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Mark Waid, Al Ewing & Jim Zub (writers), Paco Medina & Joe Bennett (pencilers), Juan Vlasco & Ruy Jose (inkers), Jesus Aburtov & Morry Hollowell (colorists), Virtual Calligraphy's Cory Petit (letterer), Mark Brooks (cover artist), Skottie Young (variant cover artist), Carlos Lao (graphic designer), Alanna Smith (assistant editor), Tom Breevort (editor), CB Cebulski (editor-in-chief), Joe Quesada (chief creative officer), Dan Buckley (president), Alan Fine (executive producer)
Avengers created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby
Several of the Hulk's deaths are recounted, before he rises from the rubble in Nevada, resurrected as the Immortal Hulk by the Challenger. The Challenger and Grandmaster take stock of their game now that the Hulk is on the game board, and Voyager has taken the fifth pyramoid. At the hospital, the Beast, Nadia van Dyne and Jarvis ponder what Voyager is doing, and realize that their memories of her were false. At the Avengers Auxiliary HQ, Toni Ho, Red Hulk, Lightning and Enigma are making themselves useful, while Quicksilver and Cannonball are recovering from injuries, when Voyager arrives and locks herself in a vault with the pyramoid. Toni, Lightning, Red Hulk and Enigma confront her, but she doesn't talk to them, not even explaining why her skin is blue. Once locked inside the vault, Voyager thinks back to her true origin – that she is the daughter of the Grandmaster, how she has watched him for years and developed skills of her own in manipulating games, which is why she stole the final pyramoid. She is tired of being used by her father as his ace in the hole. The Gamesmaster wonders why Voyager has locked herself in the vault, but does not reveal his connection to her to the Challenger, as they observe the Hulk, as two of the Lethal Legion – Captain Glory and Mentacle – catch up to him. But the Hulk defeats them with ease, breaking Captain Glory's back. Toni Ho communicates with both field teams of Avengers and informs them what Voyager has done. Before Toni can talk further with them, someone arrives at the Avengers Auxiliary HQ and tries to break in – it's the Hulk. Enigma is sent to deal with him, but he tears her apart with ease. Hulk then takes out Cannonball and Quicksilver's ribs are broken. Lightning expels all of his power against the Hulk, but doesn't even make him flinch. The Hulk looks angry when Red Hulk appears, wearing the Iron Patriot armor and ready to challenge him!
(In the Hulk's memory – various flashback images)
'Hey! What are ya tryin' to do?' a voice calls out amongst the darkness, many years ago. 'Make them think I'm chicken?' another voice asks. 'Come on you fool!' someone calls out. 'We've got to reach the protective trench before the bomb goes off!' another exclaims. 'Bomb?' someone asks. 'There! You're safe!' another remarks. 'And now I'll -' one of them begins, before a green energy blast drops down on him – Dr Bruce Banner. Apparently, he screamed for hours – they said he wouldn't stop. He couldn't stop. Apparently, a door opened.
Bruce is lying on a table in a lab, where a scientist checks his body and reports that there is a surprising lack of radiation, considering. 'The... the body?' Rick Jones asks, standing nearby. The scientist apologizes, and tells Rick that he knows he brought Bruce in as soon as he could, but he is dead. 'I mean, look what happened. How could he not -' the scientist begins, when suddenly, Bruce opens his eyes, gasping, he sits up, then screams. 'Dear Lord!' the scientist utters, while Bruce continues to scream.
No matter what. He never understood – not fully. He never saw the door. But as the years passed – he began to suspect. Images flash by – of the Hulk being decapitated by Captain America's shield, of General Talbot finding Bruce Banner's body, and another time, of Doc Samson covering Banner's lifeless body with a sheet. A withered Grey Hulk sits in a chair, while at another time, the Hulk was covered in melted metal, and Bruce Banner was even shot in the back of the head.
Another time, later, the Avenger called Hawkeye a.k.a. Clint Barton met with Bruce, who gave him an arrow tip. 'What is this?' Clint asked. Bruce revealed that inside the casing was a custom-built arrow tip, with gamma-enriched vibranium, and very rare – far more precise than a bullet – especially in Hawkeye's hands. Bruce told Hawkeye to aim for the base off the brain – the hypothalamus, as that will instantly and utterly destroy all autonomic functions. He added that there was a spare, in case Clint missed – but if he didn't need it for his head, Clint could put it through the Hulk's heart. Bruce declared that he had done the math, done the biology – this would kill him. It will end him, end the Hulk in a way no “healing factor” can counteract – a way that is impossible to come back from. 'Bruce...' Clint began, but Bruce told Clint that scientifically, magically, it would be impossible.
