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Jonathan Hickman (writer), Steve Epting (penciler), Rick Magyar with Steve Epting (inkers), Frank D’Armata (colorist), VC’s Joe Caramagna (letterer), Jock (cover), Joe Quinones and Matthew Wilson (variant cover), 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 week ago the Illuminati were in the middle of a battle with Terrax, the herald for an alternate universe’s Galactus (Galaktus). They were on this alternate world because it was incurring on the 616. They could have just let the planet fall to Galaktus and save them all some trouble, but they chose to do the noble thing. Despite the number of powerful heroes the battle did not go too well. That was, until, Black Bolt grabbed Terrax’s arm and spoke. The battle was over, but so was the planet. Galaktus was too far into the process and the Earth was doomed so the Illuminati left for their own, taking Terrax with them. In the present, T’Challa agrees to release Black Swan from her prison, but outfits her with a necklace that goes “boom” in case she tries anything. She is brought before the entire Illuminati and tells of her origin, how when she was four her city was an incursion site and was visited by the Black Priests. She escaped into a secret library that served as a nexus for all reality where she was greeted by three Black Swans who trained her to be a Black Swan. The Swan then tells them there are at least eight ways to save their planet from an incursion. She only has time to explain one scenario before their alarms go off. It’s another incursion, and it’s in Latveria!
Necropolis, Wakanda:Deep within the bowels of Necropolis lies Black Swan’s holding cell. She is happy to finally speak to Reed Richards now that he is ready to hear real answers, as she calls them. She tells him that one can only be in total darkness for so long before panic sets in.
Though she seems happy, the Black Swan does not want to be asked for help as his captive. She tells Reed to ask nicely or not at all, and with a flourish turns away from him. Reed, of course, is one who has no problem asking for help, a man of little ego. The only thing he’s worried about is that there will be a price.
The Swan looks over her shoulder at Richards in contempt. She tells him the wheel continues to turn, citing the two incursions since her internment. She proclaims her prayers answered as they still live. The Swan states that Rabum Alal passed over this world, yet Reed refuses to acknowledge the gift he was given.
“My price…” the Swan says, pausing. She then cocks back her right arm back and punches the transparent container that is her prison, sending out a spider web of cracks. “…is living …, you foolish, foolish man.”
Reed turns to look at Black Panther, who was hanging out by the wall, invisible. Reed asks what he thinks and the Panther tells him she’s ready, to let her out. Reed presses a few buttons on his tablet and the walls come down.
T’Challa walks over to her and compliments her on cracking the cell, saying Reed underestimated her power. Then he asks the obvious question, why she remained locked up when she didn’t have to. The Swan says she noticed the tiles underneath moved slightly when she walked on them and assumed there was a bomb underneath. Black Panther admits she was right and then places a necklace on her. He says the yield of the floor bomb is about the same as what’s in the necklace so she better prove useful.
The Swan smiles demurely and asks if he really thinks a leash can hold her, she is not someone to be kept. She then points at the other captive in the room, the surly looking Terrax. “Do I look like him?” Terrax just sits there and stares at them.
one week ago:The Illuminati are facing off against Terrax as his master, Galaktus, begins consuming the Earth that recently incurred on the 616. Though it would be simple for them to just let this planet fall to Galaktus and thereby save their planet, it’s not in their genetic makeup, so they fight.
Terrax drives his axe into Iron Man, piercing his armored chest plate. As Tony struggles to free the weapon Reed seizes the opportunity to attack. However, with one powerful back-handed left Terrax sends Reed flying in the opposite direction, knocking over both Beast and Dr. Strange.
This does leave another opening and Black Panther leaps onto Terrax’s back. He plunges a golden blade into the back of the herald’s neck before being similarly knocked aside. Momentarily able to focus on the task at hand Terrax rips the axe free of Iron Man and brings it back over his head to strike again. Stark raises his hands, repulsors ready to, hopefully, deflect the attack.
Before Terrax can bring the pain a gloved hand grasps his wrist. It’s Black Bolt this time, who keeps him at bay. Terrax turns to engage him and is greeted by the Inhuman monarch’s voice. The power behind the attack not only knocks the villain unconscious, but obliterates a section of the foundation holding up the Magneto statue.
Their enemy is defeated, but it’s too late. The damage is done and Galaktus is far enough into the process that the Earth is doomed. Namor picks up Terrax’s axe and they all jump, including their unconscious captive, from the doomed Earth back to the 616. They stare up into the sky and watch as the incurred Earth is disintegrated momentarily satiating Galaktus’ mighty hunger.
NowBlack Swan is seated in a granite chair at the center of an audience chamber. The entirety of the Illuminati is present, either seated or standing in front of her. The Swan proclaims they need one another, but Tony believes some of them have greater needs than others.
The Swan finds it funny they believe Terrax, a servant of a world eater, is an option for figuring out how to save their planet. Tony doesn’t deny this, but says either way they are not playing games with her and she will get as much freedom as they see fit.
The Black Swan finds his comments to be fair and then tells them that though they now know what they’re dealing with, they still do not know what they face. Probably tired of her constant riddle-filled talk, Strange asks her to tell them about it.
