The son of abusive research scientist Fritz Woolcot, Alex attracted the attention of child welfare agent-turned-teacher Steven Estevez, who filed a child abuse report based on Alex’s injuries. Not long after, Alex unwittingly touched his father’s experimental incineration device, causing an energy dicharge that destroyed the equipment, compounding Fritz’s anger while secretly empowering Alex. When Estevez invited Daily Bugle reporter Joy Mercado to confront the Woolcots, Fritz punched Estevez out, and the distraught Alex’s power welled to the surface. The imminent danger attracted Spider-Man (who, as Peter Parker, had been on his way to meet Joy), but the situation defused itself when Fritz ejected the unwanted visitors. The Woolcot family moved into a new school district, on their lawyer’s advice, to escape the abuse investigation, but when a drunken Fritz attempted to take his frustrations out on his son, Alex inadvertently disintegrated his father. Alex ran away from home while his deliberately oblivious mother vacuumed up Fritz’s ashes. Defending himself from various parties with his powers, Alex was pursued by police and even agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., under rogue agent Frederick Miluv. Estevez alerted Spider-Man to Alex’s peril, but Spider-Man initially spooked Alex into attacking him. After Spider-Man protected Alex from S.H.I.E.L.D. Mandroids, the two teamed up to finish off the assault squad, but Alex was then shot and apparently killed by Miluv.
Miluv had actually arranged a calculated assault on Alex, using tranquilizers combined with a few strategically placed non-lethal bullets. With Alex believed dead, S.H.I.E.L.D. collected him, and Nick Fury took him under his wing; however, Alex was left highly neurotic by his experiences, and it was decided to submerge his memories. Alex - codenamed Ashcan - was relocated to Boulder, Colorado and placed under the care of semi-retired S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Dylan Pattinson, whom he believed to be his real father.
In search of missing Gamma Bombs, renegade S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Clay Quartermain tried to hack into S.H.I.E.L.D. Central’s database through Pattinson’s relatively unguarded home. Clay’s allies, the Hulk and Rick Jones, easily overpowered Pattinson, but the Hulk’s appearance terrified Alex into unleashing his forgotten power, frying the Hulk’s face. The Hulk’s rage quickly faded upon learning about Alex’s abusive father, and his similar experiences led the two to become fast friends. His memory and power restored, Alex was left under Pattinson’s care, though he quickly told his “dad” that it was time to renegotiate his allowance.