One year later. Metropolis. A crowd of reporters stood gathered outside of the former LuthorCorp building, now renamed LexCorp by its new CEO, Lex Luthor. They eagerly awaited what would be the first public statement by the enigmatic billionaire since his recent return to the limelight after a long and mysterious absence.
Among the reporters was Clark Kent, dressed sharply in a suit and tie and sporting a pair of black horn-rimmed glasses. He pushed the glasses farther up his nose with his index finger, then adjusted the Daily Planet press pass he wore clipped to his jacket pocket.
"Hey, looking good, buddy," said a voice from behind him. He turned to see Peter Parker smiling at him. Peter snapped a photo of Clark with the camera that hung from a strap around his neck. "You've updated your wardrobe since I saw you last!"
Clark smiled and shook his old friend's hand. "So have you," Clark replied. "I saw your photos in the Daily Bugle… I notice you're back to the 'red and blue' these days."
Peter shrugged and his smile faded. "Yeah, the black and white look wasn't working out so well," he said. "It was a phase I went through... Mourning, I guess."
Clark nodded as they both thought of Chloe. "I know. I think of her a lot, too."
"We never did find out what happened to her," Peter said. "Why would the Hobgoblin want to kill Chloe?"
Clark shook his head. "I don't know. There's more to what happened that night than meets the eye, I'm sure of it. And I'm going to get to the bottom of it."
Peter raised an eyebrow. "Want some help?"
Clark looked at Peter. "Yeah?"
"Sure… Peter Parker and Clark Kent, working together? I know we could solve the case."
Clark nodded. "You're right," he said. "Chloe deserves justice. We'll find it for her, no matter what it takes."
As if on cue, Lex Luthor stepped out onto the dais that was set up in front of LexCorp Plaza, and approached the podium. He smiled and waved to the crowd of reporters as he adjusted the microphone.
"Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen of the press," Lex said, beaming. "This is an historic day. It was one year ago today that one of the world's most celebrated superheroes, Captain America, announced that the government was disbanding the U.S. peacekeeping organization known as The Ultimates. The loss of that great team has left a hole in our country's security, and in the comfort and peace of mind of the civilians of this great nation of ours."
"Mister Luthor," one impatient reporter shouted out. "Is it true you're running for President?"
Lex laughed and rolled his eyes dismissively. "Please," he said, amused. "Hold all questions until the end of the conference. Now, as I was saying… America is still in need of protection. The disappearance of our heroes does not mean the disappearance of threats to our security. With that in mind, LexCorp is proud to announce our new and groundbreaking partnership with Stark International!"
Lex gave a grand gesture, and Tony Stark stepped out onto the dais beside Lex. Cameras flashed as the reporters began shouting questions. Clark and Peter looked at each other in surprise.
"Ladies and gentlemen," Tony began, stepping up to the mic beside Lex. "As Mistor Luthor said, America is still in need of protection. And we are honored, privileged, and obliged to provide it. May we introduce to you… the Iron Avengers!"
From up in the sky, a team of six men dressed from head to toe in silver battle armor descended down via rocket-powered thrusters in their boots. Their armor seemed to be an amalgam of Stark's own Iron Man armor and the battlesuit that Lex had worn on previous occasions when fighting the Green Goblin. They landed on the dias, cameras flashing like crazy now, the reporters working themselves up into a frenzy.
"This new armor was developed jointly by LexCorp and Stark International for the U.S. government," Stark explained. "It combines the latest and greatest technology from both companies. These suits, and the men who wear them, will provide a new level of security for this great nation of ours. We are proud to usher in a new 'Iron Age'!"
There was thunderous applause from the crowd. Clark and Peter exchanged skeptical and somewhat concerned glances.
"So what can these Iron Avengers do?" one reporter shouted.
Lex and Tony beamed. "I'm so very glad you asked," Lex replied. He produced a small remote control device from his jacket pocket and pressed a button. A huge section of the dais slid open behind them, and three cruise missiles slowly rose up from below. The crowd let out a collective gasp.
"Now, now, don't be alarmed," Stark said, reassuringly. "Though I should point out, these men are trained professionals… don't try this at home."
