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Al Ewing & Jason Aaron (writers), Pere Perez (guest artist), Jesus Arburtov (colorist), Virtual Calligraphy's Joe Sabino (letterer & production), Mahmud Asrar & Matthew Wilson (cover artists), David Nakayama; Anna Rud (variant cover artists), Jay Bowen (logo) Sarah Brunstad (assistant editor), Will Moss (editor), CB Cebulski (editor-in-chief), Joe Quesada (chief creative officer), Dan Buckley (publisher), Alan Fine (executive producer)
Jane Foster is assisting Dr Rudy Gillespie with an autopsy, when the dead man they are working on is suddenly animated and attacks Dr Gillespie. Jane manages to separate the corpse from Rudy without transforming into Valkyrie and exposing herself. The reanimated corpse then announces that Death is dying, before he collapses. Rudy asks Jane what she is waiting for, implying that he knows she is also Valkyrie. He gives examples of what led him to that conclusion, before Jane transforms before his very eyes into Valkyrie. She tells him that he treats the dead with kindness, before she arrives at Dr Strange's Sanctum Sanctorum, where, after a discussion about how Dr Strange is learning magic tricks, Valkyrie informs him that she has a patient she needs his assistance with – Death. Dr Strange explains to Valkyrie that Death has a persona and lovers – and when Valkyrie realizes that Death has a face and wears makeup and clothing, she wonders if Death has a house, too, where they might find her. Valkyrie and Strange know they will need assistance, so Strange makes an astral call to others with special medical knowledge. Shortly, Strange and Valkyrie arrive at the Night Nurse's clinic where the Night Nurse, Linda Carter – now a doctor – heals injured heroes. Waiting for them are Cardiac, Faiza Hussain and Manikin, although he doesn't really use that name anymore. Valkyrie gives each of her new companions the death stare, and ascertains that Cardiac is an angry man, while Faiza is full of hope, and has a powerful sword – it's Manikin who concerns her, as she picks up multiple death signals from him. The heroes make their way through a portal into a strange realm, where Manikin shifts into his Highbrow persona to analyze the data of their location. It isn't long before they are attacked by the undead, and are greatly outnumbered – although their attention soon turns elsewhere when they find Death's house, and discover her scythe-carrying killer hovering above it.
The Maria Wheelock Cancer Center which is located within the McCarthy Medical Institute, in New York City, where cancer survivor Dr Jane Foster, now the last of the Valkyrior, is, for her sins, a morgue assistant, working under the supervision of Dr Rudy Gillespie:
They stand over the corpse of a man, and Dr Gillespie remarks 'Full fathom five, thy father lies... of his bones are coral made. Those are pearls that were his eyes...' before Jane interrupts him, asking him why he is reciting poetry to the corpse. 'Well... I thought he might like it?' Dr Gillespie replies, looking up at Jane. Jane thinks to herself that Rudy Gillespie is one of New York's authentic oddities, and she doesn't know if he failed up or down, but somehow, he is the mortician here. From Jane's point of view, Dr Gillespie is erratic, eccentric and slightly exasperating – someone to put up with, but the Valkyrie side of Jane appreciates him, as Rudy Gillespie respects the dead – even if it's more than the living.
Rudy tells Jane that the corpse was an actor who died onstage, and that the current suspect is an emolism, but that they will find out more when they go anyone. He adds that he thought “The Tempest” would be appropriate. Jane smiles at Rudy and tells him that is sweet, in a way, but that it is not like the corpse is going to respond. 'Even so' Rudy replies, before clearing his throat and continuing: 'Nothing of him that doth fade...but doth suffer a sea-change...into something rich...and strange'. Suddenly, the corpse opens his mouth, and his eyes glow red, as he utters 'And with...strange aeons...even death...may die!' as he reaches up and grabs Rudy by his throat. Jane's first reaction to this is that she is surprised it took so long, and while the all-weapon pulses on her wrist, Jane can't let it free, because if word gets out that she is the Valkyrie, she can kiss a normal life goodbye, but she thinks it is fortunate that she was dealing with this brand of trouble when she was still in chemo. Jane is a doctor, and she knows how bones break, so she slems her hand against the corpse's elbow, forcing him to release Rudy, who stumbles backwards.
