Night…and storm. They come both to men’s cities - and to men’s minds. Tonight, they have come to Manhattan, an island fortress whose worst enemies have always been those already within her ever-girded walls. Tonight, they come specifically to the New Bedlam Asylum for the Criminally Insane. Not its real name, of course, a large facility in the midst of larger and taller buildings, lit by the light of electricity only.
Within the cells of the Bedlam Asylum are confined those of whom “Hannibal the Cannibal” and his fictitious ilk are merely pale copies, bowdlerized for the thrill-hungering masses. A security guard strides down a corridor lined with locked doors. At the end of the corridor, one such doors leads to a padded chamber. This is the chamber that the asylum’s keepers match coins each day, with the loser having to look in on it. Foe those who do have been known to have bad dreams. And yet, its sole occupant looks so helpless, curled up there in his straight jacket, silent, his face turned to a cushioned corner. His real name is forever lost, unless it’s the one and only name he has ever given to press or public persecutors: Xandu.
For several days now, he has not moved - has scarcely even breathed. Yet now, as the wind rises outside, even if it’s howling does not penetrate through these windowless walls - he stirs. And more - he screams. ‘NOW!’ he booms. If a madman screams, but no one can hear him above a sudden flash of lighting and thunder…does it count? The answer is, of course, irrelevant. There is a mighty KOOOM, and the outer wall of Xandu’s cell breaks open. ‘Where are you? I know you’re here!’ he calls out, standing at the gaping hole. ‘Let me see you! After all this time - let me -’ he exclaims, when suddenly, a strange, glowing object materializes before him. ‘Yes…YES!’ he shouts as the object engulfs him with energy, burning the straight jacket away like a scrap of paper held too near a raging fire.
Xandu does not possess super strength, yet he has fought Spider-Man to a stand-still. He is no mutant, yet he once drove the soul of the Scarlet Witch out of her own body. He is not the most powerful of magicians, yet he has come within an ace of destroying Dr Strange. He has one stellar attribute, and one only - a special affinity for the mystic talisman known as the Wand of Watoomb. For weeks, he has been calling to it, a mental note stuffed inside a psychic bottle, and tossed into a turbulent sea of the infinite. And tonight, the wand has come to him.
Gone now are his drab garments, replaced by vestments more befitting the modern-day wizard, a green costume with a long cape. Even his erstwhile monocle has materialized from out of nowhere. He hardly notices these by-products of his surging power, for all that matters is the wand, which he reaches out and grabs. But, with great power, there must also come…great annoyances, as several asylum staff and guards rush towards him. ‘Here’s one that’s got loose!’ one of the staff declares. ‘Huh? How’d Xandu get hold of the outfit he was wearing when he was committed?’ another enquires. ‘What’s the difference? Just grab him and throw him in a cell the wind hasn’t blown down!’ another exclaims. ‘Seek to lay a single hand on me, clods - and you will learn what a wind truly is!’ Xandu boasts as he raises the wand, which releases an energy that knocks the staff backwards.
Other asylum patients begin to wander free from their cells, and they gather before Xandu, who declares ‘Now that the former keepers are disposed of, it is time the inmates took charge of the asylum. Under my aegis, of course’, adding that since mentally-deranged criminals hardly constitute a dependable work-force, it is best of the wand leaves them no independent minds at all. The Wanda of Watoomb shines before them, and the inmates all stare blankly ahead. ‘There! That’s much better!’ Xandu exclaims, before bequeathing to his “friends” under their zombie-like care, this building and all its grounds. ‘I ask in return, but a simple favor - that you break down that iron gate for me!’ he announces.
As commanded, a troop of the inmates rush to the gate. Xandu watches: ‘How loyally they thrust their fragile flesh against those unyielding metal bars - till blood begins to flow, and bones to break. And still they would press forward, till those in front were crushed by those behind!’ Xandu comments. The inmates’ actions lead Xandu to believe that his power is not lost over them, and raising the wand, he aims it at the bars, releasing powerful cosmic wind which hurls the gate open.
Up until tonight, Captain America has never met Xandu the Mystic. Met him…Cap’s barely even heard of him. The two of them simply haven’t moved in the same circles. But, because Steve Rogers happened to be in the vicinity when a most unusual storm arose, and decided to go on patrol for possible looters, all that is about to change. ‘Holy Hanna! Captain America exclaims as he leaps over a fence into the asylum grounds and is confronted by the mindless zombie-inmates, while Xandu stands nearby and shouts ‘You’re not going to try and stop me from leaving this place, too, are you, Captain America? Because my honor guard would take extreme umbrage at such rudeness’.
