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John Byrne (writer), Paul Ryan and Tom Palmer (artists), Bill Oakley (letterer), Mike Rockwitz (colorist), Howard Mackie (editor), Tom DeFalco (editor in chief)
With concern, the Avengers note that all the while they have been busy fighting off the attacks of various super-villains all over the United States, the general public’s sentiment against them has grown. In fact, a huge crowd of protesters have gathered in front of Avengers Park. Wonder Man has come to New York, to help Captain America and the visit to assess the damages of the sunken Hydrobase and to see whether there is any equipment they can salvage. However, before they can do so, they are being called back to New York when the Mandarin tries to gain entrance to the Avengers current headquarters, killing a police officer in the process. Along the way, Wonder Man and the Vision encounter the Wizard though. Cap doesn’t have to face the Mandarin all by himself, however, as Avengers reservists Hellcat and the Black Widow have answered to the emergency call as well. Eventually, the tide is turned when Thor also arrives, and the Avengers gain the upper hand against the two foes. The Mandarin quickly escapes, leaving the Wizard deliberately behind to be captured by the heroes, as he blames him for their failure. While observing their allies’ efforts on the huge monitor in their conference room, Dr. Doom and the Red Skull get into an argument that turns into a fight, during which the Skull damages Doom’s armor. The Kingpin manages to calm them down, though later when the Mandarin returns, tempers flare again. During their discussion of how to proceed, the villains begin to realize that they all believe their scheme to have been their own idea and that the mysterious stranger is not the mere lackey he pretended to be. Suddenly, though, Dr. Doom explodes, revealing him to have been a robotic duplicate all along. At the Avengers West Coast compound, Magneto kidnaps the catatonic Scarlet Witch by magnetically lifting her entire house into the atmosphere before her friend and mentor, Agatha Harkness, can do anything about it.
An angry crowd of protesters has gathered outside Avengers Park. They are holding up signs reading “NYC for real people,” “Avengers get lost!” and similar messages. A group of police officers have blocked the park’s entrance with barricades, and they radio to their unit that they have the situation under control - so far. However, they also notice how upset many of the people are, especially after the attack of Freedom Force.
While the ones who received injuries during that incident have been taken to hospitals, many of the angry protesters remained and are spoiling for a fight. One of the cops says that he can’t even blame them, before asking his colleague what the situation inside the park is. The officer replies that it’s been quiet ever since the Avengers returned to their underground complex, though he wished they would show themselves again, as that might calm down the crowd. The first cop is not sure on that, though.
In the Avengers’ base, Jarvis has followed the entire exchange between the two officers on a video screen and sighs. He then turns to several other screens in the huge monitor room, showing the faces of several Avengers all over the United States, who are in a conference call. Addressing Captain America, the Avengers’ butler says that the situation seems to be getting worse and asks if there’s nothing he can do about it. Captain America declines; while the Avengers are great when it comes to dealing with super-villains and cosmic menaces, they can not change the public’s opinion. Dr. Pym agrees - until they find out who or what has caused the sudden shift in public sentiment, they have to weather it out.
Next, Jarvis asks how much longer Cap expects to be out at Hydrobase. Together with Wonder Man and the Vision, Captain America is on ship near New York harbor. While answering that it will be quite some time, both Wonder man and Captain America prepare themselves to dive down to the ocean ground. More precisely, the Vision adds that it will be several hours before they can assess the degree of damage suffered by their former headquarters when Hydrobase was sunk. Stating that he will keep the others informed, the Vision ends the transmission.
Back in the monitor room, Hawkeye asks Jarvis to keep him posted, but for now he and Mockingbird will be holding the fort in the mid-west. Mockingbird adds that the Great Lakes Avengers will be standing by, before ending their transmission as well. That leaves only Dr. Pym’s image on the wall in front of Jarvis, and he tries to cheer up the butler’s mood, reminding him that, while things may look bad, the Avengers have gone through worse before. Jarvis is not convinced, though. He can’t shake the feeling that the worst is yet to come.
Right in that instant, a figure clad in blue and silver armor flies over the protesters, and as they look up, one of the cops says “a flyin’ Chinaman.” Landing in between the rampaged statues of the park, the mandarin orders the cop to spare him such petty racism. Picking up the decapitated head of a statue of Iron Man, the Mandarin begins talking to himself. While Freedom Force may have done well enough in the park, he thinks it‘s now time for a more skilled hand to exercise its influence on the matter - and when that happens, perhaps it will be more than Iron Man‘s statue lying broken in ruins.
