Avengers (1st series) #349

Issue Date: 
July 1992
Story Title: 
Death Wager

Bob Harras (writer), Steve Epting (penciler), Tom Palmer (inker/colorist), Bill Oakley (letterer), Pat Garrahy (assistant editor), Ralph Macchio (editor), Tom DeFalco (editor-in-chief)

Brief Description: 

The Black Knight is piloting a new skycar with Hercules and Crystal as his passengers, but the skycar stops responding to controls, so they are forced to crash land it, with Hercules plunging his fists into the ground to brake the skycar as it lands. Black Knight fears that somewhat had tampered with their new skycar, although the heroes are unaware that Ares and Hera are observing them. Both having some hatred of Hercules, they decide on a wager to see who can bring Hercules the most pain. Ares is determined that he will win, but Hera has other ideas. Two days later, the Black Widow and Vision discuss the possible sabotage with the Black Knight, who is trying to repair the skycar – he thinks that the mysterious new Swordsman might have something to do with it. Hercules, Crystal and Thor join the others in the hangar bay as they need a Quinjet – they are going to visit sick children at a hospital. Crystal asks the Black Knight to join them, but he is distant towards her and claims he needs to work on the skycar. Upon arriving at the hospital, Hercules and Thor entertain the sick children, while Crystal meets Taylor Madison, who volunteers her time looking after the children. One of the kids, Bradley, who never speaks, takes a particular liking to Hercules. Ares and Hera appear, unseen to anyone, and Ares takes possession of Thor – where he immediately attacks Hercules. Ares' plan is that Hercules will have  to stop Thor by killing him, and thus bringing about terrible pain to Hercules who will have killed one of his closest friends. Crystal instructs Taylor to get the children to safety, but when Crystal herself rushes over to her teammates, Thor knocks her out. Hercules is then buried beneath beneath rubble by Thor. Taylor soon discovers that Bradley is not with the other children – he has gone to find his stuffed bear that he dropped. Hercules emerges from the rubble and fights Thor some more, until Thor smacks him over the head with Mjolnir, knocking him out. Thor sees Bradley, and realizes that if he harmed the boy, that would also cause grief for Hercules. Taylor arrives and challenges Thor, but he just sees her as another potential pawn. Hercules wakes, and when he realizes Thor has been calling him “Herakles” suspects there is more going on here. He tries to wrestly Mjolnir away from Thor, and when Crystal comes to, he urges her to add her elemental powers to the coming storm. Hercules uses Mjolnir to create a storm, and when the lightning strikes, Crystal adds to it, separating the fighting gods, the blast also purges Ares from Thor's body. Taylor and Bradley rush to Hercules' side, while Hera reveals herself and points out that as no one was harmed, Hercules should consider this a mere family disagreement, but Hercules isn't happy. Thor is fine, and Taylor assures Hercules that there is no harm done, other than to his head, which she tends to with a bandage. Back on Olympus, Ares laments his defeat and as they watch Hercules through a scrying pool, tells Hera that she attempted nothing, but Hera reminds him that their plan was to bring pain and grief to Hercules, and wickedly boasts that her plans are subtle, but that she will win!

Full Summary: 

'By the sacred beard of father Zeus! Dane Whitman, hast thou gone mad?' Hercules calls out as Dane Whitman the Black Knight pilots a small hover-craft type vehicle over the towering city of New York – and spins it onto its side nearly causing Hercules to fall out, while Crystal smiles. 'C'mon, Herc! We're just having some fun breaking this baby in! After all, we spent days in Marissa Darrow's apartment searching for clues to her disappearance and we came up with zip' the Black Knight remarks, declaring that they need a little release. 'We – uh, oh...' Dane utters. Crystal asks him what is wrong, and realizes that they are picking up speed. 'I know – the ship's not responding to throttle, Crystal! As a matter of fact, she's not responding to anything!' Dane exclaims, before telling his teammates that the thrusters are going into overdrive, and that they should hang on – because this baby is officially out of control!

The ship speeds between buildings as Dane reports that he will try and coax them down, adding that they have to find some place to land. Hercules alerts Dane to a closed section of the West Side Highway, and Dane decides that it is better than nothing, while Crystal points out that they are still coming in too fast, and suggests she could use her elemental powers to summon up a head wind, as that might help. She stands up and casts her control over the elements forward, to which Dane announces that they are slowing, but not enough. 'Brace thyselves, good friends...for the Prince of Power...has a plan!' Hercules exclaims as he leans out of the aircraft and drags his fists along the ground, bringing the aircraft to a screeching halt. 'You're doing it, Herc!' Crystal exclaims. 'You're bringing us to a stop!' Dane calls out. 'Of course... such was my intent!' Hercules replies.

