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Brian Michael Bendis (writer), John Romita Jr. (penciler), Klaus Janson with Tom Palmer (inkers), Dean White and Paul Mounts (colorists), Romita Jr., Janson and White (cover), VC’s Cory Petit (letterer), Lauren Stankovitch (associate editor), Tom Brevoort (editor), Axel Alonso (editor in chief), Joe Quesada (chief creative officer), Dan Buckley (publisher), Alan Fine (executive producer)
With the Hood now trying to locate all of the incredibly powerful Infinity Gems, the Illuminati and Avengers are tasked with keeping them from him. He already has two of them which he has stolen from Mr. Fantastic and Black Bolt. Namor leads Red Hulk and Thor deep under the sea to recover his gem, whilst above ground some of the team head to Xavier’s old mansion in Westchester. They battle a Danger Room program originally designed to prevent anyone from recovering the gem before reaching their goal. Iron Fist and Ant-Man are left outside on guard duty. Meanwhile, Iron Man takes a team to Roswell, New Mexico where he has left his gem for safe keeping. As Thing, Mockingbird and Hawkeye take guard duty, the others head inside, only to discover that the Hood has beaten them to it. When they try to attack, he makes them all disappear before allowing the gem to take him to his next port of call. Arriving on a beach, he discovers Thor and Red Hulk emerging from the sea, and it’s clear why the gem has taken him there.
Prince Namor leads Thor and Red Hulk underwater, deep beneath the surface, far deeper than most humans know exist. The crevasse they enter is more than most Atlanteans can physically withstand. It’s a place where light does not exist and where the pressure is so great there is no difference between it and solid earth. When Namor was charged with the task of guarding the gem, he know that this place was as safe as anywhere on the planet. No one knows it is there and no one would know to look there. Even he who is chasing down the gems for his own selfish gain would not be able to reach it.
Inside these murky waters lie horrors and dangers unseen by anyone. As the trio reach their goal, they see a green glow in the darkness. A moment later and they are attacked by a massive sea creature, some of whose teeth are as long as Namor’s arm. Red Hulk wastes no time in getting himself eaten on purpose and, whilst Namor and Thor attack its exterior, Red Hulk smashes his way out from the inside, leaving behind a bloody corpse. Namor continues to lead the others to a doorway and gestures to where he would like Thor to blast. Thor uses Mjolnir to smash a hole in the door. Once the rubble clears, an orange light comes from within and Namor reaches inside, pulling out one of the Infinity Gems. Red Hulk wants it for safekeeping, but Namor opts to pass it to the more trustworthy Thor.
(Westchester County, New York)Lockjaw teleports the rest of the Avengers and the Illuminati to the X-Men’s old mansion, which is now destroyed. Beast finds it odd to see the school closed, but Charles says that times change. Wolverine asks Charles if he hid it in the backyard. Charles takes them to where the Danger Room used to be and Beast informs Maria Hill that this is where the X-Men used to train. Wolverine says they had some damn good times in there.
Moon Knight reckons it’s a little on the bare bones side. What’s he missing? Charles explains that the program was created to stop what they are about to do from happening. Specifically, the program was created to fight them to the death if need be. Ms. Marvel asks if they’re entering a program. Charles replies yes. Spider-Woman asks him if can’t just turn the program off, to which Charles says no. Jessica then asks what would he have them do. Charles activates the program and a horde of holographic villains appear including Magneto and his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, the Brood and some Sentinels. “Fight back,” replies Charles.
Spider-Woman asks if it’s a training module. Wolverine says it is, so Jessica assumes it won’t hurt them. When the powerful Blob proceeds to smash her in the back, she realizes that it will. Wolverine slices the Scarlet Witch as Jessica punches the Blob as hard as she can. Ms. Marvel crunches her way through the head of a Sentinel and blasts another in the face. She hates to say it, but she kind of needed this. Charles makes his way towards the gem whilst the others cover his back.
Wolverine kills one of the Brood as Maria Hill shoots another. Hank jokes that in the future, perhaps the words ‘Kill Switch’ would be a good idea. Charles replies that he didn’t want one. He didn’t want the program able to be overridden. He had to keep the gem safe from all comers. Hank wonders what other secrets he and his Illuminati are keeping to themselves. Charles admits that this is not part of his life that he had set out for himself. He wanted to be a school teacher. They reach a large doorway and a holographic face appears. “You shall not pass,” it exclaims. Wolverine reckons this is the hard part. “Very much so,” replies Charles.
