‘Excuse me, people. But could you tell me the way to…Palos Verdes?’ gasps Johnny Walker a.k.a. the handsome, heroic USAgent, long-serving of Avengers West Coast, who has just stumbled into an odd setting, where several people are dinning outdoors, as suddenly, someone tosses their wine glass aside, shouting that they have been poisoned. ‘Well of course you have, my dear Alfonzo. What else would you expect - when you ear and drink at the table of…Lucrezia Borgia?!’.
‘Grab her! She did it!’ Walker exclaims, pointing at Lucrezia. Walker remarks that he doesn’t know what he is doing in Renaissance Italy, but he does know that Lucrezia is as guilty as sin. An attendant asks Lucrezia if she is acquainted with the intruder, to which Lucrezia replies that she is, though she thought he was dead, before remarking that her guards will help her remedy that situation by readying the USAgent for execution. ‘Like fun they will!’ Walker exclaims as he is attacked by sword-wielding guards. ‘The pig-sticker that can bring down USAgent hasn’t been made!’ Johnny boasts, just as one of the guards shoves his weapon into Johnny’s side.
The guards take hold of USAgent and call out to their mistress, ‘He’ll soon drown in his own life’s blood!’ one guard exclaims, while Walker realizes that his wound isn’t that deep, and wonders why he feels so weak. Lucrezia points out that it is not proper that so brazen a trespasser should simply bleed to death upon her courtyard stones, and declares that USAgent must be famished from his frantic, if fruitless, struggles. ‘Here, let him drink…from the same cup as the late, lamented Alfonzo!’ Lucrezia exclaims as she tips the wine glass above Johnny’s face, as a guard holds Walker’s mouth open, ‘Noooo!’ shouts Walker as the wine splashes into his mouth…
‘The poison…taking hold…’ Johnny mutters, before those around him begin to fade away. He wonders where they are going, as Lucrezia suddenly remarks ‘It is not we who are departing, Agent of the Americas…it is you!’. Indeed, USAgent begins passing through time, images flash before him, ‘Good lord! That’s an S.S. soldier - in a Nazi concentration camp!’ he gasps as he sees the aforementioned soldier standing over malnourished victims. Suddenly, time-space changes again, as Walker sees Russian peasants - farmers - being gunned down by some communist soldiers. Finally, a grisly murder scene in what looks to be the turn of the twentieth century, perhaps earlier. Johnny wonders who chopped up the man and woman and why he is passing through.
(Present / Reality)
‘I’ve got to know - where am I?!’ Johnny shouts. ’Where in blazes am I?!’ - Johnny is actually in a hospital bed, thrashing his arms about, his teammates Jim “Rhodey” Rhodes a.k.a. War Machine and Julia Carpenter a.k.a. Spider-Woman hold his arms down, while telling him to take it easy. Julia tells her friend that he is at the Sunset Medical Center, before turning to Doctor Velasco and remarking that she thinks USAgent is finally starting to throw off the effects of the poison and the beating.
The Doctor remarks that when USAgent was brought in, he wouldn’t have believed any man could have survived what they say he has been through. ‘He’s a hard man to kill’ Wanda “Scarlet Witch” Maximoff remarks, complimenting her teammate. ‘Obviously’ the Doctor replies, before asking who these “Lethal Legion” people are that assaulted him. Wanda explains that even they are unclear on that, as the Avengers West Coast only arrived at the tail end of USAgent’s fight with them.
Spider-Woman remarks that USAgent took the brunt of the fight, as evidently, the Lethal Legion ambushed him downtown. Clint “Hawkeye” Barton compliments his oft-irritating teammate by admitting that USAgent is one tough cookie, but that the Lethal Legion wore him down eventually with cyanide, fists, a noose and even gas. ‘So what if they did?’ Walker snaps back defensively. ‘And how long would it have taken the Hangman’s crew to waste you, Bowman? Fifteen seconds!’ Walker exclaims angrily, sitting up in his bed.
Clint replies that he was trying to complement Walker for a change. ‘But if you want to start slinging insults around…’ he remarks. ‘That’s not all I’ll throw around soon as I’m out of here!’ Walker snaps back. ‘Oh no, here we go again!’ Bobbi Morse-Barton, better known as Hawkeye’s wife Mockingbird thinks to herself. ‘And I thought I was hot-headed!’ Hawkeye mutters, before pointing out that USAgent has everything going for him - ‘More power than I’ve got, even when I’m playing Goliath - but if you don’t learn to be a team player - you’re gonna blow the whole bit!’ he exclaims.
