel Edwards slowed the train as it slipped inside Goethe’s foreboding walls. And there were more Germans there to meet the train than Sommer had said there would be.

“I’d better go cower,” Fleming said.

Then Jack heard it, gunfire, from the nearest tower. And another. And a third. One of the Nazis nearest the platform fell.

Edwards’ immediate subordinate, Captain York, wearing an SS uniform, walked along the slim platform between the cars and engine. “Hauptman,” Edwards said, midwest bleeding through in his accent.

“The Fuhrer commanded me to oversee operations here,” York said, his accent flawless, “to take down the Schutzstaffel’s pants for a spanking.” He grinned.

“Don’t have too much fun,” Edwards said.

“Sir,” York said, clapping off a half-hearted salute before spinning on his heels.

Edwards eased on the breaks, bringing the train to a slow stop as they reached the platform. They immediately heard gunfire, and Jack reached for his pistol. “Wait,” Edwards said. “No ricochet, no shattered glass. That shot wasn’t aimed at the train. Our cover isn’t blown.”

Excited footsteps clambered up the steps leading to the conductor’s compartment, and an excitable man in an Oberst’s uniform burst through the door. “Thank the Fuhrer,” he said. “The kapos have taken the camp, even the nearby towers. They have us pinned down at the station. You were due any moment, we thought with reinforcements we could break through their line, but you were late. We were nearly overrun.”

“How many men do you have?” York asked.

“Thirty, but half are wounded, maybe a third immobile. Most can still fire, but maybe 60% could advance.”

York pondered a moment, catching Jack with a gleam in his eye. “Place prisoners behind your men, three to a man. They won’t risk firing with their kindred as a backstop. Then we can advance without opposition.”

The colonel stared dumbfounded a moment, before bursting laughing, and clapped York on the shoulder. “Ha ha, yes! The cowards won’t have the stomach to fire on their own.”

“Exactly,” York said. York clapped off a whirlwind of commands, taking no small amount of pleasure in telling Edwards to relay instructions to his subordinates in the cars behind.

“You,” the Oberst said, pointing at Jack. He exchanged a look with Edwards, knowing it was a lousy time to be found out. “Strapping fellow like you, I want with me,” he said, punching the last word into his own chest.

“Ja, Oberst,” Jack muttered, and followed him out of the car.

“The Juden won’t know what hit them, until they’re dead in a hole,” the Oberst said, his mood almost chipper. Jack didn’t react, or make eye contact. Being the face of US Army propaganda didn’t exactly make him the best candidate for subterfuge.

Edwards’ men quickly dispersed, and within five minutes, their forces combined with the Germans advanced. York and Edwards were each placed so one third of the force was to either of their sides. Sixty paces in, well away from cover, they put their hands up, and all of their men stopped, while the Germans didn’t. After another five paces, Edwards and York dropped their arms in unison, and yelled, “Aim!”

The Germans, surprised at the English command so near to their flank, spun about, and the Oberst found himself squaring off with Edwards.

“Either your guns fall to the ground, or you do,” Edwards yelled. 

“You heard the man,” Jack said from behind the Oberst, “and either way, you’ll go first.” He pulled back the hammer on his sidearm, and pressed the barrel behind the Oberst’s ear.

“Schiesse,” the Oberst swore, and threw his pistol into the dirt.

The rest of the Germans followed suit, just as a shot rang out. The yard was wide, and the echo made it hard to know where the shot came from, at least for a moment. The camp. The prisoners were firing on them. “That could be a problem,” Edwards yelled.

“I’ll handle it,” Jack said, turning and marching towards the source of the shot. He tore off his Nazi uniform like it was paper, and tossed his pistol down.

As he reached the buildings, men leaned out of doorways and windows, training rifles on him. He raised his hands, but kept marching, until a frail looking man in his fifties marched out to meet him.

“We’re American,” Jack said. “I think you were expecting us.”

“Jack Simon?” the man said, staring at him through spectacles, “Americans we expected. We didn’t expect them to bring their best.”

“I’m just another GI,” Jack said. “No,” the man said, grinning widely, and slapping Jack on the shoulder, “you’re a Jewish GI. That makes you the best.”