Bruce Banner made Clint Barton promise to kill the Hulk, and during a war of heroes, Spider-Man, Jane Foster, Tony Stark, Captain Marvel, Sam Wilson, the Beast, Old Man Logan and Maria Hill came across Bruce's body – with two arrows sticking out of it.
It's funny though – there was that door again, as Bruce found himself with gamma arrows sticking out of him in some strange realm. 'Forgive me, Dr Banner...' Doctor Voodoo called out as he approached the named Bruce Banner, who asked Voodoo what was happening, and if he was responsible for this. Voodoo informed Banner that the Hand's magic was deep in him, and told Bruce that it will hurt, as Voodoo began pulling the gamma arrows out of Bruce's back. Banner replied that he didn't feel anything, and asked what this was. Before Voodoo could remove all the arrows, though, a large red monster appeared over them, the Beast of the Hand, who warned Voodoo that if he takes the Hulk from the Hand, then the Hand would claim his brother. 'But...I don't feel anything, no pain – no outside control' Banner remarked. Banner tried to get Voodoo to listen to him as he told him that the Hand didn't have the Hulk – they weren't directing him, he was just loose, just awake. 'It's a trick – don't choose me over -' Bruce pleaded, to which Voodoo declared that he chose his brother – Bruce Banner. He then pulled the remaining arrows from Banner's back and told him that he was free, that he may walk in peace to the light. Banner thought to himself that you have to laugh, when all hope dies, you have to laugh – or scream. 'You... you can't hear me, can you?' Banner realized, crying, he asked Voodoo to lay him to rest – maybe this time.
Another gamma door, though, a light shines down on Banner, while Armin Zola stands at a monitor and remarks '...and that's the funny past, Faustus. The procedure should have taken much longer. Days, perhaps. It's as if his corpse was just waiting for the excuse...'. Zola then declares that he has taken precautions, and the Supreme Leader needn't know, but that implanted in the hypothalamus, it was time delayed, there will be no coming back – if Banner didn't return to life according to schedule, they can al least make sure he dies at the proper time. Zola turns, and sees Banner sitting on the edge of a table. 'Look at you. You can't help it, can you? All you people – you can't let me rest. You prod at me. Like picking a scab. You can't even let me be dead...' Banner exclaims, wide-eyed. He hangs his head and promises Zola to keep his secret, but that he needs to make sure that this time it is done – and when it is, he wants to be left alone.
Soon after, the Hulk battled the Thing. Banner knows that you can hear the sound in his voice – in his hate, deep down, he knows – he knows there is no magic doing this, no magic science – nobody else. It's just him being him. That's what it's always been. But Hulk lies down at the appointed hour, he still wants to pretend, to sleep, to be left alone. He still has some small atom of hope. There is darkness all around. One more prod, one more pick of the scab, one more wake-up call – to let him know what he is. The opener of the door, the scream that cannot stop – the rage that will not die.
The IMMORTAL Hulk rises from the ruins of a cave in Nevada, and the Challenger remarks 'And now that you're back with us, monster... let's talk.
Inside the Grandmaster's cosmic game room, the Challenger and Grandmaster stand on a podium and look at seveal screens which hover before them, all of the screens display images of a particular woman. The Challenger notes the Avengers call her “Voyager”, and exclaims that she teleported away with the final pyramoid. 'That she did, Challenger. An intriguing turn of events' the Grandmaster remarks. The Hulk appears on one of the monitors, and the Grandmaster tells the Challenger that his Hulk has no target to pursue. The Challenger addresses the Grandmaster by his true name, En Dwi Gast, and asks him why he is so smug. 'You did this, didn't you?' he enquires. The Grandmaster tells the Challenger to calm himself, and points out that of all the Elders of the Universe, he should know how quickly things change.
Old images appear on one of the monitors, of the Grandmaster and two of his Squadron Supreme – Whizzer and Nighthawk – and he points out that humans are full of surprises, that they make for entertaining obstacles and useful pawns. Another image, of several heroes competing in the Grandmaster's “Contest of Champions” - Iron Man, She-Hulk, Captain Britain, Daredevil, Darkstar, Arabian Knight, Sunfire and Iron Fist. 'And yet with all your skill and a millennia of play, these “pawns” have defeated you time and again' the Challenger remarks. The Grandmaster declares that “defeat” assumes a state of finality, and boasts that the game continues, and so does he – one move at a time.
