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Jonathan Hickman (writer), Jerome Opeña, Dean White with Justin Ponsor & Morry Hollowell (Color artists), VC’s Cory Petit (letterer), Dustin Weaver & Justin Ponsor (cover art), Esad Ribic, John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson & Dean White (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)
Ex Nihilo has taken the Avengers captive and returned Captain America to Earth. Cap isn’t taking this lightly and he recalls how he and Iron Man discussed at length how the Avengers would progress in order to face the threats that would inevitably come. They went on a recruitment drive and managed to sign up, for differing reasons, most of whom they wanted. Luke Cage and Dr. Strange were two notable absences. On Mars, Ex Nihilo provides a potted history of the universe to Thor and Tony Stark and explains how, in the beginning, the Builders created the Gardeners and one of the Gardeners, his Aleph, created he and his sister Abyss. They now judge sentient worlds and determine whether they should be destroyed or saved. On Earth, Ex Nihilo’s organic delivery systems open and creatures emerge which take people and alter their DNA. Many towns and cities are hit. Captain America realizes that they cannot wait any longer. He knows who is doing this and understands that he needs to be stopped. Despite Wolverine’s reservations about the readiness of the newly-formed team, Cap asks Manifold to teleport the whole team to Mars.
Mars, now:Abyss has taken control of the Hulk and she asks her brother, Ex Nihilo, to look at the Avengers trapped within his vines. She informs him that neither she nor the tree could break down Thor. It’s as if he doesn’t fully exist or originate from the here and now. She hasn’t seen anything this exciting in one hundred thousand years. She believes she has found a God! Aleph does a diagnostic by grabbing the captive Thor by the throat and scanning him. Ex Nihilo tells Thor that if he is a God, then like himself he will know something about creation stories. Thor replies that he does. In the shadow of the World Tree lies the realm Asgard. It is ruled by the all-father Odin, who… Ex Nihilo cuts him off and he tells Thor that it’s all very nice, but he is interested in what closes the loop… when he gets to the end of his story. Does he have a resurrection myth or is it just an apocalypse waiting for him?
Thor doesn’t respond so Ex Nihilo asks him to listen closely. He will explain the true beginning and how it all ends for his world. He begins with the Builders who were there at the dawn of everything. They were the first race; the oldest living things in the cosmos. They were a perfect people and for a great while they worshipped the mother-maker herself, the Universe. Eventually they grew beyond this and abandoned their old ways of reverence for the new path of relevance. As expansion and evolution occurred, the Builders created aggressive systems to direct, shape and control the very structure of space and time. The first of these systems were the Gardeners, Alephs, who they sent out into the wild to purge species unfit and unsuitable for their new universe. For hundreds of millions of years, their Aleph razed world after world, all of which he deemed unfit for progress.
However, one day he encountered a species of flying creatures which he considered worthy of preservation. He found them worthy of evolution. Aleph then released the Garden that he had carried within him all this time. A panel in his chest plate opened up revealing two orbs, one black and one white. These were seeds, and no two seeds that an Aleph carries are the same. The Builders in all their wisdom knew that creation was chaos and fully embraced this inconstant constant. The seeds hatched Abyss and himself, Ex Nihilo. From that day forward, whenever they hear the call of a living, wild world, they either break it or attempt to transform the base species found there into magnificent, more transcendent creatures. This is what he would do for Thor’s world. It’s what he will do for him.
He confesses that he is beginning to have doubts and fears the alternative. Scanning, Aleph informs Ex Nihilo that the threat level coming from Thor is ascending. The matter is time sensitive. Ex Nihilo adds that he only wants to save them from themselves.
then:Tony Stark is with Steve Rogers discussing the expansion of the Avengers team. What it boils down to is that Tony wishes to utilize some useful pieces of the old organization and create a limited roster until needs demand more. He can call it a foundation. Steve presumes he means the two of them plus Thor. They’ll also want Hawkeye and the Black Widow. “And Banner,” replies Tony. Steve raises an eyebrow. “Banner? Really? You always know how that ends.” Tony jokes that it’s usually Tijuana or a monastery or a space camp.