Suddenly, newly appointed team-leader the Scarlet Witch puts a hand on her long-time friends’ shoulder and tells Hawkeye to slow down, as this is hardly the time. Clint agrees, and apologizes, before Spider-Woman suggests that they all leave, as they are not doing Walker any good. As the Avengers West leave the hospital ward, Walker calls out to them, asking them to wait as he exclaims he will just get his outfit on, but his Doctor declares that the costume - or what is left of it - stays right where it is. ‘Incredible as your stamina is, you’ve still got a few hours, or I’m going to be filling out your death certificate!’.
The Scarlet Witch orders USAgent to remain here - ‘If you accept anybody as chairman besides yourself!’ she adds, before assuring Johnny that there will plenty for him to do after the last of the poison works its way out of his system. Mockingbird turns to USAgent and explains to him that they have a few leads to check out but that they will be back after that. ‘Don’t hurry on my account, Mockingbird!’ Walker replies.
Soon, up the Coast at Malibu, War Machine, carrying Spider-Woman, lands as Julia motions to Stella Houston’s beach hours. Rhodey replies that he remembers her, ‘She made a movie or two, didn’t she?’ he remarks. Julia replies that Stella made them with Jason Roland, that they were an item near the end of his film career and that Roland showed up here with Night Shift after he sold his soul to Satannish and became the Hangman. Julia remarks that it is not likely Stella will know where Hangman is now that he is ramrod ding an even weirder crew, but it’s worth a shot.
As they walk up the front steps, Rhodey points out that the door is open. They enter and Julia calls out to Stella, announcing who they are, Julia explains that they want to talk with her. Looking around the rooms, Julia exclaims that the place looks like something out of Currier and Ives. War Machine declares that somebody is in the next room, and entering what appears to be the living room, ‘Oh my God!’ exclaims Julia as they see furniture overturned, blood splattered against the wall, and a woman dressed in an old fashioned dress, holding a bloody axe in her hand, standing over the body of Stella Houston.
‘Come on in, Avengers…always room for one more on the chopping block!’ grins the woman as she transforms into the Lethal Legion member Axe of Violence, the axe now attached to her arm, she lashes out at the heroes as War Machine tells Spider-Woman to let him handle this, believing his armor will protect him from the blade, the deadly axe however easily slices into Rhodey’s armor. ‘Don’t bet on that medieval Sunday-go-to-meeting suit to save you from Axe of Violence!’ the nasty woman exclaims, while Julia calls out with concern for her teammate.
‘Magic! I never liked magic!’ Rhodey mutters as he hit’s the floor, while Axe of Violence stands over him, telling him that he should realize now is that magic can be a real pain in the neck - but just as she, ironically, is about to strike War Machine in the neck with her axe, Spider-Woman slams her powerful form into Axe of Violence, while urging Rhodey to clear out, while she takes care of this latter-day Lizzie Borden. ‘You know?’ shouts Axe of Violence? ‘How did you know that?’ she shouts, as she smacks Julia, hard, with her non-axe hand. Julia goes careening over the room, ‘How did I know what?’ she wonders to herself.
War Machine and Spider-Woman gather themselves and close in on Axe of Violence who is backed up against a wall now, and Rhodey remarks that it is team-up time for them, as Axe is clearly homicidal. ‘No! You’re wrong!’ Axe shouts. ‘There’s nothing the matter with me - no matter what they all said!’ she declares. Spider-Woman asks her why she murdered Stella Houston, not to mention trying to kill USAgent. Axe of Violence replies that it is the price of getting her soul back - a price she is more than willing to pay. Axe of Violence adds that Hangman wanted Stella Houston dead so that she couldn’t possibly help the Avengers against him. ‘As for you - Satannish wants you all dead!’ she reveals.
But Axe knows that she won’t gain anything by getting captured, so tosses a free axe towards the Avengers, while Julia exclaims that she is making a break for it, only for the axe to splatter into Julia’s shoulder. Rhodey calls out to his teammate, but as they stand near the body of Stella Houston, Julia assures Rhodey that the wound is not deep, as Axe was off-balance when she threw it. ‘Poor Stella! Killed just because she once loved the Hangman!’ Julia remarks, before motioning to the gaping hole in the wall and pointing out that the axe-murderess got away.
War Machine tells Spider-Woman that what she and Axe of Violence said reminded him of an old kids rhyme - “Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave father forty whacks - and when she saw what she had done…’ ‘…she gave her mother forty one!’ Spider-Woman concludes.