When the ship comes to a stop, the three heroes get out and stand near the cracks in the ground that were made by Hercules' fists. Dane looks at the ship and tells the others that this should not have happened. 'That's fairly obvious, Dane' Crystal remarks. Dane reiterates his comment and explains that the skycar was designed by the Black Panther 'And T'Challa doesn't build faulty aircraft. He just doesn't' Dane declares, pointing out that something caused this to go haywire – something, or someone. Shocked, Crystal looks at Hercules' hands and asks him if he is all right. Hercules holds up his bloody hands and tells Crystal that it is nothing, and that by morning's first light, he shall be fully healed. 'One of the perks of being an Olympian deity, eh?' Dane asks, suggesting they go back to the Mansion's infirmary, just to make sure.

The three Avengers are unaware however that they are being watched: 'Olympian deity, eh? To think that muscle-bound half-wit, half-mortal should e'er have been welcomed to sacred Olympus by my father is an insult to all true immortals!' declares Ares as he stands, watching the Avengers through a scrying pool. Hera lounges nearby and asks 'After three millennia it still eats at thee, eh, Ares?' warning him to beware, lest such hatred make a mockery of the god he once was. Hera tells her step-son that she sees before her the proud God of War, a man of action and passion, reduced to a bitter voyeur, brooding over his brother's earthly exploits. 'Ares, you disappoint me' Hera declares. Ares scowls and points out that he doesn't sit by the Pool of Revelation alone, and adds that he may hate Herakles for being the apple of Zeus' ancient eye, but that Hera should not pretend Herakles is one of her favorites.

Hera tells Ares not to be impudent and reminds him that she is still his father's wife. She doesn't deny her hatred of the throwback, and reminds Ares that she sought to kill the child Hercules in his own cradle, as he is a memory of how Zeus has not been the most faithful of husbands, nor the most discriminating. Hera stands up and suggests to Ares that mayhap they have both been too idle in this matter, and proposes a contest between them – a challenge to see who can bring the halfling prince the most pain, the most bitter sorrow 'I accept! Ares responds, boasting that in this wager, he shall surely win. 'Do not be too sure, God of War...for Hera is the Master of Revenge!' Hera whispers to herself.

Two days later, Dane stands on the skycar in the hangar bay within Avengers Mansion, examining the malfunctioning aircraft. Natasha Romanoff a.k.a. the Black Widow and the android known as the Vision approach him, and the Black Widow reports that they have word from Wakanda, who confirmed that the skycar underwent a complete systems check before it was shipped here to the Mansion where Michael O'Brien gave it the required security check. The Vision points out that O'Brien is not one to miss any signs of tampering, and adds that Wakandan quality control is renowned world-wide for its extreme thoroughness. 'You don't have to tell me, Vision. I've seen T'Challa's people in action. A pin doesn't get past them' Dane replies, before announcing that he has found two power couplings that were definitely toyed with. 'So it is sabotage' the Black Widow remarks, asking Dane if he thinks this latest event is linked to their recent encounter with the Swordsman impostor. 'Bingo, Widow' Dane replies.

Dane reports that he is going to compare the energy signatures from their first ambush with those from Marissa Darrow's apartment, and he is sure they are going to match the readings on the couplings. The Vision tells the others that they must discover the connections between these three events and learn how this purported Swordsman and his cohort, Magdaelen could have the ability to effect such a security breach. Dane notices Hercules, Crystal and Eric Masterson a.k.a. Thor entering the hangar bar, and tells the others that he doesn't want Hercules knowing what he suspects, as Herc loses all perspective when it comes to Magdalene. 'Good morn, fellow Avengers' Hercules calls out, announcing that he is in need of a Quinjet posthaste for he hath been invited to visit a hospice for sickly children, and he must be there before noon. 'A children's hospital, Hercules? That's wonderful' the Black Widow remarks.

Hercules reveals that he received the invitation and could not find it in his heart to deny the youths the thrill of meeting the son of Zeus. 'Humility is not your strong suit, is it?' Natasha mutters, before Hercules announces that Crystal and the godling Thor have agreed to go with him. 'Friends more true, no god e'er had!' Hercules exclaims, putting his arms around the two, who smile, and Thor jokes that Hercules is kinda persuasive. Crystal looks coyly at Dane and asks him if he will come, suggesting that getting out will do some good. 'And if Luna's any example...the children at the hospital will love you' she smiles, which the Vision notices. But Dane tells Crys that he is sorry, as he has to supervise a full-scale diagnostic of this ship. 'Maybe next time, okay?' he replies without looking at Crystal. He turns his concentrate back to the ship and thinks to himself that right now he has to put some distance between he and Crys. Crystal turns to the Vision and asks him if he will go, but the Vision tells her that he fears his appearance may disturb some of the younger children, and adds that he has matters to attend to here at the Mansion. 'Isn't that correct, Dane Whitman?' the Vision calls out.

Later, in White Plains, Westchester County, Hercules and Thor spend time with the children at the hospital, Hercules lifting several on his massive arms, while Thor shows the others his hammer. Crystal stands with a woman who thanks her for coming, and tells her that it means a lot to the kids. 'Lord knows they deserve a little diversion now and then' she adds, remarking that she doesn't know where she got the idea to invite the Avengers here – it just popped into her head one day. 'We were happy to do it, Ms Madison' Crystal replies. The blonde woman asks Crystal to call her Taylor. Crystal smiles and points out that she seems to connect so well with the children, and asks her if she has been working here long. Taylor reveals that she is just a volunteer here, before pointing at Bradley and exclaiming that he never talks to anyone.

'So, like, how come you have a beard? I seen your picture...and you never had a beard before' Bradley remarks. 'It's a fashion statement, kiddo!' Thor replies. 'Oh' Bradley replies. Hercules is crawling on the ground with one of the children on his shoulders. 'Ho there, stripling! I am Hercules!' Herc exclaims as he moves over to Bradley, who introduces himself. 'I'm six. How old are you?' Bradley asks. 'Somewhat older than six' Hercules replies, before noticing the stuffed bear that the boy is holding. 'Who is thy stuffed toy?' he asks. 'Oh, he's just Tipps. I like to have him around when I get sick' Bradley replies. Taylor goes over to him and remarks that he has been feeling a lot better lately. 'Yup' Bradley smiles. Taylor explains to Hercules that Tipps is Brad's friend, that he is comfort 'You mortals are all such brief flames... but this! For so young a child to be stricken...' Hercules' voice trails off.

Nearby in the courtyard, unseen by all, Ares and Hera materialize. 'So, the day of our wager hath finally arrived!' Ares exclaims, boasting that he knows how to make his brother pay most dearly. 'As do I, Ares, as do I' Hera remarks. Ares tells his stepmother to behold the camaraderie that has come so easily to his brother as he watches Hercules and Thor with the children. Ares declares that Herakles has taken pride in this alliance of “Avenges” and even calls them friends. 'Imagine the agony the simpleton wouldst feel if he were to cause the death of one of them' Ares exclaims. 'Especially this one... a mere mortal who through a fluke of fate hath been given the powers of the true God of Thunder' Ares points out as he goes over to Thor – and suddenly, Ares' astral form takes over Thor's body as he points out that being mortal, Thor is so much more vulnerable to the whims of his betters!

Thor, possessed by Ares, grimaces as he strides over to Hercules, who is crouched beside a girl who tells him that her mommy and daddy and sister come every day to visit her. 'But of course, they are thy family! Of all the ties that bind, few are as enduring as the ties of blood, child' Hercules remarks. 'Huh?' the girl replies, confused. Suddenly, 'Oh – Herakles – it's time for you to DIE!' Thor booms as he appears behind Hercules and slams his hammer inti Hercules' head. 'Good Lord! Crystal – what's happened?' Taylor calls out in shock. Crystal tells her thatshe doesn't know, and instructs her to get the children out of here – fast. 'But you may need help -' Taylor calls back as Crystal rushes towards her teammates. 'Taylor – move! Now!' Crystal shouts as Thor stands over Hercules and asks 'Did that hurt, Herakles? Mjolnir is a potent weapon, is it not?'

'For the love of Agon, Thor – what have you done?' Crystal asks as she grabs Thor by his shoulder. 'Woman – begone from me!' Thor shouts as he spins around and slams a fist into Crystal, knocking her through the air. 'Eric... my friend... what hath happened? Are thee unwell?' Hercules asks, sitting up. When Thor doesn't answer him, Hercules calls out 'Eric – speak, I prithee!' But Thor responds by slamming his hammer into Hercules once again – 'What was that? Were you begging me, Herakles?' he asks, knocking Hercules through several trees. Despite the attack, Hercules appears fine, and sees Crystal lying motionless nearby. 'Is it possible? Could the power of Thor have proven too much for Eric Masterson's mind to bear?' Hercules wonders, before rushing over to Crystal, he sees that she is merely stunned. Hercules looks back up at Thor and decides that he mmust be mad to so cruelly attack one of the most gentle of Avengers. 'Perhaps I am insane, Herakles – if so – how do you stop such a madman? Jow do you stop the power of Thor? HOW?' Thor booms as he tears up some of the ground and throws it towards Hercules, smashing it into him.

'Dear Lord, they're tearing the place apart!' a nurse calls out as she pushes a boy in a wheelchair, while Taylor tells her that she knows, and that they have to get the kidss far away from the hospital as possible. Taylor checks the kids, wondering whether she has them all, before realizing that Bradley is missing. 'He went back, Ms Madison' a boy tells her. 'WHAT?' Taylor exclaims. The boy explains that he dropped Tipps. 'Y'know he can't get go anywhere without that stupid doll' the boy adds. Taylor calls out to the nurse and tells her to take charge of the children, as she is going back. 'Taylor – that's insane. You'll be killed!' the nurse calls back. 'I'm not leaving that little boy behind!' Taylor declares as she rushes back towards the battle, unaware that Hera is watching. 'Go back to the scene of battle, where age-old hatreds thou can'st hot begin to comprehend hath come together to burst like violent flood. Enter the world of the gods, Taylor Madison, like the innocent thou art... and face thy destiny!'

Thor stands atop the rubble that has buried Hercules and declares that it has been many moments, so can it be? Buried beneath this rubble, can Herakles finally lie dead at his hands? Thor wonders if Herakles faces the Ferryman on the banks of the River Styx, as such was not part of the wager. Thor raises his hands overhead and boasts that this body glows with power undreamt of, and if death has come of this, he will not grieve. Suddenly, there is a crunching noise, as Hercules climbs through the rubble. 'Eric, thou art most sorely ill, friend' Hercules calls out, suggesting that Stephen Strange or Leonard Samson might be able to cure him, but first, he needs to get Thor to a physician's care. 'And if I must, I will bring thee down to save thee!' Hercules warns Thor as he runs towards him, then asks him to forgive him as he punches Thor hard in the face, knocking Thor backwards and to the ground.

'Do not make me do that again... for it pains me' Hercules tells Thor, who replies that Herakles is soft, and that was always his undoing. As Thor grabs Herc by his throat, Thor tells him that to stop him, he will have to kill him. Hercules goes wide eyed – 'Always my undoing? Herakles? You hath been calling me Herakles' he exclaims. 'Of course! It is your name, is it not, dalt?' Thor remarks as he uses Mjolnir to swat Hercules backwards, then slams the hammer into Hercules' face once again. 'Before you asked my forgiveness – know ye, I beg no such boon of you!' Thor declares as he slams Mjolnir into Hercules' legs, then his back, asking Hercules why he doesn't stop him, as he has the power. 'Would you truly die rather than kill me? You are pathetic!' Thor bellows.

Nearby, 'Tibbs! There you are!' Bradley utters as he finds his stuffed bear. He tells his bear that they shouldn't be here, for if they stay, they could get in serious trouble. Thor looks down and sees Bradley, wondering if fortune favors him. 'Perhaps you are the incentive the Prince of Power needs. Come to me, child' Thor calls out to the boy, who clutches his teddy bear and looks up in horror. Thor decides that it is fairly obvious Herakles' reluctance to harm this body is deeply, if not foolishly, felt – but if another, such as this boy, was threatened, what choice would Herakles have. 'Come, boy...I have need of you' Thor calls out, when suddenly: 'Keep your hands off him!' Taylor screams as she arrives on scene. 'I swear if you so much as touch him I'll -' she begins, but Thor interrupts: 'You'll what, woman? Do you dare threaten a god?' Taylor backs down, crouches beside Bradley to comfort him. 'What's this? No more words of defiane, mortal? Has my power struck you silent in awe? Or is that fear I see in your eyes?' he asks her.

A shadow falling over him, Thor looks down at Taylor and tells her that perhaps she now realizes that before one such as he, she and the whelp are nothing. 'Don't look, Braddie' Taylor whispers, putting herself over Bradley's body, while Thor grits his teeth and declares that Taylor, like this body, are merely instruments of revenge – revenge for eons of humiliation. 'O, how he shall rue this day when he was forced to kill his comrade... his friend... his fellow Avenger!' Ares calls out through Thor's words. Hercules struggles to recover, while Thor tells him 'Hear me, Herakles! I mean to kill these two – only you can stop me, brother!

'So, by thy own mouth, thou art revealed! I didst suspect... but now – Ares, I know thee! Only thou dost call me by my ancient name... only thou would be cowardly enough to use mortals as pawns against me!' Hercules exclaims as he runs towards Thor/Ares, and warns him that by the sacred Mount of Olympus, he swears no harm will come to them. Hercules lunges at Thor and pushes him backwards off the rubble, telling Ares that he doesn't know what he hath done to Eric Masterson, but he shall the pay the price for this cruel game. They land on the ground: 'You sought to usurp the rightful owner of Mighty Mjolnir? Learn now the might of Asgard's powers!' Hercules exclaims, as he forces Thor's arm away from him – a massive BOOM is heard when the end of the hammer hits the ground. 'My arm!' Thor calls out.

Crystal has recovered and rushes over to Taylor, asking her if she and Brad are all right. 'We're both terrified to within an inch of our lives – but physically we're fine! It's Hercules and Thor you should be worried about!' Taylor tells Crystal. Hercules sees Crystal, and as he continues to keep Thor's arm holding Mjolnir out extended away from him, Hercules informs Crystal that Mjolnir has summoned the storm, and she must add her elemental powers to what shall come. Wide-eyed, Crystal tells Herc that it is too powerful, that he won't survive. The hammmer slams on the ground again, and another BOOM can be heard. 'Agon preserve us!' Crystal gasps as she raises a hand into the air, and from the suddenly roaring heavens, from a sky that until seconds ago was clear and bright, comes a bolt of lightning – summoned into existence by the echo of Mighty Mjolnir and augmented by the power of the Inhuman elemental, it strikes with the force of nature unleashed, striking Hercules and Thor/Ares, both men scream as they are jolted away from each other, and Ares is released from Thor's form, the three bodies lay amongst the rubble, smoke rising from them all.

Shortly, Hercules and Ares wake, and sitting up, Hercules looks over at Ares and declares that he was right. 'Thou may have been able to possess the body of Thor, brother, but I didst know the shock of lightning would free him' Hercules remarks, explaining that only the chosen God of thunder may wield the true power of the uru hammer, such is the will of Odin, their father's ally. Hercules then tells Ares that, as always, his arrogance is astounding. Crystal tends to Thor, while Taylor and Bradley stand nearby. Hera makes her presence known as she tends to Ares, and asks Hercules for peace, assuring him that his point is taken, she adds that it seems as if there is indeed a mind within his body of brawn. 'Are you involved in this travesty as well?' Hercules asks his step-mother, he declares that she put the lives of children at risk – and for what? For something as petty and mewling as jealousy. 'You doth deserve the name Olympians!' Hercules exclaims. Hera grins wickedly and tells Hercules that is rich coming from one such as thee. Ares stands next to her as they begin to disappear. Hera points out that no one was injured, and no lives, pathetic and brief as they are, were lost, and suggests that they consider this a mere family disagreement.

'Sheesh! And I thought I had family problems!' Thor remarks as he comes to 'Eric! My heart doth swell with joy to see thee returned!' Hercules calls out as he goes over to Thor, who quietly tells Crystal that you have to love the big lug as Hercules exclaims that when he thought Thor lost to them in madness, his soul was in darkest torment. Hercules turns to Taylor and asks her how he can beg forgiveness for the danger his family placed her young charges in. 'I think you've more than made up for that, Hercules' Taylor replies, touching Hercules' forehead, she tells him he has a nasty cut there and suggests they get some bandages on that.

Back on Olympus, Hera and Ares are discussing the recent battle, as Ares wishes that things had gone according to plan: 'If ie had struck me down whils't I was in the mortal's body...if he had acted in anger...how sweet that would have been!' Ares then asks Hera what of her part of the wager, and points out that she attempted nothing. Hera reminds Ares that their plan was to bring pain and grief to Hercules, and looking through the scrying pool, Hera watches the image of Hercules and Taylor, and claims that in that, she acquitted herself quite well. Hera declares that her plans are delicate, subtle things, and boasts that, in the end, she always wins, before cackling wickedly....

Characters Involved: 

Black Widow, Black Knight IV, Crystal, Hercules, Thor II, Vision (all Avengers)

Taylor Madison

Ares, Hera

Bradley and other children
Hospital staff

Story Notes: 

First appearance of Taylor Madison.

Written By: