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Mark Waid, Al Ewing & Jim Zub (writers), Paco Medina (penciler), Juan Vlasco (inker), Jesus Aburtov & Federico Blee (colorists), Virtual Calligraphy's Cory Petit (letterer), Mark Brooks (cover artist), Chris Sprouse, Karle Story & Marcio Menyz, Jamal Campbell (variant cover artists), 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
The Wasp struggles as her memories of Voyager start to vanish. Wasp and other senior Avengers hold a meeting with Voyager, they want to interrogate her. Voyager attempts to teleport away, but the Scarlet Witch and Doctor Voodoo stop her. Voyager assures the Avengers she wants to help, and recounts her story to the Avengers. Bruce Banner is alone in the living quarters, so Edwin Jarvis visits him and gives him a cup of tea. Bruce is struggling with everything that has happened to him, so Jarvis talks to him and tries to encouage him not to give up. In the infirmary, the Avengers with injuries are recovering, while Toni Ho is unsure how to fix the Vision, she doesn't have the right equipment. Lightning blames himself for the Vision's injuries, so Wonder Man offers some words of encouragement, before Synapse comes to visit Quicksilver, who once again notices a strange blue beacon blasting around the Auxiliary HQ. He attempts to capture it and speeds off after it. Voyager gives the senior Avengers a brief history of the Elders of the Universe, her father and the Challenger and their game, while in the Grandmaster's cosmic game room, the Challenger stands over the charred remains of the Grandmaster, before he unleashes a power on Earth, rippling across the planet and causing natural disasters all over the world. Voyager panics, and is unable to communicate with her father. Wasp tells her to focus, as they need her help – but at that moment, the Challenger arrives on Earth and announces that the planet is a pestilence upon the universe and the time has come for it to be purged!
'Normally, when you recall something, you say “It's all coming back to me”' Jan van Dyne a.k.a. the Wasp thinks to herself, realizing that this is the opposite – this time, it is all going away. Her memories of fighting alongside the original Avengers against Loki, and forming the team – both instances with Voyager – who suddenly fades from the memories. Jan remembers – everyone present is remembering – memories of this woman named Voyager being one of them, were false, implanted. The Wasp remembers the time the Vision cried, Voyager was there – then she fades from that memory, too. As the Wasp stares at Voyager, she realizes that right about now, Voyager is wishing she had never ever met an Avenger!
The Wasp stands with other senior members and leaders of the Avengers – Sam Wilson a.k.a. Falcon, Roberto DaCosta a.k.a. Citizen V, Rogue, Jericho Drumm a.k.a. Doctor Voodoo, Wanda Maximoff the Scarlet Witch, Hank McCoy a.k.a. Beast, Jane Foster a.k.a. Thor, Clint Barton a.k.a. Hawkeye and Hercules. 'Cosmic... game? What does that mean, we're part of a “cosmic game”, Voyager?' Falcon asks. 'This is all on your father? The Grandmaster? All'a this?' Rogue shouts, while Citizen V asks her if she has any idea what she has done – it is a global panic and people are dying. The other six Avengers all look at her, equally unimpressed, while Voyager looks up at them in shock.
'It's not my – I'm trying to tell you – please I have to see my father!' Voyager exclaims as she attempts to open a portal. Falcon sees this and tells Wanda to do something so that she doesn't escape. 'Can you hold her?' Falcon asks. Wanda casts a hex, which disrupts Voyager's portal, trapping her in a bubble, before Doctor Voodoo remarks that she needn't strain, as he has put Voyager under his command, if only for a moment. Voyager grabs her head, unable to move, as Voodoo tells her that she mustn't resist, and that the fate of the planet may depend on her knowledge. Voyager pauses, before telling the Avengers that they are right, and that she really does want to help. 'Then start talking' Citizen V tells her, clenching his fists.
The Avengers listen as Voyager starts to explain. The Wasp can hear Voyager's heart beating a mile a minute. Jan isn't sure what to think of her, as of those present, she “knew” her the longest, which is probably why she is having a hard time shaking this off, as Voyager is lingering in her mind like a lucid dream. 'She said she wants to help. Is she at all the woman she was in my imagination, even a bit?' Jan wonders, as the Avengers “remembered” her to be noble, brave and honest. But the third is out the window, first and second – probably. But Jan wonders that, even under Voyager's spell, the Avengers should have sensed that.