The reanimated corpse turns his attention to Jane, 'Death... sickens...death... is diseased, dying...' he exclaims. Jane doesn't think the corpse wanted to hurt Rudy, though – it was just lashing out, trying to get their attention – her attention – to pass on a warning. 'Heal... her...' the reanimated corpse utters, before collapsing. 'Death is dying...?' Jane utters, before Rudy coughs and asks her what she is waiting for. 'Say the magic word. Find a phone booth. Whatever you do' he mutters. 'Go save the universe!' he exclaims. Jane tells him that she doesn't know what he is talking about, to which Rudy tells Jane that he knows she thinks he is a fool, and perhaps she is right, but that he is very far from being stupid. He moves closer to Jane and reveals that when a troupe of dead Valkyries rode out of his morgue on ghost horses on his lunch break, he noticed who was minding the store – and he noticed when a new Valkyrie turned up after. Rudy points out that it had to either be Jane or Lisa Halloran – but Valkyrie was seen talking to Halloran.
Jane hangs her head, and Rudy asks her if she is going to take care of what is obviously a threat to the balance of life as they know it, or if she is going to continue to insult him with this charade. 'All right, Rudy. You asked for it' Jane thinks to herself as she suddenly glows with energy, and transforms into Valkyrie before Rudy's very eyes. Rudy falls back to the floor and looks up at Jane – Valkyrie – in shock. 'Good Lord' Rudy utters. Valkyrie apologies to Rudy and tells him that sometimes the transformation can be violent. 'Oh, no. Not at all. I was being very rude. Obviously, feel free to take the rest of the day off' Rudy responds. Valkyrie smiles and tells Rudy not to take what she says as Jane personally, as she does see his value. 'You treat the dead with kindness' she remarks. 'You have the right attitude'. The still wide-eyed Rudy watches in shock as Valkyrie turns and walks away.
Jane Foster knows that she is still herself, but when she is Valkyrie, too, there is a different perspective – she thinks like a god, sharper, clearer, filled with hidden knowledge – like she knows exactly what she is doing, and exactly who can help with it. Having transformed into her Valkyrie guise, Jane Foster arrives at the Sanctum Sanctorum of Dr Stephen Strange, Sorcerer Supreme. She leaves her winged horse – called Mr Horse – on the sidewalk as she approaches the front door, thinking that Dr Strange owes her a favor. 'I wasn't sure you'd call it in quite so soon...' Dr Strange remarks as he appears at the front door. 'Like you, I'm always on call, Stephen. Things come up' Valkyrie replies. She follows him into his home, and asks if she interrupted his studies. 'I suppose you did. After a fashion. I'm learning magic' Dr Strange replies. '... you?' Valkyrie replies, surprised.
Dr Strange smiles and tells Valkyrie to watch carefully. 'Nothing up my sleeve... until I utter the word of power... one I've never dared use in this context before... ABRACADABRA!' he exclaims, and a ace of diamonds playing card suddenly appears in between his fingers. 'Ah, that kind of magic' Valkyrie remarks. Dr Strange explains that recently he was forced – in saving the life of a child – to cross a line that he had never dared to before – and he restored his hands. He informs Valkyrie that it was a gamble and the cost for losing would have been incalculable. 'But my hands are everything they were. I am everything I was' Strange adds. 'A little prestidigitation – literally “nimble finger work” - keeps the joints supple... and lets me now I'm ready. Ready to be a surgeon again...' Dr Strange smiles. Valkyrie tells him that if he is a medical doctor again, then she has a patient and needs help forming a diagnosis. Strange pauses, before asking the patient's name.
