X-Factor #5: Tapped Out

A man called Michael Nowland escapes from the Master and the Alliance (Tower, Frenzy, Stinger and Timeshadow).

At the X-Factor base, the team is working out in the gym to keep physically fit. At their upcoming “operations meeting”, Jean wants to address the issue of X-Factor sending the wrong message of fear and “fanning the fires of mutant hysteria by posing as an anti-mutant group”, and that they should come up with new ways to recruit mutants. Bobby defends X-Factor’s current facade, saying that it has worked out well so far. Hank backs Jean on her opinions, and when he teases Bobby, Bobby throws Hank off balance by freezing his feet in blocks of ice. Hank falls from the still rings. Warren catches him and puts Hank back on his feet. Hank then proceeds to suspend Bobby from a board protruding from the wall high above the floor. Scott blasts Bobby free and he falls to the ground. Bobby apologises to Hank for his childish prank and the team dynamic is at equilibrium once more.

At the Tomahawk Motor Lodge, Michael calls his ex-wife, Susan, for help. He needs to get “stoned” so his “power will be useless” to the Master and his goons and they’ll “go into withdrawal”. Susan refuses to help him, saying that she doesn’t deal with drugs anymore and has cleaned up and moved on with her life. She hangs up on him. Fearing he’ll become violent, she calls X-Factor for help.

Vera has taken Hank out shopping in Soho. Bobby tags along. Hank is finally persuaded to step out of the dressing room when they receive “the emergency signal”. They leave the store frantically, with Hank promising to “reimburse [Vera] at the first available opportunity”.

It is Cyclops’ turn to mentor Rusty and Artie. The two youngsters notice that Cyclops has been very distracted lately. Cyclops’ tells them that they are performing well and he is troubled by other things. He dismisses their session early and leaves for a briefing. Artie debates for a while before deciding to show Rusty Cyclops’ personal troubles: him caught between Jean, his “first love” and Madelyne, his “estranged wife”. Rusty wonders if they should talk to Jean about it, but Artie strongly advises Rusty against it.

Warren observes that Jean has been taking off in the night and not returning for hours. Jean tells him that she has enrolled in “night classes at Columbia” to study psychology, figuring it will come in handy in their line of work. Warren teases Jean that it will take more than psychology to understand Scott. Jean tries again to get Warren to tell her what is troubling Scott, but she is interrupted once again.

Hodge has called an emergency meeting regarding Susan Nowland’s call. Her ex-husband, who is on the run, had been hanging out with mutants that match the descriptions of X-Factor’s most recent enemies: Tower and Frenzy. X-Factor assume that Tower and Frenzy are out to kidnap Michael, just like they tried to do with Rusty. They leave for San Diego immediately.

At Susan’s house, the Alliance arrive just as Susan is leaving. They try to force the whereabouts of Michael out of her.

X-Factor arrives at the Tomahawk Motor Lodge, only to find Michael drugged and unconscious. They manage to revive him after a few hours, in order to question him. Michael recognises them as the “mutant exterminators”. He summons his mutant powers, causing Marvel Girl, Iceman and Cyclops’ powers to “run amok”. X-Factor is revealed to Michael as mutants in disguise.

Cyclops tells Michael about X-Factor’s hidden agenda and Michael tells X-Factor about his powers. He discovered his powers only after he had detoxicated. He had manifested in his teens, but his powers lay dormant because he had been under the influence throughout his youth. He comes to find that his powers “augment[s] mutant energies” and soon, “mutants started seeking [him] out”, abusing him “like a drug”. The reason for going back on drugs was to stop being abused, even though it has destroyed his life. X-Factor offers to help him, with Beast proposing “to synthesize a drug to temporarily arrest the energy transferral” without the harmful side effects. Michael has vowed never again to be used as someone else’s “guinea pig” and tries to leave the motel when the Alliance break in with Susan as “insurance”.

Tower demands Michael “give [them] the ‘juice’” or else Susan will pay with her life. Michael reluctantly agrees and boosts the powers of the evil mutants. Frenzy quickly puts Susan back in their car while the rest fight X-Factor. Seeing X-Factor defeated, Michael agrees to leave with the evil mutants to ensure that Susan is not harmed. Michael is taken back to the chateau in California, back to the Master, also known as Apocalypse.

Next: X-Factor #6