(New York City - South Bronx)
Spider-Man and X-23 have landed in a room, where an alternate dimension’s Tony Stark, dressed in Dr. Doom’s armor, is preparing to journey back to his own dimension. In order to do this, he is utilizing the mutant powers of a naked boy named Paul Patterson, who is held fast in a device created by Stark. He doesn’t recognize Spider-Man, and wonders if he’s working for Reed Richards. He blasts at Spidey, forcing both he and his companion, X-23, to get out of his way. Spidey realizes that X-23 isn’t Stark’s watchdog after all, and she confirms his by informing him she is an X-man. He can’t keep up with all their comings and goings these days. As it happens, X-23 doesn’t know who Spidey is either. He can’t believe it. He’s in the paper all the time.
Stark summons more energy into his gauntlets, and demands to know who sent them. Meanwhile, Spidey tries to assure Paul that he’ll have him freed soon, “So you can… um… go to prison and stuff. You little psycho.”
Again, Stark demands to know if they’re minions of Richards. Spidey leaps about, avoiding his blasts, as does his young companion. He never stops with the mouth, asking if he has a crush on Richards, as it’s the second time he’s mentioned him. X-23 complains that she can’t hear herself fight with all his yakking. As a blast takes out the ground beneath her, Spidey fires a line of webbing and yanks her clear of danger. He asks whether, since they’re on the same side, is she gonna help him out with this guy. “You mean team-up?” she asks. Spidey didn’t actually want to say that, but yes.
(Aboard the S.H.I.E.L.D heli-carrier)
Captain America is aboard the massive floating vessel, and meets with Nick Fury. He explains that he’s heading to sector 76, but Fury tells him he’s going to the wrong lab. He must have gotten his directions from Simmons. “How about I escort you?” He and Natasha were just going to grab some lunch while she waited for transport to her next mission. Cap smiles and says it’s been a while. Natasha, better known as the Black Widow, replies that he’s looking good, but no surprises there.
They come across a stasis pod filled with liquid. Inside it is Diamondback. Fury informs them that it isn’t really her. It’s a Life Model Decoy they’ve been developing. It fell into the hands of the Red Skull before his death and caused Cap a bit of trouble. Cap asks if it’s the best they could do. Fury answers by admitting they don’t really know what to do with it. It should never have been activated. It was in the testing stages when Mark Nolan stole it and passed it off to the Red Skull as Diamondback. They can’t just deactivate it, but they can’t let it continue to malfunction either. It doesn’t actually know it’s a machine. There’s no telling what it would do if left unchecked.
Cap touches the container, and says it’s just that she seemed so real. It was her, and really seemed like her. “Seeing her like this, even knowing it’s not her, it’s… it’s not easy.” Fury apologizes for this. It should never have happened, but it did, and right under his nose. If it’s any consolation, he adds, where Mark Nolan is, he probably wishes he was in a stasis pod. Once they find a way to fix its programming, they’ll pull it out of there. He is interrupted by a message that the energy signature he had his team scanning for has been found.
They all head up to the bridge, and Fury asks where it is. His man informs him it’s coming from the South Bronx. It’s really lighting up. Also, they’re getting a transmission from Reed Richards.
Mr. Fantastic’s face appears on a large screen. He informs everyone that he’s just monitored a transmission from the heli-carrier, so he assumes they’ve detected Stark and are en route to take him into custody. He continues to say that Stark’s been using his power blatantly, as if he doesn’t care if they detect his whereabouts. He deduces that he must be close to achieving his goal, which he can only assume is devising a way to return to his own dimension. This theory, he adds, is supported by the list of equipment the real Tony Stark reported missing days ago; equipment checked out by him, according to an employee of his. It’s conceivable that the equipment he’s acquired could be used to build a jump-gate, if he could find a suitable power source.
This could cause real problems, he continues. There’s no telling what kind of ripple effect the resulting distortion could cause. Simply put, he must be stopped. Richards himself is unable to help, as his family’s a little busy in the Negative Zone, and they can’t make it. He’s leapfrogging his signal to them through a series of micro-fissures in space-time. He has no idea when it will reach them. “Just make sure Stark is stopped!”
