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John Byrne (plotter), Fabian Nicieza (scripter), Paul Ryan (penciler), Tom Palmer (inker), Jack Morelli (letterer), Christie Scheele (colorist), Howard Mackie (editor), Tom DeFalco (editor-in-chief)
Some time ago, the space pirate Nebula arrived at the Stranger's sprawling space ship, where she and her assistant, Gunthar, stole the powerful Infinity Union from the Stranger. Today, the Stranger has torn his way into Nebula's space ship, where Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Sersi, the Vision, Spider-Man and Starfox have captured Nebula and her crew. The Stranger demands that Nebula be handed over to him, and bypasses the Avengers, grabbing Nebula, who is still dazed, under Starfox's influence, she is no help to the Stranger when he asks her where the object she stole from him is. Spider-Man knows how dangerous the Stranger is, and tries to speak with him, but the Stranger is hardly interested, and with Nebula as his captive, soars from Nebula's space ship over to his much larger space ship which hovers nearby. The Avengers are taken aback by the casual way that the Stranger interacted with them, and when Captain America asks Sersi to probe the Stranger's mind, she is shocked and refuses, certain that the act would destroy her. As Iron Man and Starfox remain on Nebula's space ship to ensure the guards are all captured, Captain America, Thor, Sersi, Spider-Man and the Vision prepare to travel over to the Stranger's sprawling space ship, which is the size of a large country – but they find themselves blocked by a large robot called Blockade, who is some sort of automaton that prevents the Avengers from leaving Nebula's space ship. The Stranger telepathically communicates with the heroes and relates to them Nebula's exploits, revealing that she stole the Infinity Union from him. The Stranger warns the Avengers that in the wrong hands – Nebula's – it could mean the end of the universe. Iron Man learns from Gunthar that Nebula's plans for the Infinity Union is to create the death of all there is. Iron Man leaves Starfox to finish sorting the guards out, as he flies off to warn the other Avengers. Meanwhile, on Earth, Jarvis worries for the Avengers, and wonders how he can assist them, so thinks of contacting Quasar. The Stranger is unable to discover the location of the Infinity Union because Nebula is still under Starfox's influence, so he cannot read her thoughts. The Stranger increases his probing of the Avengers' thoughts, which causes them some grief, but Captain America encourages his team to fight the pain, and instructs them to search Nebula's ship for the Infinity Union. Eventually, Spider-Man finds it, and when he latches onto it with some webbing, he cries out in pain. Back on Earth, Quasar arrives at the construction site where Avengers HQ is being built. Jarvis briefly updates him on the Avengers' current assignment, before a surge of energy knocks the two of them backwards.
Inside the temporary headquarters of the East Coast division of the Avengers, where Edwin Jarvis, the team's staff co-ordinator desperately tries to find out what has happened to his employers and friends. 'This is most upsetting!' the elderly man thinks to himself as he looks at a monitor screen. He recalls how Captain America, Thor, Spider-Man and Sersi rocketed towards Nebula's orbiting spaceship to assist Iron Man and the Vision, but now he can't seem to communicate with any of them. Jarvis hopes that he might be able to contact Quasar, as his light-spawning powers are equally adept in space as they are on Earth. Suddenly, 'Oh, my!' Jarvis gasps, his eyes going wide as the monitor lights up, depicting a large spaceship positioned near the moon. Jarvis realizes that he has finally accessed an Avengers communications satellite, which is in the vicinity of the Quinjet's homing beacon. Jarvis decides that Nebula's base is so immense compared to the Avengers' crafts, and realizes that neither the gaping hole in Nebula's craft, nor the hint of an even larger craft looming in the background bodes well for his lost comrades. 'Where is master Quasar?' Jarvis calls out. 'What can I be expected to do alone?' he wonders.
