‘Hi, honey! Dinner at 6:30’ a blonde woman calls out from the kitchen when her husband enters their home. ‘Hard day at the office?’ she asks him as he removes his suit jacket and sits on a sofa in front of the television. ‘So-so, Shirley’ the man replies, adding that it is nothing a dry martini and a rerun of “Hogan’s Heroes” can’t cure, though. ‘I tell you - if we didn’t have cable TV -’ he begins as he flicks the television on, just in time for a public service announcement. Staring back at him from the television screen is the Mighty Thor, ‘We do seek out new Avengers!’ Thor booms. ‘Hey, Shirley - c’mere! You aren’t gonna believe this!’ the man tells his wife.
In the meantime, two aircraft, an Avengers Quinjet and a Titanian spacecraft, have breached Manhattan airspace. Inside the Avengers Quinjet are Thor, Tony “Iron Man” Stark and their associate, the sorcererss Agatha Harkness. They speak via video-monitor to the occupants of the other vessel, their teammate Clint “Hawkeye” Barton, and Heather Douglas, the woman called Moondragon. ‘Married! Mantis I was expecting - though an intelligent tree for a groom came outta left field - but Wanda and the Vision took me completely by surprise!’ Hawkeye declares, adding that the Vision is a sly guy. ‘Enlightened’s more like it, I’d say - to seek a life with my Scarlet Witch!’ Agatha observes.
Thor tells the old woman that, however that may be, the wisdom in choosing them as Avengers is once more amply demonstrated. ‘Eh, old friend?’ he says to Iron Man. Tony agrees, adding that they can safely take credit for everything. From the other ship, Hawkeye tells them that somebody better take credit for landing their ship. Thor understands, but points out the window up at a star, shining in the sky and declares that even with the Celestial Madonna departing from their rolling sphere, the star above Avengers Mansion does shine. ‘I guess we’ll never learn how it got there’ Iron Man remarks.
Shortly, the three Avengers and their female associates enter the Mansion, and are greeted by Edwin Jarvis, ‘Thank providence! You’ve returned - and you have Miss Harkness. Then - Ms Wanda is all right?’ Jarvis inquires, referring to her recent disappearance. ‘Jarvis! She could not be better!’ Thor assures him. ‘But - why is Miss Harkness - I mean -’ Jarvis begins. The old woman declares ‘These men do not “have” Agatha Harkness. I walk, as ever, alone!’ Agatha states that only through the love of others, a mother’s for her son, perhaps, or a woman’s for herself and her man, only through others may Agatha Harkness know peace. Agatha admits that sometimes her need leads her to overestimate her own aging abilities. ‘I attempted to give your Wanda more than I myself was prepared to receive - and if she were not so - so infernally durable! And yet she is, so I say to you gentlemen - your Wanda will never be a great witch, much less a sorceress - but she will be very good’. Agatha then excuses herself and climbs the flight of stairs to the upper level.
Hawkeye is quite annoyed when Thor turns to him and rumbles ‘Now, Avengers, there be urgent business before us!’ Thor points out that with the Scarlet Witch and Vision on vacation, and the loss of the Swordsman and Mantis, their ranks are sorely depleted. ‘I do recommend we seek our replacements’ he adds. ‘Ahh, you just wanna be the leader of a big ol’ band’ Hawkeye replies. Iron Man tells Hawkeye to speak for himself, and reports that he is on Thor’s side, and points out that at the moment, two of the three remaining Avengers are only part time, and he feels that the Avengers deserve a better showing than that. ‘You guys always stick together, don’t you’ Hawkeye mutters, to which Iron Man replies ‘Maybe’ before declaring that he has something to say which he is certain Hawkeye will agree with him on, and states ‘To wit: I hereby propose Moondragon as the newest Avenger assembled!’