One of the police officers approaches the villain, asking him to leave the park as it is off-limit to anyone else but the Avengers, and he sure doesn’t resemble any Avenger he knows. The Mandarin doesn’t take being interrupted lightly and, pointing his hand at the cop, he burns him to a crisp with a beam of energy. The other police officers are shocked, but then open fire on the Mandarin, who laughs at their efforts. Utilizing the powers of his ten rings, the Mandarin protects himself with an impenetrable force-field and at the same time fires blasts of fire and pure energy at his opponents, wresting the weapons from their hands. No longer interested in toying with the cops, the Mandarin then directs his power at the ground, causing a minor explosion that forces the policemen to draw back.
“Imbecile!” Dr. Doom yells at the large monitor in front of him, displaying the Mandarin’s confrontation with the cops. Together with the mysterious stranger whom he believes to be his lackey, Dr. Doom is standing in the conference room that’s serving as the secret meeting place of six of the world’s most dangerous criminals. Obviously, Dr. Doom is not pleased with his ally’s progress, and further observing the Mandarin’s efforts, he asks out loud how “this fool survived so long as a foe of Iron Man when his every word and action shows him to have the fighting sense of a novice in a nunnery.”
To this, the lackey calmly points out that the mandarin doesn’t seem to be doing that badly, and suggests that Dr. Doom might be underestimating the Asian’s prowess, only further annoying the Latverian monarch. Angrily, he exclaims that if he were in Avengers park, he would already have reduced the heroes’ headquarters to a smoldering crater.
“Brash words from one so often evicted from his own kingdom,” the Red Skull saucily remarks, having just entered the conference room through one of its many doors. Now quite mad, Dr. Doom asks him if he really dares to speak that way to a true monarch, but the Red Skull replies that he’ll do even more than speak. Grabbing Dr. Doom’s wrist, the Skull says that ever since they joined forces, the Latverian has done nothing but posture and preen, and a few decades ago, he might have had “such as you” tortured and killed for no other reason than to provide an afternoon’s diversion. Enraged that the Skull dares to touch him, Dr. Doom replies that the Skull will learn the cost of angering his betters and knocks him over the huge conference table with a single blow.
Still in mid-air, the Skull begins to explain that, while Doom may be strong and swift, things have changed since they last met, as the new Red Skull inhabits a new body now, one that is perfection made human. Indeed, his peek human reflexes allow the Red Skull manages to roll with the blow, absorbing the impact of the fall and quickly get up while drawing a gun from his jacket. Saying that he is now the better man that Doom keeps dreaming of, the Skull fires his weapon at the armored Latverian, sending him crashing into the huge monitor screen, that’s being crashed by the impact.
Precisely then, the Kingpin enters through another door of the conference room. “The children are at play again, I see,” is all he can say about the conflict playing out in front of him. The Red Skull threatens the Kingpin to mind his words or else he get a dose of the same treatment as Dr. Doom, but the Kingpin is unimpressed. He replies that if he has learned anything during the villains’ brief association, it’s that neither Doom nor the Red Skull understand the true meaning or the source of the power they claim to possess.
As Doom gets up from the ground, the Kingpin continues, telling his two supposed allies that they are “infants in the modern world... playing your little games of world conquest... feint and counter feint... while all the while the true power slips ever through your fingers.” While the mysterious servant stands calmly behind the two shocked villains, the Red Skulls mutters “You... dare…” which the Kingpin confirms - the Kingpin of crime dares all.
A few miles off New York harbor, Captain America and Wonder Man are diving down towards the sunken Hydrobase. Their diving helmets have in-built radios, allowing the two heroes to talk to each other as they approach the remains of the Avengers’ base. Fortunately, the mansion is more or less in one piece, though Wonder Man points out that everything is flooded and possibly wrecked. Cap is not so sure; while they never anticipated a disaster of this degree, the Avengers did make a good deal of their base water-proof when they moved to the floating island. Wonder Man asks if it will have protected the Avengers’ most vital equipment, which Captain America replies they will only find out when they start major salvage operations. For now, though, they are just down there to assess the degree of damage and to save whatever they can move without any special equipment.
