SHIELD base, Arizona. `Can we still call him Hercules when there’s already a Hercules out there?’ Director of SHIELD, Maria Hill asks Dr. Hank “Yellowjacket” Pym as they watch a large man lift up a huge tank high above his head, while a woman clad in red and black darts about with a bow and arrow and another man in some kind of armor flies above them carrying a large hammer. Hank Pym tells Director Hill that, fortunately, Greek Gods aren’t especially litigious, and adds that all the Goliaths over the years never bothered him.
Maria examines her clipboard and remarks to Hank that the Avengers in New York and these Champions here in California give the Initiative a nice sense of balance. Hank informs Maria that it was actually Tony Stark’s idea, adding that Tony also came up with the idea of making Aphrodite a former super model. Hank then asks Maria to stand clear of the track, and just in time too, as Hermes races past them. Maria asks what kind of speed Hermes is hitting now, to which Hank replies that Hermes can go at Mach-1 if he hasn’t eaten, but that they will have him at Mach-3 by the time they go public.
Maria remarks that with the Champions here in California, the Mormon heroes in Utah, and the Space Knights heading for Chicago, who did they have for Iowa? ‘Are you sending those Force Works people over there?’ Hank replies that they are pending back ground checks and the local authorities giving their absolute approval. ‘The public need super-people they can count on. We do this right or not at all!’
A SHIELD agent approaches Hank and informs him that there is a problem with Poseidon. ‘I think one of the guys fed him the wrong stuff and he’s turned a funny color! Could you come take a look?’ Hank replies that it isn’t a problem and excuses himself from Maria. The SHIELD agent gives Maria a funny look, and as usual the sour woman just scowls.
Meanwhile, at the Baxter Building, Reed Richards, otherwise known as Mr. Fantastic is doing some “surgery” on the Thor-Cyborg. Iron Man radios in and asks his colleague how the reprogramming is coming along, and if he has found out what the problem is yet. Reed replies that it is a little late for Bill Foster, but the blockers in the cyborg’s head should stop him killing anyone when they go for the big push. Reed asks Tony what the situation is on the ground, as he has been in surgery for thirty-six hours straight.
Iron Man replies that it is just like Reed predicted on the probability map - crime figures haven’t been this good since Eisenhower was in office! ‘Can you imagine how boring it’s going to be once the new heroes are up and running?’ Tony asks, to which Reed replies that boring is good - especially if it means little kids aren’t getting buildings pushed on top of them.
Iron Man asks Reed how his call with the President went, to which Reed replies that he read the President the riot act and told him that he would not play a part in their big finale unless he had absolute guarantee that Susan and Johnny would not face arrest. ‘What did he say?’ Iron Man asks. Reed replies that he would give them twelve immunities, but that everyone else would be open for prosecution. ‘Leave the rest to me. I’m seeing him for dinner anyway’ Tony reveals.
On the outside exterior of the Baxter Building, Frank Castle, a.k.a. the anti-hero known as the Punisher climbs up the building and uses a communicator to talk to Captain America, informing him that he has just passed level thirty-eight and none of the alarms have registered yet. ‘Only two more stories and we’re in there!’ Cap warns the Punisher to be careful, pointing out that if he even brushes up against one of those blue spheres then the whole system will attack him as an invading organism. Cap adds that the Invisible Woman told him Reed based their security on the human immune system this time around.
Frank tells Cap to relax, as nothing can read him while he is wearing the dampers, and he is invisible to all cameras and trip-beams. Cap asks Castle where he managed to lay his hands on this kind of hardware anyway, to which Frank replies that Tony Stark’s warehouse manager should invest in bigger locks. Frank then kicks a panel in and informs Captain America that he is in the Fantastic Four’s data-house.
From his own safe-house, Steve Rogers a.k.a. Captain America tells Castle that he needs everything he can find on the “Number 42” complex, the super prison where they are holding the rest of the resistance in the Neutral Zone. Cap explains that he needs the size, how much space they will have to move around and how many access points have been built. ‘Think you can handle that without shooting somebody in the head?’ ‘Hilarious’ Frank mumbles in reply.