The Star-Spangled Avenger has only a foggy notion of who it is that sends these mesmerized unfortunates slouching toward him with murder in their glazed eyes. He only knows that he must stand firm against them - but as a dozen inmates attack him, that proves easier said than done. ‘For Xandu!’ one inmate cries. ‘Kill him!’ another shouts. ‘Kill Captain America’ a third exclaims. Backed up against a tree, Captain America tells the zombie-like inmates that he doesn’t want to hurt any of them. ‘For Xandu!’ another declares. ‘But you don’t leave me a whole lot of choice!’ Captain America exclaims as he uses his trusty shield to swat several of the inmates away from him. There are no groans, no curses - they merely fall away, like drops of water flung off a Star-Spangled duck. But, unlike water drops, the inmates rise again, and stalk forward as if nothing happened.
Captain America knows this is getting him nowhere, and it is not the mind-controlled minions that he wants, but the one who commands them. He remembers the name they chanted: ‘Xandu! This is just between you and me! Don’t get these poor souls involved!’ Captain America calls out as he leaps past the inmates and rushes towards Xandu. ‘But they are involved, Captain. All mankind is involved - when the subject is death!’ Xandu declares. ‘I didn’t know it was’ Cap replies, asking Xandu to put the divining rod down and go quietly back to his cell. ‘You are thus disparage the Wand of Watoomb? Dor such effrontery, you must die directly by its power!’ Xandu booms as he raises the wand, and a new, even fiercer wind arises, swirling about the wand in Xandu’s hand.
The fierce wind catches Captain America like a red-white-and-blue lead in a cyclone, propelling him backward at dizzying speed. He scarcely notices a towering oak tree in his hurtling path, and ancient sentinel against which he will be smashed - when suddenly, the tree is torn apart by a jagged fork of lightning, and Captain America finds himself caught in a large wad of cobwebs, preventing him from being hurled backwards any further. ‘Well done, Spider-Man, Scarlet Witch!’ exclaims Dr Stephen Strange as he stands with Peter Parker a.k.a. Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch. ‘If my hex power hadn’t caused that thunderbolt to strike…’ Wanda begins, but Spider-Man points out that it did, so there is now just Xandu to worry about.
Xandu notices the new arrivals, and turning to them, declares that he could have half expected them to attempt to thwart him. ‘Our paths always seem to cross, in one way or another, eh?’ he mutters, admitting that he is grateful for their prompt arrival, for now he can destroy them all at once. Wanda alerts her companions to the escaped inmates who are charging towards them, while Spider-Man exclaims that he can handle them. Dr Strange tells him to do so without harming them, and announces that he must use all of his magic to overcome Xandu, for he is the true threat. Spider-Man remarks that Xandu is now ignoring he, Cap and the Scarlet Witch as if they don’t exist. ‘I’m grateful that you do’ Cap replies, before guessing that his companions didn’t just blunder in her like he did.
Wanda tells her long-time friend that Dr Strange recruited them, as he sensed the imminent return of the Wanda of Watoomb. ‘But we didn’t arrive quite in time to - excuse me a moment’ Wanda interrupts herself as she turns around, to where two inmates are rushing towards her. Casting a hex, the Scarlet Witch causes a large overhanging tree branch to break, and fall on the two inmates. ‘There! That’s the best way I could think of to stop that pair - without seriously hurting them!’ Wanda declares, while Spider-Man calls out that he understands what she means. ‘I don’t want to do real damage to these poor hypnotized people - I’d better wrap things up fast!’ he exclaims as several of the inmates attack him, before he wraps them all in a large web. ‘How about some of your webbing over here, Spider-Man?’ Cap calls out as he throws his shield towards some inmates, keeping them back. ‘Coming right up, Cap!’ Spider-Man calls out.
As mystic energy swirls about them, Xandu tells Dr Strange that they meet as equals, that neither can defeat the other. ‘But it’s not victory I care for - not in this insignificant world, at any rate!’ Xandu explains, announcing that he will take his leave. He makes a circle of energy from the Wand of Watoomb, but none of the heroes can get to it, as a gale force wind pours towards them. Strange tells his companions not to even try, as the winds of Watoomb are being kept close in, concentrated. ‘They’d tear you to pieces!’ he declares. Xandu calls Dr Strange a spoilsport, and adds that he was so looking forward to the surprised look on Spider-Man’s dying face. ‘But, I shall see plenty of death…when I reach the dimension where it dwells!’ Xandu boasts as he vanishes through the portal opened by the Wand of Watoomb.