Just as they start to sift through the wreckage and move some steel girders, Wonder Man receives an incoming message on the emergency channel. Captain then hears it too, but there’s so much interference that he needs to boost the gain before he can ask Jarvis what the matter is. The Avengers’ butler’s face appears on a tiny monitor inside the heroes’ diving helmets, as he reports that the base underneath Avengers Park is being attacked. He then shows video footage of the attacker, whom Captain America immediately recognize as Iron man’s old foe, the Mandarin.
Wonder Man says that an unexpected attack by him fits with what the Avengers have been up so far, and Cap agrees; the inspection can wait, they have to get topside fast. As they swim back to the surface, Cap recalls that Jarvis is a good man but they have left him holding the fort too many times in the past. Expecting his two teammates above, the Vision agrees and, soon, the three Avengers are on their way back to New York, Vision and Wonder Man flying on their own and Cap piloting his small jet.
Meanwhile, another armored figure is flying through the street of Manhattan towards Avengers Park - it’s the wingless Wizard. He noticed when the Mandarin slipped away during the villains’ latest meeting and chose to follow him. Observing the Mandarin trying to gain entrance to the Avengers base, the Wizard calls him a fool to launch an assault on his own initiative, when the original plan was to avoid an actual confrontation with the Avengers until the time was perfect.
His thoughts are interrupted as Wonder man jumps at him from behind, saying that initiative is his middle name - just “like the initiative to pound your tine suit into a sardine can.” However, the villain manages to loosen Wonder Man’s grip around him and, while outmaneuvering the Avenger, he says that like most heroes he wastes too much time with bluster. Next, the Wizard attacks Wonder Man with an energy blast from his gauntlet and, unable to dodge the blast, Wonder Man plummets out of the sky into some uninhabited area below.
The Vision enters the battle, and advises the Wizard to learn from his own pronouncements, as he will not find the Vision one for idle bluster. However, the synthezoid too is surprised by the villain’s aerial maneuverability. Commenting on the Vision recently being dismantled and rebuilt, the Wizard says that, whoever it was who reprogrammed him, apparently they forgot to include information on the Wizard’s speed. Already, the foe is behind the Vision and reaches into the synthezoid’s partially intangible form from behind, his gauntlets causing a power surge in the Vision’s body, putting him in agony.
Meanwhile, three thousand miles away at the California compound of the Avengers West, the Scarlet Witch sits apathetic in a wooden chair in the house formerly inhabited by the Vision and herself. Her friend and mentor, Agatha Harkness, is by her side and asks if the Scarlet Witch can hear or understand her, but Wanda does not respond. The old witch sighs, and talking to her cat, Ebony, she says that it’s no use; Wanda has suffered too many traumas in the past few weeks even for her to bear. Agatha recalls everything that happened to the mutant sorceress – her husband was kidnapped, dismantled and reprogrammed, her beloved children were revealed as figments of her imagination and the Deviant Ghaur nearly manipulated her into becoming one of the seven brides of Set.
Suddenly, the old witch hesitates, sensing someone outside. She walks out on the front porch and looks around, but sees nobody. Even though she reasons that no one could get onto the ground of the compound without triggering the Avengers’ sophisticated alarm systems, she can’t shake the feeling that someone was approaching the house, and she walks down the few stairs to set down her cat, asking him to scout the area as well. No sooner has she left the stairs, when suddenly the house begins to tremble. Before Agatha can react, the entire house is being torn from its foundation and hurled upwards.
A few miles up, the house suddenly stops, hovering high in the planet’s atmosphere. A voice declares that this should be high enough – it’s Magneto, who declares that it’s time for a long delayed reunion. Entering the room in which the unresponsive Wanda sits, Magneto greets his daughter and pities that she can not express her joy of seeing him again. However, he promises that soon she will know joy beyond her wildest dreams – joy that only absolute power can bring.
As his jet approaches Avengers Park, Captain America notices that the Mandarin is still there and has so far only done some superficial damage. Looking outside his aircraft’s window, Cap also notes that some reserve Avengers have received Jarvis’ emergency call as well, as the Black Widow swings by on a steel cable, and Hellcat makes her way to the battle-site leaping from one rooftop to the next. Cap establishes a radio connection with the two heroines and thanks them for responding that fast, against the Mandarin, the Avengers will need all the help they can get. Hellcat answers that they all promised to be ready when ever the Avengers would need them. Besides, she welcomes any excuse to stop playing housewife for a while.
