Issue # 51
Brought together in defense of Avalon and the British Isles, the Pendragons are the officially-sanctioned heroes of Great Britain. Originally led by the Black Knight, the group is composed of surviving members of the old Knights of Pendragon group, as well as several other heroes. Willing to die for their beliefs, the Pendragons stand united as England's best defense against threats of a superhuman nature.
Special "Silver Anniversary" Pendragons logo created by Kell Carpenter, inspired by the logo created by Des Davies!
Pendragons Roll-Call: Captain Britain (leader), Hulk, Dark Angel, Android Andy, Celtic Phoenix, Nocturne and Breeze
|Written by Barry Reese|
The Vatican Library
Borys sat in the darkest corner that he could find, pouring over the ancient records. He loved books, the feel of the ancient pages against his fingertips lulling him into a sense of security that he found nowhere else. Since the age of 13, when he'd made the decision to pledge his love only to God, he'd found an almost sensual pleasure in the written word. It was his little flirtation on the side, so to speak, giving him something to think about during the long, difficult years of celibacy.
And it was not as if women would have scorned his attentions, had he chosen to pursue them. He was handsome, with classic Polish features and dark hair. It was his eyes, though, that had drawn the most attention from others. Even as a little boy, they could captivate men and women alike. They were so dark, they were almost black, with an intelligence that seemed to be projected from far within.
"Find anything useful, comrade?"
Borys didn't bother looking up from the yellowed papers. "There was a Christian seer in the 14th Century who recounts a vision he had with the Virgin Mary. She allegedly told him that there would come a time of great tribulation, prior to the Second Coming." He cleared his throat before continuing, adopting the mock professorial style that so greatly annoyed his companion. "The creatures of the pit will rise up and walk alongside the Holy; Men and women of little faith will follow the quick and easy paths, while the true son will face an uphill struggle."
"Typical religious double-talk."
Borys sighed. "Daymian... Why are you here if you don't want to learn?"
The tall Russian sat down beside his teammate, looking him square in the eye. Daymian was a much harsher figure than Borys, with a deep scar that lined his left cheek and the weathered appearance of a life-long soldier. Borys wasn't sure how old Daymian was, though there were tales aplenty of his time in the Russian-Afghanistan War. Products of the Red Guardian program sometimes aged much slower than their peers. "Because my superiors told me to come. Just as yours did."
Borys didn't answer that one. It was true enough, though he would have gladly visited these sacred halls even without a mission at hand. "Where are the others?"
"Peregrine, Blitzkrieg and Starlight are at the hotel, waiting for us. They're anxious to be gone from this place and I don't blame them. More and more it seems like an anachronism."
That was too much for Borys to ignore. "Damn you, Daymian! Are you trying to provoke me? I know that you're an atheist but this is the holiest of places! It is home to God's chosen representative and in these books are the wisdom of the ages! And our only hope for removing the Barrier!"
"You really believe that?" the Red Guardian asked. "That the secret to the Barrier's eradication lies in one of these old books? That's a bit much, don't you think?"
"We've run out of other options, haven't we? Besides, my powers are derived from God himself... if he chooses to reveal the truth to us, this is as likely a place as any."
"Derived from God," Daymian snorted. "What makes you think that? Do you think Blitzkrieg gets his powers from the King of the Jews, too?"
"No. But he didn't receive his powers the way I did mine, either." Borys looked down at his hands. He wore thick cloths tied around each palm, leaving the fingers free. Dark spots in the center of his palm were beginning to spread again. "The stigmata is proof that--"
A book flew off a shelf nearby, landing with a loud thud. Both men were on their feet at once, with Daymian's hand creeping down to the ornate belt buckle he wore. With a flick of a hidden switch, his clothing shimmered and changed... until he stood in the red and white costume of the Red Guardian.
Being in the suit always seemed to empower him, Borys knew. Daymian had leapt at the chance to replace Josef Petkus after his death, seeing the Red Guardian as the ultimate triumph for himself. "What the hell," Daymian whispered. He looked about the library. "I thought we were alone here."
