Avengers (7th series) #15

Issue Date: 
April 2019
Story Title: 
The Battle for the Throne of the Damned

Jason Aaron (writer), David Marquez (artist), Erick Arciniego (colorist), Virtual Calligraphy's Clayton Cowles (letterer), David Marquez & Justin Ponsor (cover artists), Gerald Parel (variant cover artist), Carlos Lao (graphic designer), Alanna Smith (associate editor), Tom Brevoort (editor), CB Cebulski (editor-in-chief), Joe Quesada (chief creative officer), Dan Buckley (president), Alan Fine (executive producer)
Avengers created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby

Brief Description: 

At Avengers Mountain, Captain America, Captain Marvel, the Black Panther and Blade battle the Shadow Colonel and his vampire dog, Sarge, before Robbie Reyes the Ghost Rider joins them – only he has been transformed into the aggressive Spirit of Vengeance who lashes out at his teammates, before he speeds away from the Mountain. The Avengers discuss their current problems, while Iron Man infiltrates one of Russia's worst prisons, where Dracula is being held captive while Russia works on processing his request for asylum. Iron Man and Dracula speak for some time and Dracula reveals that Stark's father, Howard, once came to him seeking the key to immortality. Stark isn't able to get clear answers from Dracula and soon helps Crimson Dynamo during a prison riot – and Crimson Dynamo is not happy to see his old enemy. In Madripoor, the Shadow Colonel and his Legion of the Unliving take the vampire civil war to a group of vampires who just want to be left alone. The Shadow Colonel kills them all, and takes the Spirit of Vengeance to a secret room within the high rise, where the vampires had hidden all of their vampire children – whom the Shadow Colonel orders the Spirit of Vengeance to kill. Once the prison is secure, the Crimson Dynamo, Darkstar and Vanguard discuss the riot and what it could mean. Vanguard wants to arrest Iron Man, who tries to convince the Winter Guard that they have bigger fish to fry, so the Crimson Dynamo gut-punches him and warns him to leave. Dracula has some cryptic parting words for Iron Man, who then flies out of the prison. Back in Madripoor, the Shadow Colonel is unimpressed that the Spirit of Vengeance did not kill the children and lashes out at him, attempting to control him further, before several of the Avengers arrive on scene.

Full Summary: 

Avengers Mountain, where Roberto “Robbie” Reyes is screaming. Screaming and screaming and screaming. So much screaming that it feels like his throat is on fire. But for some reason – no one can hear him. He wonders why he is screaming – he can't seem to remember anymore. He just remembers burning and melting and someone yelling weird names at him – suddenly, he remembers. There was a talking dog. The dog's words made him scream, made him lose himself in fire – lose himself more than usual. He isn't sure where he is right now, just that it hurts like hell.

At the same moment, in the interrogation room, the mysterious Shadow Colonel slams a fist into Blade, telling him that this has been fun, but that he will be leaving now. 'Only question is... am I killing you before I go?' the Shadow Colonel asks.

'Stand down, Colonel! Or I'll make you wish to hell you -' Carol Danvers a.k.a. Captain Marvel calls out as she flies into the interrogation room. The Shadow Colonel turns to her – and slams her to the floor with ease. Carol gets up, and blade grabs a large stake. Mist begins to fill the interrogation room, and Blade reminds Carol that vampires can turn into mist. 'Oh, I'm gonna turn him into mist all right. A big, red one!' Carol boasts. Suddenly, T'Challa the Black Panther and Steve Rogers a.k.a. Captain America rush into the interrogation room, and the Black Panther orders Avengers Mountain to initiate gut check protocols, to lock down all intestinal levels, while Captain America uses his communicator to alert the Avengers that there is a situation in the detainment facility.