Not looking at him, the Swan asks who he is. Stephen introduces himself as the Sorcerer Supreme of the realm. Black Swan spits, calling him a necromancer, a summoner. She will not tolerate him speaking with her. This disconcerts the man, which Namor, his old Defenders teammate, finds amusing.
So it falls upon Reed, her ally of sorts, to ask the Swan to start telling them the things they do not know. She laughs at this, saying that with the infinite knowledge of the multiverse there is a lot they don’t know and little time for them to learn it. Reed cuts through the misdirection talk and asks her to just start at the beginning.
And so finally, the Swan begins. Her world had a sun, but then one day it was swallowed by a swirling, gaping maw in the cosmos. Her people were left in the dark. She was four.
flashbackThe Hidden CityHer name back then was Yabbat Ummon Tarru, and she was the third sister to the crown prince, Dadingra. The Swan says her brother was heir to the throne of the Hidden City, and keeper of the Great Key. The key unlocked the city’s, and her planet’s, greatest treasure, a library of worlds, she explains. It was a gift from the Sinnu Sarrum, the Ivory Kings, but the trick was the library should not be entered by the untrained, she continues.
The Swan says that legend told them only the Great Ladies, whom none of her people had ever seen, could find their way through the multiple worlds within. That, however, didn’t keep her brother from unlocking the door every day to see if the ladies might appear. Then, one day, the sky turned red.
On that day the Black Priests descended from their Earth to hers and everyone was killed, except for the Swan. It was because through teary eyes she took the key off her brother’s dead body and opened the door. There, she found the Great Ladies waiting for her inside.
Once inside, the Great Ladies, one of them with a squid for a head, told Yabbat that her world was an offering to the Great Destroyer, Rabum Alal. The Black Swan says she accepted her survival for what is was, just as she accepted her new sisters. She was then raised by the Black Swans to become a Black Swan.end flashback
Reed interrupts at this point, surprised to hear there are more of them. Of course, the Swan replies. The next question goes to Black Panther who asks if this library of worlds is like a waystation for the multiverse. The woman formerly known as Yabbat tells him it is destroyed and the Swans are scattered.
Tony isn’t buying everything, and thinks she’s left out some important stuff, but asks what caused the whole thing to start happening. The Black Swan is surprised they don’t know as she already told Reed Richards. Nevertheless, she tells them it all began with the birth of Rabum Alal, the Great Destroyer. Once he was born the early death of everything began, and the Earths are given to him as offerings so others may live for a season longer, Black Swan explains, referring to it as “wardum uggae.”
Another Illuminati not buying it is Namor. He says everything she’s saying sounds like tales one would tell to frighten children. He demands the Swan tell him something real. She assures him all she knows are scary stories and all of them are very real. The incursions never stop until Earth dies, “This is all there is,” she finishes.
Never one to give up, Reed believes there must be a way to stop the incursions. The Swan tells him it is actually not difficult at all. Oh, Reed responds, pleasantly surprised. Black Swan can’t believe he hasn’t figured it out yet. She tells them they could evacuate their world, and then destroy it completely. The Swan says it’s been done many times before.
Looking across the room the Black Swan points at McCoy, asking if that’s his name. He agrees and she tells them many versions of him have done this before, that the Beast is a name well known in the great game of worlds. “And this would save our universe?” Hank asks. A frustrated Swan says there’s no saving anything, but it will stop the incursions. It’s known as the eighth way, called <i>Shading the Apocalypse</i>. In a more hushed tone she tells them it’s a cowardly path, yet often chosen.
Tony is happy to hear it called the eighth way, assuming there are at least seven others. He asks if she can go through them all and the Swan agrees. With that settled, Reed says they should start there, but Black Panther doesn’t like it, or more specifically doesn’t like the Swan.
The pale-skinned woman approaches T’Challa and asks him what the problem is. He says, quite plainly, that he watched her kill a world. Black Swan is nonplussed by the statement, saying she’s done worse, and that they will, too, maybe sometimes in “good faith.”
Then the Swan tells them they need something better than the devices in their hands to warn them of incoming incursions, something slightly out of phase with their native universe. She points at her eyes and says hers are inside them. Beast asks if she can predict incursions. I can, she agrees, so Reed asks when the next one will come. “Minutes,” she replies.
They look around at each other, exchanging morbid glances. They’ve gone through so much already and are not prepared for another incursion. The silence is broken by the Swan who says, “Rabum Alal.” Right away, everyone’s palms light up. “Damn,” Tony remarks and asks Richards where it is.
Reed gets onto the computer and triangulates the signal. It doesn’t take long for the location to appear. Wherever it is, it has Reed agitated. Black Panther asks what’s wrong and Reed tells him the incursion sight is in Latveria.
Black Bolt, Black Panther, Dr. Strange, Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic (Illuminati)
first flashbackalternate EarthGalaktusTerrax (herald to Galaktus)
second flashbackBlack Swan’s EarthYabbat Ummon Tarru (our Black Swan)Dadingra (Black Swan’s brother)
Great Ladies (Black Swans)
Black Panther saw the Black Swan destroy another Earth back in the initial issue of this series, New Avengers (3rd series) #01.
In case you didn’t know Latveria is home to the powerful and dastardly monarch, Dr. Doom.