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Kurt Busiek (Writer), George Perez (Penciler), Dick Giordano and Al Vey (Inker), Tom Smith (Colors), RS & COMICRAFT (Letters), Tom Brevoort (Editor), Bob Harras (Editor in Chief)
As protests go on outside Avengers Mansion over their lack of racial minority members and their inclusion of mutants, several of the Avengers discuss what to do with the situation, which they feel is being manipulated by an unseen enemy. Captain America, however, much to the worry of Iron Man and Jarvis, does not want to confront the media about this. While Wonder Man searches for Vision, Justice gets his cast removed and receives a new uniform from the Wasp. However, he is more interested in discussing an important matter with Firestar, which includes a question he must ask her. Quicksilver arrives from the U.N. and finds reporters in the Avengers’ garbage. He discovers that they are Triune Understanding members, and so are the protestors. He reports this to the assembled Avengers, which does not settle well with their liaison, Duane Freeman, who reveals that he is a Triune member. During the meeting, tension runs high between Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, who is uncomfortable with her brother’s decision to join Magneto in Genosha. Before the Avengers can discuss the Triune any further, a large fortress appears above Manhattan, which threatens the city as it destroys the skyscrapers in its way. The Juggernaut arrives and reveals that the seven other Exemplars are after him and he needs help. Before the Avengers can regroup from clearing the streets of bystanders, the Exemplars descend from their fortress and swiftly defeat the Juggernaut in seconds. The Exemplars announce that, if the Avengers interfere, they will turn their attention to humanity sooner than planned. The Exemplars return to their fortress to sentence and execute Juggernaut, leaving the Avengers unsure of what to do.
It is the middle of the night in lower Manhattan and a powerful pounding is heard, as if footsteps of a massive being. The sounds begin to grow louder and louder and they do not go unnoticed. A homeless sleeping in an alley wakes up as the garbage bags and cardboard around him begins to shake. From the darkness he hears the voice of a desperate man, who reminds himself that they are still after him and are getting closer. He has to keep on moving and reach the Avengers, who are the only ones who can stop them now. The homeless man’s eyes open wide, as he sees the figure of the man who easily knocks down a wooden fence and runs down a condemned alley. The homeless man is left in disbelief, as the footsteps fade away north towards Avengers Mansion.
The next morning outside Avengers Mansion, things have taken a turn for the worse. A few days ago, there were only a few protestors outside the mansion who demanded that more minorities be brought into the all-white Avengers roster. However, the press came and as the protestors grew in number another group arrived to protest the allowance of mutants among the ranks of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Outside, many protestors stand with signs of different remarks including “Bring Back the Falcon,” “Of Color’ Doesn’t Mean Red Plastic,” “Gypsies Aren’t Enough,” “Send ‘Em Back to Scandinavia Where They Came From,” and “Heroes Come in All Colors.” While one half of the crowd calls for black Avengers or the disbandment of the team, the other half calls for the Avengers to wipe out mutants, not let them on the team.
Inside the mansion, Thor, Captain America, Iron Man and Avengers’ liaison Duane Freeman watch the protests via monitors. Angry, Thor calls the protestors ungrateful dogs. They have saved their lives so many times and this is how the Avengers are rewarded? Calmly, Captain America tells Thor that things aren’t that simple. They have always been color-blind when it comes to members and they have had mutants on the team before, especially early on. They have had received criticism once or twice over the years, but not like this. Iron Man turns to Cap and asks if he finally agrees with him and the Black Panther that there is more than meets the eye. Thor agrees and reminds them that they have been attacked by subtle foes before, especially considering all this media blitz occurred right after their altercation with the Triune Understanding. Duane suddenly turns around to ask if Thor really thinks they are responsible when Jarvis, who carries a bucket load of mail, interrupts.
Jarvis explains to the Avengers that there has been an increase in mail since the protests, which is causing the postman to come four times a day. There are more buckets by the stairs. Thor fetches the rest of the buckets, as Cap and Iron Man empty the one Jarvis brought in. Thor returns with four more and announces that these are the last ones. Jarvis tells Cap that the Maria Stark Foundation is also getting many calls and Larry King wants the Avengers on his show to talk about their recent bad publicity. Good Morning America and Rush Limbaugh also called. Iron Man thanks Jarvis and notices that most of the mail is an assortment of the usual support mail or crank mail, just more of it. Judging by the number of addresses written in crayon, Iron Man guesses that the crank mail wins.