Suddenly, the Colonel's flaming skull-headed dog, Sarge, lunges at Cap, who blocks the dog with his shield, while Thor's voice is heard over the communicator, 'Ah, this is Thor. Where are these intestines you speak of? Are those near the buttocks?' he asks. 'The guts! All Avengers to the -' Cap begins, while fending off the flaming dog. Sarge looks over to the Colonel and tells him that they have what they came for, 'Do we have time for me to eat this one? He smells like pharmaceuticals' Sarge remarks, referring to Captain America, who suddenly kicks the hellhound away. 'You tell me, Sarge. Where the hell is our ride?' the Colonel asks, firing a beam of energy from his eyes, which Captain Marvel dodges, telling him that he is in Avengers Mountain, and is going to need a lot more than a dog to break out of here.

As if on cue, there is an explosion, which knocks the Avengers and vampires alike backwards. A flaming car drives into the interrogation room, and a transformed Robbie Reyes, Ghost Rider, steps out of the car. His body is ablaze, jagged spikes stick out from him. 'Robbie?' Carol gasps. 'Robbie? God, what happened to you?' she calls out. T'Challa, Cap and Blade gather nearby, while the Colonel tells the Rider to be a good boy and show his friends what he is now – what he was always meant to be. 'Robbie, don't listen to them, they're -' Carol begins, before Ghost Rider knocks her backwards with a surge of energy – so hard that she slams through one side of the internal part of the mountain all the way through to the other. 'Thor is guessing the guts are this way!' the Asgardian God of Thunder declares as he drops down near where Captain Marvel. Tony Stark a.k.a. Iron Man is with him, and he calls out to Carol, asking her what happened and who they are fighting.

'The car! Don't let them get -' Carol begins, but too late, as Ghost Rider speeds away in his car, with the Shadow Colonel and Sarge inside. Robbie feels like he is being born again, tearing his way out of his mother's belly, screaming and bawling and spitting up hellfire. They speed down the side of Avengers Mountain and out into open space. 'God help me, the worst part is...even through all of the agony... it feels so damn good' Robbie thinks to himself.

Later, Cap, Carol, T'Challa, Blade and Jennifer Walters a.k.a. She-Hulk, in her human form, gather at the opening of Avengers Mountain and look out to the emptiness beyond. Cap reports that Thor and Stark chased the Hell Charger for miles, but had to stop to save a cruise liner caught in the flames. 'In other words...we've lost the Ghost Rider' he announces. 'Oh, Robbie. That poor kid' Carol remarks, while Blade reminds her that that kid is the Spirit of Vengeance, powerful enough to set the whole damn world on fire. 'Yeah, well, so are most of us around here' Jennifer points out. T'Challa reports that while Avengers Mountain repairs itself, it is also scanning the globe, searching for any traces of Hellfire energy. He adds that he has dispatched some of the Agents of Wakanda to Los Angeles to look after Roberto's younger brother, in case the Rider should resurface there.

But Blade announces that Ghost Rider won't go there, as the Shadow Colonel will want to turn his new toy loose where he can do the most damage to the vampire leadership. 'Which means if you wanna locate your missing Ghost Rider...all we've got to do is find Dracula' Blade reports. Black Panther turns to the other Avengers and tells them that on that front they have some good news – good, but still highly alarming.

Meanwhile, in Sol-Iletsk, in Russia, at the Federal Penal Colony No 9, a stark, imposing old building that sits on a hill behind a secure fence. 'What's the matter, pal? Surprised to have a visitor?' a figure asks, standing in an open space before a window that looks into a cell. 'We are deep within the bowels of what I can only imagine is the most frightfully secure prison in all of Russia. No, I am not surprised to see that an Avenger has wormed his way inside. I am only surprised...that it is you, Iron Man' the figure in the cell responds. Still standing outside the cell, Iron Man declares that the Black Panther isn't the only Avenger who can go stealth, and reports that he has also taken control of the prison's security systems, so they should be able to speak freely for a minute. The prisoner responds by stating that they have always spoken freely, and that they see his Lordship T'Challa did nto ave the courage in his veins to face him.

