Commander Steve Rogers: Back in the harness as “Top Cop”- just wrinklier. Steve becomes myopically obsessive in his persecution quest.
Maria Hill: Bumped back to Deputy Director.
Hawkeye (Clint Barton): Naturally rebellious, Barton surprisingly hangs with the law and order squad. Undisclosed, it’s probably due to his long allegiance to Cap and equally-longstanding aversion to Stark. He’s also re-deafened at some point due to exploits in his solo mag.
Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers): Field deputy. Returning to Earth, Carol falls back to her military roots.
Captain America (Sam Wilson): All-New FalCap’s other squad, the Mighty Avengers, is also a S.H.I.E.L.D. asset.
War Machine (James Rhodes): Former Iron Man/Iron Patriot reverts to his most famous handle. He controls a remote-control army of War Machine drones. He and Carol Danvers have a thing going…
Invisible Woman (Sue Richards): An Avenger from a brief best-left-buried-in-yesteryear stint, Mrs. Richards has evidently been moonlighting as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent for some time. No doubt coerced into service out of duty and obligation to her family and young charges’ continued safety, Sue is placed in a unique if not precarious situation.
Sunspot (Roberto da Costa): Using his billions and business assets, Bobby steps up as the leader of a loose Avengers faction more concerned with issues bigger than petty personal mandates disguised as “justice”. Most importantly, he uses his vast wealth to legally purchase AIM and puts their resources to work for the common good.
Manifold (Eden Fesi): Bobby’s personal assistant and teleporting chauffeur.
Smasher (Isabel Kane): In between Acts Two and Three, Izzy is recalled by the Shi’ar Imperial Guard. Leaving Earth, she realizes she’s pregnant with Cannonball’s child…
Cannonball (Sam Guthrie): Committed to standing by his new family, Sam joins Smasher in the far away Shi’ar Galaxy. They have a son named Josiah, who as an infant, already exhibits some degree of super-powers.
Spider-Woman (Jessica Drew): Quitting super-heroics, Jess resumes her private investigation business. Increasingly allied with the Black Widow, the two eventually go off the grid before resurfacing with Bobby’s team.
Black Widow (Natalia Romanova): Tired of the Rogers/Stark pissing contest and in need of a vacation.
Shang-Chi: Uses the downtime to commune with the Origin Bomb site in Kobe, Japan. Becomes a literal army of one.
Pod (Aikku Jokinen): Formerly AIM’s Origin Bomb “weapon”, Pod is retrieved from exile in the multiversal nothingspace and quickly demonstrates that she and her robotic symbiote are nurturers and a force for good.
Validator (Full identity unknown; last name probably “Michaud”): Still the most enigmatic and undefined of all Origin Bomb transformees, Validator’s role simply seems to be looking scary while wrapped in a giant black and white Canadian maple leaf.
Zebra Kids (“The Children of the Sun”): Hyperion’s super-adaptive and highly intelligent youthful adoptees from the prehistoric Savage Land are brought on board as Bobby’s personal think tank. They trade in their loin cloths for business suits but still aren’t big on individual names or identity.
Thor Odinson: After losing his hammer, Thor renounces his very name to the mystery woman who takes up his Thunder God schtick. Referred to only as “(the) Odinson”, he now carries the equally-enchanted ax, Jarnbjorn. His left arm is also severed in a battle with Dark Elf jerk-bastard, Malekith the Accursed, and is outfitted with a prosthetic made from the same Asgardian metal as Mjolnir. Has taken to kicking around the Savage Land.
Hyperion (Marcus Milton): Thor’s “beard bro”. Retiring to spend more time with his adopted Savage Land kids, Hyperion answers the question of “what if Superman went all Robinson Crusoe?”. Never have to worry about a campfire with laser vision, eh?
Starbrand (Kevin Connor): Leaving Earth to get a better handle on his powers and station as a “planetary defense system”, Kevin begins to encounter Alephs of Builders from other timelines in the far reaches of space.
Nightmask (“Adam”): Accompanying Starbrand on his intergalactic journey, Nightmask’s powers are given somewhat better definition. Capable of teleporting to anywhere by traversing the collective subconscious (or something along those lines), his powers come with a terrible price- overexertion results in a Benjamin Button-type condition that reverses his age!
Ex Nihilo: Spending time with the other Gardeners to renew life in deep space after “The Builders War”, Ex Nihilo soon comes to the fatal realization that, despite their efforts, the stars are prematurely dying.