Steve says he can joke all he likes, but when they send out the call to expand they’ll want a support structure within the larger group - people who understand their tradition and purpose. Tony tells him he means former members to go along with the new ones. He brings up the faces of Captain Universe, Hyperion and Smasher on screen along with the names of several Avengers such as Firebird, Wonder Man and the Scarlet Witch. He tells Steve that he’s already there. He has done the initial vetting for those on the list but they’ll need a bit more. However, for now he reckons it’s a useful starting point. Steve notices that Luke Cage’s name isn’t there. Tony tells him he called but Luke isn’t interested. Steve asks about Dr. Strange. “Busy,” replies Tony. Steve says he is fine with that. They can still make this work. Tony replies that it has to work. When they engage the mechanism they have to come. “Greater threats mean greater needs, Tony,” replies Steve. “They’ll come.”
Now:Captain America has put out the call and new and old Avengers both have assembled. He and Hawkeye watch over them as they prep a ship for departure to Mars. “How long?” asks Cap. Clint says that Carol reckons the best guess for having the Quinjet retrofitted is around fourteen hours.
‘An Avengers machine. A communal device that was built to save them all. This whole was made of parts… individuals aligned perfectly to serve a greater purpose. When called, they each came for different reasons.’
flashback:Tony and Steve recruit Wolverine with the promise of beer, Spider-Man with the offer of money and the Falcon simply because it’s something Sam wanted to do. Shang Chi, however, wanted a new challenge. Tony offered to augment his already considerable powers with technology, but Shang Chi asked why he would need more than he already has. Others simply wanted new experiences.
Cannonball and Sunspot are relaxing on a beach when Sam receives a phone call from Wolverine. At the conversation’s end he says thank you and that he’ll let him know. He then tells Bobby that he’s not going to believe who was on the phone. Bobby passes him a cocktail and Sam informs him that it was Wolverine. Bobby stops him right there. He asks him to tell the man thank you, but no thank you. He’s sick of super-heroing. He’s done. They’re done. They’re retired. It’s a permanent vacation. They’ve earned it. Same tells him that after Wolverine had finished, he put Steve Rogers on the phone. Captain America said he wants them to be Avengers. “Okay, I’m in,” replies Bobby. Sam says he just said… Bobby replies that he was talking about the X-Men. This is different. Sam finds it interesting. Give up the circle X of mutantdom (feared and hated, replies Bobby) and take up the circle A of Avengers (loved and adored, replies Bobby). Sam smiles and says he makes a good point. They clink glasses and Bobby smiles back at him. He figures they were made for bigger things; Bobby and Sam in the spotlight, right where they’re supposed to be. This is going to be amazing.
Some new Avengers wanted a better life. Tony and Steve approached Eden Fesi, otherwise known as Manifold. He tells them that he can get them to wherever they want to go and bend space-time. However, he doesn’t know if he’s the man for the job. He’s tried being a hero before and all that happened was that a lot of his friends got hurt. Do they really think he’s the right man for the job? Captain America asks why they don’t find that out together.
He and Iron Man then meet with Captain Marvel and Spider-Woman in a restaurant. Jessica asks to hear it. “Hear what?” asks Tony. Jessica tells him they don’t want to hear the hard sell or any of the manipulation. They don’t want dinner and drinks and all that Tony Stark ridiculousness. How about they tell them what they’re up to. How about the truth? Tony turns away and says he wouldn’t know anything about that. “How about you, Steve?” Cap tells Carol and Jessica that the truth is, the world lies in peril. Something dark and dangerous is in the air; something sinister that is just out of reach. He thinks that everything they believe in is going to be tested and only men and women of conviction, of purpose, can stand against that inevitability. A time is coming for the world’s most mighty. He asks Jessica what she is. “An Avenger,” she replies. He glances over at Carol and asks if he even has to ask. “Hell no,” she grins.
Earth, now:Captain Marvel is at the Quinjet’s controls. She shouts back to Cap that Starkcomm satellites are picking up incoming targets. Trajectory marks them as extraplanetary. They’re from Mars. Through space, strange devices fired from the cannon on Mars hit Earth and weird creatures emerge and attack the local populace. Kobe in Japan is hit and creatures grab people and cocoon them. Chhatarpur in India is hit as is the Fallen Heights area of the Savage Land. The creatures invade Split, a coastal city in Croatia and the remote region of Høljanmyaa in Norway.
