Avengers (3rd series) #67

Issue Date: 
July 2003
Story Title: 
Red Zone – part three: Unclassified

Geoff Johns (writer), Oliver Coipel (penciler), Andy Lanning (inker) Chris Sotomayor (colorist), RS & Comicraft’s Albert Deschesne (letterer), Marc Sumerak & Andy Schmidt (assistant editors), Tom Brevoort (editor), Joe Quesada (editor-in-chief), Bill Jemas (president)

Brief Description: 

One team of Avengers, led by Captain America, searches the government complex from which the Red Zone virus originated. Eventually, they find their perps: AIM mercenaries. A battle breaks out, during which the AIM soldiers die and She-Hulk is infected. Jack-of-Hearts carries her out, but she panics and transforms to Jennifer Walters. Ant-Man finds out more about the virus and learns that it was a racist project that was meant to target the non- Caucasian races. But something like that isn’t possible, hence the virus kills everyone. He transfers the data to Stark Labs, who have also gotten data from Wakanda. Suddenly, though, they are attacked by government soldiers and Stark and the Black Panther are taken prisoner on the order of the Secretary of Defense. Said secretary seems less interested in the victims and more in politics and vehemently threatens Henry Gyrich.

Full Summary: 

In the secret underground lab from which the Red Zone virus originated, Captain America tears off and collects the dead soldiers’ dog tags. The Vision begins to address him, but his ex-wife, the Scarlet Witch, interrupts him, asking him to give Cap more time. They do not have more time, the Vision insists. They must move on. He knows, Cap replies. At least their mothers will have something….

The Vision continues that he believes Captain America feels as disgusted as he does about this situation. That this plague could spawn from their own country. And these soldiers were part of it. No, Cap replies. He may be idealistic but he isn’t stupid. The Super-Soldier program, the Manhattan Project and this… the guard, the majority of the people assigned to protect and help had no idea what they were working on. They were just following orders. He wants the fool who gave them those orders.

Jack-of-Hearts pitches in that he knew that general was hiding something. He bets he was already aware of this. Cap tells him to save it, as they don’t know if the general is in the know.

Interrupting, the Scarlet Witch asks him to take a look at the wall. It’s riddled with bullet holes, meaning someone came here looking to cause all this chaos. She thinks some of these men and women were dead before the disease got to them. Shot.

She-Hulk remarks that they are so far down that their comm-cards aren’t working. They need to warn everyone else, Iron Man and Warbird. They don’t know who’s in charge of this, who made this weapon.

The weapon has a name, Ant-Man, who has been fiddling with the computer equipment, suddenly announces, Project Bloodwash. The Vision cannot simply access the data as it is scrambled and Ant-Man offers to do it the old-fashioned way. It’s been a while but he has yet to find a place he cannot sneak into. Maybe there’s even information on how to treat the infected. Cap agrees and orders Jack-of-Hearts to stay with Ant-Man, while the others continue on. Why him? Jack moans, not exactly exhilarated at the thought of staying with his nemesis. In case the murderers are still there, Cap retorts as they leave. Great, Jack mutters disgustedly.

On the news, a reporter in Custer Park is talking about the Red Zone, which has been spreading at the rate of one mile an hour and should blanket this area at 4 o’ clock. He tries to get an interview with Warbird, who shouts at him to get the hell out of there now. Wisely, he decides to do just that.

En route to the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Dell Rusk addresses Henry Gyrich, the Avengers’ liaison, and grimly states that this is what he is talking about. The media is already putting the Avengers “in charge” of this madness. The public will continue to lose their faith in the government. And the panic will just grow and grow.

As they land, Rusk continues that the world sees Warbird calling the shots and they begin to suspect the USA can’t handle their own problems. Exiting the helicopter after Rusk, Gyrich counters this isn’t about handling a problem, is it? It’s about stopping a disaster, saving lives. That’s what his team does. His team? Rusk scoffs. Gyrich is their red-tape-lapdog. And he’s forgetting something. Something that someone like him seldom does. There’s another factor here. Politics. They leave the roof and enter the Pentagon. Above them, a falcon circles the sky.

At Stark Labs, Tony Stark asks what his staff has found out for him regarding the plague. One scientist explains that they’ve isolated the bacteria in the blood sample he got them and compared it to group streptococcii. Not that far off. Theoretically, the right enzyme could attack it, but there’s no way they can…

Another man interrupts. Here is a message for him from Wakanda. He has no idea how or why they did it, but the Wakandans just gave them every file they have on this including some enzyme formation that’s years ahead of them.

They are again interrupted, as Ant-Man contacts them on his signal watch. Scott tells Tony to get to a terminal and hook up. And make it quick. Tony bends down to the terminal, asking where Scott is. Ant-Man quickly explains that they traced the source of the Red Zone to a US weapons lab built underneath Mount Rushmore. They don’t know who “broke” this invisible killer out yet but they know who made it. He’s sending the data now.