Valkyrie tells Strange the patient's name – Death. Strange creates an illusion, showing Valkyrie the patient's face – the face of Death. Or rather, faces, as three forms appear before them. Valkyrie wasn't expecting Death to have one, much less several faces. 'There. Death herself. The Last Enemy. The Undiscovered Country. From Whose Bourn no Traveler Returns. The High Wind in the Trees...' Strange calls Death. 'The High Wind in the Trees is looking very glam today. Who does her makeup?' Valkyrie jokes. 'Ah, yes. And so we come to the crux of the matter. Who does do Death's makeup? Why does Death wear these illusions of humanoid form? These are questions that separate simple philosophy from the true magic. And yet...perhaps philosophy holds the key' Strange replies, before suggesting that perhaps, as humanity searches in the dark, as sentient beings the unvierse over try to understand the fundamental forces that rule them – those same fundamental forces also seek to understand them.
Dr Strange turns to Valkyrie and informs her that Death takes suitors and lovers, that she has friends and foes, brothers and sisters, servants and warriors. 'So Death is a person – with at least a simulated personality, judging by the goth getup' Valkyrie replies, before asking if Death has an immune system, too. 'An excellent question...' Strange remarks. Valkyrie tells him that she is just stating the obvious, and that she has to assume that these ties to humanity are what make Death vulnerable – human form, therefore human weakness. Valkyrie points out that at the same time, they don't really know if Death is sick – it's not like they can call her in for a check-up, and they can't make a house call. 'Wait. Death has a face. Death has makeup and clothing. Stephen...does Death have a house?' Valkyrie asks. Dr Strange confirms that she does, but that to reach it alive, he thinks they will need some specialist help.
Shortly, after Strange has made a call on the Astral phone, inside the hour, Valkyrie and Strange are on Orchard Street, gathering their army. A police officer walks past Mr Horse, and looks a little perplexed, as Mr Horse stands still outside a non-descript building known as the Clinic, which is a place for eroes to have their on-the-job injuries treated, no questions asked – the exact location is strictly guarded, because too many villains would kill – literally – to get this kind of drop on their enemies. Valkyrie knows that the doctor in charge is Linda Carter, who calls herself Night Nurse. Valkyrie jokes to herself that presumably her nurse is called Day Doctor.
Valkyrie and Dr Strange walk into the waiting room, where Ava Ayala the White Tiger is sitting on a bench, one of her arms wrapped in a sling. 'Stephen...?' Linda Carter the Night Nurse calls out as she sees Strange and Valkyrie walking towards her. Valkyrie watches Dr Strange and Night Nurse hug, and realizes that Linda Carter must know Strange from days gone by. 'My dear, dear Watson. How long as it been?' Strange asks as he kisses Linda. 'Long enough that pet names don't work the magic they once did, Stephen' Linda replies. Linda tells Strange that she hopes this isn't him trying to rekindle old flames. 'Strictly business. I promise' Strange replies, before asking Linda who she found. Linda leads Strange and Valkyrie through the Clinic and tells Strange to be impressed. 'It's the room on the right' Linda adds. Valkyrie remembers thinking of how she said “army” earlier, but decides that isn't the right word when dealing with super-people – the right word is “team”. A medical team.
In the room on the right, Valkyrie and Dr Strange find three others waiting for them. Linda Carter smiles and tells them all to sound off. A man in a black and white costume sits with his arms crossed on a chair. 'Cardiac. I strike at evil's heart' he declares matter-of-factly. A woman at the back of the room wearing a bullet-proof vest and holding a large sword waves and smiles as she introduces herself as Dr Faiza Hussain. She explains that people call her Excalibur, but Excalibur is actually the sword she carries, and that it is sort of alive, so it seems a bit odd. 'Like calling Thor “Mjolnir”' Faiza points out. A young man wearing a yellow and black jumpsuit sits on a table as he nervously introduces himself as Dr Whitman Knapp – or just Whit. 'I used to be Manikin. I mean, technically, I still am. But... well, it's been a while...' he adds.