Abyss: Still Ex Nihilo’s sister. Still goes where he goes and judges his work.
Iron Man (Tony Stark): Not a major player for most of this era but still Public Enemy #1. Launches botched one-man liberation of Wakanda only alluded to in flashbacks. Winds up the Cabal’s prisoner in clear cell inside Necropolis.
Mister Fantastic (Reed Richards): Default leader of the on-the-run society. Still looking to crack the riddle, Reed puts Val and the Future Foundation on number-crunching labwork while he runs around trying not to get caught…
Doctor Strange (Stephen Strange): M.I.A. (but with one helluva story).
Black Bolt (Blackagar Boltagon): Revealed to be alive, he is no longer ruler of the Inhumans and lives in exile. His relationship with his Medusa is massively strained.
Beast (Dr. Henry McCoy): In between Acts Two and Three, Hank gets involved in some deep space shenanigans involving the X-Men and the Guardians of the Galaxy. Temporarily altered by a cosmic monkey’s paw called “The Black Vortex”, Dr. McCoy witnesses the macro-level negative implications of his recent actions. He seems remorseful and interested in making restitution. However, it doesn’t seem to carry over to his involvement in the Illuminati. Or maybe it does- as Hank operates as something of a “double agent” between the fugitives and Sunspot’s team.
Black Panther (T’Challa): Having lost everything in Wakanda’s fall, the King of the Dead now finds his domain quite full, pulling split duty between resistance fighting and remaining underground elsewhere.
Doc Green (Dr. Bruce Banner): Having systematically removed nearly all other Gamma-based heroes and no stranger to fugitive status, Hulk remains in his smart guy persona 24/7.
Captain Britain (Brian Braddock): Something of a hotshot super-scientist in his own right, Braddock is brought in off-panel to bolster the ranks. Cap B is also in a unique position as a multiversal authority, serving as one of many in the pandimensional Captain Britain Corps. Unfortunately, this profile also brings the Corps to the deadly attention of the multiversal breakdown’s architects. Narrowly escaping but blinded in one eye, Braddock is now the last Captain Britain in existence.
Amadeus Cho: The self-styled “Seventh Smartest man in the World”, former Incredible Hercules sidekick is also tapped as a latter-day think tank sub. He’s captured by S.H.I.E.L.D. early on and then fades into the background (but that what he wants you to think…).
Yellowjacket (Dr. Henry Pym): Founding Avenger and former Ant-/Giant-Man. At some undisclosed point, Pym is brought in by Reed and Tony to explore the Multiverse and investigate how the Living Tribunal’s corpse wound up on the moon. He’s gone for some time and returns even more mentally unbalanced than usual…
The Action: Picking up eight months later, the Marvel Universe is a changed place. All of Stark’s assets seized, Avengers Tower is renamed S.H.I.E.L.D. Station Golgotha. On the run from their friends (and family), the Illuminati set up a temporary base in the Brotherhood of the Shield’s underground Italian city.
Kicking off an intricate game of cat and mouse, S.H.I.E.L.D. chases the Illuminati around Europe. Meanwhile Amadeus Cho is picked up trying to steal Stark secrets out of Golgotha. This is partly a cover to get somebody inside S.H.I.E.L.D.
Reed also has another contingency, a double agent on the inside- his wife, Sue. Risking a personal encounter, Sue passes him a note from Val. The kid geniuses ran the numbers all different ways- there’s no way to win. Her advice, the only thing left is to learn how not to lose…
Black Bolt also believes his brother Maximus to be their “man on the inside” within the Cabal. They are fatally mistaken as Maximus betrays the Panthers in the name of self-preservation. This costs Shuri her life as T’Challa escapes back to Italy.
Unrelated to all this, Sunspot’s team(s) begin to fall together. Recalling members from as far away as the Sh’iar Galaxy other points in deep space, these Avengers gather in the Savage Land and begin to devise a strategy in spite of all the other in-fighting.
Utilizing AIM’s Auger device, The Odinson, Hyperion, an army of Ex Nihilii and others will travel to the far side of the multiverse in an effort to stop whatever’s causing the collapse head-on. Only problem with this plan: due to the incalculable distance they are to travel, this is a guaranteed one-way trip. If this isn’t the sure-firest test for Thor to regain his worthiness or die trying…
Those who remain behind are charged with the equally-unenviable task of peaceably reuniting Reed and Cap’s factions, so they can all get down to the really important world-saving stuff.