‘I hate it when they pull the hole in after them like that’ Spider-Man mutters as the portal closes. Wanda alerts everyone to the approaching inmates, and as the wind gushes around them, Dr Strange explains that although Xandu’s hypnosis still rules them, without his magic they will cause no trouble. Strange casts a spell that puts the inmates to sleep, until they can be returned to their cells. ‘We’re not exactly being swamped by asylum personnel, though, are we?’ Spider-Man remarks as the heroes walk towards the asylum buildings. Cap points out that between the storm and Xandu, he suspects they will find some people in bad shape inside. Wanda announces that they will get them some help, but their main mission has to be to find Xandu. Spider-Man points out that from the subtle Xandu dropped, he suspects they all have a good idea of where is has gone - the ever inviting Dimension of Death. ‘And that’s one place that doesn’t cater to tourists!’ Spider-Man jokes.
Soon, after a call has been made for an ambulance, ‘So, your orb sensed the imminent return of the wand, Doctor?’ Cap enquires. ‘Even though I smashed it to bits, not long ago. Naturally, Doc headed here - where they committed Xandu after out last run-in’ Spider-Man explains. Several tarot cards appear before Dr Strange as he explains to Cap that along the way, he gathered Wanda and Spider-Man, because his tarot cards depicted their likeness. ‘Mine was upside down - which indicates folly or a wrong choice’ Strange explains, adding that the fourth card showed the Ghost Rider, but he could not contact him. ‘something about Midnight Sons business’ he mutters. ‘What’s the big deal? You missed out 9on one motorcycle jockey, you got another!’ Spider-Man exclaims. ‘I think he means me’ Cap replies. ‘I’m sure you’ll do just fi-’ Wanda begins to tell her friend, but Strange interrupts, telling Captain America that he is not sure he should come with them to the Death Dimension.
‘Are you serious, Stephen?’ Wanda asks, surprised. ‘If it’s because Cap’s never been there, like us -’ she begins, to which Spider-Man exclaims ‘Hey, you can give him my “E” ticket anytime’. Dr Strange goes over to Captain America and states that he is aware of his many adventures in other spheres, but that until now, the group has only been composed of those shown in the cards. ‘You really mean it, don’t you?’ Cap asks, remarking that he is not going to force himself on them. ‘After all, you don’t know for certain Xandu is bound for that “Death Dimension”. That might be a ruse - worse, a trap!’ Cap suggests. ‘True enough’ Strange agrees, but states that they have got to chance it. ‘Xandu is poison to that dimension now - and his presence there might destroy it - and him’ he explains. Cap points out that Xandu might not have gone to the Death Dimension, which means he could do more good by staying behind.
‘I can’t believe this! You’re benching Captain America!?’ Spider-Man gasps. ‘It’s not like that -’ Dr Strange begins, but Cap tells Spider-Man and Wanda not to worry about it, and announces that he will help get the wounded ready for the ambulance and then scour the city for some sign of Xandu. As he leaves the group, Cap tells Dr Strange not to worry, for he runs into Xandu, he will be sure and get Siegfried and Roy to help him handle it. ‘Nice going, Doc’ Spider-Man mutters to Dr Strange.
Outside, Wanda and Spider-Man stand away from Dr Strange, while Wanda tells Spider-Man that they must trust Stephen, as he generally knows what he is doing. ‘But - wasn’t there something about a fool making a bad choice?’ Spider-Man enquires. ‘Here’s what I was looking for’ Dr Strange exclaims as he pulls from his cloak the Crystal of Kadavus, which was forged in a wizard’s tomb. ‘Now show us all the pathway - to the Wand of wondrous Watoomb!’ The crystal rises up towards the sky, and beams of energy pour from it as a dark cloud swirls overhead. Strange explains that since he once fed all the wand’s powers into it, the crystal has retained a mystic connection to the wand. ‘A regular divining rod, huh?’ Spider-Man remarks.
