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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), Kris Anka (variant cover artist), Jay Bowen (logo) Sarah Brunstad (assistant editor), Will Moss (editor), CB Cebulski (editor-in-chief)
Valkyrie, Dr Strange, Faiza Hussain, Manikin, Night Nurse and Cardiac have located Death's house, and find the Death of Death hovering over it. The heroes contemplate the trouble before them and wonder why they haven't been attacked, so they enter Death's house, and find Charon standing over a river of pus. Valkyrie realizes that this is the disease killing Death taking form, and finds the true form using her special sight. Faiza Hussain uses her sword, Excalibur, plunging it into the river of pus and harming the infection, she destroys the river of pus, though needs to remain at this location because the disease is fighting back against her. The others carry on further into Death's house, with Valkyrie concerned about Manikin, recalling how she saw multiple death signs hovering over him. They soon find a gallery with artwork that changes according to the individual looking at it. Valkyrie sees a car ablaze, and realizes this is the scene of her ex-husband and their son dying in the car explosion. Night Nurse sees the hero Nomad who saved her life before he vanished, while Manikin sees a pink puddle, and Cardiac sees hs dying brother, before he decides that they shouldn't do this. Dr Strange sees a blank canvas and explains that the disease is attempting to discourage them from saving Death – before Cardiac attacks him, knocking him out. Cardiac angrily suggests that they let Death die, because they can then save every life, like his brother. Manikin switches to his earliest life form version, Proto, and leaps ay Cardiac's weapon in an attempt to destroy it – but is blown apart by the weapon, and becomes a puddle of pink gunk. Cardiac is disturbed at this, and drops to his knees, crying because he killed Manikin. But Valkyrie looks into the pink puddle and sees the images of Manikin, Highbrow and Apeman looking up at her. Valkyrie leaves Night Nurse to keep watch over Cardiac while she continues on with the mission. Valkyrie locates Death, who is lying in a hospital bed, while the Death of Death looms over her. Death of Death asks Valkyrie to convince it why Death should be saved. Switching between her Valkyrie and Jane Foster appearances, as well as the time when she had cancer, Jane explains that without Death there is no life. The Death of Death vanishes and Death speaks to Jane, informing her that she is healed. They briefly speak, before Valkyrie finds herself back in Night Nurse's clinc. Dr Strange has recovered, and Night Nurse and Faiza, along with Cardiac, are with him. Manikin is also there, with his Highbrow and Apeman personas now separate from him. Valkyrie tells her allies that Death will always be with them – but she isn't quite sure they won this battle.
Jane Foster is a doctor, a cancer survivor, a widow – and the last of the Valkyries. Right now, she stares up at a large skeletal figure that glows with energy while carrying a huge scyth. His name is... the Death of Death. Death itself, the anthropomorphic personification of Death, is sick, infected by something, and so the Death of Death has come to see if...if Death may die. Jane Foster decides that the Death of Death is an aspect of the Living Tribunal, the living judgment of death as a function of the universe – it is an aspect, but it is separate – or perhaps it is both. Jane can't quite comprehend it all. The all-weapon on her wrist feeds her the knowledge of the gods when she needs it, but this is too big for the gods. 'So big there aren't words... ants... we... we're like ants... just...' Valkyrie's thoughts wander, as blood trickles from her nose, before Dr Stephen Strange, floating near her in a mystical field, calls out to her. 'Jane. You are Jane. Remember. Remember your true name. Your human name'.
Valkyrie turns to Dr Strange, 'Yes. Jane. I'm Jane' Valkyrie replies, to which Strange tells her that he could feel her mind breaking, and remarks that the higher perceptions of an Asgardian can be useful, but that in this place, seeing too much can destroy you. Strange adds that the human mind has defense mechanisms against seeing what may not be seen – mental filters that prevent madness, or worse. Strange tells Jane that here, her humanity is her anchor -and her life jacket. 'So it's good that I don't believe any of this?' Dr Whitman Knapp a.k.a. Manikin asks as he hovers alongside them in the mystical field. Linda Carter the Night Nurse is also in the mystical field and asks Manikin what he means by that. '“Whit” is fine, Night Nurse. Nobody's called me Manikin in years' Whit remarks, before realizing that that is the problem – it has been too long since he has experienced anything this dreamlike. 'I mean, how can Death die?' Whit asks. 'How can any of this be real?' he wonders.
Dr Faiza Hussain, sometimes called Excalibur, smiles and tells Whit that she is the same, that it is all people needing help at the end of the day, though, just through a sort of filter. She adds that she just gets on with it, and it generally goes all right. 'When it goes all right, I mean. We're all doctors, yeah? We've all had it not go all right' Faiza remarks, looking up at Valkyrie, Dr Strange, Whit, Night Nurse and Dr Elias Wirtham a.k.a. Cardiac. Manikin frowns, while Night Nurse hangs her head. Dr Strange closes his eyes, and Cardiac goes wide-eyed, 'Well, I believe it' he utters, while Valkyrie glances sideways, and thinks 'Yes. We all have'. Cardiac looks up at the Death of Death and tells his companions that it is right there – a power that can end Death. 'How could that not be what it is?' he asks. Dr Strange pauses, before telling his companions that he is worried they haven't been attacked up here.
