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Bob Harras & Terry Cavanaugh (story), Bob Harras (dialogue), Mike Deodato Jr (penciler), Tom Palmer (inker), John Kalisz (colorist), Bill Oakley (letterer), Ralph Macchio (editor), Mark Gruenwald (editor-in-chief)
A disguised Zeus and Ares are tracking down Hera, while the woman called Augustine Jones takes her friend Taylor Madison to Avengers Mansion to see Hercules. Hercules, however, along with Quicksilver, has arrived at the child care center where Taylor works at, as he wants to talk to his troubled girlfriend. But, he is shocked to learn that she stopped coming to work some weeks ago. At Avengers Mansion, the Black Widow makes a mysterious phone call and agrees to meet with someone tomorrow night, before learning from Giant Man that there have been no developments with what they found in the sub-basement. They join Crystal and Deathcry for tea, and are surprised to find Taylor and Augustine present. Augustine soon reveals her true self, plunging the Mansion into darkness. Hercules and Quicksilver return to Avengers Mansion, and are confronted by Hera, who has trapped the others, and expresses her hatred for Hercules. Quicksilver and Hercules attack her, but she is too powerful for them, although Hercules does resist her power as he is determined to rescue his friends and Taylor. However, Zeus and Ares arrive, causing Hera to stop her mad rampage. Zeus then reveals that this was all part of an elaborate trap to ensnare Hera, whom he knew would come after Hercules, whom she despised - and part of the trap, was creating Taylor, a mortal woman, who Hera could manipulate. Taylor is just as shocked as Hercules by this revelation, and after Hera confesses to her rage, the spell is broken, and Zeus explains that Taylor will cease to be. The Avengers like Taylor, and try to stop Zeus, but he will not hear it. Hercules and Taylor embrace and share a final kiss, before Taylor fades to nothingness. Hercules is furious with his father and attacks him, only resulting in Zeus stripping Hercules of his immortality. The gods then depart, leaving Hercules and the Avengers to mourn Taylor Madison.
Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where two figures, one tall, one very diminutive, walk down a dimly lit street. ‘Once more, father, I must protest this ignominious form you’ve crafted for me!’ the diminutive figure calls out to the other. Both are wearing trench coats and wide-brimmed hats that hide their faces. ‘Your form fits your deed, my son’ the tall figure replies, telling his son to be thankful that he did not hurl him into oblivion when he told him the truth. He shushes his son as they approach the residence. Standing at the front door is a doorkeep, and the taller man calls out to him, asking if Taylor Madison is at home.
The doorkeep informs the visitors that Taylor and her new roommate, whom he calls Miss Jones, went out about half an hour ago. ‘A new roommate, eh?’ the taller man remarks. ‘Jones is her name, you say? A common name in these days’ he adds, before telling himself ‘Yes, she’d take such a name, finding it an amusing facet to her spiteful game’. The tall man turns and tells his son to come, and as they walk back down the street, he declares that the time is coming when all will be revealed and foul duplicity condemned.
Meantime, on Manhattan’s East Side: ‘And you may keep the change, driver’ the glamorous Augustine Jones tells her cab driver as she and Taylor Madison exit the yellow taxi. Augustine looks at Taylor and tells her not to give that disapproving look. ‘I told you I had a surprise in store for you!’ she reminds her. ‘Augustine, I know you mean well - but, please, believe me - the last place I want to visit is Avengers Mansion!’ Taylor Madison exclaims as the cab drives off. As the two women walk towards the well-lit mansion in the darkened night, Augustine replies ‘Nonsense, Taylor, you’re in love with the hero, Hercules. Don’t deny it - and for some reason, you’ve been afraid to get close to him - and that’s where I come in to play matchmaker!’
Augustine rings the doorbell, ‘Good evening butler!’ she calls out when Edwin Jarvis opens the door. Augustine introduces herself, adding that she believes he knows her good friend, Taylor. ‘Is the gorgeous godling Hercules about?’ Augustine enquires. Jarvis explains that Hercules is not about, as he and Quicksilver are out on some errand. Augustine smirks and pushes past Jarvis, telling him that he won’t mind if she says hello to some of the other absolutely famous Avengers. ‘Well, I -’ Jarvis begins, uncertain. ‘You are a dear, but I’ll see myself in’ Augustine calls out. The kindly Taylor tells Jarvis that she is sorry for the intrusion, and points out that Augustine seems to be a woman used to getting her way.
