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Jonathan Hickman (writer), Jerome Opeña, Dean White (Color artist), VC’s Cory Petit (letterer), Dustin Weaver & Justin Ponsor (cover art), Dustin Weaver & Justin Ponsor, Esad Ribic, Skottie Young and Mark Brooks (variant cover art), Jake Thomas (assistant editor), Tom Brevoort with Lauren Sankovitch (editors), Axel Alonso (editor in chief), Joe Quesada (chief creative officer), Dan Buckley (publisher), Alan Fine (executive producer)
A while ago, Captain America and Iron Man realized that there might be something big on the horizon that their small team of Avengers couldn’t handle. In the present, three strange beings begin to evolve life on Mars. Led by Ex Nihilo and aided by Abyss and Aleph, they attract the attention of the Avengers, so Captain America leads a team up there to discover what’s going on. Once there, they fight the strangers but find themselves overwhelmed. Ex Nihilo returns Captain America to Earth to show people that their best just isn’t good enough. Once Cap recovers from his crash-landing, he remembers the conversation he and Tony had and sends out a summons to those who would be Avengers. Many respond and Cap gathers a large team together to show Ex Nihilo what they are made of.
At first there was nothing, a black void with no form. Then, there was everything following the big bang. Swirling, burning specks of creation that circled life-giving suns formed and then, we raced to the light. It was the spark that ignited the fire - a legend that grew in the telling. Some believe it began the moment Hyperion was rescued from a dying dimension (seemingly by agents of A.I.M.) Others said it was when The Guard were broken on the dead moon. Many more think it was when Ex Nihilo transformed Mars, turning the red planet green. But, they were all wrong as it happened ‘before’ the light, before the war and before the fall. It started with two men. It started with an idea.
Tony Stark is in his lab using a gauntlet to remotely view ideas on a massive screen. He finishes what he’s doing and heads to Captain America’s quarters. Cap is asleep and dazed when he sees the light from the corridor hit his pillow. Tony tells him to wake up, explaining that he hasn’t been able to sleep. He couldn’t stop thinking about something Steve said and… well, he’s been busy. He apologizes as he knows it’s late but Steve tells him it’s fine. He’s grateful. “Bad dreams?” asks Tony. Steve recalls a dream he had of the Illuminati and says it’s something like that. Tony tells him he’ll buy him coffee.
As they walk side-by-side, Tony explains that he’s had an idea that he just can’t switch off. The exact same thing happened the day they found Cap. “You remember that?” asks Cap. Tony tells him he remembers everything about that day. They started something that mattered and because of Cap, the world changed. He changed. He puts his arm around Steve’s shoulder and says that the best ideas are always the simplest. Last week they were talking about how things were escalating - how the world is ever more dangerous and how threats are more frequent than ever and their enemies seemingly endless. Well, he adds, that’s a complex problem but Steve had a pretty simple answer. He asks Steve if he remembers what he said. Steve does, and Tony verbalizes it. They have to get bigger.
(Mars, one month later)A strange cannon fires into the sky. Standing in the freshly verdant environment, a tall, golden being named Ex Nihilo smiles and points to the cargo being delivered. He asks his companion Aleph to look at it streaking across the sky. He wonders if this is how the Goddess felt at the moment of creation. Aleph corrects him in that there is no deity and it isn’t creation. It’s recoding. It is world-razing. Ex Nihilo tells Aleph that they’re missing the point. Where is their sense of wonder? He strolls towards the cannon and says that they have been given this opportunity to hurl origin bombs Earthward. He doesn’t want to be a destroyer of worlds. He wants to build one.
He asks Aleph to look at the humanoid being he’s creating which grows beside him and tells a woman named Abyss and Aleph that he’s assembling a perfected version of the creatures who inhabit the planet. He will be their new Adam; the first man. Their son. He asks Aleph if they understand. “World-razing,” smiles Aleph. Abyss tells him that he’s wasting his time. He could sing sweet songs until the stars burn out, Aleph has marked that world for destruction and the eye of Aleph will not be diverted.
Ex Nihilo asks what she sees. She looks up at him and replies that she sees things for what they are. She creates clear images in a pool and informs him that the Earthmen are clever animals who learned to make tools. Now they threaten everything because they have taught themselves to be dangerous. Him building a better primate seems unwise. Sparing them in a way is reckless. She points to the centre of the circle, a kind of graph and asks him to look how aggressive the Earthmen are. They’ve sent heroes to stop them; their very best. At that moment, Aleph armors up and informs them that the ‘apes’ are incoming.
Above, the projectile fired by Ex Nihilo is destroyed and Cap congratulates Hawkeye on his shooting. Clint replies that he marked and recorded the trajectory so the Black Widow should be able to follow it. Natasha taps at a computer and tells them she’s got it. They’re locked on course to set them up along the horizon. They won’t see them coming. Soon, they prepare for landing and Cap notes that Mars is green. “Vegetation?” he asks. “Is that even possible?” Tony replies that he doesn’t know why it wouldn’t be. After all, the first two bombs that hit Earth completely changed the biospheres of the impact zones. Whoever these people are they’ve altered billions of years of evolution in minutes. And, he adds, they did it by remote from over two hundred million kilometres away. It’s an impressive feat. Godlike even. “Pfft,” sighs Thor.