'You what?' Faiza asks. Dr Strange tells Dr Hussain and Dr Knapp that they are right – this is not a real place, it is a symbolic realm. 'Which doesn't mean we can't all get killed, obviously. But it does mean the realm of death shapes itself subtly, with our thoughts as a guide. And we are all medical practitioners...' Strange adds. Valkyrie tells Strange that she takes his meaning. 'When we fought the minions of Death in the dark forest...I identified them as antibodies to the immune system. If we are no longer being attacked by them...' Valkyrie's voice trails off, and she drops to the ground, followed by Strange and the others as Strange removes the mystical barrier around them. 'Indeed. Death's immune system is failing – and time is running out' Dr Strange tells his companions, adding that he fears they will see no more such “antibodies” during their time here.
The group then walks towards the large mansion in the dark forest, and standing before a door, Strange tells the group that through the door, there is only the disease. 'A disease that speaks in metaphor. That will try to speak to us. Be ready for...' Strange begins as he opens the door, 'Ah. Well, this is on me. I had a classical education' Strange mutters as they find a figure with a long beard carrying a staff standing on a small platform which is surrounded by a yellowish moat. The figure introduces himself as Charon, boatman of the great Acheron, that which separates life from after-life. He tells the group that there is a toll to cross his river. 'Those whose hearts beat. Whose lungs fill with air. All who would meet with Death...must pay the ferryman'. Cardiac remarks that he thought Charon sailed the Styx, and puts his battle staff into the yellowish liquid, asking what it is. But when he pulls the battle staff from the liquid, he goes wide-eyed with disgust: 'Dear lord. It's pus. A river of pus!' he exclaims.
Valkyrie tells the others that this is the disease taking form, before asking if Charon should be on their side. 'He basically did my job' she adds. As Cardiac tries to flick the pus off of his staff, Strange tells Valkyrie to look again, to look with her true sight. Valkyrie's eyes glow, and she sees “Charon” as he truly is – not Charon, but a manifestation of the disease, sticking up from the river, some sort of worm-like creature with a glowing jewel on top of it. Valkyrie tells her companions that Charon ferried heroes across the river of death, but that he also ferried them back, so he is a symbol of how Death may be defeated. She adds that Cardiac is right that most link Charon with the Styx, the river Achilles was bathed in, and that made him immune to Death's touch. 'If we want to heal Death...this isn't a good sign' she points out. The disease then speaks from the glowing jewel: 'Healing always has a cost. The price to cross my river is high... but one of you must pay it. Who?' the disease asks.
Faiza steps forward, 'Let me take a look at it. Night Nurse – scalpel' she calls out, taking her sword, Excalibur, from Night Nurse. But Dr Strange tells her that this is a magical bargain, that the price the disease speaks of may be her life, or worse. But Faiza raises her sword overhead and tells her companions that this is Excalibur, and that she is not just a doctor, but a National Health Service Doctor. 'So unlike you lot, my healing – is free at the point of delivery!' With that, she plunges Excalibur into the pus-filled river, causing the disease to scream, and the worm-like creature shrivels up, the jewel on top of it breaking open. The river of pus then disappears, leaving Faiza clutching the Excalibur sword, while Manikin reminds her that he is from Canada. 'hmm. Every taxpayer in Britain just felt a barely noticeable twinge in their little toe' Dr Strange jokes, before remarking that this is interesting. 'Yeah, the bad news is, I have to pull very long shifts. I can feel the disease fighting back' Faiza replies.
Faiza stands up and reports that she is going to have to stay here and sort of hold the virus off, and that she will need to keep Excalibur with her, as well. 'Forget the sword – are you going to be okay? I'm not going to sacrifice someone for -' Cardiac begins, but Valkyrie assures him that Faiza will be fine, she can sense it. Valkyrie thinks to herself that it is the rest of them who need to worry, especially Dr Knapp. She sees multiple balls of death hovering over him, but she doesn't know what that means. She recalls that she warned him this could get weird, but he chose to come anyway. Valkyrie hopes that she doesn't regret not forcing the issue. Dr Strange leads the others on and tells Dr Hussain that they will leave this operation in her capable hands, while they go to treat the other symptoms.