While Voyager, where ever she is, thinks to herself that in any game, there are are moves you see – and the ones you don't – and that her moves have always been hidden – until now.
Meanwhile, on Earth, at Lenox Hill Hospital, in Midtown Manhattan. 'Now does what i'm saying make sense?' Edwin Jarvis asks, holding a pole which his IV drip hangs from as he stands near Hank McCoy a.k.a. Beast and Nadia van Dyne a.k.a. Wasp. 'Of course it does, Jarvis. Chillingly so' the Beast replies. 'Voyager's story was a lie from start to finish. As you said it, I felt as if I were waking up from a dream' the Beast adds. Nadia remarks that Voyager's entire story was some sort of memory implant, and suggests that the infection in Jarvis' memory center kept it from taking root. Nadia looks at the Beast and declares that Voyager was never an Avenger. 'I don't know enough about the team's history to be surprised...but I know enough about the present to be angry at being fooled' Nadia exclaims, wondering what Voyager wants, and how it is connected with all of this. The Beast announces that they shall find her and ask her – with extreme prejudice.
At the Avengers Auxiliary HQ, 'Like this, Toni?' Miguel Santos a.k.a. Lightning asks Dr Toni Ho a.k.a. Iron Patriot as he releases a charge of eletrical energy into the Iron Patriot armor. 'Nice! That should keep power cells charged, yeah!' Toni calls back as she examines a monitor. 'And where would you like this?' Aikku Jokinen a.k.a Enigma asks as she carries the frozen body of Doreen Green a.k.a. Squirrel Girl. 'That medical bay set up in the canteen, hon. Let's keep all our invalids together!' Toni replies as she waves at Enigma, while General Robert L Maverick a.k.a. Red Hulk sits on a chair nearby, cup of coffee in hand. Toni looks at another monitor, where Sam Wilson a.k.a. Falcon, Roberto DaCosta a.k.a. Citizen V and Jan van Dyne a.k.a. Wasp can be seen. Toni asks Falcon what his ETA is, and Falcon explains that they are regrouping, but it looks to be at least ten minutes before they are airborne. 'Gotcha' Toni replies, before she tries to connect to the Beast, asking him if she should send Lightning his way for back up, but gets no response. 'That's not good. I hope they're okay' Toni remarks.
Enigma arrives in the makeshift infirmary, where she places the frozen Squirrel Girl next to the Vision, who is also frozen. Pietro Maximoff a.k.a. Quicksilver sits up on the bed he was resting in, clutching his stomach. 'Do not mind me' Enigma tells him, before she leaves the room. Sam Guthrie a.k.a. Cannonball also sits up and remarks that he feels like he got hit by a truck full of trucks. 'Myself as well' Quicksilver replies, rubbing his head. He adds that it was quite a battle, but his metabolism should have him up and ready for battle again. Suddenly, they notice two small beams of light darting around their frozen teammates. 'What am I seeing? Strange blue dots in the air?' Quicksilver asks. Cannonball tells Quicksilver not to get up so quickly, or he will get dizzy, but Quicksilver replies that it is something else.
In the other room, a loud buzzing noise can be heard. 'What in tarnation -?' Red Hulk asks, while Toni explains that it is some kind of energy disruption and that it is coming from the storage vault. 'From the look of these readings – it's Voyager!' she announces.
At that moment, Voyager indeed materializes in the storage vault, with the pyramoid that she stole. She screams, then admits to herself, although she hates to do so, that breaking the rules feels good. She smiles, and suddenly, her skin turns blue. 'Voyager! What have you done?' Lightning asks as he, Enigma, Toni and Red Hulk rush towards the storage vault. 'She brought the cosmic doorstop to our doorstep, is what!' Red Hulk exclaims, while Toni asks her why her skin is blue and whether she is hurt. Voyager warns the others to stay back, and thinks to herself that she needs time to red, and to think – to figure out her next move. She slams the door before they can enter the vault properly, 'Wait!' Toni calls out, but it's no use. Lightning bangs on the door and discovers it is insulated. Enigma discovers that she cannot even phase through the door, and wonders what it is made of, while a computer recording announces that the security seal is engaged. Voyager leans against the door, while the pyramoid hovers near her. 'It wasn't a lie' Voyager thinks to herself as she hangs her head.
She did her research – there really was a Professor Arthur Vector – she tied her story to his in case anyone thought to check her background – all part of the ruse she played to keep her identity a secret – because everything depended on the Avengers being unaware of who her true father is – the Grandmaster!