Captain America orders the two female Avengers to keep back while he does a quick recon flight, after all they both have no actual super-powers and he doesn’t want to risk... He does not get to complete his thought, as suddenly his jet is hit by an energy beam from below. Laughing madly, the Mandarin witnesses the jet crashing down in Avengers Park, and he says that the star-spangled Avenger wasted too much time worrying about others, when he was the one most at hazard. Barely conscious due to the impact, Captain America doesn’t notice the Mandarin approaching the wrecked cockpit, nor that the villain promises him a quick and painless death, in respect for his proud and fabled history. He raises his hand and aims for the Cap’s neck.
Suddenly, though, a steel cable around the Mandarin’s wrist, preventing him from landing the final blow. As his arm is pulled back, the Mandarin wonders who dares to disturb him. It’s the Black Widow, who used her hookline to capture the villain’s arm. As these two have never met before, she introduces herself as Natasha Romanoff, better known as the Black Widow. Quite angered that a woman dares to intercept his work, the Mandarin uses one of the rings on his other hand to shoot a beam of fire at the Black Widow, announcing that he will grant her no quick death. However, Hellcat jumps on him from behind, throwing off the Mandarin’s aim. The villain is quite annoyed that “another female” is no raking him with her talons, though Hellcat corrects him – it’s “claws, baby. The claws of the Cat!”
Thanking her fellow Avenger for the excellent diversion tactic, the Black Widow leaps at the Mandarin - feet first, trying to hit his gut. She hopes that this blow will finish the battle, but the villain reacts faster than she anticipated and grabs one of her ankles. As he hurls away both the Widow and Hellcat, the Mandarin replies that is there is anything finished; it’s their lives. Next, he again aims his energy blasts at the ground causing explosions that knocks both heroines over as they try to get up.
“You must be really tired of being corrected by now, Mandarin,” Captain America says as his shield hits the villain’s helmet before spinning back into his hands. As he makes his way out of the wrecked remains of his jet, the Mandarin states the obvious – the females’ diversion provided Captain America time enough to recover. The Mandarin announces that it will now be a battle between men, as it should be.
Nearby, Wonder Man digs himself out of the hole he made when he crashed down, only to see the Wizard flying away. Seeing the Vision lying on the ground not too far away, Wonder Man knows that his comrade is in no shape to chase after the villain, and decides that he has to go after the villain himself, even though he too is not feeling that well either.
Still, he finds that following the Wizard is a rather easy task, as the villain heads towards Avengers Park. Having flown the short distance, the Wizard observes the Mandarin using his freezing ring on Captain America, encasing the Avenger’s feet in a block of ice so that he can’t move them anymore. Congratulating his ally on this good tactic, the Wizard joins the fight and tries to obliterate Cap with an energy blast. However, it’s only his feet that the Avenger can’t move, and he somersaults, avoiding being hit. Wonder Man has now caught up with the villain and punches him in the face, knocking the villain out of the sky. Leaving him no chance to get up, Wonder Man continues to pound on the Wizard.
The Mandarin curses. The battle does not go as expected, and he blames the Wizard’s untimely intrusion for that. Just as he decides to withdraw to plan anew, the Mandarin is hit by a hammer in the gut, and hears the words “I say thee nay!” Thor has entered the battle and, as the Mandarin gets up, he sees that the other Avengers – Black Widow, Hellcat and the Vision - have re-grouped and are getting ready to attack. Before he can worry about them, though, he is being him by Thor’s hammer a second time.
Meanwhile, the Vision uses his optic solar beam to though the ice around Cap’s feet. The Avengers now back at full fighting strength, Thor shouts “Avengers assemble!” The heroes have got the two villains cornered, and the Mandarin knows defeat is inevitable – but a moment is all he needs. Using another of his magical rings, he creates an area of darkness around everyone else, including the Wizard, providing him with the chance to take to the air and fly away. His parting words to the Wizard are that he leaves him behind, so that he will learn the consequences of his folly.
Once the darkness clears away, the Avengers easily capture the Wizard, who no longer puts up a fight. A short while later, the Avengers have taken the Wizard to their base and shackled him to a chair after removing his helmet. The begin to interrogate the villain, Captain America explaining that they have deduced that someone is out to destroy the Avengers, and that Dr, Doom is somehow behind it all. The Wizard, however, belittles Cap for thinking that “a blustering charlatan such as Doom could craft a plan so ingenious in its multifarious texturing” and that it was he himself who is the mastermind behind it all. The other villains, the Wizard claims, may think themselves to be acting of their own devising, but only because he lets them think so, and in the end, final victory will be his.