"We are," Borys replied. He opened his mind, using his life sensing abilities to their fullest... the Vatican was abuzz with the minds of the living, and more than a few of the dead (being housed here for testing and analysis) but there was no trace of anyone here in the library, save for the two members of the Commonwealth.
The stigmatic picked up the book off the floor, staring at its leather-bound cover. Stamped on the front were the words Chaldean Magic. "This is one of the forbidden books... What is it doing here, in the open?"
"Perhaps your God wanted us to find it." The Red Guardian's voice, though full of sarcasm, also held a note of concern. Borys realized that he felt it too -- the sense that something momentous was occurring.
Borys felt along the edge of the book, finding one page that seemed to have been marked somehow. With trembling hands, he opened the tome and began to read....
"Well?" the Red Guardian prompted.
"It's here," Borys whispered, in a voice full of holy reverence. "God has shown us the way." He held the page up for Daymian to read.
There on the page, amongst various occult diagrams, was a spell entitled The Breaking of Ancient Magickal Seals, Both Large and Small. Beneath the spell was a drawing of a demon rising out of the abyss... and the name beneath the demon was Blackheart.
"How are you doing, Sam?"
The Leader looked up from his desk, sparing the Hulk a withering glance. A mechanical "crown" adorned the Leader's oversized forehead, blocking his ability to use his mental powers and a Gamma generator of Banner's design sapped away some of the villain's physical strength, but he was still imposing as he stood up and faced the cell's door. "Come to gloat again, Dr. Banner?"
The Hulk shook his head and shrugged. "No gloating here. I just wanted to see if you'd reconsidered yet."
The Leader placed his hands behind his back and tried to summon as much dignity as possible, given the fact that he was a prisoner. "I do not plan to be a tool for the British government... or for this false king that's set up house in Darkmoor. If you are correct that an alien race has laid siege to the rest of the world, then I'd recommend focusing on keeping the Barrier up between us and them."
"The Barrier may not stay up forever," the Hulk said. "And if it falls, we're going to need weapons to repel them... Weapons you could create for us."
The Leader's moustache twitched in amusement. "In exchange for complete freedom, perhaps...."
The Hulk narrowed his eyes, bringing a note of menace into his voice. "Don't jerk me around, Sam. I still have half a mind to kill you for what you tried to do with Molly."
"Leave him be, Bruce. He's not going to help us, no matter what."
Bruce turned away from the cell and felt his dark mood lighten immediately. Molly -- or the "Celtic Phoenix" as the team had taken to calling her -- was standing near him, looking radiant and beautiful. "You know, I love the way that green bodysuit clings to you. Very nice."
She blushed a bit, but her smile never faltered. "And you're like a wild beast! Don't you ever stop?"
He bent down and kissed her. "Never."
Hand-in-hand, they walked out of the prison, ignoring the catcalls from the various villains they passed. Once outside, Molly said "Betsy's still in a meeting with the Prime Minister. She's supposed to meet us back at Lyonesse."
"She'll be a wonderful mood, then... You know how much she loves Harrison Halpin."
"True. But it's got to be done. At least she was able to convince him that what I saw was real -- the other side of the Barrier is terrifying right now."
The Hulk stopped in his tracks, studying her. "You've been working really hard to keep us off the issue of you and the Phoenix Force. Why did it choose you?"
"I think... I think Jean Grey was killed. And the Phoenix Force needed a new host. It chose me. End of story, really."
"Are you sure?"
Molly looked away. "What else could there be, Bruce? Now come on... Let's head home."
A fiery image appeared around the two of them, enveloping them both. Despite his misgivings, the Hulk couldn't avoid letting out a wild yell of pleasure. Being this close to Creation itself... it was almost as sweet as when the Lady of the Lake had blessed him with the Pendragon spirit.
Together, they flew towards the team's island base, neither of them aware that on the far side of the galaxy, an alarm had just gone off....
The Phoenix Force had a new host, and at least one group of people would be very concerned to learn that fact.