Valkyrie gives each of the doctors her “death stare”, deciding she likes that name better than “Valky-eyes”. As she does, god-knowledge floods her human mind – knowledge of their lives, and their deaths. She looks at Cardiac, and learns that he hunts down corruption – and in this world, there is plenty to be found – so it keeps him busy, and angry – and Death is always near him. Looking at Faiza, Valkyrie learns that, by contrast, she is full of life, a beacon of faith and hope, the voice of the community. Valkyrie also senses a healing power in Faiza, one that is separate from the sword. Turning to Manikin, Valkyrie learns that he is powerful – more powerful than he knows, but she is getting multiple signals from him, like he is about to die – and about to live. While Valkyrie approaches Manikin, Dr Strange goes over to Faiza, who holds up her sword for him to look at. 'The true Excalibur. It's been many years since I last beheld this treasure. The sword that heals...' Dr Strange remarks. 'Don't be ridiculous. How can a sword heal?' Cardiac snarls.
Deciding to find out more about Manikin, Valkyrie asks him what he was told about this mission. 'You and Strange need a team of doctors to diagnose Death and stop the universe from breaking' Whit replies, before telling Valkyrie not to worry about him, as he handled weirder stuff when he was in Alpha Flight. 'Are you sure?' Valkyrie replies. 'Because I think this will get weird for you. You can still back out' she offers him. Whit hangs his head, pauses, and then tells Valkyrie that he doesn't think he can, as Night Nurse said they needed a doctor, and that is what he is – and he has never turned a patient away yet. Cardiac suggests that if none of them are sitting this out, then they should get moving. He assumes that Strange is their transport, to which Dr Strange confirms that he is. 'Brace yourselves... for the way is dark' Strange informs the others.
Valkyrie, Night Nurse, Manikin, Faiza and Cardiac gather around Dr Strange as his hands glow with magical energy, and he begins a spell: 'By the hangman's gait and the graveyard's gloom, where bitter winds must blow...by the hidden date on the waiting tomb, that all must one day know...I see Death's own gate in this very room, and through it we must go...Let fall our fate! Bring forth our doom! Doctor Strange wills it so!' The room goes dark, and the surprised Valkyrie asks 'Wait – there's a gate to Derath's realm in here?' Strange looks over to a poster on the wall that consists of a dark forest with the words 'Perseverance: The journey of a million miles begins with a single step” and tells Valkyrie that, as he said, it is in this very room, for Death is waiting in every room.
The landscape around the group of doctors changes, and they appear before a dark forest, like the one in the poster, as if the poster is the gateway Strange motions to a path in the forest and tells the others that the invisible hand of Death is all around them, but especially in the mundane. He warns theym to be careful, for once they cross this threshold, there is no going back. Doctor Strange informs Night Nurse that this will be difficult for those with no special abilities and tells her that he would prefer if she remained on this side. 'Well, I'd prefer not to' Night Nurse declares as she steps through the portal into the forest. 'Of course. I suppose I expected nothing less' Strange replies. The others follow, and Valkyrie tells everyone to read carefully, as they are beyond the fields that even she knows, adding that she isn't even sure if this territory has a name. Faiza's sword glows as she tells everyone that this reminds her of Barzakh – the barrier between life and death, but she doesn't think they could be there and keep their physical bodies. 'So it's probably just a horrible scary forest in another dimension' she adds quietly.
Manikin begins to glow as he tells his new companions that this might help, explaining that he can become three different versions of himself from up and down his own evolutionary tree, so if anyone's going to help them find their way, it is “Highbrow”, mankind's future potential. Having transformed into his future self, Highbrow looks around and remarks that he appreciates his present self's faith in him, he has no data available on their location, but that his scans are picking up something of informational value – movement, all around them. The doctors move closer to each other, while zombie-like creatures begin to emerge from the woods aorund them. 'The minions of Death. Servants of the power that rules this realm. Not souls – more representations of the various ways of death. Death in battle... death by ambush' Dr Strange explains. 'Like antibodies. Massing to prevent any intrusion, any infection. We're going to have to fight' Valkyrie tells the others. 'Assuming Homo Erectus configuration for increased combat prowess in three...two...' Highbrow begins as he readies himself for the coming fight by switching into one of his past evolutionary selves, Apeman, growling as he leaps at one of the minions of Death and knocking them backwards.