The transmission ends, and Nick Fury asks Cap and the Black Widow if they’re up for a little freelancing. They’d be happy to help.
A massive burst of energy smashes the walls of the building Stark is occupying. Spidey remarks that he’ll have a tough time getting his deposit back on the place. He webs up Stark’s eye holes, as Stark orders him to shut up. X-23 approaches Paul Patterson, and says, “Hang on kid. I’ll get you out of here.” Arrogant as ever, Paul asks who she is calling a kid. He bets he’s older than she is. Spidey sees them, and warns X-23 not to cut him loose. She should focus on the iron guy. As he is distracted, Stark punches him with his iron gauntlet, throwing Spidey crashing into a pile of junk. Before Stark can follow this up with a blast from his gauntlet, a voice from above tells him the game is over. This ends now!
Captain America drops through a hole in the ceiling. “Steve, is that you? Is that really you?” asks Stark, surprised. Cap asks him to stop this and turn himself in. They don’t have to do this the hard way. Stark wonders if it can be so different here. Can Cap really be alive? As the Black Widow watches from the rafters, Cap explains that things are very different here. His counterpart is a good man; one of his closest allies. He has to believe that Stark was once a good man too. He doesn’t know what happened to him, but it must have been something major.
Despite his reassurances, Stark knows that he isn’t the Cap he once knew. He uses his chest plate to fire a burst of blue energy at Cap, who quickly hides behind his trusted shield. He tells Cap that he sounds just like Richards. “You’d love for me to spare their pathetic lives… wouldn’t you?!” He tells Cap he’s going home; that much is inevitable. If he has to leave a colorful pile of corpses in his wake - so be it. His chest plate is webbed up by Spider-Man, who’s pretty confused by this point. Cap uses this break in Stark’s concentration to hurl his shield. It connects with Stark’s face plate, shattering the connections between it, and the rest of the helmet.
Cap tells Stark that he sickens him. Stark removes the faceplate, and angrily replies that his Steve Rogers is a great man - a living legend. He’s not some lapdog for that psycho Reed Richards. Out of nowhere, X-23 leaps at Stark and swipes at his face with her claws. They only connect slightly, and Stark grabs the much smaller girl with his gauntlet. The Black Widow then strikes with her widow’s bite, forcing Stark to drop her.
Cap is already charging as Stark wipes his face, but he is aware enough to swat Cap away with a backhand. He then unleashes a burst of concussive force against Spider-Man and the Widow, smashing them against a wall. They drop to the ground, and Natasha assures Spidey that espionage is more her area of expertise. She’s not normally this useless. Spidey replies by asking her if she thinks he’s in this guy’s league. He was thrilled when Cap showed up. He’s just glad it wasn’t a cosmic guy. He hates cosmic guys. Also, his back… really hurts.
Stark then uses magnetic force to bring Cap’s shield to him. Cap informs him that his shield is far from his only weapon. “As far as I’m concerned, it is,” Stark replies, as a small antennae pops out of his armor on the shoulder. It emits a painfully debilitating sonic scream, which renders his four opponents helpless. It’s a neural scrambler. It’s setting their nerve endings on fire, he explains. Their heads won’t explode, but they’ll feel like they are. He notes that they should be on the ground, passed out by now, but he figures the damage to his armor has weakened its effect. No matter, though; he only needed a free moment.
Young Paul Patterson, still encased in the large machine that Stark has built, is bathed in golden energy. Stark faces the boy, and explains that he’s started extracting Paul’s raw energy. It’s quite a remarkable process, if he says so himself. Richards would appreciate it. Captain America wants to stop Stark, but even he is unable to concentrate that well. It’s only a matter of moments before Paul generates enough energy to open the portal. Stark hopes he never has to return to this miserable world.
As Paul can only battle the pain this causes him, Stark notices the beautiful Natasha lying beside him. He hadn’t even noticed it was her. He tells her that he’s missed her. He longed to see her once more for so long, but thought he’d never get the opportunity. She broke his heart. He callously places a metal boot on her face, and says that now he has the chance to kill her all over again.
