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Jonathan Hickman (writer), Dustin Weaver (artist), Justin Ponsor (Color artist), VC’s Cory Petit (letterer), Dustin Weaver & Justin Ponsor (cover art), Daniel Acuna (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)
The Avengers head to where a new event has occurred. They find a young man named Kevin Connor in the blast’s epicentre and Captain America tries to get through to him. Kevin is understandably confused and frightened which doesn’t help matters. Cap struggles to make him understand what is happening, especially when Kevin sees dead bodies all around him. Hulk decides to force the issue but when he approaches Kevin, he is ushered into space. Kevin is even more confused now at his newfound powers. Thor then strikes but Kevin barely even feels Mjolnir’s power. Captain Marvel heads into space and gives Hulk a fastball special. He slams into Kevin which gives the Avengers time to try and subdue him. Cap asks Nightmask if he can assist, so he decides to take Kevin with him and attempts to explain what is going on. He tells him about how he is now a Starbrand and is a weapon that can protect the entire planet. However, he is imperfect. The system is conflicted and needs to be repaired. He takes Kevin to Mars where Iron Man manages to track them. Nightmask explains to Kevin that he was repurposed from an earlier system, one that came before this one. He is now in conflict with the one who created him, Ex Nihilo.
The Avengers have found a naked young man going through a dramatic change. The guy looks at his hand which glows and sees a strange symbol at its center. Iron Man uses his armor to do a remote sweep of the area as Cap approaches the guy and extends his hand. He assures him that it’s okay and they are here to help. He asks if he is hurt. The guy is understandably freaking out a little and says that he’s Captain America. Why is he talking to Captain America? What’s happening? Carol tries to bring a little levity to the situation, informing him that he’s sitting in a smoking crater, naked. They’ve all gathered here to bring him pants. She receives a radio signal and informs everyone that the Quinjet is picking up lots of activity. The military is on its way and things are ready to escalate.
Cap kneels down and asks him his name. He replies that it’s Kevin. Kevin Connor. Iron Man immediately does a search for the name on his armor’s computer. It brings up Kevin Kale Connor’s details and Tony realizes that he’s clean. He has good grades, no disciplinary actions, no legal trouble of any kind and nothing’s been scrubbed from the record. As far as he can tell, the only thing he can find about Kevin is that he’s overdue a tetanus booster shot. Cap tells Kevin that they’re going to get him away from there. They need to have some people look at him and run some tests. They need to find out what happened here today. “How’s that sound?” he asks. Kevin, still confused, looks around and sees skeletons scattered across the ground. “Dead…” he exclaims. “Dead.”
He begins to freak out and asks what happened. Cap assures him that they’re going to figure that out, but they need to get him away quickly. “What happened here?” he asks again. Captain Universe informs him that he happened. Her children made systems and he is a flawed product of those systems. She explains that he was designed to be a weapon. That weapon became active and 3,203 people died. A tear works its way down Kevin’s cheek as he protests his innocence. Captain Universe calmly informs him that his metabolism has increased and he needs to eat. Energy sparks around Kevin and Cap once again tries to calm him down but Kevin is terrified. Cap asks everyone to get back. Iron Man says they have a pretty good idea of the blast radius so they should pull back beyond that point and manage this from there.
Hulk has other ideas. He shoves Iron Man out of the way and storms towards Kevin. Cap asks him to stop but Hulk simply swipes him from his path. He roars as he closes in on Kevin who puts his arms up fearing the worst. Instinctively he responds and Hulk suddenly finds himself in Earth orbit. Kevin looks at his glowing hand and gasps. Cap asks Captain Marvel to go retrieve their Hulk. There’s a good chance they’re going to need him. He then asks Iron Man to break radio silence and tell the military to stay back. They can’t be worried about them whilst trying to subdue the target. Kevin asks what he means by ‘subdue.’ Hulk attacked him and he doesn’t even know what happened. “Why would…” Hyperion hovers above Kevin and tells him that it’s because actions have consequences and they are all judged by what they have done. He asks him to lower his hand and lie on the ground.
Energy emanates again from Kevin as he asks, “What if I don’t want to?” A response comes in the form of Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, which slams into Kevin’s torso and sends him smashing into the ground. The hammer returns to the Thunder God who tells him that what he wants is a concern for his mother or his weak-kneed father. He asks if he is capable of doing as he is told or does he crave further instruction? Kevin gets up and says he barely felt that. He smiles and adds that he barely felt that at all. Nightmask tells Captain Universe that he wants to become what he is. Starbrand. Captain Universe replies that there is something else at work here. As Captain Marvel retrieves Hulk from space, the Avengers prepare to take down Kevin who blasts Hyperion. Captain Marvel grabs Hulk and they silently agree to go with a fastball special. She fires Hulk Earthwards.