Dr. Tania Belinskya floated above the streets of Rome, feeling a disappointing detachment. In her youth, she'd dreamed of coming here and immersing herself in history... but her life had taken so many bizarre twists and turns that it sometimes was hard to remember being a little girl at all. She'd claimed the identity of the Red Guardian at one point, adventuring alongside the American heroes known as the Defenders, but that too seemed a distant memory. Alongside Sergei Krylov, she'd become something more than human -- living nuclear reactors, capable of wreaking havoc on a cosmic scale.
It had allowed her to travel the heavens themselves, but it had robbed her of her humanity. She'd loved Krylov in a sense, though their love was more one of understanding than passion. When the Barrier had gone up, he'd been changed somehow... growing weaker and weaker as his powers were inexplicably absorbed by Tania herself. Now she was all the more potent... and he was dead.
"Starlite! We're wanted down below." Le Peregrine swooped up next to her, nearly blending into the night sky in his dark colored suit. "You look concerned, mademoiselle."
"I was just mourning the loss of my innocence."
"Ah," the Frenchman replied with a grin. "I have fond memories of my loss of innocence. She was a beautiful woman, much older than me--"
"Enough. I don't care to hear about your romantic conquests." Starlite turned back in the direction of the hotel and streaked forward, leaving an annoyed Peregrine to flap after her.
Android Andy disconnected himself from the PLATO computer system, aware that Gully was watching him closely. "I can detect no flaws in your current operating system, Gully."
Gulliver Jones -- former Pendragon turned holographic entity -- sighed dramatically. "Then why am I experiencing these phantom sensations?"
"I don't know... Perhaps it's like when a human loses a limb and can still feel it, long after it's gone?"
"Perhaps." He 'walked' towards the window, his feet never touched the floor. "You and I are likely to outlive all of our teammates, Andy."
"True enough... Though our being artificial lifeforms is no guarantee of longevity. Gawain was a robot and he was destroyed by Blackheart--"
"Yes, I know." Gully looked out at the moonlit beach, seeing the hero known as Nocturne walking along the shore. "I've been giving a lot of thought to Jacqueline Crichton--"
"Spitfire. Former member of the Pendragons and your paramour in past years."
"Good for you, old chap. You can spout useless info with the best of them." Gully couldn't hide the snappishness in his tone, but he knew that Andy wouldn't take offense. The android never did.
"It's hardly useless. It establishes the context in which you are thinking of her."
"Good heavens. If I ever get to be as annoying as you, I hope someone will reboot me. Anyway, Andy, I was saying that I love my new existence... but I feel for Jackie, raising her grandson without Joey to help her. Or me."
"You still love her?"
"I... don't know. Perhaps. I think I might love the idea of her more than the actual reality. Do you understand that?"
"I know of love from books and movies. And I love my father."
"That's not the same as love with a woman, lad. Not at all."
Andy said nothing in response, though he did wonder at it all. Perhaps this was something he would never comprehend....
The Commonwealth stood assembled in Blitzkrieg's hotel room, with Borys standing in the center of the group, the ancient book in his hand. "I had to promise Cardinal Maggi that I would return this in the morning, but I wanted you all to see this." He flipped open the book, revealing the spell he'd seen earlier. "This might be the key to taking down the Barrier."
The German hero Blitzkrieg crossed his arms and leaned against the wall. "I thought that we had come here to find a Christian way of stopping this thing? Now you expect us to use black magic? Scheiße!"
The Red Guardian held up a hand. "Shut up, please. This book was claimed by the Catholic church years ago... It's been tested and studied by clerics for centuries. Even the Cardinal admitted that we might be able to gain some aid from this thing, as long as we are careful."
Borys smiled to himself. He never would have expected Daymian to give him such support. He wants to believe, Borys thought to himself. "According to this text, all spells like this require the creation of a key. This key is capable of unlocking the erected Barrier... but smart demons like Blackheart will usually hide the key inside a human being, bonding it to their soul. According to the Cardinal, such things were common in the past. Something called the Medallion of Power was once splintered into pieces and hidden away in two mortal families -- giving rise to the various Ghost Riders."
Peregrine looked confused. "But... how would we know who this person is? The one with the key inside him...."