‘Me? You astonish me, Iron Man!’ Moondragon responds, adding that perhaps he does not, pointing out that Mantis was very dear to all their hearts, and they see Mantis in her. ‘But I warn you, gentlemen, I say “I”, not “this one” and I have been adjudged to have a different destiny from hers. Your confusion of us would dismay me’. Moondragon then tells the Avengers that she accepts their offer. She reveals that she has had her interest reawakened in this planet, her native one, and since she wishes to remain here for a time, she is pleased to call them allies. ‘As am I, Avenger’ Thor tells her, while Hawkeye turns away from the others and thinks to himself ‘Nuts!’ Thor suggests that before they initiate another into their chosen midst, he proposes they invite those who have come and gone to return. Hawkeye tells Thor that they should get it over with before he busts a gut. ‘I still say we’re dandy where we are’ Hawkeye adds, while Iron Man suggests they call the Black Panther first, as he was the last one to leave.
And soon, in the communications room, the Avengers have contacted T’Challa, the Black Panther, who tells them ‘The fine fool’s gold of Stark Velvet Morning seems to light the mottled tapestry of desire and disaster that comprises the legend of life for my people and myself in the hidden, half-slumbering nation-state we proudly proclaim Wakanda’. He adds that the amber eyes of reason widen as mauve shadows of regret creep across all the outside world-scape and scream the bleeding need for the Panther’s presence at this time. ‘Nay’ Thor thinks to himself.
The second called Avenger is no more encouraging, as Pietro “Quicksilver” Maximoff appears on the monitor and snaps ‘You know my feelings regarding my sister and that android - yet you inform me of their marriage and ask me to leave my wife because of it, in the same breath? Are you mad, Thunder God?’
Thor, Iron Man and Hawkeye all stare back at the monitor, and Thor remarks that this bodes ill. ‘I had not expected success of an instant - yet, neither did I expect such vehemence with the failure’ he tells his friends. ‘Well, we’re not Tony Stark’s security force. Being an Avenger’s not just a job… it’s a way of life, and you have to be willing to devote a lot of time to it, not everyone can do that’ he points out. ‘Yeah, this ain’t the Defenders’ Hawkeye remarks, referring to the “non-team”. ‘With people popping in and out. I tried that trip - but if I’m gonna work up any team spirit, I have to have a real team’.
Hawkeye tells the others that he knows who to call - and they phone Captain America. Steve Rogers looks back at his former teammates as Hawkeye reminds him that he said when he was the Nomad that he would be back after finishing off the Serpent Squad. Cap replies that he knows he did, but that he didn’t know back then the Red Skull was waiting in the wings. ‘I’ll have to take another raincheck, sorry’ he apologizes.
The Black Widow a.k.a. Natasha Romanova is next, and Iron Man tells her that he maybe she and Daredevil have sorted out their love life. The Black Widow tells Iron Man that he has no idea how wrong he is. ‘If anything, we’re more confused than ever… but we’re not ready to break it up as yet’ she replies.
Hercules is next, as Thor remarks ‘… thus, since thou hast been at loose ends of late, Hercules…’, but the Olympian replies that he shall remain, as he has enjoyed himself hugely since he once more trod this world, and he nurtures no desire to limit his freedom of action now.
Thor next contacts Janet van Dyne, the Wasp, and tells her that he supposes she and Hank will wish to retain their leave of absence. ‘Why, no, Thor. Not at all!’ the Wasp replies. ‘You do not?’ Thor asks, surprised. The Wasp claims that she was about to get in touch with them, revealing that her better half left a while ago to be with the Defenders, leaving her behind, and she is getting bored sitting around on her assets, so she would like to go adventuring again. Thor asks the Wasp how she can be sure Hank will join her, to which the Wasp smiles and boasts that theirs is a happy marriage. ‘And Hank wants to keep it that way’.