In some strange coincidence, as Sunspot readies his intervention team, Reed springs his endgame. Convening in Spain, a battle breaks out between the Illuminati and S.H.I.E.L.D.’s forces. Determined to outsmart the smart men perceived to be underestimating him, Rogers unveils a few surprise combatants: the remote-controlled “Evil Universe” Hulk (now under the thumb of S.H.I.E.L.D.) as well as an entire additional team of heroes, FalCap’s Mighty Avengers.
About to be overwhelmed, Bobby’s team arrives, acting as a total wild card. However, what really turns the tide is Sue revealing her secret status by sealing everyone in narrow invisible barriers until cooler heads prevail.
Using their words, Reed explains that the Illuminati are now better able to predict when an Incursion will hit and that they are now on the verge of one nearby. Moreso, they’re able to use this info to track the Cabal’s movements. That said, if they act in unison, they stand a good chance of ending the threat of Thanos once and for all. How can he be so sure? Yet another man on the inside: Namor.
Realizing he made a terrible mistake in organizing the Cabal and letting them run unchecked across literally all of creation, Namor offers his services. He regrets his actions as much as his monarchical disposition will allow and agrees to Rogers’s terms of standing trial after the crisis is averted. Many of the others (Reed especially) acquiesce in kind. T’Challa, not so much….
So, the plan is to get Thanos and company over to the other Earth and trap them there. Once their anti-matter bomb is armed, the heroes will activate an experimental AIM force field from a platform that will hover equidistant between the two planets, providing a cushioning buffer from the detonation.
Incidentally, the AIM force field platform is a proprietary bit of daCosta tech and briefly becomes a point of conjecture when Hank McCoy appropriates it for the Illuminati’s ends. School loyalty counts for dick in the end times, huh?
Namor returns to the Cabal and ensures that every last one of them will be attending this particular Incursion….
Prior to this fateful day, Namor also turns to his oft-time ally, Doctor Doom, for assistance with the Cabal situation. Disdained because he wasn’t thought of more immediately, Doom rejects Namor’s plea. However, what the Latverian doesn’t disclose in turn is that he’s been secretly conducting an investigation into the Collapse of his own- private (mad) think-tank and all.
The site of one of the Illuminati’s earliest Incursion field trips, Doom manages to salvage a fragment of the destroyed other-Earth. Employing his scientific resources as well as other regular Fantastic Four villain, the Mad Thinker, Doom begins to reverse-engineer the larger pattern.
His investigations lead him to the Molecule Man, an old school nigh-omnipotent wacko whose particular power frequency coincidentally operates on the same wavelength as the beacon fragment. Wanting to know why that is, Doom confronts him. Instead, the Molecule Man whisks the two of them away into the recurring backdrop of blank multiversal nothingspace.
Elsewhere in the purgatorial abyss, Odinson’s “Multiversal” Avengers chase down the Black Priests to their home turf. Looking like variations on something that creeped out of a Terry Gilliam film, the Priests are but one of the many factions that could arrive at any given Incursion. Possessing great individual magic, the Priests’ true power comes when they unite to create greater spells.
Having to bust out the big guns, Odinson reveals that in his current state, he may not be able to wield Mjolnir- however, he is more than capable of lifting the hammer of “Evil Universe” Thorr The Unworthy! Transforming into some kind of “supergod”, Thor crackles with energy and turns the tide as if possessed.
Realizing the stakes have been upped, the Black Priests’ master is called into battle. Surveying the combatants, their master reveals his identity as Dr. Strange- surprisingly overjoyed to see his old comrade in arms so far from home!
While never fully disclosed, it seems safe to suppose that some combination of Strange’s newly unlocked dark abilities in conjunction with the magic helmet of the Great Society’s Norn somehow produced the Black Priests, scattering them throughout the Multiverse. Strange explains that his minions are not “evil” but rather, they are viewed as some kind of cult of cosmic “triage surgeons”- cutting away the infected parts so that the bulk of the Multiverse may live.
Strange also goes on to give the best definition to date of the Collapse’s parameters. It seems the entire scenario is being propagated as a “Game of Worlds” between two camps: Rabum Alal, revered as “The Great Destroyer” by his sisterhood of priestesses, the Black Swans and the Ivory Kings with their robotic Mapmakers. Only by taking on both parties simultaneously do the Avengers have any hope of abating the crisis.