Nearby, in Beverly Hills, Wanda and Clint arrive at the abandoned mansion of Jason Roland, and Clint remarks that before Roland disappeared and became the Hangman must have had a fair bit of money. Wanda agrees and informs Clint that this property is worth a fortune. ‘But its locks don’t work so well. Just bad luck I guess’ she jokes as she casts a hex towards the mansion, disabling the locks and enabling them to enter the sprawling mansion.
Hawkeye remarks that he wishes Mockingbird could see this, but that there was something she said she had to do. ‘I hope she’s not trying anything crazy’ he remarks, while Wanda suggests Clint trust his wife, as she has a head on her shoulders. ‘Yeah, I know. And it doesn’t get any worse from there on down!’ Clint exclaims. ‘Still…’ he begins, before Wanda makes her way up a grand staircase, telling Clint that she will take the front, she asks him to take the back.
Wanda remembers reading about this mansion and recalls that since no body was ever found, Roland still technically owns it - prime Beverly Hills real estate just rotting away. ‘Not likely the Hangman would have any reason to come back here, of course’ Wanda decides, after all, he’s dead - or at least in some halfway state between life and death in Satannish’s thrall. Wanda knows though that it is a lot better to try finding the Hangman and his Lethal Legion, than waiting around for them to try picking the Avengers off one by one, for whatever insane reason.
Suddenly, as Wanda walks along a corridor, a door slams open, ’The Hangman said one of you might show up here…and he did so want me to show you around…before you died!’ exclaims the blue-skinned Cyana. Suddenly, everything changes before Wanda’s eyes, transforming to Renaissance Italy, and Cyana appears in her other form. ‘One moment you’re the legionnaire called Cyana, and the next you’re…’ Wanda’s voice trails off as things return to normal, and Cyana lunges at Wanda, ’…Lucrezia Borgia, at your service!’ the mad-woman screams as she only manages to claw some of Wanda’s cloak off.
Cyana exclaims that she used to work with poisons secreted in rings and bodices, but times have changed. Wanda thinks to herself that the mirage, or whatever it was, made her too disorientated to throw a hex bolt, and knows that one scratch of those deadly finger nails and she will be as dead as USAgent nearly was. Back downstairs, Clint hears a thud, and calls out for Wanda, who, back upstairs, tells herself to get it into gear, and raises a hand to cast a hex, while an annoyed Cyana shouts ‘Fool! Waving your hands around won’t -’ she doesn’t get to finish her sentence as the door behind her comes unhinged and falls forward, pushing Cyana flat on her face.
Hawkeye arrives at Wanda’s location, ‘Ok, Witchie, where’s -?’ he begins as he stands on the door. Wanda motions to the door, ‘It’s so heavy, she might be -’ Wanda remarks, when, suddenly, ‘DEAD!?’ shouts Cyana, finishing Wanda’s sentence as she leaps upwards, forcing the door off of her, she knocks Hawkeye over. ‘But of course! Since 1519 to be exact!’ Cyana exclaims. ‘So not much chance of you losers killing me all over again!’ she boasts, before turning to the Scarlet Witch and telling her to just relax into it. ‘Death, I mean. You’ll get used to it. After all, it lasts a long time!’.
But as Cyana corners Wanda, she suddenly finds herself tied up as Hawkeye fires an arrow which darts around her again and again, wrapping her in a rope. ‘You want to scratch somebody’s back, poison-lady - try your own!’ Clint exclaims. ‘It’s the only one you’re gonna be able to reach!’ Clint declares, when suddenly, he finds a large, thick noose around his neck, as the Hangman reveals himself, ‘Out of my way, Witch!’ he shouts as he runs past Wanda, towards a large window, he smacks her in the face, assuring her that he will be back to help Cyana take care of her, as soon as he breaks his fall, and Hawkeye’s neck!
With that, Hangman leaps through the glass and past a balcony, ‘Hawkeye, No!’ shouts Wanda as she gets to her feet, and Clint goes careening past her, pulled by the thick rope, which he struggles to pull from his neck. Wanda realizes that the Hangman can jump from a second story balcony because he is already dead - but Clint can be hilled by the noose, or bitting the ground - or getting impaled on jagged glass! Wanda hopes that she has re-orientated herself enough for her hex power to work, so as Hawkeye nears the deadly jagged glass, Wanda casts her hands, and the rope snaps where it is tied into the noose, and Hawkeye falls to the ground.
Wanda asks Clint if he is all right, to which Clint, gasping for breath, motions to Cyana, running towards the balcony, ‘Don’t let her get away!’ he exclaims. But as the two long-serving Avengers reach the balcony, Wanda points out that it is too late, before asking Clint if he thinks that Cyana could be who she claims to be - Lucrezia Borgia. ‘Naw, she couldn’t possible be - who?’ Clint replies.
