(Bathurst Inlet, Northwest Territories, Canada)
A U.S./Canadian D.E.W base is under attack from Russian troops, and a call for help is sent out. The two staff members are quickly overwhelmed and murdered by the troops, who are aided by a large man wearing considerable body armor; Svyatogor.
He is joined by three of his comrades: a beautiful blonde female named Morning Star, an authoritative man named Dr. Volkh wearing a red costume and a psychic. The two dead guys are dragged away, and their leader tells the others that Mikula would have detected brain waves were there any others around. This is the first step in their plan, and it has been a great success. He asks a scientist named Miasnikov how long it will take to affix his special components to the North American’s equipment. He believes it can be done within ten hours. Volkh replies he wants it done in five. This may be their last chance to begin a new cold war!
Hawkeye and USAgent are arguing about nothing in particular when Mockingbird interrupts them. She’d heard about them getting hurt by Deathweb, and they’re busy recovering from the ordeal. The phone rings, and USAgent answers it. On the other end is Lou from the Commission. He informs Jack that he’s needed in Canada; and not a word to anyone.
Jack hangs up, gives Mockingbird a thrill by stripping in front of her. He is about to head off without telling the others where he’s going. The phone rings again, and this time it’s Wanda. She wants Jack and Clint at the compound, if the hospital will allow them to leave. It’s important. The two Avengers don their costumes and Mockingbird tells them she has a rent-a-car outside. Jack takes the initiative, grabbing them both and leaping from the building. They drop several stories, but USAgent’s strength and acrobatics allow him to carry them with ease. They climb into a Honda and head to base.
Wolverine is taking a break by visiting the Bathurst Inlet. It isn’t the ideal place, as he’s discovered, and his peace has been broken by being tracked by a Polar Bear all day. It finally catches up with him, and he snikts his claws, ready for a bloodbath. Surprisingly, he finds that they aren’t needed, as a blast from behind him drops the creature. He turns and sees two costumed strangers, one of whom is speaking Russian. It’s Svyatogor and Morning Star, and Morning Star asks Logan to forgive her comrade. He doesn’t speak any tongue other than that of his Mother Russia - and of course, violence.
Svyatogor blasts at Logan, who leaps towards him. He is thrown away with ease, but immediately comes back for more. He wonders what two Russian super-types are doing in NATO territory. Morning Star takes to the air, glowing brightly as Svyatogor asks for her assistance. She blinds Logan by emitting a burst of light, and Svyatogor takes the opportunity to punch Logan’s face into the ground. He is knocked unconscious by the brutal force, and is taken away by the two victors.
The Avengers West Coast team is gathered before a large screen. The news is coming through of Tony Stark’s death, which is put down to a lengthy illness. Wanda tells them it’s no joke. They just released the news to the networks. They received word a half hour ago. Mockingbird asks what they’ll do; losing one of the original Avengers. Clint angrily responds by asking if she can at least wait for the body to get cold. Bobbi didn’t mean that, and Clint apologizes for snapping. Wonder Man says it’s hard to imagine the Avengers West without Iron Man, and Wanda adds that when she and Pietro first signed on, it was partly to take his place.
Spider-Woman can’t believe it. First Larry dies, then Iron Man. It doesn’t seem possible. USAgent coldly says that, if there’s no more business, he has things to do. Spider-Woman has a go at him; asking if it’s for the commission. She thought he’d resigned from it before she did, but she’s living proof that they don’t pull their claws out of you that easily. Wanda tries to calm her; reminding her that if Jack worked for the U.S. government, it would be a violation of their U.N. charter. Jack feels he doesn’t owe anyone an explanation. He does his job, and that’s catching bad guys. Nowadays he signs his checks Jack Daniels, and what he does with his own time is his business.