As little as the Avengers, it would seem, when confronted by a being of unimaginable power such as the mighty cosmic being who looms over the Avengers aboard Nebula's ship – the Stranger! 'WHERE IS NEBULA?' the Stranger shouts as he tears his way through Nebula's craft. The scene before them would make the blood of a normal person chill. But for Earth's Mightiest Heroes, it is simply business as usual. They stand surprised, but ready for action – Sersi, the Eternal, Mistress of Matter. Thor, the Norse God of Thunder and wielder of the Mighty Mjolnir, hammer of awesome power. Captain America, a living legend and super-soldier. Iron Man, encased in a perfect armored fighting machine. Vision, the synthezoid construct with complete control of his own destiny. The Amazing Spider-Man, the web-spinning wonder who is feeling way out of his league, and Starfox, the extra-terrestrial from Titan with great pleasure powers and great strength. Nearby, tied in unbreakable tethers are Nebula, the crazed worshipper of Death, her aide-de-camp, the Rigellian called Gunthar, and two of her alien guards, captured moments ago.
'I would have words with that murderous witch!' the Stranger shouts as he pushes forward, reaching out for Nebula, and knocking the Avengers to the side, while Spider-Man jokingly tells the Stranger that it is no problem, and he can have her. As the Stranger removes the ropes from around Nebula, Gunthar and the aliens, they all look up at the Stranger and grin. 'Wipe away that ridiculous grin, woman!' the Stranger declares, before picking her up in his large hands, while one of the Avengers remarks that they thought those bonds were supposed to be unbreakable. 'Where is it, you petty thief?' the Stranger demands. 'You have violated the sanctity of my privacy, woman!' the Stranger snarls at Nebula, who replies 'Ohhh... was it good for you?' The Stranger is perplexed by this, to which Nebula, smiling and somewhat vacantly asks the Stranger why get so angry, when they can share in the glory of death. 'Wouldn't that be fun?' she asks.
Spider-Man points out that the Stranger doesn't know Nebula was zapped by one of Starfox's love touches, and Sersi remarks that Nebula would be nearly useless to the Stranger in this condition. Spider-Man fires some webbing and uses it to swing closer to the Stranger, where he proceeds to ask the alien if he remembers him, 'We sparred a few rounds on the moon!' Spider-Man calls out. 'Mike Tyson bersus Billy Barty?' Spider-Man jokes. The Stranger glances over at Spider-Man and tells him that, despite his colloquial references, he remembers him. 'Must've made quite an impression on the guy...' Spider-Man mutters, before the Stranger turns and walks out of Nebula's space ship, flying into space, still clutching his prisoner, he suggests they continue this discussion in an environment more conducive to conversation.
'He walked right through us!' Starfox gasps. 'Indeed. As if we were not even present' the Vision remarks, while Thor suggests that mayhap to a being of such enormous power, their presence was unimportant. 'It was almost...demeaning!' Sersi exclaims, to which Spider-Mann jokes 'Well, I get de-meaning of it. We're not good enough for him!' 'Be that as it may troops – we've got a job to do!' Captain America tells his teammates. 'Innocuously slinking back home, maybe?' Spider-Man utters. 'We have to find out why the Stranger was so intent on getting Nebula!' Captain America reports. Cap turns to Sersi and asks her if she can perform a telepathic scan on the Stranger to find out what his plans are. Sersi looks horrified, and tells her dear Captain that even if she could mind probe such a being, she wouldn't. 'You have seen the condition I am left in after linking minds with others! What do you think the Stranger's would do to me?' Sersi asks. Cap tells Sersi that he understands, and tells her that if she is going to be an Avenger, they will have to soon gauge the limits and extents of her abilities.
'For now, folks. Let's do this the hard way!' Captain America orders, and the heroes rush towards the gaping hole in the side of Nebula's space ship. 'Why did I know he was going to say that?' Spider-Man mumbles. 'Verily, the Stranger's entrance and exit hath left a convenient means of access to his...ship?' Thor remarks as the Avengers gaze up at the massive structure hovering over Nebula's space ship. 'Fascinating!' the Vision states, while Spider-Man tells the others that he is up for Hot Dogs at Nathan's – his treat – if anyone wants to join him. Spider-Man then tells the others that, as much as he likes to invade a ship roughly the size of Argentina, he wonders if they should reconsider or plan a comprehensive strategy – or run and hide somewhere? Captain America tells Spider-Man that this is all in a day's work, and that if he is going to be an Avenger, he will have to deal with the unexpected.
