One of the Initiative's clones of MVP was fitted with the Tactigon, an experience that has driven him insane. Now calling himself KIA, he has begun rampaging through Camp Hammond, attempting to kill everyone privy to the secret of the original MVP's death. Hardball, Komodo, and Cloud 9 have fled to Tennessee, where they hope to take a brain scan of the original MVP clone. The scan may offer the only hope of a weapon capable of defeating KIA, but it will likely kill the MVP clone in the process. Justice and his team, former New Warriors, object to this plan: attacking from ambush, they have incapacitated the Initiative recruits.
In flashback, we see Cloud 9 and her allies escape Camp Hammond through a jump gate to Prison 42. There they hurriedly brief Jim "War Machine" Rhodes (and the readers, incidentally) on recent events, including the fact that the Initiative has covered up the death of a recruit while making clones of him. War Machine is outraged, but agrees to hold off KIA while Cloud 9 travels to Tennessee. Rhodes makes a valiant effort to subdue KIA, but neither his air of gravitas nor his extensive armoury is sufficient to the task.
In the present Cloud 9 attempts to reason with Justice and his comrades that wiping MVP's mind with the scanning device is the only hope of stopping KIA. Justice, sick of moral compromises and Initiative deception, refuses to believe it. Before the argument can really get rolling, however, KIA appears in a blast of purple lasers.
Meanwhile, back at Camp Hammond, Gyrich attempts to take control of the situation: he sends Mutant Zero back to the "Zero Room", whatever that may be, to recuperate, and orders the surviving Scarlet Spiders to cease tending Baron Blitzschlag (who lived, it seems) and go after KIA. The Spiders pursue KIA through the jump gate, through Prison 42, to Tennessee. War Machine attempts to prevent them from proceeding, but he's too weak to do so. So instead he does what he can, namely call Iron Man to let him know what's going down.
The battle in Tennessee isn't going well. KIA takes out Justice and Slapstick in a trice; Komodo proves only slightly more difficult. Though she's possessed of phenomenal healing abilities, the Tactigon compensates by injecting her with Rigellian snake venom, "the fastest working poison in this universe." Healing factor or no, it will reach her heart in 52 seconds.
Hardball disengages to tend to his lover, leaving the field to KIA. At this point the Mighty Avengers illustrate that 90% of being a hero is simply showing up: appearing out of nowhere at the opportune moment, they begin to battle KIA in earnest.
This book belongs to the Initiative kids, though, so our focus remains on them. Rage blunders into Iron Man's way; Cloud 9 tries to persuade MVP to put on the brain scanner, risks be damned; Hardball saves Komodo the only way he can, by amputating her legs before the poison can circulate beyond them. The latter is particularly affecting: Komodo is a brave soldier, but losing her legs for a second time is almost more than she can take. Only Hardball's declaration of love for her gets her through.
Cloud 9, seeing all of this, has had enough. Determined, she stalks towards KIA, who threatens her, but hesitates to strike. She knows why: she's found his weakness. Flashing back all the way to issue #1, she's realized the truth: MVP had a crush on her, and so does KIA. That's why he hasn't killed her, despite having every opportunity to do so, and with ease. To the shock of all, she embraces him and kisses him, deeply.
It's a trick, though. Her cloud-stuff pours through her mouth into his body, choking him. Stunned, he leaves himself open to being pinioned by the armour of the Scarlet Spiders, who have just arrived on the scene. He's immobilized, though not for long... long enough, though. MVP, reasoning that the helmet which could wipe his own mind could do the same for another clone, places it on KIA's head, erasing his brain.
With the battle's end, the survivors tend the casualties. Justice comes to, while Iron Man revives Slapstick with a funky doubletalk electric charge. Cloud 9 and MVP reflect together on how the Initiative has given them capabilities they never knew they had... or perhaps turned them both into people they never wanted to be.
In a grim epilogue, Slapstick finds the helmet with KIA's brainscan. The helmet can download the brain patterns to a new host body. Slapstick, sensing the potential for comedy, swipes the helmet. "That's all, folks"? Perhaps not.
A satisfying ending to the arc, and indeed to the past year's worth of stories, with next month's issue #12 serving as the epilogue. The Initiative is in shambles, with most recruits either dead or gone AWOL. The instructors have been exposed as corrupt or ignorant. And the surviving recruits seem to feel like they've lost more than they gained.
All that, combined with an excellent payoff going back ten issues—Cloud 9's exploitation of the crush we all should have seen coming gets top marks—makes this among the book's best issues to date.
Excellent issue, definitely worth reading. Falls short of perfection by backing away from its central premise: if the Tactigon is so deadly, why are so few people getting killed by it? Justice, Slapstick, Komodo, and Baron Blitzschlag all survive; as we'll see next issue, most of the recruits who fell in the earlier parts of the arc are also still breathing. Those revelations undermine the weight and significance of the whole arc, which depending on the ideas that KIA was a lethal foe, and that, often, soldiers die. Without those consequences, the arc as a whole suffers, I think.
Here's the stinger:
Slapstick: "'KIA'? Nice name. What? Were you conceived in a sports utility vehicle?"
Slapstick: "This from a guy that writes things down on his chest."