'Or we could turn back' Cardiac mumbles as the quintet make their way down a dark corridor in the mansion, but Valkyrie tells him not to joke. She instructs the others to stay behind her, because if the disease wants to take more active measures, she can shield them. Suddenly, the group comes to a stop in front of a painting of a car that has burst into flames after crashing into a tree. 'I wasn't joking' Cardiac declares, before asking what this place is – a gallery with only one painting. 'Should we expect more pus?' he wonders. He then reminds Valkyrie that she is the one with the Asgardian knowledge and asks her if she knows what this is. 'Valkyrie?' Cardiac calls out when she doesn't respond to him, her gaze drawn to the mysterious painting in the room. 'Yes. I know what this is' the wide-eyed Valkyrie utters.
Valkyrie covers her face with her hands as she informs her companions that she was divorced, that it was stupid – she was stupid – she was still in love with Thor, and her ex-husband had custody of their son, she saw him every other weekend. 'Keith would drop Jimmy off at my, at my – Keith was bringing him – they were on the freeway and –' Valkyrie cries. 'Jane...you don't have to...' Strange begins, but Valkyrie tells him that she does, and reveals that she was told Keith must have dozed off, that the car went through the guardrail and they could have lived – except there was the tree. 'There was a tree' Jane declares, still covering her face with her hands. 'God. Why are we even doing this?' Cardiac asks, shocked.
Night Nurse tells Valkyrie that she is sorry, but that she doesn't think she is seeing the same painting. As she looks at the painting, she sees the unmoving body of Jack Monroe, the hero known as Nomad, slumped against a brick wall. She explains that the reason she helps heroes is that a hero once saved her – Nomad – he saved her life, and then he vanished. 'I think I'm seeing why' she utters. Manikin tells his companions that it is different for him, too, but he doesn't understand it – the painting just shows a pink puddle. 'But what am I looking at?' he asks. Cardiac looks at the painting, which for him shows his brother, Joshua, hooked up to life support, and tells the others that they should not be doing this. When Dr Strange looks at the painting, he sees nothing but a blank space. He tells his companions that the disease is attempting to discourage them, showing them the true face of she whom they seek to cure – Death as she has touched them.
Dr Strange continues, revealing that for him the canvas is blank, pure nothingness – the death of an entire reality. 'A sight I have seen too often as the Sorcerer -' he begins, when suddenly, Cardiac stuns him from behind with a surge of energy from his battle staff. 'Sorry, Doctor. But I had to take you out, and a surprise shock to the brain was the only way to do it. Hope you're okay...' Cardiac declares. A sword forms in Valkyrie's hand as she angrily asks Cardiac if he is insane. Tear stains line her face as she tells Cardiac that Dr Strange was their guide to this realm. 'If we're going to save Death's life, we need him!' she exclaims. Cardiac holds his battle staff at the ready as he tells Valkyrie to listen to herself: 'Save Death's life? It's like a sick joke! We can save an infinity of lives – like your son, like my brother, just by withholding treatment! Letting this happen! Why? Why do we need Death?' Cardiac asks, shouting.
Manikin grits is teeth and reminds Cardiac that they are doctors and Death is their patient – and he has never turned away from one yet. Manikin's body begins to shift again, 'Have you met Proto?' he asks, as he transforms into the form of pink plasma which is the representation of the earliest form of life. Manikin adds that Proto is the best way to disarm Cardiac before he hurts anyone else. 'Stick is bad! Eat stick! Eat bad stick!' Proto exclaims as it hurls itself through the air, and lands on the end of Cardiac's battle staff. 'No! Get off, Knapp! If you damage my staff – I can't control the level of – voltage!' Cardiac explains, but too late, as Proto began to eat through the battle staff, the voltage control was ruined, and the energy emitted from the end of the staff tears Proto apart. Proto then drips to the ground, a pool of pink gunk.
Cardiac kneels over Proto's remains and utters 'No, no, no, no. get up. Pull back together, do – do something!' The shocked Cardiac claims that he was doing the right thing, and explains that if Death dies, they can bring Manikin back, they can bring everyone back, surely. 'And if we can't, then we can still – people won't die! Nobody will die anymore! That's worth it – that's got to be -' Cardiac babbles, clearly disturbed, before he lies on the ground, covering the back of his head with his hands, 'Oh god. Oh god, I killed Dr Knapp' he gasps. Valkyrie, her eyes glowing, pauses, before telling Cardiac that it is his lucky day. Crouching beside the remains of Proto, Valkyrie informs the others that she saw four deaths over Manikin's head – and only one was imminent, while she can still see three deaths. 'His amobea-self might be dead...but...ah...there you are' Valkyrie utters as she puts a hand on Proto's remains, and sees Manikin, Highbrow and Apeman reflected back at her.
Valkyrie turns and starts to walk out of the chamber, while instructing Night Nurse tell Dr Strange when he wakes that he has three patients who need rescuing from a dead puddle. 'He'll probably enjoy the challenge' she adds, before telling Night Nurse to also keep an eye on Cardiac, who continues to lie on the ground, huddled over. 'I don't think he's a threat now, but... he might hurt himself' Valkyrie explains. 'Right. Okay. Where are you going?' Night Nurse calls back to Valkyrie. 'I'm going to see my patient' Valkyrie declares as she opens the doors to another part of the mansion.