Marriage is a not-uncommon state of affairs, even these days, among super-heroes. Now, in Rurutu, French Polynesia, where Wanda Maximoff a.k.a. the Scarlet Witch and her android husband the Vision are honeymooning: ‘Come out, come out wherever you are!’ Wanda calls out as she runs across the beach wearing her skimpy bikini. ‘Wanda, I feel absurd. In my entire life I’ve never even thought of wearing a bathing suit or of going swimming’ the Vision declares as he emerges from a changing-tent on the beach, wearing nothing but green trunks. Wanda smiles and tells her husband that there is a first time for everything, as he should know better than anyone. ‘Besides, you look gorgeous!’ Wanda adds. The Vision replies that he doesn’t feel gorgeous, but embarrassed. ‘What if someone should see me like this?’ he enquires. Wanda reminds the Vision that the natives agreed to stay away to make up for trying to sacrifice her when they were here before. ‘You’re just off balance because you’re starting out on a new life, unlike any you or the original Human Torch have ever known. Aren’t you, dark eyes?’ Wanda explains. In answer, the Vision sets his mouth in a stern line, but then one corner of it twitches and turns up…and he turns to his bride and pulls her close, to hide his tender smile, and only their senses ever go swimming as they kiss.
Back in Avengers Mansion: ‘Two acceptances out of seven possible… maybe eight of you count the Hulk, which I don’t’ Iron Man tells Thor and Hawkeye. Thor admits that he has near forgot that the Hulk stood with them when they founded the Avengers. ‘How much hath changed since that day’ he adds. ‘Well, you know why, don’t you?’ Hawkeye points out: ‘It’s all the other groups that have sprung up since then: The X-Men, the Defenders, the Inhumans! We’re not the only game in town any more - and in addition, being a solo super-star is a dream more people than me have had’ Clint remarks. ‘If you’re saying that being an Avenger it out of style, Mister -’ Iron Man starts to reply, but Thor tells Iron Man to hold on, as there is reason in Hawkeye’s words. ‘Sure! We’re the old guard after all these years! It’s easy to take us for granted’
Suddenly, a voice calls out ‘Oh, I don’t know Clint. Your big brown eyes still knock me out’. Hawkeye looks confused, ‘Huh? Who said that?’ he replies, while Iron Man and Thor grin. ‘Me, you handsome brute! The modern American Tinkerbell herself!’ the Wasp exclaims as she flies up in front of Hawkeye. ‘Waspie!’ Clint smiles. ‘In the miniaturized flesh, big boy. Who else could get in past all the alarms by way of the keyhole’ the Wasp remarks as she sets down on a table. ‘How about your name-changing, size-changing old man for one, lady?’ Clint asks. ‘Not any more’ the Wasp replies, explaining that not since they got home from fighting the Lunatic Legion in Chicago, and discovered that the microbe which trapped them at ant-size two years ago is still in Hank’s blood. She adds that nowadays, Hank stays in one size, except in ermgencies, so she had to let him in behind her.
‘Time to spin around in surprise again, people - because you have another unexpected visitor - and this one answers to the name of Yellowjacket!’ a voice calls out, and Thor, Hawkeye and Iron Man turn to see their old friend, Dr Hank Pym, now known as Yellowjacket. ‘Hank Pym, you son of a gun! How are you, fella?’ Iron Man asks, before remarking ‘So the Defendfers let you go after all?’ Yellowjacket replies that the Defenders didn’t “let him go”, as you can come and go as you please with them - just like a certain archer who fought on their side in the Avengers / Defenders clash, but now spends a lot of time putting them down, from what he overheads. ‘Hey! Are you looking for a stomped stinger, buddy?’ Hawkeye declares, readying his bow and arrow. ‘We both split the Avengers to do our own thing, and we both drifted in with that crazy crew - and we both decided not to stay’ Hawkeye reminds Hank. ‘Didn’t we, YJ? Think ya still got the old stuff, pal?’ Clint asks, firing an arrow at Yellowjacket, who ducks and replies ‘I do all right’.
Yellowjacket adds that even if the life of a research scientist has slowed him down a little, it let him invent this cellular disruption gun, which halts all functions in living tissue for as long as he chooses. Yellowjacket then fires the weapon at Hawkeye, adding that it works particularly well when stunning hot-headed bowmen. Clint falls to the ground, and Hank tells him that he is sorry, but he didn’t feel like proving himself in some mock combat right now, especially if it is not entirely mock. Hank tells the Avengers that Jan told him they needed a quorum, and she was going, so he came too. ‘But I have to tell you, Thor, that I’ve come to like a life of research, and if it were solely up to me, I’d opt for spending most of my time on that’. Thor thanks Yellowjacket for his sacrifice, and points out that he could have allowed his wife to come alone. ‘No’ Hank Pym smiles, pointing out that he and Jan are a team. He adds that they aren’t together all the time, certainly, but he wouldn’t want to be apart from her for any great while. Jan adds that Hank is hopeless without her, joking that he would wear the same socks for a month if she weren’t around. ‘But I want to be around, so everything works out great’ Jan grins. ‘In any event, we are both here - even though neither of us understands why you’re so hung up on the past’ Yellowjacket begins.
‘If all the other old Avengers are busy, do what we did when we picked up this guy and find some new Avengers! Just put the word out that you’re looking’ Yellowjacket suggests. This does not impress Hawkeye, who replies ‘Boy, that does it! We’ve already got one new Avenger today, and now you want to call Central Casting!’ He adds that he doesn’t approve, and point out that there is still one former Avenger they have not contacted - the Black Knight. Clint points out that he may still be in the Twelfth Century, but the Avengers are no strangers to time travel any more, as they still have access to Dr Doom’s time machine. ‘You do what you want to, I’m going after the Black Knight’ Clint tells everyone as he leaves. ‘Wow, did somebody say “hung up in the past”?’ the Wasp asks the others. Yellowjacket reminds her that Hawkeye has only been a success with the Avengers, that he is bound to resist anything that would come to change them. ‘Mayhap, yet that be his concern. Now, let us speak of “putting the word out”’ Thor tells the others.
And, after a televised appeal, Iron Man, Thor, the Wasp, Yellowjacket and Moondragon stand inside Yankee Stadium. Moondragon is surprised by this, but Thor points out that it is deserted due to the stadium’s reconstruction, and securely locked, so it will provide an excellent arena to test those who come in response to their announcement - and a fine test in and of itself, for only those possessed of skill and determination can reach them within the stadium. ‘Don’t look now, but I think we have our first customer’ Iron Man announces as a man in a trench coat and wide-brimmed hat leaps onto the field. ‘Who is he? I don’t recognize him in that overcoat’ someone remarks. ‘Who am I? Don’t play dumb, you muggs, or I’ll haveta send some of the boys around, see? Mother of Mercy, that’d be the end of you’ the new arrival remarks. ‘That voice! It can’t be, but it’s - Edward G Robinson!’ someone gasps. ‘That’s right! It can’t be, but it is’ the new arrival replies.
Stunned silence clutches the five Avengers as they boggle at the great, but late, actor standing there, limned in silver moonlight, is this the supernatural, like the Swordsman’s resurrection? But, the Avengers are shocked when Robinson grabs his own head - and pulls it off - revealing a furry blue creature beneath as he removes the over coat. ‘Hiya, kids! Hiya! Hiya! Pretty good disguise, huh?’ the blue creature grins. ‘Good Lord! It’s - it’s - the Beast!’ Moondragon exclaims. ‘The very same - well, a little older and a lot wiser, maybe. And a whole lot more laid back’ Hank McCoy tells the Avengers, assuring them that it is him, and that he has come to apply in hopes of making the team, just like they asked. ‘Wait a minute, aren’t you an X-Man?’ Iron Man points out. ‘Why? Aren’t you an equal opportunity employer?’ the Beast replies, explaining that he used to be an X-Man, running around in those colorful costumes and all - but that was when he looked human, and was entirely too serious.