A voice behind the five men comments on Rush Limbaugh and Larry King calling the Avengers and swears that it could only happen to the Avengers. The men turn as the Scarlet Witch comments on how the X-Men have been hated and feared for years, which caused them to hide away. However, only the Avengers could be hated and be celebrities at the same time. Wanda apologizes for musing at their problems, for the real reasons she came down was to know where Wonder Man was. Cap tells her that he is in the comm-room. Wanda thanks Cap and leaves. Duane gets everyone’s attention back and asks what they are going to do about the protestors. Cap crushes a piece of hate mail and announces that they aren’t going to say anything, since they didn’t do anything wrong. Iron Man disagrees, for he knows personally at Stark Enterprises that failing to respond will only look bad on their part. Cap admits that Iron Man is probably right and asks for more time to think about it. In the meantime, he will be in the Combat Simulation Room. Iron Man is caught off guard by Cap’s quick dismissal, to which Jarvis responds that their leader has been spending more time alone training than usual.
Elsewhere in the mansion, Justice screams for joy as Dr. Foster cuts off his cast. He immediately begins to scratch some spots he wasn’t able to touch for week. Foster tells him that the x-rays show that he is getting better and it is for the best to let his leg move freely. Firestar comes in as Foster leaves. Angelica asks how Justice is doing, to which Foster replies that he is just doing just fine. Justice spins around in the air and kisses Firestar and asks what is in the box that she is carrying. Firestar happily gives Justice the box, which contains a new uniform that the Wasp sent over; since he is feeling like a new man he should look the part. Justice takes the box and says that he will try it on in a minute, but first he must ask Firestar something.
The Scarlet Witch enters the Comm-Room and asks Wonder Man if he has had any luck. Wonder Man tells her that he was just talking to Jim Hammond. On the screen, Jim apologizes for not being able to help with the search for the Vision, but he will let him know if he discovers something. Jim also thanks Wonder Man for revealing that both the Vision and he are based upon the same android. It feels good to have relatives. Wonder Man ends the conversation and tells Wanda that he checked with everyone he could think of, such as Jim Hammond, Laura Lipton, their mother; but there is not sign of Vision. Wonder Man regrets having driven the android away, but Wanda tells him not to take the blame. From what Wonder Man told her, the Vision left saying that he needed time to think. Wonder Man is temporarily assured, but realizes that wherever he goes people get hurt and he gets forgiven or rewarded when he caused the problems. Wanda tells Simon that the Vision made his own decision and he cannot let his guilt eat him up.
Outside the mansion, the protestors begin to argue amongst themselves as the protestors who want more minorities tell the racist mutant hating protestors to leave. As the mutant haters get angry at the “mutie-lover,” a massive breeze passes by. Suddenly, everyone’s attention is turned towards a car. However, it is not the car that is important, but the man in front of it, who is none other than Quicksilver, former Avengers and current member of Magneto’s Cabinet on Genosha. Many of the protestors begin to scream at him, as they recall his newfound allegiance to Magneto. Smugly, Quicksilver comments that nothing changes. He had come from the U.N. on a break from Genoshan business to visit his sister and comrades, but finds nothing else but to find the same barbarity humans claimed that they are above. Quicksilver tells the crowd that humans have ceased to interest him and then he speeds away to the back entrance of the mansion.
Before anyone can say anything, Quicksilver is gone. As he races to the back entrance, he discovers three reporters snooping through the Avengers’ trash. Enraged, Quicksilver yanks the one man in the dumpster out and closes the lid. The reporters insist that they are protected by the First Amendment, but Quicksilver loses interest, as he feels something under the man’s jacket. He searches the other two men and then rushes back to the front of the mansion.
Iron Man walks towards the front door and tells Jarvis that he knows it should be Captain America’s decision, but he is going to talk to the protestors to find out why they chose now to protest against them. Iron Man opens the door, only to find the protestors at the gate being jostled around as a blur races in between them. The gate is flung open, as Quicksilver takes moment to tell Iron Man that they have trouble and that he should all a meeting immediately.
Some time later, Justice asks the Avengers if they like his new uniform. Sarcastically, Quicksilver tells him that it is ducky and he loves the colors, but then rudely asks Captain America if this is a meeting or a fashion show. Cap tells Quicksilver to simmer down, as there is no harm. He counts the team members present, notices that two are absent and asks Wonder Man if he found the Vision yet, one of the two missing. Wonder Man says that he has found no trace yet. Cap turns to Quicksilver to start the meeting when, suddenly, the Scarlet Witch rushes in and apologizes for her tardiness, which was caused because she was in the middle of a complicated seeking spell. She suddenly stops when she sees Quicksilver. Both stiffen at the sight of one another and both unbidden think of their father Magneto and of Genosha, which was built on mutant labor and which was given by the U.N. to Magneto. Quicksilver joined his father as an officer in his Cabinet.