Down below, Kevin doesn’t entirely trust the Avengers and tells them that he doesn’t know what’s happening to him, but…Before he can finish his sentence, Kevin hears a ‘rrrrr’ sounds above him and looks up to see Hulk rocketing towards him. Before he can think, Hulk collides with him causing a blast zone dozens of meters wide. Surrounded by flying dirt and dust, Nightmask tells Captain Universe that he sees now that the system is more than broken. It is conflicted. “Yes, and now…” she replies, “You’re going to make things worse.”
Hulk grabs hold of Kevin as the others swarm in. However, Nightmask orders them all to stop. Thor exclaims to Captain America that he would stab out his father’s only eye before failing to show this fool Mjolnir’s yield. Cap asks if he can hold on a second and then asks Nightmask if he can help. Does he know how to stop this? Nightmask places his hand on Kevin’s cheek and says he can. Kevin looks into his eyes and tells him he doesn’t know what’s happening to him. Nightmask informs him that a white event happened. He understands it and can show it to him. He turns to Captain Universe who advises him to do it, but it will end with him in a box, right where he belongs. Nightmask disappears with Kevin leaving Captain Universe to rejoin her team. “… so, that went well,” she says.
Nightmask and Kevin reappear elsewhere. Kevin asks what just happened. Nightmask explains that the system is broken and this has resulted in a compromised transition of the Starbrand avatar. So, he moved them here to ease his transition as he is now the Starbrand. Kevin has no idea what he is talking about. Nightmask asks him to look at his hand. The symbol is a Starbrand. It’s a weapon designed to protect a people as they progress through a period of change, becoming a more advanced society. It’s a defense system on a planetary scale. It is what he has become. “You are a Starbrand.”
A costume materializes over Kevin’s naked body; a red jumpsuit with a Starbrand in the middle of his chest. Kevin tells him he said it was broken. Does that mean there is something wrong with him? Nightmask tells him it does, but it’s something far beyond him being an imperfect vessel. It’s more than either of them. It’s the system, all of it. Everything. He asks him to turn around. Kevin turns to see a large craft adrift in the water. He explains that it is the superflow of the universe. It is a dying network created by the builders and it is broken. The large machine is a useless husk of a communication station; a system of the builders - the delivery mechanism for producing avatars such as they. He adds that there would have been others like them but this was a fractured, failed event and they did not manifest. They are most likely alone.
Kevin asks if he means that things are the same as they’ve always been, only now he can blow up a planet? Nightmask informs him that nothing is the same. Kevin isn’t sure how he feels about all this. Can they just hang out there? He just doesn’t want to go back there… to what he did. Nightmask tells him that they must move forward. They have to do what they have been engineered to do. But, there is a problem with their world. The builders had other, older systems that came before their system. These systems were not meant to be used in tandem. There is a conflict and they need to fix it. Kevin asks what his name is. “Adam,” he replies. He thanks Adam for saving him back there. He owes him one. He asks what they do now. Adam asks him to follow him. They can use this space to travel from one place to another. Kevin asks where they are going. “Home,” replies Adam.
Avengers Tower, later:The Quinjet returns to the tower. A hangar bay opens up about thirty levels up. As they head inside, Tamara says she doesn’t remember anything about what they’ve just done. She remembers lights and a crash but then it’s a little confusing. Carol assures her that it’s fine. Everything’s fine. As Carol joins Steve Rogers for the stroll back inside, she explains that she talked to Tamara the entire way back. She’s got no recollection of what’s happened while she was Captain Universe. Steve believes that at some point they’re going to have to bring in someone to help with her. But, right now they’re going to need more than the strike team when they head out. Carol tells him she’s already sent the signal. The world is awake.
Mechanical arms emerge from the floor and assist Iron Man with the removal of his armor. Cap asks if he can get back to his lab and see if he can make sense of the machine that Nightmask built. Maybe he can use it to find out where they disappeared to. Tony replies that it shouldn’t be a problem. When they were in his lab he tagged him with a universal tracker. He should be able to pinpoint his location if they get a ping and fortunately, as long as he’s close to his own local universe they should get one. Banner asks if he’s serious. That doesn’t sound like something Tony would cook up. Tony admits that it’s from one of Reed Richards’ moments of inspiration. Almost immediately after logging on, Tony gets a ping, but it’s not good news. Cap asks what’s wrong. Tony informs him that Kevin and Adam are on Mars.
Mars:Kevin looks around and notes that the sky is red. He realizes that they’re not on Earth. Adam informs him that he is now on Mars. He was born here and perfected. He was meant to be a better man than all humans but then something happened. “The white event?” asks Kevin. Adam tells him that he was repurposed from an older system to a new one. Now, those systems are in conflict which puts them in conflict with the one who made him… his father, Ex Nihilo. They make their way into a clearing where they find Ex Nihilo and Abyss sitting on makeshift thrones. “Look Abyss, look,” says Ex Nihilo. “Ah children,” he smiles. “They grow up so fast.”
Captain America, Captain Marvel, Captain Universe, Hulk, Hyperion, Iron Man, Thor (all Avengers)
Kevin Connor (Starbrand)
Adam (Nightmask) was ‘born’ in Avengers (5th series) #2.