The Beast continues, pointing out that next to Professor X, he was the group’s intellectual, which was pretty funny, because he was also the star athlete, what with his anthropoid arms and legs. He adds that none of that, apparently, was meant to last forever, being an X-Man was being a student, and they all had to graduate. Hank tells the Avengers that he moved on to pursue his experiments in genetic mutation at the Brand Corporation, under his maiden name of Hank McCoy. ‘Hold! Speak not of thy secret identity! We do not require such disclosures!’ Thor announces. The Beast tells him to cool it, as it doesn’t make any difference to him, as he doesn’t have another identity anymore, secret or otherwise. ‘That’s the part I was getting to, see - after I’d been with the Corporation for four months, I stumbled upon a spy plot, which I naturally figured to fight!’ Hank tells the Avengers that the trouble was, his abnormal body was well known by then, so simply slipping on a costume wouldn’t be enough of a disguise, and too quickly, he decided to make use of his experimental formula for the chemical cause of mutation - and he mutated the mutant man into a real Beast.
Show with flashback illustrations:
The Beast explains that only later did he discover that he couldn’t change back - that he was trapped in this form forever. At first he was horrified. He tried everything he could think of to make believe he could go on the way he had been, even to the point of working up rubber masks and gloves so he could pass for Hank McCoy. But eventually, it all got too heavy, and he had to drop out of sight and come to terms with his new self. So he did. After a while, he found he had a perspective on things, without even working at it. He let the time pass however it wanted, he watched old movies, read some Castaneda and listened to Stevie Wonder, and by and large, but his cruel fate out of mind.
The Beast tells the Avengers that he figured this was what he is now, so he might as well make the best of it, and that includes realizing that any mask he wears, even Hank McCoy’s, is only pretend - so he can pretend to be anybody he wants. ‘You should see my Bogart’ Hank jokes, adding that he also realized one more thing, very surprising - that he likes super-heroing, and he likes it with a group. Suddenly, a voice calls out ‘Then I hope you’ll like to die with this group, monster!’ The Beast turns in the direction of the voice, ‘Huh? Who’s crabbing my act?’ the Beast snarls. ‘He’s in the upper tier! In the shadows by the pillar!’ Iron Man exclaims. The voice calls back to the Avengers, warning them not to make a move, as he has taken a seat in the “grandstand” to watch a game played before him. ‘A game you will play against these hover mines I massed invisibly around you while you chattered - as I render them visible, note their vast number - how they cover the football field to a height of fifty yards’. The Avengers look up to see a large number of spiked mines above them, as the voice tells them that only one in five is armed, but that each of them contains unearthly power.
The voice instructs the Avengers that they have six minutes to reach a disarmament lever beyond the mines, for then he shall detonate everything manually. ‘We’re in for it, folks!’ the Beast exclaims, adding that he knows that voice. Thor reports that he knows it to - the Stranger. Thor starts smacking the mines with his hammer, and remarks that the Stranger’s weaponry is mighty against men, so it must be the son of Odin who confronts them first. Thor starts to fly upwards, announcing that Mjolnir will follow a direct course, which he can alter but little, compelling him to strike every mine in his path. Thor points out that most of them are harmless, before he smacks into one of them, which explodes. Thor is knocked about, before gathering himself, he tells the Stranger that was more than he expected. ‘But the God of Thunder - shall press on!’ Thor exclaims, before he strikes another armed mine, which throws him about so hard that he plummets back to the field below.
‘Good Lord! He couldn’t take it! He’s down!’ Iron Man calls out, wondering why Thor just couldn’t wait. Iron Man then takes flight, knowing that his armor is almost as strong as Thor’s skin, and he has maneuverability. ‘But no, he can’t resist a challenge! So now it’s up to - wait a minute!’ Iron Man exclaims, as the mines are all drifting before him, disturbed by the earlier explosions, as one of them explodes against Iron Man, dropping him like scrap metal to the field. Shock gives way to one breathless voice, as the Wasp announces that the two strongest Avengers are down, almost before they started. ‘That’s going to be a tough act to follow’ the Wasp adds. ‘Now just hold on!’ Yellowjacket tells his wife, pointing out that the mines are bobbing around like corks out there. The Wasp tells Yellowjacket not to be a party-pooper, as she is the only one left who can fly. ‘I can fly!’ Yellowjacket remarks, too which the Wasp tells him he shouldn’t, because he would have to shrink. ‘So I’m elected’ she announces, shrinking down, she takes flight and tells Yellowjacket to relax, as she was the one who wanted adventure. ‘And a wasp’s a real small target’ Jan adds.