Iron Man explains that the Chairman is a bit bust right now, cleaning up this mess. 'You know, the one you ran and hid from' Iron Man  explains. 'So the man in the full suit of metal armor wishes to accuse me of hiding? How very rich' the prisoner replies, claiming that they never wore a mask when they came to assassinate someone. 'Not even to murder a helpless old man' the prisoner – Count Dracula himself – adds, encased in some sort of full-body restraint behind the cell, his arms stretched outwards and his mouth restrained behind a large metal brace. 'I'm pretty sure the Panther said specifically not to kill you. But he also sent me, knowing full well I'm super lousy at following anybody's orders but my own' Iron Man responds. 'And you, helpless? I don't give a damn how many chains the Russians wrap you in, you're about as helpless as I am humble, Drac' Iron Man declares. 'If only that were the case' Dracula mutters.

Dracula states that there was a time when he would have already sank his fangs through this fancy metal, deep into the tender flesh of Tony Stark's pompous neck – but those days are long gone, and, as he has told the Russians, he is no longer that Dracula. Dracula explains that he has lost everything except the last few fading wisps of his life, and he wishes to enjoy those in peace and solitude. Tony laughs at this, his Iron Man faceplate retracted. 'You laugh at a dying man. Not even your horrible excuse for a father was monstrous enough to do that' Dracula remarks. 'What did you say?' Tony demands, slamming his hands against the window between he and Dracula. 'Oh, did you really think you were the first Stark to ever visit me?' Dracula asks, claiming that it was many years ago, in his castle, but he can still see Howard Stark on his knees, blubbering and pleading – offering him anything he wanted anything in the world, including the promising young child he'd adopted  if he would grant his greatest wish. 'And give him a sip of my blood' Dracula announces.

Tony listens as Dracula tells him that, if he has learned anything over the years, it is that the proudest man will do the most abominable thing for eternal life, once he is staring down the barrel of his own mortality. 'You think you can rile me by talking mean about Howard? Believe me, I'm way better at bad-mouthing my dad than you could ever be' Stark replies. 'Rile you? No' Dracula responds, grinning as he tells Stark that he thinks he will be in tears when he leaves this place, and that someday, on his deathbed, not nearly as many years from now as he would like, he will remember this conversation and weep all the more. 'And on that day, know that I'll be the one who's laughing down in the depths of Hell' Dracula adds. Tony asks Dracula what he is after here, and what he is offering the Russians.

Dracula's long hair falls over his face as he explains that he isa very old aristocrat who has seen and heard many interesting things over the centuries. He reveals that Howard Stark was certainly not the first person of wealth and power to grovel before his throne, looking to barter treasured secrets for eternal life – but that throne is gone now, turned to ash along with the rest of his ancestral castle. Dracula explains that in this weakened, fading state, all he has to offer is wisdom in exchange for sanctuary. 'And what if I could offer you that?' Stark asks. 'Help us  end this vampire civil war, and the Avengers will protect you' he offers. 'Behind bars, of course. But it's a better deal than whatever Moscow is offering' Tony claims, adding that Dracula has to know the Russians will only bleed him dry and betray him, just as soon as he is no longer useful.

'The Avengers? Protect me? You mean the group that just welcomed the world's deadliest vampire hunter into its ranks? Do you take me for a fool, Stark?' Dracula replies. 'I don't know. Maybe. I couldn't say yet' Stark responds, adding, 'Also, hey, “take you” that's not a bad idea. I could also just do that, whether you really wanna come with me or not'. But Dracula tells Iron Man that he won't be doing that. 'Oh, and why won't I, Count Chocula?' Stark jokes. 'Because you're going to be preoccupied' Dracula explains. 'Yeah? With what?' Tony asks. 'Supressing the riot' Dracula announces, as Tony turns in horror when he hears the sounds of cell doors opening throughout the prison.