Hesitantly, Quicksilver explains that he had Genoshan business and came by on a…personal visit. He found the mansion surrounded by protestors and reporters in their trash. On the reporters and most of the protestors and media were these little things. Quicksilver empties his hand as he drops ten pins, the emblems of the Triune Understanding. Quicksilver explains that they are on Genosha too and are popular with the poor. They also get CNN in Genosha and he knows that the Avengers have had trouble with them recently. Shocked, Duane Freeman gets up and asks if they are really considering the Triune, a philosophical movement that funds schools and does charity work, to be behind this mess. He pulls out a sash from around his neck, which bears the Triune symbols and reveals that he himself is a member of the Triune. Before the Avengers can respond, the emergency alarm goes off. Captain America recognizes it as the priority alarm and orders the team to assemble.
In moments, the team is debriefed and Thor, Iron Man, Firestar, Wonder Man and Justice take to the air. Duane Freeman watches on a monitor as the Verrazano Narrow Bridge collapses under the gravitational pull of a giant fortress overhead. Duane wonders how even the Avengers can win against something that wasn’t even detected until a moment ago. Jarvis, always faithful, assures Freeman that the Avengers will do what they always do: they will fight and if there is a way to win they will find it.
While Quicksilver runs in between traffic, Captain America follows on motorcycle with the Scarlet Witch with him. Pedestrians look up at the giant stone construct in the air, which floats with no regards to the metal skyscrapers around it. However, where the stone hits the skyscrapers it is actually the steel that buckles and falls down towards the innocents below. Above, Thor points out that there are many carvings on the fortress, which looks mostly like machinery, but made of stone. Iron Man agrees, but reminds all that they have no time to wonder about that.
He orders Justice and Firestar to help Captain America clear the innocents away. The rest of them will try to stop the fortress. Justice descends below and catches some falling people in a telekinetic field. However, he misses one, but fortunately Quicksilver catches him, though he wonders how they can clear everyone in time when there is so much rumble falling. Firestar raises hopes for Quicksilver, as she engulfs all the debris in her raging fire, which allows only the finest dust to touch the ground. Captain America grabs two pedestrians and puts them on his motorcycle, while the Scarlet Witch gets off and uses her hexes to stop any debris that Firestar wasn’t able to get.
Up above, Iron Man, Thor and Wonder Man are blasted away by energy cannon on the side of the fortress. Wonder Man is distraught over the repulsion and wonders who is in the fortress. Thor, somberly, tells Wonder Man that he may know the answer and he does not like it. Iron Man agrees and adds that if who they suspect is up there truly is, then they have a heck of a fight on their hands, even if they pass the defenses.
Inside the fortress, seemingly ignorant of the battle raging outside, the Exemplar known as Carnivore tells his reluctant teammate, Conquest, that she should run if she wants a swift and painless death instead of what he has otherwise planned for her. Clad in red armor, Conquest tells her companion that she knows that he likes it when his victims run. However, fleeing isn’t her style. Carnivore lunges at Conquest with his razor sharp claws, but Conquest parries his blows with her sword. Carnivore announces then that she will die where she stands. Conquest disagrees and tells him that she will be the one doing the killing. Behind them in his stone lab, the Exemplar known as Stonecutter tells his teammates that none of them shall day yet. They have agreed to that earlier. His devices bring them closer to their prey anyway and soon he will lead them all to battle. Then, the most blood thirstiest among them will be satisfied.
Elsewhere in the plaza, the Exemplar called Tempest tends to her beautiful garden. She sings a song to herself, which causes the entire place to ring with life. As she floats in the air, vines and other vegetation bloom beneath her spontaneously. Suddenly, all of her plants turn brown and decay instantaneously. Horrified, she turns to Decay and asks the man what he did. Decay tells her that he is merely appreciating her work in his own way. Astounded by his audacity, Tempest conjures up a gust, which sends Decay into a pillar. She charges at him and tells him that she is sick of his smell. She cares not for the bargain any more. She is going to kill him now. Decay is glad to hear this and agrees to accommodate her, since his touch will kill her instantly.
As the two are about to meet each other in battle, a blast comes from above to separate them. Above, Inferno announces that she wants them to stop fighting. They agreed on this one mission without killing one another until their job is done. Afterwards, she will gladly kill them both. Tempest reminds Inferno that she does not lead them. Decay also chimes in and adds that he will take no disrespect from either of the women. Tempest attacked him first. The two begin to argue when, suddenly, they are swept off their feet and their minds are ripped apart.