He storms out, leaving Wanda to ask Simon if he fancies going for a drive. Hawkeye asks about the funeral, but Simon reckons Iron Man would rather they took care of business - shadowing USAgent, rather than eulogizing. Spider-Woman chats with Miguel, the Living Lightning. He’s been thinking a lot about his role as a hero lately. He thought nothing could hurt him, but since his little sister was shot in a drive-by, Julia’s husband was murdered and now Tony’s gone, he has to decide if this is what he wants.
(over Canadian airspace)
Jack is piloting an Avengers Quinjet when Lou calls him. Jack is impressed that he managed to patch into his frequency, and Lou replies that even the Avengers don’t have their budget. He informs Jack that no one’s heard from a certain DEW line base for several hours, and he needs Jack to check it out. Jack knows all about them. They’re early warning stations built to warn them about red missiles ten whole minutes before they turn America into toast. He asks if it’s the Russkies. Lou replies that the world thinks the cold war is over, but they know different. Then again, it could be some third world terrorists with delusions of grandeur. He asks him to take a look. That’s what they’re paying him for.
Wanda and Simon are aboard their own craft, and in turn have patched into Jack and Lou’s conversation. Simon knew Jack was always a loose cannon - but this? Wanda says they’ll deal with him later. She got to ensure she doesn’t lose him.
Some time later, USAgent lands, and begins to make the rest of the journey on foot to make sure he’s not seen. Unfortunately, it’s too late for that, and a small flying craft approaches carrying two Russian soldiers who open fire. He reacts by hurling his shield at the craft’s undercarriage, which causes it to crash land. He’s on them in an instant, smashing one with the rifle butt he was carrying, who in turn collides with his comrade. They both fall unconscious. Annoyingly, he didn’t want them both out cold. He wants answers.
Behind him, a voice says, “Perhaps I can be of assistance.” Jack turns to see another Russian, wearing a strange device around his neck, which seems to have two antennae attached. “Last time I looked, you guys still had your own country,” Jack quips. He prepares to rush the newcomer, but the stranger raises his arm, and Jack goes flying skywards. He comes crashing down into some rocks, but gets up quickly, preparing for a second attempt. The Russian does the same thing again, and launches him higher. Jack throws his shield towards him, but his assailant casually uses his powers to divert the shield’s path, and smashing Jack in the side of the head with it.
The Russian thinks its small wonder that his countrymen were able to persuade themselves that they had vanquished the Soviet Union. Jack replies that there’s no Soviet Union any more, or didn’t anyone get around to telling him? With Jack still conscious, the Russian uses cables from the destroyed craft to entwine Jack, leaving him helpless. He is then dropped into the waters around them to drown. The Russian’s psychic powers aren’t enough to pummel him unconscious, so he’s trying a different approach. Wanda and Simon see what’s happening, but are too far away to do anything.
Meanwhile, Wolverine wakes to find himself in a high-tech spread eagle position; again. His arms are raised and enclosed in large metallic cylinders, while his feet are clamped firmly to the ground. Dr. Volkh apologizes for having to do this, but it’s the only way he could neutralize his adamantium claws, so far away from his laboratory at Baikonur. Logan knows the place. It’s Russia’s version of Cape Canaveral. He introduces himself as Dr. Vladimir Volkh. Logan says he couldn’t tell him from Boris Gudenov. He asks for an explanation as to what he’s got against a guy backpacking in his own country.
Volkh says he was in the wrong place at the wrong time; although when certain events are set in motion in a couple of hours, there will be no right place on the entire continent of North America. Sounds grim, replies Logan, and he thought they’d declared peace on his people. Volkh asks upon whom? On the Soviet Union that was? On a reborn Russia? Logan replies that he hasn’t got a problem with anyone, until they truss him up like a Christmas turkey. He asks about the others. Volkh informs him that they, as well as himself, are three of the four Bogatyri. They are so named for the ‘valiant champions of elder days’ in Russian folklore. He provides Logan with the low-down on his comrades.
