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Brian Michael Bendis (writer), John Romita Jr. (penciler), Klaus Janson (inker), Dean White with Paul Mounts (colorists), VC’s Cory Petit (letterer), Lauren Stankovitch (associate editor), Tom Brevoort (editor), Joe Quesada (editor in chief), Dan Buckley (publisher), Alan Fine (executive producer)
The Illuminati are brought together by Iron Man, who has some important news. Mr. Fantastic also has news, but realizes that it’s similar to Stark’s. Iron Man states that someone has stolen Black Bolt’s gem. The Red Hulk had come to Avengers Tower, having been beaten by a guy holding a red jewel. He had limited fighting skills but was extremely powerful. Instead of sticking with the Avengers, Iron Man gathered the Illuminati together as they had each taken a gem for safekeeping. Reed informs them that his gem has also been taken from the Baxter Building, meaning the culprit might now have two – well on his way to recreating the Infinity Gauntlet. Reed has Medusa and Lockjaw take them to where Attilan used to be. They find three bodies there and Doctor Strange uses a spell to follow the culprit’s tracks into the catacombs. They discover another crime scene from where Black Bolt’s gem was stolen. Soon, they emerge from the catacombs where they are confronted by Steve Rogers and a large group of Avengers who want to know what they're doing.
(Funtime Inc., a Stark Enterprises subsidiary)Iron Man is waiting inside an seemingly-abandoned factory. He is impatient as he sits, arms folded, waiting for the first member of the “Illuminati” to arrive. The first finally turns up in the form of Doctor Strange, who asks what’s happened, to which Iron Man asks to wait for the others to appear. Annoyed, Strange states he thought they were done meeting like this. Namor then arrives, demanding to know what fitful emergency would have him summoned from the duties of his kingdom. He also asks why they are there. Iron Man replies that they’re waiting for everyone. Namor is clearly displeased, and tells Iron Man that he is done with this. Iron Man asks him to settle down. They have bigger fish to fry than his spectacular ego... no pun intended.
The next to turn up is Professor Charles Xavier. He asks when this happened, and Iron Man asks him to stop reading his mind. Charles apologizes. It’s a habit of his. Mr. Fantastic then makes an appearance, informing them that he has something of dire importance to speak of. “You do?” asks Stark. Reed figured that this was why he called them together. Stark replies that he brought them together for his thing. Reed asks what that is, but Stark wishes to wait for their final member. She is quick in forthcoming via the large teleporting dog, Lockjaw. Namor wonders what she is doing there. Medusa answers that they signalled for her husband, Black Bolt. “Yes,” replies namor, “Your husband!” He asks what she is doing there. Medusa replies that her husband is dead. Reed Richards is shocked and says that’s terrible news. He hadn’t heard. Medusa knows. Reed tells her that he’s sorry, and she replies that Black Bolt loved him.
When Medusa asks how often they would meet in secret like this, Iron Man replies that they don’t have time for that right now. He asks where her husband might keep a gem… a jewel. Reed knows instantly what this means and he turns to Tony Stark. “The Infinity Gems. You do know.” Stark admits that he thinks someone may have stolen Black Bolt’s gem. Reed says no. It was his that was stolen. Strange asks when this happened and Reed tells him it was just last night. He had the red one, the power gem.
Medusa asks what’s going on and Charles informs her that the group gathers in secret, including her husband, to try and keep the madness of the world under control. She wonders why her husband would keep this secret from her, but Reed tells her that they made a pact. Medusa shrugs. “Men.” She asks what they have done, exactly, to make this come back to haunt them. Reed tells her that they took the gems out of circulation. They are items of incredible power over time and space. When the gems are gathered, they hold the owner in complete control of everything. They each took one for safekeeping, pledging never to use them for their own needs. This was because every time someone tried to put them together to create the Infinity Gauntlet, Earth’s existence was held on by a thread.
He adds that they simply took that option off the table… until now. Medusa asks who is trying to steal them. Strange asks how they would even know they had them. Namor further asks how they would know where they were. Reed asks them to listen to him. Last night, he continues, someone broke into the Baxter Building. No alarms went off and he wasn’t woken. The culprit was not caught on security cameras either. Ben Grimm ran into him accidentally. The man turned the floor underneath Ben to water and he fell thirty-four floors to the mezzanine. By the time he got back to the lab, the thief had gone. His vault was open and the gem gone.
Namor snaps at him, asking if he kept it in a safe! Reed explains that it’s not that simple. He kept it in a micro-universe of his own creation, hidden in a pocket dimension he invented with only one way in or out. It had a door with no locks or combinations; a door that can only be activated by his own unique brainwaves. In other words, an impossibility. Reed turns once again to Iron Man. He states that Stark didn’t know this, so why did he call them. Stark asks if any of them know who the Red Hulk is.
(Avengers Tower, earlier)The Red Hulk comes crashing through the window, landing unceremoniously on the floor in a pile of shattered glass. The Avengers are standing nearby and Hawkeye wonders who he is. Wolverine informs him that he’s one of the toughest customers he’s ever come across. “Tougher than the green Hulk?” asks Spider-Man. Thor replies yes. Spider-Woman asks the Hulk who did this to him and are they right behind him. The Red Hulk replies that he comes alone and apologizes for the crash-landing. He thought he could make it, but he’s… not really in the best of shape.
