ISSUE #1: THE FORMATION
Before Red-Havok could create the Challengers, he needed to cut ties with his former employer, Mr. Shade. While he was no doubt a manipulative mastermind with his own agenda, Shade saw the potential for a team of metahumans and Red knew that the Challengers, by extension, were his brainchild. Shade would not let them operate outside of his control, so the only way to truly end things, was to bring in Shade himself. Havok led the former Infiltrators into the depths of the decrepit Orthrus cloning base located in Cyborg Sinister's old lair, hoping to finally catch Shade off-guard and bring his shadow organization down.
However, Shade was able to escape the facility prior to the team's arrival, sending his best enforcer and former ally of the group, Nitedevil, to fight them back. The Nitedevil teleported himself out of the mainframe just as Shade flooded it with dangerous dark matter, causing the heroes to hallucinate and nearly lose their minds. They managed to make their way out, but refused to leave empty-handed. Rave Spider ripped the file known as the "Blacklist" from the lair's mainframe and discovered that Shade had them all marked on it. He never trusted them, he grouped them with people like Phanto, Exadeus, Baron Blitzman, and Mr. Mud. To him, there was no difference between hero and villain, only potential threats.
With Shade apparently dealt with, Havok spends the next few weeks travelling, re-connecting, and finding the perfect Challengers. He is also asked by Longbow to take in a newly reformed "Paul Ooshun" to which he reluctantly agrees. Other notable acquisitions include Galacto-Ranger "The Human Flashbulb" and Kings Row vigilante "Charon". When his roster is completed, he plans to unveil the team on CNN with Donald Fitzer, but before he can, tragedy strikes the Rave Spider.
ISSUE #2: THE CHILDREN OF HAMIDON
A conspiracy years in the making finally comes to fruition as Rave's brother, Adrian Miller, is kidnapped by Malta Operatives hired by the Crey Corporation. Grant Miller goes AWOL from his allies in order to rescue his brother, but the soon-to-be Challengers refuse to sit by and let him go alone.
Havok, Turbo, Ferret, Xanatos, Paul Ooshun, and Gadgix find Dr. Raymond Corradine, a man obsessed with the genius of Hamidon Pasalima, is attempting to use the Miller brothers to create a successor to the giant single cell monster that Pasalima turned himself into. They confront him and he injects himself with his own version of the Devouring Earth virus and makes his way through his lab, spreading growths and chaos everywhere he goes. The team battles against Echo-Seven before discovering the rest of his Malta squad and his Crey employers have been mutated by Corradine's strain.
The Challengers subdue Corradine, but find that his plan is already in motion as Crey prepares to feed Adrian Miller to the Hamidon to see if they can succeed in carrying out Corradine's ultimate goal of re powering the monster. The Challengers go up against a power-armored Hopkins and arrest Countess Crey before leaping into the isolated dimension where Crey is preparing to begin their trial run. The Challengers, and Rave Spider, are too late to stop the plot and the team must battle against the monster to save Rave's brother's life.
Although the Challengers are able to defeat the Hamidon, Adrian Miller is killed in the process, using all his might to fight Pasalima in the nucleus. Grant, mourning the loss of his brother, chooses not to dwell on the death, but to instead do his brother proud, by replacing him. He adopts the new superhero name, Replacer, to honor his fallen family member. With this ugly episode of human corruption and conspiracy burned into his mind, Havok knows that the world needs a team like the Challengers now more than they ever did before.
ISSUE #3: THE REVEAL
The Challengers reveal themselves on national television as a supergroup. CNN gets the exclusive, as part of a deal between Fitzer and Replacer. The event breaks Nielsen ratings records everywhere and is largely attended by prominent members of both the metahuman and human community. Red-Havok personally introduces every Challenger, which included Xanatos, Nimbus, Cyberman, Foxy Ferret, the Masked Renegade, Voltium, Johnny Turbo, Replacer, Luficia, Charon, the Human Flashbulb, Dynomind, Gadgix, Liquid Zero, and finally Paul Ooshun. Ooshun's membership on the team sparks widespread controversy in the crowd and Donald Fitzer capitalizes on this by criticizing Havok for trusting a monster like him.
Ooshun flips out and swats Fitzer down the stairs, running loose across the city. Paragon's heroes and the Challengers work together to track down Paul Ooshun, only to discover more than one Ooshun has been spotted in the city! It is revealed by the heroes that Sebastian Kain's lackeys, ERA, have captured Paul Ocean and are creating robotic replicas of him in an attempt to discredit the new "greatest superteam" in the world. Luckily, Paragon's heroes track Phanto and Bioshift to Terra Volta, where they kick Ooshun off the edge of a wall and make a break for it. The day is saved, but the long war between Kain and the Challengers was just beginning. Later that day, the Challengers receive a generous gift from the late Coldcrash: The Snow Mansion. They decide to use the massive estate as their new permanent headquarters. Armaments sets up a command center in the heart of it and the Challengers are officially established.
ISSUE #4: HALLOWEEN
After a friend and Reciprocator ally, The Crux Enigma is found with a drug-laced masks forced onto her face, The Challengers set their sights on Laughtershock, who is releasing these masks to the public. After battling through his gang of crooks in cheap Halloween masks, they come face to face with the psychopath himself. Laughtershock is arrested with ease, but his dangerous masks are still all over the street. The Challengers and Crux Enigma and her fellow Reciprocators collect the masks during the Halloween season, desperate to keep them away from innocent people.
Following this, Foxy Ferret throws a multi-million dollar Halloween Party she funded with stolen money, where Red-Havok finally proposes to her. During the festivities, Phanto is snuck in by an unknown insider and he attempts to ruin everything with his illusions, but is foiled by the various guests. One hero, Void Viper, deduces that a member of the Paragon Police who attended the bash had been the one to sneak in Phanto because of her overall dislike of Foxy Ferret. She escapes, however.
The next day, Replacer, Johnny Turbo, and Voltium find themselves roofied and struggle to remember what happened as the night went on. Replacer's girlfriend Asunder helps them retrace their steps to the Galacto-Dome, the former base of the Human Flashbulb, where apparently they all threw an after party for Ferret's party. They meet Blast Cycle there, who was apparently also roofied. The group discovers through video surveillance that a shapeshifter was responsible for them blacking out. They track down the mysterious shapeshifter, who is attempting to pass himself off as Johnny Turbo. After a battle, the shapeshifter escapes, and his identity still remains a mystery. For their help, Asunder and Blast Cycle and inducted into the Challengers.
Elsewhere, philanthropist Amon Aser also reveals he has purchased Strongwall Penitentiary as it was being shut down due to the breakout so long ago. Aser wishes to put his psychology background and money to good use to turn Strongwall into a prison rehabilitation center for supervillains. Among his qualified staff is Jenna Faris, the daughter of Kellon Faris, or the man who became the nefarious Exadeus after his over-exposure to the cosmic energy known as dark matter.
ISSUE #5: GANG WAR
Powerlaser and Showtime, two mob kingpins that were provided with dangerous dark matter weaponry by Exadeus, have growing animosity between them and threaten to break out into an all-out gang war in St. Martial. Aser tips off the Challengers and highly suggests they head there and minimize the damage between the two warring factions.
The team heads to the Isles and faces down the two mob bosses. They chase them through their underground canal system in St. Martial, fighting a group of four elemental mercenaries: Aero Fury, Cryo Craze, Pyro Psycho, and Geo Rage. This buys the two enough time to send more of their henchmen into Paragon while they escape by boat. The Challengers return to Paragon and stop them while Aser's men abduct Showtime and Powerlaser's raft, arresting them both.
The Challengers return to discover Aser and his PPD contact used villains on the inside to instigate the gang war so that they could incarcerate Powerlaser and Showtime and use their knowledge to locate the ever-elusive Exadeus. The Challengers know Aser's ethics are spotty, and seek to investigate further. They first find out that his PPD contact wasn't even a member of the PPD, and their investigation results in a real officer's death. Later, they discover during a mock tour of Strongwall, that Aser is trying to build a portal to a seperate dimension that can store incredibly dangerous supervillains and he needs Exadeus' expertise in that technology. The Challengers leave, satisfied with what they have discovered.
ISSUE #6: SAVING PRIVATE BOOMSTICKS
Johnny Turbo is arrested for an SUI or "Speeding Under the Influence", and the team is fed up with his uncaring attitude. Red-Havok demands he agree to attend his court-mandated therapy and not try to skip out. Voltium also takes control of his bank account, to add an incentive. With his departure, Hero Corps sends Havok a stand-in intern from Alaska named "Timmy Quick".
The Challengers are forced to work on Veteran's Day as Longbow officer Xero Mercury gives them a report about an apparent time-travel expert aptly named "The Veteran" who is supplying the 5th Column with a means of time travel. The Challengers track a group of 5th Column soldiers to the past where they are attempting to rewrite World War II as a German victory. The Challengers bounce around time periods trying to stop them, but ultimately go back just before the 5th Column depart and sabotage their time travel machine, therefore preventing them from ever going back in the first place, and a temporal loop is established. The exposure to the past rattles Xanatos though, as he misses his former team, "The Cosmic Crew", that fought in the war with him originally.
ISSUE #7: EXPLOITATION
Johnny Turbo begins therapy with acclaimed celebrity therapist Dr. Ingeborg Schwanz, but is unwilling to open up. Xero Mercury continues to get closer to the Challengers for unknown reasons and the super-religious Timmy Quick proves to be more of a bother than a blessing. Voltium becomes the proxy for Johnny Turbo's fortune after his assets are frozen and he is sent to therapy, but Volt is tricked by Dr. Aeon into using that money to fund an expansion on the Power Transfer System (PTS) which will fire an electromagnetic beam capable of absorbing mutant energy and giving them back to Aeon. The device is flawed and requires an immense amount of power, so Aeon forces Volt to become the living battery for it. The Challengers get the jump on the device, but cannot prevent it from decimating its test zone and then hitting another target. Voltium feels ashamed for being duped, and goes off on his own, no Challengers able to contact him.
With the Masked Renegade gone AWOL for unknown reasons, Johnny Turbo in therapy, and Voltium deserting the team after the Aeon fiasco, the media begins to doubt the Challengers' foundations and Red-Havok's ability to lead such a chaotic group of heroes. The news does not bother Havok, however, as he is too busy investigating and tailing Exadeus to worry about public favor. Havok's search proves to be futile as Exadeus is brought in to meet with Amon Aser, who strikes a bargain with him to construct Strongwall's interdimensional portal.
The Challengers track down Voltium in Praetoria, where he has given himself up to the authorities, thinking there was nothing left for him on Earth. They mount a rescue mission, breaking all Vanguard and Longbow sanctions on the dimension, and thwart a plot by the villains there to create their own Clockwork Challengers known as the Annihilators. Voltium's past is discovered, and while some choose not to believe it, others now see him as a liar and an informant for the hostile mirror dimension of Praetoria. Agent Dukakis, now a senior officer in Longbow, is appalled by the Challengers' reckless disregard for the law during their rescue operation and states to the press that he and the Longbow organization no longer support the Challengers in their heroic endeavors.
ISSUE #8: FRAGILE MINDS
Johnny Turbo is subjected to an intense version of hypnosis by Dr. Ingeborg Schwanz. However, Replacer and Asunder discover Schwanz was being paid under the table by Amon Aser to convince Turbo he was insane and needed to be committed to Strongwall. Aser's motives were not clear, but the hypnosis succeeded in making JT mentally unstable. The Challengers locked him in a prison cell in Xanatos' orbital Old Guard satellite. He managed to escape when Luficia released him as she was under the control of a new supervillain "Nine-ball" who had enhanced his powers with a device created by Aeon. His whereabouts unknown to the team.
The public opinion of the Challengers has shifted dramatically. With no Longbow backing, members gone wild, and their emotional stability compromised, the group is no longer looked to as the iconic greats that would usher in a new age of peace. Instead, Amon Aser becomes the white knight of Paragon as he and his company lock away and succeed in rehabilitating several supervillains like Goldmonger, Acid, Revolver II, Face-Lift, Water Wizard, Dust Devil, and many more.
It would seem as though the Challengers were unable to conquer their own faults and failures. Whether it be Havok doubting his leadership abilities, the Renegade's lone wolf approach to crime fighting, Turbo's destructive decisions, Replacer's overwhelming sense of guilt, Voltium's spotty past, or any other of the team's dozens of problems. What they do not know is that when you defend the people, fight the evil that threatens them, and stand as a beacon of light in an otherwise dark time, you cannot let your faults dictate your actions. You must challenge not only impossible odds but your own limitations. It was this first hurdle that set the stage for the Challengers to become the great protectors they were always destined to become.
ISSUE #9: HAIL EXADEUS
Havok returns after a fruitless search for Exadeus to find his work cut out for him with the Challengers. The team takes down Dr. Fatal, a grave-robbing necromancer, and take his ancient tome, the source of his power. They lock up the tome in a special vault designed for magical items in the Mansion. The group take Dr. Fatal to Strongwall to distract Amon Aser and give Foxy and Blast Cycle the opportunity to investigate the new and improved prison that has become the subject of countless news reports. During their investigation, Foxy uncovers JT's hat and deduces that he is being held there.
After learning this, Replacer, Asunder, Voltium, and Blast Cycle break into Dr. Ingeborg Schwanz's therapy offices to uncover the conspiracy that landed JT in Strongwall. Their suspicions are confirmed when they find evidence that Schwanz was being paid under the table by Aser to tamper with JT's mental state during his therapy sessions. After they leave, a security guard is shot and killed and the office is set on fire as a cover up. The Challengers know they must rescue JT from Strongwall and bring Aser down.
The following day, Red-Havok, Asunder, Ferret, Replacer, Blast Cycle, and Timmy Quick head into the heart of Strongwall to confront Aser while Xanatos, Charon, Paul Ooshun, and the Human Flashbulb dig up the last remaining evidence against him at the SERAPH lab where Dr. Schwanz did hypnosis on Johnny. There they discover that Dr. Schwanz used dangerous hypnosis to cause JT to be committed to Strongwall, all because of a deal Aser struck with Exadeus to construct the interdimensional portal at the bottom of the prison. Agents of Exadeus, driven mad by dark matter exposure, arrive to kill Xanatos and his team, but they inevitably fail.
ISSUE #10: LOCKDOWN
Meanwhile, in Strongwall, Exadeus traps Havok and his team within Strongwall, having used Turbo as bait all along. They fight through several rioting inmates and eventually rescue JT, who helps them take the fight to Exadeus. Exadeus retreats through Strongwall's newly constructed portal to the Dark Matter Zone, and the Challengers fight him in his most powerful state. They drive him back and destroy the portal, trapping Exadeus there...and allowing Havok to narrowly escape beforehand.
Elsewhere, Xanatos and his team defeat the Agents of Exadeus causing pandemonium in Steel Canyon and stop Coldcrash, who has sworn to follow Exadeus, from blowing up City Hall. Longbow captures one of Exadeus' followers and Charon interrogates him until he admits to a plot to use Longbow chasers to bomb Strongwall. With this knowledge, Xanatos and the others head to Strongwall and protect it from the chasers, which are being piloted by Longbow soldiers compromised by dark matter. They defeat Agent Dukakis and have a final showdown with Coldcrash before making a harrowing escape as Strongwall is overwhelmed by Longbow chasers and is destroyed.
In the aftermath, Donald Fitzer gets the inside scoop on these events and announces it to the world. The Challengers are universally beloved once more as the media sings their praises. In the end though, the team is just happy to see Aser, Strongwall, and Exadeus shut down once and for all! While numerous supervillains were freed from Strongwall, the Challengers now know what they are truly capable of...impossible feats that no other superteam can take on. While they may have their faults and issues they can't seem to rehabilitate completely, they can take on any challenge thrown their way.
ISSUE #11: DIRTY LAUNDRY
In the wake of the news about Strongwall, the press officially announces the supervillain Phanto's latest criminal activities. Yet, the world still feels safe with the Challengers watching over them. Unknown to the public, however, the Challengers face their own troubles getting back on their feet. As Johnny Turbo prepares to appear in court to avoid being sent back to rehab, the team defeats Magus Mask and confiscates the source of his power and his namesake, his mask. They store it in the Mansion with Dr. Fatal's tome. The Renegade and Johnny Turbo strike a deal to work together to plan Red-Havok's bachelor party.
The group discovers a scheme by a group of would-be villains with a growing threat level known as the United Underworld. The Challengers work to protect their "inside man" within the Underworld and unravel the plot of Maestro Fortissimo, an opera singer turned supervillain. Xanatos and Replacer defend the dimension from a Praetorian attack that they figured was retaliation due to the unsanctioned rescue operation of Voltium. They are shocked to discover the Praetorians are merely pawns in a diabolical game of chess by Emperor Xanatos, the evil mirror-version of Xanatos. After defeating his minions in combat, they are thrust through the cosmos by an explosion and into the Dark Matter Zone, which they manage to traverse and escape...luckily.
Baron Blitzman attacks the Mansion and fights Asunder and Replacer. Before he escapes, he reveals that he coerced Johnny Turbo into robbing a bank with him after shorting his ankle monitor when he was under house arrest. This revelation angers Replacer to no end, and he has Gadgix work to slow down security footage of the bank further than any normal technology could. The footage reveals Blitzman was telling the truth, and Replacer and Gadgix confront JT with this information. JT apologizes for being taken advantage of, but demands the footage be destroyed or it will compromise his trial. Replacer saves JT's hide, but swears that he won't save it ever again.
ISSUE #12: SPLIT FOCUS
The deadly plant mutagen known as the Corradine Strain is released onto Paragon City, but with Corradine still in prison, the Challengers are unsure who is to blame. With help from friends Sovereign Fist, The Grey Watch, and The Young Challengers, the teams clear the city of the dangerous mutations, rescue countless lives, and defeat a massive titan composed of plant matter.
The exposure to the virus mutates all of the heroes except for Replacer, who is immune. Replacer fights off his allies and drains them of the infection, incidentally damaging his healing factor in the process. The punishment Replacer endures is so heavy he falls into a coma he cannot heal from. The Challengers go to prison and seek Corradine's help, who is reluctant, until Red-Havok threatens his miniature garden he keeps in his cell. Corradine reveals the only way to save Replacer may involve killing him.
Back at the Estate, the heroes consult the Challenger computer system and start up a lengthy debate: will killing Grant Miller actually save his life? Is Dr. Corradine really to trust? According to the computer and ally Dr. Ion, this may be the only way. Corradine is the only man to fully understand the physiology of Grant Miller. Red-Havok gives the decision to pull Grant off life support, allowing the computer to synthesize the anti-virus. Gadgix rigs a power generator to output energy from Blast Cycle and Flashbulb's Defenderbelt to apply the amount of voltage necessary to restart Miller's heart.
The heroes are successful and The Replacer lives once again! But his body, in a powered and confused state acts like a living bomb, threatening to destroy not only the Mansion, but the surrounding area. Using her mutant powers, Asunder absorbs the energies emitted by Replacer, and diffuses them naturally into the environment. Grant Miller is alive and well, thanks to his allies, but most of all thanks to his sworn enemy and creator - Dr. Raymond Corradine.
ISSUE #13: THE TRIAL OF JOHNNY TURBO
Johnny Turbo's date in court finally arrives and he appears before the honorable Judge Rosenfein. He is represented by his personal ace attorney, Archibald Ferngully. The prosecution, Chet Jailem, puts together a strong case against JT, demanding his immediate return to rehab and the stripping of his hero title and Challenger membership. Jailem employs several pieces of evidence against JT, including audio tapes of his fellow Challengers complaining about him and the controversial bank robbery footage Gadgix slowed down that he obtained from an anonymous source. However, he fails to get a conviction as Archibald Ferngully had slept with the judge prior to Johnny's hearing, thereby making her biased in his favor.
Johnny is cleared of all charges and Chet Jailem swears to appeal the verdict and find a way to bring not only JT down, but the entire Challengers for their harboring of supervillains, rogues, and law-breakers. JT asks Archibald how they won and he admits to sleeping with the judge and he reveals he has done this every time JT has appeared in court since he was first hired. When JT asks him why, Archibald says that at first it was for the money, but now, he has grown to see something worth defending in JT, by any means necessary.
Following his trial, JT celebrates with Replacer, Asunder, and Gadgix, but they are put off by how nonchalantly he acts as he continues to drink heavily and brags about his lucky break. Replacer, in particular, views JT to be a lost cause, until JT takes a moment afterwards to finally give him a Christmas gift, a crudely wrapped picture of Grant and his late brother, Adrian, which he had put into a gold frame. This gesture makes Grant and the others realize that maybe Johnny Turbo can change, even if it is at a remarkably slow pace for Paragon's Fastest Man.
