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Geoff Johns (writer), Olivier Coipel (pencils), Andy Lanning (inker), Chris Sotomayor (colors), RS & Comicraft’s Albert Deschesne (letters), Marc Sumerak & Andy Schmidt (ass’t editors), Tom Brevoort editor), Joe Quesada (editor-in-chief), Bill Jemas (president)
With the lethally infectious Red Zone pathogen spreading through North Dakota rapidly, Warbird and Scarlet Witch fight to contain the disease’s spread through America. Meanwhile, in Washington, Falcon lays shot and dying from the Red Skull’s gun, Henry Gyrich is beaten within an inch of his life by the Skull, Captain America has fallen gravely ill with the disease, and Black Panther and Iron Man arrive at the Pentagon in time to see Red Skull gloating over Captain America’s body. Scarlet Witch uses her powers to successfully contain the disease in North Dakota, while Iron Man nearly sacrifices his life performing CPR to the Captain in the midst of the Red Zone. Black Panther cripples the Red Skull with his bare hands, and the scientists of Wakanda arrive with the cure.
Two miles outside Pierre, North Dakota:Warbird uses her powers to burn a pentagram into the city of Pierre, which has fallen victim to the Red Zone. Warbird mentions that she feels weird doing this, as it seems sacreligious. Wanda explains that it is just a symbol to help her focus the chaos magic. She asks Wanda if she is sure that the spell will work, but Wanda says “More like thirty-five.” Wanda claims that she is about to be “demanding that earth, air and water around them contain a cloud of death hundreds of miles wide – Let’s hope they don’t talk back.” Wanda claims that she doesn’t need a containment suit anymore, as it would just burn off. Wanda begins the spell, and a giant wall of water, earth and fire rises several miles high in order to contain the disease. Warbird asks how long Wanda can hold it together. Wanda replies that she will hold it until order returns, and her clothing burns off from the spell.
The Pentagon, Washington D.C.:The Red Skull is gloating to Black Panther. Skull threatens to blame Wakanda for all of the damage caused by the Red Zone, calling them traitors to America. Iron Man insists that Panther should ignore him, as Cap is dying on the floor behind him. Panther ignores Iron Man, and rips off his gas mask to attack the Skull. While Panther and Skull fight, Iron Man goes to help Captain America. Before he can reach him, Skull taps a switch, sending an electric pulse through Iron Man’s circuits, rendering him immobile. Skull mocks Iron Man. “Though Mr. Gyrich seems to have delivered many false documents to me – the first ones on you and ‘T’Challa’ were legitimate, Iron Man.” The Skull closes a glass shield behind Iron Man, trapping him in the room with Captain America and the virus. Skull then turns to Panther, mocking him. The Nazi leader tells Panther that Africa will be the first continent cleansed by the “new” America. Once Skull is finished with the Avengers, he will resume his role as the US Secretary of Defense and claim that the Panther betrayed the Avengers and America. Gyrich struggles from his chains and apologizes to Black Panther for his misdeeds. Red Skull stands of with the Black Panther. The Skull asks: “Have you nothing to say, animal?” Panther rips off his gloves and says “Yes… I’m going to break your jaw.” Red Skull gets angry. “Those hands…. You won’t touch me with those filthy hands!” With this, Skull kicks Panther in the head.
Iron Man crawls across the room, with no power to his suit. Falcon is safe from the pathogen, as he is on the other side of the glass, but Cap has stopped breathing in the disease chamber.
Red Skull smashes Panther’s head into the glass, claiming that the Panther brought the beating on himself. Panther sweep-kicks the Skull, and finally punches him in the face.
Iron Man finally reaches Captain America, but doesn’t know what to do. Pausing for a moment, Iron Man realizes that Captain America is more important to America than he is. Tony takes of his mask and performs successful CPR on Rogers, knowing that while Cap’s serum-enhanced body can probably withstand the disease a while longer, Tony will not survive for long. Tony hopes only that he can keep Steve alive long enough for Panther to get him out.
Panther continues to beat the Red Skull. Panther tells him that he underestimated too many people – counting them out because of gender and race. Panther explains that he was guilty of the same thing, but not anymore.