Voyager gets to her feet and remembers how her father always told her it is about the honor of the game – the Grandmaster never cheats. She laughs as she thinks that her father forgets she has been watching his every move since she was a girl.
Voyager remembers how she and her father traveled the cosmos – they gambled on supernovas as they raced toward extinction. They won entire planets so that she might end their wars or protect them from Galactus. To the Grandmaster, it was about the contest – the winnings he used to leave to her.
Voyager clenches her fists – she doesn't know what is going to happen this time. Voyager acknowledges that her father gave her the power of teleportation – but not just the ability to move through space – the power to move through memories themselves, and settle afterimages there unquestioned. She thinks of the image she placed of herself with the founding Avengers, and decides that this was to be her father's secret advantage in this game, as he needed her someplace where she could participte in the game while going unnoticed by his Challenger – someplace where she would be lost in a sea of platying pieces – while positioning them to help her father. Voyager is sure that her father is the one who is lost now – now that she is changing her position on the board. She looks at the pyramoid and frowns, deciding that she is tired of being, as the locals say, her father's ace in the hole, as every time he wins, she gets shuffled away. She recalls how her father used to tease her that someday she would be experienced enough to beat even him. 'Well, father...now who's playing who?' Voyager grins.
Back in the Grandmaster's cosmic game room, the Challenger laughs, 'Ha! Try as she might, Voyager did not get far!' The Grandmaster looks at the monitor and agrees that it seems not, while remarking quietly to himself 'A poor strategem on her part...'
And, in Arizona: 'Go, Hulk! Let NOTHING stop you!' the Challenger's voice echoes om the Hulk's mind, as he leaps across the state in powerful bounds.
'Where is your bravado now, En Dwi?' the Challenger asks. 'Do you really think your pitiful “Lethal Legion” can defeat the Hulk?' he enquires, to which the Challenger replies 'Well shall see, won't we'.
At that moment, two of the Lethal Legion – Captain Glory and Mentacle – make their way across the Arizona sky. Captain Glory tells Mentacle that there is no point in running, as the humans will chase them, but Mentacle tells Captain Glory that a simple mental suggestion keeps them entirely obfuscated, and that it will last long enough for them to escape and regroup. 'There is no group. The others have fallen. It's up to...' Captain Glory begins, when suddenly, he finds himself slammed into the ground from a great height – by the Immortal Hulk. 'My spine...he...he's broken it!' Captain Glory gasps as the Hulk pins him to the ground. Mentacle moves towards them and tells Captain Glory to be calm. 'I will reach into the beast's mind – and – and – no' Mentacle utters as the Hulk looks at him, teeth bared and eyes filled with fury.
'NOOOOOO' a scream is heard on the monitor in the Grandmaster's games room. The Gamesmaster covers his mouth and drops his eyes, while the Challenger looks pleased with himself. 'Yes, En Dwi. We shall see' the Challenger points out.
Meanwhile, Falcon, Wasp and Citizen V are with their teammates – Wanda Maximoff the Scarlet Witch, Clint Barton a.k.a. Hawkeye, Jericho Drumm a.k.a. Doctor Voodoo, Simon Williams a.k.a. Wonder Man and Emily Guererro a.k.a. Synapse are standing ready as a Quinjet descends towards them, the unconscious bodies of the Blood Brothers and Molyn from the Lethal Legion are strewn on the ground. Toni Ho's voice can be heard over the communicator, informing the Avengers that Voyager has brought the fifth pyramoid to Avengers Auxiliary HQ – and she has locked herself, and the pyramoid, in thje old storage vault. In another Quinjet, Rogue, clutching Corvus Glaive's staff, Hercules and Jane Foster a.k.a. Thor listen, too, as Toni informs the Avengers that they need backup, and that she figures they guard this thing and maybe use it as a bargaining chip.
Suddenly, there is a loud THOOM in the Avengers Auxiliary HQ, 'What the hell -' Toni begins. 'Sounds like a blamed bomb dropping on us -' Red Hulk exclaims, grabbing a gun, while Lightning tells the others that it came from outside the hangar entrance. Toni reports that there are cameras out there, and plans to look at the footage. 'Hopefully it's nothing...' she begins, but as she looks at a monitor she utters '...too...serious...' - the Immortal Hulk appears on the monitor. 'Is that the Hulk? The original Hulk? I – I thought he was dead' Lightning gasps. 'Well he isn't now' Toni mutters, adding that she doesn't think this is a coincidence, and that he is after Voyager. Toni turns to Enigma and points out that she is the least vulnerable of them, so she should take point. 'But stay phased, okay. Don't get hurt' she tells her partner. 'I...will be careful. I promise' Enigma replies as she leaves the chamber.