(outside)Iron Fist and Ant-Man are on guard duty. Eric introduces himself as Ant-Man and tells Danny that he’s on the covert ops Avengers team. Danny says he probably shouldn’t be telling people that, if it’s covert. Eric’s mouth runs away with him as usual, but Danny sticks to their sentry task. Eric points out that they just don’t want him down there doing the fun stuff. He gets the feeling that some of them think he’s annoying. Danny manages to keep his thoughts to himself, though it must be difficult.
(New Mexico)Steve Rogers is with another large group of Avengers on board the Quincarrier. Spider-Man says with a hint of sarcasm that this situation is comfortable. Hawkeye admits that it is a little crowded. Spidey says he was talking about mommy and daddy fighting. Noh-Varr admits that the way Spider-Man speaks confuses him at times. He understands the meaning of his words but not the context in which he uses them. He knows he does it in a humorous fashion, but still…
Luke Cage informs Noh-Varr that Spider-Man was talking about the fact that Steve Rogers and Tony Stark are in the middle of World War III because Rogers feels Stark’s doing stuff behind his back, while Stark feels he was just doing his best for the world at the time he did it. “Like hiding the Infinity gems,” replies Noh-Varr. “Exactly,” says Jessica Cage. Jessica then asks which country he is from again. Luke informs her that he’s an alien and Noh-Varr explains that he is a Kree ensign. “A space alien?” asks Jessica. “In a fashion,” replies Noh-Varr. Jessica leans over to Mockingbird and whispers in her ear that he’s pretty cute for a space alien. Bobbi grins in agreement.
When they finally land, Iron Man informs everyone that they have arrived in Roswell, New Mexico. “Area 51?” asks Sharon Carter. What are they doing there? Iron Man replies that he owns it. He bought it when the government quietly put it up for sale. Steve says he thought Tony was broke. Tony tells him his broke and Steve’s are not the same, and this was years ago. Steve just wants this over with, but Tony wants to get something off his chest. He tells Steve that he thinks he’s more mad at himself than he is of him. They’ve all made hard choices and sometimes they are insane choices. He then places himself in a security device and a computer recognizes Tony’s voice print. An entrance opens up as Tony adds that they make compromises every day and he doesn’t think Steve likes some of his.
Tony says that they need to leave some surface level recon to keep an eye out for their mystery guest. Steve asks Mockingbird, Hawkeye and Thing to stay up top while the rest enter the facility. As the computer identifies each person at a time through various means such as dental records, optical means and brain waves, Tony and Steve continue their conservation. Tony explains that they know as well as anyone how much ego is needed to needed to do what they do. They took the damn Infinity Gems and did so because they thought they would be able to keep them safe. It was arrogance, he admits, and ego, and it was absolutely right for all this time. So, he concludes, Steve may think it’s his job to judge him and the others for what they did, he thinks it‘s nothing compared to the things they had to do to keep the world safe. “Nothing!” Steve replies that maybe he just doesn’t see the world in the same way he does. “Says the man who spent most of his adult life dressed in the American flag,” replies Tony. “Let’s go. This is it.”
They enter another room and are surprised to see the Hood standing there. Steve begins to call for the Avengers to assemble, but the Hood tells him it’s too late. He waves his hand which now contains three of the Infinity Gems. All the Avengers disappear, leaving behind only Valkyrie’s sword. He looks at the gems and asks where to now. They glow and he disappears, emerging on a beach. He wonders why he ended up there until he turns and sees Thor and Red Hulk emerging from the sea. “Oh,” he remarks. “Well… nice weather for it.”
Ant-Man, Beast, Black Widow, Luke Cage, Hawkeye, Iron Fist, Jewel, Mockingbird, Moon Knight, Ms. Marvel, Protector, Red Hulk, Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, Steve Rogers, Thing, Thor, Valkyrie, War Machine, Wolverine (all Avengers)
Dr. Strange, Iron Man, Medusa, Mr. Fantastic, Namor, Charles Xavier (all Illuminati)
Sharon CarterLockjawMaria Hill
(as Danger Room holograms)Magneto and his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants – Blob, mastermind, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch and Toad
The whole of Heroes For Hire #1 (2010) is printed with this issue.
Noh-Varr is not only an alien, he is from another dimension entirely.