Voyager stands up and informs the Avengers that her father had her alter their memories so that she can better pose as one of them – but the only one her power couldn't affect was the Vision, due to his synthezoid nature, so he was kept in stasis. 'So that's why you froze Vizh, but what about everyone else? What kind of “ultimate game” is it if most of the “obstacles” aren't even allowed on the playing field?' Falcon enquires. Voyager's eyes glow as she replies 'If you world is to survive? The kind you have to win'.
Meanwhile, in the living quarters within the Avengers Auxiliary HQ, 'Doctor Banner?' a voice calls out to Bruce Banner a.k.a. the Hulk, in his human form, who sit sitting on a collapse wall, a blanket wrapped around him. 'Jarvis?' Banner responds, looking up as Edwin Jarvis enters and approaches him, remarking that now he has out of danger Nadia thought he might recover better amongst friends. 'I believe she expected me to allow myself to be waited on...' Jarvis adds, before opening a thermos and remarking that one would think Nadia would know better by now. 'Tea?' Jarvis asks Banner, who thanks him. Jarvis pours the tea from the thermos and asks Banner if he is not joining the discussion in there. Banner explains that he can't face them – after what he did to them. 'Vision, Enigma...that Red Hulk...and Hawkeye' Banner frowns, adding that he put Hawkeye through hell – he must have – but for what? That the arrow through his brain, it was agony – he died in agony. 'But... I died happy. Because I knew the Hulk would die, too' Banner explains.
Banner continues, pointing out that it all worked out – the special arrowheads, all of it – if the worst happened, Hawkeye could act, and the Hulk would die – but now. 'Well, now we know, don't we?' Banner remarks, sipping the tea. He turns to Jarvis and points out that he has to live with this, with every dark thought he ever had, waiting – waiting to burst through his skin and walk in the world. 'Maybe I did die. Because this is hell. I am in hell. And the king of hell lives in my flesh' Banner declares, the Hulk raging inside of him. Banner sips the tea again. Jarvis looks up and quotes “The mind is its own place...” to which Banner asks 'Hmm?' Jarvis continues: “The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven”. Jarvis tells Banner that it was written by John Milton, “Paradise Lost” and a favorite of his. Banner smiles and suggests to Jarvis that he might want to consider who he wrote the speech for.
'For the fallen angel, Lucifer. After his expulsion from the divine presence' Jarvis replies. Banner doesn't say anything, so Jarvis tells him that he has within him the potential for great evil – and he thinks they caught a glimpse of that today. 'But...I believe there is more to you than that' Jarvis adds. Jarvis continues, remarking that it has long been his privilege to serve heroes, including Doctor Banner. 'No, no, I -' Banner begins, but Jarvis reiterates: 'Including you. And often, what drives them on is the knowledge that they are not always heroes. If, when we do what good we can, we are Avengers – what crimes are we avenging?' Jarvis asks, before answering his own question: 'I think...our own'. Jarvis tells Banner that they carry within them all their failures, all their mistakes, all the times they have done less than they might. 'We are all exiles from the divine, Doctor Banner'. Jarvis adds that they must all do better, but that his worth is not dictated by how far he has fallen. 'What matters is how hard you work to rise again'. 'Jarvis...' Banner utters, before tears fall down his face, and Jarvis begs Banner not go give up.
In the medical bay, Doreen Green a.k.a. Squirrel Girl remains frozen in stasis, while Pietro Maximoff a.k.a. Quicksilver sits up on the bench where he was resting. Sam Guthrie a.k.a. Cannonball and Aikku Jokinen a.k.a. Enigma are with General Robert L Maverick, once the Red Hulk, now in his human form. Simon Williams a.k.a. Wonder Man, Miguel Santos a.k.a. Living Lightning and Dr Toni Ho a.k.a. Iron Patriot are standing over the unmoving Vision. 'Okay, I give up' Toni tells the others. Simon and Miguel look at her, shocked, 'Does that mean...' Simon begins, to which Toni declares that she needs a proper lab with proper tools to be able to put the Vision back together, because if she tries with the junk on hand, she could do permanent damage. She adds that he won't get worse in the meantime. 'Okay that's not great, but not -' Simon begins, as Miguel hangs his head and remarks that this is all his fault. 'How so?' Toni enquires. 'I used to worry I'd wasted my shot when I was an Avenger. Like I could have done more. But I threw everything I had at the Hulk – and it wasn't enough. I wasn't enough. And the Vision paid the price for that...' Miguel laments.