Toni instructs Lightning to get the boys out of bed and tell them it is game time – they are going to need everybody on this – wounded or not. General Maverick pauses, before asking 'That includes the Red Hulk, right?' but Toni walks over to him and tells him 'Wrong. Don't you dare, General' as she tells him that his hulk-outs are unstable and getting shorter, not to mention his heart is getting weaker – so he could die, and against the Hulk, he will die. 'The Red Hulk on his best day couldn't beat Banner -' Toni begins. 'Maybe' General Maverick interrupts her. 'But together...I think you and I got something better'.
Enigma arrives in the hangar bay, where the hangar bay door is pounded at by the Hulk. Enigma tells herself that phasing will not stop him, and tries to give herself courage, adding 'Density to maximum. As strong as diamond. As strong as her' she remarks as she modifies her form – and just in time, as the door falls to the ground, and the Hulk stands before her. 'I see you' Enigma calls out as she leaps towards the Hulk, and slams her fist into his face, knocking his head slightly. 'And now you see' Enigma remarks, before boasting that she was made to defend this world against any thread. 'And I do not think even you are strong enough to -' Enigma begins, before the Hulk tears Enigma's armor apart unimpressed and with ease. 'Aikku?' Toni utters as she hears a scream over the monitor.
'God... that scream -' Lightning utters as he, Cannonball and Quicksilver arrive in the hangar. 'HULK!' Cannonball shouts. 'Let her go! Let her -' Cannonball begins, as the Hulk tosses Enigma aside with ease, but as Cannonball blasts towards the Hulk, the monstrous Hulk simply smacks him side. 'Guthrie! His blast field's down...heading for the wal – break his neck!' Quicksilver gasps as he speeds towards Cannonball, and grabs him before he slams into the wall – but as Cannonball falls onto Quicksilver, Pietro falls to the ground, and breaks his ribs.
'Then it's you and me' Lightning remarks as he starts to release charges of electricity. 'I didn't want to do this, Hulk...but I can't take chances. Not with the Avengers' lives. So even if this kills you – you're getting it all! Everything I have in one blast – everything!' Miguel exclaims, but as he pours his power against the Hulk, nothing happens – the Hulk doesn't even flinch. 'Everything – everything I had...how...' Miguel utters to himself, while the Hulk just looks at him. 'Get the hell away from them!' a voice calls out. The Hulk scowls as he turns, 'Oh, yeah. You're in trouble now, you dad-gummed son of a gun... cause here comes the Iron Hulk. God bless America!' exclaims the Red Hulk as he appears in the hangar, wearing Toni's Iron Patriot armor.
Falcon, Hercules, Thor IV, Vision, Wasp III (all Avengers)
Doctor Voodoo, Rogue, Scarlet Witch, Synapse II, Wasp, Wonder Man (all Avengers Unity Division)
Cannonball, Citizen V VII, Enigma, Iron Patriot II, Red Hulk II, Squirrel Girl (all US Avengers)
Blood Brothers, Captain Glory, Mentacle, Molyn (all Lethal Legion)
(In Flashback images)
Bruce Banner / Hulk
Major Glen Talbot
Beast, Captain America VIII, Captain Marvel VI, Maria Hill, Old Man Logan, Spider-Man, Tony Star, Thor IV
Beast of the Hand
(On computer screen)
Nighthawk, Whizzer (both Squadron Supreme)
Arabian Knight, Captain Britain, Daredevil, Darkstar, Iron Fist, Iron Man, She-Hulk, Sunfire
(In Voyager's flashback)
This issue is narrated by Bruce Banner and Voyager.
Many deaths of the Incredible Hulk are depicted briefly in flashback. He was decapitated by Captain America's shield in Avengers Ultron Forever #1, General Talbot found his body in Tales to Astonish #69, Doc Samson pronounced him dead in Incredible Hulk (2nd series) #225, the Grey Hulk was withered to a husk in Incredible Hulk (2nd series) #367, Hulk was covered in melted metal in Incredible Hulk (2nd series) #446. Banner was shot in the head in Indestructible Hulk #20.
The Hulk was killed by Hawkeye in Civil War II #3, and his astral encouter with Doctor Voodoo took place in Uncanny Avengers (3rd series) #17. Banner was found by Armin Zola in Secret Empire #5 and battled the Thing in Secret Empire #6.