The three super heroes are levitated towards the swirling cloud, and Strange tells his companions that, in answer to their whispers, there are various interpretations to his card being upside down. ‘Perhaps Ghost Rider was a bad choice, or perhaps it was one not to enlist Captain America. Or maybe bringing Cap would have been the folly’ Strange explains, adding that the cards are under a spell that makes them reveal the truth, but that they tell that truth most obliquely. ‘Stephen, we didn’t mean to -’ Wanda begins, but Strange tells her to forget it, ‘All that matters is our mission’ he points out. When Wanda cannot see the crystal any longer, she asks Strange where it has gone. ‘Never fear. My Eye of Agamotto will find it’ Strange replies. ‘Sure! No self-respecting hero should be without one!’ Spider-Man jokes.
Dr Strange tells Wanda and Spider-Man to be silent, as the Eye of Agamotto comes forth, and works it wonders. ‘That light - it’s blinding!’ Spider-Man declares. Strange tells him it will only last a moment, but that the Glow of Truth is necessary to reveal that which they must find. Energy pours from Dr Strange, which pushes the clouds aside, revealing a gateway that opens in thin air. The heroes enter the gateway, and race across bridges that float in mid-air, towards a castle with a massive skull that sits over it. ‘If we just don’t have another of those “deathquakes” like last time…’ Spider-Man mutters. The Scarlet Witch reminds Xandu that they saw the castle destroyed when they found Xandu in another world.
Dr Strange reminds Wanda that this entire astral plane is the product of demonic minds, and that once Melinda Morrison assumed the throne of the Death Dimension, she rebuilt it just be screaming. ‘Great pair of lungs’ Spider-Man jokes as he examines his surroundings. Wanda adds that she is disappointed in Melinda, for living or dead, she thought Melinda would have a better sense of décor that Xandu did.
As they reach the entrance to the castle, Spider-Man asks if they are just going to go waltzing in the door, to which Wanda explains that Melinda, or anyone who might have replaced her, already knows that they are here. ‘Right! So we might as well simply -’ Strange begins, when suddenly, the trio is attacked by minor death demons, which buffet the heroes from all directions. ‘Stephen!’ Wanda screams, while Strange tells Wanda and Spider-Man to keep the demons out of their minds.
‘Too late! I can already feel them inside!’ Spider-Man replies, clutching his head. ‘And I see - death!’ Spider-Man exclaims as images flash through his mind - of his Uncle Ben being shot by the burglar, and Gwen Stacy falling from the sky. Dr Strange goes wide-eyed as he too has images of death in his mind - of his sister, Donna, drowning, and his inability to save her, and then his brother, Vic, hit by a car after he had angrily run out of Stephen’s penthouse. A look of horror spreads over Wanda’s face, as she relives finding her husband, the Vision, taken apart like a cheap watch by government scientists, and then re-made into an android stranger. ‘He died that day - as surely as our children did, when I learned they’d never existed!’ Wanda thinks to herself.
‘No! This isn’t really happening! Doc! Wanda! The demons are playing with our minds! We’ve got to shake it off - or the sheer grief will kill us!’ Spider-Man exclaims. The heroes manage to shake off the effects of the minor demons, thanks to some vigorous shoulder-shaking courtesy of Spider-Man, and the Scarlet Witch declares that each of them knew it was a trick. ‘But only you overcame the images by yourself’ Strange tells Spider-Man, who explains that this trick was used on him last time, so perhaps he built up an immunity. Suddenly, his spider-sense tingles, and spinning around, he finds that they are confronted by a horde of demons. ‘Looks like there’s trouble on the way!’ Spider-Man exclaims.
Dr Strange points out that the demons aren’t attacking, simply shielding someone behind them. Dr Strange declares that even without the Vishanti and their ilk to call upon, he still has enough sorcery to find out whom. He casts a burst of magical energy towards them, As the demons disperse, the throne is revealed - ‘No surprises there, Doc - it’s Queen Melinda, all right!’ Spider-Man exclaims, before calling out to her: ‘Yo, lady! Remember us? Dr Strange is the guy who first put you on that throne!’ Spider-Man declares, while Wanda notices a shadowy figure standing behind the throne. ‘Is it…?’ she begins, but Strange tells her that to find out they will have to fend off the previous ruling class. ‘They’ve decided to get aggressive!’ he points out as the demons approach the heroes once more. Wanda wonders whether she should use her mutant hex power, or such little magic that she knows. ‘If I were you, I’d try ‘em both!’ Spider-Man suggests, pointing out that there is plenty of demons to go around.
The Scarlet Witch fires a hex bolt, but is shocked to see that when it strikes the demon, it simply split’s the demon into two. But, that isn’t happening to Dr Strange as he uses his spells against the demons. ‘You sure you’re not just imagining things, Witchie’ Spider-Man calls out as the demons attack him. ‘Let’s see what a spider-powered fist does to ‘em’ Spider-Man calls out, and as he smacks one of the demons back, he sees that the demon does split into two, while in mid-air. Spider-Man wonders if it is some kind of reaction to using non-magical forces here in “Never-Never Land”.
Spider-Man releases some webbing and uses it to swing up over the demons, suggesting that there is nothing he can do but keep out of the way. ‘We aren’t faring much better’ Strange replies as he becomes overwhelmed by the demons. ‘Even when they don’t multiply magically, they keep coming out of the woodwork!’ he exclaims. Suddenly, ‘Spider-Man! Behind you!’ the Scarlet Witch calls out, before firing a magical burst of energy at a demon, preventing it from striking Spider-Man. Thanks, Red! Hey, maybe I can give you a hand after all’ Spider-Man declares, for as he fires some webbing over the head of one of the demons, he discovers that it doesn’t duplicate. ‘But unless you’ve got a truckload of webbing - and a few hundred shooters - that’s not going to be enough!’ Wanda tells him, adding that she has already expended just about all of the magical force at her command, and Strange cannot handle them all.
Very soon, the three heroes have been captured by the demons, and are brought before Melinda Morrison - and Xandu - who steps out of the shadows behind the throne. ‘Xandu! So it was you, playing power-behind-the-throne!’ Dr Strange exclaims. ‘Only for the moment, Doctor. Soon there will be two thrones here - for the Emperor and the Empress of the Death Dimension!’ Xandu boasts. ‘You call her your Empress - so how come she’s as stiff as something from the frozen foods department?’ Spider-Man asks, noting how Melinda hasn’t moved at all. Xandu replies that it was not his desire, and that he loves Melinda, with all his heart, and what is left of his soul, but that his coming here hurled Melinda into suspended animation, though the demons must now obey him.
‘You know you can’t both exist in this sphere for long - or it will tear itself apart!’ Dr Strange reminds Xandu, who replies that for they share death, Melinda and he, and such a unique situation is violently destabilizing to this place of un-life. ‘Then what’s the use of beating us here - if you’ll have to split when the deathquakes start?’ Spider-Man enquires. Holding up the Wand of Watoomb, Xandu boasts that when he leaves, he shall not be alone. ‘You mean - you’ve found a way to take Melinda with you?’ Dr Strange enquires. ‘Far better than that! By unleashing, for the first time, the full, unfettered power of the Wand of Watoomb - I intend to merge this plane and the Earth into one gigantic Dimension of Death!’ Xandu reveals. ‘Hoo-boy’ Spider-Man utters, with Strange and Wanda equally shocked.
Meantime, back in the world of the living, Captain America stands by paramedics who are loading asylum patents into ambulances. A detective questions Captain America and asks ‘Is that all you can tell me? That one of the inmates waved a magic wand, and caused the storm that hit this part of New York? What’s an honest cop supposed to make out of a story like that?’ he asks. ‘The occult isn’t exactly my speciality, either’ Cap tells Detective Simons, adding that some friends of his are on the case. ‘Oh? The Avengers, I presume?’ Detective Simons asks. ‘Not exactly…I can’t tell you anymore than that just now, I’m afraid -’ Cap begins, before stopping himself mid-sentence.
‘What’s wrong? Spot another dead attendant?’ Detective Simons enquires. ‘No…but the storm is headed back toward the city - and it’s coming fast!’ Cap exclaims as terrifying black clouds loom overhead. ‘Impossible!’ Detective Simons exclaims as the wind picks up around them. Another police officer points out that just a minute ago, the wind was blowing in exactly the opposite direction. ‘When Xandu’s involved, officer, the wind does what he wants it to do…and evidently, he want’s it right here!’ Cap exclaims as lightning crackles down from the storm clouds above. Detective Simons declares that the clouds seem to be coming down from every direction now, and that it looks almost like the sky just opened and the storm poured out. ‘If it hit’s the whole city as hard as it hit this place - we could have hundreds of fatalities!’ Detective Simons declares. Cap hopes that he is wrong, and tells Detective Simons that what he just said might turn out to be the most optimistic estimate he ever made….