At the Schuyler Hill Memorial Day Care Center, in the Bronx, a small hover-craft descends over the playground where several children are playing. ‘Our arrival seems to be creating quite a stir, Hercules!’ Pietro “Quicksilver” Maximoff remarks to Hercules, adding that he doesn’t suppose it is every day two Avengers drop by for a visit. Leaping from the hovercraft, Hercules replies ‘Nay, good Pietro. More’s the pity - for children such as these are too often forgotten!’, trying to steady the hovercraft, Quicksilver shouts ‘What are you doing?’, while Hercules smiles and points out that today he comes not as an Avenger, but merely, a god in love.
‘I swear, Hercules - you’re acting like a schoolboy with his first crush!’ Quicksilver replies, while Hercules lands on the ground with a mighty THUD and asks ‘What’s wrong with that?’. Quicksilver lands the hovercraft and replies ‘Nothing, I suppose…if dignity isn’t one of your priorities in life’. Hercules approaches one of the guardians of the children and introduces himself, explaining that he has come to visit his lady love, Taylor Madison. ‘Is she about?’ Hercules asks. The woman remarks that she has seen Hercules on the TV, ‘You’re one of those super heroes, aren’t you?’ she asks, while muttering that her mother is not going to believe this, before informing Hercules that Taylor isn’t here and that she stopped coming to work weeks ago.
The woman adds that it is a real shame, as Taylor had a real gift with children, and that the kids really loved her. The woman states that she worries about Taylor, as she seemed so sad at times, like she didn’t have a lot of time left. Hercules hangs his head, ‘Aye. There is a sweet wistfulness about my lady’ Hercules replies, before remarking that it is not like Taylor to give up an occupation she so loved, for the children were as important as air to her. Hercules returns to the hovercraft and he and Quicksilver take off, with Quicksilver telling Hercules not to feel so glum, as people quit their jobs all the time - or so he is told. Hercules understands, but tells Quicksilver that it is not in Taylor’s character, although he admits that there is still so much he doesn’t know about her. ‘Yet, the memory of her face envelops my soul, Pietro. And my hear has been made wholly hers. It is a joyous thing, this feeling, one I have not felt in centuries’. Quicksilver looks at his teammate and tells him ‘Who knows, Hercules? Perhaps there is such a thing as true love after all…’.
Back at Avengers Mansion, in one of the many corridors, Natasha Romanova a.k.a. the Black Widow is speaking on the telephone. ‘ - then what we’ve been afraid of is coming to pass. Yes, of course I’ll meet you tomorrow night at the rendezvous point. And - please be careful. You’re in extreme danger’ she tells the person on the other end of the phone. Behind her, Dr Henry Pym a.k.a. Giant Man appears, increasing his size from small to his regular form. Natasha sees him out of the corner of her eye and tells the person she is speaking with ‘Don’t worry about me. I know how to handle things. I had a good teacher’. Giant Man greets Natasha, who ends her call, by telling her associate that she has to go. ‘Till tomorrow - dos vidayna’ she then hangs up and turns to Henry, asking if there are any further developments regarding the mysterious chronal chamber they found in the sub-basement.
Henry replies that there are none, and explains that it remains impervious to all sensor scans. ‘Whoever built it knew what they were doing’ he tells Natasha. ‘I can’t say it’s a comforting thought having such a security breach in this mansion…but the force-fields we’ve erected throughout the area should allow us a good night’s rest’ As they approach one of the living rooms, Natasha agrees that is all they can hope for at this point, and suggests to Henry that they have some tea. But entering the living room, they find Jarvis serving drinks to their teammate Crystal, their associate Deathcry, and Taylor Madison and Augustine Jones.