ISSUE #14: THE MUSIC OF MAYHEM
Utilizing a prototype Longbow helmet known as the "Meta-Amplifier", the supervillain Maestro Fortissimo creates a hypnotic rhythm that drives the citizens of Paragon against each other, providing the perfect chaotic distraction for his fellow villains Nine-ball, Storm-Thane, Shogun of Sorrow, Becky Beatdown, Eel Maloy, and Wild Time to make their presence known to Paragon City. Red-Havok makes the bold decision to call upon reformed villain Sovereign Fist and new heroes The Grey Watch for help in handling these situations. He reluctantly separates the Challengers, knowing that this would be a race against time.
Xanatos, Charon, Johnny Turbo, Voltium, and Grey Watch member Kid Arsenal stop Wild Time's goons from destroying the hospital in Kings Row and have no time to lose as Eel Maloy and his men attempt to steal dangerous Vanguard armor prototypes. They are stopped, just in time. Elsewhere, Replacer, Asunder, Foxy Ferret, Sovereign Fist, and Grey Watch member Savage Stripe take down Nine-ball's gang and arrest Nine-ball himself. Afterwards they stop the Shogun of Sorrow, who proves to be the most wily opponent of the bunch. Red-Havok, Gadgix, Blast Cycle, and Grey Watch member Amplifye fight the mysterious magical villain Storm-Thane and the brutal Becky Beatdown.
With all the villains stopped, the Challengers and their allies are exhausted, but still have one more hurdle to face, fighting the amplified Maestro Fortissimo himself. Havok rallies Johnny Turbo, Gadgix, Replacer, Asunder, Voltium, and Ferret to take the fight to Fortissimo. They stop him, destroy the Meta-Amplifier, and bring the music of mayhem to a close. Fortissimo is arrested and the United Underworld stopped, but after a tough day, the Challengers know that this group of villains are just as ruthless, cut-throat, and vile as Phanto, Blitzman, or Exadeus. The United Underworld have cemented themselves as a credible and dangerous threat.
ISSUE #15: BELTLESS INSANITY
A small group of Challengers are aided by Sovereign Fist and they manage to corner Rockmight, who has hired two freelance villains to help protect him, one of which is Trioxin, an old enemy of the group. The second, a mysterious automaton, delivers a startling message of war from Mr. Shade, the former taskmaster of the Infiltrators and head of Orthrus Inc. Nevertheless, the Challengers defeat Rockmight and his hired villains, confiscating his talisman and putting it in the vault with Dr. Fatal's tome and the Magus Mask.
When they return to the mansion, Red-Havok is so grateful to Fist for his continuing help that he offers him the title of Challenger, something he humbly accepts. Foxy Ferret makes preparations for her bachelorette party as Johnny Turbo demands that Havok make him the best man. The Human Flashbulb is heartbroken as his Defenderbelt has been shorted out after he allowed Gadgix to use it to help revive Replacer. Flashbulb believes he sees a Red-Havok clone, but it turns out to be Harold Wellington, the mansion's butler, cosplaying as Havok. Flashbulb is saddened by the lack of respect he recieves without the source of some of his greatest abilities. Replacer, Johnny Turbo, and Red-Havok seem more interested in playing Runescape than listening to his insane theories about clones. Johnny Turbo's Runescape character is killed by a unicorn.
ISSUE #16: HARDLY FAMILY
Blast Cycle is contacted by his estranged birth parents after they see him appear on Donald Fitzer's anti-drug campaign. They are two former thieves, once called Afterburner and Infectant, who have sought to turn straight, but need their son and his team's help in recovering a tablet they stole and sold that has apparently left them cursed. The tablet is the only remaining relic of Hil'kar, an ancient Cimeroran monster that the Hellions follow. The tablet must be destroyed in the Temple of Hil'kar to void the curse, but first the Challengers must actually steal it from a museum showcase.
Foxy Ferret sneaks through the back and obtains the curator's keys while the rest of the team creates a distraction with their presence. In the museum's vault, the Challengers come face to face with Fox Bow, who is attempting to steal the tablet to impress Ferret. They quickly defeat him and steal the tablet, heading to the temple to meet up with Afterburner and Infectant.
Cycle's parents reveal they tricked the Challengers into stealing the tablet so they could hand it over to Burn Side, a hellion and former comrade of Blast Cycle. Burn Side uses the tablet to summon Hil'kar and empower his Hellion followers to unparalleled levels of strength. The Challengers make their way out of the temple, defeating every last Hellion, and Burn Side himself, along the way. They spill out into Siren's Call, where a final hellion has the Tablet of Hil'kar and has taken the crew of an oil rig hostage, threatening to set it ablaze if they try to defeat him.
Replacer throws Red-Havok into the Hellion, knocking him off his guard, but the tablet allows the monster Hil'kar to inhabit the Hellion's body. He rises up and fights the Challengers, consistently being able to revive himself after being defeated. As Hil'kar prepares to kill Blast Cycle for abandoning the Hellions, Gadgix obtains the tablet and brings it to the Midnighters, who find a way to destroy it, thus rendering Hil'kar mortal and able to be defeated. Blast Cycle defeats Hil'kar one final time and absorbs his power from the Hellion, killing him in the process. Foxy sees this and is unsure of what to think of it.
Later, Replacer, Asunder, and Foxy Ferret make their way to a supposed lair of Phanto to see what he knows about Shade, as he is the only villain to ever be directly involved with the mastermind. They see that Jenna Faris is already there on business, but she quickly leaves following their arrival. Phanto hints at the location of a possible Orthrus hub, but says he will not give up the location of it. Replacer knows he can obtain this information by hacking the file transfer manifests to the hub. They head out as the Phanto they were talking to disappears, revealing this hideout was just another one of his decoys.
ISSUE #17: TRACING IN THE MOONLIGHT
Replacer manages to pinpoint the Orthrus hub within Eden and Red-Havok brings in a team of Challengers to help in the assault on the facility. Newcomers to the team learn more of the origins of the Infiltrators and the megalomaniac Mr. Shade who brought them together in the first place. They nevertheless agree to help right the wrongs done by the organization their friends were once allied with. At the hub's location, the team comes into contact with a hardened operative who had been staking out the facility codenamed "Wraith". Her aid proves invaluable as she helps the team access the hub's networks.
Unfortunately Replacer is unable to discern much information about Shade's current activities, but he does uncover a dossier on Azure Tracer, a former ally of the Infiltrators who went AWOL when she discovered her name on Shade's Blacklist. The team mobilizes to track her down when they read in Shade's files that he planned to clone her. They discover two other Orthrus facilities have gone dark and know that is the most likely place to find her. In the first, they find nothing but unconscious agents left there by Tracer and an unknown accomplice. In the second, they find the location of the cloning facility from a shipping manifest.
In the cloning lab, the Challengers rescue Spike Fuze, a refugee from Tracer's homeworld, and her accomplice in her attacks against Shade. However, it is revealed that a third member of Tracer's race, Cutter Reznick, has allied himself with Shade. Cutter, armed with Athena's dark matter blade supplied to him by Shade, succeeds in capturing Tracer and harvesting her DNA. The Challengers battle through an armada of failed clone versions of her to battle Cutter and a fearsome Cerberus Guard member. Cutter escapes as the heroes rescue Tracer and bring her back to the Mansion as Armaments plants an explosive within the heart of the lab.
Tracer luckily survives the wound and is as grateful as she can be to the Challengers for their assistance. She warily extends an olive branch to Red-Havok, stating that she will help his team and become a Challenger, but if her methods cause a rift within the group, she will leave and continue searching for Shade on her own. With all current leads on Orthrus activity exhausted, the search for Shade will have to wait until he makes another move in this massive game of chess. With Cutter on his side, Shade grows ever closer to his ultimate goals, which at this moment, still remain a mystery to all but him.
ISSUE #18: VALENTINE'S DOOMSDAY
Love is, as expected, in the air on Valentine's weekend as Red-Havok and Foxy Ferret invite Replacer, Asunder, Paul Ooshun, Crux Enigma, Aglow, and Impact out to a fancy dinner. Things are interrupted by the bumbling Doc Quantum, who uses his newly developed entanglement technology to force the couples' apart. With this trap in place, Quantum gives them two hours to complete his tests on love and morality.
Havok and Asunder test the bounds of family love as they are forced to fight an "echo" of Blue-Havok, created by Quantum. Paul and Aglow battle her an echo of her ex, Brickbreaker, to test love lost. Crux Enigma and Impact take on an echo of Tremor, someone Impact once revered but has since lost respect for, to test the limits of love between friends. Finally, Replacer and Ferret defeat a fake echo of Asunder, as a test of romantic love. After the battles, they find the devices they need to un-entangle themselves, but realize it may only be used on one of the pair.
Asunder and Replacer find a way around this and meet up with the others to take the fight to Doc Quantum. The mad scientist is working for the 5th Column, using his echo technology to essentially create an army of giant robots! When the Challengers and friends arrive, Quantum creates an armada of himself and battles them. Despite his tenacity, there aren't enough echoes in the world to save Quantum and he is arrested and defeated.
After the battle, Paul Ooshun remains in his full Ooshun form, which startles everyone. Ooshun agrees to be held in a containment cell guarded by Timmy Quick until Paul Ocean is able to regain control. Replacer discovers Quantum had also been helping send 5th Column soldiers back in time and knows that they must be stopped before they do any damage to the timeline. That must wait for now, as there's other work to be done, and with the Challengers' heaviest hitter Ooshun in containment, it won't be easy.
ISSUE #19: ARTIF***ED
Over the past few months, the Challengers have been working to capture four villains who derive their power from evil artifacts. They brought in Dr. Fatal, Magus Mask, and Rockmight, and confiscated the Fatal tome, the Magus mask, and the Rockmight talisman, storing them into the magical vault in the Mansion. The Challengers then free a captured freighter from the vicious Ripjaw and his pirate crew. The Ripjaw bone is removed from Claud Jackson's jaw and he is sent to the Zig, while his artifact joins the other three in the vault.
A few days later, Steel Canyon erupts into chaos and the Challengers are called onto the scene. The streets are littered with unconscious civilians, Longbow, and heroes. Whatever caused the mayhem made its way inside of Dr. Ion's SERAPH lab! The team rescues Ion and is ambushed by an incredibly powerful monster known as Artifact. Artifact seems to be deriving his powers from the Ripjaw bone, Magus mask, Rockmight talisman, and Fatal tome combined! He proves too strong for the Challengers to take down as they chase him around Steel Canyon, causing destruction in whatever space they fight him.
Eventually, Artifact is cornered in an old warehouse after obliterating a Legacy Chain squad sent to destroy him. The Challengers meet up with the squad's leader and are shocked to see it is the Phantom Visage, an old ally of Xanatos. The Visage is in bad shape and his sidekick Metal-Mage is out cold, but nevertheless, he has a plan to take down Artifact. He sets up a rune that will "separate the Artifacts" and tells the Challengers to activate it when the monster is weak. The group pummels Artifact and activates the rune, only to find that the Visage neglected to tell them what the rune would actually do!
The artifacts are separated, but grow their own bodies! The Challengers need to think quick and remember back to how the artifacts seemed to be arguing while they were all bonded to the same host. They hate each other, and the group capitalizes on this, making them fight one another, destroying their new bodies and sending them flying off into the air. The team sees that Harold Wellington, the mansion's butler, was the one to put on all the artifacts in a half-hearted attempt to gain superpowers. He is sent to the hospital after he apologizes for letting them get the better of him. The four artifacts are gone, but at least they are not bonded to the same host.
ISSUE #20: HERE WE GO AGAIN...
The Challengers are contacted by Wild Time, the new leader of the United Underworld. He says that during the chaos that took place during Maestro's attack on Paragon, he was incognito at the hospital his men were attacking. While there, he planted tainted blood vials which shipped all over the city, infecting innocents everywhere. Wild Time uses this as leverage on the Challengers, saying he will provide them with a cure if they break out Nine-ball and Maestro Fortissimo from their respective holding cells. Ferret takes it upon herself to free Nine-ball and is summarily chewed out by the rest of her team, who know they need a better plan of action.
Havok, Blast Cycle, Tracer, and Replacer enter the Zig on Longbow authority given to him by Agent Dukakis, but only on the condition that they follow Longbow protocol in bringing the United Underworld to justice. They remove Fortissimo from his cell, then meet up with Ferret, Turbo, Voltium, Sovereign Fist, and Gadgix in Siren's Call to make a hand-off with Wild Time and the rest of the United Underworld. When Wild Time opens a case and reveals the cure, Turbo superspeed nabs it and heads for the nearest hospital to distribute it. Wild Time laughs as the cure was merely a decoy and he didn't actually bring the cure at all! The Challengers and the United Underworld break out into an all out brawl.
Havok knocks Wild Time around until he levitates himself off the ground to get away. Hammer Shark and Turbo go head to head. Sovereign Fist and Gadgix work together to try and take down Slot King, who calls forth a group of his thugs to contain the two. Replacer fights off several of the villains, but Maestro Fortissimo's sonic powers shield his allies and send Voltium flying into the water. The United Underworld outnumber the Challengers and book it back to the Isles, leaving them behind.
Havok, filled with anger, breaks Longbow code and orders his fellow Challengers to pursue them to the Isles. They arrive and come to a stand still. Wild Time demands a billion dollars for the real cure, stating that there's no way he'd let an opportunity like his toxic blood slip through his finger without getting some compensation! The Challengers prepare to fight the group again, but Phanto arrives and tells them that attacking them here would not end well, as Sebastian Kain has expressed interest in them. Dukakis orders the Challengers to return to Paragon and they comply, albeit very bitter.
Havok spends that night in thought, but his meditation is interrupted by Agent Dukakis, who demands he reign in control of the Challengers. He reveals he blames his team for the scarring of his face at Athena's Island and that they are all ultimately selfish, putting themselves and their own objectives over the people at all times. Havok disagrees, but Dukakis tells him to keep the idea in his mind. The thought does, unfortunately, resonate with Havok. He knows when you're a hero, you must sometimes accept defeat, but when you're a Challenger, that might just be the only impossible feat you can't overcome.
ISSUE #21: HIL'KAR'S HOT POCKET
With the loss of the Ripjaw bone, Magus mask, Rockmight talisman, and Fatal tome during the Artifact fight that raged through Steel Canyon, the Challengers were certain that the FBSA subgroup MAGI would not be asking for their help in any mystical endeavors any time soon. However, Azuria acted of her own accord and called them in when she found their Atlas Park offices stormed by the Outcast street gangs for unknown reasons.
Blast Cycle, Red-Havok, Replacer, Johnny Turbo, Azure Tracer, and Foxy Ferret head to Atlas and note that the Outcasts there are tougher. They are unable to get to Azuria before she is tortured into giving the Outcast "Larkspur" a tablet MAGI recently came into possession of. The heroes battle Larkspur within City Hall, dodging his powerful plant-based attacks. He reveals he has already handed the tablet off to Aftershock, the leader of this particular Outcast gang. Blast Cycle notices Larkspur has tattooed himself with the symbol of Hil'kar and knows they need to act fast.
After Havok interrogates an Outcast for the location of their hideout, the team makes its way to a warehouse and fight Aftershock's lieutenants. One, calling himself Xanatos as an odd sort of homage, is a powerful ice-user, but is easily defeated. Thunderbringer and Pyromancer show up to clear out the Challengers as well, using their respective elemental powers to keep them at bay. Earthshaker, Aftershock's main enforcer, enters the warehouse and goes toe to toe with the Challengers, throwing them around the warehouse before eventually being toppled by Red-Havok. Earthshaker then betrays Aftershock out of fear and tells the Challengers that Aftershock is planning on uniting the Hellions, Skulls, and Outcasts under one banner as servants of Hil'kar.
The gang leaders gather at a cavern called "Satan's Butthole" to use the second Hil'kar Tablet to raise him once again. The Challengers must battle Hellfire, Bonebag, and Aftershock to stop the summoning, but are too late. Hil'kar is successfully brought back, but only momentarily before Blast Cycle absorbs the fragment of his soul. Blast Cycle is overwhelmed by now having two pieces of Hil'kar within him though, and Hil'kar takes over his body like he did to the Hellion in Siren's Call weeks ago. The Challengers help Blast Cycle regain control while fighting him. Cyke succeeds in repressing Hil'kar again and says that there are more tablets, each which has a gem that houses a piece of the soul of Hil'kar. To make up for his past as a Hellion, Cyke says he must find the other tablets and absorb the rest of Hil'kar's soul fragments, finally pacifying the monster and disbanding the Hellions for good. The Challengers are on board with this, but only if he doesn't kill to accomplish this, like he did in Siren's Call. Before they can work to find the rest of the tablets, the team is called away by Crux Enigma to help the Reciprocators.
ISSUE #22: TIME AFTER TIME
With most of the Challengers' resources going to help the Reciprocators deal with a rogue trainee, Replacer must settle for only the help of Johnny Turbo and Red-Havok on a very dangerous mission. After numerous days spent trying to pinpoint the locations of Doc Quantum's three time travel arrays he built for the 5th Column during Valentine's Doomsday, Armaments finally finds where one of them is. Replacer enlists his two allies' help in stopping the 5th from returning to the year 2005 and preventing the Council takeover of their regime.
The three bust up a 5th base and use the still active array to follow a team of would-be time travelers into the past. While there, Replacer deduces that the 5th are preventing Burkholder's betrayal in order to cause a ripple effect. By their logic, if Burkholder remains with the 5th Column, he will develop the Warcry AI for their mech division instead and they will win their war with the Council. Obviously, time would be drastically altered if this were to come to fruition, so Havok, Turbo, and Replacer become "ambassadors" of the Council to convince Burkholder to defect.
The three beat Burkholder until he is willing to change sides and then enlists his help in forcing Requiem, Maestro, and Vandal to do the same. However, in order to do so, the three Challengers and their 'ally' Burkholder must attack the 5th Column headquarters, a heavily guarded fortress. It is practically a suicide mission, but they nevertheless trudge through the hordes of soldiers to the main meeting hall. Havok and Reqiuem go blow-for-blow while Replacer uses his mimicry to copy Maestro's sonic powers and uses them to overload the oncoming hoverbots. Turbo runs circles around Vandal, who is unable to fathom what is happening due to his suit's cumbersome designs. The three triumph over the villains, spearheading the Council's takeover. They return to the year 2012, having healed the problems with the timeline, but two more of Quantum's arrays still remain active.
ISSUE #23: TIME AND TIME AGAIN
Armaments finds where the 5th Column are holding Quantum's second time travel relay. He finds that it is set for a time thousands of years ago, during a war between two Mesopotamian kings named Imperious and Romulus. In history, Imperious was the victor, but the 5th are attempting to rewrite the past so that Romulus will take over the settlement. Red-Havok, Asunder, Replacer, Johnny Turbo, Foxy Ferret, Gadgix, and Sovereign Fist follow the 5th through Quantum's relay. They dress in garb from the time period and ally with Imperious, who enlists them into his legion of soldiers. He sends them to rescue their Oracle from an attack by Romulus.
The team of pseudo-Roman Challengers make their way to the Oracle's island. While there, they discover that this island's ruins actually served as the stage for Athena's fighting tournament back in August. The Challengers rescue the oracle and are ambushed by the 5th's weaponized Nictus soldiers, revealing that they are indeed in league with Romulus, providing him with futuristic weapons and technology. The group moves to a catacomb on the island filled with the Nictus reserves of Romulus' army. While there, JT becomes sidetracked looking at an ancient burial plot and falls through a trapped door, disappearing from the rest of the group. The others assume Romulus will take him prisoner and know they must launch a massive counter-offensive.
The Challengers sans JT move to Vespillos Pass, where Romulus has fortified himself. After battling through his hordes of soldiers in the valley, they make it to the courtyard of his fortress. To their shock, it has been augmented with turrets and 5th Column guards. It is housing two massive Mek Men that Romulus is planning to use to crush Imperious and his forces once and for all. The team destroys the central hub of the robots, thwarting this plan. Just as they succeed, they are met by JT, who is apparently alive and well. He reveals that in order to avoid execution by Romulus, he told him he was Hermes and that he would help him stop the other Challengers (whom he named after other gods and Sesame Street characters) from ruining his military conquest of Imperious.
JT is wary about leaving Romulus' regime, as he has grown to love the life of luxury he leads as a "god". Nevertheless, his friends take the fight to Romulus and Requiem, who are working together. Romulus escapes and moves into the main city, putting all of his guards on the highest alert. The team pursues him, knocking around Romans like bowling pins to catch up with him. Romulus becomes imbued with the power of Nictus and battles the Challengers head to head. He and his men are defeated once and for all and Imperious moves in to reclaim his settlement. The Challengers return to the present to discover that JT's tenure as a 'god' has been remembered. People tell of the myth of the mighty Lonny, who came down to Earth with his friends. Other than that, everything is preserved.
However, the group is met by a mysterious visitor: The Veteran. He reveals he is a member of a clandestine group of time-keepers called The Menders and that time itself is changing wildly. Nothing the Menders originally predicted to happen is coming true and as a result, they don't know what to expect. The Veteran reveals that his intervention with the 5th Column months earlier was actually part of a plan to get Xanatos to see his old allies, become overwhelmed with grief, and then kill the Replacer out of rage. His plan did not come to fruition, however. He says that the Menders believe the Replacer is partly responsible for the fluctuations with the time stream and find that he will grow to actually destroy time itself. He warns him that the Menders will come to kill him. The Veteran admits that his intervention was a direct violation of the Menders' code, but also that the Menders' code may not apply anymore. He leaves them to process this information and find a way to prevent the destruction of time without killing their friend.
ISSUE #24: THE TALON
Agent Dukakis contacts the Challengers for help in investigating a recent string of suicides. The Renegade jumps at the opportunity to take over the case, but is shocked when he finds that the only connection between the victims is that they've all had run-ins with the Bird Beast, an urban legend that the Renegade always looked up to. Dukakis insists that the Bird Beast must somehow be influencing these people in a negative way, as none of them showed any outward signs of suicidal thoughts or tendencies beforehand. During their discussion, Dukakis learns of two more suicide victims. The Renegade, Azure Tracer, Asunder, Blast Cycle, Red-Havok, Foxy Ferret, and Sovereign Fist follow him to the gruesome scene.
Renegade discovers a punctured gas canister nearby the two bodies and tells Dukakis to have his men swab it in order to find what was inside of it. Since the Bird Beast is the only real lead the group has, Gadgix triangulates his approximate base of operations and Dukakis sends her and the rest of the team there while he and Asunder look into the mysterious gas canister. "The Nest" is filled with several traps and automated drones, but the team manages to survive the gauntlet and even arrest Rockefella, who was inside the lair also looking for the mysterious vigilante. The Bird Beast is not there, but in his notes they discover he actually goes by "Talonknight" and that two Senators are the next possible victims in these suspicious suicides.
The team makes their way to a conference hall, but are too late to save Senator Rogers, one of the targets. The other target, Senator Miller, is alive and well luckily. Asunder and Dukakis slowly make their way to the building as well, but arrive to find all entrances sealed. The team encounters Talonknight near Rogers' body and move to take him down, thinking he's behind all of this. He disappears after being outmatched and the Challengers begin rounding up innocents to escort them out. They encounter a bald man who releases a gas behind their backs: the same gas from the first crime scene. The team falls asleep and begins having a violent nightmare. Tracer, due to her species not needing to sleep, is able to still communicate with Dukakis and Asunder on the outside, but her wild hallucinations keep her from giving them any helpful information. The team battles through horrific images of their past: including Corradine and monstrous versions of their fellow Challengers. They come face to face with a hallucination of someone named 'Dr. Dreamweaver' and overcome his hold to wake up.
Asunder and Dukakis finally breach the building's main door and meet up with the group. In the aftermath of this ordeal, Dukakis attempts to arrest Talonknight for his involvement with the victims and his refusal to work with the police and Longbow. Red-Havok foresaw this however, and offered Talonknight the title of Challenger. Not wanting to rehash bad blood between Longbow and the Challengers, Dukakis begrudgingly allows Talonknight to continue operating on the heroes' watch. The identity of Dr. Dreamweaver remains unknown at this time, but after having his entire suicide-staging operation busted wide open, its safe to assume he won't try anything for a while.
ISSUE #25: TOXIC CLOCK
Continuing from the recent events with the United Underworld, Wild Time's toxic blood is temporarily cured when Azure Tracer provides Doctor Ion with her own blood, an act that is considered treason by her home dimension. In the time they gained, the Challengers began beating Wild Time's known associates for information on the location of his actual cure. The hunt for the cure leads the Challengers out of Paragon and gives the United Underworld their own opportunity to eliminate Ion's stalling method.
In order to avoid authorities, the Underworld releases a sewer monster into the streets of Steel Canyon as a distraction. They then make their way to SERAPH and kidnap Doctor Ion. The Challengers' search for the cure ends up fruitless and when they hear of Ion's kidnapping, they are enraged. However, Wild Time's prediction of the heroes' next moves proves to be his undoing.
It is clear that Wild Time and the Underworld's immense hatred for the Challengers has given them the drive to learn everything about them. They know their likeliest actions and can plan accordingly. That is how Wild Time has been able to keep his cure so elusive and why he's been able to send them on wild goose chase after wild goose chase. However, the Challengers use an x-factor of their own. They call upon the Gray Watch, the Noisebomb, and Crux Enigma. With their unexpected help, the Underworld are defeated in the middle of Steel Canyon. Wild Time provides them with the cure after being beaten and releases Doctor Ion. He escapes the city with the others before authorities arrive and his toxic clock finally runs out.
ISSUE #26: SPACE JAM
Doctor Ion asks Replacer, Sovereign Fist, Asunder, and Blast Cycle to meet Johnny Turbo in Bloody Bay where more Shivan meteors have landed. He believes that the Shivans are somehow dark matter-based lifeforms and he requires more meteor shards and goo samples. The five heroes battle through the Shivans, collecting pieces of their meteors along the way. They notice that Bloody Bay's first wave of Shivans are actually at war with the new ones. The Challengers have a conversation with a Shivan that uses the corpse of a human to speak. It only spews incoherent thoughts about its Dark Father, but it nevertheless proves itself sentient, something that shocks the group. The team fights off the rest of the "Neo-Shivans" and track them back to a massive Obliterator, which is spawning the others off of itself.
Afterwards, Sovereign Fist grows violently ill and begins vomiting. Replacer, Asunder, and Blast Cycle rush him back to Ion while Turbo fights off the old Shivans, who have ruthlessly turned on the city after the Neo-Shivans were cleared out. Ion requires medical records of Fist to fully assess his problem, but he has no access to them as Fist lived in the Etoile Isles prior to this year. Asunder contacts a former ally of Fist, Hyperdrive, and she sends over his medical information. Ion uses the records to deduce that the Shivan Energy source behaves volatile when in contact with the energy Fist's mutation used to generate. When Fist lost his powers earlier in the year, it was because a Shivan he was fighting in Galaxy City absorbed and ate the energy he was generating. His re-exposure to the Neo-Shivans caused an equally unstable reaction. Beyond that, Fist's susceptibility to the Shivans remains a mystery.
When Ion learns that the Shivans are sentient, he is astounded. He realizes that they could provide the group with much needed information on the aliens' origins if one were to be talked to directly. Shivans will not cooperate unless in danger though, so Ion has the Challengers follow up on a lead about a Shivan Countess Crey is keeping in captivity to perform tests on. If they were to find and liberate her "trophy" it might be willing to answer questions.
ISSUE #27: THE BELLY OF THE BEAST
The progressive mistreatment of the graveyard in Dark Astoria leads to the return of Mot, an ancient monster revered by Banished Pantheon cultists. The police, not wanting to deal with a force they are unfamiliar with, turn to the Reciprocator Crux Enigma in their time of need because of her unique skill to commune with the deceased. She and other heroes work to combat Mot's growth through the decrepit graveyard, but Crux begins having violent nightmares as her mind is warped by the degenerative hopelessness Mot creates. She is eventually consumed by Mot.
The Noisebomb uncovers this and knows that a rescue mission into Moth Cemetery is the only chance Crux Enigma has for survival. Fighting Mot would be no easy feat, as the creature is massive in scope, so the Noisebomb rallies a team consisting of Black Starbeam, Impact, Static Bolter, Paul Ooshun, Voltium, and many others. The fight takes the heroes through the twisted landscape of Moth Cemetery and pits them against heroes who have been completely lost to Mot's control. The heroes are swallowed by Mot and find themselves in the monster's stomach.
Paul rips out the Heart of Mot and the creature retaliates by manifesting itself as the Mouth of Mot. The avatar attempts to consume everyone, but is ultimately destroyed, rendering Mot's powers severely hindered. Mot releases the team, including Crux Enigma. She is rushed to the Reciprocators' home base, the Citadel, to recover. While the wounded heroes evacuate the scene, Red-Havok arrives and directs Longbow on where to strike the creature. Mot's influence is broken and it retreats, defeated. The Banished Pantheon weep at the sight of their idol crushed, but the identity of the villain who awoke Mot in the first place remains a mystery...
ISSUE #28: JOSE TUERBO
Voltium, who has been staying at Johnny Turbo's penthouse, joins his friend in spying on a woman changing in the building near theirs. Volt, completely by accident, gets JT to admit that he has returned to therapy with Dr. Ryan West AKA Variabelle following the Strongwall incident. When Voltium says he thinks its a good idea, JT says that he was only going to trick Dr. West into helping him find his true birth parents, as he grew up in the care of his senile grandfather. Dr. West uses her connections to help him take a DNA test, which was vital in finding his mother.
However, the DNA test proved completely inconclusive on determining the identity of JT's father, and listed thirteen possibilities instead. Turbo is ashamed and angry about this and throws out the results, not wanting to explore this any further. Volt saves the file and plots to use the information in it to re-enact "Mama Mia!" which has always been a fantasy of his.
ISSUE #29: MASS ERADICATED
Doctor Ion contacts the Challengers and tells them they must arrange a sit-down with Countess Crey so that she can reveal the location of the Shivan she is supposedly keeping captive. Voltium poses as an entrepreneur delivering famous heroes to the Countess for the Revenant Hero Project. However, he neglects to tell this plan to Johnny Turbo, Asunder, Sovereign Fist, Aglow, Impact, and Noisebomb, who he has brought with him as "collateral" for Countess Crey. During their meeting, Volt promises that they will provide genetic material to stall while Replacer covertly snoops around. Just before Volt provides a researcher with DNA, Replacer uncovers transmissions intercepted about an attack on the project site.
Orthrus arrives in force at Crey's mobile lab. They are headed by Orthrus 69, who brutally murders an entire cell of scientists. 69 stalls the team while data is recovered from Crey's computers and then teleports when his plan is completed. Replacer demands the location of the Shivan in exchange for defending the Countess from an Orthrus Heavy Assault Titan tasked with destroying the lab. The Titan proves to be a tough combatant, but eventually falls, and the Countess gives the Replacer the location of the "Alien Archives", a high-security Crey facility set in the remains of a crashed Rikti ship. She admits to holding a Shivan she named 'Jewel of the Cosmos' captive there.
The Alien Archives are not heavily defended as most personnel there is mainly scientific. The team makes their way to the Jewel of the Cosmos and free it from stasis. Thankful for its rescue, the Jewel of the Cosmos attempts to cooperate with the heroes. Replacer and Sovereign Fist communicate their memories to the creature by placing their hands into its gelatinous structure. It uses its adaptive nature to then read their thoughts and brain-waves. It expresses fear that its "creators" are returning and says that the Challengers will be unable to stop their invasion. It says that the Mass Eradicator, the device Shade ordered the Infiltrators to stop from activating in June 2011, was the key to their conquest of the Blue Maiden or Earth.
The Jewel reveals that Mass Eradicators have been set up on several planets while the life there was young. If the species eventually evolves to the point of developing metahuman abilities, the Eradicator is activated and the planet is sucked into the Dark Matter Zone, where the creators reside. Those that generate power that the creators can use are supposedly "eaten" and those that cannot are turned to Shivans. Sovereign Fist exhibited signs that enticed the creators to return to Earth as the energy he generated proved to be a great feast for them when he lost his powers. Before the Challengers can get the Jewel of the Cosmos back to Ion, Orthrus 69 arrives with support and kills the alien, leaving the rest of their questions unanswered as he teleports away.
ISSUE #30: HERR TODAY, GONE TOMORROW
Replacer and Johnny Turbo are asked to stop an apparent infiltration at City Hall. The two fight a cell of 5th Column sleeper agents and discover that the Atlas Time Capsule has been augmented to become Doc Quantum's final time travel relay. It is much smaller and therefore requires a very long time to recharge, so Turbo and Replacer make the gutsy decision to go in just the two of them with no Challenger back up. They emerge in an unknown time in an undisclosed 5th Column base. The base is lead by the general Reichswoman, who fights the two head on. She falls easily and with her gone, the 5th scientist Roderick Mueller apparently defects, revealing the 5th's plot to release Reichsman from stasis and then bring him back to the present.
However, as the two Challengers beat back the 5th strike force attempting to free Reichsman, Roderick Mueller releases him from stasis anyway. Reichsman then kills Mueller and knocks Turbo and Replacer aside to be taken to holding cells by the Column. They escape and realize that Requiem has been planning this outing from the get-go. He intended for them both to follow the 5th into the past, where Reichsman would kill them and even Mueller, after he stopped being useful. Requiem's plan to bring Reichsman back to the present is insane, but it might work, seeing as Statesman is dead in the present and the time travel relay will dump him and his soldiers right in the heart of Atlas. Turbo and Replacer rally a team of the premiere superheroes of the era, The Defenders of Paragon, to go after Reichsman, but even with their help, Reichsman is completely invincible and crushes the lot of them.
Replacer recalls how he and Xanatos were able to defeat Reichsman together a long time ago and realizes that if they can find Reichsman's dimensional conduit on Axis Earth, he can drain the energy and have a chance at taking him out. The two sneak into Portal Corp, which was not open to heroes at this time, and highjack a portal to Axis Earth. In the Reichsman's base there, they find his conduit has been moved to his new headquarters. Requiem accounted for this plan of action too and moved the duo's only hope at defeating Reichsman into the depths of his lair. Even though the odds are against them, Turbo and Replacer charge into Reichsman's heavily guarded lair. Replacer drains his conduit and Turbo distracts him with several superspeed attacks. Empowered by the conduit, Replacer is able to overpower Reichsman and defeat him, sending him back to stasis where he belongs. The two use the relay to return to the present and destroy it, ending the 5th's hopes of altering the past once and for all.
Following the battle against Reichsman, Replacer receives another visit from the Veteran, who urges him to act to save himself from the Menders. The Veteran explains in detail that the Menders have been dedicated to perserving time, but when it began skewing wildly and they lost their ability of precognition, they made the decision to invite Replacer into their midst, which proved to be a mistake as the exposure to so much death, war, and fighting twisted his mind to madness. Ashamed that their first "blind" decision in years effectively doomed the planet, the Menders planned to return to the past and kill Replacer. The Veteran reveals that he is not as calculating as his brothers and he thinks that a wildly unpredictable time stream doesn't mean chaos, but instead means hope. Replacer acknowledges that this means he has retained some of his humanity and asks for the Veteran's help in training for the arrival of the Menders, which the Veteran gladly obliges to.
ISSUE #31: FREAK NATION
The Freakshow begin spreading widespread mayhem through a competition inspired by Athena's Olympiad that they dubbed the Freaklympics. Blast Cycle asks Havok, Replacer, Asunder, and JT to help him stop their contest before it causes an unparalleled amount of destruction. Several civilians are put in danger as the Freaks target them for "points" in hopes of being crowned the victor. The Challengers beat down multiple team leaders leaving the entire contest in shambles, but their intervention causes the Freakshow to split into competing factions. The mad lieutenant Bile finally stages a coup against his heavy-handed boss Dreck.
As Dreck attempts to stockpile weapons and upgrades from sources like the Council and Crey, Bile attempts to break Clamor out of the Ziggurat in hopes that she will join his side. The Challengers are caught in the middle of this vicious War of the Freaks and need to make sure nobody's life is put in danger by these two maniacs. Eventually, both Dreck and Bile lose far too many of their men to the Challengers and cease their fighting, choosing to once again work together if it brings the end of the greatest superteam in the world. Afterwards, Havok begins harping on Turbo for his slacker attitude during the mission and the two get into a heated exchange of words. Replacer calms them down, but their strained friendship is on the cusp of breaking.
ISSUE #32: MORE THAN A MILE IN MY SHOES
The Challengers are asked to retrieve a Nemesis defector named Captain Sherman from a hostile stronghold in the White Plains. During the extraction, Turbo is ambushed by an armada of Fake Nemesis robots and Sherman is killed in the process. This angers Red, who believes that it was completely Turbo's fault. The two begin arguing relentlessly and constantly taking shots at one another, their strained relationship finally snapping under the pressure. The team attempts to calm them down as they continue to unravel Nemesis' plot. After stopping a surprise attack by Nemesis on a Longbow base, the Challengers realize Nemesis has uncovered a Rikti Psychic Weapon that theoretically could've won the war for them. However, it was unable to be activated because it required immense amounts of power.
The Challengers chase Nemesis' goons as they try every possible power source for the weapon. Portal Corp opens them a portal to the DMZ when they discover Nemesis has built a small outpost there designed to harness dark matter energy. They destroy the base and all of Nemesis' forces there, but Nemesis still has ideas for how to power the weapon. He attempts to hijack the powerlines leading to the Power Transfer System in Cap Au Diable and reroute the power generated to his weapon. The Challengers once again stop this plot and Nemesis only has one more trick up his sleeve.
Hro'Dtohz, the Rikti Lord of War, allies with Nemesis in hopes that the reactivation of the Psychic Weapon will be able to crush Vanguard and conquer mankind. He allows Nemesis to siphon power from the Mothership in order to power the weapon. The Challengers arrive and fight Hro'Dtohz and a massive force of the Rikti Lineage of War. Nemesis arrives, distracting the team, stating that his plan will soon come to fruition as he beams his mind into the body of Hro'Dtohz and commands the entire Rikti army. The team destroys the Nemesis, finding it to be a fake, and as a result are unable to shut down the generator before it can provide the weapon with one full charge. Strangely, nothing immediately destructive happens in the following moments. Fearing the worst though, Havok begins berating Turbo for his fumbling of Sherman's rescue and the two finally come to blows.
The next morning, Havok and Turbo have apparently "switched bodies" which they attribute to the Rikti Weapon. It uses the Rikti's potent psychic powers to actually swap psyches between two individuals. As Turbo is forced to behave like a leader for once, Havok finds himself unable to acclimate to JT's speed and lifestyle. The team searches for a solution to their friends' predicament, but mostly because they fear how much the two will screw up each others' lives.
ISSUE #33: OUT OF BODY EXPERIENCE
After a week in each other's bodies, Red-Havok calls a meeting with his Challengers to discuss the only possible way to get JT and himself back to normal. They must find and activate the Rikti weapon Nemesis used to switch them in the first place. Armaments locates a Rikti lab that went dark weeks ago and deduces that Nemesis must be occupying it and operating the weapon from there. Dynomind accompanies the mind-switched Havok and Turbo along with a team of Challengers into the lab, where they find Nemesis forces have captured most of the personnel. The team beats back Nemesis' Warhulk bodyguards, rescuing Mind'Fuk the Rikti inventor of the bodyswapping technology. He explains that Nemesis is using the device to switch his mind with Hro'Dtohz, thereby gaining control of the Rikti Lineage of War.
The Challengers make it to the weapon's holding chamber too late to stop Nemesis, who has been able to transport himself into Hro'Dtohz, but surrenders easily. Dynomind and Mind'Fuk activate the weapon, which projects a psionic matrix into the chamber, switching the psyches of everyone in the room back to normal. However, Nemesis sabotaged the machine and finds himself in Red-Havok's body, which he admits was his plan all along. He attempts to escape, but is stopped by Hro'Dtohz who is in Johnny Turbo's body. Voltium uses his skills as an electrical conduit to power the Rikti weapon and the Challengers cross their fingers as they activate the weapon once again. Everyone is returned to their correct bodies and before they adjourn the meeting, Turbo and Havok express a newfound respect for one another, even if that "respect" is merely based around the fact that they don't have to be one another.
ISSUE #34: READING KILLS
Seiken, Luficia's grandfather Emlyn Engel who was bonded to a crystal in the hilt of her sword, asks the Challengers to help him save his granddaughter from a curse his old adventurer buddy Julius placed on her. Julius was corrupted by an ancient evil book they came across during their previous adventures. The book housed the spirit of an evil beast named Mal'Gorath, and it forced Julius to trap Emlyn in a crystal and bond his granddaughter to the monster through a ten year ritual. However, Emlyn was able to stop the ritual from fully completing. This event lead to Luficia becoming a hero. As time passed, Mal'Gorath continued to try to finish the ritual and Seiken eventually ran out of time to find another way to stop him.