The Multiversals begin to make their way to the Ivory Kings while Strange rallies his Priests, trailing Black Swans to their citadel, the Library of Worlds. Once the purview of the Ivory Kings, the Library touches all of existence yet sits outside of it- an oasis from the Collapse. Forcing their way through a door on an alternate Earth, Strange and the Priests unleash all-out war. However, battling with home-court advantage, the Swans set a trap- decimating the Priests entirely. All save Strange…
Brought before Rabum Alal, Strange is shocked to discover that “The Great Destroyer” is… Doctor Doom?! How is this? As Strange learns firsthand from witness accounts predating his own creation of the Black Priests, time and space don’t really seem to matter much out there. But, more on this in just a bit…
Getting back to Earth and “Operation Incursion Fence”, everything goes off smoothly enough. Secure in feeling the Cabal are thoroughly immersed in tearing up the encroaching alternate Earth, Namor arms the bomb, sneaking off for home. His sly departure is noted by Black Swan, sensing the betrayal.
Arriving on the platform, Namor is ready to activate the force field. Suddenly, he is confronted by T’Challa and Black Bolt. T’Challa rams his ceremonial Panther blade into Namor’s chest as Black Bolt sends him flying back down towards the Cabal with a message for his brother, Maximus. Shield raised, the other Earth explodes, seemingly claiming the Cabal as Namor screams in rage. The Panther and Black Bolt return to the others, stating that Namor won’t be joining them.
What really happens is that in a freak occurrence, two Incurisons wind up overlapping on the doomed Earth! Recovering quickly, Namor covers up for his botched exodus as the Cabal race to find the other Incursion zone before the countdown to detonation.
Escaping to World #3, the Cabal encounter “The Maker”, the younger but unhinged Reed Richards of Earth-1610 aka “The Ultimate Universe”. Apparently he’s also been acting on his own to destroy other threatening Earths. Small multiverse, huh?
Speaking of, back out in the great wilds, the Multiversal Avengers follow a trail of Mapmaker robots, hoping to trace them back to the Ivory Kings. Realizing they are close yet desperate to escape a dying universe, Nightmask volunteers to use up the remainder of his life energy to power the others there. With an assist from Abyss, Nightmask uncreates himself right out of existence. His sacrifice a success, the Avengers stand before a gaping maw unlike any other torn in creation. In a scene similar to the whole Gozer the Gozerian “you must choose” bit from Ghostbusters, the chasm spits forth two giant amorphous robo-alien guardians to sling insults and do battle. Earth’s Godliest also discover that the Ivory Kings of Wild Space also go by another name…. Beyonders.
The Avengers suffer heavy losses against the formidable pair. It takes all the combined life energy of Ex Nihilo, Abyss and their Gardener army to take one down. More specifically, they use the Beyonder’s fluid form against it, evolving with it to its ultimate potential in the form it inhabits (some sort of funky space tree).
Hyperion, Thor and Starbrand are taken to task by the other one. Blinding Hyperion and beating Thor with his own prosthetic arm, the Beyonder also spears Starbrand through the chest. Incredulous that he will now die without knowing his greater purpose, Starbrand takes out the remaining Beyonder in a devastating explosion.
With very little pause, the giant hole in space begins to spew forth more attackers. Reaching for his grounded hammer, Odinson comes to the ironic realization that he is unable to lift the hammer of Thorr The Unworthy. Unable to do anything but laugh, Thor calls to Hyperion as the two warriors prepare to die in glorious combat.
Elsewhere, Doom explains to Strange the complex ins and outs of how he became “The Great Destroyer”. It seems Doom isn’t causing Incursions as intentionally villainous act. Instead, he is acting much in the fashion of Strange’s own Black Priests, pre-emptively removing Earths from existence before an even greater evil (the Beyonders) is capable of fulfilling a terrible multiversal experiment.
The reason why all of this is happening is that the Beyonders have inserted the Molecule Man as a singular being split equally among all alternate realities. Once in place throughout all of the multiverse, they plan on using him as a detonator to simultaneously wipe out all of existence. Why? Why not?
Fighting against this destiny, the Molecule Man implores Doom to traverse the multiverse and destroy him in all of his incarnations before the Beyonders are able to pull the trigger. Apparently once Doom begins racking up a big enough body count, the Incursions begin.
Looking to expedite the task and expand his grasp, Doom also takes the Molecule Man’s advice to build the mythos of “The Great Destroyer” into the religious figure of Rabum Alal. Bringing more and more Black Swans under his guidance, his followers swell in number and elevate his legend. None of his Swans ever lay eyes on him- his closest attended blinded. However, he does mention the occasional wayward disciple.