Pitchmas 2020, part 9: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl

The episodes start off as a grudge match, with the initial title being “Squirrel Girl vs…” but after some initial fisticuffs, her positive nature takes over, and she helps the villians/heroes with their problems, instead. Like she helps Deadpool with his ennui, Thanos with his lousy philosophy… it means the episodes end with kind of a goofy Aesop but also include superheroics, action and drama. The key, and this is a balancing act, to be sure, is she doesn’t detract from the overall threat level of her adversaries, she just finds ways around them; she might not be able to overpower Dr. Doom, but she can help him with his self-loathing- or at least give him a friend.

Because it’s a comedy show and it’s good to show contrast, I’d have her first guest be Deadpool. This would also allow her to receive, in universe, a complete set of Deapool’s Guide to Supervillains cards, which I think are great.

I think Disney’s got the rights to the ’67 Spider-Man cartoon, so presumably we could use her improvised theme song to that tune by Ryan North, which she sings in the cold open to the first episode as she stops a gang of muggers in the park:

Squirrel Girl, Squirrel Girl! She’s a human and also a squirrel! Can she climb up a tree? Yes she can, easily. That’s whyyyy her name is Squirrel Girl! Is she tough? Listen bud: she’s got partially squirrel blood. Who’s her friend? Don’t you know: That’s the squirrel Tippy-Toe. Surprise! She likes to talk to squirrels! At the top of trees, is where she spends her time like a huuuuman squirrel she enjoys fighting crime!! Squirrel Girl, Squirrel Girl! Powers of both squirrel and girl! Finds some nuts, eats some nuts, kicks bad guuuuuys’ evil butts! To her, life is a great big acorn! Where there’s a city crime-torn, you’ll find the Squirrel Girl!!!

The first episode might need to be double-length, because we have to set up the premise, namely that Doreen Green, the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, is going to college. She foils a mugging on her way to meet her new dormmate, Nancy Whitehead. Nancy’s immediately suspicious, because Doreen has a pet squirrel that she seems to talk to. Tippy Toe is very animated, babbling about a threat, that her squirrel sense is tingling. Nancy asks what’s wrong, and Doreen tells her TT’s squirrel sense is tingling- though sometimes that means she just has to pee. Doreen opens her window to let the squirrel out.

It’s while she’s packing her things into their room that she sees Deadpool go running after someone. I’m assuming he’s being very loud and disruptive, and not being familiar with him, she goes after to see if she needs to help him (or save someone from him). They have a fight, before they start talking. Turns out, Deadpool is feeling ennui, no longer satisfied being the clown he’s been, and not yet comfortable existing in the leadership role he’s created for himself with X-Force. She helps him by explaining that her army of squirrels are strong enough to take on villains- as well as trigger-happy mercenaries- together, even if they’re vulnerable individually.

I’d probably like to use Kraven as Deadpool’s quarry, to stick to the book as closely as possible, but it’s possible we could need an alternative, since I don’t know if the deal with Sony covers the ability to use Spidey characters or no, in which case I’d slot in U.S. Agent or Bucky. Deadpool is convinced that, since either character returned from the ‘dead’ they’re zombies, and that he needs to “quarantine” them (with a bullet to the brainpan). From his ranting, it’s clear that Deadpool is aware of the Marvel Zombies show, though he says he might have dreamed that part.

Both concerned for his sanity, and also concerned that there might be some truth to his concerns, Doreen decides to help Deadpool, and together they track down his quarry. Because it’s Doreen’s show, in the final fight Deadpool gets shot in the head, and Squirrel Girl beats them, before helping them with their personal problem (respectively: siccing Kraven on Gigantos as a more worthy foe, helping John Walker with his imposter syndrome, helping Bucky with his sense of loss), finishing in time to prevent Deadpool from shooting them and convincing him they aren’t the hungry dead.

2. I’d probably do the next episode as a flashback, to the time when she met both Dr. Doom and Iron Man. Tony wasn’t too impressed with her, until his armor was disabled by Doom, and Doreen single-handedly (okay, with the help of her squirrels) managed to take out Doom, before helping him with at least some of his crippling emotional problems (though not so much that he’s emotionally ready for the reemergence of Reed Richards). I think, because I have a punchline for this in a couple of episodes, her squirrel attack manages to rob him of his pants, and he wraps his cowl around his waist like a towel.