'This is Crimson Dynamo in cell block three! What the hell just happened?' Dimitri Bukharin inside the Crimson Dynamo armor asks as a dozen inmates leap at him, while many more, free from their cells, gather around. The Crimson Dynamo declares that the whole prison is losing its mind, that the inmates are rabid animals. 'Somebody tell me they've got eyes on Dracula?' he asks. 'He never left his cell. But this is definitely his doing!' Iron Man declares as he flies into the cell block, where a dozen inmates leap at him. 'Stark? You sonuva... you are under arrest for breaking and -' the Crimson Dynamo begins, but as he blasts serveral inmates, Stark asks Bukharin if he really wants him behind bars right now. 'Damn it! I told Moscow we should've put a stake through that monster's heart! How is he doing this? Is this his plan to escape?' Crimson Dynamo asks as he fires a blast that keeps several inmates at bay. 'He's Dracula, that's how he's doing it. And no, Dimitri, the scariest part is...I don't think he wants to go anywhere' Stark announces, while still imprisoned, Dracula grins.

Madripoor, where Roberto Reyes still hears screams – only now it is worse than before – because now, he is not the one who is screaming. As brilliant lights glow from the sprawling city, several well-dressed vampires are on their knees, on the floor of a high-rise building. 'We are peaceful vampires. We only feed on the blood of the wicked. Please...show mercy' a woman pleads. Several rats are sitting before the vampires, one of them squeaks, before the vampire rats explode thanks to bombs strapped to their backs – and the Madripoor vampires are caught up in the explosion. 'Dining room is clear. As usual, my little beauties will hold the perimeter' a pale-skinned vampire in a suit of armor, with several rats scurrying over his shoulders smiles as he walks away from the explosion. 'The Rat Bomber is always the first wave of attack, and what his rodent-delivered sunburst grenades don't obliterate...the second wave deals with most efficiently' the Shadow Colonel announces as he, Sarge and Ghost Rider look on.

A woman with slicked back blonde hair stands amongst the carnage, blades in her hands, while the large bat creature whom Shadow Colonel calls Carpathian grabs several local vampires, and a woman in a mask with deadly swords slices her way through the vampires, blood spraying everywhere, she is called Snowsnake by the Shadow Colonel, who tells Ghost Rider that they have been killing things for about as long as there have been things around to kill, and so long as he keeps them fed, they generally agree not to try and kill him. The woman with the slicked back hair turns to the Shadow Colonel and informs him that these ones fought hard to protect their safe room at the end of the hall, so there must be something rather important inside. 'We figured you'd wish to do the honors' she adds. Shadow Colonel calls her Lady Cromwell and tells her that she figured right.

With the Boy-Thing clinging to his shoulders, Sarge at his feet, and Ghost Rider behind him, the Shadow Colonel walks across the blood-drenched floor, littered with bodies, as he approaches the safe room. He calls Lady Cromwell “Baroness Blood” and remarks that she is here because she thinks they are going to help her bring about the Fourth Reich. He adds that Sarge is the only one he really trusts – as much as you can trust a giant, murderous Hellhound. 'And then there is my little traveling companion here...time to lock and load, Boy-Thing' the Shadow Colonel declares. They gather in front of the safe room and Shadow Colonel reveals that he grew Boy-Thing from a trimming he stole off a swamp monster in the Everglades. 'If you want to wage war on vampires, you need a good supply of wooden stakes. Which he generously provides'.

The Shadow Colonel opens fire at the safe room, burning a huge gaping hole in the wall. He informs Ghost Rider that he once had other names but now, the Shadow Colonel is all that he is, and that with his Legion of the Unliving, he is weeding out the weakness from the vampire race, so that he can finally claim their true fate – at the top of the food chain. Inside the safe room, dozens of vampire children look back at the Shadow Colonel, who tells Ghost Rider that this is where  he comes in – he needs him to help him strike real fear into all the suckheads and fangers out there. 'This will be the way you prove yourself'. The children look scared, anxious, some of them are angry, as the Shadow Colonel tells Ghost Rider to prove he is the monster that he needs him to be. 'Get to burning, Ghost Rider' he declares. Everything falls quiet – so quiet that Robbie can hear his own skull sizzling. There is so much fire inside him right now, burning him from the inside – so much that he has no choice – but to let it out. And with that, he releases a huge surge of flaming energy that races towards the vampire children.

