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Bob Harras & Terry Cavanaugh (story), Bob Harras (dialogue), Mike Deodato Jr & John Buscema (pencilers), Tom Palmer (inker), John Kalisz (colorist), Bill Oakley (letterer), Ralph Macchio (editor), Mark Gruenwald (editor-in-chief)
The Black Widow reunites with Ivan Petrovich and they discuss an incident in the Northwest Territories, and the Black Widow agrees to investigate. She leaves, and Ivan is attacked and shot by a man wearing a yellow costume. At Avengers Mansion, Crystal, Quicksilver and Deathcry are trying to open the mysterious hatch located in one of the sub-basements, although Deathcry wishes she was out doing normal Earth-girl things, before a flame pours from the hatch and engulfs her. Quicksilver and Crystal rescue her and take her to infirmary, just as they are summoned to meet the Black Widow, who is a assembling a team to investigate the incident in the Northwest Territory. An hour later, SHIELD commander Nick Fury receives word that the Avengers are en route to Canada and are planning to investigate the restricted area. Aboard the Quinjet, the Black Widow wonders why Captain America and Giant Man didn’t answer her summons, while Crystal helps Hercules to deal with the loss of Taylor Madison. Deathcry contacts them via the communicator and informs them that Nick Fury wants them back in the States pronto, but the Avengers arrive at the large massive crater in the Northwest Territory and after a dangerous landing, the Black Widow, Crystal and Hercules climb down into the crater, while a now-mortal Hercules remains atop as back up. But when he fears that something has happened to them, he leaps into the crater, only to find that they have safely set down in a sprawling underground complex. They start exploring, and before long, they are shot at while walking across a narrow bridge. They help each other so that they don’t plummet to their doom, before their attacker is revealed to be the Red Skull, and he has Ivan Petrovich as his prisoner.
Her name is Natalia Romanova. In her youth, she was a prima ballerina of international repute. Due to a twist of fate, she became an agent of espionage, first for her mother Russia, then for the organization known as SHIELD. In time, she drifted into the rarified world of super-heroes and became an Avenger. She has seen and done much in her time, cramming the experience of several lifetimes into one. She is a woman who has taken life by the horns and enjoyed the ride. But tonight is different. Tonight the Black Widow is afraid. It is an emotion she does not like. She stands on a rooftop in the dead of night, the moon glowing behind her, before she leaps from the rooftop, throwing herself into the abyss, forty-four stories above the streets of Manhattan, she controls her descent like the superb Olympic athlete she is.
The Black Widow does what she has always done. She pushes fear aside. After all, there is work to be done. She swings on a flagpole, then drops gracefully into an alleyway, where a man is waiting for her. Not bad, princess. A little sloppy on the landing - but all in all, not bad’ he calls out. He smiles and raises his hands, and tells the Black Widow that hanging out with those super-powered Avengers hasn’t made her go soft. The Black Widow embraces him and adds that it has merely challenged her to further perfect herself. ‘Now shut up and give me a hug, Ivan Petrovitch Bezukhov! It has been too long!’
Ivan Petrovich tells Natasha that he knows it has, and points out that he has been busy. ‘That little matter I called you about - I got more info - classified stuff - and it ain’t good’. Ivan explains that two days ago, there was an “incident” in the Northwest Territories, an energy pulse that SHIELD honchos put at 98.5 on the Kempler Harmonics Scale. ‘Of course, officially, the pulse never happened’ Ivan adds, telling Natasha that there is only one thing that registers that high, and it has them all scared. Natasha hangs her head and remarks ‘As well it should, Ivan. Dear God - as well it should’, before asking him if he has made contact with that organization.
Ivan replies that he hasn’t, adding that whoever they are, they are sealed tighter than a drum. He announces that he has lots of indirect evidence that they are operating on a global scale, and that he has some interesting reports coming from the Caribbean. ‘But it’s Canada where we may have the first hard proof of this organization’s existence’ Natasha points out. She throws a rope upwards and informs Ivan that she will take the co-ordinates, and arrange a reconnoitring party. ‘Yes, ma’am’ Ivan replies. Natasha tells him that she is serious, and Ivan assures her that he knows she is. ‘Don’t worry - I’ll be okay’ he calls out as Natasha climbs up the rope. But, after Ivan leaves in his car, from the now-deserted street comes the sepulchral sound of an ancient manhole cover being lifted from the roadbed, but an oddly sinister gold-gloved hand.
Within seconds, two energy blasts echo through the air, as the wheels on Ivan’s car are shot. Ivan leaps from his car, ‘Blowout! Looks like you were right, princess -’ he thinks to himself as he dives for safety, and just in time, as an instant later, his car crases into a truck and explodes. ‘- things are moving into high gear fast’ Ivan tells himself, deciding that he is not going down, he pulls out two guns, but screams as a blast of energy strikes him in the chest, knocking him over. And, in the sudden stillness comes the hard clipped sound of heavy boots on the wet pavement. Slowly, methodically approaching the prone Russian. Ivan looks up and sees his attacker. ‘Y-you? I - I knew you’d show up sooner or laterrr…’ he utters, before he passes out. A yellow boot is seen, and its wearer stands over Ivan and states ‘Of course I would, cretin…for there is much you must tell me’.
Manhattan’s Upper East Side, the recently reconstructed Avengers Mansion, where, in a basement, Pietro “Quicksilver” Maximoff and Crystal, both long-serving Avengers are busy working taking readings on something. Their associate, the alien Deathcry, sits on a table and pouts. ‘You know, I’m not up to speed on terran customs yet - but aren’t we supposed to be doing, like, more exciting things on a Saturday night?’ she asks. ‘Don’t get me wrong - examining a mysterious trans-temporal door is, like, a real kick an all - but can’t we go out? Y’know, dancing? You two do know how to dance don’t you?’ Deathcry asks. She continues, suggesting some trendy restaurant in Soho, as People Magazine says that is where all the incredibly hip people hang out. ‘Wouldn’t it be dope to get our pictures in Peo-’ Deathcry is interrupted by Quicksilver, who turns to her and points out that he and Crystal are taking some extremely delicate readings here, and her prattle isn’t helping matters.
Crystal tells her estranged husband that it is all right, and that he must admit, no sixteen year-old in their right mind would want to spend time with a couple of fogies like the two of them. Suddenly, Crystal announces that the scanner is picking something up. ‘AGON’S BLOOD!’ Crystal shrieks as flame suddenly pours from the door of the portal. Crystal and Quicksilver move back, and Quicksilver tells Deathcry to do the same - but too late, as the flame strikes the young alien, who screams. Quicksilver speeds over to her, ‘She’s aflame! Have to get her out of harm’s way!’ he declares, while Crystal uses her elemental powers to snuff out the flame. ‘Pietro, is she -?’ Crystal asks Holding Deathcry in his arms, Quicksilver replies that he doesn’t know, and asks Crystal to take her while he finds a blanket.
Crystal looks at Deathcry and tells Quicksilver that this sounds incredible, but that she isn’t burned. ‘What?’ Quicksilver gasps as he returns with the blanket. ‘Anyone get the number of that truck?’ Deathcry jokes. ‘Thank Randak you’re all right’ Crystal tells her, adding that whatever that flare was, it vanished as if it had never happened. Looking at the portal, Quicksilver tells Crystal that may have been exactly what happened, as there is some sort of temporal flux emanating from the door. ‘But in the meantime -’ he begins, when suddenly, the Black Widow’s voice is heard over a communicator, asking for all Avengers to report to hangar deck ten for a recon mission. Quicksilver suggests they get Deathcry up to the infirmary and then head out. Crystal helps Deathcry along as the young alien mutters ‘I told you we shoulda gone dancing’. But, in the darkness of the basement, there is a tapping on the other side of the portal door….
Nearly an hour later, and nearly a mile above the surface, aboard the mammoth helicarrier, field headquarters of the covert organization SHIELD, specifically the office of SHIELD’s commander, the individual known as Colonel Nick Fury. His intercom sounds as he sits at his desk. ‘Yeah, whatizzit?’ Fury calls out. Someone reports that they have the latest telemetry on the Avengers Quinjet that they have been scanning. ‘We’ve confirmed her heading: 9.5 delta, vector 2.23’ the officer reports, explaining that it is headed directly for the site of the Kempler Event. Fury points out that it is a restricted area, so they won’t get far, but the officer reports that the Avengers are transmitting the proper clearance codes. ‘We can’t ascertain how -’ the officer begins, but Fury states that he can: ‘The Widow’ he explains.