Meanwhile, back at Sunset Medical Center, ‘Agent? Jack?’ Mockingbird calls out quietly, addressing John by his alias. ‘Millions…so many millions…all dead!’ mumbles Johnny, tossing and turning in his hospital bed, Bobbi quickly goes over to him and wakes him, telling him that he was dreaming again. ‘I was? What brings you here?’ John asks. ‘Things you cried out during your nightmares - I keep thinking they’re important somehow’ Bobbi replies, while John sits up in bed, revealing the bandages around his wounds, he admits that he cannot even remember his nightmares now that he is awake, before telling Bobbi to close her eyes (he is nearly naked after all).
Bobbi asks Johnny if he is sure he should be doing this, to which Walker, putting on his tattered costume, replies that he recuperates a lot faster than people think. ‘Wouldn’t your husband go ballistic if he found out you doubled back to nurse maid me?’ John asks. ‘That’s my problem’ Bobbi assures him as she grins and sneaks a peek at USAgent’s hot body. ‘Though not for much longer’ Bobbi adds. ‘Why not?’ Walker asks. Bobbi replies that no one knows this yet, and she doesn’t know why she is even telling him, but that she is going to be quitting the Avengers so that she and Clint can start a family.
Johnny looks at Bobbi and doesn’t say anything, causing Bobbi to ask ‘Well? No sarcastic remarks?’ ‘About what?’ John asks. ‘You know I’m all for traditional values’ he reminds Mockingbird, before announcing that all of a sudden he is starting to recall the dreams. ‘All that…death!’ he exclaims, when, suddenly, he is smacked in the face and knocked to the floor. ‘You need not strain to remember your nightmares, Avenger - not when you have their living embodiment here before you!’ exclaims the oversized Coldsteel as he looms over USAgent.
Johnny quickly gets to his feet and raises his trusty shield, ‘What is it with you guys? Get your points for wasting Avengers?’ he asks as he dodges Coldsteel’s attack. ‘And you are worth three of the one called Mockingbird!’ Coldsteel remarks, before Walker tosses him across the room, while exclaiming that he has been avoiding the truth - this really is some kind of contest - and the Avengers West are the prize!
Suddenly, ‘I would hardly call any of you mongrels a “prize”!’ exclaims someone as they bust into the room. ‘That’s got to be Zyklon!’ Walker exclaims, as indeed, Zyklon reveals himself. Coldsteel calls Zyklon a “gaseous beast” and warns him to get back. ‘I turned back your hordes once before and I shall do so again!’ Coldsteel exclaims as he gets up from the ground. Bobbi calls out to Walker, reminding him that this time round he knows what Zyklon can do, and suggests he put his gas mask on, like she does - but John doesn’t, and Bobbi mutters that USAgent is too tough to care.
Bobbi lunges at Zyklon while reminding herself that she is not able to hold her breath for minutes at a time, and she uses her battle staves to force her foe to the ground, but, suddenly, everything around her changes, as one moment she was leaping at a Legionnaire, but she has landed on top of an emaciated corpse, and there are other corpses around her also. Barbara looks at them and realizes that it is if they were starved, and then gassed. ‘It’s almost like…no! It can’t be - not THAT!’ she exclaims.
Nearby, but in “real-time” USAgent challenges Coldsteel, ‘Head to head!’ the hero declares, to which Coldsteel replies ‘You are my enemy - and I kill my enemies!’ Suddenly, as Coldsteel declares ‘Just as I had them killed’ he motions to some men strapped to chairs, blood streaming down their bodies, Coldsteel’s form has changed, to a man dressed in a uniform, he exclaims that they were plotting against him - all of them - thousands of them - but they all ended up here. Johnny realizes that this is a torture chamber, and Coldsteel is really Josef Stalin! ‘I always was!’ is the reply.
Suddenly, ‘Short of breath, dear girl?’ comes a voice behind a panel of glass, which Barbara turns to and realizes she knows who is behind it - Heinrich Himmler, the head of the Nazi S.S. Bobbi recalls that Himmler oversaw the death of millions with the Zyklon-B gas, before suddenly realizing that her gas mask has sprung a leak. ‘Another second and I’ll be…’ she doesn’t get to finish the sentence as Bobbi passes out.