Mars:Ex Nihilo tells Thor that he is an artist. Tony Stark, trapped alongside Thor in the tree, asks why he is doing this. Ex Nihilo replies that what they do is an extension of who they are. The Garden is conflicted; torn between two purposes. Do they build better worlds or do they tear them down? He says he still believes in creation. He believes that their world can be transformed and saved. Each organic delivery system or origin bomb that he sends hurtling through space to Earth contains a communal virus, tailor-made to remap genetic code. Each bomb is different; multiple variations for multiple purposes. Each one making their planet better suited for its new future.
The creature he is growing beside him says something in a strange language. Ex Nihilo tells it that he knows, but he’s been doing this for millions of years and each time, it’s not just death he opposes. It’s the hateful ignorance of indigenous deniers. The being says something else and Ex Nihilo replies that he supposes he should. He tells the Avengers that they think he’s killed all those people on their planet, but the truth is, he’s never set out to kill anyone or anything in his entire life. He doesn’t destroy, he creates. He is Ex Nihilo. He makes something from nothing!
He adds that it’s perfection. Stark replies that it’s genocide. Ex Nihilo says that Stark says genocide as if he’s a monster. He brings forth life where there was none and he calls it genocide. He moves in close to Tony and informs him that if he wants to see the dark pit of destruction then he need look no further than Aleph. If he fails, Aleph will purge his world and leave it fallow. So, he is the best hope for success because if this comes down to Aleph, only the universe herself could save his world.
Earth, Avengers Tower:Captain Marvel informs the Avengers that there have been several detonations. She reckons there might be more but they lost some as they entered the atmosphere. She is retasking the Starkcomm sats and requesting access to the S.H.I.E.L.D. array. Falcon, seated at another control desk, confirms Carol’s data. It appears to be similar to earlier strikes in Australia and Canada. They’re waiting for confirmation. Cap tells him there’s no need. Seeing a human get taken by one of Ex Nihilo’s invading creatures, he says he’s taking too long. He already knows who did this and they have to be stopped. “Manifold!” he says. Wolverine reminds him that the team has been together less than six hours. Is he sure they are ready for this? Cap replies no, but then when in the long history of the world has ‘being ready’ not been a luxury?
Manifold appears and Cap tells him he’s read his file. From what he understands, while he’s never left the planet, he does have the ability to get them to Mars, right? Eden replies that it’s as easy as walking across the room. He can bend space and time and just step from one place to another. He just needs to know his starting point. Logan tells him that Cap said he was dressed in a diaper when he recruited him. Would he call that a starting point? “Always the same jokes,” Eden replies as he begins to work his magic. He says he’s not good at a lot, but he is good at this.
Wolverine tells Cap that he knows that Eden is going to kill them all, right? Cap says he knows that it won’t matter if they wait much longer. He asks Logan to get everyone together. He can tell them they’re going to Mars. He wants him to tell them he needs warriors and he needs heroes. He should tell them it’s the end of the world and what he needs are Avengers! The team soon gathers together. Manifold then bends space and time and whisks the team to Mars.
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)
Abyss, Aleph and Ex Nihilo
People of Kobe and the Savage LandEx Nihilo’s attack force
in flashback:The BuildersThe Gardeners (Alephs)Flying sentient race
Cannonball, Captain America, Captain Marvel, Falcon, Iron Man, Manifold, Shang Chi, Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, Sunspot, Wolverine (Avengers)
Wolverine’s drinking companionSunbathers
on screen in flashback:Captain Universe, Hyperion and Smasher
Luke Cage left the Avengers in New Avengers (2nd series) #30, finally returning Avengers Mansion to Tony Stark in #34.
The teleporting Eden Fesi was a member of the Secret Warriors, a team created by Nick Fury. He first appeared in Secret Warriors #4.
The title appears to be a play on We Were Soldiers, a 2002 movie starring Mel Gibson and directed by Randall Wallace.