While Seiken explains this situation to the Challengers, Mal'Gorath is able to manipulate the arcane artifacts in the Mansion and send in his army of demonic creatures to capture Luficia, bypassing the defense system developed by Gadgix called MORGAN. The team mobilizes to rescue Luficia and Foxy Ferret telekinetically levitates Seiken so he can come as well. Mal'Gorath has recruited a sect of Circle of Thorns cultists to his cause and one of them, Nys'Zarak, attempts to recover the bones of Julius from his tomb to complete the ritual. The Challengers stop him and get the bones, battling ghosts and monsters along the way. Seiken deduces from Julius' ghost that the ritual is taking place in the same tomb under Galaxy City that it began years ago.
The Challengers head to the ruins of Galaxy City and bypass all police barricades. They delve into a mystical cavern that is still intact after the onslaught of Shivans. They enter the ritual chamber and barely save Luficia, but discover that Mal'Gorath tried to finish the ritual anyway, even though he didn't have everything he needed. This resulted in Luficia being able to overcome his influence with sheer will. Blast Cycle thrusts Seiken through the book of Mal'Gorath and destroys him, absorbing all of his power in the process. His demons suddenly bow to Luficia and she finds herself the center of new, unimaginable abilities. Though she tells the Challengers she is going to take time to recuperate and get acclimated to her new powers, but Seiken nevertheless thanks the Challengers for letting him make his greatest mistake right.
ISSUE #35: RESCUE MISSION
Longbow Captain Xero Mercury appears as a guest at a Challenger team meeting and makes a request of the group. He is unsure of whether or not he can trust the group, given his longstanding grudge against Ferret as well as his general dislike of the group answering to no real authority except for themselves. Given their recent track record, he is willing to extend an olive branch and asks the team to preform a preliminary task for him to see if they can possibly help him with a future project that will be much larger in scope.
Mercury tells them about four heroes, Tundra, Slate, Quill, and Gale, that went missing investigating seismic activity in Eden. He believes they stumbled onto a Devouring Earth nest and will be turned into monsters if the Challengers don't go in after them. A group of Challengers make their way into the nest, delving into the mysterious tunnels of Hamidon Pasilima's monsters. After breaking through a massive rock wall, traversing a bridge over a sea of corrosive acid, and blasting their way past another wall of mold, the team finds the source of the seismic activity, the Crystal Titan.
The Crystal Titan is a massive, living geode that was originally trapped underground by Xanatos and the Defenders of Paragon years ago. Replacer knows that the monster will not easily be stopped, but it is standing in their way of the captured heroes. Human Flashbulb engineers his Defenderbelt to block the Titan's unique energy signature and the heroes are able to overwhelm the monster, bringing it down. It summons a horde of crystals to attack the team, who only have a limited time to get the heroes out before the Titan reassembles itself. They manage to break the crystalline holding cell that the heroes are imprisoned in and get them out.
On the way out of Eden, Blast Cycle responds to a distress call about one of the heroes, Tundra. When he finds him, he is refusing to go with the others. He is seemingly suffering from post-traumatic stress from being held captive by the creatures. Tundra says that his fellow teammates voluntarily fed themselves to the Titan, but Cyke is unsure whether he can be trusted or not. Cyke is unable to convince Tundra to come with him and the crazed hero runs off into the Eden wilderness, where he was presumably killed.
ISSUE #36: BUSINESS, AS USUAL
While Replacer hones his abilities with Veteran and attempts to gain control over time itself so that he may face the Menders and have a fighting chance, the other Challengers deal with their own personal issues. Sovereign Fist begins moving into a new apartment, Dynomind tries to invent a new flavor of ice cream, and Red-Havok discovers evidence that MCORP, the subsidiary of Crey that created the Havok Brothers, is still operational. Elsewhere, Paul Ooshun grapples with bouts of memory loss he experiences when sometimes entering his toxic form.
Jealous of Johnny Turbo's apparent growth, Voltium enters therapy with Dr. Reaves, an associate of Dr. West, to learn more about his cluttered past and unlock secrets he's kept locked in his mind. Xanatos tries to make amends with his wife for his infidelity. However, Xan's wife, Karnal Sin, is not willing to forgive him easily. With these developments weighing heavily on members' minds, tensions grow to an all time high.
ISSUE #37: WHO KILLED PAUL OOSHUN?
Paul Ooshun goes missing investigating a distress call in the Brickstown sewer system. The Challengers team up with The Reciprocators to find answers. Crux Enigma takes a search party into the deepest reaches of the sewers while Xanatos, in disguise as Detective Frost Teeweather, questions the PPD. Detective Lester Dabrowski reveals that Paul was trying to save four missing kids. However, upon checking the database, he finds that the names of the missing kids match up to four heroes who retired after being critically injured by Paul Ooshun. After Dabrowski hits on Pathrunner, Xanatos and his team go after Glass Furnace, who is now employed at a company called Capsule Inc. Crux Enigma, Ferret, and others make their way to the Isles to find Psi-Wren.
The heroes see that Capsule Inc. was funded by the FBSA to build a tank that would be able to dismember Ooshun's body, rendering his healing factor useless. One team heads for FBSA HQ to find out where the device is and the others head to GIFT to confront Stunning Fist, another of Paul's former victims. Clues at the FBSA reveal that Agent Dukakis was involved with the plot to rid the world of Ooshun once and for all. The two teams converge to question Dukakis about his involvement and he, out of guilt, admits the truth behind Operation Assurance. It was put into place by Associate Director Morse of the FBSA and it was seen as the only possible endgame to the Ooshun problem. Dukakis admits that he wasn't compromised by dark matter during Strongwall, but he instead was tasked with destroying the island by the FBSA. Doing so would destroy Exadeus and Ooshun, and they thought that those two dead would outweigh the collateral damage the air strike would cause. Dukakis apologizes for his treachery, finally forgiving the Challengers for going over his head and for not preventing Athena from disfiguring his face. He provides them with the location of a Longbow vessel that Paul is aboard.
Associate Director Morse is arrested even though he justifies his actions, stating that Paul is in no way able to control the monster within him and he was merely correcting a mistake of the justice system. Paul's body is recovered from the ship. He is apparently deceased and his remains are left with Crux Enigma, with whom he was having a secret romantic relationship. Baron Blitzman arrives and laughs at the Challengers, Reciprocators, and hero-kind in general, seeing their infighting as a sign of complete weakness. It seems that even with villains on the rise everywhere, the "good" people of the world still stand divided against each other.
ISSUE #38: EXTRA LIFE
Three days after the FBSA executed Paul Ooshun, his healing factor kicks in. Because he was never separated into three pieces like Morse and Capsule Inc. originally intended, Paul was able to regenerate from his comatose, or dead, state. However, his close encounter with death sends the media into a frenzy. Ooshun-supporters call for the immediate arrest of anyone involved with Operation: Assurance. Agent Dukakis volunteers to be a witness in the impending trial of Director Morse.
Paul Ooshun becomes even more of a worldwide celebrity and icon, but he still faces opposition. An up-and-coming lawyer files to take him to court to enforce his will, leaving his bank accounts frozen and rendering him penniless. Havok agrees to help find Ooshun a lawyer who is not Archibald Ferngully. Meanwhile, Xanatos continues to try to regain his wife's trust, but her demands of him become more warped. He still remains at her beck and call, seemingly losing part of his free will.
ISSUE #39: THE ETERNAL NEMESIS
Asunder invites members of The Challengers to come with her to a charity fashion show sponsored by Heroes for Hope. Anna Finnley, the event coordinator, asks the group of super-celebrities to look after a European hero team known as Project RISE who are also attending the show. Project RISE consists of Heatwave, Strike, Strongarm, and Snowblind, who are philanthropist heroes often found traveling to different hotspots around the globe to lend a helping hand. When the team settles in for the event, the Project RISE heroes reveal they are robotic automatons constructed by Nemesis, who is preparing an invasion of Paragon City.
The Challengers protect the fashion show from Nemesis attacks and follow the Project RISE robots into a nearby medical building that Nemesis troops have apparently taken over. They are successful in cornering and dismantling Strongarm, but not before they receive word that the City Council is also under fire from Nemesis insurgents. Replacer gets word that there is a Nemesis battalion marching towards the Old Guard Academy in Steel Canyon so he separates from the group to hold them off. The remaining Challengers succeed in saving the City Council and then dismantle a Nemesis arms factory that was nearby.
Armaments requests that The Challengers board the flagship Nemesis submarine currently off the coast of Talos Island to halt his attacks. Red-Havok tells Turbo to create whirlwinds around the sub with his superspeed so that it cannot submerge while the team boards it. Onboard, The Challengers come face to face with Commander Sisemen, who is apparently helping direct the conquest. He admits that the body-switching fiasco that Nemesis concocted was part of a plan to get rid of The Challengers for Operation: Fallen Thunder, in which he would claim Paragon City as his own. Sisemen then destroys the submarine's navigation controls and engines, crashing it into an island to flood the interior and kill the superheroes on board. The team narrowly escapes the wreckage and corner Sisemen above a waterfall on the island. Sisemen berates them, stating that this was Nemesis' plan all along, and in their absence, his fleets launched a full assault on the mainland of Paragon City. When Blast Cycle prepares to arrest him, Sisemen jumps off the waterfall shouting "NEMESIS FOREVER!" He immediately dies upon hitting the water.
ISSUE #40: THE BRASS HAND
In order to protect the Old Guard Academy from Nemesis forces, Replacer utilizes a new power he learned from his tutelage under The Veteran. He creates a localized temporal anomaly, effectively freezing time until more heroes arrive to help beat back the invasion force. He is able to hold the field long enough for help to come, but the reaction to this new level of power is mixed from the populace. Elsewhere, Sovereign Fist's new apartment in Talos is overtaken by Nemesis forces and used as a beach-head for the invasion. To fight them back and save his adopted cat, Fist calls in help from The Challengers and his girlfriend, Rosetta Stone. While Nemesis' first assault on the city proves to be a failure, it is clear his plans are far from over.
In response to the event at the Old Guard Academy, Agent Dukakis visits the Estate while Replacer is away and has Gadgix's security program, MORGAN, analyze the footage in which Grant manipulates time on a massive scale. He explains to The Challengers the severity of the situation as the Replacer's mutant power is growing too exponentially. He warns them to help corral his new levels of power as he is now classified as capable of creating catastrophic events by Longbow. Red, Armaments, and Blast Cycle tentatively take Dukakis' criticism with a grain of salt. Elsewhere, Replacer is approached by The Veteran, who also scolds his use of time control to save the Old Guard Academy. He says that because of this, The Menders now have a clearer picture of where and how to find him, and they will no doubt be coming soon. He must speed up the training by displacing both of themselves in a pocket away from the timeline, where they can work regardless of normal constraints.
ISSUE #41: DYSFUNCTION
Adaptorbot, a robot construct of technological genius Adaptor, continually pesters The Challengers while they try to relax. While the robot poses no real threat, it consistently points out their dysfunctions and shortcomings, making it harder for them to forget their current troubles. Replacer is hard at work, splitting time between training with The Veteran, pushing his limits to places he has never gone before, and playing Diablo III on the Estate supercomputer. Blast Cycle desperately tries to track down more Hil'kar tablets, but seems to fail every time. Sovereign Fist begrudgingly moves back to Foxy Ferret's group home after his apartment's obliteration by Nemesis.
A mercenary, Codename Devilfish, strikes up a friendship with Challengers' ally Aglow. However, it is discovered he is currently in the employ of Phanto and Baron Blitzman, so a few of the group take it upon themselves to interrogate him. During the interrogation, Doctor Ion's SERAPH lab is attacked by Phanto's decoys. Devilfish offers to help the heroes protect their lab, but while their backs are turned, steals a component from the remains of the Meta-Amplifier.
ISSUE #42: MAN'S BEST FRIEND
Following a culinary class at PCU, Voltium is accidentally kidnapped by Dr. Zoo, who was there scouting for the half-man/half-bat mutant The Noisebomb. Once Zoo has them both, he takes them to his remote facility nicknamed "The Human Zoo" in which he experiments on people with horrific results. To distract the rescue party coming for the two missing heroes, Zoo turns Voltium into the animal he thinks fits him best, a dog. He battles Blast Cycle and an upcoming hero Thunderguard while he has his minions drain blood samples from The Noisebomb.
When he has stalled enough, Zoo throws the antidote to his "dog serum" and escapes from the scene. The Noisebomb is rescued shortly after and is luckily still the same as he was. Zoo stockpiles the blood he stole from the mutant, though, hoping to use it to uncover a new animal form he can create.
ISSUE #43: THE FERRET AND THE SNAKE
Over the past months, Foxy Ferret had been diving into her heritage, discovering she was actually from a magical realm. Her realm was one that was populated by humanoid animals called The Guardians. They are the keepers of magic and have sealed much of it away from several different worlds in hopes of protecting the inhabitants from the catastrophic consequences meddling with it could create. Her newfound father, Knight Wolf, and her sister, Mongoose, met with The Challengers to ask them for assistance in stopping a very evil man, Lord Serpentis.
Lord Serpentis usurped The Guardians for control of their home realm, becoming a de facto leader figure by mass producing an army using an ancient "Root" called the World Tree. After hearing of Knight Wolf and Ferret's ploy to bring Earth-dwellers into this conflict, Serpentis sends his snake armies to stop them.
The city is panicked by their arrival, but The Challengers band together to battle the invasion, luckily protecting the city from mass destruction. With The Guardians powerless though, their seals on some ancient magic is broken, and Adamastor, along with several other long-forgotten foes, are awakened. The Challengers succeed in destroying Adamastor, but know they have to take the fight to Foxy's home turf.
ISSUE #44: THE SNAKE KING
Ferret takes The Challengers into her realm, a lush forested land devoid of any industrialization or man-made structures, as The Guardians worship nature. After battling more of Serpentis' snakes, the team meets The Watcher, an apparently sentient tree that watches over the realm. The Watcher sends them to The Guardians' temple, which is currently under Serpentis' control. Numerous civilians, as well as Foxy's father, Knight Wolf, are rescued.
Ferret knows that the only way to take down Serpentis once and for all is to strike him at the World Tree, where he is mass producing his army. After progressing towards the ancient growth, Mongoose joins the group. Suddenly, Mongoose betrays Ferret and stops the team from proceeding into the central chamber of the World Tree. In the ensuing conflict, Mongoose is unfortunately killed, enraging Ferret further.
By the World Tree, Ferret finds a staff teeming with growths, which is an apparent artifact her great grandfather once wielded. She uses the weapon to fight Serpentis, and with The Challengers' help, brings him to the ground. She then shows no mercy, killing him, much to Red-Havok's shock. The Challengers are celebrated as heroes by The Guardians and the realm and Knight Wolf becomes their new leader. During the celebrations, Ferret succumbs to a bite-wound inflicted on her by Serpentis. She is apparently poisoned by a magic toxin and needs help.
The Challengers return her to the Mansion and try to have MORGAN analyze a scientific method for curing her, which may include using more of Azure Tracer's blood. Unfortunately, no scientific method can stop the magical poison, so it is up to Paul Ooshun to absorb it. In doing so, Paul's will is drained and the Ooshun monster takes over, turning on the rest of The Challengers. Replacer knows Ooshun's abilities are the only way of saving Foxy, so he tries to remain in contact with him until he can replicate his ability. Before an all-out brawl breaks out, Replacer freezes time and uses his mimicry to tap into Voltium's teleportation powers, sending Ooshun somewhere over Talos Island. He then uses the poison absorption power he mimicked from Oosh to take the last of the toxin out of Ferret. She is safe, but the world remains scared at the apparent instability of The Challengers and their members' growing power levels.
ISSUE #45: TOTAL ECLIPSE
During a solar eclipse, members of The Challengers are invited to a formal party. During it, however, they are informed by Crux Enigma that Aglow is sending her psychic messages. She is in danger, and so during another staged Nemesis attack, they sneak away from the party to save her. They find that several other eclipse partiers are somewhat out of their minds. Aglow has given in to another side of herself, called The Everlight, which is an immensely powerful psychic being.
After an intense battle with The Everlight and the hallucinations it creates, it apparently retreats. It is defeated, but only for the moment. Aglow is worried by its growing power and Asunder and Replacer offer to perform tests on her to help put her at ease. The Challengers helped save the day, but it is up to her to control the psychic powerhouse from awakening once again.
ISSUE #46: ILLUSIONS OF GRANDEUR
Following the mysterious events with Devilfish and Aglow, The Challengers continue to try to discern what exactly Phanto has planned. While recovering, Foxy Ferret has a psychic vision of Phanto's plan and rushes out of her stasis to confront him. Phanto is able to overcome her, however, because of her weakened state. He then traps her within a cage in one of his hideouts within the Etoile Isles.
Afterwards, Phanto meets with Baron Blitzman and Codename Devilfish to approach the United Underworld. The villains agree to help with the plot. With their assistance and Ferret out of commission, things are looking bleak for The Challengers.
ISSUE #47: FRACTURED
Red-Havok is livid after Phanto abducts Ferret and he issues a direct challenge to him on CNN, which sends the public into a panic. Elsewhere, other Challengers begin to unravel the secrets of Phanto's plan. It is discovered that he plans on kidnapping a powerful psychic of Paragon City and having Trioxin turn them into a living bomb, effectively melting the minds of millions of people all across the Eastern Seaboard.
Phanto breaks into Asunder's home to taunt her after she uncovers vital information about his bomb from her United Underworld contact, Shogun of Sorrow. She manages to keep her calm as he mocks her and riles him up to the point of extreme anger. Asunder discerns that Phanto has an incessant preoccupation with killing The Challengers and that may be informing his current plot. When Replacer returns, Phanto flees, but not before summoning an armada of his weather effects and unleashing them on their apartment.
ISSUE #48: MEMORIAL MAYHEM - PART I
Baron Blitzman convinces Xanatos' wife, Karnal Sin, to have her group Judex fight on his side. This act of betrayal spurns Xanatos to stop trying to get back in her good graces and instead build The Challengers' alliances for the impending battle. Xanatos is successful in recruiting the Global Defense Force, headed by Dawnshift, to The Challengers' mission of stopping Phanto's psychic bomb. Following Xan's lead, Havok convinces The Eternals to help as well.
Blitzman pays Mr. Mud and Mindswipe a large sum of money to set a trap for several members of The Challengers that will effectively take them out of the fight before it even begins. Knowing the amount of heroes Havok has amassed, Phanto begins to put red herrings about the identity of the psychic he will be using for his bomb out into the public. Dynomind tries, but is unable to discern which leads are false. Havok calls for a meeting at the Estate which over fifty of Paragon's finest heroes attend, including Impact, Dawnshift, Powered Omega, Ocean Knight, Volt Tiger, Dr. Pentice, Barraj, Condor Azul, High-Point, Guardstone, Silhouette, Iron Angel, and many more.
At Phanto's hideout, the United Underworld, Judex, and several other villains amass to meet with Blitzman, Trioxin, Phanto, and Devilfish. Sebastian Kain, Slaphappy, Speedwarp, Roll of the Dice, Autosaurus Wrecks, Spectre, Worldkiller, and several more villains officially agree to unite with them in the pursuit of Phanto's master plan. Pleased, Phanto sends them to decimate Longbow and the PPD while he, Nine-ball, Spectre, and a specialized team prepare to trap and eliminate half of The Challengers.
At the heroes' briefing, Havok explains that Xanatos, Johnny Turbo, Azure Tracer, Armaments, Charon, Paul Ooshun, Nimbus, and Cyberman went after Mindswipe, as rumors were being spread that he had allied with Phanto and was going to be used for the psychic bomb. Mindswipe lures the heroes into an abandoned office building where they have a massive battle. He successfully holds The Challengers off until Phanto's team arrives, catching them completely off-guard. The eight villains beat every Challenger unconscious, forcing Voltium to have to teleport them to safety. Even the legendary Xanatos falls before the battle for Paragon City even begins.
ISSUE #49: MEMORIAL MAYHEM - PART II
Rendered sends villains out into Steel Canyon to destroy Longbow's presence as well as create a fake biological disaster to distract the PPD. After this, both peacekeeping groups no longer stand a chance against the unified villains. With little resistance standing in their way, they begin the march onto Siren's Call.
Havok, meanwhile, splits the heroes to investigate the only four remaining leads on the identity of the psychic bomb. Every lead is actually a trap orchestrated by the villains, unfortunately. One team is trapped in an office building that becomes filled with Phanto's illusions. Inside of it, they discover Phanto is planning on using Aglow as his psychic bomb and he is holding her in Steel Canyon. Another team's discovery conflicts with this, as after they are ambushed by Revolver II, Acid, and an armada of Blitzman's thugs and electrical elementals, they find evidence that Penny Yin is the person being targeted. The third team heads to a mercenary information hub and fight Megabooster and Slyshot, two villains-for-hire in the employ of Codename Devilfish. After dodging several traps, they find transmissions about a mercenary squad planning on kidnapping Crux Enigma. The final team uncovers a message that says Trioxin is planning on using someone from Foxy Ferret's orphanage for the bomb, but before they can head there, they are trapped by Gatoroid and The Living Reactor as they funnel in poisonous gas.
