The Midwest Avengers have come together to decide their new chairman. In the wake of the near-destruction of Earth by the M’Kraan Crystal, definitive leadership is more important than ever. After a short debate, a vote is held and Deadly Nightshade is elected to the position unanimously! A conference call to New York informs the main branch of their decision, and Captain America himself congratulates Nightshade on her awesome new responsibility.
No sooner has the video call to New York ended than a phone call comes in on the private line. Nightshade’s father is on the line. He informs his daughter that some shady people have come around their house looking for her, and he would like her to come home to discuss things. Nightshade invites Walker along but decides that the rest of the Avengers might be too conspicuous. Nightshade reveals her real name—Lia Yancy—to Walker, and he reveals his age. Lia is surprised to find out that Walker is only 19.
While Lia and Walker are gone, JARVIS (the Tower’s artificial intelligence) picks up a police radio call for help. Though JARVIS acknowledges that it sounds like it might be a mundane police matter, Cadmus and the others decide to go check it out from sheer rainy-day boredom. On the scene, they find themselves confronted by a hostage crisis at a bank. The perpetrator seems more like a psycho than a supervillain, but the Avengers offer their aid anyway.
At the Yancy homestead, Walker is introduced to Lia’s parents, Dan and Maya Yancy. Dan is a burly older man who used to be an Army mechanic, while Maya is a Hmong woman who met Dan during the Vietnam War. Dan is a gearhead who loves rebuilding old engines, and Maya is a sharp-tongued (if tiny) woman who fixates on the idea that Walker is Lia’s boyfriend. Over dinner, they explain that one of Lia’s old gang buddies, a thug named Jason Mong, has been coming around because he thinks Lia has something to do with his brother Johnny’s disappearance.
At the bank, Cadmus manages to talk the shooter into letting him inside, while Lowrider and Render sneak in the back way. Cadmus finds that the hostage taker is scared to death that someone is after him, and he intends to protect himself by surrounding himself with innocent people. Clearly the man is deranged. Lowrider senses explosives; the hostages have been wired up with dynamite vests!
Before the heroes can act decisively to end the threat, a new player enters the scene. Dressed like a British bobby from the 19th century, save for a black hood and a Libra symbol emblazoned on his chest, the newcomer claims that he has come to take the shooter to stand trial before “a higher court.” The shooter freaks out and begins spraying bullets at the new arrival and Cadmus alike.
Lowrider begins putting out a jamming signal to keep the dynamite vests from going off, while Cadmus flings the shooter amidst the hostages, figuring that a man so determined to live won’t set off explosives while he could be hurt by them. The black-clad intruder proceeds to turn into a dozen copies of himself and try to capture the shooter for himself! The ensuing battle was short and indecisive; Render disabled the detonator, and Cadmus definitively tied up the shooter, but the mysterious multiplying man escaped after declaring Cadmus an enemy of the court for turning a criminal over to the mundane authorities.
Back in the suburbs, Nightshade and Walker have left the Yancy home, only to be confronted by four men getting out of a Cadillac. Lia recognizes one of them as Jason Mong, the thuggish older brother of the boy she used to pal around with. Jason makes some veiled threats; he heard a rumor that Lia had become a cop, and since his brother vanished, he’s wondering if maybe she had something to do with that. After a gun is drawn, Walker decides that enough is enough and unleashes his cosmic might against the thugs. A short curb-stomp battle later sees Jason asking for a truce and apologizing for his behavior.
He asks Lia and Walker to come with him back to his place so he can show them what made him think she had something to do with his brother’s disappearance, After he dismisses all but one of his thugs, the heroes agree. On the drive over, Jason mentions that a new consortium of criminals is rising to power in the city, and that he recently told them off. He had thought that maybe Johnny was payback for that, but the guy in charge of the new organization denied it. Considering that Johnny had gotten out of “the life” after he got back from prison, Jason wanted to believe him, especially since the alternative was all-out war.
At Jason’s warehouse, he showed Lia and Walker a grisly sight—a severed arm that had arrived on his doorstep a few days before. It was clearly Johnny’s arm, since Lia and Jason both recognized the tattoo, but Jason was holding out hope that his brother might still be alive. Before Johnny had vanished, he started talking about “them”—some mysterious threatening group that was “coming to get him.”
Johnny had said that Lia might be able to help him, but since Johnny had gone missing right after that, Jason assumed she had something to do with his disappearance. The only thing in Johnny’s apartment that had been a clue was a piece of paper scrawled with a weird symbol and “Lia?” written below it. Lia’s blood ran cold at the sight of the red M that was the symbol of the Brotherhood of Mutants—the gang she had run with for a while after running away from home.
Walker used his psychic senses to get a glimpse of how the arm had become severed. Johnny had been in some sort of old-time courtroom, with a red-and-black clad older man wearing a powdered wig presiding as judge. The jury box had been filled with twelve men wearing uniforms like those of old British police, their faces covered with black hoods, while a burly black-armored man stood nearby with an enormous axe. As the judge read off the sentence, judging Johnny as a petty thief, the executioner raised his axe to cut off Johnny’s hands… leaving Walker reeling and vomiting from the horrible memories.
As Nightshade and Walker leave, the others get hold of them and catch them up on what’s been happening. The other group has a lead from helping the police earlier, someone named Connor DeSoto. They agree to meet at DeSoto’s office, finding that he’s a bail bondsman and that he’s still in his office, working late. DeSoto invites them in, grateful that someone’s finally looking into his complaints.
Apparently, DeSoto used to be a parole officer until his department got downsized. Now he operates a bail bonds office to help get small-time criminals back into their lives and out of the system, where they’ll just be turned into hardened criminals. He also works with a community outreach for education programs and church groups to help reform men and women who have spent much of their lives in jail. Recently, many of his “boys” have been going missing, to the general apathy of the police.
The Avengers concur that their two cases are related, and that this may well go deeper than any of them suspect. DeSoto also mentions a new criminal syndicate growing in Chicago to replace the old and decaying Mafia, run by a man named Morelli. Because of all the violence against parolees and ex-convicts, a lot of former criminals are deciding to sign up with Morelli’s outfit for protection if nothing else.
After promising DeSoto they’ll look into it and leaving his office, they find themselves confronted by a black limousine and an invitation—by none other than Jack Morelli! They agree to meet with Morelli at his home, and are chatted up by his secretary, Candi, on the way over. Candi reveals that Morelli knows Nightshade’s secret identity and that he’s looking into everyone else as well.
Morelli’s mansion is impressive, surrounded by security and filled with wealth. Jack Morelli himself is a young man, only in his 20s, but with a powerful charisma. He has a frank discussion with the heroes, where he admits that these vigilantes they’re hunting have been impacting his organization too. He wants them dealt with, and he’s willing to hand useful information over to the Avengers in exchange for a “gentleman’s agreement”: if they stay out of his business, he’ll stay out of theirs.
Nightshade and Walker agree that Morelli’s outfit is a matter for the police, not them, and he gives them the information. He had intercepted a package from Jason Mong’s place—Johnny’s other arm. Lia’s hope that her old friend might still be alive slipped, but Walker still believed that he might survive. Morelli’s men tailed the guy that dropped off the package, losing him at a waterfront district that’s a known front for the Zodiac Cartel.
Nightshade cursed herself for a fool! With the Libra symbol on the chest of the multiplying man, the Zodiac Cartel should have been an immediate thought on her part. Still, it had been months since any of the heroes had seen the slightest sign of the Zodiacs, so it had been easy to forget about them.
Vowing to take down these vigilantes, no matter their ties to the Zodiac Cartel, the Avengers departed Morelli manor and hit the streets.