While making his usual rounds one night, Spider-Man realizes that he is glad to be back in the super-hero business. He enjoys a relatively quiet night of crime-fighting, but this rare luxury quickly comes to an end when he detects incoming danger with his spider-sense. He hones in on the signal in an attempt to find its source, but the only things in the area are a large cardboard box and a grubby, homeless man.
The box begins to glow, sending beams of bright light in every direction. While he tries to avoid getting hit by these shafts of light, Spider-Man slips up and takes one right in the chest. He begins to comment that the light does not hurt; however, before he can finish his sentence, his body begins glowing brightly and he vanishes into thin air.
Right around the corner, a man witnesses the light emanating from the alleyway. He peers into the alley to investigate. What he sees completely bewilders him. He asks the groggy homeless man for an explanation, but what the man says in response does not make a lot of sense. “It’s starting! But at least you’re here! It’s all coming together, boy! I need your help,” the homeless man says. The bystander refuses to offer assistance, as he does not want to get involved with a strange man and his glowing cardboard box. The last thing I need is to get tangled up with some crazy dude, he says to himself while walking away.
Elsewhere, Spider-Man reappears in the middle of some heavy rain. He looks around this new urban environment, but does not recognize his whereabouts. “Where am I?” he asks.
“No. No. No,” a voice says out of the darkness. “The question is, who are you?” Spider-Man looks up and sees a creepy man with a green hair, white make-up, and an unnatural, unpleasant smile on his face. The man seems to know who Spider-Man is, but Spider-Man has no memory of ever meeting him. When Spidey mentions the name “New York,” he confuses the villain even further, as it turns out he is no longer in New York, but in Gotham City.
Spider-Man quickly tires of bantering with this joker and asks him what he is doing on the rooftop of a building in the middle of a torrential rainstorm. “Oh, I thought I might blow it up,” the creepy man replies, “…but fireworks are so abysmally dull in the rain.” Spider-Man laughs sarcastically, not fully understanding that the man actually isn’t joking. He asks for more clarification on this strange situation, and asks the man to identify himself. Instead of answering outright, he simply hands Spider-Man his calling card, and walks off the edge of the building. Spider-Man tries to grab him, but when he looks over the edge he sees the man drifting away through the rain with a parachute.
“Would somebody please tell me what’s going on here?” Spider-Man says as he examines the card in his hand. It depicts nothing but the Joker from a standard deck of cards.
Gambit also holds in his hand, a joker card. However, he intends to use his joker not as a calling card, but as a weapon. He charges it up with kinetic energy and hurls it at the X-Men’s nemesis, Juggernaut. Storm and Wolverine attempt to flank Juggernaut from two sides, but he fights them off without breaking a sweat. He knocks Wolverine onto the ground, and is about to clobber him with a punch when he begins intensely glowing and vanishes.
Juggernaut instantly reappears and continues his punch, but hits a concrete wall instead of the downed X-Man. He looks around, confused, and asks where Wolverine went. His punch left a gaping hole in the wall of a building that bears the sign for something called “The Daily Planet.”
Out of nowhere, Juggernaut receives a hard punch to the side of his face. The force of this punch sends him sprawling to the ground. He looks up, and sees a large man with a bold “S” across his chest. “I don’t know who you are or where you came from, but I do know you’re in the wrong place, mister,” Superman says.
The grungy homeless man has succeeded in containing energy within the cardboard box. He taped up all the holes and stands before it, admiring his work. “Can’t have no more crossing over. If the two of them get together,” he says, “…don’t even wanna think about what’d happen then!”
His satisfaction is cut short, however, when the light breaks through his make-shift patches and pours out of the box once again. He tries to plug the holes with his hands, but his effort is too little. The energy spills out of the box and glows blindingly bright.
All around both parallel realities, heroes begin to disappear in their tracks. Captain America vanishes while fighting agents of HYDRA. Wonder Woman disappears in a flash of bright light while rescuing people from a bridge collapse. The Incredible Hulk chats amiably with his wife, Betty Ross Banner, before disappearing right before her very eyes. After getting caught by flirting with other women by his girlfriend, Tana Moon, Superboy disappears as well. Lobo fades out of his plane of existence while slaughtering some aliens in space.
Storm, Gambit and Wolverine relay the story of Juggernaut’s disappearance to their fellow X-Men. The tale of his disappearance completely stumps both Professor X and Beast, who comments that he found no instances of this type of disappearance in their computer’s records.
“One of the great tragedies of my life is that my stepbrother has been among our deadliest enemies,” Xavier says. “We have an obligation to find out what happened to him, and why.”
Wolverine disagrees. “I say good riddance, Chuck. Let Marko be somebody else’s problem.”
Storm reprimands him for his insensitivity. “Logan, you know we cannot turn our backs on anyone, mutant or human. If we do so, we are no better than--”
Before she can finish her thought, Storm, Gambit and Wolverine all find themselves engulfed in the same light that preceded Juggernaut’s disappearance. Their teammates watch helplessly as the trio disappears without a trace. Cyclops asks aloud what is going on, but Professor X poses a more pertinent question. “Who’s next?”
The Green Lantern. Elektra. Flash. Thor. Aquaman. Silver Surfer. Captain Marvel. Namor the Sub-Mariner. Quicksilver. Catwoman. All these heroes get ripped right out of their position in space and reappear in unfamiliar locations.
One such unfortunate mix-up is the sudden presence of Daredevil’s arch-nemesis, Bullseye, in the Bat Cave. Batman tries to talk down this unfamiliar villain, who holds his sidekick, Robin, at knife-point. Bullseye is completely confused and demands an explanation from Batman, without realizing that the Caped Crusader is not at all responsible. He demands to know who Batman is. Batman stares at him without betraying any emotion. “If you hurt the boy…I am your worst nightmare. I am the Batman.”
Bullseye refuses to be scared. He runs his knife along the edge of Robin’s face and threatens to do much worse. Robin takes a chance and fights back. He elbows Bullseye in the throat and dives out of the way. Batman follows his side-kick’s lead and hurls a throwing star at the villain. Normally, an attack such as this would maim its target, but Bullseye demonstrates his mastery of projectiles by safely catching the weapon in his hand. He throws it back at Batman with a sadistic smile on his face. “Catch.”
Batman ducks under the projectile weapon and lunges at Bullseye. He socks Bullseye in the jaw, causing him to fall unconscious. With the threat neutralized, Batman checks in with Robin and they ponder the mysterious interloper together. “Called himself Bullseye. I’ve never heard of him,” Robin says. “How could he have gotten into the Bat Cave?”
“I don’t know. He’s not one of Gotham’s usual rogues gallery, and he seemed more surprised by his presence here than we were,” Batman responds. Before Robin can comment, he too is hit by a shaft of light and vanishes from sight, to Batman’s complete bewilderment.
Robin rematerializes in a fancy bedroom at the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters in Snow Valley, Massachusetts. Paige Guthrie can barely believe her eyes at the sudden presence of this mysterious boy. “Jubes? Were you expecting a boy to be delivered?” she asks.
“Nope,” Jubilee responds, “…but I like his fashion sense already.”
The editor of The Daily Planet hollers at his truant employee, Clark Kent. “The Planet’s a daily, Kent, not a weekly! Maybe the word deadline didn’t hold too much meaning for you before, but now that I’m the editor around here, you’ll get your stories in on time!” the editor-in-chief yells. “People are coping with all the weirdness going on out there, but they want to know what’s happening! We’re going to find out and tell them…” he says, pulling his cigar out of his mouth.
“…or my name isn’t J. Jonah Jameson!” Clark accepts his scolding like a true gentleman, but then reminds his new boss that they work in a non-smoking building. After Jameson leaves, Clark and his co-worker Lois Lane discuss the differences between this mysterious new editor and their previous boss. They agree that this sudden switch is probably related to the strange occurrences all over the world.
Their friend and co-worker Jimmy Olsen enters the office and interrupts them. He asks one of them to show a new photographer around the news station, so Lois takes up the task. Before he leaves, he hands Clark a new photo from the news wire. By this point, the contents of the photo come as no surprise to Clark: it depicts the well-known superhero Steel battling some unknown villain. The man in the photo uses a heavy ball-and-chain as a weapon, and Clark notices that the man seems to be absorbing the substances around him. He dubs him the “Absorbing Man,” but merely writes it off as yet another unfamiliar face amidst some already strange circumstances. He then works at composing his column for the latest edition of The Daily Planet.
He proceeds to write an eloquent column examining the mystery of the missing heroes and the sudden emergence of several new powerful beings. Everyone from school children to Superman is asking the same question as our reality inexplicably changes around us, Clark writes. Nothing, apparently, is safe. Not the buildings in which we live and work, not the people we know and love, not even the heroes on whom we depend.
Among the most visible reminders of our suddenly unstable reality are the disappearances of familiar, costumed heroes, coupled with appearances of new and different ones, sporting names like Captain America or Daredevil, the man without fear.
We concern ourselves with heroes because they are mirrors in which we see ourselves. Their reactions during this crisis reflect the range of our reactions. Some face threats posed by unfamiliar villains as bravely as ever, Clark writes, referring to photographs of Batman battling Venom and Captain Marvel confronting the antagonistic Dr. Doom, …while encounters between those more likely to be considered anti-heroes have erupted in violence bred of fear or confusion. Kent refers to people like Punisher and Ghost Rider engaging in violent confrontations with Deathstroke and Demon Etrigan.
Although misunderstanding has led to blows in some cases, more often we have risen above our differences, united by a spirit of learning, or friendship, or teamwork. Doctor Strange and Dr. Fate explore the mystic arts together. Archangel and Hawkman take to the skies in a display of a mutual understanding. She-Hulk and Supergirl work together to battle a group of gun-toting thugs.
Clark’s editorial continues: We all want to find a cause for our fractured reality, and we have no answers. So all of us, from super hero to common man, are left to fight our individual battles. Heroes, both familiar and unfamiliar, battle new menaces, while the rest of us fight the battle of everyday lives buffeted by forces beyond our control.
We must hope that in trying to win these battles, we’re not losing a more epic war we don’t yet understand…
Lois interrupts Clark’s writing process so she can introduce him to their new photographer, Ben Reilly. Ben recently took a stellar photo of Spider-Man battling the Man-Bat, so Clark makes sure to compliment him on the photo. Ben, who says his professional name is Peter Parker, plays it off like it was just a lucky shot. After their introduction, Clark comments that while working together, maybe they can figure out what is happening to the world. “Oh, I dunno about that,” Ben says. “I think it’ll take somebody bigger than either of us to really grasp it.”
Unfortunately, it turns out that even the highest of beings lack understanding of the multi-dimensional anomaly. The Spectre comments that the entire universe ripples with disturbance, caused by some power that thwarts his own. Likewise, the Living Tribunal struggles with this disturbance. “The cosmic balance tilts, and for the first time, I cannot right it,” the Living Tribunal says.
What he fails to detect is that two cosmic beings, so close in appearance they may be twins, have sensed each other’s presence and now reach out across the void between them. The Living Tribunal then utters a statement of truly ominous severity. “I fear something is terribly wrong.”