Tony tells Bruce Banner that he’s better at this stuff than he is. He asks if anything else that needs to be said? Banner replies that the first two bombs hit Perth and Regina. That’s almost two million people. He thinks they’re done talking.
(moments later)Bruce is in his Hulk form and leading the charge. They discover the three antagonists soon enough and Abyss attacks the Hulk with black shadowy tendrils. He tries to smash them but they cocoon him in some kind of null space/shadow cage. Iron Man prepares to free him but he is attacked by the plants which wrap themselves around his armor. They soon sap the suit’s energy and Ex Nihilo extends his hand. Come to me, metal man,” he says. The suit announces that it has zero energy and is shutting down. As the plants drag Iron Man towards Ex Nihilo, the stranger explains that surprisingly only three percent of sentient races have exoskeletons. He intends to tear off Tony’s armor and see if he can’t speed up his evolution a bit.
Fortunately for Tony, Hawkeye places an arrow right between Ex Nihilo’s shoulder blades. He turns to see Clint and the Black Widow. Natasha warns him to step away from the man with all the money. “Please,” adds Clint. Ex Nihilo begins to glow and asks if they dare to threaten violence. He would remake them into something better. He would remake their world and in return this is the thanks they offer? He unleashes a blast which knocks the pair of them off their feet.
Meanwhile, Hulk is trapped in Abyss’ realm of darkness. He looks around and states that he isn’t scared. Abyss puts her lips to his ear and tells him of course he isn’t. He’s not some whimpering child. He’s strong; the strongest one there is. She asks him to open his mind and open his eyes. Hulk’s eyes turn black as she changes his perceptions. “Now you can see,” she adds. “And you can see clearly, can’t you?”
Hulk opens his eyes and sees Thor standing before him with Mjolnir twirling around at high speed. Abyss tells Hulk that there’s only one person who thinks he’s a frightened child. Why doesn’t he show him how wrong he is? Hulk leaps forward and smashes Thor. Captain America tells her she’s probably feeling pretty good with herself right about now. He bets she thinks she’s won. Well, she hasn’t, not as long as he is standing. He hurls his shield which connects with her and then proceeds to hit Ex Nihilo in the face. As it returns to him, the third member of the party named Aleph grabs it. “You’re a big one, aren’t you,” quips Cap. Aleph orders him to yield, but Cap replies that there’s not a chance of that. The giant slams Cap to the ground and raises his massive fist. “Yield,” he says again. Cap says no so Aleph punches him hard. “Yield.” Weakly, Cap replies no again.
Aleph prepares to finish him off only for Ex Nihilo to intervene. He tells Aleph that he’s done enough. They are the garden and of this garden he chooses not to waste life. He chooses to transform it. To change it and give it purpose. He picks up Cap and carries him to their ship, straps him in and sets it on course for Earth. The rest of the Avengers are captured and bound. Ex Nihilo explains that he will transport him home to send a message; a warning. ‘Here, Earth. Here is your champion. Watch him burn red through the sky. We have been sent to judge your world and we cannot be stopped. These heroes were the best you had to offer and they were found wanting.’ Cap rockets to Earth, trapped within plants grown by Ex Nihilo. Once he reaches Earth, he is freed from his bounds and falls, crash-landing against a building.
(three days later)Captain America is in a hospital bed, recovering. He looks at his uniform and sits up. He heads to Tony’s lab and at the Avengers sign on the large screen. He knows what he must do. The Avengers have to get bigger. He recalls his conversations with Tony Stark about how there is a danger looking on the horizon. They couldn’t see it but it was coming. They had to get ready straight away. Tony figured they could keep it quiet until they were needed. They could do most of the recruiting and get specific people for specific needs. They’ll be out there, ready and waiting.
Cap pulls on his uniform and sends out the message to his new Avengers, summoning them to the cause. Captain America was the first and the best. When he calls, what hero would not answer? “Assemble at dawn,” he tells them. How can they not? By dawn, a host of new Avengers heeds his call and gathers behind him, ready for action.
Black Widow, Cannonball, Captain America, Captain Marvel, Captain Universe, Falcon, Hawkeye, Hulk, Hyperion, Iron Man, Manifold, Shang-Chi, Smasher IV, Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, Sunspot, Thor, Wolverine (all Avengers)
Oracle, Smasher, Warstar (all Imperial Guard)
Abyss, Aleph and Ex Nihilo
(in flashback)Captain America, Iron Man and several potential Avengers
(in Cap’s memories)Black Bolt, Black Panther, Mr. Fantastic and Namor (all Illuminati)
This is the first appearance of Ex Nihilo, Abyss and Aleph.
In the opening scenes, when it mentions ‘before the war and before the fall,’ the war is depicted as being a large battle in space and the fall shows several people in Iron Man armor, all unconscious or dead.
Abyss, Smasher and Hyperion have no relation to previous characters of the same name.
Regina is in Canada and Perth in Australia.
This is the first issue where we see former New Mutants’ Cannonball and Sunspot as Avengers.