The Jean Grey School isn't, it turns out, all that different from Midtown High. Instead of Che Guevera, there's a guy with pink hair wearing a shirt that says, 'Magneto was Right,' but otherwise? The underqualified teachers, self-absorbed students, and somehow-still-boring classes all ring pretty familiar.
(Even the horrifically gruelling gym class isn't much of a change - when you go to school with Spider-Man, you learn that sometimes a giant robot is just going to try to kill you before lunch. At least now, she has the power to take it down herself.)
Also pretty familiar is the way she doesn't feel like the school is quite meeting her needs. At Midtown High it was cutting back on AP classes and science funding; here, it's the weird yet pervasive feeling that she's not so much being trained in her powers as being trained around them. Which maybe shouldn't come as that much of a surprise - even before she woke up with her metal bedframe twisted around her during a bad dream, she knew who Magneto was. He's a Bad Guy, something like the Green Goblin of the mutant world, and she knows it weirds people out that she shares his powers. But the thing is, she didn't come all the way upstate to still feel like some sort of freak, and she's sick of feeling like, in this so-called haven of freak acceptance, her powers still make her an outsider.
So she does ... well, probably not what most people would do, unless most people would run away from school to hunt down a known terrorist and ask him to be her mentor. But as it turns out, it's shockingly not the worst decision she's ever made (that honour goes to Flash Thompson and a massively ill-advised game of Truth or Dare, and even Emma Frost's freaky mind-reading powers are never getting those details out of her), so. Maybe more people should totally do that?
The first thing he says to her is, "No." And the second, and the third, and ... well, she'd be lying if she said she lost count, but it's better for her self-esteem to pretend she did. But Gwen's nothing if not driven, and right now what she wants is to be learn how to use her abilities by the one person who doesn't seem afraid of them. so she persists.
Eventually, he says, "Yes."
(Reluctantly, and he's still frowning at the time, but she's counting it as a win.)
"It isn't enough simply to have power," he tells her, that first day. (Well. The first day that counts.) "You must first learn why we fight."
So. That punk with the t-shirt? It turns out he may have had a point.
"Is violence really the answer?" she asks after their first fight with the X-Men, nursing a bruised jaw and an even more bruised ego.
Magneto smiles sadly. "It's the only one people will listen to."
But, okay, that fight:
Magneto calls it field training. Gwen's pretty sure what they're actually doing is destruction of public property, but given the context - an apparently-legal billboard advocating the complete removal of mutant rights, visit our website now to make it happen - she doesn't waste a lot of time arguing.
"Concentrate," he says. Which it's kind of hard to do with him talking at her the whole time, but she's trying.
And then something clicks - like she can feel the metal, like it's an extension of her. Tentatively, not wanting to lose that feeling, she reaches out, twisting the metal. Gently, at first, but once she feels like she has it under control she wrenches hard, tearing the entire structure down in one broad gesture.
Which is, of course, when the X-Men show up.
"Gwen," Storm says. Her presence sends a static shock through the metal that Gwen can feel in her bones. "You don't have to do this. Come back with us."
She'd like to say she doesn't hesitate, but she's always been a Good Girl, and this feels way too much like being called into the principal's office not to make her stumble a little. And then Magneto steps forward - not in front of her, but like he's shielding her, a little - and she remembers why she's doing this.
"Why?" she asks, finding her voice. "So you can not train me some more? So I can feel everyone wondering if someday I'm going to -"
Do this, a traitorous voice whispers. But she's spared having to finish the sentence by Magneto, who flings one of the fallen pieces of debris past Storm, using another to pin Iceman back almost in the same motion. The X-Men react faster than Gwen can even think, waves of ice and laser beams and howling wind all competing for her attention, like nothing Midtown High or the danger room ever prepared her for. In the end, she's pretty sure it's one of her own chunks of metal that flies back at her and knocks her out, which - maybe nobody else saw?
Oh, who is she kidding. Definitely everybody else saw, and she's only thankful that Spider-Man stopped the Sinister Six from pulling a heist downtown the same afternoon and kept her epic failure from being front page news.
Speaking of Spider-Man:
"I like the costume," he says, and Gwen tries not to jump. "A little derivative, but black is always slimming, right?"
"Slimming?" she asks. She's really starting to understand why J. Jonah Jameson hates this guy.
"Not that you need to - I mean, you have a great body, for a villain."
"Villain?" Okay, that one's even worse. Since when is defacing a billboard villain-worthy behaviour? Especially one spewing hateful, racist propaganda. Okay, so maybe spraypaint isn't exactly the most dignified way to make her point, but it's still a valid point, and better than trashing an entire street corner besides.
"Sorry, the vandalism and Magneto helmet kinda threw me off," he says.
Magneto was right, she refrains from saying. "Like you've never done the all black thing?" she asks instead.
"Yeah, well, that was a weird time for me," he says. "Anyway, you're kind of ruining the view from my favourite rooftop."
"You really liked it better before?" she asks.
"Well." He hesitates. And then, in a slightly less than convincing tone, "Oh, hey, my spidey senses tell me there's totally a crime happening two blocks over. So ... I'll just be going now. Don't do any more crime while I'm gone."
As far as superhero encounters go, Gwen's definitely rating this one as her most successful.
"What about Gweneto?" she asks.
"Definitely not," Magneto says, but Gwen sees the all-too brief smile before he hides it behind a scowl. It reminds her of the first time she put on the costume, and she tries - not very successfully - to hide her own grin.
"Gwen, All-Powerful Defender of Mutant Rights and Also New York?"
"We should get back to your training."
"Yeah," she decides, hurrying to catch up. Past experience has shown her that he absolutely will leave her behind if she hesitates. "Definitely Gweneto."