Iron Man gets Captain America breathing again, while Falcon regains consciousness. Falcon’s eyes light up, and a flock of birds led by Redwing breaks through the Pentagon windows, savagely clawing at Red Skull. As Skull is distracted, Panther hits him hard and grasps him by the throat. Falcon does as he promised, and shatters Red Skull’s jaw. Panther uses his glove talons to break the glass which imprisons Captain America and Iron Man. Cap gets out, and Panther reasons that Iron Man sacrificed his life for Cap’s. Cap tells Panther that Skull’s blood contains the antibodies for the virus. Panther again draws his talons, and walks toward the Skull, claiming that the blood will help people of all kinds.
North Dakota:Air Force jets spray the entire state of North Dakota with the antibodies for the Red Zone virus. A reporter announces that the government is launching an investigation into the means Red Skull used to become elected to the position of Secretary of Defense.
The Avengers’ Mansion:Jarvis attends to Ant-Man, who was injured severely by the initial outburst of the disease. Jarvis assures Scott that his daughter is safe, and that he will return for Jack of Hearts, who is unconscious and severely injured inside a medical isolation chamber.
Tony Stark and Black Panther talk in the Avengers’ boardroom. They each sign a scientific sharing agreement, so that there will be no more stand-offs for technology between their two nations. Iron Man extends his hand, asking if it is more than business. Panther finally trusts Stark, and accepts his friendship.
Captain America, Falcon, and Gyrich are all recovering from injuries. Gyrich apologizes for allowing Skull access to the Avengers’ files. Cap tells Gyrich that he proved himself in the end to Falcon, meaning that he proved himself to the Avengers. President Bush arrives, thanking the Avengers for preventing war. Warbird tells Cap that Bush has offered her a position as Chief Field Leader of Homeland Security, and that she intends to take it. Bush also offers a job to Gyrich, as an advisor, as Gyrich is known for not holding back his opinions. Gyrich admits that he’s never wanted anything more, but that he would rather stay with the Avengers.
Cap and Bush chat in a hallway. Cap insists that if there are any more bio-weapon labs in America, they must be shut down. Bush says that hey are already finding out, but that if America ever makes a mistake again, he trusts that the Avengers will be there to help correct it. Captain America agrees.
Hospital, Pierre, North Dakota:On a TV monitor, patients watch an update of the situation. Jennifer Walters, the She-Hulk, has disappeared and left with no trace. The government will be lifting the quarantine of the Red Zone within the our, but many people have left for good.
Vision comforts a little boy in his hospital bed. He tells the boy that he will be going home soon, as per Captain America’s word.
“The Avengers always help him keep it. Always.”
Ant-Man II, Black Panther , Captain America, Falcon, Iron Man, Jack of Hearts, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Warbird (all Avengers)Henry GyrichTom Hawkins / Warden of Mt. Rushmore National ParkPresident George W. Bush
The Red Skull / Johann Schmidt
Jack of Hearts was severely injured by She-Hulk in Avengers (3rd series) #68. The unstable nature of his Zero powers seems to have been drastically affected, judging from his isolation.
Ant-Man II was infected with the pathogen and became gravely ill in Avengers (3rd series) #65.
She-Hulk was transformed by the pathogen in Avengers (3rd series) #68, becoming a monster much like her cousin Bruce Banner. In Avengers (3rd series) #71, the transformation is truly revealed, as she becomes a savage beast at the onset of fear.
The boy that Vision and Scarlet Witch comfort in the hospital at the end of the issue was orphaned by the virus in Avengers (3rd series) #65, when Captain America promised the crying boy that he’d get home safely and entrusted Vision with his protection.
The Red Skull had been posing as Dell Rusk, a prominent American politician for some time. It has yet to be seen how much he has done behind the scenes of America as the Secretary of Defense.
Tony Stark would be nominated to the position of Secretary of Defense in Iron Man (2nd series) #79.
Gyrich, formerly responsible for attempting to shut down the X-Men, had been trying to tie up the Avengers in red tape for interfering in American jurisdiction. Again, this may have been due to Red Skull’s influence.
This is the farthest that Scarlet Witch has ever pushed her powers, as per Captain America’s orders.
This issue is the end of Warbird / Carol Danvers’ career as an Avenger.
The agreement signed by Tony Stark and the Black Panther is due to the failure of Wakandan scientists to administer the cure, which they had discovered in Avengers (3rd series) #68 but refused to use without the direct permission of King T’Challa.