Borys set the book on the table, ignoring the pain in his hands and feet. They were bleeding again, but he didn't resent that fact. His powers were from a higher power, one that had directed him on this mission -- this crusade. The Barrier had spread dark magick throughout the land... and it had to fall, before the corruption of the peoples had advanced too far. "Jesus has given me a number of powers -- the ability to heal the wounded, the power to soar above the city steets and also the ability to sense the presence of living minds. It's the last ability that will help us here. By concentrating my power, I think I can find the person who might be linked to this -- God gave me this book and the power to find them. He's obviously with us on this."
"I wonder if the Church isn't overly eager for this to work," Blitzkrieg said. "Giving us a Satanic text to fight the powers of darkness makes no sense... not unless they are so afraid of losing their flock that they're taking enormous risks."
"I don't care about the religious aspects at all," Starlite pointed out. "I just want the Barrier down so that Europe can resume its interactions with the rest of the world."
Blitzkrieg pressed on, acting as if the woman hadn't even spoken. "I hate these beasts and demons that line our streets now -- the undead are beginning to outnumber the living! -- but to make deals with devils. I don't like it."
"I am team leader," the Red Guardian warned. His voice was stern. "And I have told Borys to try. If his powers can do this, surely that's a sign of some kind." He nodded once at his teammate. "Go on."
Borys took a deep breath and closed his eyes. He recited the Lord's Prayer, opening his mind to the glory of Heaven. He heard the trumpeting of angels and felt the warmth of a love everlasting....
And then his mind was loose, torn free from the mortal shell it inhabited. His body sagged like a marionette whose strings had been cut, but Peregrine caught him easily.
Borys felt the minds of all those around them, brushing them lightly. He sensed their basic natures, neatly categorizing them into several different categories: Believer; Non-Believer; Undead; etc. It wasn't that simple, of course, but Borys liked having things divided up neatly.
On and on he went, his mind expanding until it felt fit to burst... and always he kept the image of the Beast, of Blackheart, first in his mind. The person who held the Key was most likely an innocent, but he would still be tainted by the mark of the devil.
Borys gasped aloud as he felt a strange contact. He felt a tingling sensation as the tainted soul brushed his own and he knew then where he would lead his teammates -- and he felt a terrible twinge of guilt when he knew what must be done. "I found him," he said, sitting up quickly. "But removing the key might very well kill him."
"Do we have any other choice?" Red Guardian asked, helping his teammate back to his feet.
"No... Not if want the Barrier broken. I just hope that God will forgive us."
Gray Poldark was returning to his room when he saw that his bedroom door was open. Frowning, he stepped inside... and quickly felt his heart skip a beat. "Betsy?"
Betsy Braddock sat on the small couch next to his bed, reading a book. She was still in costume, though her helmet lay beside her. She smiled at him and brushed her purple hair behind her back. "I was about to give up on you."
"Glad you didn't. How did it go with the PM?"
"He's an ass."
"Nothing new, then?"
Betsy laughed. "No... But I'm not too unhappy with him, actually. At least he's not a demon in disguise like Winthrop was."
Gray sat down next to her, reaching up to begin removing his mask. "Hey, he's off to a better start than most politici-- Oh."
Betsy's expression fell. She saw that Guy had slumped back on the couch, his mouth going slack. It didn't take a telepath to know that he was in some sort of waking dream -- but a telepath could very well take a peek inside and see what was what.
Inside Gray's mind, she saw a young man -- a wheelchair bound, brain-damaged youth -- being attacked by the EU's official superteam, the Commonwealth. She saw the youth die and the Barrier fall.
She saw the coming of the Martian Invasion.
And she screamed.
Next Issue: "The Commonwealth" continues as two teams of heroes find themselves at odds... At stake is the continued existence of the Black Mass Barrier!
Issue fifty elicited quite a response from the readers, so let's dive right in to the letters!
First up is David Evans:
Wow loved 50.
reason I never expected the Leader, who is a much under used villain in
my opinion. I was sorry to hear Barry even considered finishing Pendragons
with issue 50 and would like to issue an official reprimand. I look forward
to seeing the reaction to the knowledge of the Martian invasion and would
love to see the Pendragons get involved somehow, maybe even a future tale
featuring the Guardians or Killraven? I have also enjoyed the Doctor Who
issue 1 and will wait to see how
he interacts with established Marvel characters if at all.