The first team discovers Aglow was in no real danger and it was merely a ploy to confuse them. The second barely saves Penny Yin's father and Citadel from an unexpected attack from Blitzman. The third team wipes out Devilfish's hired guns, but instead of finding Crux Enigma, rescue The Noisebomb. When the last team finally makes their way to Ferret's orphanage, they are too late, and Phanto has kidnapped the powerful mutant Epilogue, a very troubled young girl with immense psychic abilities. She was in the care of Ferret, and with the wily rodent-girl captured by the villains, nothing was there to stop them from taking her. Sovereign Fist, who was staying at the orphanage, did his best to fight back the invasion, but was knocked out, overwhelmed by sheer numbers.
Trioxin brings Epilogue into Siren's call so that her psychic storm can terrorize the entire East Coast. She outfits the villains with psychic dampeners so that the bomb will not kill them when it goes off. Havok fears the heroes will be short-handed against the villains. Replacer responds to this crisis by unleashing a new talent his mentor, The Veteran, taught him: body multiplication. He strains every fiber of his being to duplicate himself three times, bolstering the heroes' numbers. Nimbus, bloodied and beaten, refuses to stay out for the fight and creates a massive, localized storm above Siren's Call. Revitalized, Havok, the four Replacers, Nimbus, Human Flashbulb, Asunder, Voltium, Gadgix, and Blast Cycle lead the heroes into battle against Baron Blitzman, Phanto, Trioxin, Devilfish, and their army of evil.
ISSUE #50: MEMORIAL MAYHEM - PART III
The villains barricade a massive crane that towers above Siren's Call. Trioxin has put Epilogue on the top of it and she begins to arm her. The heroes charge at the villain barricade and succeed in beating back a few stragglers. Unfortunately, the villains strike back in force. Several heroes are taken out of the battle by the counter-attack. The Global Defense Force goes toe to toe with the cosmic villain, Worldkiller, who has a personal hatred for those that call themselves planetary protectors. Phanto foils the attempts of Silent-Sniper and Iron Angel to scale the crane and rescue Epilogue.
Without Turbo in the battle, nobody is able match Blitzman's speed and he zips around the battlefield, taking down hero after hero. Mindswipe arrives to the battle and begins to torment heroes with his mental powers. The villains grow confident in their victory, but Trioxin informs Phanto that Epilogue has grown unstable. The heroes then make the push to her, headed by Icon of The Eternals, who delivers a thundering blow to Phanto's ego, as well as his torso. Epilogue is rescued as she is somehow able to resist the control Trioxin had exerted over her. The villains' plan is in shambles and Nine-ball orders the United Underworld to leave before any of them are arrested.
Enraged, Phanto traps Red-Havok in an illusion and the two have a skirmish. Blitzman charges into the crowd of heroes, having a complete mental breakdown. He fights as hard as he can, feeling he is more powerful than them all. He is wrestled down, arrested, and taken to the Zig. Trioxin and Devilfish flee the scene and the other villains begin to flock out of the battle. Phanto and Havok continue to go blow-for-blow, with Phanto clearly losing. Havok shatters the dome around Phanto's head and prepares to finally bring the master of deception to justice. Suddenly, Phanto unmasks himself, revealing he was not Phanto at all, but Deceiter, an old shapeshifting enemy of The Challengers. While he is stunned by this revelation, Deceiter stabs Red-Havok with a paralyzing toxin and takes over his identity, unknown to the other Challengers and heroes. The real Phanto debriefs his villainous cohorts and then disappears, revealing he was an illusionary placeholder all along.
Deceiter, in disguise as Havok, joins up with the other The Challengers, who have now decided to move into Sharkhead and rescue Ferret from Phanto's hideout. They are met with heavy resistance from the United Underworld, however. Replacer handles all of the villains while Voltium teleports the others into the hideout. There, they find Ferret in the middle of a conversation with Mindswipe. When Mindswipe is distracted, Voltium teleports her free from the cage and the heroes return to Paragon. Xanatos makes a full recovery, followed by the other downed Challengers, and congratulates his team on a job well done. Ferret makes the difficult call to give her team of orphaned metahumans over to Vanguard, deeming herself no longer responsible to keep them all safe. Blitzman is locked away in an intensely secure wing of the Zig, Trioxin and Devilfish remain at large, and Phanto has Deceiter at his beck and call, subtly controlling The Challengers from the inside.
ISSUE #51: BLITZED
Following the massive battle that Memorial Mayhem culminated in, the world is still completely unaware of Deceiter stealing Havok's identity. All seems to be well, but only for a moment. Johnny Turbo goes to visit Baron Blitzman in the Zig, seeking answers on how Blitzman was able to develop such intense superspeed so fast. Blitzman mocks Turbo and tells him that if he really wants to move faster, he must abandon those "holding him back" or his fellow Challengers.
JT refuses to take this advice, but Blitzman doesn't seem to mind. As their visit concludes, Blitzman touches JT and somehow "uses" JT and his combined speed to overload the power nullification boots forced upon him by the PPD. In a split second, Blitzman knocks out Turbo and escapes his cell. On his way out of prison, he makes a pit stop and breaks out an old adversary who had been directing Praetorian assaults, even while being held in a maximum security cell since 2007. Emperor Xanatos is free once again.
ISSUE #52: UNITY OF THE ZODIAC
In the aftermath of Memorial Mayhem, a new group of supervillains attempt to put their own nefarious schemes into play. Longbow Warden Xero Mercury is hot on their trail, however, as he discovers his brother, Tyrok Mercury, or Styng as he is known in the criminal underworld, is an important player within the group. As he follows their activity, he finds the group is hitting locations in the pattern of star-charts and constellations, and the members of the group all represent members of the astrological Zodiac. Knowing there is something big at play here, Mercury decides to ask The Challengers to assist in bringing The Zodiac down.
Even when members Gadgix and Human Flashbulb show up intoxicated to Xero's briefing, he knows he has nowhere else to turn, and as a result lets it slide. He informs The Challengers that The Zodiac's pattern indicate they will be striking a Styx Industries lab in Skyway City and stealing fusion generators from it. After stopping and arresting members Battleram, Bullrush, and Chiton, the team interrogates the three and find they have been brought together by an unknown benefactor. The heroes decide to talk to the current head of Styx Industries, Jenna Faris, the daughter of Kellon Faris or Exadeus.
Jenna is hostile to the group, but remains adamant that she is not involved with The Zodiac. While talking to her, Mercury informs the team that there is a breakout at the Zig. The Challengers hurry over to Brickstown and find that Zodiac member Tidus shifted into water and was smuggled into the prison inside of Bullrush's stomach. Once inside, Bullrush puked him up and he initiated the breakout, freeing Fox Bow and Ripjaw, making every member of this astrological criminal collective at large. Burn Side, Dr. Corradine, and several more high-powered villains escape during the Zodiac breakout as well, but show no connection to the instigators.
ISSUE #53: WRATH OF THE ZODIAC
Longbow is able to rescue a hapless technician, Dr. Hector Vega, from being kidnapped by The Zodiac. Mercury asks The Challengers to take him in and see why he would be targeted. Vega is forthcoming with most of his information and does not exhibit any reasons for alarm. When inside of the Estate, Vega duplicates himself into hundreds of copies, revealing he is The Eleventh Man. While The Challengers are fighting his copies, Scale, who has the ability to shrink and grow, had smuggled himself inside of the Estate in one of Vega's pockets and grows to full size. He accesses MORGAN's AI core and steals its matrix for an unknown purpose. Eleventh Man and Scale both escape.
Director Abigail Slate, Xero Mercury, Agent Dukakis, and Captain Barghest of Longbow formally apologize to The Challengers for not seeing Vega's treachery, but Flashbulb will have none of it. He insults the Longbow team and leaves angrily. Replacer goes to calm him down. The Zodiac is found to be comprised of Styng (Scorpio), Jungle King (Leo), Bullrush (Taurus), The Eleventh Man (Gemini), Tidus (Aquarius), Smasha (Virgo), Scale (Libra), Kong Pan (Capricorn), Fox Bow (Sagittarius), Battleram (Aries), Chiton (Cancer), and Ripjaw (Pisces). The star pattern their attacks follow indicate The Zodiac's next target is the PTS in Cap Au Diable, which Asunder theorizes they want to use to activate their stolen fusion generators.
Asunder, Ferret, Replacer, and Havok head to Cap Au Diable while Tracer leads a search party to recover Armaments after the attack on the mansion. A PTS worker named Jenkins tells The Challengers about recent visitors to the establishment. He says representatives from Styx Industries, a mysterious mercenary, and a Longbow agent have all been there. He takes them to the PTS Foreman who says the Longbow visitor was Tyrok Mercury, still claiming to be affiliated with the organization. In the middle of their discussion, escaped Zig inmates mob the PTS and attack The Challengers. While they are distracted, Fox Bow kills Jenkins and the Foreman and then flees the scene.
ISSUE #54: DIRECTOR ZERO
An encrypted message is sent to the Estate that reads "Meet me where the King takes his #2." The on-duty Challengers, which includes Nimbus, Ferret, Havok, Asunder, Blast Cycle, Johnny Turbo, and Replacer, discern that the riddle means to meet in the Kings Row sewers, and so they head there. In the sewers, they find Orthrus 8, or Gregg, an old ally from when The Challengers were The Infiltrators, still working for Mr. Shade. Gregg says that he and Liquidus, the former Director of Orthrus and friend of many of The Challengers, have gone rogue from Shade. Shade is hiring out mercenaries to bring Liquidus in and The Challengers need to extract him. He provides them with a location that he was last seen in.
The heroes head to the location and battle a mysterious female mercenary who is a member of Fox Unit, a band that Liquidus once belonged to. She flees and The Challengers follow her through nearby maintenance tunnels. After fighting two more of the mercs, they drop their weapons and say their leader, Liquidus' brother, Solidus, wants to talk. Solidus explains that Fox Unit is actually trying to protect Liquidus and that Shade's really had Liquid Zero working for him all along. He claims Zero is a clone of Liquidus. The team is wary to believe this, but Havok makes the call to at least trust Solidus at first, so that they can ensure Liquidus is safe. Solidus baits Zero and all other agencies after Liquidus by releasing a fake message as him. The Challengers beat Malta and Orthrus agents and then come face to face with Zero. Zero attacks The Challengers and they knock him unconscious. Replacer says he has no plans to allow Solidus to take Zero, but the mercenary leader stalls long enough to hack Zero's teleporter and sends him to Fox Unit HQ. It is clear now that Solidus was lying, and Zero is Liquidus' true brother. Solidus is just Shade's hired mercenary muscle. He then dissipates, stating the psychic expert of Fox Unit was merely casting an illusion of him the whole time.
These events lead to a massive argument breaking out between the group, starting with Replacer blaming Red for their recent failures against both the Zodiac and now the arrogant Solidus. Gregg decides to be completely honest with The Challengers for once and finally divulges that Liquidus was never the Director of Orthrus, and that it was instead Liquid Zero, posing as him. Liquidus was knocked into a coma during his training and Shade knew that The Infiltrators wouldn't take orders from anyone except him, so he contacted his brother and paid him to assume his role. Gregg apologizes and Grant begins working on finding a way to hack Zero's teleporter and track down the captured Challenger before it is too late.
ISSUE #55: OPEN SWITCH
Gadgix sends out a distress call for any available Challengers to return to the Estate. Ferret, Fist, Asunder, Flashbulb, and Paul Ooshun respond, but also bring along allies Aglow, Crux Enigma, and Ensorcelless to help. When they arrive, MORGAN locks down the mansion, trapping them inside and calling them 'Dave' for some reason. MORGAN sends strange robots to attack The Challengers. Asunder uses her powers to disable the locks around MORGAN's AI core and the team heads inside.
The strange problems with MORGAN are traced back to member of the United Underworld, Autosaurus Wrecks, who used Gadgix's many cybernetic implants carry a virus into MORGAN's mainframe. They succeed in disconnecting and rebooting MORGAN, but with them trapped, they find Wrecks used the opportunity to abduct Gadgix for his own nefarious purposes. The AI Core goes into lockdown, but Paul is able to force the doors open using his superior strength and frees everyone. The heroes start going to every contact available for information on her whereabouts. With Armaments still missing since The Eleventh Man's attack on the Estate, Liquid Zero captured by mercenaries, and Gadgix now taken by Wrecks, The Challengers are sufficiently sick of their apparent "slump" and work as hard as they can to bring these perpetrators to justice and rescue their friends at all costs.
ISSUE #56: INTERGALACTIC INVESTIGATION
Xanatos is shocked and dismayed when he receives word that his longtime friend, Lapton, has apparently been killed in action. Lapton was the leader of The Starfighters, an intergalactic crew of cosmic heroes that Xanatos spent many years fighting alongside. He even went so far as to take his fellow Challenger, Johnny Turbo, with him once to aid The Starfighters in a battle against a nefarious alien named Galacton earlier this year.
When word spreads about Lapton's demise and The Starfighters in complete disarray, an investigator is sent to Earth to uncover the truth about his death. The strange alien shows no semblance of social skills, often referring to himself as the most important person on the planet despite showing no credentials to prove such claims. When asked about his past and homeworld, he only replies that his name is "Gary" and that he's here to find Lapton's killer. Xanatos doesn't take Gary very seriously, so when the visitor requests The Challengers' aid in his investigation, Xanatos sends several young heroes from the Old Guard Academy to help him instead. With the investigation weighing heavily on Xanatos' mind, he decides to retire from The Challengers.
ISSUE #57: OVERTIME
After the combined devastation wreaked on The Challengers, members decide to take leave from the group. The Human Flashbulb is asked to return full-time as a Galacto-Ranger and he accepts, where he seeks to revitalize the group with the help of former Challenger Luficia. Charon returns to the streets to work solo as a vigilante, group dynamics not meshing well with his style. Every available Challenger is forced to work overtime to deal with the loss of Gadgix, Armaments, and Liquid Zero, while also getting to the bottom of the Zodiac attacks.
Ferret notices something peculiar about Red-Havok and begins spying on him. He catches her and attacks her, but she manages to alert other members of The Challengers in the vicinity before passing out. Replacer is able to sense a glimpse of Deceiter's heartbeat as the stress of being confronted gets to the supervillain. Exposed, Deceiter mocks The Challengers for allowing him to completely destroy their group from the inside and is then instaported away before revealing the whereabouts of the true Red-Havok, whom he had been impersonating since Memorial Mayhem. The group decides the Mansion is no longer safe and decide they may need to uproot and change HQs.
ISSUE #58: THE UNBREAKABLE ZODIAC
The Challengers are surprisingly invited back to the PTS to investigate the Zodiac's intervention there. They find power is being siphoned from the reactor to a different location. They are ambushed by escaped Zig inmates, but manage to escape and make their way to the location they discovered. They arrive and find Smasha and Battleram guarding the equipment, and the two are far too powerful to fight, having juiced up on some new kind of superadine. Smasha sends Replacer flying out of the building with one swift punch and her troll sidekicks mob Johnny Turbo and Foxy Ferret. The Challengers take down the siphoning generator and retreat.
Later, Dynomind analyzes the superadine Smasha and Battleram were using and locates a supplier of it. Our heroes head to his front business and discover he's been murdered. While investigating, Nimbus finds clues to where his manufacturer is operating and the team heads there. Nimbus creates a localized storm over the drug lab and the others storm the building, arresting Doc Pwnz, a Freakshow scientist who developed the new superadine formula called "Excelsadine" which actually combines superadine and excelsior. They find a shipment headed towards Smasha and Battleram and they intercept it, fighting an armada of Freakatrolls. Doc Pwnz reveals where Smasha and Battleram's hideout is, but the group decides to wait and come up with a plan of action before attacking them.
ISSUE #59: BIRTHDAY TREAT
Red-Havok, who has been held captive by Jenna Faris the past month, is able to escape her grasp through a series of mysterious circumstances. He fears the worst when he discovers that in exchange for Phanto handing him over to Faris, she provided him with all of Styx Industries' personnel and resources. He pleads with her to rethink this, but her mind has become far too warped. She has become Exadeus II.
Havok returns to Paragon just in time to attend Replacer's birthday party. He opens gifts and spends quality time with his fellow Challengers and a select group of close friends. JT highjacks the party planner position from Asunder, annoying her to no end. The catering company he hired is late, and the heroes discover the birthday cake has been stolen by a would-be bank robber named Mr. Treat and his lover, Terror Misu. The two utilize their baking talents to develop a "stagnation agent" that renders anyone who eats it temporarily fattened. The group stops Mr. Treat and Terror Misu and put an end to their Sticky Fingers Gang. Afterwards, the heroes relax at the Talos beach and enjoy the summer weather. For once, it is nice not to be needed, and to be human instead of superhuman.
ISSUE #60: SNOWBOMBED
When Phanto utilizes his new resources in Styx Industries to soup up the supervillain Snowbomber with superior technology, he allows the villain to run rampant with his new abilities. Snowbomber accepts a job from a shadowy figured called The Curator to steal part of a museum exhibit. A few Challengers arrive on the scene to investigate the robbery and find museum employees frozen solid. With MORGAN down, Asunder utilizes a database from STRATUS, the government program she was recruited into at the beginning of the summer. The STRATUS database locates a plausible location for Snowbomber and the team heads there, only to be bested in combat by the icy villain.
Some time later, Snowbomber acts on his own accord and uses his newfound powers to attack the FBSA at City Hall in hopes of finding the current location of a hero who wronged him in the past. Blast Cycle's fire proves to be essential in unfreezing all of the FBSA employees Snowbomber had attacked. After an intense fight, Snowbomber is finally wrestled to the ground and sent to jail. Before his departure, Snowbomber says there will be more like him. The Challengers debrief at JT's penthouse, as they no longer have an HQ and must make due with what they've got.
ISSUE #61: VIRGO, ARES, AND SAGITTARIUS
Continuing from the events with The Zodiac and their stashes of Excelsadine, Voltium begins scouting Smasha and Battleram's headquarters. He is able to determine their behavior patterns and finds a ten minute window that The Challengers can use to raid their Excelsadine stashes while they're gone. The heroes quickly arrest every Freakatroll in the warehouse and dispose of all the Excelsadine. Before they can search through the warehouse's computer files, however, Smasha and Battleram return.
The two wreak havoc on the heroes, using their far superior brute force to smash them into the ground. However, when the clumsy Fox Bow arrives on the scene, he makes a serious blunder. He fires one of his arrows tipped with a potent neurotoxin that causes the target to fall in love with the first person they see. He misses his original target, though, and hits Smasha instead. Overcome with feelings of love for Johnny Turbo, she grabs the speedster and rushes out of the warehouse, leaving Battleram and Fox Bow to be captured.
While trying to follow Smasha's trail, the team follow a lead they found at the warehouse on the potent energy The Zodiac siphoned from the PTS. They find one of the largest sources being transferred and shut it down, severely putting a dent in whatever The Zodiac's plans are. They find where Smasha has taken JT and break up her brief tryst with him. Smasha is outnumbered and finally arrested. After the ordeal, JT tries to cope with the apparent loss of his masculinity. With three of The Zodiac in custody, it looks like their days of criminal misdeeds are numbered.
ISSUE #62: PISCES, CANCER, AND AQUARIUS
The Challengers are invited to be the guests of honor at the Boston Medical and Technology Convention. While Replacer is giddily excited about seeing the innovations, Johnny Turbo is angry that everyone there views him to be of inferior intelligence. After seeing Virtual Reality Simulators, Sonic Amplifiers, and MediPorts, The Challengers are taken to the main event by Mary Wheeler, their convention guide. They discover about a new form of nanotechnology, developed by MIT students and their professors, that bond to host cells and can carry out specific tasks.
In the middle of the presentation, Tidas of The Zodiac busts into the convention through the bathroom, allowing Chiton and Ripjaw to follow him. The Challengers spring into action, fighting the three villains on the convention floor. The villains steal the nanites and kidnap the presenters, retreating to the sewers. The heroes follow, but are pitted against armies of Tidas clones he created using the sewage. Tidas is finally cornered in the sewers and arrested, but he says Chiton and Ripjaw are on their way back to MIT.