Thor asks what he’s doing there. The Red Hulk explains that he just got his ass handed to him by a guy holding a red jewel. Iron Man asks where this was. Hulk says it was in Death Valley. Spidey asks what his name was and Thor wonders why he came to them. Hulk asks if this isn’t what they do. They fight that fight that no single one of them can fight. Steve Rogers replies that it’s exactly what they do. He did the right thing coming to them. Maria Hill quips that next time he should use the @#$@$ door! Jarvis asks Steve if he can get him anything but he says that he is his fine, adding that it’s nice to see him. Steve asks Red Hulk to explain what happened and not to skip on the details.
(soon after)Iron Man informs the Avengers (Steve Rogers, Spider-Woman, Wolverine and Hawkeye), along with Maria Hill, what the Red Hulk has said. He’d been living in Death Valley for a while, doing ops for Steve Rogers and trying to keep to himself. He saw an unnatural light which he now thinks was some kind of teleportation. He approached the guy but received a nasty punch in the face for his trouble. He came back at the guy but he used a glowing red gem to stop his attack. He then pummeled Red Hulk into the ground with ease. Red Hulk managed to take the beating and got hold of the guy’s arm, twisting him onto his back. Hulk thought he was down for the count, but the guy’s hand then glowed yellow and then red again. A blast threw the Red Hulk away and into the ground, hard. When he looked up, the guy had gone.
(present)Reed asks if he had one gem or two. Stark said Hulk though he had one which went from red to yellow. “They do that?” asks Namor. He is told that they don’t. Yellow is reality, and Charles figures that this explains the break-in. Iron Man agrees. Red Hulk said that he knew hand-to-hand combat and this guy didn’t know what to do. He had power but no moves, like a guy with a car but no license to drive. So, there’s a mystery guy out there with the power to knock him out and he figured they would need to know.
(earlier)Hawkeye figures they need to speak to Doctor Strange, and Maria checks a computer, informing them that the first thing that comes up in the secure Secret Avengers database is the Infinity Gems. Spider-Woman asks what they were and, immediately, Iron Man takes off, telling them he will go check his files. After Steve rhetorically asks if he can’t check his files from there, Maria Hill says he can. Steve then wants him tracked, but Maria isn’t comfortable with that. Steve reminds her that he gave her an order, so she does as requested.
Iron Man heads of to meet his fellow Illuminati. He had called to ensure his own gem was safe before meeting them.
(present)Namor asks who had the yellow gem. Reed replies that it was Black Bolt. Doctor Strange says he doesn’t mean to be crass, but he asks Medusa where she had her husband laid to rest. She replies that she is completely uncomfortable going over the details of her husband’s death with him. Reed reckons that Black Bolt would never have taken the gem off the Earth. Medusa agrees. Reed asks her to take them to where Attilan used to be. She reaches out and Lockjaw fires up his teleportation abilities. Namor asks them to wait, but before he can finish his sentence, they are all teleported to the Himalayas.
It’s snowing, but Iron Man’s armor picks up three bodies nearby. Reed uses a device to scan them and determines that they were killed by gunshot wounds, but they were not caliber bullets. This is something else. Doctor Strange thinks they can presume the killer then proceeded to the city grounds. He casts a halo spell - Garteek’s halo Spell of the Previous. Book of Vishanti, page 345. The halo spell reveals the image of a man walking away from them. They follow it into the catacombs where Iron Man asks Namor to go first. The catacombs are where the inhuman Royal Family would jail its insurgents. Reed leads the way and they stop when they reach another crime scene.
Reed picks up an object which he reckons is the murder weapon. It has Ion Charge Pulse technology. Very new. It’s a Hydra weapon. Namor asks if they are behind this, but Reed says not necessarily. However, it’s someone with a Hydra weapon. Iron Man picks up something else. It’s an A.I.M. technology: an environmental energy source scanner. Strange asks what that means. Stark replies that it’s a super-high-tech piece of equipment, like the thing you use for finding metal on a beach. Strange asks who makes them and where you can get one. Stark tells him you can’t buy one. The parts alone would be massively expensive. From the casting he thinks it is custom-made - A.I.M. and Hydra tech.
Reed figures their murderer was well funded, and Stark adds that he was well connected. Reed thinks it’s lucky Ben found the guy when he did or he could have been killed. Charles says that there are no fingerprints. All that he’s found are a canteen, a protein energy bar and a thick sweater. “And that large red egg,” adds Namor.
Medusa holds the broken egg in her hands. She explains that there was one of her people who made eggs like that. It was his gift. His name was Ertzia. Reed asks if the gem was in the case and can they talk to Ertzia? She replies that he died. Reed figures that Black Bolt had it encased in the egg and hid it there in the catacombs. “But left it behind,” snarls Namor. Medusa replies that there were hard choices when they left the planet. Namor reckons that even so, they should have told one of them. She informs him that he is rather judgmental for a mutant who has made so many many mistakes.
Before their griping can continue, they hear a cry from Lockjaw and Iron Man reckons that they’re needed above. They head outside where they are confronted by Steve Rogers and a large group of Avengers. “Tony,” he states. “What are you doing?”
Black Widow, Luke Cage, Hawkeye, Iron Fist, Mockingbird, Protector, Red Hulk, Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, Steve Rogers, Thing, Thor, Valkyrie, War Machine, Wolverine (all Avengers)
Dr. Strange, Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, Namor, Charles Xavier (all Illuminati)
(in flashback)Hawkeye, Jewel, Iron Man, Steve Rogers, Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, Thor, Wolverine (all Avengers)
Parker Robbins (the Hood)
Red HulkJarvisMaria Hill
Noh-Varr became Protector in Ms. Marvel (2nd series) #50.
Black Bolt was killed in War of Kings #6.