‘I see we have guests’ Henry points out, and as Deathcry rushes to the door, Natasha asks the alien warrior if anything is wrong. ‘Listen, Widow - Taylor’s fine and all. I mean I actually like her. But her friend - that Augustine Jones? Fah! She gives me the bigger creeps than an armada of metamorphic Skrullian buccaneers!’ Deathcry exclaims. ‘That’s quite a comparison’ Natasha remarks as Deathcry leaves the room. ‘And an apt one, Madame Romanova - and you know how often I agree with Miss Deathcry’ Jarvis points out. Sitting upright in her chair, Augustine has not removed her shades, and declares that she seems to be creating quite the stir. She turns to Henry and asks ‘You are the one called Giant Man, aren’t you?’, before enquiring as to whether there are any more Avengers about.
Giant Man takes Augustine’s hand and smiling, tells her that everyone in the mansion is present and accounted for. ‘Excellent. That’s all I need to know’ Augustine states as she removes her shades, and energy crackles from her eyes, followed by screams from the living room.
Later, Hercules and Quicksilver return to Avengers Mansion, and as they enter, Herc points out that the mansion is most uncommonly dark, adding that the silence is most unnerving. ‘You do have a knack for stating the obvious’ Quicksilver replies, suggesting that Herc stay here while he reconnoiter for any signs of trouble. ‘Nay!’ Hercules tells his teammate, but Quicksilver points out that his wife and child may be in danger. Hercules tells Quicksilver that he understands his concerns, and that he shares them, explaining that he asked Quicksilver to hold for a moment as he feels a presence in the shadows - one disturbingly familiar. Indeed, from the shadows, Augustine Jones appears - or, rather, her true form - Hera!
‘Do I disturb thee, half-breed?’ Hera smiles, energy crackling around her as she stands on a flight of stairs wearing a purple bathing suit like costume, with thigh-high purple boots. ‘Why? For I am your beloved step-mother!’ Hera adds, while Hercules shouts her name, then rushes up the stairs, asking her what she is doing here. ‘My father, Zeus himself, hath forbidden all Olympian to come to the world of mortals’ Hercules points out. ‘All save you, Hercules’ Hera reminds him, adding that, as ever, his father has made an exception in the case of the half-breed. ‘You speak of my father with bitterness in thy voice, lady! And twice thou hast insulted my birthright. I like it not, madame. I like it not!’ Hercules raises a fist, while Quicksilver advises him to take care.
‘Silence, mortal! Tis not your place to advise beings such as we’ Hera warns Quicksilver, frowning, her eyes glowing. ‘So, I insult thee, Hercules, pity that. For your have been an insult to me from the day of thy ignoble birth’. Hera casts some energy as she declares that Hercules has been a constant living reminder of her husband’s infidelities and of his fascination with drab, pale-blooded mortal females. ‘And to think - he favors you over all his other offspring! That, half-mortal, is insult upon insult!’ Hera exclaims, boasting that she will bear it no longer. A bubble appears overhead, and trapped within it are Crystal, Giant Man, the Black Widow, Deathcry, Jarvis and Taylor. Hercules is shocked to see Taylor in distress, while Quicksilver leaps forward, ‘Woman, believe me when I say I couldn’t care less about your petty family squabbles - but, I swear, if you’ve harmed my wife, I’ll see you dead!’ he shouts.
‘Such bravado, Avenger, such foolishness’ Hera declares, while warning Quicksilver that the ancients knew well when the world was young, that they should not anger the gods. ‘For our retribution is both quick and final’ Hera adds, as she uses her abilities to raise the ground, which Quicksilver slams into at super speed, then falls backwards. ’Good friend, prithee breathe for me…even a little’ Hercules calls out. ‘Sweet Zeus, no! Lady, surely thou must be mad to do such savagery!’ he tells Hera. ’I think not’ Hera smiles, explaining that she merely seeks redress for centuries of humiliation. ‘Thou cares for these mortals, do you not? A weakness inherited from thy father’ Hera points out, as she uses her power to break Jarvis, and cause his body to whither. Jarvis screams in pain, while Hera states that Hercules and Zeus have both forgotten that humans are nothing. ‘Mere pawns in the great games of the gods’.
Hera continues, stating that mortals are the gods’ playthings, sheathed in thin shells of corruptible flesh as easy to wither as grapes on the vine. Hercules calls out to Jarvis, while warning Hera to leave him alone, as Jarvis is a good and true man who has done her no harm. ‘But thou doth care for his welfare, stepson - tis crime enough for me!’ Hera declares as she fires a charge of energy, knocking Hercules backwards. Hercules swiftly gets to his feet and tears some panelling from the wall, holding it over head, he reminds Hera that he has always treated her with respect, as was due as his father’s wife. ‘But hate has twisted thy soul! And my friends shall not suffer at thy hands any longer - this do I swear!’ Hercules declares as he throws the large panel towards Hera, who destroys it with her energy. ‘An empty boasts from a dullard’ she mutters.
Hera tells Hercules that they will suffer precisely because they are his friends, that his heart shall break bit by bit as each mortal flame flickers then fades. ‘And how great the pain shall be when this one - thy beloved Taylor - turns to dust, Hercules. Then you will know what I have suffered - and you will know the wrath of Hera!’ the queen of the gods snaps, while pointing towards Taylor’s withered form, trapped inside the energy bubble. ‘Lady, I swear in order to stop thee - I will kill thee’ Hercules booms, but Hera casts her energy towards Hercules and tells him that he will not deny her her victory. She pours the energy on, increasing it, but Hercules resists it, and moves forward. ‘Do what thou will to me! But - let my friends go!’ he tells Hera as his powerful form is just several feet away from her.
‘You approach - through my Eldritch flame? Impressive, half-breed - impressive’ Hera admits as she continues to release energy at Hercules. ‘It is called loyalty, woman!’ Hercules shouts as he pushes onwards and grabs Hera by her shoulder. ‘Then let it by thy epitaph!’ Hera suggests, when suddenly, there is a massive surge of energy, and a voice booms ‘I say thee both - ENOW!’, as Hercules and Hera are knocked over. An instant later, Zeus appears, wearing extravagant golden armor, his green cape flowing behind him, while a strange gargoyle-like being is at his feet. ‘Tell me, wife - hast thou - in thy maddened quest - forgotten thy lord and husband?’ Zeus asks. ‘F-father?’ Hercules gasps, looking up at the mighty Zeus, while Hera goes wide-eyed and concerned at the arrival of Zeus.
Suddenly, the energy bubble vanishes, and Taylor falls to the ground, her form restored. ‘Are you all right?’ Crystal asks as she and Giant Man turn to the kind woman. Hera approaches Zeus, ‘Husband - and lord - you misunderstand what transpires here - tis but nothing -’ Hera tells him, but a furious Zeus shouts ‘SILENCE!’ and asks Hera if she takes him for a fool. Zeus states that he has always known Hera’s unbridled hatred and bitter, unwarranted jealousy would one day prove her undoing. Zeus reveals that he has known about Hera’s scheme against Hercules from its very inception. ‘From the lips of thy fellow “conspirator” - the God of War, Ares’
Zeus casts energy at the strange creature crouched beside his feet, and the creature is revealed to be Ares. The God of War stands impressively, large sword at his side, he asks his step-mother why she is so shocked. ‘Did I not once tell thee I would do anything to restore myself to my father’s good graces?’ Ares reminds Hera, pointing out that their little wager seemed as simple a method as any. ‘Aye, a wager as to whom could hurt Hercules most deeply. A cruel bet, woman - one beneath thy station’ Zeus tells Hera, explaining that he set a trap for her, as he knew that mortal females have ever been Hera’s bane, and so he lured her with irresistible bait. Zeus raises his hand and points a finger to the center of the group: ‘The creature known as Taylor Madison!’ he exclaims. ‘Me?’ Taylor asks, confused, as everyone turns their attention to her.
Hercules goes over to Taylor and puts his hands on her, as Taylor asks him what they are saying, as she doesn’t understand. ‘Nor do I’ Hercules replies, before telling Taylor to cease her trembling, and promising her that no harm will befall her. Hercules turns to Zeus and announces that Hera’s hatred of him is a revelation. ‘But in thy words, I sense shadowed meaning even more painful’ Hercules adds. Zeus informs his son that when he discovered Hera’s intentions to harm him, he had to force her hand. Zeus points out that Hera has ever struck through matters of the heart, as those are the most grievous wounds of all. Zeus states that to ensnare Hera from afar, he created a construct, a perfect love, a soul mate, for his son. ‘I knew that Hera could not resist such an opportunity, no more than a stinging bee can resist the fairest flower’.