The team heads to MIT and fights Chiton, who has injected herself with a vial of the nanites. After a destructive battle, her bio-armor is cracked and she is finally able to be brought down, but she reveals Ripjaw is already at one of the Boston ports, sending the rest of the nanites off to The Zodiac's leader. The Challengers rush there to arrest Ripjaw and his pirate crew, but they are unable to find the nanites. Asunder and Voltium say they think some sort of portal energy was involved with the nanites' transfer, and it could account for why The Challengers are unable to track it.
ISSUE #63: ASHEN
After being tipped off about the location of two more Hil'kar tablets from a mysterious letter-sender, Blast Cycle rallies The Challengers to help chase them down. He also requests his old ally, Hexamancer, join up with them. The arcane superhero agrees, but Blast Cycle neglects to tell him the specifics about the mission. He notes that the letter-sender also tipped off Burn Side and the Hellions about the tablets and they must compete with them. While one group goes to The Hollows' underground caverns, another heads to an old cult hideout in Perez Park.
Both groups encounter heavy resistance from Hellion gangsters. In the temple, Foxy Ferret finds the tablet has been taken and replaced with a fake. They continue into the sewers and find no tablet, but come face-to-face with a being called the Avatar of Hil'kar, which looks like Blast Cycle. In the caverns, Replacer interrogates Hellfire by threatening him with Hexamancer's frightening shadow conjuring. Hellfire says Burn Side is held up in Atlas Park with the second tablet. The heroes head there and are ambushed as Burn Side flees. The Hellions attempt to torch the building with them inside, but JT is able to fan the flames with his superspeed during the battle. Another Avatar of Hil'kar appears, and it bears the same resemblance to Cyke. Hexamancer feels betrayed when he learns about the tablets' connection to Hil'kar.
Pressured, Blast Cycle comes clean to The Challengers and admits that he's known much more about Hil'kar and his tablets than he ever let on. He comes from a family line called The Ashen that seeks to bring Hil'kar back into the world. He attempted to manipulate The Challengers into helping him without telling any of them this. He also reluctantly tells how he stole the soul of the young Hellion initiate in Siren's Call months ago. Disappointed, Havok tells Cyke to step down and stop trying to handle the Hil'kar situation alone, offering Hexamancer membership as the group's new arcane expert. Hex accepts and agrees to take over as leader of the hunt for Hil'kar's artifacts.
ISSUE #64: SOLDIER OF GOD
The Mansion, the now defunct HQ of The Challengers, is suddenly broken into by an unknown group of criminals. Knowing that the Mansion and the items inside of it are still their responsibility, The Challengers head there to investigate and are wary when they find Paul will be coming...in his Ooshun form. Upon arriving they find a cult of religious fanatics completely ransacking the place and setting bombs everywhere. Confused, the group quickly starts Gadgix’s emergency protocol and it ejects the vault’s contents just before the building explodes. They find that two items are missing from the vault, the Heart of Mot, ripped out of the beast by Paul Ooshun months ago, and the only remaining syringe of Fluxaide, the serum that provided Johnny Turbo with his powers.
Hexamancer is able to discern that the fanatics belong to a group known as The Church of the Holy Flame. Having seen them before, Hex is able to lead the others to one of their hideouts hidden in a graveyard. There they discover a group of kidnapped scientists who have been forced to help them create bio-bombs specifically to kill mutants. Asunder is able to use her TEMPEST database from STRATUS to locate where the Church is going to try to acquire their next components from. She finds it is in a GIFT lab and they know they must hurry there.
At the GIFT lab, the group is attacked by a hulking speedster working with The Church called Brother. It is clear that Brother is actually Timmy Quick, but after injecting himself with the rest of the Fluxaide syringe, he has had his muscular structure super vibrated and expanded to the point of becoming an enormous monster of a man. He reveals that his desire to work with The Church stemmed from inspiration he got from Mr. Ooshun. He then steals the last components for the bio-weapons and superspeeds away. Sovereign Fist flies up to pinpoint his location while Replacer loses control and attacks Ooshun, sending him flying out of the lab.
Ooshun and Replacer battle in the middle of the street, nearly causing enormous amounts of property damage. Havok steps in and tells the two to cut it out, as fighting will cause nothing but harm to the people. He then demands Ooshun let Paul back in control, who complies after taunting the heroes. Fist spots Timmy speeding to the Faultline dam. As The Church prepares to disperse their anti-mutant poison into the water supply, The Challengers arrive to take them on. Timmy proves to be incredibly strong, but Hexamancer is able to place a binding spell on him, slowing him down long enough for the heroes to recover and subdue him. Replacer takes Timmy to the hospital while Ferret tells Paul that Ooshun is still retaining too much control and he needs to find a way to stop that.
ISSUE #65: CLOSING THE SWITCH
While in captivity, Gadgix has her cyborg side supercharged by Autosaurus Wrecks, leading her organic mind to become dominated by a new persona called Mechaness. With new abilities, she escapes her captors easily and sets up in Paragon City. Utilizing powers similar to one of The Challengers’ earliest and most fearsome foes, Cyborg Sinister, Mechaness is able to manipulate all technology to bend to her will. She develops an army of robots, assumes control of the cybernetic Freakshow, and broadcasts an announcement stating she will herald in a robot uprising in Paragon City. The only ones who can stop Mechaness are her former friends, The Challengers.
The team fights a group of Mechaness’ Freakshow servants and learns she has microchipped them. They know that the only way to truly break Mechaness’ control is to take her down, but before they can, they must stop back an impending invasion of robots in Steel Canyon. Led by a massive behemoth of a bot that sounds like Roseanne Barr, Mechaness’ hastily assembled robots terrorize civilians everywhere. Havok sends Hexamancer, Johnny Turbo, and Asunder to save innocents while he leads Voltium, Tracer, and Ferret against the MOM-bot. After the fight, they track the robots to Mechaness’ factory in Boomtown.
Inside, Mechaness sends wave after wave of robots against The Challengers, who keep trudging through. While at first reticent, the team has no choice but to fight Mechaness as she views them all to be inferior lifeforms and cannot be reasoned with. The team is clearly holding back and they show no signs of beating her, until in-between apologies, JT uppercuts Mechaness and she teleports away. Before she leaves, she thanks them in Gidge’s voice. The team discovers a datapad leftover with a note from Gidge saying that she has a plan to return control to her organic mind now that Mechaness has been defeated. Hex asks why JT would hit his teammate so hard and he says it was payback because she called him a “dork” once. It is up to Gidge to get her head right now, but one thing is for sure, Gadgix is far mightier than any machine.
ISSUE #66: SLOW AND STEADY LOSES THE RACE
While sharing a less-than-quality meal together at The Pit, a seedy eating establishment that has been known to cause dysentery, a group of Challengers are forced to go back on duty when a company called Lockhart Aerotech is attacked. Renegade, who is monopolizing the jukebox to play 80s tunes, questions the identity of the attackers. Fist tells him that, shockingly, they are a group of refugee Praetorians who fled their unstable dimension. Asunder is gung-ho to go and stop them so she can return in time to still have waffles.
The team battles through a crew of the refugees, all of whom have armed themselves with a random assortment of weaponry they obtained. Inside the lab, they find the target of the heist, a device that can “slow down” things so that they may be studied better. Turbo is adamant this device be destroyed and so Asunder fries it. In the next room, they discover Tony Glacier, the man apparently calling the shots for the refugees. Though not a Praetorian himself, Tony took advantage of them so he could steal the slowing device and slow down the entire world to match his remarkably snail-like pace. He is quickly beaten and arrested.
Tony asks to see Johnny Turbo before he is transferred to the Zig and JT angrily refuses, but eventually buckles after Fist uses reverse psychology to get him to go. Tony Glacier tells Turbo the Praetorian refugees aren’t finished and it seemed like some of them only wanted to cause a distraction. Turbo and Glacier hardly get along, but when Tony reveals his slowness has prevented him from seeing his son in decades, JT has a moment of kindness and uses his superspeed to find his son and bring him back to the holding cell in a matter of seconds.
ISSUE #67: EXTRADITION
When an unknown source reveals that Azure Tracer provided her homo callidien blood to help synthesize a cure for Wild Time's virus during the spring, her home world demands she be held accountable for her treason. Red-Havok accompanies Senator Michael Miller, Replacer's father, to a delegation between Earth and U.S.C.P.E. delegates from Tracer's home. Unfortunately, negotiations devolve into arguments when Colonel Lyons informs them that Tracer must be given over to the U.S.C.P.E. so that she may face execution. Senator Miller manages to finagle a thirty day window for The Challengers to investigate before the U.S.C.P.E. forcibly detains her.
At Senator Miller's house, he informs The Challengers of Tracer's predicament. Tracer seems willing to accept her fate, but her teammates and friends are not so quick to resign her to an unfair punishment. Senator Miller suggests that finding whoever revealed her treason should be priority number one and The Challengers begin chasing leads. They do so while the senator continues making attempts to tie up the U.S.C.P.E. in as much political red tape as possible.
ISSUE #68: ALPHA AETERNUS
Continued psychotherapy with Dr. Reaves leads Voltium to recollect memories of his true past that were lost by repeated brainwashing in Praetoria. Volt is the last of a group called The Wardens. These Wardens work in opposition to The Menders, who recently became known as a threat to to The Challengers when The Veteran informed them of their desire to travel back in time and kill Replacer. The Wardens do not seek to perserve a singular timeline, but instead every possible eventuality of time. They are the guardians of the multiverse, and Voltium is known as their Alpha.
An assault on The Wardens' sanctuary from Exadeus led to Voltium fleeing to the Praetorian dimension and losing his memory. Now with his memories back, Volt returns to the sanctuary and speaks with his original mentor, the only survivor of Exadeus' attack. The Mentor tells him that he has a job to do as the Alpha. He must stop the one known as the Omega from destroying time itself. He must kill Replacer in order to save the multiverse. After giving his explanation, The Mentor dies. Volt refuses to go take his friend's life, rejecting his apparent destiny. Suddenly, he receives a visit from The Veteran, who promises he has a way to save the timestream, save Replacer, and save the world.
ISSUE #69: THE TOWER OF BABEL - PART I
Red-Havok brings a group of Challengers and close hero accomplices to a conference at Vanguard to discuss Azure Tracer's extradition more in depth, but when they arrive, all time around them stops and The Menders' prime assassins, The Diluvians, arrive to kill Replacer. They are able to fight off the assassins and The Veteran arrives. He informs everyone that there is only one way to save everything, and that is to go forward in time and defeat the future version of Replacer, Auron the Annhilator, who is threatening to unravel time itself. However, Auron's total manipulation to the timestream renders The Veteran's powers diminished and he can only take eight of The Challengers into the future to face the ultimate enemy. Tracer and Hexamancer opt to stay behind and defend Earth from anyone looking to capitalize on The Challengers' absence. Red-Havok, Ferret, Turbo, Voltium, Sovereign Fist, Asunder, and Blast Cycle agree to accompany Replacer into the future to fight Auron the Annhilator. They say goodbyes to their friends, as there is no guarantee they will return.
The Veteran transports the group to a Longbow base in the future where Auron kills all of The Challengers, his former friends and teammates. Horrified by the massacre of themselves, the team is unable to even reach Auron before he executes Veteran and sends Replacer into a blind rage. Replacer unleashes a mass amount of energy and destroys the entire structure, leaving a charred crater as all that remains. The Challengers recover from being blown to smithereens and regroup. With The Veteran dead, it seems the heroes have no means to fight back against Auron's time compression, but Voltium steps up and is able to use his powers as the Alpha to take them team through the collapsing timeline.
The team finds themselves in Foxy Ferret's realm, reliving the moment they first went there. Due to Auron's compression though, Axis troops from World War II are present and causing chaos. After Sovereign Fist knocks out a power armored Hitler, Auron arrives, fully transformed into electricity. After an intense fight, his form becomes compromised, and he splits himself off into multiple copies to distract them. After the copies are defeated, The Challengers are transported to the Olympiad coliseum on Athena's Island where ExaBots and Exadeus' dark matter army have been temporally displaced. Coldcrash, infused with dark matter, fights The Challengers, but is defeated when Johnny Turbo travels at light speed and punches him out. Exadeus arrives and Turbo superspeeds at him, only to be tripped up by the villain and sent flying off the edge of the island. Replacer absorbs Exadeus' dark matter and Havok knocks him out with a shield charge, but before they even have a moment to rest, Auron shows himself, armed with Athena's dark matter blade. He strikes a massive blow into Sovereign Fist's helm and dents it. Auron splits himself off into copies and overwhelms The Challengers as he leaves.
Next, the team is transported to the temple in Guatemala that housed the Mass Eradicator. It is entirely filled with Dr. Corradine's Devouring Earth experiments. After battling two massive devoured beasts, they come to a large gap. Johnny Turbo clears the gap by running on the air itself. The group wades their way through massive amounts of infected people to the final chamber of the temple, where Auron sprouts organic claws and mimics the powers of the Devouring Earth to fight The Challengers. He gashes several of the heroes before he mimics the powers of Cyborg Sinister, instead, in an attempt to throw Red-Havok off his game. Ferret unleashes a devastating wave of psychic energy and Auron disappears. Before time changes once more, the heroes spot Red-Havok of the past near the dead body of Cyborg Sinister. This sight shakes Havok's confidence, racking him with guilt, but with the help of his friends, he is able to shake it off. The group is then suddenly taken to Strongwall, where Orthrus soldiers have been displaced and are brutally assaulting the inmates. In the prison's control center, Auron uses mental powers to incapacitate some of The Challengers while he grabs JT and throws him across the room, skidding his face against the metal floor. After Auron leaves, the others check on JT, who stumbles to his feet. His face is horribly scarred, but his will to fight isn't. As time changes once more, The Challengers catch their breath, realizing this is far from over.
ISSUE #70: THE TOWER OF BABEL - PART II
The heroes are taken to the cavern in which they first faced Hil'kar and fight against a displaced Fearsome Five, featuring Acid, Dust Devil, Goldmonger, Technotroll, and Drown. The villains prove to be more than match for the weary heroes, but they are eventually defeated. There is no rest before Auron arrives with copies of himself, though. He uses a mastery of fire to singe The Challengers' hopes of beating him. With most of the team distracted fighting his copies, Auron grabs Sovereign Fist and overloads his gauntlets to self-destruct, horribly injuring him. Afterwards, he fires a blast of flames into Replacer and disappears from the fight once more. The team recovers as time shifts and sends them to the Abyss, at the moment when Corradine fed Adrian Miller to the Hamidon. The group also must deal with a displaced army of Phanto illusions. Auron mimics the Hamidon itself and armors himself with stone to battle the heroes. He uppercuts Havok and sends him flying, but luckily JT superspeeds back and catches him. Auron knocks Ferret back and prepares to crush her with a rock, but Volt teleports her out of harm's way just in time. When Auron's rock armor starts to weaken he fills the battlefield with copies of Adrian Miller surrounded by Hamidon seedlings, forcing Replacer to relive his brother's death over and over again. Enraged, Replacer charges at Auron, who mimics Adrian Miller's powers and blows Grant into the ground. Auron mocks their futile attempts to defeat him and teleports away.
As time changes again, the group winds up in Crey's Revenant Hero Lab, during a moment long ago when The Headliners rescued Coldcrash from being cloned into Paragon Protectors. In the cloning quarters, the dark matter infused Coldcrash is there instead and insults the heroes for abandoning him here. They fight and he is defeated once more, but Auron shows up shortly after, having copied the powers of all The Headliners. His combined attacks prove difficult for the heroes to repel, but he is eventually forced to teleport away again. Time warps once more and winds up at a Council base that The Frontline raided several years ago. Inside, Auron pounces on Asunder and repeatedly attacks her until she transforms herself into pure electricity. Auron sends waves of copies at the group and teleports away.
Everyone is suddenly transported into a bizzare, mist-coated cave. When Asunder reverts to human form, her suit is completely burnt out. They all shake off their wounds and walk through their cave, unsure of what enemy they will face. All of the sudden, they are greeted by a sea of friendly faces. The future versions of themselves and their fellow Challengers, as well as friends, family members, people they never thought they'd see again, and even a few enemies all stand to inspire the group as they make their final push. As they reach the end of the cave, The Veteran stands and tells them they are about to face Auron in his tower at the edge of time. Replacer asks how they are supposed to get home if they manage to defeat Auron and The Veteran explains that they must find something an anchor that binds them to their present time. The group keeps this thought in their mind as they make the final march to Auron's tower.
The team approaches the first room in Auron's tower and he monologues to them about the pointlessness of their fight. He shrouds himself in energy and prepares to deliver the killing blow to the heroes, but is caught off-guard when they continue to fight back at full strength despite their wounds. Angered, Auron summons two blades of pure energy and slashes at the heroes, but his attempts still don't break their unity. Auron begins to mimic the powers of well-known heroes from The Challengers' time, but he still is unable to break them. After he imitates the power of Aglow, Replacer does the same and unleashes a flash of light in his eyes, temporarily blinding him. Infuriated, Auron starts to mimic the powers of The Challengers' themselves, but proves unable to completely master them, as he thought he could. When he imitates Asunder's powers, Ferret gives Tyler a boost up and sends her slamming down onto his head. Auron tries to use Turbo's speed, but JT pushes himself farther than he ever has gone before, moving faster than the speed of light. He successfully lands countless blows on Auron in less than five seconds.
Blast Cycle imbues Ferret's staff with fire and she lights Auron ablaze, but he still shows no signs of slowing down. He materializes an energy sword and mimics Azure Tracer. Replacer throws himself on Auron's sword to immobilize him while the others strike him back. He continues to mimic The Challengers, but every attempt seems to work less effectively than the last. He finally imitates Red-Havok, materializing an energy shield on his arm and blows The Challengers back. Havok decides to adopt the fighting style of his late brother, Blue-Havok, to throw Auron off and Grant takes Cade's fighting style. The two recreate the duo attacks of The Havok Brothers and Auron is overwhelmed. His form begins to flicker as he imitates more powers and splits more copies off of himself. Havok tells Auron that he's going to lose because The Challengers aren't just a team, they're a family, and their unity is what allows them to conquer any foe and face any test. It lets them fight through any pain, let go of any guilt, and become better people than they ever could alone. Auron abandoned The Challengers, so he has unity with nobody. Auron summons a final group of copies stronger than any the heroes have faced before, but they are still able to break through and fight the man himself. With his back literally against the wall, Auron recites Buddhist mantras with Replacer as he is defeated and his form disintegrates from existence. As the timestream begins to revert, The Challengers desperately try to grasp for their anchor, hoping that somehow they'll end up back home.
ISSUE #71: THE LONG ROAD HOME
As Auron's tower disintegrates, The Challengers that faced him find themselves falling through the void of the unraveling timeline. Remembering The Veteran's warning, they focus their minds to an anchor that will help bind them to the present. Red-Havok chooses The Challengers, which have grown to become his family, as his anchor. Ferret binds herself to her curiosity. Voltium, inspired by his role as the last of the Wardens, uses his new duties as the guardian of the multiverse as his anchor, becoming Waypoint. Blast Cycle holds onto his girlfriend. Sovereign Fist holds onto redemption, and his never-ending journey for it. Johnny Turbo is ashamed to find the only thing he can use as an anchor is his speed.
The six return their correct time and are greeted by Aglow and Impact. They soon notice that Asunder and Replacer are still missing and they fear the two were unable to anchor themselves and were lost. Still trapped in the timestream, Tyler chooses Grant as her anchor, which proves to be a mistake as Grant is unable to keep himself in the present. He is still holding an immense amount of guilt about the death of his brother, Adrian Miller. With Tyler's help, he is finally able to let go and say goodbye to him. The two return to the present and crash into the center of Circe Island, creating a massive crater. The Challengers and friends recover them and celebrate their journey to the edge of time and back.
ISSUE #72: ALOHA
With Auron the Annhilator defeated, The Challengers take a much-deserved vacation to the Hawaiian island of Maui. While there, Red-Havok plans to finally culminate his and Ferret's engagement with a marriage ceremony. He selects Replacer as his Best Man and Ferret asks Azure Tracer to be her Maid of Honor. Johnny Turbo becomes a certified Justice of the Peace and officiates the wedding. Waypoint and JT's assistant, Steve Stevens, work diligently to secure a buffet before the wedding concludes. After the ceremony, Replacer proposes to Asunder during a romantic walk on the beach. Johnny Turbo immediately demands he officiate their wedding upon hearing the news. Foxy Ferret formally invites longtime ally Aglow to become a Challenger and the psychic heroine humbly accepts.
Later, JT reveals that one of his thirteen possible biological fathers, a beach bum named Travis Spiedman, lives in Maui and he plans to meet him. Nervous, JT creates a false reason for meeting and tells Travis that The Challengers are going to present him with a check for a million dollars for winning a sweepstakes. Havok is forced to reveal the deception to Travis and explains JT's true reason for seeking him out. Travis is repulsed by the accusation and says that when he slept with JT's mother, she was already pregnant. Sensing JT's disappointment, he gives him an uplifting speech and offers him a sharktooth necklace as a token of friendship. JT doesn't wear the necklace on the grounds that it is stupid-looking.
ISSUE #73: PROTOTYPE NINE
The Challengers investigate reports about enhanced Freakshow in Skyway City. When they arrive there, the heroes square off against Freaks armed with vastly superior technology, all causing mass mayhem. The weapons are far too advanced for the Freaks to have built on their own. After defeating DROPPIN MANY SUKKAS and the rest of his Freak lieutenants, The Challengers hear reports of a Council factory manufacturing advanced weapons, similar to the Freakshow. The team heads into the factory and battles with heavily armored Council troops who utilize sonic cannons and shields. Vandal, the head of the factory, tries to escape but is arrested by The Challengers. He immediately gives up the contact who provided him with the advanced technology.
The group heads to the lab responsible for the advanced Freakshow and Council and inside find an armada of security drones. Gadgix is able to hack a terminal and discover that the lab is being used to build something called "Prototype Nine" which is a massive orbital laser capable of reducing cities to craters. The Challengers destroy all of the supplies gathered for the weapon and battle the mastermind behind it. Calling herself Death Rae, the woman shoots a massive laser gun she invented at the heroes, attempting to kill them. After summoning a wave of drones, she is ultimately too tried to continue fighting and The Challengers arrest her. Waypoint, Gadgix, and Ferret disarm Prototype Nine's reactor while JT brings Death Rae to the Zig and decides to dig up any information he can on her real identity.
ISSUE #74: ONE DAY AWAY FROM RETIREMENT
Phanto's cushy set-up as the de-facto head of Styx Industries is put in danger when various peacekeeping organizations begin to become suspicious of the company's inactivity over the summer. After spotting a snooping police officer at the company's headquarters, Phanto enlists the help of Deceiter once again and has him assume the identity of a Longbow grunt to spy. Deceiter discovers Agent Dukakis is planning to lead a strike team into the headquarters to see what is going on.
Before leaving on his mission, Dukakis meets with his estranged wife and tells her he wants her back. Deceiter spies on this conversation and abducts Dukakis' wife after he leaves. The strike team's mission proves to be a total failure as Phanto is expecting them and he captures everyone involved. He then executes Dukakis' wife in front of him in a gratuitous display.
ISSUE #75: TWO AND TWO TOGETHER
After the clash with Death Rae, Johnny Turbo uncharacteristically takes the initiative to work with the police to try and figure out her real identity. She remains uncooperative in interrogation and JT becomes frustrated. He asks for Renegade's help in the investigation and the skilled detective discovers that the equipment Death Rae was using for Prototype Nine was from Styx Industries. Renegade assures JT that she must've been a former employee there.
The two search company records at Styx and discover a scientist named Raechell Mardok was employed there. Her appearance matches Death Rae's exactly. They realize something dangerous must be happening at Styx and JT knows they need to head to the company and shut it down. After heading home, JT notices he has conducted an entire investigation on his own. The revelation leads him to believe he just might be growing up.
ISSUE #76: THE DEATHCATHALON
The Challengers find an alternate route into Styx headquarters and make their move on the conglomerate. They enter a pumping station on the outskirts of the compound that leads to a sewer line with a direct route into the heart of the facility. When they enter the station, however, a voice comes on and warns them that they've just entered a gauntlet that will test their limits. In the first room, they must find the correct sequence of switches to hit in order to call the elevator. They succeed, but not before tripping several explosive traps.
The team makes their way into the main septic tank and are ambushed by a group of rampaging lunatics who were apparently being used as test subjects by Styx. The crazies are defeated easily and the heroes climb a ladder into the compound. Inside, they meet head-to-head with The Elements of Destruction. Aero Fury, Geo Rage, Pyro Psycho, and Cryo Craze have all had their powers enhanced somehow and the summon a fleet of elemental amalgamations to fight The Challengers. Aero Fury believes himself to be as powerful as Nimbus now, but the Lord of Storms quickly proves him wrong. The Elements are outmatched and they decide to flee.
The heroes rescue two Longbow captives and discover the rest have been killed. A souped up Instaport arrives and begins teleporting monsters from all over the world to stall the supers. After being blasted by a bolt of energy, Instaport is knocked unconscious and arrested. The team arrives at the head office and finds evidence that Phanto was there, but he has escaped while they were distracted. They come across a badly wounded Agent Dukakis and Nimbus rehydrates him while Waypoint cauterizes his wounds. Dukakis thanks The Challengers and limps out of the building.
ISSUE #77: THE BIGGER PICTURE
Inside Styx headquarters, The Challengers find many troubling pieces of information. They first find a log from Jenna Faris, in which she states her desire to capture Red-Havok and her plan to hand over all of her company's assets to Phanto in exchange for him. They also learn she was killed by some sort of burst of energy from a piece of portal equipment. Her shocking death allowed Havok the opportunity to escape back in June.
Later, the team pieces together a series of torn notes written by Amon Aser, the original founder of Styx Industries. They were drafted after he foolishly joined forces with Exadeus in early 2012. Aser's writings show that he is depressed and remorseful for his attempt to control forces he did not understand, but more importantly, they show he is fearful of some kind of "dark storm" on the horizon that has been haunting his dreams. Finally, in the main office, The Challengers find a board cluttered with drawings and scribblings by Phanto. On it, the name Cassandra Blair is circled and underlined many times, implying she may somehow be important to him.
ISSUE #78: THE GREATEST ALLY
Overcome with guilt for trying to turn Blast Cycle to her side months ago, Infectant ends her relationship with Cyke's father, Afterburner, and tries to steal his concentrated collection of Hil'kar's soul fragments and bring them to The Challengers. She is caught in the act, however, and doesn't flee with them all. She immediately contacts Cyke and pleas to let her help The Challengers, even agreeing to go to prison afterwards. Combining the fragments given to them by Infectant and the two they collected on their own, The Challengers are able to form a concentrated half-sphere of Hil'kar's soul. With Burn Side and Afterburner still in possession of the other half, The Challengers mount a daring mission into their hideout to retrieve it.
Infectant informs the heroes that Burn Side and Afterburner have struck a deal with one of Hexamancer and Blast Cycle's oldest foes. That mystery foe has sent his group of mercenary artifact-hunters known as The Prophets to aid in the quest to summon Hil'kar to the mortal world. The Prophets prove to be a powerful guard force, but the heroes are able to make their way into the inner sanctum and defeat Afterburner. Before they are able to interrogate him about the other half of Hil'kar's sphere, a strange group of skull-clad warriors flood into the sanctum to try and claim it for themselves. Their arrival causes the structure to begin caving in and Afterburner rushes off with the half-sphere while The Challengers are distracted.
The heroes set off through the collapsing labyrinth and fight the attackers' leader, Brutus, who kills himself with a cyanide capsule upon being defeated. As soon as the team makes it out of the hideout, it completely caves in. Back at makeshift HQ, Infectant informs them that the warriors who ruined their mission are members of the Ashen and they seek something different from Afterburner and Burn Side. While the latter two want to bring about Hil'kar's return in order to set the world ablaze with destruction, the Ashen instead want to control Hil'kar and use his power to live as kings.
ISSUE #79: FASTER THAN FATE
When rival speedster Synapse requests Johnny Turbo's help on an operation in the Isles, JT bitterly refuses, citing his hatred for the inferior hero. While on the mission alone, Synapse goes missing and Longbow demands JT aid in a rescue mission because of it. Annoyed, JT gets The Challengers to go with him and share the blame, but not before getting an earful from Replacer, Aglow, and the others. The team sets out to recover Synapse and finds him unconscious at an Arachnos base. After defeating his assailant, the team finds several mystical weapons that were used to incapacitate the hero. Upon further inspection, it is revealed the weapons belong to Circle cultists.
Left to their own devices, the team seeks answers about the weapons from Scirocco. After being bested easily in a fight, he directs them to his bookcase, where they find a tome called "The Ritual of Hil'kar's Devouring" which can be used by those experienced in the dark arts to call upon one of Hil'kar's fabled powers: to devour the entirety of anyone and use their power for his own. Upon learning this, a report comes in about Johnny Turbo apparently being kidnapped, despite the fact JT is accounted for among the team of Challengers investigating Scirocco's warehouse. After briefly questioning Turbo, the team decides to trust that the real JT is with them and they mobilize to find wherever fake has been taken.
The team makes their way to an old cult hideout tucked into the hills on the outskirts of the city. Inside, the fake Turbo is found to be Timmy Quick. The precocious sidekick dressed up as JT to fool the villains. His success leads to him being brutalized by his captors when they discover his treachery, however. Gadgix takes Quick back to the makeshift Challenger HQ to help him recover and the others continue through the hideout. The Venerable Lord High Soothsayer Arch Magus Vandeskaar, a grandiose leader of the Circle cult, tries to fight them off, but is swatted away like a fly. Replacer uncovers a journal written by him that states his need to avoid an oncoming "Storm" by shattering the Earthly realm and retreating into the spirit world. He plots to do this by finding someone who can outrun fate itself.
ISSUE #80: STORM CHASERS
Still inside of the ruins, The Challengers continue into the Circle's innermost chamber and come face-to-face with Vanderskaar's champion, a criminal speedster named Evilstreak. As soon as he enters the room, JT is sapped of his speed due to Hil'kar's Devouring runes set up by the Circle. Imbued with the speed of Synapse and Johnny Turbo, Evilstreak becomes blindingly fast. Slowing down causes JT to lapse out of consciousness. Without JT's speed, the group has no hope of defeating Evilstreak, so Replacer phases into JT's body and helps him stay moving for the duration of the battle.
Evilstreak progressively speeds up and eventually becomes invisible to the naked eye and JT pushes himself to match that speed. After running around the Earth multiple times to gain speed, JT uppercuts Evilstreak and knocks him out. Vandeskaar returns and reveals he truly chose JT to be his champion all along and promises him he can save himself and become even faster if he joins with him. JT refuses to be swayed even in the face of an oncoming "Storm" and the temptation of limitless speed. Vandeskaar's defensive magics are broken and he is beaten. The Challengers decide to find any information they can on the "Storm" the Circle described. Remembering the notes found inside of Styx Industries, JT suggests the team goes to speak with Amon Aser.
ISSUE #81: BLACK TOMORROW
JT fans out around the city and finds Aser staying in a run-down hotel. The other Challengers meet him there and confront Exadeus' former pawn. Aser initially tries to lie to get The Challengers to leave, but Replacer is able to detect his irregular heartbeat. Left with no options, Aser spills the truth. He admits to being plagued by vivid nightmares of darkness drowning the Earth. He describes images of mythical idols being slaughtered and powerless against an overwhelming power. Hospital records show that Aser is not the only one suffering from these bizarre visions.
Replacer finds a picture of the scene Aser described. Aglow mentions that she has not been suffering from the visions despite her immense psychic power, but admits that the picture fills her with a sense of dread. Aser says that the scene is actually immortalized in an ancient Cimeroran painting named "The Fall of The Gods." Aser explains that he tried to find more information on the painting, but only located one book on it in all of the city's libraries. He immediately reserved it, but someone from the UN asked for it and the clerk gave her preferential treatment because of her title. Asunder searches STRATUS to find a list of UN delegates currently in town and sees that Cassandra Blair, head of the sub-division called PROFORCE, is meeting with the FBSA to discuss integrating metahumans into world governments.
Before the group can leave to find Blair, a drunken Agent Dukakis bursts into the hotel. He claims that Aser has been masquerading as Phanto all along and he's here to finally bring him in. Dukakis carelessly shoots a bullet that grazes Sovereign Fist and he retaliates by punching the wasted operative in the face. Writhing in pain, Dukakis claims he is a total failure. With Dukakis in shambles, The Challengers need to find a new contact to help them stop whatever is coming.
ISSUE #82: PLAY NICE
During the UN's meeting with the FBSA, Cassandra Blair excuses herself due to a migraine. Suddenly, she finds herself approached by The Challengers, who talked their way around Stinger, the metahuman guard poised at the conference. Blair escorts the group somewhere more private to speak because she is confident her colleagues would not want her speaking with them. Asunder asks why her associates dislike The Challengers and Blair explains that the group causes to much collateral damage and has a reputation for having trouble working with government agencies. Blair knows that the group is comprised of the best heroes the world has to offer, but she cannot convince the others within PROFORCE that The Challengers' benefits outweigh their faults.
When questioned about Phanto having her name on a board in his hideout, Blair explains that the supervillain must be trying to piece together what is happening like The Challengers are doing, as Phanto never likes to be left out of the loop. Paul asks Blair about the book she checked out on the painting and she explains things from the very beginning. She states she began receiving the same jumbled visions that Aser described, which immediately alarmed her as she has a powerful precognitive sight and her visions are never hard to understand. The book she checked out says that "The Fall of The Gods" was an artist depiction of a prophecy foretold by an ancient warlord called King Ba’al Zebûb, a figure who would later be used to represent the devil in other works. "The Fall of The Gods" is the image of his ultimate conquest, where he would defeat the most powerful idols and unify the world under him. Blair says that since non-psychics are seeing the visions as well, something must be influencing minds everywhere.
ISSUE #83: LISTEN TO THIS
Cassandra Blair desperately wants to work as a liaison with The Challengers, but needs a way to convince the other members of PROFORCE to allow it. She decides to ask the team to investigate a mysterious "listening post" that she believes has been spying on her conference with the FBSA so that it will appear The Challengers rescued the negotiators, forcing PROFORCE to work with the team. The group sets off to shut it down.
The interior of the listening post looks empty so Waypoint moves forward to access the consoles. Suddenly, Orthrus snipers uncloak and open fire on The Challengers. Asunder overloads their weapons and Paul knocks them out with a tremendous swing of his hammer. The listening post's databank has been completely wiped, but the communications terminal shows several encrypted messages have been sent to Styng, the supposed leader of The Zodiac, for unknown reasons. After hearing about the listening post, Cassandra Blair moves to let The Challengers establish a working relationship with the United Nations Protection Force and the other members of the agency reluctantly accept.
ISSUE #84: HATERS GONNA HATE
With a working relationship with The Challengers approved by her organization, Cassandra Blair and PROFORCE call some of the heroic juggernaut's members in for a meeting. Blair explains that she may have uncovered information on the whereabouts of missing Challengers Armaments and Liquid Zero. The team is jumping at the chance to go after their allies, but there is a catch.
Blair is reluctantly forced into keeping the information from The Challengers until they prove they are not only working with PROFORCE and the UN for their own short term benefit. Paul Ooshun is put off by the politics of the deal, but he agrees to take The Challengers on a different peacekeeping mission to prove loyalty before going to rescue Zero and Armaments. Blair sends the Chinese PROFORCE team to keep an eye on the captives while The Challengers gear up for their first government appointed mission.
ISSUE #85: THE NEMESIS GAMBIT
Cassandra Blair decides to deploy The Challengers in familiar territory: Rhode Island. After receiving complaints from about Nemesis gearing up for war with The Council, Blair takes action. The Challengers investigate the aggression between the two groups and find Nemesis has been stealing technology from Council scientists for unknown purposes. The Council responded with incredible hostility to this transgression and mobilized for a complete and utter war. The team arrests a mass amount of Nemesis and Council soldiers having a shoot-out in a city block and rescues several civilians caught in the crossfire.
Blair discovers the location of one of Nemesis' main military factories and asks The Challengers to check it out. Inside, the group comes across strange resistance. The Nemesis soldiers stationed there are almost mindless, completely engrossed in the task of producing more and more weapons and arms. They are under the effect of some kind of heavy mental manipulation. The team also finds several headless, chrome robot bodies being built. Nimbus is certain that the model is not typical of Nemesis. Suddenly, the factory is stormed by a squad of ERAsers, elite superhumans working for the villain group ERA who sought to discredit Paul Ooshun and The Challengers at their televised reveal last year. The ERAsers put up a fight, but the team is able to beat them down.
ISSUE #86: BRASS KNUCKLES
Even though the ERAsers' attack is thwarted, Blair is worried about their involvement in Nemesis' affairs. It is discovered by Blair that Sebastian Kain was never truly one with the organization and was used as a ruse to draw suspicions off of the true mastermind, King Brain. Blair brings up all the information on the super villain and find he has been planning his own schemes against The Challengers and passing the buck to other villains for months. Brain was behind ERA's attack on the press conference, the outbreak of the Corradine Strain that nearly cost Replacer his life, and he even had his own stake in Death Rae's Prototype Nine.
With this true enemy finally unveiled, the group springs into action. Paul Ooshun, thirsting for his own bit of revenge for the events last year, leads The Challengers to Nemesis' forward base to end Brain's control over the villain group. The team is confronted by Nemesis' elite guard and squads of ERAsers. They finally make their way to Nemesis himself. Realizing he has been found out, Brain reveals that this Nemesis was a fake stand-in he used to manipulate simple-minded Nemesis soldiers into doing his bidding. Now that his secret is out, he orders it to kill the heroes. The fake Nemesis is easily destroyed and all of the ERAsers left in the compound flee the scene. It is time to take the fight to ERA itself.
ISSUE #87: CONCLAVE OF CRIME
King Brain has organized a new meeting for international super villains to join his ERA, which he promises will begin soon. PROFORCE provides the coordinates of the congregation to Waypoint, who teleports The Challengers into the compound that it is being held at. When they arrive, they realize King Brain has staged things in North Korea so as to keep with his "evil" theme. The heroes decide to stay under the radar and observe the conference at first, discovering a whole slew of superhumans from all over the world pledging allegiance to ERA and King Brain for an unknown purpose.
Having heard enough, The Challengers head in to arrest all of the negotiating villains in one swoop to heavily damage Brain's support. The Spanish villain, El Matador, tries to hold off the heroes while the others escape, but he is quickly defeated and arrested. Angered by this, the other villains stop running and try and take on The Challengers themselves. Each one is knocked out rather quickly. The Watt, Fridgette, Crackdown, Conductress, Trample, Hurler, Gorilla Greed, Soaring Wind Dragon, Deatharrow, and Madam Medusa are all taken down and left to be taken in to PROFORCE custody. Laughtershock, who was leading the conference on Brain's behalf, has a last stand with the Arabian villain Devilhammer and the Indian villain Rakshasa. They are brought to PROFORCE custody with the others.
A gaggle of ERAsers arrives with a massive ERAdicator, a robot controlled by an organic brain. The ERAdicator is able to contain the heroes with ease, utilize several different powers at once. Because of the brain controlling it's every move, the ERAdicator is capable of remarkably fast reactions. Every attack The Challengers try to land it predicts and dodges. Finally, Nimbus electrocutes the machine and fries it's brain, allowing it to be pummeled into dust. With ERA's recruits behind bars, Brain's dream to establish a new worldwide crime conglomerate is dashed before his eyes. PROFORCE is extremely thankful for the large amount of wanted criminals brought in by The Challengers and Blair is finally able to tell them where she believes Armaments and Zero are being held.
ISSUE #88: BUYER'S REMORSE
Cassandra Blair provides The Challengers with the location of an Orthrus hideout. Some PROFORCE operatives tasked with keeping tabs on Orthrus saw the personnel there striking a deal with representatives from Fox Unit and The Zodiac to purchase their captive Challengers. The heroes mobilize to rescue their friends from Shade's clutches. When they arrive, they find Solidus and Jungle King receiving their pay from a Cerberus Guard. The three attack The Challengers together, but prove unable to stop them. Solidus, having already gotten paid, leaves, vowing never to do such messy business again. The team beats down Jungle King and he crawls away while they go after Armaments and Zero.
Groups of Orthrus snipers have Armaments and LZ preparing to go out on a barge to be picked up via helicopter in the middle of the Atlantic. The team moves quickly and subdues all of the snipers in a flash. They untie LZ and Armaments, who are both severely wounded after months of torture, and bring them back to safety. The two are then taken to recover at PROFORCE HQ. Liquid Zero requests a hot nurse. He gets a male one instead.