Suddenly, ‘Uh-oh’ Frank utters. ‘What’s up?’ Cap replies quickly. Frank reveals that the compound has got more protection than anything he has ever seen. ‘You’re gonna need a lot more than your team of grunts to spring these guys!’ Cap replies that he is on it, and tells Castle to just keep on typing.
Meanwhile in Atlantis, Susan Storm-Richards a.k.a. the Invisible Woman, formerly of the Fantastic Four, stands before the ruler of Atlantis, Namor, a man with whom she has a complicated past. Susan thanks Namor for seeing him on such short notice, adding that she knows his court prefers to follow royal protocols, but that they have not got much time. Susan informs Namor that the Secret Avengers’ raid is planed for tonight and everyone else has turned them down. ‘Having you on side could mean the difference between winning and losing’ she tells him.
‘Your majesty’. Namor snarls bluntly. ‘What?’ Susan replies. ‘I believe that’s the correct term when you’re addressing a foreign dignitary, Mrs. Richards’ Namor tells her. Susan tells Namor not to play games, as this is the gravest crisis they have ever faced. ‘They’ve issued a superhuman draft and they’re imprisoning people who don’t comply! Can you believe they’re actually recruiting super-villains to bring us in?’
The Sub-Mariner rises from his throne and tells Susan that she talks like it matters. ‘Power struggles on your little mound are as meaningless to me as the tides are to you’ he tells her, before declaring that the death of his cousin Namorita was all that mattered in this debacle, and her assailant has been dealt with privately. Susan is shocked and reminds Namor that Captain America is one of his oldest friends, that he has known him longer than anyone.
‘And where is this friend now? Trying to make deals with the X-Men or Stephen Strange while he sends you here with your puppy-dog eyes?’ Namor snaps back, before telling Susan to inform Cap that he has no interest in helping a man who would take advantage of their unique relationship. ‘What are you talking about? We don’t have a relationship’ Susan replies. Namor stands close to Susan now and puts a finger on the breathing apparatus which covers her mouth as he informs her that he can feel her heartbeat through the water…’And it tells a very different story from the lies upon your lips…’.
Later, at the Secret Avengers headquarters. Among the gathered renegade heroes are current Avengers Captain America, Jessica “Spider-Woman” Drew and Luke Cage. Former Avengers Firebird, Hercules, Stingray, Spider-Man, Falcon, Living Lightning and Tigra. The Invisible Woman and her brother the Human Torch, also formerly of the Fantastic Four. Pulsar and Machine Man from Nextwave, Patriot, Kate Bishop and the Vision of the Young Avengers, the Punisher and Diamondback.
Captain America asks his good friend Sam “the Falcon” Wilson what kind of numbers they are looking at. Sam replies that Namor is saying no, and Wolverine will not break ranks with the X-Men, while Doctor Strange is still out of reach. However, on the plus side, the Black Panther was very upset about the whole Bill Foster thing, so T’Challa gave him his assurance that both he and Storm have their backs.
Luke Cage turns to Spider-Man and asks him how he is doing. Peter Parker replies that he is not too shabby, and while he is still a little woozy from Jack O’Lantern’s gas bomb, he is psyched to be back in his old costume. Cage puts an arm around his friend’s shoulders and exclaims that it gives him a good feeling too, like things are finally getting back to normal. ‘Jeez, you two wanna get a room?’ the Punisher asks. ‘Ooh! What’s up, honey? You jealous?’ Spider-Man replies.
Shortly, the heroes gather in the meeting room and Cap tells them that it is time to get down to business. He reveals that the Punisher got them the plans on the Negative Zone prison and the lay out of the sprawling complex appears before them in a three-dimensional schematic. At that moment, Greer Grant Nelson a.k.a. Tigra hides her face behind her hair, while Cap informs those who don’t know what the Negative Zone was originally for - high-risk super-villains, but now, as they know, rebel super heroes are being held their too.