Tony asks whether he is with Jack and warns that he might have to abandon the mission early He has to watch the clock. He’s already been out of the Zero Room for seven hours. Three more and… Jack-of- Hearts pushes Ant-Man aside. Impatiently, he finishes Tony’s sentence. He’ll have to get back to the de-energizing chamber or he’ll detonate like a bomb. He knows. He isn’t a child.

Scott tells him to give it a rest and informs Tony that he has just transferred the main file over to him. Search for keyword: Bloodwash. Tony is horrified at the data. Scott adds that the bacteria they were trying to develop eat flesh like necrotizing fasciitis, only twenty times as fast. Trick is they weren’t finished with the designing yet. Does he see what the goal was? Tony looks at the picture of several non-Caucasian soldiers and spells it out. They wanted it to… kill all the non-whites. Statistics of how many of their own soldiers would die… minorities. Disgusted, Tony swears.

Scott explains that they could never quite crack it. Essentially, humans are all the same. As if they needed dozens of America’s top-level scientists to tell them that! Meaning, it kills everybody. One more bit of bad news. It says there is no cure.

Communication has been bad throughout. Suddenly, it breaks down and Tony notices he isn’t alone as behind him stands the Black Panther. He suggests that there may be a way to rid the country of this weapon. Tony states that they got the Wakanda files. But they could use an open line with Wakanda’s scientists. Or is that too much to…

Suddenly, the lab is under attack. Tendrils emerge from a canister and grab even the surprised two Avengers. The scientists and heroes are taken out by gas. A little later soldiers in gasmasks enter and arrest the Avengers by the order of the Secretary of Defense, as they are charged with treason against the United States of America.

Back in the lab, Ant-Man and Jack of Hearts wonder why they lost communication. When Jack mentions feeling sick, Scott worries, but Jack quickly explains that he isn’t sicksick, but mentally… this whole thing. Sometimes, he wonders why he stays there. He’s an alien hybrid. His mother was from a place far from Earth. He can survive in space. And when he sees things like that, he just wants to head out.

Scott appeals to him, telling him there are reasons to stay and fight. Mockingly, Jack asks yeah? Everyone has their own, Scott continues. His daughter is his. He tries to make the world a better place for her. So what’s Jack’s? Crunching his face, Jack thinks and admits he can’t think of any.

Within another part of the bunker, She-Hulk remarks that Captain America doesn’t really seem to be surprised by all this. He’s not shocked, he agrees, just disappointed. He believes in the system. He believes their government can work. And has. But sometimes it just takes one idiot at the top – hiding somewhere – to make the dominos fall.

The Scarlet Witch addresses the Vision, noting he’s been looking around like a bird. The synthezoid replies that this facility’s purpose is to kill people, so he is recording everything he sees. When they return to the surface and find those responsible there will be plenty of evidence to prosecute.

She notes that the air is getting thicker and they stand before steel doors. Ignoring the Witch’s warning, She-Hulk pries them apart and before them stands a battalion of armed AIM soldiers, now freed.

Out of our way! one of them shouts and fires at the Avengers. Jennifer curses herself for not thinking and, while he is leaping to the attack, Cap announces that AIM are their perps. They supply terrorist organizations and nations with weapons. Including biological. Must have got locked in.

She-Hulk hits one of them, but in the heat of the battle her suit is ruptured by some shots. Cap orders Vision to take care of the others, while he and the Scarlet Witch care for the She-Hulk. Wanda states that Jennifer is infected, but her body is more rigorous than a human one. Not decaying as quickly.

The Vision melts the AIM mercs’ guns, but one of them throws a hand grenade, despite the synthezoid’s warning. The Vision becomes immaterial and is fine, but several AIM mercs are lethally injured or at least have their suits ruptured, which amounts to the same thing. As one of them looks up at him, the Vision just helplessly states that he can’t help them. He cannot help any of them.

Elsewhere in the complex, Cap has gotten the infected She-Hulk to Jack and Ant-Man. He asks Jack-of-Heart to fly her to the surface to Warbird. Don’t let her die, he adds. He won’t, Jack promises, as he flies her out. She-Hulk awakes and asks where… Panicked, she hits Jack, ignoring his assurances that he wants to help. She tells him to get his hands off. Suddenly, she screams in agony and transforms to the human Jennifer Walters.

Characters Involved: 

Ant-Man II, Black Panther, Captain America, Iron Man, Jack of Hearts, Scarlet Witch, She-Hulk, Vision, (all Avengers)

Henry Gyrich (Avengers liaison)
Stark scientists

Dell Rusk (Secretary of Defense)

AIM mercenaries

Story Notes: 


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