A.X.E.: Avengers #1

Issue Date: 
November 2022
Story Title: 

Kieron Gillen (writer), Frederico Vincentini (artist), Dean White (color), VC’s Clayton Cowles (letterer), Nic Klein (cover artist), Salvador Larocca and Edgar Delgado (cover variant) Jay Bowen (design), Martin Biro (assistant editor), Annalisa Bissa (associate editor), Tom Brevoort (editor), C.B. Cebulski (editor-in-chief), Joe Quesada (chief creative officer), Dan Buckley (publisher), Alan Fine (executive producer)
X-Men created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby

Brief Description: 

A small group make their way through the Progenitor’s body to find its self-destruct mechanism. Along the way, they are attacked by antibodies. Iron Man’s mind gets moved to the psychic plane, where he relives important scenes of his life and is accused of the wrongs he did, from sacrificing others’ lives to giving up the power of the Iron God which might have saved them now. Through it all, Tony doesn’t give up trying to find some way to save them. Finally, the Progenitor appears as his father and passes him for not giving up on trying to make things better. Iron Man is returned to his body and tells the others that they are still being judged, which mean they are going to win this.

Full Summary: 

The Progenitor is carrying out its judgment on Earth. A small team of heroes, mutants and Eternals – Ajak, Makkari, Sersi, Iron Man, Jean Grey, Wolverine and Mr. Sinister – are making their way into the Progenitor’s body to get to its self-destruct mechanism.

He hates to say this, Tony Stark announces, but for an Avengers/ Eternals and X-Men get-together? This Avenger is feeling distinctly outnumbered.

Sersi and Wolverine remind him they used to be Avengers. Mr. Sinister suggests, if Stark is on a recruitment drive, he’d consider joining up. Now that Thor’s dead, is there a cloak closet he can rummage through? Some kind of supplement to pay for a new look? Wolverine shoots him a warning glance. Iron Man snaps that creature killed Thor! It killed Carol! It killed who knows how many! Steve is out there trying to hold things together! The world is dying, and Sinister will not make jokes about his dead friends!

Sinister reminds Stark that they built this, the Eternals, Sinister and Stark. And it is based on Stark’s nervous system. So it’s all their fault his Avengers chums are dead, because they are all such terrible scientists, priests – or in Stark’s case – people. Now he’s made himself incapable of feeling bad about anything – perhaps Stark can stop trying to offload his anger onto him and they can get on with saving the world, hm? Annoyed, Stark mutters, he is right.

It’s what he does, Sinister replies, then wonders aloud, what is the best route to the self-destruct node? The spinal lift, he’d say. Stark agrees. Ajak interjects that there is a problem. Their god is newly flushed with its power. It is too heavy for reality. Its will and whim will warp all paths. She must discern the route. This is a pilgrimage. A bloody one. But a pilgrimage, nevertheless.

Jean agrees. She can sense the psychic heaviness. It’s pressing down on them all. Without her, it would crush them all alive. Wolverine suggests the Eternals get him to the right place, and he will solve any problem that involves sticking claws into things. Looks like some claw time incoming, Stark warns as monstrous creature come attacking.

What the hell are they? Wolverine demands. Sinister explains they are Celestial antibodies. He whips out some pheromones, which he had used for disguise when he first plundered the Dreaming Celestial. He is sure they will allow them to pass safely. They do not and the antibodies attack him. Plan B! Sinister shouts. Stab them, Logan!

Jean Grey commands the Eternals, telepathically to attack the Celestial.

Joining the attack, Iron Man skeptically asks, Sinister is a genius right? Jean explains he is. He just says stupid things to show off. She understands a lot of geniuses do that, she smiles. Iron Man warns her that he has a bad habit of being attracted to redheads who are mean to him.

Ajak and Makkari have finally found the way onward and steer the group into a small passage. Ajak warns them to step carefully. Anything could be a trap.

Several flying green platelets attach themselves to Iron Man and begin destroying his faceplate, while the others try to help,

Iron Man’s mind is suddenly somewhere else.

Iron Man’s psychic plane:
Tony finds himself in a cave and sees the body of the slain Yinsen Ho on the ground. He notes Yinsen has been slain by a repulsor blast. It wasn’t like that, he mutters. It wasn’t, yet it was, the Progenitor, dressed in a ruined version of the first crude Iron Man armor tells him. Yinsen was the first to die for him. The first to die for the suit. Yinsen kept him alive and the armor kept him alive. Was it worth it? Would it be better for everyone if the suit just killed him?

Other versions of his armor appear announcing: because he keeps on making suits and people keep on dying… look at where he is today. One final suit. A giant god armor that he is inside and it’s going to kill the whole planet.

Tony tries to fight back as they swarm him. He snaps. Can it with the psychodrama! He knows this is bad and he knows this is kinda his fault. But it’s not over yet. They are Avengers. Steve is relying on him and he is not going to let him down!

The scenery changes. He sees Captain America’s body lying on a slab. He wakes to snarl at Tony that he could be dead already. He could be dead again and Tony may as well have killed him. Because he was wrong and he was weak!

Not that he’s any better when he is strong! comes the voice from an armor behind him – James Rhodes aka War Machine. Look at what Tony did to him, when he was strong. Snapped his neck like it was nothing. Like he was nothing, but Tony was the Iron God.

Tony apologizes and tells him to hold still. Rhodey continues, he can do this to people and make them all as good as new. He tears off his head and hands it to Tony. The head continues that Tony can patch him up, but he can’t take back the fact that he did it in the first place. They’ll always know.