Back in the Russian prison, Iron Man and the Crimson Dynamo are joined by Dynamo's teammates in the Winter Guard, Laynia Petrovna a.k.a. Darkstar and Nicolai Krylenko a.k.a. Vaguard, mutant twins. The four of them look at a screen which shows Dracula, still restrained in his cell, while the Crimson Dynamo reports that all the prisoners are back in their cells. He admits that Stark was right – through the whole riot, Dracula never once tried to break free. 'So why did he do it?' Dynamo asks. 'Maybe just to show us that he could' Darkstar suggests. 'Or to prove he's being truthful about what he says. That he really doesn't want to fight anymore' Vanguard remarks. Iron Man folds his arms and tells the Winter Guard that he means no offense, but that their masters in Moscow are a bunch of borscht-gurgling idiots if they believe that.

'Speaking of idiots – you know we have to arrest you now, Avenger' Vanguard tells Stark as he and Darkstar clench their fists, ready for a fight. 'I know you feel like you have to try. But don't you people have enough enemies as it is?' Iron Man replies. 'Stark...' the Crimson Dynamo begins, before he slams his fist into Iron Man's stomach, causing Iron Man to collapse in a heap on the floor. Dynamo, Vanguard and Darkstar walk out of the room as Dynamo tells Stark to be glad Ursa Major or the Red Widow aren't here, or that would just be the beginning. He tells Iron Man to get out and leave their business to them – or else Dracula will gain a new cellmate. Dracula can be heard on the screen remarking 'Ha. No, Howard, I don't want your boy. I don't take hand-me-downs from Starks'. Iron Man then blasts up through the prison roof, and contacts the Black Panther, reporting that they are not getting Dracula without going to war with the Winter Guard, and offers to give a full report when he returns. 'Copy that, Tony. Are you all right. You sound as if you've been...' T'Challa begins, before Iron Man interrupts him, ending the communication.

Back in Madripoor, 'I am the Ghost Rider. I am a monster from hell. But even monsters have their limits' Robbie thinks to himself, as he stops releasing the flames – which only surround the vampire children – he hasn't slain them. 'You missed, Rider' Shadow Colonel points out. 'Perhaps I didn't make myself clear. The children. I need you to wipe out this entire pack of vampire children. Now' Shadow Colonel snaps. 'No' Ghost Rider replies, defiantly. Shadow Colonel points a finger at Ghost Rider and tells him that he can fight against the bit all he wants, but that it isn't going anywhere – and neither is he. 'Zarathos Zakkarum Invictus' the Shadow Colonel utters, and Ghost Rider finds himself hurled backwards, before there is an explosion that knocks the Shadow Colonel and Sarge over. 'Hands in the air, Colonel!' a voice calls out. 'Change of plans, Rider. You don't want to murder a bunch of vampire children? Fine. Mephistopheles Vindicata!' the Shadow Colonel exclaims, and Ghost Rider growls, getting to his feet, as Captain America, Thor, Captain Marvel and Blade stand before him, ready for battle – and the Shadow Colonel tells Ghost Rider that he can kill the Avengers instead!

Characters Involved: 

Black Panther, Blade, Captain America, Captain Marvel VI, Ghost Rider V, Iron Man, She-Hulk, Thor (all Avengers)
Crimson Dynamo V, Darkstar, Vanguard (all Winter Guard)

Baroness Blood, Boy-Thing, Carpathian, Rat Bomber, Sarge, Shadow Colonel, Snowsnake (all Legion of the Unliving)

Madripoori vampires
Vampire rats
Vampire children

Story Notes: 

This issue has the Legacy number of Avengers (1st series) #705.

Written By: