Secret Avengers (1st series) #21

Issue Date: 
March 2012
Story Title: 
Final Level

Warren Ellis (writer), Stuart Immonen (artist), Wade Von Grawbadger (inker), Chris Sotomayer (colorist), Dave Lanphear (letterer), John Cassidy & Paul Mounts (cover artists), Nacer Ayesh & Mayela Gutirrez (production), John Denning (assistant editor), Lauren Sankovitch (associate editor), Tom Brevoort (editor), Axel Alonso (editor in chief), Joe Quesada (chief creative officer), Dan Buckley (publisher), Alan Fine (executive producer)

Brief Description: 

The Shadow Council have been plotting something for years, beginning with a failed experiment in Paraguay and ending in a deep basement in Houston. After getting wind of the operation, the Secret Avengers infiltrate the O*N*E headquarters and, with the use of a little torture, they discover the person behind the operation: a former marine lieutenant, Ms. Hood. She is compliant when interviewed and explains that she was going to clear the building and then unleash the creatures in the basement. Now that the Avengers are there, she feels they will all die. Steve has a team go down to the basement, whilst Beast monitors everything from the ship which flies over the headquarters. Because Ms. Hood has turned off the refrigerant units, the to which the creatures were attached, they wake up, emerge from their tanks and begin growing rapidly in size. Nothing the team can do slows them down, so Steve orders a retreat and asks Hank to use the ship’s force-field as a weapon. Once everyone is out of the building and has jumped to safety, Hank destroys the building and the creatures within using the ship’s force-field. Ms. Hood then kills herself before she has to face the consequences of her actions.

Full Summary: 

(the O*N*E station in Houston - 600 seconds to go)
A fire alarm is sounded inside the skyscraper, the primary storage and admin facility of renditioned resources. The cause is a wall of flames and a plume of black smoke ascending from the rooftop.

Inside, four people gather around an octagonal computer bank. Baum is the last to arrive. He wants to get this done and get out. The fire is barely two floors above them. He asks if anyone know how it stared. Unseen by him in the Avengers’ ship, Beast calls Steve Rogers on the radio and informs him that the microwave heaters are running, the holographic projectors are running and the sound cannons too. They have a rather lovely false fire going. He could even crank up the force-field thrower to fake a little earthquake just to induce more haste, perhaps? Steve asks him not to over-egg it but to stay close. Team one is closing on command whilst team two is en route to storage.

Inside, Mr. Akins says that he can’t get the fire control systems up. It’s starting to smell like sabotage to him. Ms. Sung informs him that the building’s clear. It’s just them left but she can’t lock the doors. Steve Rogers appears behind them holding a pistol and tells them it’s his fault but he asks them to remain calm. He needs to know which one of them is working for the Shadow Council. There are 450 seconds to go.

Akins asks how he dare walk in with a gun. This is the Office of National Emergency. Steve replies that he understands Akins runs the alpha team and his instincts are to protect his people, but he doesn’t wish to incapacitate him. Ms. Hood recognizes him as being Steve Rogers, and Steve replies that she is Ms. Hood, a former lieutenant in the Marine Corps. Flanked by the Black Widow and Moon Knight, he informs them that they made it look like the building was aflame to ensure their privacy. Ms. Hood salutes him. 400 seconds to go.

Moon Knight reminds Steve that they have a time factor. Steve explains that their intel says that the Shadow Council member in this room is going to sabotage their storage facility today. Their mission is over. If they make themselves known, they will be treated well. 350 seconds to go. No one responds, so Steve turns his back and tells them he doesn’t believe in torture, so he’s going to let his colleagues do it. Moon Knight instantly jams one of his crescent darts into Mr. Baum’s hand causing him to scream in pain. He tells him it’s been a while since he cut a man’s face off. Even longer since he had them survive it. The Black Widow blasts Mr. Akins in the leg and the two assaults convince Ms. Hood to come clean.

With 300 seconds to go, Steve says he doesn’t believe her. Ms. Hood says, “Paraguay, one year ago.” Hank, listening in from the ship, tells Steve that they’re definitely storing something recovered from a dig in Paraguay. Steve tells her to come with him and asks Natasha to get the others out of the building. He also asks Hank to kill the alarm and start the lockdown. Hank activates an elevator for their use and starts cracking the security on the Paraguay file.

As Hank guides War Machine, Valkyrie and Sharon Carter to the storage facility, Steve sits down with Ms. Hood and asks her about Paraguay. She is very compliant and informs him that she was given the location by her superiors in the Council. She made it look like it’d been obtained in the course of ordinary intel gathering. The Council set up the appearance of a breeding experiment from the 1950’s. It was a remote village called Nueva Thule, which had evidence of yet another band of mad Nazi scientists hiding in South America. Steve asks if it was a fake. Ms. Hood replies yes and no. The operation did happen, but it wasn’t Nazis and it wasn’t sixty years ago. The Council just made it look that way.

Steve can’t believe that she… the Shadow Council, conducted breeding experiments. She explains that they were mostly volunteers - men mostly. The Council was hoping for a hybrid that could more easily communicate with the owners. That wasn’t quite what they got back, but the results were useful. So, a scenario was constructed very carefully. Nazis. Things from beyond space. Half-alien spawn so awful they had to be hooked to nuclear-powered refrigerant units and buried.

With 150 seconds left to go, Ms. Hood continues to explain that there’s a magic word that casts a spell on anyone in military intel. Super Soldier. Since 1941, there have been more than five hundred recorded attempts to create a ‘super soldier’ with his capabilities. Fewer than ten of the subjects are believed to be alive today. O*N*E had only to be told that weird, buried superhumans were there for the taking. Now, they’re down there in the basement with all the other things they’ve gathered that they think could one day be useful against some threat or another. Should they take out this building and its stockpile, they would take out one future hurdle against the rise of the Shadow Council.

Steve replies that there’s one thing he doesn’t understand. She was prepared to do something to destroy this building and kill all the people in it, but she balked at her colleagues being tortured. Why? Ms. Hood tells him she had a plan. She can control all kinds of building operations from the command level. She was going to set off the fire alarm and ensure everyone got out. She was briefed that it would take less than ten minutes for the creatures to awaken after she shut off the refrigerants. So, the fire alarm went off anyway and she was the first person on the command level. She killed the refrigerants on the assumption that an ordinary evacuation would follow. Everyone she knows would be well clear of the building before it was too late. She adds that she wasn’t interested in killing anyone, just destroying the stockpile. Now, they’re all going to die.

Deep underground on sublevel 30, War Machine, Sharon Carter and Valkyrie locate the two refrigerant units that were put there. There are just 50 seconds remaining. Steve radios them and asks if they can hear him. Hank adds that he’s getting some strange readings from their location. Sharon replies that the signal is bad down there. She doesn’t know what was going on but the place was obviously a deep freeze, which is now thawing. She then notices that whatever’s inside the tanks are waking up. Steve asks Hank if he can reactivate the refrigerants but he reckons the circuit looks dead. Steve asks James Rhodes to get his biggest gun online straight away. 20 seconds left.

Steve asks Ms. Hood what she’s done to the refrigerant system. She replies that she put a power surge through it and then locked the circuit off. There’s nothing he can do now. “I thought you were a marine,” he replies, “There’s always something we can do.” She says there’s nothing they can do but die. Hank picks up multiple life signs within two sources. He asks Steve about his Symkarian mission. Didn’t he say something about ‘many-souled ones?’

Underground, as the Black Widow and Moon Knight ask Steve what’s next, the capsules open violently and Valkyrie raises her sword for battle. Rhodey doesn’t know what he’s looking at as a strange blue creature emerges from the tank. It has an enormous head in relation to its body. It soon stops and vomits, expanding its size quickly. Valkyrie lowers her sword and says that the creature is not a warrior or a weapon. Steve orders War Machine to open fire, but he is reluctant. He thinks they look sick. Maybe they should get the medics in. Sharon Carter follows her orders. She targets a third eye which appears on the first creature’s head and shoots. The bullet tears it in two and Valkyrie doesn’t know whether she’s disgusted or hungry.

Sharon continues firing as the monster grows rapidly, soon looming large over them as its body becomes flea-like in shape. War Machine takes to the air. “All right, all right,” he sighs. “Kill me for showing a little human compassion.” Sharon replies that they might. The second creature reaches for Valkyrie and she slashes at it with her sword. The creatures continue growing until they scrape the roof and smash the machinery attached to it. Despite Sharon Carter blasting away, they sense that they are losing the battleground. War Machine has them covered and he fires a rocket in the monster’s direction. He wants to find their heads and put holes in them before they stick them out the window.

Elsewhere, Steve Rogers tells Hank he said not to use force-field throwers. Hank replies that it’s not his doing. The creatures appear to be drawing mass from somewhere else. Steve asks for an explanation. Hank informs him that the two breeding experiments downstairs would seem to be living portals to the dimension of the Shadow Council’s beloved otherworldly masters. They are looking at an alien invasion conducted through the medium of, not space or air, but flesh. When Steve asks if it can be contained, Hank says they’re growing faster than their team can blow bits off them. Steve asks how much power he can put through the force-field throwers but Hank offers a blunt no to that idea. He has the greatest respect for Steve but he will not kill again for him and especially not his own team. “Then give me options,” replies Steve.

Hank tells everyone to get to the roof. Steve gives the order and grabs Ms. Hood. Sharon and Valkyrie get into the elevator and War Machine asks them to get ready. This is gonna be scary. “Scarier than what?” replies Sharon, blasting a tentacle in two. Rhodey uses his boot’s propulsion system to rocket them upwards quickly. Meanwhile, Hank uses the ship to build and position the force-field attack. It envelops the building, though he admits he might have to redirect power from the cloaking system. Steve asks him to crank up the false fire projection and make it look good.

Steve and Ms. Hood get to the roof and she wonders how they’re supposed to get up to the ship. He asks how she thinks they got down there from the ship. Behind them, the elevator comes shooting out from the building and Steve tells Ms. Hood to jump. Valkyrie and Sharon Carter to likewise and they all fall to Earth as Hank cranks up the power and pulverizes the building. Once it’s destroyed, he creates a small force-field to catch everyone and bring them to safety.

Hank informs Steve that the only life signs he reads now are theirs and Ms. Hood’s. The entire weight of the building, plus the force-field rams, has reduced their two friends to paste. Now safe, Ms. Hood says she supposes they expect her to tell them everything about the Shadow Council. Steve replies that it would be nice and better for her. Fewer consequences. “Consequences,” she says, pulling a pistol from her back pocket. A second later, Ms. Hood is dead.

Characters Involved: 

Beast, Black Widow, Captain America, Sharon Carter, Moon Knight, Valkyrie, War Machine (all Secret Avengers)

O*N*E’s Houston staff including Mr. Akins, Mr. Baum, Miss Hood and Ms. Sung


(in flashback)
Shadow Council agents
Emaciated volunteer

Story Notes: 

This is the last of writer Warren Ellis’ issues.

Hypocritically, Hank tells Steve Rogers that he will not kill for him, yet moments later does just that.

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