A massive explosion occurs in the ward as Coldsteel blasts a hole in the wall, ‘No easy closed room victories for you, dog!’ he shouts at USAgent. ‘Did you think Moscow was Warsaw - or Stalingrad, Paris?’ Zyklon exclaims that the best way to settle old scores is by piling up a new score. ‘The woman is mine!’ he boasts as he grabs Mockingbird by the shoulder and makes away with her.
Coldsteel has a hand wrapped around USAgent’s neck and raises another above Johnny’s blood-splattered face. ‘One more blow should do it’ he exclaims, before Walker asks ‘You’re really Stalin?’ Coldsteel replies that his old pseudonym means “Man of Steel”, but that name was already taken this time around, and “Coldsteel” was more than sufficient. Suddenly, ‘What’s in a name right? I used to be called Iron Man!’ exclaims War Machine as he arrives on scene, just in time to prevent Coldsteel from smashing USAgent’s face in again. ‘And don’t be too sure that steel always stands up to iron - not when there’s War Machine on the other end!’ Rhodey exclaims as he punches Coldsteel.
‘You again? This is the second time you have stopped me from executing that fool!’ Coldsteel shouts as he grabs War Machine and tosses him into the Scarlet Witch as he exclaims ‘There will not be a third!’. However, Coldsteel then leaps through the make-shift exit he created, remarking that if he learned nothing else in his previous life it was how to beat a strategic retreat so that he could achieve the ultimate victory!.
‘You should’ve just let him kill me…’ USAgent declares as he rubs his sore neck. War Machine tells his teammate to cut the self pity, while looking for Coldsteel outside, he doesn’t see him. Hawkeye and Spider-Woman arrive on the scene and Julia asks what happened, to which Wanda replies ‘Coldsteel happened’ and made off with Mockingbird. ‘WHAT?’ shouts Hawkeye before he begins to attack USAgent, demanding to know what Bobbi was doing here with him. USAgent doesn’t fit back, just tells Clint to get it over with, but Clint stops, as he knows hitting Walker will not get Bobbi back. Johnny looks at his torn uniform, while Wanda announces that she has an idea which might get Mockingbird back. ‘Let’s hear it!’ Rhodey exclaims.
Soon, on the Palos Verdes cliffs, ‘We’re all agreed then?’ Wanda asks, as she and her team stand in a circle, linking hands. ‘What choice do we have? The Lethal Legion’s got Bobbi!’ Hawkeye replies. Julia assures her friend that they will get Mockingbird back, somehow. While USAgent motions to the book Wanda has and asks her if she is sure Agatha Harkness’ book will take them to where she thinks Mockingbird has been taken. ‘If it doesn’t, nothing will’ Wanda replies, before she begins reading unintelligible words from the arcane tome, but suddenly, as her throat grows raw and raspy, a brilliant light signals the opening of a portal above them.
‘It’s a window - a window on another world!’ Wanda exclaims. Spider-Woman points out that there are so many worlds, and wonders if it is the right one, to which Hawkeye, readying his bow and arrow, exclaims that it is the right one all right, and motions to Satannish standing near a ledge, where the Lethal Legion flank Hangman, who holds Mockingbird high above him. ‘Beware, Avengers! You may not enter…the domain of Satannish the Supreme!’ the horrid uber-demon exclaims.
The Scarlet Witch orders the dread demon to release Mockingbird and cease his attacks-by-proxy on the Avengers West Coast. ‘Or else!’ Hawkeye adds. ‘”Or else”?’ Satannish asks, before declaring that he would squash Hawkeye for merely uttering those words, but that he has chosen other souls to do his bidding on this occasion, and imbued them with substance most sinister. The true forms of the Lethal Legion are confirmed, as USAgent exclaims that it is true - they have really been going one-on-one against supernatural reincarnations of Stalin, Himmler, Lizzie Borden and that Borgia woman.
The Scarlet Witch asks Satannish why he is doing this and what he stands to gain, to which Satannish picks up Mockingbird by one of her legs and replies ‘Souls, female - souls!’. Mockingbird’s among others. ‘NO!’ shouts Hawkeye, ‘I won’t let you take her!’ he declares as he fires an arrow into the window. ‘Correction, mortal - I already have her!’ Satannish replies as the window closes and Clint is knocked to the ground.
War Machine helps Hawkeye up, as Clint asks Wanda to open the window again, exclaiming that he has to go in there. War Machine asks if it is even possible for the window to be opened again, to which Wanda replies that she thinks so, but the risk of life - even of soul - is so great, that she can’t ask anyone - ‘Who’s asking? We’re going! All five of us!’ USAgent declares, when, suddenly, a voice overhead exclaims ‘Actually, dear friends…make that six!’ As the Devil himself, Mephistopheles steps into view….