'Wait. Lightning, you think it's about how much you can throw at people?' Simon asks his fellow former West Coast Avenger. 'Someone's been reading the message boards...' Toni smirks, while Simon smiles at Miguel and tells him that if raw power was what made an Avenger, then they would have fired Hawkeye on the first day. 'I don't know if you've heard...but he shoots arrows' Simon jokes. 'Sure, Wonder Man, but it wasn't Hawkeye's job to stop the Hulk -' Miguel begins, to which Simon asks 'So what if you had stopped him? What happens when he gets up again? And again? Do we all keep hitting each other for the rest of our lives?' Simon asks. He then assures Miguel that he is an Avenger – a very powerful one – but thjat it has never been what he can do that makes him one of them – it's what he chooses to do. 'Yeah, I guess. Maybe' Miguel replies unconvincingly. 'Definitely. And the most important thing we do – always – is to -' Simon begins, before a voice calls out 'Shut up for five seconds!'
Wonder Man and Toni look over to see Quicksilver, exclaiming that he needs silence while he concentrates, as there is something moving around them – faster than any of them can see. Toni tells Quicksilver that sensors would have picked it up, and suggests that he is probably suffering after-effects of his concussion. 'No! Your machines are far from perfect, and this is not a hallucination!' Quicksilver retorts. Emily Guererro a.k.a. Synapse enters the medical bay and asks Pietro what he is doing, telling him that he is pushing himself way too much. 'Emily...' Pietro begins. Emily puts a hand on Pietro's shoulder and tells him that she knows he wants to help, but that he needs to rest. 'Let me help you calm down and -' Synapse begins, but Quicksilver asks her not to use her abilities in that way. He adds that she shouldn't even be talking to him after everything he put her through.'You did what you thought was right. And I got hurt. We can't plan for every eventuality. Bad stuff happens. It's part of the job' Synapse tells Quicksilver, adding that she doesn't blame him.
'There...that beacon is keeping our fellow Avengers in stasis!' Quicksilver calls out as he sees a small blue streak of energy dart around Squirrel Girl. He gets off the table and speeds past trhe other Avengers in the mediccal bay, 'If – I – can – grab – it – maybe -' Pietro exclaims as he attempts to chase the streak of energy. He keels over, and tells the energy 'You're quite the speedy little mite, aren't you?' while Synapse asks him if he is okay. 'Yes. Just a bit surrpised' Quicksilver replies. Quicksilver grins as he gathers himself, and tells Dr Ho to recalibrate her equipment, as the beacon is almost entirely frictionless and outside the visual spectrum of light. 'Okay, but -' Toni begins, unconvinced, while Quicksilver announces that he will be right back, then speeds away.
Back in the hangar bay, Voyager asks the Avengers to listen closely, as she informs them that she is not of their world, and that her father is one of the Elders of the Universe. Voyager explains that the Elders are beings of galactic might with two things in common – they are each the last survivor of otherwise extinct races – and they are each ruled by their personal obsessions – collecting, fighting, gambling – whatever vice they carried over from their previous existence to this one. Voyager tells the Avengers that terrans have encountered her father several times – En Dwi Gast, the great Gamesman of the Universe, such as the time he pitted the Defenders against the creatures called Takkor, Teju and Chiroptera, and then again, when the Avengers fought the Squadron Supreme. Voyager tells the Avengers that her father is ruled by his hunger for competition – and along with his vice, he has a fatal flaw – he cannot resist a challenge – or a challenger.