Captain America instructs Thor to fly Spider-Man over, and tells Sersi that she can take him over, while the Vision's instructions are to scout ahead in his intangible state. Captain America adds that Iron Man will join them as soon as he is done securing Nebula's henchmen. 'Okay, the unexpected I can deal with...as long as I'm expecting it, that is... ' Spider-Man thinks to himself. Thor reaches out to Spider-Man and tells him that a glorious battle awaits them. 'Yeah? Great. Let's be first in line!' Spider-Man mutters. But as Spider-Man reaches to take Thor's hand, 'By Odin's beard!' Thor shouts as a blast causes them two of them to separate. Above them hovers a large robot that introduces itself as Blockade and declares that the Avengers are interfering in matters which do not concern them. 'None shall enter the abode of the Stranger!' Blockade declares, flying aorund the Avengers, while Thor remarks that it moves as a living wall. The strange robot drops down in front of Captain America and once again introduces itself as Blockade, and tells the Avengers that they are interfering in matters which do not concern you.
Cap tells the others that this is obviously some sort of preprogrammed robot. 'None shall enter the abode of the Stranger' Blockade states once more, before an astral projection of the Stranger's face appears above the Avengers, suggesting to them that they heed the warnings of his mechanical minion. But Captain America warns the Stranger that they aren't going to leave, not until they find out what he intends to do with Nebula. Annoyed, the Stranger tells the Avengers that if it will spur a cessation of their meddling, he will tell them, and announces that Nebula stole from him. 'She seems to have a penchant for that. What did she take?' Captain Americareplies. The Stranger reveals that it began on his homeworld, a planet whose location he had thought was known only to himself, when he eas involved elsewhere on matters of intergalactic investigation – the past, the present and the future all at once – Nebula found a way to pierce his planet's security defenses, successfully completing a feat which, for a millennium, hundreds before her had been unable to do.
As Nebula's space ship floats across the Stranger's world, the space pirate boasts that she has penetrated the Stranger's stronghold, that she has accomplished what whispered words of fear could only imagine. 'It's all the legends foretold and more!' the Rigellian called Gunthar grins, to which Nebula tells him that from here on in, they are what the legends will talk of. 'Assuming, of course, the Stranger is off-world' Nebula adds. Gunthar boasts that the Rigellian tracking device he installed on their ship is accurate within .0009% certainty. He states that the Stranger is on the far side of the galaxy, and even if he were to detect them, they will have completed their mission before the Stranger could return. Nebula and Gunthar use jetpacks to fly out of their ship and over the Stranger's world, with Nebula asking 'Even if he did return in time, how could he find us? This complex is enormous! A machine the size of a planet!'
They continue on over the planet, as Nebula adds that what they seek is but a mote in size when compared to the whole. 'There, Gunthar! Behind that gigantic doorway!' Nebula calls out. 'Yes, my mistress!' Gunthar replies as they fly towards the doorway, although Gunthar rushes in front of Nebula and tells her that perhaps haste is not the wisest of courses to take. 'Gunthar? You detain me from my appointed destiny?' Nebula asks, shocked, before enquiring as to whether Gunthar is feeling particularly suicidal today. They both drop to the ground and Gunthar tells his mistress that he isn't, but that he is merely trying to point out that they have arrived at the core of the Stranger's planet, and inside the core is what they seek – the most powerful weapon in the Multiverse. 'And such a weapon would logically be secured quite heavily?' Nebula asks, as she floats up to a panel on the wall. 'Very well then, Gunthar. If a challenge it will be from our missing host, then so be it! Nebula is not regarded as the best thief in the Milky way on reputation alone!' Nebula boasts.
Nebula touches the wall and states that this segment seems the ripest spot for access. 'As you say' Gunthar responds. Nebula then adjusts her wrist-blaster for a somewhat more delicate beam, which she fires at the panel on the wall. Gunthar holds a device which he uses to analyze the wall and encourages his mistress, 'Yes! That is the way!' he tells her. Nebula continues to fire the energy beam at the wall, and Gunthar tells her just a little more, as the shields are breached to the ignorance of the security network in the wall. There is a loud clunking noise, and Gunthar exclaims 'We did it, mistress!' to which Nebula frowns at Gunthar, 'Yes. I did' she replies, before they fly through the now open doorway, where, in a large dark chamber, a small object in the center of the room glows. 'And to the victor must always go the spoils!' Nebula exclaims, while Gunthar alerts Nebula to the object, but points out that it is so far away. Although it takes two hours for Nebula and Gunthar to fly across the room to the glowing object, eventually, Nebula grins as she reaches for the Infinity Union.
'That's nothing like the teamsters, is it?' Spider-Man jokes, to which the Stranger tells him that his humor belies his nescience, and explains that the Infinity Union is a combination of three devices of such enormous power that when combined has the ability to channel all forms of ambient energy into the users, and in the wrong hands – and Nebula's, most assuredly are the wrong ones – it could mean the end of the universe. 'Wait, that ol' trick again?' Spider-Man asks, joking that it feels like an episode of “Gilligan's Island” that he has seen a dozen times. Thor puts a hand on Spider-Man's shoulder and tells him that his jesting is misplaced, as they play a game of gods now – not mortals.
Back on the bridge of Nebula's ship, Iron Man has finished interrogating a very compliant Rigellian captive. 'The Infinity Union, eh?' iron Man asks, while Starfox remarks that it sounds not unlike the Ultimate Nulifier, the legendary device of Galactus, the World-Eater. Iron Man agrees, and asks Gunthar what Nebula wants with such a weapon. 'What she has always wanted, Earthling – ultimate power!' Gunthar declares, adding that with the attainment of her goal, Nebula will have the chance to create ultimate entropy – the death of all there is. Iron Man looks annoyed, and exclaims 'That's insane! It would wipe her out, too!' Tied to a chair, Gunthar grins and explains thatt that is not his concern – he only serves his mistress in being the sole player in this deadly gambit. Gunthar adds that if any other than Nebula touches the device, it will annihilate this entire sector of space. Iron Man remarks that this is getting ridiculous, and that he is getting tired of these intergalactic madmen. He tells Starfox to finish securing the prisoners, as he flies off to warn the rest of the Avengers.
Meanwhile, in the medical-science section of the Stranger's continent-sized space ship, the Stranger looks over at Nebula, who is held in stasis between some scientific equipment. The Stranger is annoyed that the synpatic blocking power Eros of Titan employed on Nebula has not yet worn off, so the longer it takes, the greater the danger. The Stranger is determined that the Infinity Union be remanded into his safe custody, and although he cannot discern its location from Nebula, he can certainly guess Nebula's intentions for its use. The Stranger strides off into another part of his space ship, reminding himself that the recent universe spasms were a result of Nebula's insane quest for power. 'Though she was unsuccessful in that venture, surely she realizes that the power necessary to even temporarily eradicate the universe...would have been absorbed by the Infinity Union?' the Stranger thinks to himself. With that being the case, the Stranger knows that it is more imperative than ever that the device be found.
'Should someone accidentally unleash the stored energies of several universal spasms... the thought alone is almost frightening!' the Stranger thinks to himself. He looks out a monitor over to Nebula space ship which hovers nearby, but even an astral probe of every dust-begotten corner of the witch's ship reveals nothing to him. He wonders if that absence alone is a sign of the device's very presence, and increases the level of his psychic probing – but this has an impact on the Avenger over on the edge of Nebula's ship, as Sersi cries out in pain, and Spider-Man clutches his head, his spider-sense flaring like crazy. Thor raises his hands and declares that the Stranger's probe weighs heavily upon his mind. 'He'll stop at nothing to find that doomsday device!' Captain America calls out, before clenching his fist, 'ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!' Cap exclaims, announcing that anything that is wanted that badly by people like Nebula and the Stranger should not be had by either of them. He tells his teammates that it is their responsibility to find the Infinity Union before Nebula and the Stranger do – and once they find it, they must destroy it forever.
Suddenly, Iron Man arrives on scene and tells everyone thst Cap is absolutely right, before reporting that he and Starfox have learned something else about the device from Gunthar. Thor tells Iron Man to speak his mind, and Iron Man reveals that the Rigellian has turned the Infinity Union into a booby-trapped doomsday device. 'If anyone other than Nebula touches the weapon, it'll light up like Hiroshima to the tenth power!' Iron Man explains. Captain America tells the Avengers that their course is clear, and instructs them to fan out, to search everywhere, to find the device but not to touch it. Sersi, the Vision, Cap and Spider-Man all race off in separate directions, with Spider-Man thinking to himself that this is one heckuva way to spend his first hour as an Avenger, and the really scary thing is that these guys play for keeps each and every day. 'Your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is a little more used to your common type of thugs' Spider-Man tells himself.
'Like Doc Ock or Hobgoblin, or geez, even Leap Frog!' Spider-Man jokes to himself as he fires some webbing upwards and swings into another part of Nebula's ship, deciding that saving the planet as an appetizer, then the universe as a main course, is a little out of his league. 'They say the cream rises to the top so maybe it's time to curdle up and hide!' Spider-Man tells himself. But as he swings down a corridor, his spider-sense goes crazy. His senses locate the apparent cause of this frenzy – what Spider-Man assumes is a door, but he can't locate a doorknob. 'Nah, wouldn't figure, would it?' Spider-Man thinks to himself, before he discovers a handle, and as he pulls on it, he gets the feeling that he is in a George Lucas version of a Loony Toons cartoon. He worries that pulling on the handle will blow up the door – and him – but nothing happens. Hands on hips, Spider-Man tells himself that now is a good time to be wishing for those cosmic powers he had to come back.
With the scientific approach not working, Spider-Man starts to tear the door from the wall panel, thinking to himself that there is a certain primal thrill to it. With the door removed, Spider-Man sees what everyone is after – the Infinity Union. 'That's what everyone's been after?' Spider-Man calls out, deciding that it doesn't look anymore dangerous than VCR instru
instructions in Japanese. He remembers that Cap said not to touch the object, but his spider-sense is giving him a killer headache – and if he waits too long, the Stranger or Nebula might stumble in – and he isn't sure how he would keep them from getting it. He wonders what the worst that could happen if he hooks a web-string onto the Infinity Union and drag it back – he soon finds out, and screams as a surge of energy knocks him backwards.
In Manhattan, Wendall Vaughan a.k.a. Quasar makes a rapid descent into the ongoing Avengers Mansion construction site. The young hero looks around and decides that not as much has been done as he would have expected. He wonders if the others have been too busy to keep on top of the work crews, admitting that he certainly has been busy – between the Omnivore, then Dr Minerva and the Kree, he hasn't had much time to even be a part-time Avenger. Quasar flies down into the underground compartment of the construction site, reminding himself that he is supposed to be a core member of the Avengers. He finds the rooms empty and calls out to Captain America and to Jarvis. Quasar activates the computer identification scanner to see if anyone is present, but discovers that the sensor locators indicate that none of the Avengers are present. He knows that someone is in the adjoining communications room, though, and makes his way there.
'Jarvis!' Quasar calls out as he enters the communications room, asking Jarvis if he didn't hear him calling out. Jarvis looks over to Quasar, 'Thank heavens you're here!' he exclaims, apologizing for not hearing Quasar, he explains that all his attentions have been devoted to their long range satellite monitors. Quasar looks up at the monitor which depicts the space ships and asks Jarvis what is going on. Jarvis explains that the Avengers went into space in search of the intergalactic thief, Nebula, but another, far greater, presence seems to have interedicted, and now he fears for the Avengers' welfare. 'Let's see what we have here -' Quasar begins, before an explosion sends he and Jarvis careening backwards with furious force....
Captain America, Iron Man, Quasar, Sersi, Spider-Man, Thor, Vision (all Avengers)
Final issue of Avengers with any involvement by John Byrne.
Spider-Man and the Stranger met in Marvel Team-Up (1st series) #55.