There was a deafening roar as the missiles launched, tearing out over the heads of the astonished crowd and shooting up into the sky. Acting swiftly and in unison, the six Iron Avengers took off after the missiles, soaring through the air at incredible speed.
The members of the crowd began to point and cry out as they came to a startling realization. A commercial airliner was passing overhead, and the missiles were heading straight for it. This was apparently not part of the plan, as Tony Stark was just as surprised as anyone.
"I thought I gave orders to have this airspace cleared!" Stark screamed into a communicator on his wristwatch. "What's that plane doing up there?!"
The Iron Avengers splintered off into groups of two, each pair going after one of the three missiles. The first pair reached their missile, moving with the precision of choreographed dancers. One of the Avengers clamped his hands down on either side of the missile's base. His partner raced up to the warhead and ripped it off, neutralizers in his gloves deactivating the explosive before it could detonate. Then they headed back toward the ground, carrying the harmless pieces of the missile back with them. The second pair of Avengers decommissioned their missile in much the same way.
The third pair of armored soldiers closed in on their missile. Suddenly and without warning, one of the Iron Avengers turned on his partner. He threw his arm around his partner's neck, choking him and pulling him back away from the missile. He savagely ripped the other man's helmet off and cast it aside. Then, he put his fist up against the man's exposed head, a gun barrel protruding from the armor's wrist-plate.
"This is for Latveria!" the rogue solider cried, his voice crackling through Stark's watch. "Long live Von Doom!" Then, the sickening sound of a gunshot. The rogue Avenger had killed his partner. Horrified screams rose up from the crowd as they realized what had happened.
The rogue soldier detonated a fail-safe in his armor, blowing himself up. The last missile continued to streak through the air, heading straight for the plane. The crowd was in full panic mode now, running for cover. A team of plainclothes SHIELD agents rushed the stage, grabbing Lex and Tony and ushering them to safety.
"What the hell just happened?!" Stark screamed.
"Sir, we ran that last transmission through our voice recognition software… the man in suit A-17 was actually Kristoff Vernard, a known Latverian terrorist," one of the SHIELD agents replied.
"How did this happen?!" Stark bellowed. "Those men were screened with the highest security protocols we have!"
He looked at Lex, astonished, as they were being led quickly off the dais and ushered toward a waiting limousine. Then, something in Lex's eyes caused a sinking feeling in Tony's gut. It was a look of amused fascination, bordering on satisfaction. To his utter horror and complete disgust, Tony came to the sudden realization that Lex Luthor knew about this all along.
The missile reached its target, blowing the left wing of the plane completely off. The plane began to spiral out of control, plummeting down toward the city, leaving a trail of thick black smoke behind it.
Clark turned to Peter. "Get as many of these people to safety as you can," he instructed, matter-of-factly. "I'll catch the plane." Then he turned and started to run off, tugging at his tie.
"Wait!" Peter cried, grabbing Clark's arm. "What do you mean, you'll catch the plane??"
Clark just nodded. "Trust me on this," he said. Then he disappeared into the crowd, sprinting toward the alley that separated the LexCorp building from the Daily Planet.
"Okay…" Peter said, slipping back into the crowd himself, looking for a place to don his Spider-Man duds. "I guess he learned some new tricks over the last year…"
Clark ducked into the alley and kept running. He pulled off the glasses and yanked off the tie. The time had finally come for him to make his debut… to fulfill his destiny, and live up to the responsibility that came with his great power. Clark pulled open his shirt. Underneath was a costume sporting a familiar logo… the family crest of the House of El. Soon, it would mean something more, much more, to the people of the world. It would be the mark of their greatest hero.
In the back of the limousine, Tony Stark stared at Lex Luthor with revulsion. Lex was watching the plane plunge toward the city expectantly, as if waiting for something to happen.
"Lex, please tell me you didn't have anything to do with this," Stark pleaded.
Lex held up a finger, gesturing for Tony to wait a moment. Then, up in the sky, there was a streak of red and blue as a costumed figure flew up, up and away toward the plane. Lex grinned with satisfaction. He placed his hand gently on the window of the limo, even as the car was speeding away from the scene.
"Let the games begin," he whispered.