Voyager continues, telling the Avengers that what they are witnessing is a combat with a fellow Elder, with the stakes at the utmost – only one will walk away with the title and power of the Grandmaster – the other will die screaming at the hands of the winner. The gameboard is Earth, of course, removed to a distant galaxy, a neutral space, where a handful of Avengers would serve as obstacles – enough to keep things interesting, the Elders thought, but not enough to stop their contest. Voyager adds that the gamepieces, were the Black Order, resurrected by the Challenger, and the Lethal Legion, assembled by her father – it was a team he knew would be understimated. Voyager reveals that, unbeknownst to her father's opponent, he planted her among the Avengers as a spy, able to remotely influence their actions and tilt the advantage toward himself. Voyager informs the Avenger that now, when she reaches out to her father, she hears – she feels – only emptiness – as if the Challenger has toppled him. 'We are all in mortal danger' Voyager exclaims.
At that moment, in the Grandmaster's cosmic game room. The Challenger stands over the ashes of the Grandmaster. 'You cheated me, Wn Dwi Gast, with your daughter...before either of us could be declared the victor'. Energy rises around the Challenger as he announces that he will never allow the Grandmaster to thwart him – not in life, and not in death. The Challenger begins to vanish, the energies enveloping him as he declares that he refuses to grant the Grandmaster even the gift of dishonor, that their game will be completed – even if he must destroy the pieces and the playing field!
At Avengers Auxiliary HQ, the Beast looks horrified as he turns to a monitor which depicts cities all over the world under attack – lightning storms, floods, earthquakes – all ravaging the Earth. 'People! We just skipped right over Defcon-1 to I don't know what! All of a sudden, things are getting worse out there – much worse!' Beast shouts. Voyager calls out for her father, asking him if he is there, but gets no response. 'Valerie – or whatever your name really is – listen to me!' Wasp calls out. 'Wasp...' Voyager replies, hanging her head, to which the Wasp tells her that she needs to focus, and that right now, she doesn't care how she played them, what she wanted or what she did – there are seven and a half billion people counting on the Avengers keeping them alive!
Indeed, in one city, civilians look up in horror as a portal of blue energies opens above them, some of them begin to run in fear.
asp reminds Voyager that she has said before that she has seen what being an Avenger is – she knows what it means to be one, and it is no all hands on deck. 'Valerie... we need your help' the Wasp pleads, while Voyager continues to hang her head. '... before it's too late' the Wasp adds.While from the blue portal, the Challenger arrives on Earth and declares that this planet is a pestilence upon the universe, and it is time to be purged!
Beast, Cannonball, Citizen V VII, Doctor Voodoo, Enigma, Falcon, Hawkeye, Hercules, Iron Patriot II, Lightning, Quicksilver, Red Hulk II, Rogue, Scarlet Witch, Squirrel Girl, Synapse, Thor IV, Vision, Wasp, Wonder Man (all Avengers)
In Wasp's memories:
Ant-Man, Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, Wasp (all Avengers)
Iron Man, Vision (both Avengers)
In illustrative image:
Champion of the Universe, Collector, Contemplator, Gardener, Grandmaster, Possessor, Runner (all Elders of the Universe)
In flashback image:
Daredevil, Dr Strange, Hulk, Sub-Mariner (all Defenders)
Chiroptera, Takkor, Teju
Captain America, Thor (both Avengers)
Hyperion, Nighthawk (both Squadron Supreme)
Black Dwarf, Black Swan II, Corvus Glaive, Ebony Maw, Proxima Midnight (all Black Order)
Blood Brothers, Captain Glory, Drall, Frene the Other, Mentacle, Molyn (all Lethal Legion)
This issue is narrated by Wasp.
Living Lightning joined the Avengers in Avengers West Coast #74, after assisting the team on a mission prior. He then left the team full-time in Avengers West Coast #88, preferring instead to concentrate on his studies, he became an Avengers Reservist, where he occasionally assisted the Avengers West Coast team. He later assisted the Avengers again following the “Maximum Security” event, serving aboard the Avengers Deep Space Monitoring Station, and assisting during the “Kang Dynasty” war.
Quicksilver injured Synapse in Uncanny Avengers (3rd series) #29.
The Defenders fought the strange creatures, pitted against them by the Grandmaster, in Giant-Sized Defenders #3.