I became a fan of the Leader during Peter David's run on the Hulk. I liked every PAD storyline featuring the Leader and always planned to bring him back to face the Hulk -- issue 50 seemed like the perfect time.
There will be some interesting twists now that the Pendragons know what's on the outside -- but I don't plan to bring down the Barrier for awhile yet. Once I do, it forces us all into 'war mode' until the Martians are dealt with -- and I'd like to hold off on that for awhile. Besides, Tales of the Pendragons # 5 seems to point to a rather sad ending to the whole affair and who would want to rush that? :-)
Next is Gary Jones:Wow where to start to comment about this landmark issue.I loved the scribblings on the side of Hulk's/Banner's notes, it shows despite the Hulk's new found stability, the other Hulk's are still hiding under the surface just waiting for their chance to make an appearance. Let me out; dead; bitch is dead; fixit; sam, my name is sam; anger/merge/personality This brings me hope that my favourite Joe Fixit might just one day make an appearance in Pendragons.The running theme throughout the issue of the Leader having to fight for control of the Hulk's body while all the time growing himself a new body from the Hulk's tissue.and you knew they were coming so here is what I didn't like.
I know Barry wanted to connect the Pendragons to an existing Marvel timeline, in this case that of Killraven (with a bit of Avengers Forever added) but I don't think it needed it. The Pendragons Universe in my opinion is strong enough to stand on its own. I can only hope that when the barrier does come down that the Heroes on the other side have already beat the Martian invaders, I would rather see how the undamaged Europe would fit into a devastated world.I also don't buy how everyone just seems to be accepting Adam Crown as the undisputed King, it all seems a bit too easy for me. I just don't see everyone saying "lets give up our hard fought for democracy, Adam is just great ain't he." and I would have liked to at least seen some reconciliation between Adam and Ginny rather than just jumping straight into a wedding.P.S. Wanting to see more Fin Fang Foom.Glad you liked the Hulk's scribblings... Joe Fixit and company are definitely still inside Banner's brain -- maybe they'll make an appearance down the road.
The theme I was going for was "rebirth and renewal" -- the team gaining new members even as it loses old ones; Molly being reborn as the Phoenix, the Leader returning from the dead, etc. Since it was an anniversary issue, I felt it was an appropriate theme -- and I badly wanted to tell a story that was *not* focused around Avalon.
I don't plan for the Martian invasion to become the focus of the Pendragons title or the site as a whole.
As for people's acceptance of Adam as King, not everyone is happy with his ascension -- see Harrison Halpin's reaction a few isssues ago. In issue 46, the following was written:
"This young man before them seemed
to touch something in their deepest core, their ancestral memory. He was
the King and there was no doubt of that... Even in the halls of Parliament, there was no doubt of that."
When Adam announced his intentions, it touched something in the core of the English people. They recognized his truth on ancestral memory level -- he *is* Arthur, reborn. Given the mysticism that has surrounded the Isles since the Barrier went up, a lot of people are more attuned to the truths around them. But at present Adam has claimed only Darkmoor as his own -- he's opened the doors and invited people in. But it is inevitable that his dominion will spread, yes.
I see where you're coming from on the Adam/Ginny front. In issue 48, I tried to show a bit of this -- they both love one another and realize that both of them were played for fools. I might should have given them a few more issues to let things build up to the wedding, though.
Finally, we've got Gary Dreslinski:
Just finished # 50 - great job! You've got plenty of more Pendragons in you, I can tell. The secret is to do it in spurts. Write a bunch of issues at Pendragons, then go over to another series, write a bunch, then back to Pendragons... and so on! I call it "The Reese Method"! Tell Cari I loved her Molly. Really nice.
Thanks, big G. For those who don't know, Gary's contributed mightily to this little universe of ours -- his Black Knight: Destiny Walk is a classic in the making. Check it out!
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org