Inferno turns to the girl beside her, barely a child, and thanks Bedlam for the assistance. She tells Bedlam to release Tempest and Decay from her attack, but Bedlam does not like taking orders from Inferno, as blasts the woman away too. Carnivore and Conquest arrive and are disappointed that they missed the battle. Carnivore, however, is glad to see the smug Inferno defeated. Inferno tells Bedlam that she understands what she means, though she would have wished for a different way to relay her feelings. The sooner this mission is over, the sooner they can settle their differences. Bedlam says nothing, but glares at the six others with her. They are the Exemplars and they are on the search for the eight member of their party.
Outside, Iron Man sees that the fortress is passing over a few blocks of lower buildings, so they have some free time now to find a way in before the construct reaches more skyscrapers. Thor looks below and tells Iron Man that their suspicions have been confirmed. Iron Man looks down to see Captain America, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, Firestar, Justice and Wonder Man surrounding the Juggernaut, who is glad to see the Avengers and requests their assistance. Quicksilver is shocked that a villain would request the help of the Avengers. Does he want them to help his compatriots above destroy more of the city? Juggernaut tells the Avengers that he isn’t with the attackers; they can ask Iron Man and Thor. In truth, the Exemplars are after him.
Juggernaut explains that he is one of them. They were all created when they found mystical items in lost temples, just like him. It turns out that this whole thing turned out to be a cosmic bet between eight gods. The eight Exemplars were supposed to build a God-Machine, take over the world with it, divide it into eight parts, then fight to the bitter end to see which Exemplar was the strongest, thus deciding which one of their gods would win the bet. Thor, Iron Man, Spider-Man and Charles Xavier helped free him and he smashed up the God-Machine. It blew up and, while the good guys escaped, he was separated.
Thor descends and reminds Juggernaut that the explosion launched all eight Exemplars to the four corners of the world. Now Juggernaut tells them that they are free and reunited and that Juggernaut led them to the heart of the city full of innocents. Juggernaut excuses his actions, since the Exemplars are trying to kill him. Since the Avengers helped him before, he thought they could help again. Captain America stops the argument and agrees that the Exemplars are here and must be stopped. Juggernaut stops Cap, however, and announces that it is too late. The Exemplars are here.
Suddenly, everyone is caught in a giant world wind that comes out of nowhere. Even Thor is taken unaware. A blast of sheer energy vaporizes all the rubble in its path, as it hits Juggernaut, though he does not fall. Then, a kinetic burst breaks the joints of his armor, as his helmet is knocked off. Finally, a telepathic blast rips Juggernaut’s mind, his only weakness, apart. In seconds, it is over.
The winds die and Thor helps Wonder Man out of some rubble, as the other Avengers recuperate. Captain America asks his teammates if they are all right, but everyone looks up to see the seven Exemplars, plus the unconscious Juggernaut in the air. Tempest calls down to the Avengers and announces that the Juggernaut has betrayed them and his purpose. Due to this, he will be tried, sentenced and then executed. This has nothing to do with the Avengers. This is their only warning. If they dare interfere with the Exemplars, it will only result in the seven of them turning their attention to humanity soon than otherwise it should. Tempest then creates a whirlwind, which takes the Exemplars back to their fortress. “Whoa,” says Justice, as he rubs his head and looks at Juggernaut’s discarded helmet, “So…what do we do now?”
Captain America, Firestar, Iron Man, Justice, Scarlet Witch, Thor, Wonder Man (Avengers)Quicksilver (former Avenger)
Bedlam, Carnivore, Conquest, Decay, Inferno, Stonecutter, Tempest (Exemplars)Juggernaut (former Exemplar)
Dr. Jane FosterDuane FreemanJarvis
Homeless ManVarious protestors and reporters
On Video-Phone: Jim Hammond / Human Torch I
Past mutant members of the Avengers include the Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Justice, Firestar, and Namor. Past minority members include Black Panther, Mantis, Rage, Photon, Falcon, Firebird, and the Living Lightning.
The team’s latest run in with the Triune was in Avengers (3rd Series) #15.
Justice broke his leg in Avengers (3rd Series) #17.
Jim Hammond is the original android Human Torch.
Vision left in Avengers (3rd Series) #23.
Quicksilver joined Magneto in Magneto Rex #1-3.
The first battle with the Exemplars occurred in the Eighth Day crossover, which included Iron Man (3rd Series) #21-22, Thor (2nd Series) #17, Peter Parker, Spider-Man (2nd Series) #10, and Juggernaut: Eighth Day #1.