Sasha Pokryshkin was bathed in radiation a few years ago, in an incident at a nuclear power plant of which the West never learned. He suffered irreparable damage to his lungs and limbs, yet somehow he became freakishly strong. They call him Svyatogor after the mightiest of Slavic heroes. The man who tangled with USAgent is Mikula Golubev, who was born with psychic powers, including those of levitation. His parents named him for the Bogatyr, whose small plough even his fellow champions could not lift; though Mikula could hoist it with one hand.
The third member of the team is Zvezda Dennista, or Morning Star. Her real name is Marya Meshkov. She is a geologist, and was investigating the site in Siberia, where a huge fireball struck in 1908. She uncovered glowing fragments, which, over time, gave her the ability to generate flame from her own body. Finally, he explains that as Vladimir Orekhov, he was one of the first scientists to become a cosmonaut. His spacecraft passed through a bombardment of radiation, which… He feels that is enough about him.
He points his pipe at Logan, and tells him that he’s followed his career with interest, ever since he was in Canada’s Weapon X. He feels a little paranoid about how Logan just ‘happened’ to be in the vicinity at the precise moment they struck. Are his fellow X-Men nearby? Logan is typically obstreperous, and asks why he doesn’t get his psychic to read his mind. He shuffles his arm inside its clamp, saying he has an itch, and tells Volkh that he wants to know what they’re doing there. Could it be that this new Commonwealth of Independent States doesn’t do it for him? Volkh replies that they’re loyal to the U.S.S.R. He also mentions that this will literally be a ‘cold war.’ Certain technology that he’s been testing will turn all North America into a gigantic, uninhabitable iceberg! That will be what the Americans reap as their so-called Peace Dividend.
Meanwhile, the Scarlet Witch and Wonder Man find Jack’s Quinjet, and Wanda guesses correctly that he may have been thrown into the inlet. She summons her hex power, and explains that she’s been practicing a lot lately. She can sense the metal coils around him under the water, and uses her power to generate a powerful electro-magnetic charge in the air above the water. Jack’s body rises to the surface, and his head becomes visible to the two Avengers. Simon jumps in to drag him to safety. He’s alive, but barely. Simon’s just pleased he won’t have to give him the kiss of life. The Power Broker gave him big muscles and lungs to match.
Simon gets to work on the cables once ashore, but feels that after the stunt he pulled, working for the Commission on the sly, he should be tying him up rather than untying him. Jack regains consciousness as Simon speaks and, as soon as his eyes open, he tells Simon to shove it. Simon helps him to his feet, and Wanda explains that she noticed a couple of soldiers strewn about the landscape. Jack tells them that they’re Russians, believe it or not. They need to hotfoot it to the DEW station.
Volkh asks for Logan’s reaction to the news. Logan doesn’t reply, but continues shuffling his arms about. He then informs Volkh that the itch he has can best be scratched, “By ripping out your lungs!” The clamps shatter as Wolverine’s adamantium claws tear them apart like paper. He then short-circuits the machine, and notices that Volkh has quickly vanished. He wonders if he can find his icemaker and shred it, before any more remnants of the red army do the same to him.
He then notices that the carpet appears to be different and, surely enough, it comes to life. It begins to fold around him, and he deduces it is Dr. Volkh. Volkh explains that his namesake in a Russian poem could turn himself into falcon, wolf, bull or ant. He, however, is even more adaptable. Logan discovers that his claws have no effect on his foe, as his skin gives instead of tearing. No wonder he didn’t bother calling the troops. He’s not the one who needs help.
As several Avengers arrive at the base, Dr. Volkh wraps Logan up in his elastic arm. He then uses it like a slingshot, hurling Logan towards the approaching heroes. Logan can’t believe that they’re there. Isn’t there any place on Earth a guy can get away from super-powered types these days? USAgent asks what’s going on. They turn to see all four Bogatyri standing before them, with Svyatogor aiming his weapon right at them. “You may kill them now, comrades,” orders Dr. Volkh.