Hercules looks shocked, ‘A construct? O, father, what hath you done?’ he asks, while a wide-eyed, frightened Taylor exclaims ‘But I think - I feel - I am a person!’ However, Zeus tells Taylor that she has known the truth in her heart, that she knew somehow her time on this Earth was short - even by mortal standards. ‘I can see the fear in thy eyes and am sorry for it. If I failed in anything this sordid affair, it was in creating thee too well’ Zeus announces. Hercules tells his father that he cares nothing for Taylor’s origins, and adds that all he knows is the love he bears for her, pointing out that from this hate, something good will come. But, Zeus tells Hercules that Taylor’s time is done, as the spell that created her ends with Hera’s confessions
‘You can’t do this! Taylor’s as real as any of us now! Life in the living - and god or not you can’t -’ the Black Widow begins, before Zeus tells her to be silent, and traps her in a mist-like energy, adding that it is not her place to question him. ‘But ‘tis mine to beg thee. Father - please - let her stay’ Hercules pleads as he and wraps his arms around Taylor and holds her close. ‘Still thou dost not understand. This was all done to protect thee, but the need is over’ Zeus states that the woman is not real, that she never was, and that her day is done.
Hercules holds Taylor with a passion - and a desperation that he has never felt in his eons-long life. He will not lose her, he swears. Even as he knows the truth. Tears fall from his eyes, and as they kiss, Taylor Madison’s form begins to glow, and she has time to whisper one last thing, before she vanishes, returned to the nothingness from which she came. ‘Remember my love for you, Hercules. Above all else, remember that’. Hercules looks as Taylor is gone, and utters her name, before lunging at his father, ‘And this is thy love for me? I tell thee - it comes at too great a price!’ Hercules shouts. Zeus points out that mortals fade, like flickering flames, they pass into eternity. ‘She merely flickered faster than others. I see no problem here’ Zeus adds.
‘No problem?’ Hercules booms, he shouts ‘Taylor was a living being whom thou so casually dismissed! I reject such cruelty, father! I reject it!’ and he raises a fist to his father, who asks ‘You dare speak to me so?’ and tells Hercules that ingratitude is a thing he does not suffer lightly, before knocking him back with a casually energy charge. Zeus adds that Hercules’s ingratitude shall be punished accordingly. ‘You might think me cruel, Hercules - when I did it all for thee?’ Zeus asks, as Hera and Ares stand at his side. Hercules has fallen to the ground, and struggles to get to his feet. When Zeus gets no response from his son, he announces that to prove that cruelty, he will take back the gift of immortality that he gave Hercules centuries ago. ‘Once more, thou art mortal - living under the shadow of death, now and forevermore!’ Zeus declares.
Zeus begins to fade from view as he tells his ungrateful son to embrace his destiny, and returns him to his friends. ‘Thou shalt not see the splendors of Olympus again’ Zeus announces before vanishing. Quicksilver races over to Hercules, ‘I - I don’t know what to say! Are you -?’ he begins, as tears continue to fall from Hercules’s eyes. ‘What is there to say? She is gone, Pietro’ Hercules replies. The Avengers stand around him, as he hangs his head, ‘And all is ashes. All is dust’ Hercules remarks.
Black Widow, Crystal, Giant Man, Hercules, Quicksilver (all Avengers)Deathcry (Honorary Avenger)
Ares, “Augustine Jones” / Hera, Zeus (all Olympians)
DoorkeepTaxi DriverStaff and children at the Schuyler Hill Memorial Day Care Center
Giant Man and the Black Widow discovered the mysterious chronal chamber in the second story of Avengers (1st series) #382.
Hercules thinks Taylor Madison still wants to be with him, as he is unaware that his last encounter with Taylor in Avengers (1st series) #382 was actually Hera posing as Taylor.
Taylor Madison first appeared in Avengers (1st series) #349.