All of a sudden, a realization hits him. The Black Widow is alive. Steve Rogers is alive. “Reed is… This isn’t just another dimension. The timelines don’t match either. Things are close, but not…” He struggles to figure out just what the score is. “The Titannus war!” he continues, “It hasn’t happened yet. You don’t even know who he is yet…”
Paul Patterson has energy pouring from every orifice, but manages to tell Spidey he sucks. “Any second now,” comments Stark, anticipating a return to his own world. He stretches his arms out, and tells the assembled heroes that he’s afraid he has to leave now. What they have to look forward to - their deaths would now be merciful. He won’t have that.
Behind Stark, who is oblivious to this, the four heroes slowly regain their senses. Cap thinks it’s best to let Stark believe they’re still preoccupied with the pain. He knows his armor must be almost out of power. Cap also knows that Reed Richards said that this jump-gate could blow up the world, and he tries not to second guess the guy. By his count, they have less than a minute to take Stark out.
Luckily, Spidey has an idea.
Just at the moment of success, Cap launches himself at Stark, and sends him crashing into the side of the machine. Spidey launches X-23 at Paul Patterson. It’s a fastball special, and he hopes the X-Men don’t have a trademark on the move. “It’ll be our little secret,” replies X-23. She reaches Patterson, and plunges her two adamantium claws into his arm.
Outside, the streets are rocked by a huge explosion, as the building is utterly destroyed. Onlookers see the smoke clear to reveal the ruins of the building, bathed in the afterglow of dissipating energy. The four heroes gather themselves. Natasha coughs, and asks if he exploded the first time. “Yeah, kinda,” replies Spider-Man. Natasha, Captain America and X-23 all look at him incredulously, but he assures them that he’s probably popping up somewhere else as he speaks. It’s not like he killed the kid! “I’m sure he’s okay...”
Paul Patterson is indeed, alive and well, but as he explodes into this wilderness, creating a small crater, he finds himself face-to-face with the hulking white figure of Wendigo!
(New York City - South Bronx)
Spidey apologizes to X-23, but tells her that he figured she’s as tough as Wolverine, and could take it. She replies by asking him to leave her alone. She’s not talking to him - he’s crazy! Spidey’s cool with that. Wolverine hated him first time around too. “He still hates you,” replies X-23, “Everybody hates you.” Spidey is a trifle offended, but Cap explains that he doesn’t hate him. He can be annoying from time to time, but it’s not a big deal. They’ve all gotten used to tuning him out for the most part. As Spidey prepares to leave, he asks if Stark didn’t say something about a Titannus War? “What’s a Titannus?” he asks.
Titannus leaves the defeated Sunfire, his costume torn and ragged and his body broken and twisted. “Such is the wrath of Titannus. I warned you,” he utters, before taking off into the empty skies. “I warned you.”
(Aboard the S.H.I.E.L.D heli-carrier)
Next to the Diamondback LMD, another stasis-pod now contains the extra-dimensional Tony Stark. Captain America and his colleague, Iron Man, look at the doppelganger as he sleeps. Tony couldn’t resist taking a look at him. This is a new experience for him. It’s not often they have one of those. Cap says that Fury has informed him that Reed Richards is working on a way to get him back to his own dimension, without the transfer having any ill effects on their own. Until then, he feels the most humane way to incarcerate him is in stasis. They don’t know much about him. He could just be crazy! In the meantime, Stark jests, if he never needs a new liver, or heart…
(Dr. Strange’s Inner Sanctum)
Strange is pleased that this ordeal is finally at an end. He uses the all-seeing Eye of Agamotto to look in on events aboard the heli-carrier. He informs his assistant, Wong, that he senses much danger contained in this one. Though he may be unconscious, he feels they must remain vigilant, for if nothing else, he represents the potential for further threat from his twisted world. As Spidey passes by Dr. Strange’s window on his way home after a long day, Strange thinks this will be a long night indeed.