3. I’d probably due a variation of the Ratatoskr story. Doreen hears chatter from her squirrel sidekick Tippy Toe that there’s an evil squirrel. They’re attacked by the squirrel, which reveals Doreen’s secret to Nancy, but they manage to escape, and seek Norse help. They can’t find either Thor (unless we can get them- in which case, sure, why not?) but she does manage to find Loki, which is mostly a flimsy/brilliant excuse to bring in Cat-Thor, which is just what it sounds like: Loki uses his illusions to make him look like Thor as a humanoid cat furry. He knows about her evil Norse squirrel, and helps fight it. As Cat Thor. Wielding his own tiny, adorable Meowlnir. After the good guys win, Loki proposes a sequel, and that he do that oen as Frog Thor- this time as a tiny frog in a Thor costume (more comics accurate). Nancy writes it off as too ludicrous- that they don’t live in a comic book. Loki looks to camera, and we do a Warner Bros. esque end to the episode with a knock-off version of their theme song.

4. Tippy wakes Doreen up by biting her eyelid and pulling it. She’s finally got an idea of what the tingling was all about, and informs Doreen that Galactus is coming- in fact, the Devourer of Worlds is almost on top of them. Doreen reasons that she has to stop him from reaching Earth, and that the best way to do that is borrow one of Iron Man’s armors (maybe to grease the skids on this idea, Pepper, as a memorial to Tony, has lent out an exhibition of his armors to the school). Doreen is caught by one of the suits acting as a Sentry, but once she’s ejected, an army of squirrels with stolen armor pieces arrive, and she assembles them into a makeshift Iron Squirrel costume. The armor is locked, but when Doreen says she isn’t sure what the password is, the suit recognizes her voiceprint, tells her welcome, and tells her her new password is, “IBeatthePantsOffDrDoom.” She starts towards the Moon, Tippy Toe flying with her in a helmet attached to a glove. Here’s where things get convoluted: Thanos didn’t stop using the Time Stone after the Snap. He used it to check the future, and found the one instance where the Avengers could win- and that it required Tony Stark. So he tries to go back in time and fight him. But Strange used magic to make it so that if he attempted it, he would end up at this point, instead, where he would encounter the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl- thinking it was Tony, and lose. That’s right, Thanos attacks her in the armor, and gets his butt kicked. Because I say we go for broke, he has the gauntlet and all its powers- only for Tippy to steal all the stones as he fails to hit the acrobatic Squirrel Girl. It might be funny to have a Dr. Strange cameo, so he can explain all the weirdness, and send Thanos back to where he came from, with the stones, but the idea of going back to stop Tony erased from his mind.

5. Galactus arrives, and Strange tells her this is, unfortunately, not a fight they can win, opens a portal and abandons her. For a moment she’s demoralized, before frowning and deciding he doesn’t know everything, and she’s not about to stop kicking butts and eating nuts now. She gives fighting Galactus the old college try, before realizing that him coming there is the equivalent to him ordering in, that he knows the Earth is filled with countless heroes that will drop everything to help him find an uninhabited planet to devour, instead. So she helps him find a new planet to devour.

Odd sequel series pitch: Squirrel Girl’s Dirty Half-Dozen: Maybe a special, maybe a direct to Disney+ movie, or you could probably make it work over six episodes. Doreen gets targeted by an assassin- but someone with cosmic power. Galactus, sensing the danger, contacts the others she interacted with in Season 1, and they all gather, because they’re strange folks, many of them with no other real friends- but for Doreen they’re willing to show up. They interact with one another, even as the assassin arrives, only for Squirrel Girl to first vanquish them, and then befriends them (I’d throw out Terrax as a possibility, maybe having stolen Beta Ray Bill’s hammer or otherwise powered-up in a way that would give Galactus pause). Doreen arrives with the assassin in tow, and the gathered villains improvise, pretending it’s just a party, instead (or maybe that was always the plan, and it’s her birthday?)