Fury declares that the Widow is the best, that no security code known to man is going to stop her once she gets an idea in her head. He tells his officer to keep scanning, before ending the transmission, and telling his computer to locate agent Dugan and to security scramble at alpha level. ‘What’s up, Nick?’ Dum Dum Dugan calls out as Fury’s image appears on a monitor nearby. ‘Plenty’ Fury replies, informing Dugan that their little pals in the Avengers are sticking their noses where they shouldn’t be again. ‘Those jokers could blow years of work with their little hunting expedition’ Fury remarks, before asking Dugan to get him the SC-13 file. ‘Geez, Nick ya don’t think -’ Dugan begins, but Fury interrupts him and snaps ‘I don’t think nothing. I just want the file, capice?’ To which Dugan mutters ‘Capeesh’.
And, in a Quinjet over Canada, Quicksilver is piloting the jet, and tells Natasha, who sits beside him, that she has been very quiet. ‘Have I? My apologies’ Natasha replies. Pietro asks her if it is the mysterious midnight errand she has summoned them to, and suggests that if she told them specifically why they are heading full-throttle to the sub-arctic, she would be less distracted. Natasha tells Pietro that she will tell him when she can, and asks him to bear with her, and reveals that she was thinking of Cap and Giant Man, wondering where they were and why haven’t reported in. Natasha explains that she has a nagging fear that incident two days ago and their absence are somehow linked. ‘And I don’t like that at all’ she adds.
Sitting in the seats behind Quicksilver and the Black Widow are Hercules and Crystal. Hercules frowns and tells Crystal that once more they head into the unknown, and only the Fates themselves know if they shall return. ‘It would be a relief, perhaps, not to. For if I am mortal again - as my father Zeus has decreed - then et me die so this bitterness may end and I rejoin my beloved Taylor’ he announces. Concerned, Crystal tells Hercules not to talk that way. Taking Hercules by his hand, Crystal tells him that she knows losing Taylor was devastating, as she was a wonderful, warm person. ‘I miss her, too. We all do. And I know your family’s involvement - their betrayal of your trust - was a cruel blow’.
Crystal continues, telling Hercules that if he gives into despair and anger would be to give Hera what she wanted, and a violation of everything Taylor would have wanted. ‘Don’t let Hera win, Hercules. I beg you!’ Crystal pleads. She tells him he can mourn, but to use that grief to heal, to keep Taylor in his heart and remember his days that he spent with her. ‘And be thankful for that time - however brief - you did have together’. Quicksilver listens to what Crystal says, and doesn’t hear the incoming message signal. ‘Pietro?’ Natasha calls out to get his attention. ‘What? Oh. My apologies, Widow. It was my turn to be distracted’ Pietro replies, before announcing that Deathcry is patching through.
The Black Widow calls out to Deathcry, who mutters that it is bad enough she gets left behind while they go on high adventure, but that this monitor duty is worst than dying. ‘I mean, I almost took Jarvis up on his offer on helping him with some of his crossword puzzle. Somebody shoot me!’ Deathcry exclaims. The Black Widow tells Deathcry that she appreciates her heavy burden, and asks her if she tried the number she gave her. ‘Like a billion times - but, like, this Ivan guy just isn’t home!’ Deathcry smiles. ‘And then this joker - Nick Furry -?’ Deathcry begins. ‘Fury’ the Black Widow corrects her. ‘Yeah, him. Well, he called - and he wasn’t exactly polite, if you know what I mean. He wants you guys back here - pronto’ Deathcry announces. ‘I’m sure he does’ Natasha mutters, before thanks Deathcry and telling her that they will be in touch. Natasha turns to Quicksilver and tells him that they should have visual by now.
‘That we do, Natasha. A crater scanning nearly two miles in diameter’ Quicksilver reports as the Quinjet closes in on the large crater in the middle of an icy landscape, trees surrounding it. ‘Remember what I told you, Pietro’ Natasha tells Quicksilver, adding that there should be sufficient residual electro-magnetic distortion in the area to interfere with the Quinjet’s internal systems. Pietro replies that he remembers, and, as if on cue, the Quinjet systems begin to fail, and the jet starts to drop towards the crater. ‘Hold on, Avengers - we’re coming down - HARD!’ Quicksilver shouts, as he manages to land the jet in the snow, sending snow and ice splattering everywhere.
‘That’s deep’ someone remarks as the four heroes stand on the edge of the crater, wearing warm jackets and carrying ropes, they look down into the darkness. ‘You never were one given to hyperbole, were you, Pietro?’ Natasha points out. Quicksilver ignores her comment and says that whatever caused the destruction must have been incredibly powerful. ‘Do you feel it? Somewhere from within the bowels of this crater - there’s still an essence of power’ Quicksilver adds. He decides that there is only one way to find out what happened here, and tosses his rope down into the crater, telling Crystal that it looks like a long climb. The Black Widow tells the Avengers that she wants them to recognize that with the EM interference, they are cut off from the rest of the world. ‘Our Avengers emergency beacon won’t work down in the crater, where the interference grows substantially’ she explains.
The Black Widow adds that the utmost stealth will be called for, as they have no idea if anything - or anyone - is still down there. The Black Widow starts to lower herself down into the gaping hole, telling her friends to trust her, as if she is correct as to what happened here and why it happened, they don’t want their presence to be known. Crystal and Quicksilver start to follow the Black Widow down, while Hercules remains atop as their backup. All four heroes are wearing red goggles, and Quicksilver remarks that the Stark Enterprises infra-red lenses are state of the art stealth technology, but that even they can’t penetrate the gloom. Holding onto the ropes, Hercules thinks to himself ‘So, this is what the Lion of Olympus is reduced to? Standing watch, shivering cold - I, who have not felt the cold in millennia - while others go on ahead into danger’.
Far below now, ‘Widow - look!’ Quicksilver calls out. ‘I see it, Pietro!’ the Black Widow exclaims, while back atop, Hercules looks concerned as the ropes go slack, and worries that his friends may be in danger. Hercules reacts instinctively, throwing himself into the abyss after his fellow Avengers - into the ark. How far he falls, he cannot tell. He wonders briefly, in his now-reduced state, if he can survive such a plummet. But, he realizes that he doesn’t care, and lands with a thundering crash on his side, his breath is knocked out of him. But, he is aware that the air about him reverberates with his impact. So much, he thinks, for stealth. The Widow, Quicksilver and Crystal turn to him in shock. ‘What were you thinking?’ the Black Widow demands. Hercules explains that their tethers grew slack, and he grew concerned.
‘Did you ever think we might have reached the bottom?’ the Black Widow asks. ‘No, Natasha, I did not’ Hercules snaps, before storming off, shouting that he is a dullard, so his foolishness is to be expected. ‘Come - you wanted to explore this place - then let us explore!’ he calls out. The Black Widow calls after him, telling him that she is sorry. ‘Blast it - I shouldn’t have lost my temper with him - he’s been through enough lately’ the Black Widow admits.
Soon, the Black Widow, Crystal and Quicksilver have caught up to Hercules and follow him along a wooden bridge. ‘This complex goes on fir miles!’ Quicksilver remarks. ‘Yes, we never suspected they had such resources!’ Crystal gasps as suddenly, a burst of energy is fired at the bridge. ‘Hera’s teeth!’ Hercules exclaims as everyone steadies themselves, but the catwalk, as the Black Widow calls it, gives way. Hercules manages to grab the Black Widow, and tells her to go limp. ‘Hercules!’ Natasha gasps, while Hercules asks if she thought a little argument would come between them. ‘Not a million years, my friend’ the Black Widow replies, while she reaches out and grabs Crystal to prevent her from falling. ‘Are you -?’ the Black Widow asks, and Crystal replies that she is stunned, but fine nonetheless.
Quicksilver hangs onto Crystal, while Hercules tells Natasha that this may not be the time, but if they are to fall to their deaths, can they not learn why they have come to this place? ‘I second that notion!’ Quicksilver remarks, as a voice calls out ‘Tell them, Madame Romanova. I am eager for the answer’. Everyone looks up and sees a familiar figure standing nearby. ‘No - it can’t be!’ Quicksilver calls out. ‘Yes, Avengers - look! Look upon the face of your destiny - look up on the face of the Red Skull!’ the diabolical villain booms as he stands, weapon smoldering from firing at the bridge, his is clad in a golden jumpsuit with gold boots - and a motionless Ivan Petrovich lies at his feet!
Black Widow, Crystal, Hercules, Quicksilver (all Avengers)Deathcry (Honorary Avenger)
Dum Dum Dugan, Nick Fury (both SHIELD)
Ivan Petrovich Bezukhov
The Black Widow took a phone call last issue. This issue reveals that the caller was Ivan Petrovich.
Captain America and Giant Man’s absences are tied into Cap’s life-and-death situation in in Captain America (1st series) #438.
Hercules became mortal again last issue, and Taylor Madison “died” after it was revealed she was a construct and never a real person.
Thunderstrike appears on the cover to this issue, but not in the story itself.