Jan darts between the mines and admits to herself that she has not flown much in the last two years, and realizes the balls are moving fast compared to her speed. ‘Hard to dodge -’ she decides, when suddenly, ‘JAN!’ Yellowjacket calls out when one of the mines explodes next to her. ‘Oh, no!’ the Beast utters. ‘JAN!’ Yellowjacket cries once more, as he runs between the mines to try and reach her. ‘Halt, Henry Pym!’ Moondragon commands, but she realizes he is heedless of his personal safety. Moondragon decides that there must be no more personal waste, an uses a total mind-thrust to stop Yellowjacket, who drops to the ground. Heather turns to the Beast and tells him that the two of them must think this through dispassionately, before any more hasty action is attempted. ‘That’s right, all right - but I have been thinking it through - and over and under and around - and I always come up with the same answer!’ the Beast replies.
The Beast calls Moondragon “Moonshine” and tells her that he is a beast now, with eyesight far sharper than human, and speed and agility far beyond that. ‘The Stranger has us running this movable maze like rats - so maybe an animal can succeed where gods and insects fail!’ the Beast exclaims, as he lopes forward in his normal crouch, cautiously, then suddenly leaps, and fives, and throws himself into a never-ending series of twists and turns executed almost as fast as Moondragon’s Titan-trained senses can record them. The Beast claimed to have been laid back, but there is no hitch in the smooth rhythm of his motion! No uncertainty in his choice of routes. His is a natural ability, little affected by disuse. And though Moondragon earned her title as Titan’s foremost female athlete, she sees it all with silent awe - the Beast, too, ‘Oh my stars and garters!’ he gasps as he dives through the last of the mines, and snatches down on the lever. He thinks he is going to have a terminal case of jellied knees after he trips the switch.
Instantly, the sinister spheres shoot skyward, but has safety come too late? The Beast drops down to the field, where Iron Man groans, and sits up, ‘Iron Man’s alive!’ the Beast exclaims, as Thor gets up and announces that he is, as well - despite his underestimation of the foe. Moondragon goes over to Yellowjacket, who holds the Wasp, in her default true size, in his arms. ‘But Jan - Jan won’t wake up! I can barely find her pulse!’ Yellowjacket declares. ‘BLAST you, Stranger! Come down here and fight like a man!’ Yellowjacket shouts. ‘Not like a man, Yellowjacket - but like that which I am to man - a stranger!’ the being called the Stranger exclaims as he appears in a glow of energy above the Avengers.
The Stranger tells the heroes that his game has offered him amusement, but not the anticipated pleasure of the Avengers’ deaths, so he appears before them solely to rectify matters. The Stranger remarks that the bald woman does not alone possess mastery of the mind, and fires a blast towards Moondragon. ‘No, but you will have to prove your superiority on that score, alien!’ Moondragon responds. ‘He will, there’s no doubt of it’ Iron Man thinks to himself, recalling that from what Moondragon showed them in the Thanos War, she is good, but is outclassed by a mile this time. Thor decides that they need to charge the Stranger now, while Moondragon holds him at bay. And yet, all at once, ‘Wretched female! You try my patience! I have a better plan!’ the Stranger exclaims, deciding that there will be another time or it, another place. ‘Mark my words - you have not finished with the Stranger!’ the villain declares as he vanishes.
‘She hath driven him hence!’ Thor thinks to himself. Hank Pym responds, but not to an empty sky, where the others all stare. They have survived their first test as a team - but the crumpled form in his arms may well change that deceptive tally. It is a sobering beginning….