Stepping through into the next room, a voice calls out to Jane Foster and Valkyrie finds herself appearing as her human form again, walking through darkness towards Death of Death, still glowing, and hovering over a bed where Death herself lies. 'That's my name. I wasn't aware these were visiting hours. Are you a relative?' Jane asks. 'I am what your mind can grasp. I am a point of decision' Death of Death responds. The strange being holds up a green glowing door and a yellow glowing pod as it tells Jane Foster that a green door swings open and Death is irrelevant, while a pod grows new life and Death is without meaning. 'So many have returned from Death. More and more. Even you. So Death grows weaker... sicker... until the question must be asked. Do we need Death? Any death? Convince me' the Death of Death declares.
Jane hangs her head, she remarks that Cardiac asked the same thing – and so has she, so many times. Jane rubs her head and remarks 'Imagining a world where Kevin and Jimmy didn't die. Where nobody ever had to...to go through that...but that's not a world without any death, is it? That's a world without people dying. That's not what you asked'. Jane states that she is not thinking like Valkyrie here – Valkyrie sees death as a journey. 'You'd think I'd take some comfort in that' Jane remarks, before deciding that she has to think like a doctor – and nobody respects Death like a doctor. Jane looks over at the physical manifestation of Death and tells Death of Death that if there was no death at all, if nothing died – not people, not animals, not plants, not germs, not cells – a universe of living cells that didn't die, but still reproduced, she would call that the Cancerverse, and she doesn't think she wants to live there. Jane's appearance changes to how she used to look when she was undergoing treatment for her cancer. 'The end of pain... and fear... and sorrow... these are things to strive for. For all our days. The end of Death... I don't think that means life' Jane utters.
Jane rubs her forehead and asks the Death of Death if that is good enough – after all this – is he convinced yet? 'Are you...?' Jane begins, before looking shocked as she turns to see the Death of Death has vanished, and Death hovers over her, wearing her dark robe, pulled over her face, Death announces that she is healed, and that it has been decided – the process of death will continue, and this plane will not transition to a Cancerverse. Death explains that the Death of Death was convinced of the need for her existence. 'Are you?' Death asks Jane. Jane pauses, before replying 'Of course not'. 'But “ours is not to reason why,” is it? Boss' Jane remarks, before rushing to a flickering door nearby, excusing herself, 'It's a long way back to -' she begins, before stepping through the door as Valkyrie, and finding herself in Night Nurse's clinic.
'Hey! You're back!' a voice calls out. Valkyrie looks around and sees Cardiac sitting on a chair, his arms folded, while Night Nurse stands behind him, and Dr Strange next to her. Faiza Hussain stands next to Strange and tells Valkyrie that they all got back here ages ago, and they were starting to get worried. 'So... yeah. How'd it go? Did we win?' Faiza enquires. Finally, Manikin leans against the table, while two of his other selves – Apeman and Highbrow – stand nearby. Valkyrie tells her companions that Death is still with them, that Death will always be with them. 'We did not lose. But did we win?' she asks, uncertain.
Now, or perhaps earlier, Death stands over a car that has crashed into a tree and has been set alight with flames....
Dr. Jane Foster/Valkyrie
Dr. StrangeManikinDr. Faiza Hussain
Apeman, Highbrow (as separate entities)
DeathDeath of Death
Jane Foster's ex-husband, Keith Kincaid, and their son, Jimmy, were mentioned to have been killed in Mighty Thor (1st series) #704.
Night Nurse refers to being rescued by a hero which prompted her to return the favor by providing medical assistance to the super hero community. That took place in Doctor Strange: The Oath #1.
Nomad a.k.a Jack Monroe was killed by the Winter Soldier in Captain America (5th series) #3.
Cardiac's brother, Joshua, died from a terminal illness in Amazing Spider-Man (1st series) #360, which prompted Cardiac to pursue his career in medicine.
When Manikin's mutant powers first manifested in Alpha Flight (1st series) #48, he would originally summon Proto, Apeman and Highbrow as three individuals to assist him in battle. In Alpha Flight (1st series) #114-120, Manikin was placed in a coma following injuries sustained by the Jackal II. So that Whit could survive the injuries, Proto, Apeman and Highbrow sacrificed themselves in the Mindwell so that Whit, or as they called him, the Prime Unit, could surive. It then transpired in Alpha Flight (1st series) #122-124 that Whit could now summon the characteristics of each of his other selves, transforming himself into one of them at a time, rather than summoning them individually. It appears that now, Highbrow and Apeman appear as individual beings outside of Manikin once again.