The Falcon announces that Iron Man, Yellowjacket and Mr. Fantastic are planning puppet heroes in every state, and fifty portals leading directly from their local pens into this huge collective super prison. Sam adds that, so far, only two of the doorways have been finished, and they have obtained the codes for the one on Ryker’s island.
Captain America declares that they need to move fast, as their Intel suggests that Tony and the others are planning a huge assault tonight with SHIELD and the Thunderbolts Army, so tonight is their absolute last opportunity. Cap turns to Spider-Man and tells him that he knows he is not in the best shape right now, and assures him that no one is going to judge him if he decides to sit this one out. Peter replies that there is not a chance, as he needs to do something to make up for all the bad moves he has made lately, and adds that with numbers being the way they are, he thinks they will need every extra pair of hands.
Suddenly, Rachel Leighton a.k.a. Diamondback, stands up and exclaims that numbers might actually be a little better than they anticipated. ‘Goldbug? Plunderer? You want to come out and tell everyone what we discussed?’ she calls out. The d-grade villains step out of another room while Captain America asks his off-again-on-again girlfriend what is going on here. Goldbug tells the heroes that they aren’t the only ones scared that they are heading for a police state. ‘The super-criminal community’s more concerned about Stark’s plan than anyone!’
Plunderer, the brother of Ka-Zar, informs the heroes that they just came by to let them know that the two of them are here if they need them, after all, it’s only fair that if Iron Man has villains on his side, so can Captain America. Suddenly, the Punisher guns both of the villains down. ‘What?’ he asks innocently as the rest of the Secret Avengers look at him. ‘You murderous piece of trash!’ Captain America shouts as he punches the Punisher in the face.
Castle points out that Plunderer and Goldbug were bad guys - thieves and killers. Cap kicks Frank in the face, ordering him to shut up, before smashing his shield down on the anti-hero, who just lays there. ‘Fight, you coward!’ Cap shouts. Bloodied and bruised, the Punisher wearily replies ‘Not against you’. Cap raises a fist - but doesn’t bring it down. Instead he exclaims ‘Get him out of here! And throw his guns in the incinerator!’ Steve walks away mumbling that he must have been out of his mind to give an animal like the Punisher a place on this team.
Monica “Pulsar” Rambeau remarks that the Punisher lasted about ten minutes more than she expected. Bonita “Firebird” Juarez and Patriot look at Spider-Man and Patriot wonders why the Punisher wouldn’t hit Cap. Spider-Man tells him that it is probably because Cap is the reason the Punisher went to Vietnam. ‘Same guy, different war!’ Cap overhears this and turns to his comrades. ‘Wrong. Frank Castle is insane!’ he declares.
Meanwhile, in Stamford, Connecticut. Tony and Reed meet with Miriam Sharpe, one of the front-runners of the Super Human Registration Act. Tony motions to a nearby statue and tells Miriam that he hopes she likes the gardens they built in the children’s honor. Miriam tells Tony that the gardens are beautiful, that it is so nice to have a place where they can come and sit, whenever they are feeling lonely.
Miriam tells Tony and Reed that she really wants to thank them for all this - not just for the money, but for all the work they have done to push her big idea. Miriam claims that she hates how much it has cost them personally, and that she would never have asked them if she had known their lives would get torn apart like this. Tony assures Miriam that they knew what they were getting themselves into, and remarks that there is no shame in making enemies if it means making people safer.
Elsewhere, in Dr. Strange’s sanctuary at the North Pole. Uatu the Watcher stands on the edge of Stephen Strange’s pentagram and asks him how long it has been since he has eaten. The Sorcerer Supreme replies that he has had just a little water since the Civil War began. Uatu asks Strange if he isn’t tempted to simply end this, what with his great power he could stop this quarrel with a gesture or whisper.