Another voice calls him a little mortal and chides him he will never learn. He made another god with his small science? Thor tells him he tried it with him and saw what happened. He will never learn. But the truth? Right now a god was needed. Tony was the Iron God… and gave it up. If he were still the Iron God, he could have fought the Celestial, returned all to life, undone all woe, if only he had held it together for a few more weeks!

Tony sinks to the ground and whimpers, it was too much for him. It was too much for anyone.

He is right. He could never have held it together, comes a new voice. Men like him are killing the planet slowly. At least this cuts to the chase. He’s off the booze and he is addicted to saving the world – bigger risk, bigger high. How fine can he cut it? Bruce Banner’s eyes begin to glow green as he tells Tony, eventually he was always going to cut it too close. He makes him so angry! the Hulk tells him and hits him, as does Thor. He gets it, Tony states. Who is the strongest one? He knows, it’s not him. It’s never him!

Pepper Potts appears behind him and ironically lauds his self-awareness. Never seems to make much of a difference. They’ve all seen it before, Black Widow continues. The mechanisms of Iron Man taken apart and then reassembled, time and time over. But the machine never quite works. He can reassemble the Tony suit as many times as he wants, Pepper continues. Doesn’t matter, when he is missing pieces.

And look at the gap, his current girlfriend Patsy Walker aka Hellcat purrs. Narcissism. Desire for attention, ego, addiction. Is that all there is?

Tony states it is not her, but it is really reminding him of Patsy. They are both very mean, he kind of likes it. Hellcat points out that, with Whitney Frost-shaped exceptions, he is attracted to parental figures who provide a strong moral compass, because his is absolutely whacked. Weird quirk. She wonders where it comes from.

Suddenly, Tony finds himself in the backseat of a car driven by his father Howard Stark. Maria Stark is in the seat next to him. He realizes this is the car accident that took his parents’ lives. He doesn’t want to see this! he shouts.

The accident happens. Yet here we are, the Progenitor replies.

Tony suddenly crouches outside the car. He admits he’d always hoped it was an assassination or that his parents had faked their deaths. That’s what orphans do. They make up stories that give a bit of drama… of reason. But it was just a car crash. People die for no reason at all.

The Progenitor replies, he is wrong. There was a reason: they died because a machine failed them. If only they had been in a better machine. A machine that had protected them in this hell world. Machines make people powerful but, when the machine isn’t good enough, it takes away the people you love. The Progenitor is the ultimate machine, taking away things anyone ever loved. It is a car crash on a planetary scale. “What now, my flawed engineer?” it asks Tony.

“For a start ignore you, you weirdo,” Tony replies and begins to work on what he thinks are controls. The Progenitor asks, if he thinks all it is, is mechanical. That he can access its controls, subvert it? Maybe it’s not mechanical or electronic. Maybe it’s psychic. Perhaps it is reality control. Why persist? None of this work may make a difference.

But it might, Tony stubbornly insists, not noticing that a figure walks toward him from the car. And if he works hard enough, nobody else has to die in a */&% car crash!

A hand touches his shoulder and a voice calls him “son.” People die, Howard Stark / the Progenitor tells him. He was a terrible father. They wanted him so badly and, when they had him, Howard still wasn’t great. They did a number on him and then they left him. They had so much they wanted to tell him and share and show. Yet Tony keeps on going. Howard wouldn’t have. Most people wouldn’t. A broken machine keeps on ticking away. Tony’s too hard on himself. He passes. He couldn’t be prouder of him. Tony cries in relief…

…And snaps back to reality. Where a concerned Sersi hovers over him. They lost him for a moment. Seeing his tears, Sersi asks if it was torturing him. Yes, no… yes, but he’s great! Tony stammers. His dad. He said Tony was all he could have hoped for! That is a relief, Mr. Sinister snarks. The world is ending, but Tony Star has made up with his mean old dad. Stark calls him an idiot. Doesn’t he get it? It was testing him. And if it’s testing him, it’s still testing them. And if it is still testing them… he puts on his helmet… they are going to pass! And they are going to save everyone!

Characters Involved: 

Iron Man (Avenger)
Jean Grey, Wolverine (X-Men)
Mr. Sinister (Quiet Council)
Ajak, Makkari, Sersi (Eternals)


In the astral plane / Iron Man’s memories:
Black, Widow, Captain America, Hulk, Thor, War Machine, Wasp
Pepper Potts
Ho Yinsen
Howard and Maria Stark

Story Notes: 

The story follows A.X.E Judgment Day #5 and is continued in A.X.E X-men and A.X.E Eternals.
Jean’s costume is mistakenly drawn with a train like the dress she wore to the first Hellfire Gala.
Thor was killed by the Progenitor (among many others) in Judgment Day #5.
Redheads that were mean to Iron Man: Pepper Potts, Black Widow, Bethany Cabe and currently Hellcat
Ho Yinsen is the scientist who originally helped Stark create the Iron Man armor, when they were both prisoners.
Iron Man became the Iron God in Iron Man (2022) 14 when he was imbued with the power cosmic. He snapped Rhodes’ neck in issue #17.
Tony created a Thor clone during Civil War. Things did not go well.
Whitney Frost: a former girlfriend of Stark (who was not a redhead) but turned out to be the daughter of villain Count Nefaria and eventually became the villainous Madam Masque.

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