Faiza suddenly throws her sword to Night Nurse and tells her to swing it around a bit, that Excalibur does the rest. 'What about you?' Linda replies. Faiza assures her that she is all right, and as she raises her hands towards several of the minions of Death lunging towards her, they begin to be torn apart, as Faiza explains that she is a living scalpel, that she take people apart, and that heals them, but while she is “operating” they can't move, and the minions of Death are suddenly frozen in place. 'Heal them – bury them – whatever works!' Cardiac exclaims as he knocks three of the minions of Death back with a charge of energy from his battle staff. But Valkyrie decides that it isn't working, that they are holding their own, sure, but the minions of Death have the advantage of numbers. Night Nurse shoves the Excalibur sword into one of the skeletal beings, but Valkyrie realizes that her allies are being blocked in from every direction – except for one. 'Strange – they can't fly!' Valkyrie calls out to Dr Strange, who remarks 'Then – as Yazz so memorably sang – the only way is up!' and casts a spell around himself and his allies, levitating them above the minions of Death, while Valkyire uses her own wings to fly herself up to safety.
'Wait, Yazz?' Cardiac asks. 'You don't like Yazz?' Strange asks. Cardiac tells Strange that he is just surprised that he knows them, before asking if he ever listens to M People. 'Oooh! I remember M People!' Night Nurse exclaims, before Valkyrie tells her allies that she doesn't mean to interrupt the pressing discussion, but that they have a new symptom. 'By the Vishanti!' Strange utters as he looks over at what Valkyrie is seeing. 'What am I seeing?' Strange asks. 'We're looking at what that means. We are – putting it generously – five mid-list super-people. This is something that could destroy the universe as we know it' Valkyrie thinks to herself as they all stare at a huge skeletal figure looming over a dark castle. The figure carries a large scyth and a glowing energy can be seen under its chest, as Valkyrie thinks to herself that this is the Death of Death.
Dr. Jane Foster/Valkyrie
Dr. StrangeManikinDr. Faiza HussainNight NurseCardiac
Mr. HorseDr. Rudy Gillespie
White Tiger V
Death of DeathMinions of DeathPolice officer
Dr Strange restored his hands in Doctor Strange (5th series) #19.
Dr Strange refers to Death having lovers and consorts, among those known are Thanos and Deadpool.
While Rudy quotes Ariel’s song from Shakespeare’s The Tempest at the corpse, it responds with a quote by H. P. Lovecraft.
“It's the room on the right” is Linda Carter's catchphrase.
Linda Carter originally appeared in the Atlas comic Linda Carter, Student Nurse, which ran for 9 issues in the 1960s. During this series she had dark brown hair. In the 1970s, she was brought into the Marvel Universe proper, now a blonde, appearing in her own four-issue mini series, alongside two other Night Nurses, Georgia Jenkins and Christine Palmer (who would later go on to be an ally of the X-Men). Linda Carter continued to make sporadic appearances throughout the years, she appears with black hair in this appearance. She became a doctor in Dr Strange: The Oath #1.
Dr Elias Wirtham a.k.a. Cardiac first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man (1st series) #342 and has primarily appeared in Spider-Man comics in subsequent years.
Dr Faiza Hussain a.k.a. Excalibur first appeared in Captain Britain & MI:13 #1, continued to appear in that series, and has made sporadic appearances since, mostly in X-Men titles, but most recently in US Avengers #7-9.
Dr Whitman Knapp a.k.a. Manikin debuted in Alpha Flight (1st series) #43, appearing as a member of Beta Flight or a pysician at Department H throughout most of the book's history. This marks his first appearance since Alpha Flight (1st series) #130.
Yazz is a British pop/dance singer whose 1988 track “The Only Way is Up” reached #1 on many music charts around the world, including the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Ireland, Sweden and Switzerland.