The Black Swan of the Cabal is an example of such. At some point, she apparently went Col. Kurtz and begins shaping her own agenda. She has been shown to be carrying the genetic material of her deceased family and is obviously planning some sort of ultra-secret double-cross with Namor. What shape this will ultimately take still remains to be seen.
Readying for a showdown with the Beyonders, Doom, Strange and the Molecule Man mount a platform and transcend to the point of the Multiversal Avengers’ last stand. Feeling confidant that full measure of the opponents has been taken, Doom launches the actual Library of Worlds at the Beyonders. This gambit backfires as the Beyonders respond with an unimaginable attack. The result of this encounter: less than two dozen realities now remain in existence.
Back on Earth(s), this turn of events is noted. The various factions of Avengers agree to convene in Wakanda to discuss the state of the situation. Iron Man is liberated but told to make himself scarce before Rogers shows.
Shortly thereafter, prodigal hero, Yellowjacket, returns from his prolonged exploration of the Multiverse. He didn’t succeed in his primary objective (finding the elusive Rabum Alal) but instead relays a tale of cosmic horror- having witnessed a handful of Beyonders destroying the great abstract entities of the Marvel cosmology (Eternity, Infinity, Chaos and Order). Oh, this was also the fall of the Living Tribunal- so murder mystery solved. Of course, it defies the logic of continuity, so that’s actually kind of scary. Suddenly it’s Schrodinger’s Universe…
While Reed and the others are processing the sharp spike in Multiversal attrition, Mentor of the Shi’ar Imperial Guard is coming to some hard realizations of his own. Studying the data of prematurely dying stars, he comes to he grim conclusion that somehow Earth really is the root of it all. Bringing this to the attention of Majestor Gladiator, the word goes out that the great galactic empires backed the wrong horse in the Builder War. Sure, they’re grateful enough that the Avengers saved their planets but ultimately they should’ve let the Builders destroy the Earth for the good of the Universe. It’s an oversight they’re willing to grudgingly correct.
Getting wind of the intergalactic coalition’s plan, the Guardians of the Galaxy head Earthward to warn the Avengers. Hasty preparations are made not only to ward off the alien invasion but to begin safeguarding against an upcoming Incursion- calculated to be the very last one.
The Illuminati and Future Foundation begin hastily working on a limited-capacity “life raft”, a vessel forged from the very carcass of the Living Tribunal- potentially the only thing capable of withstanding the imminent Incursion. Their plan is to save all the world’s top scientists and engineers, feeling they are humanity’s best bet for survival.
Once the aliens show up, the focus obviously shifts. The Avengers unveil an array of “macro-level” global defenses, quite similar in scope to Hickman’s Fantastic Four story circa the big 50th Anniversary celebration.
There’s a geothermal Death Star-type laser emitting from the Savage Land. The Avengers bring about their captured Planet Killer monstrosity space-ship, hidden in the eye of Jupiter since the end of the Builder War. They use the phased rogue planet as a giant force field. And there’s even the use-once-and-destroy grand finale weaponization of the Dyson sphere space station, Sol’s Hammer (another giant space laser)!
In short, it sucks to see such long-standing Marvel players cut down like that en masse but they put the Earth in a lose-lose “us or them” situation- nobody was coming away felling good. Except maybe Tony. Taking the opportunity to make the grandest of gestures, Iron Man is single-handedly instrumental in shaping the victory. However, it’s still too little, too late for Steve’s liking…
Back in the Ultimate Universe, Richards gives General Nick Fury the straight dope on the Incursions and their current terminal course. Presented with the facts and very little options, the Cabal act like impromptu war advisors as Fury musters all of Earth-1610’s S.H.I.E.L.D. forces. Prepared to fight to the death, Fury is still very distrusting of the immediate powers pushing him to the crossroads…
Tracking Tony to a secret Manhattan base, Steve confronts his former BFF wearing a modified War Machine armor. There’s a lot of yelling, self-righteousness and repulsors in the face. At this point, the Incursion begins and the sky fills with 1610’s Helicarrier brigade. Steve and Tony’s personal battle becomes a speck on the ground in comparison to the ever-widening devastation. Indeed, a curiously inauspicious ending to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
But that’s life sometimes, isn’t it? Petty squabble with your bro while the sky falls down around the two of you. Metaphors…
With Secret Wars set to unleash, it remains to be seen exactly how final any of this truly is. We may still be too close to examine all of the allegory but one thing is already apparent, it’s been one hell of a ride. Here’s looking forward to what happens next!