ISSUE #89: KICK SOME ASH
Hexamancer and Blast Cycle locate Burn Side and some of his hell-raisers tearing an office building apart. Hex heads in to handle the situation while Cyke calls in available Challengers to PROFORCE HQ to meet and group up. Since Afterburner didn't have the other half of Hil'kar's soul-sphere, they assume Burn Side is in possession of it. They know they need to catch him before he goes underground again. The team heads into the office building, putting out any fires they come across and arresting any gangsters who give them trouble. They do not find Hexamancer anywhere inside, though. The group storms up to Burn Side and pummels him. Asunder flings a barrage of metal shards at him and he relents immediately. Cyke knocks him out with a swift kick to the jaw and collects his half of the sphere. The Ashen arrive with one of their most trusted leaders, Archimedes, to fight The Challengers for the sphere. Archimedes sees his followers are outclassed and he uses his power over the shadows to suck The Challengers into a different plane.
They are transported to a scorched Earth. Archimedes calls it the "Realm of Ash" and explains that this is the world The Ashen want to see realized. The Ashen flood through this world with great numbers. The Realm of Ash also provides The Ashen foot soldiers with increased strength and magics. Even with all the odds stacked against them, the heroes bust their way through the waves of mages and assassins to face Archimedes once again. With his magic strengthened, Archimedes is able to transport The Challengers away before Sovereign Fist caves his face in for sending them to the "Realm of Suck Ass."
ISSUE #90: HIL'KAR'S ASCENSION
The Challengers find themselves in a replica of their old Estate. Everything they touch inside of it, however, turns to ash. As they navigate through the mysterious illusion, they fight more and more Ashen, who show no signs of slowing their attacks. In the back-most rooms of the Estate, Cyke comes across several pages and a leather book binding that have been left for him. The arcane symbols and writings on them are difficult to decipher and as Cyke touches them, they turn to ash. Cyke and the others grow angry with Archimedes' games.
The group is returned to the office building they defeated Burn Side in, but it is now set completely ablaze. All of the Ashen inside try to keep The Challengers trapped so that they will succumb to the fire's fumes. JT does his best to fan the flames and blow the smoke away from the team. The Ashen's commander, Bolvar, makes a final play to keep The Challengers inside, but he is defeated. Cyke finds the leather book binding and pages from before on him and everyone heads out of the burning building. Cyke reads the book, which is called "Hil'kar's Ascension," and discovers it is the summoning ritual used to bring him to the mortal realm. Now with all the pieces together and the means to actually summon Hil'kar, Cyke decides to research how he could reverse the summoning, ensuring Hil'kar would never be able to return to Earth again. With Hex apparently gone, Cyke has nobody to rely on for this but himself. The others offer him support, but he knows that figuring out how to keep Hil'kar gone forever will be up to him and him alone.
ISSUE #91: THE PROMISE OF POWER
Hexamancer and Burn Side are captured by the Ashen. Held in a cargo plane, they await whatever their malicious captors have in store for them at their destination. Their transport touches down in an Afghan desert and they are immediately led through a sandstorm into an underground labyrinth of tunnels. Simon, an Ashen leader, approaches the door to a chamber and opens it with a magical incantation. After everyone is inside, he seals it with a rune.
The chamber's interior looks almost organic. Pits of molten lava flow through the walls and ground like blood through veins. Hex is repulsed by the dark magic he senses within the sanctum. The Ashen take him and Burn Side to opposite sides of the chamber and guard them while Simon prepares for some sort of ritual. With him distracted, Hex defeats the two Ashen soldiers watching him and he contacts Blast Cycle with his Challenger communicator. He tells Cyke how to scry for his magical signature so that he can find him, but before he is able to say anything else, Ashen guards mob him and destroy his communicator.
ISSUE #92: STOP THE MADNESS
Blast Cycle uses the technique Hexamancer taught him and scries for the hero's magical signature. He finds Hex's location in the Middle East and prepares to rally The Challengers to help save him. He unovers Hex is being held at the most sacred Hil'kar site in existence, a temple called The Heart of Hil'kar. He realizes this is the location where "Hil'kar's Acension" must take place and devises a way to reverse engineer the summoning ritual to instead destroy Hil'kar's soul forever.
He calls for all available Challengers to meet him at PROFORCE HQ and has Blair provide them with transportation to The Heart of Hil'kar. The team loads into the aircraft while Cyke retrieves the soul-sphere. In a moment of reflection, he tries to assure himself that his plan will work and he will rid the world of Hil'kar forever. He still has a tough time believing it.
ISSUE #93: THE HEART OF HIL'KAR
The seal on the chamber's door breaks in the presence of Hil'kar's soul-sphere and The Challengers proceed into The Heart of Hil'kar with ease. Simon immediately commands legions of Ashen soldiers at them and flees further into the chamber. Red-Havok quickly charges the oncoming Ashen with his shield and sends them flying back. The rest of the team rescues Hexamancer. He thanks them then leaves the chamber to tend to his wounds. Cyke comes across a strange artifact that seems to be imprinting nightmares in the minds of mortals. The Challengers deduce this is what is causing people like Aser and Blair to see "The Fall of the Gods" and that the Ashen must have activated it to block any oracles from seeing their plan before it comes to fruition.
While exploring, the team discovers six "totems" of Hil'kar, which apparently provide a tenant of the beast's strength. The first totem, power, describes how Hil'kar is the embodiment of ultimate magical power. The second totem, death, describes Hil'kar's immortality and how the creature is impervious to death. Allegiance, the third totem, speaks about how only those who give themselves over fully to Hil'kar will be saved from him. Purification, the fourth totem, explains that Hil'kar's flames purge the world of anyone who stands against him. The fifth totem, absorption, speaks about Hil'kar's ability to absorb anyone who stands against him and use their souls as a source of sustenance. Finally, the sixth totem, avatar, describes Hil'kar's ultimate soldier, his human avatar that is imbued with his essence.
Turbo catches up with Simon and drags him back to the others. The Challengers quickly incapacitate him and Cyke sets up to perform his reverse-engineered ritual. Before he can begin, Burn Side comes out of nowhere and attacks him. He steals the soul-sphere and absorbs the entire thing. The Challengers prepare for a fight, but instead of facing them, Burn Side leaps into a pit of lava. The walls and ground start pulsating wildly, knocking the team off-balance. Hideous monsters emerge from the walls and mob the group. Cyke is horrified when the truth about this place finally occurs to him. The Heart of Hil'kar literally is Hil'kar's heart.
ISSUE #94: SWALLOWED WHOLE
The Challengers make their way out of Hil'kar's beating heart and into his veins. They struggle to remain upright while Hil'kar begins to move once more. As they push through the beast's body, they encounter horrific beasts made of Hil'kar's own flesh and blood. The creatures prove to be a tough fight and The Challengers grow increasingly wary as Hil'kar's body heats up to astronomical levels. Sweating profusely, they press onward.
The heroes come to an open expanse filled with the souls of fallen combatants. Ancient Mesopotamian warriors who fought the beast years ago remain there, trapped for eternity. The souls notice The Challengers and attack them. While fighting, the heroes notice that the souls of modern day citizens are among the Mesopotamians. They know this means Hil'kar is already upright once again and launching his conquest of the world.
ISSUE #95: ARCANE ASSEMBLAGE
Hexamancer notices Hil'kar's return from the outside and immediately hides as the beast rises and begins his march across the globe. Hex opens a magical gateway to escape and sends himself back to Rhode Island. When there, he prepares to rally the magical forces to combat Hil'kar's newly resurrected form.
Artifact-imbued villains Magus-Mask, Ripjaw, and Dr. Fatal agree to help in the fight merely out of selfish interest. Abernathy of the Legacy Chain joins the fight with his legion of responsible mages. The PPD agrees to release Infectant to help as well, provided she has an armed escort. Hex finally contacts The Guardians of Foxy's realm and they send help as well. With an arcane army established, Hex attempts to find a way to rescue The Challengers still stuck inside of Hil'kar's body.
ISSUE #96: AVATAR OF HIL'KAR
Still trapped in Hil'kar's body, The Challengers find themselves inside of the creature's brain. The heat is getting unbearable and they are about to give in to dehydration when Burn Side reappears. He summons more of Hil'kar's demons and attacks the exhausted heroes. They fight him off and he engulfs himself in flames. When he returns, he has grown horns and claws, slowly becoming less and less human.
He tells Blast Cycle that he is now the Avatar of Hil'kar and has ultimate power. He flings fireball after fireball at The Challengers who struggle to dodge. He progressively grows wings and his skin tints orange. The fire around him burns hotter and hotter as Burn Side transforms. The Challengers are inches away from being roasted alive, but they continue to put up a fight. Burn Side's skin hardens into a molten rock and he materializes a sword made entirely of flames, completing his transformation. Havok uses his shield to block Burn Side's swipes, but the team seems outmatched. Just then, Hexamancer opens a magical gateway and pulls his allies out of the fray.
ISSUE #97: HELL ON EARTH - PART I
The Challengers find themselves in a hall surrounded by the magical heroes and villains Hexamancer rallied to help fight Hil'kar. As they move forward, they see news broadcasts detailing the mass destruction Hil'kar has been causing. They are angered to see that cities are burning, people are dead, and Hil'kar is invulnerable to anyone who tries to stop him. Blast Cycle feels especially guilty, but knows this isn't over unless he lets it be over. After seeing the forces gathered, Havok knows they're in for a hell of a fight, but he holds confidence in his fellow Challengers and prepares for what may very well be a suicide mission. The stage is set for the climactic final battle with Hil'kar. With so much at stake, The Challengers can't afford to fail.
While cities all around the world burn, The Challengers brace themselves for a counter-attack against the behemoth Hil'kar. Hexamancer is able to magically enchant a vessel to hold Hil'kar's soul, but trapping him inside of it is no easy task. Infectant tells Blast Cycle that if The Challengers want a fighting chance against Hil'kar, they will need to break the magic on his sacred "totems" which are defended by manifestations of his ultimate power. Destroying the totems will leave a window where Hil'kar's soul will be vulnerable. The heroes accept their most dangerous mission yet. Knight Wolf launches the counter-assault on Hil'kar with the other magical forces.
Hil'kar reaches the East Coast, striking in the heart of New York City. The entire state is evacuated prior to his arrival. Knight Wolf boldly arrives with his back-up to face the ancient beast. Hil'kar laughs off their pitiful confrontation and orders Burn Side, his avatar, to dispatch of them. Burn Side summons various hellish creatures to wreak havoc across the city. Knight Wolf leads the charge against them as The Challengers are finally airlifted onto the Empire State Building by PROFORCE to put the hurt on Hil'kar himself. Enraged by their presence, Hil'kar breathes a wave of fire at the group, which Havok uses his shield to absorb. The heat is so intense that it nearly melts it. Sovereign Fist gives Cyke his anti-gravity belt and Cyke uses it to maneuver around Hil'kar's head, keeping his attention while the rest of The Challengers head to ground level and find the totem-bearers.
ISSUE #98: HELL ON EARTH - PART II
Gadgix, Cyberman, and Dynomind locate the purification totem-bearer, a living tree made entirely out of ash. Gidge blasts pieces of the beast away with her beam rifle, but it regrows every part she blows off. The ash tree swats them back and Gidge suddenly gets an idea. She hooks her beam rifle up to Cyberman's processor and Dynomind's gauntlets, using their energy to boost her blaster's. She shoots the totem-bearer, disentegrating it with a single shot. They collect it's totem and head back towards the Empire State Building. The power totem-bearer, an enormous bull-headed demon, charges at Nimbus, who summons a lightning bolt that electrocutes the beast. It is not deterred in the slightest. It flings a massive fireball towards Nimbus, but before he is roasted alive, the fireball is frozen solid by Liquid Zero, who then throws one of his frost katanas into the demon's head. Talonknight climbs up the monster's back and jams the katana further into its skull, flash-freezing it. The monster falls forward and Renegade nonchalantly empties one of his pistols into its face, shattering it to frozen bits.
Paul and Fist square off with the absorption totem-bearer, a ghastly apparition of a long-dead Mesopotamian warrior. Fist goes to punch him in the face, but passes right through. The totem-bearer summons legions of souls that Paul and Fist are unable to even hit. Hex uses his power over the shadows to turn Paul and Fist spectral for a short time so that they'll be able to fight. Paul sweeps the totem-bearer's legs and Fist knocks the ever-living hell out of its face, claiming the third totem for The Challengers. Elsewhere, the allegiance totem-bearer, an ancient Ashen black knight turned immortal by Hil'kar's corruption, gives Asunder, Replacer, and Aglow trouble. Replacer lands blow after blow on the knight, but it shrugs it off, as if it feels no pain. The knight even continues marching after Asunder impales it with a metal shard. Asunder considers a new tactic and figures the deathless knight must be some kind of zombie, which means the only way to kill it is to cut of its head. She grabs one of her magnetic shards and tosses it to Replacer. Aglow blinds the knight and Replacer uses the shard to decapitate it. The knight's lifeless body falls to the floor, defeated.
The death totem-bearer, a massive skeleton, rips down skyscrapers with its bare hands as Waypoint, Ferret, and Turbo figure out a way to tackle it. Every time they attempt to approach it, it thwacks them backwards into rubble. Turbo speeds at it, but before the skeleton can hit him, Waypoint teleports him behind the beast. Before the totem-bearer even notices what happened, JT dropkicks it and Ferret shatters its skull with her staff. All that remains is the avatar totem-bearer, Burn Side. Hil'kar finally snatches Cyke and throws him into Havok. The two quickly spring back up, but are caught off-guard when Burn Side dashes at them. He attemps to stab Havok in the heart, but Cyke grabs him by the throat just before he can. Cyke tries to talk some sense into his brother, but it proves to be pointless. Hil'kar has taken complete control of him. Cyke takes his totem and gives it to Hex, who compiles the six totems and uses a curse to break their magic. As soon as he does, Hil'kar's various totem-bearers are absorbed into him and he shrinks to a much smaller form.
Hil'kar unleashes a hellish inferno that engulfs the entire city. Waypoint protects The Challengers by transporting them to a different dimension momentarily. When they return, they find The Guardians, Abernathy's mages, and the artifact villains decimated. Knight Wolf is the only one left standing. Knight Wolf limps towards Hil'kar to try and finish the fight, but Hil'kar executes him on the spot. Ferret is heartbroken by this, but there is no time to shed a tear. As Hil'kar marches towards The Challengers, Cyke preps the vessel. The group does their best to keep Hil'kar at bay, but their attacks hardly phase the otherworldly fiend. Cyke tosses the vessel to Havok who sticks it to his shield. He then charges Hil'kar, shield-first, and absorbs him into it, imprisoning the monster once more. The Challengers collapse afterwards, exhausted from the battle. Although the death and destruction he reaped is massive, Hil'kar is defeated, and the world is safe once again.
ISSUE #99: TIL DEATH DO US PART
With worldwide crisis averted, Asunder prepares for her wedding to Replacer. She goes quite a bit overboard, however, wanting every last detail of it meticulously planned and put together. She schedules a rehearsal for the rehearsal dinner of the wedding, much to the annoyance of Johnny Turbo, Sovereign Fist, Max Impact, and pretty much everyone. She demands everyone dress "business casual" for the event and violently threatens anyone who won't. When the guests arrive at the banquet hall for the rehearsal's rehearsal, they find it completely thrashed with D-list villains eager for revenge against Asunder and The Challengers.
The heroes chase off Crimson-Cannon and several groups of thugs, including Crey soldiers and Nemesis robots. They find the burnt remains of tuxedos and discover a note which describes this event as some kind of sadistic game. It says Mr. Treat and Sumo have stolen the cake and food, The Blacklist has stolen the dress and bridal undergarments, and Nemesis took the veil and bouquet. The team suits up to get everything back.
The Challengers bust up Mr. Treat's bakery and beat the idiotic villain down, but find Sumo has already inhaled all of the food. They arrest them both and put an end to the Sticky Fingers Gang once and for all. Next, they face off against an armada of Blacklist villains including Living Reactor, Technotroll, The Elements of Destruction, and even Hopkins, who has adopted a suit of power armor. After knocking them all out, they come face to face with Mega Midas, who reveals he has already shredded the dress and undergarments. Enraged, Asunder beats him to a pulp. Finally, they take the fight to Nemesis, but once again are too late as the brass ass has already burnt the veil and bouquet for "fuel" before they arrive. Livid now, Asunder leads her friends in a charge on him. Nemesis' suit endures so much damage that it begins to fall apart. Suddenly in nothing but his naked mechanized exoskeleton, Nemesis flails about wildly and mushroom stamps Johnny Turbo before being knocked unconscious. Everyone begins avoiding JT like the plague, for good reason, and Asunder breaks down and cries.
Replacer comforts Asunder after their wedding is ruined. The rest of The Challengers stand by awkwardly. Replacer ensures Asunder that the wedding doesn't matter, what matters is that they're together. He convinces her to have an impromptu wedding ceremony that night instead of trying to plan everything. JT agrees to officiate and the couple share an intimate ceremony with just their close friends at the ski resort where they first met years ago. Havok, as the best man, toasts them and the two begin their life together.
ISSUE #100: CHALLENGE ACCEPTED
As villains pass the time in jail cells, those that are still at large cry out in frustration. With an ancient demon banished, a lunatic imbued with cosmic powers thwarted, a bubble-headed illusionist walking with crutches, and so much more on their resume, The Challengers have a moment of pride. The impossible became more impossible, the challenges became more challenging, but none of that deterred them. Havok founded The Challengers with one goal in mind: to defend the world, no matter the cost. Unfortunately, that cost proved to be quite high. Friends, brothers, sisters, good people all saw their end before it was their time. Friendships were lost, secrets were uncovered, and fears were faced.
All in the pursuit of peace. All to save Earth from bowing to one man or getting ravaged in the crossfire. It is the dedication to that mission that makes a man or woman more than human. It makes them superhuman. It makes them a hero. Victory will never be achieved in the fight against evil, and so a hero's work is never done. But those that bear the title take solace in the fact that for all the hardships, losses, defeats, and bitter endings, they still stand for what someone must.
As the future bears down on The Challengers, they see where their lives could be heading. Havok is finally able to say goodbye to his past and welcomes his future with his wife, Ferret. Nimbus and Cyberman stand beside their longtime friends and welcome a happy ending for them both. Replacer and Asunder create a family of their own that can grow alongside Havok and Ferret's. Paul Ooshun proves he is more man than monster. Dynomind makes amends for his mistakes, and Liquid Zero to goes on to make plenty more. Blast Cycle and Hexamancer stay heroes, stay partners, and know that will never change. Gadgix becomes a teacher to young inventors, and Sovereign Fist becomes a mentor to aspiring face-punchers. The cold exteriors of Talonknight and Armaments even thaw a little. Tracer knows she must return to her home dimension, but leaves things surprisingly bittersweet. Renegade becomes a P.I., Waypoint becomes a chef, Impact opens a gym, and Turbo even becomes a father when Aglow announces she's pregnant with his daughter. At this point, it goes without saying, but they all live happily ever after. Or do they? The future is never set in stone.
ISSUE #101: SOME THINGS NEVER CHANGE
Months after the climactic battle with Hil'kar, the world continues to rebuild from the senseless destruction the monster brought upon the planet. Things are quiet and peaceful, for the most part. The Challengers are now publicly sponsored by PROFORCE and Cassandra Blair. However, due to the "world-saving business" slowing down, they haven't seen much of each other. When The Guardians hold a ceremony in The Watcher's forest to announce Ferret as their new leader, in place of the late Knight Wolf, the rest of the group makes a point to attend the gathering.
The newlyweds, Replacer and Asunder, share their various family plans, much to the boredom of Johnny Turbo, who is catering to every need of the pregnant Aglow. While he fluffs her pillow at superspeed, he mocks the Renegade, who is wearing a trenchcoat to look incognito, but instead winds up looking like a public masturbator. Waypoint passes out invitations to his culinary school graduation and Blast Cycle crumples his up immediately after receiving it. Havok asks Replacer if Runescape 2 is being developed, and Grant is forced to break the poor guy's heart. Sovereign Fist tries to pick up the pieces by getting Red into a game called "Ultimo Online." Hexamancer gives Paul some wise advice, which he nods along to. After Hex leaves, Paul reveals he couldn't understand what he was saying. As the ceremony begins, Ferret accepts her new title proudly and delivers an impassioned speech about her deceased father and the sacrifices he made for her.
Her friends are moved by the words, but just as they erupt into thunderous applause, Phanto reveals he was in the audience the whole time, using an illusion to disguise himself. He announces he plans to use The Guardians' magical artifacts to take over Earth. Turbo immediately retorts with a joke about his penis, and Aglow tells him to watch his language. Replacer hits him in the back of his head. Waypoint splits a snack with Asunder for a quick pick-me-up before the fight. Dynomind is nowhere to be found and Cyberman's battery dies. Nimbus rolls his eyes when he notices this. Liquid Zero puts on a fireman's helmet. Gadgix distributes Radi-Tabs in advance. Havok sighs. Dot dot dot. Some things never change.