In his secret throne room, the mysterious stranger is following the exchange in Avengers’ base. Talking to himself, the man says that the Wizard believes what he says to be true, just like the other five super-villains believe to be the masterminds of the plan, never once suspecting that there is another hand at work, behind the scenes. And that hand is none other than his own. Just as he once more states his hatred for the Avengers and his desire to destroy them once and for all, the mysterious man senses a commotion in the room next door. Knowing that it must be the villains arguing among each other once again, he says that it’s no wonder they have never managed to prevail against their foes.
In the conference room, the Mandarin has just returned from his battle with the Avengers, facing the accusations from the Red Skull, while Dr. Doom and the Kingpin silently observe. The Red Skull calls the Mandarin a fool “like the rest of all your misbegotten race yellow race! There was never a Chinaman born who had the wit to -“ The Mandarin orders the Skull to be silent, saying that he will not tolerate such insolence. He then explains his actions, stating that it was Wizard’s stupidity that caused their defeat, and he left him in the Avengers’ hands because he deserved no better.
At that point, the stranger enters the room, replying that he may be right, though he still would suggest a fleet liberation of the Wizard in order to avoid him betraying the other villains out of spite against the Mandarin. Not pleased by this answer, the Asian responds that the lackey speaks out of turn, adding that he does that quite often. The Kingpin agrees, in fact he has come to wonder if the servant thinks this is his own scheme, rather than the Kingpin’s.
“Your scheme, fat one?” the Red Skull asks, when he suddenly notes an odd smell – something electrical burning. Smoke erupts from Dr. Doom’s armor, and all of a sudden, he explodes. The shocked villains gather around his remains, and the Mandarin quickly comes to the conclusion that it was not the Latverian monarch himself, but of his doombots, filling in for his creator. Obviously shocked by this revelation, the Red Skull asks “Has Doom never been a part of my plan?”
Captain America, Thor, Vision (all Avengers)Dr. Pym, Scarlet Witch, Wonder Man (all West Coast Avengers)Hawkeye, Mockingbird (both Great Lake Avengers)Black Widow, Hellcat (both Avengers reservists)
numerous protesterspolice officers
Loki (in disguise)Red SkullKingpinMagnetoMandarinWizarda doombot
Even though it is apparently set on the same day - considering the protesters are still outside Avengers Park, several hours must have passed since the last issue. During this time span, Dr. Pym returned to California (together with the Wasp and the Scarlet Witch) where he interacted with his teammate Wonder Man, as shown in Avengers West Coast #54, before Wonder Man then departed and made his way to the East Coast to help in the recovery of Hydrobase’s remains.
The artificial island, Hydrobase, was destroyed in Avengers (1st series) #311 by Dr. Doom’s robots.
Considering that Victor von Doom is of gypsy descent, the Red Skull’s words are no empty thread. While it was mostly Jews who were killed during the Holocaust in Nazi Germany, several other minorities were among the millions if victims as well, among them gay men, handicapped people and the so called gypsies, Sinti and Roma.
The Red Skull apparently died in Captain America (1st series) #300, when the gas that put him in suspended animation decades ago wore off, and he began rapidly returning to his true chronological age. However, as revealed in Captain America (1st series) #350, the Red Skull’s mind was transplanted into a clone of Captain America's body that had been created with the help of Arnim Zola, the Bio-Fanatic. In the same issue, Cap forced the Skull to expose himself to his own Dust of Death, causing his perfectly Aryan features as Steve Rogers to shrivel until his head literally looked like a "Red Skull".
The incident with the Deviant Ghaur occurred during the Atlantis Attacks crossover.
Hellcat is miscolored with black instead of red hair throughout the entire issue except for one panel.
In Avengers (1st series) #305, Captain America called for a meeting of all Avengers, past and present, and it was decided that there would no longer be a clearly defined roster with official members, with everyone not included being either a reservist or former Avenger. Instead, the heroes agreed to help out and serve as needed. Practically, though, this hardly meant a change, as there were still some Avengers who were around for most of the time and others only helped up for the occasional incident, if at all. In Avengers (1st series) #329, the order was changed back to an official roster with a specifically named reservists for each member.