Secret Avengers (1st series) #16

Issue Date: 
October 2011
Story Title: 
Subland Empire

Warren Ellis (writer), Jamie Mycelia (artist), Matthew Wilson (color artist), Dave Lanphear (letterer), John Cassidy & Paul Mounts (cover art), Mycelia & Wilson (variant cover art), Damien Lucchese (production), Lauren Sankovitch (associate editor), Tom Brevoort (editor), Axel Alonso (editor in chief), Joe Quesada (chief creative officer), Dan Buckley (publisher), Alan Fine (eecutive producer)

Brief Description: 

After discovering the presence of Von Doom radiation beneath the city of Cincinnati, the Secret Avengers head down there to investigate. They discover an old Secret Empire base which is now in the hands of the Shadow Council. After being attacked by some armed guards, they discover that the place is being used as a massive Von Doom time machine which could, theoretically, destroy Cincinnati and anywhere else the Shadow Council chooses. Hank McCoy makes a decision to make a fissile bomb out of an atomic Cadillac they find but this means killing everyone down there.

Full Summary: 

Steve Rogers, Beast, Moon Knight and the Black Widow descend towards the unknown. Hank McCoy finds their mode of transport fascinating. Standing on a solid platform, he explains that they are being lowered by chains, counterweights and switches. Indubitably, he adds, the counterweights will flip over and they will be pulled back to the surface. He admires the Secret Empire’s work. Putting a secret city more than a mile under Cincinnati was clever. There’s no subway system to disturb or discover it. If they hadn’t detected stray particles of Von Doom radiation there’s no way they’d have through to look. Their shielding would stop a nuke, let alone radio waves. Moon Knight asks why it didn’t stop Von Doom radiation. Hank replies that nothing stops Von Doom radiation.

He explains that it’s almost impossible to screen any kind of time-travel emission, and a Von Doom platform is very dirty and very noisy. He uses a holographic display from his wristband to show members of the Fantastic Four using the machine and says it projects a rising ‘plate’ field. Natasha is more interested in a large red convertible in the middle of the spacious room which Hank finds grotesque. Steve reckons it’s something only a Soviet girl could love and asks Hank if it will run. He flips the hood and is astounded with what he sees inside. He reckons it’ll probably run for another two hundred years! “Natasha, you’ve found yourself an atomic Cadillac,” he grins.

He further inspects the engine and thinks it’s quite frightening. Chromium tank, some kind of tritium replacement… Steve ignores his rambling and asks the others to check their weapons. They’re more open down there than he expected, adding that Natasha‘s widow‘s bite has never been terrific at long range.

Hank hands over their weapons. For Steve, he has a gun which fires flechettes, provided by an eager government contractor. It fires something sadly called shocktoxin. They’re milled to a monofilament edge and they’ll cut through body armor like a spoon through mousse. He continues to explain that shock toxin is a nerve agent. One flechette will put a healthy bull into a chemical coma for six hours. Hapless test subjects reported nightmares on a scale usually known only to those who recreationally smoke cleaning products. “Secret bullets for Secret Avengers.”

Moon Knight comments that he doesn’t understand his weapon. Hank tells him it fires flechettes machined to the size and weight of his signature crescent darts. Marc says he knows that, but he doesn’t understand why his isn’t the same as Steve Rogers’. Hank informs him that Steve is a super-soldier who can master any weapon in seconds. Spector, on the other hand, is a borderline psychotic who wears a white bag over his head in public. He imagines everyone thought it best to make things easy for him. Steve tells him that’s enough and says they’ll take Quincarrier Zero. It’s smaller but faster. He asks them to move out and for Moon Knight to do an aerial recon. Moon Knight leaps over the edge of the building they’re on and plummets vertically before opening his cape to glide along silently and gracefully.

Underneath him is a city with high buildings, seemingly unsupported roadways and space-age towers. Everything is grey. It’s not there for its aesthetic values. The others climb into the atomic convertible and Natasha asks if they’re really worried about a time-machine, particularly one based on some ancient Doctor Doom design. Beast replies that firstly, they don’t know who’s down there. The Secret Empire’s long gone. This could be another Shadow Council enclave. Secondly, any time machine is a weapon and an incredibly complex and dangerous one.

Hank relaxes in the back seat and says that people always forget that a time machine is also a space machine. As they go forward in time, they move forward in space. The Earth turns around the Sun, the Sun orbits the Galaxy and the Galaxy spins around the universe. If you go back in time on Earth, you also have to be sent to the position your target was at that time in the past. He leans forward and looks over Natasha’s shoulder, explaining that if he were to send them back a week without doing the other calculations, they would materialize in deep space and be dead within thirty seconds. “…ah,” replies Natasha, leaving Hank to it.

As they drive through the city, Hank imagines all those old Secret Empire agents tooling around their hidden city in their atomic Cadillacs. Party town. Vodka martinis and world domination. Moon Knight radios in and tells them it seems quiet. However, he keeps glimpsing some kind of structure further out to the northeast. He pauses. “…Wait.” Down below a Jeep comes into view with a couple of soldiers inside. One of them points to Moon Knight and they then both open fire with machine guns. Moon Knight pulls out his gun and folds his wings, dropping towards them feet first. He explains that he’s under attack by a right-hand-drive Shadow Council security patrol vehicle. He thinks right-hand-drive sounds less sinister when he says it out loud for some reason. “Stand by.”

When he impacts the vehicle he keeps his legs straight and the whole front of the Jeep crumples, throwing its inhabitants high into the air. Moon Knight shoots one of them as he flips over but his gun is knocked from his hand by the other performing a karate chop. Moon Knight responds by thwacking him in the face with his truncheon, smashing the glass in his helmet and putting him on the floor. The other one manages to pull his weapon out but Moon Knight flips a switch and the end of his club opens up releasing a grappling hook. The hook shoots into the guy’s face, putting him down for the count too.

Meanwhile, as Hank continues to ramble on, Moon Knight contacts Steve and informs him that they have to assume at this point that the Shadow Council has reactivated the facility. They’re not alone down there, so they should watch their backs. Suddenly, a bullet crashes through their windscreen, narrowly missing them. Steve asks Hank to return fire. He asks with what? He can’t fire a gun as he has paws! Steve decides to do it himself. He asks them to get down as he fires three flechettes from his weapon (all in the shape and color of his old shield). Two more agents fire at them again using an automated weapon but they are put out of action when the Black Widow fires at them which hits home.

The car crashes through a wall and lands on the level below. Natasha reckons her widow’s bite is still effective enough at medium range. Steve asks her not to get smug. They need to look for a way back to higher ground. As they head towards an archway, Hank says it’s interesting that the Shadow Council would reactivate an old Secret Empire installation using the old vehicles left down there. That may mean the Secret Empire was more of the way to having a working time platform there before they abandoned the place. Still, he adds, a few operatives in cars aren’t much to worry about.

Several shots are then fired at them from above and Hank looks up to see a small helicopter. “Oh, just tell me to shut up next time,” he sighs. Steve uses his shield to block the attack and simultaneously fires flechettes at the craft. They hit the target and the helicopter soon flounders and crashes into the ceiling before hurtling to ground in a ball of flame. Moon Knight drops into the car and says he meant to mention the choppers. He asks Natasha to take the next ascent ramp. There’s something up there he’d like to show them.

Hank explains to the trio that Von Doom radiation is emitted by Von Doom time platforms. These are four field generator pylons under a foot-plate. He shows them a diagram of what one looks like - a tall device with a ball on top. He tells them that between them they generate a planar field and a plate of energy rises up. You need four pylons to do it. He points out that the field doesn’t send the footplate back in time because you can set the field to ‘go live’ as it were, at any position. So, in this instance the field doesn’t go live until it clears the footplate. Then, whatever it passes through is moved through time.

Looking out across the city, Steve sees one of the pylons and it’s massive. “Why the hell is it so big?” he asks. Hank’s face drops as he explains that it’s because there are going to be three more of them somewhere on opposite corners of the city. It’s going to be a Von Doom field two miles across. It’s going to be so big and powerful that it’s going to go right up through the shell over this city and through a mile of dirt and go live at ground level in Cincinnati. He expects that in the aftermath, Cincinnati will look deleted, just smoothly erased from the Earth. That’s not the worst of it either, he adds. Kicking this place loose in time turns it into a bomb. They could put it anywhere. On top of another city… drop it on a small country from three miles up…

Steve rushes into action, figuring that if they can take out one pylon the field cannot generate. He asks Natasha to drive and they head towards the giant pylon. Hank points out that the thing even has a wireless power feed. He can see it from there. There could be a dozen reactors around the place feeding all the pylons. Steve thinks it’s clever and insane at the same time. They could issue any demands they wanted afterwards and no one would know they couldn’t pull the same trick twice. He asks them to stay focused. He wants options for destroying the pylon as soon as they get a good look at its base. Natasha suggests a frontal assault. Hit them fast and use their panic against them. “Nice and simple,” replies Steve.

As they approach the base, they see that it’s many times higher than a human, possibly sixty feet high. In front of it is a line of Shadow Council agents and a large tank. “Okay,” quips Natasha, “How about a Plan B?” The tank fires a missile but thanks to some snazzy driving it misses the car. Hank notices that they’re powering up the pylons. The field is going to form in minutes. Steve tells him he knows more about this than anyone and asks for a plan. Hank tells him that there is something that he can do but it’s horribly easy. He can turn the car into a fissile bomb - a nasty one. “You mean like a dirty bomb?” asks Steve. Hank replies that he means like an enhanced radiation tactical device, like a small low-rent neutron bomb. He can’t blow up the entire city to blow up all the time platform struts, but he can make an electromagnetic pulse that should fry it. However, it’s a burst of radiation that would instantly kill everyone down there, including them.

Steve asks what if they could get back to their entrance point. Hank replies that the ‘sky’ above the city is at least three feet of dense metals and there’s a mile of dirt between this spot and Cincinnati. If they can get back to their exit, then… Steve knows full well what he has in mind. Their mechanical system will still work after the bomb goes off because it’s not electronic. He asks Moon Knight for his truncheon and then fires the grappling hook at an approaching helicopter, bringing it down with a strong yank. Hank gets to work on the car’s engine, finding it insane that he’s making a neutron bomb out of an atomic convertible. Natasha shoots one of the helicopter’s occupants and says she can hear more cars. Steve reckons they have a minute static in the air. “It’s now or never, Hank.”

Hank tells him he’s done and leaps into the helicopter with Marc Spector at his side at the controls. As several cars approach the helicopter takes off. Natasha and Steve grab the landing skids and return fire, but Moon Knight is shot through the thigh. Hank is shocked, but Marc says with a hint of sarcasm that he’s too borderline psychotic to feel the pain. They’re nearly there, anyway. He then says he might actually pass out. He lands the helicopter and Hank grabs him, throwing him over his shoulder. He calls for them all to move and both Steve and Natasha rush after them as fast as they can possibly run. They reach the mechanical lift and Steve asks Hank how long it will be. Hank reckons it should already have gone off. He can see the planar field forming.

As their lift ascends the shaft, the bomb detonates inside the old Secret Empire base, evaporating everyone inside. Hank’s head drops. “How many people did I just kill?” he asks, despondently. Steve asks how many he just saved. He reckons Hank’s a clever man. He should do the math. It’ll help him sleep.

Characters Involved: 

Beast, Black Widow, Moon Knight and Steve Rogers (all Secret Avengers)

Shadow Council agents

(in flashback)

(in hologram)
Human Torch II, Mr. Fantastic, Thing (all Fantastic Four)

Story Notes: 

The Secret Empire first appeared in Tales to Astonish #81 and is a criminal organization, initially under Hydra’s wing but later independent.

This the first issue of the new creative team.

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