Dr. Strange replies that is exactly why he must remain above the fray, for there is no right or wrong in this debate, but it is simply a matter of perspective, adding that it is not his place to influence the evolution of the superhuman role. Uatu replies that, as a Watcher, he is more than familiar with such dilemmas. Uatu asks Strange to tell him why he is fasting if he favor’s no side - ‘What outcome are you meditating for?’ Strange replies ‘Whichever victory is best for all mankind, my friend…and spills the least amount of blood tonight!’
Sunset at Ryker’s Island Penitentiary. Security personnel guard the portal to the Negative Zone’s “Number 42” complex. Suddenly, the find themselves punched over by unseen assailants. The unseen assailants are suddenly revealed as the Invisible Woman releases them from an invisible touch. Captain America turns to the Black Panther, who is present along with his wife Storm, former leader of the X-Men, and asks him what the situation with security is. The Black Panther replies that security has been neutralized from top to bottom, though he would hate to think how long it would have taken if they didn’t have Reed’s blueprints.
Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, Hercules, the Human Torch, Tigra, Luke Cage, the Falcon and Young Avengers Kate Bishop, Patriot and the Vision round out Cap’s squad, and the Falcon thanks the Black Panther for coming, adding that they know it is in Wakanda’s best interest to stay neutral. T’Challa tells his former teammate to forget about it, and remarks that their friend Goliath would still be alive if he and Storm had taken a stand when they were first asked.
Suddenly, Spider-Man stops in his tracks. Cap asks him what is wrong and Peter replies that his Spider-Sense is going off the scale. ‘Seriously, this is Defcon One!’
‘I’m not surprised’ bellows Captain America as he appears before the Secret Avengers, flanked by a squad of his own consisting of Yellowjacket, Wasp, Ms. Marvel, Black Widow, She-Hulk, Sentry, and Wonder Man, all at some time in their super hero lives members of the Avengers. The Defender Kyle Richmond a.k.a. Nighthawk and Cassie “Stature” Lang, both formerly of Cap’s Secret Avengers. Mr. Fantastic, Doc Samson, Sabra, Arana and Bishop are amongst the group, as are several members of the Thunderbolts Army: Songbird, Mach-IV, Venom, Radioactive Man, Lady Deathstrike, Blizzard, Taskmaster, Bullseye and the Fixer.
Iron Man tells Cap and the Secret Avengers that they have just walked into another trap: ‘Earth’s mightiest heroes, plus Earth’s mightiest villains’. Iron Man reveals to Cap that they have had a mole in the Secret Avengers for over a week, and points out that they are outnumbered ten to one. ‘Would now be a good time to talk about a surrender?’
‘I don’t think so’ Cap replies, before telling his former friend that if he referring to Tigra as the mole, then they already knew about her. ‘What?’ Tigra exclaims. Cap then announces that Iron Man isn’t the only one with a spy on his team. Iron Man exclaims that is impossible, as the only people who knew about Tigra were himself, Hank and Reed.
Suddenly, ‘I’m sorry, Tony’ Hank exclaims as he removes his Yellowjacket mask. ‘Hank? What are you doing? You believed in this more than any of us…! Iron Man exclaims in shock. However, things take a surprising turn as Hank’s form shifts, revealing that of the Young Avenger Hulkling. Hulkling reveals that Doctor Pym is drugged and unconscious ever since he knocked him out an replaced him back in Arizona this morning. Hulkling then introduces himself for those that do not know him.
‘Oh dear God!’ Mr. Fantastic exclaims, before pointing out that if Hulkling could mimic Hank’s voice and retinal pattern, then he has had full authority to do whatever they can. ‘The cells!’ exclaims Iron Man as Captain America motions to where a group of costumed people are racing towards them. ‘I believe this evens the odds a little!’ Indeed, now allied with Cap and the Secret Avengers are several other heroes, some of whom were members of the Secret Avengers until they were captured: Cloak and Dagger, Danny “Daredevil” Rand, Wiccan, Battlestar, Prodigy, The Living Mummy, Shroud, Solo, Typeface, Network, Lectronn, Lightbright, Black Crow, Gladitrix and Coldblood-7.
‘Now close your eyes, gentlemen…this might hurt!’ Captain America snarls.