In addition to seeing all that occurs in the cosmos, Uatu the Watcher also sees into alternate universes; worlds that never were, but easily could have been. He sees an Earth on which Spider-Man joined the world’s mightiest fighting team, making it the Fantastic Five. He sees an Earth on which the Nazis won World War II and fly their flag over the White House. He sees an Earth on which the planet’s premiere fighting team is the Squadron Supreme. He even sees an Earth on which the Avengers lost the Evolutionary War. It is this Earth he now examines.
In this alternate universe, the High Evolutionary manages to destroy the super-powered Hercules before he can counter-attack. With their most powerful teammate defeated, Beast, the Captain, the Falcon, and Yellowjacket, the makeshift group of Avengers summoned by the team’s computer, flee the ship and leave the High Evolutionary undefeated. Without the help of her allies, the Avenger ally Jocasta fails to destroy the submarine base before it reaches its destination, Krakatoa. The High Evolutionary’s genetic bomb detonates, spreading its mutagenic contaminants across the globe.
The force of the explosion knocks the Avengers quinjet out of the air. It plummets into the turbulent Pacific Ocean. The raging sea suddenly goes calm and remains that way for what seems like an eternity. Finally, a figure breaks the surface of the water and gasps for air. It is Steve Rogers, also known as the Captain. A moment later, his savior, Namor of Atlantis, appears alongside him. Namor tells him he is fortunate; he was only in the area to aid his fellow Atlanteans in their war, and just happened to see the quinjet crash into the ocean. The Captain asks about his teammates; Namor reports all three of them died in the crash. He looks skyward and asks about the explosion he just saw. It was the High Evolutionary’s genetic bomb, Cap says, and unfortunately, he can already see the fallout.
Even while swimming at top speed with the Captain in tow, Namor cannot escape the fast-settling particulate fallout from the explosion. It spreads outward from the detonation point, first covering a nearby cargo ship, and then sprinkling over the crowds of San Francisco and Tokyo. Within three hours, the ephemeral particles touch every corner of the Earth, affecting man and beast alike. In New York City, Spider-Man watches people panic at the sight of the fallout. Conversely, in other parts of the world, people more in touch with the forces of nature greet the fallout as a welcome agent of the divine. Wolverine, sitting on a mountaintop with the teleporter Gateway, rests somewhere in between those two extremes. He watches the matter fall and admits he has no idea what it entails. He tells Gateway he will gather up the X-Men so they can return home.
Meanwhile, in his submarine fortress, the High Evolutionary rejoices at the successful execution of his plan. He perceives this moment as his greatest triumph. “Soon, untold eons of biological progress will be bridged as easily as a meddlesome stream across humanity’s path,” he says, “…but, unlike Moses, I will be there to lead my people into their promised land.”
On a pier in Santa Monica, the West Coast Avengers stare at the fallout in silence. A nearby young boy asks his dad if maybe the Avengers know what the falling stuff is. Don’t count on it, Wonder Man tells him. Vision makes an interesting observation: the particles disappear when they strike his teammates, but when they strike him, they pass through as if he’s nothing but a mirage. But what does it mean, Wanda asks? The X-Men suddenly teleport onto the dock, thanks to Gateway. “That, Scarlet Witch,” Storm says, “—is what we all must learn – and quickly!”
Their presence surprises Wonder Man; as far as he knew, the entire team was dead. “We all know what Mark Twain’d say about that,” Wolverine quips. Hawkeye decides to give them the benefit of the doubt and asks what they know about the “Disney-dust version of acid rain.” Wolverine was hoping to ask them the same question. Fortunately, Namor arrives at this moment, bearing the unconscious Steve Rogers, as well as the answers they seek. After the Captain wakes from his spell of unconsciousness, he explains that the fallout they see came from the High Evolutionary’s genetic bomb. This news infuriates the X-Men; after all, they encountered the High Evolutionary only a few days earlier in the Savage Land. Wolverine lashes out in frustration at some of the posts on the pier. If only he had killed the High Evolutionary when he had the chance, he shouts!
Wonder Man realizes the High Evolutionary must have been behind the insurgency in Wakanda as well. After finishing his thought, he notices Mantis pointing at Wolverine. What is it, he asks? The heroes turn and see that Wolverine’s claws have grown in size. Additionally, Logan now notices his claws didn’t shred his knuckles when he unsheathed them. Storm questions what it means. No one has any idea, but they intend to find out. “Anyone else notice I’m not the only one glowin’ around here?” Wolverine asks.
Sure enough, each of Wolverine’s teammates now emits a radiant glow. Moreover, Colossus senses his metallic form has completely overrun his body; he fears he may never revert to his human form again. Similarly, Rogue now feels the powers of each of her teammates coursing through her body… and she likes it! Less happy with her upgrade is Psylocke, who now hears the earsplitting thoughts of everyone on the dock. The Scarlet Witch feels as though her hex powers have increased in power, yet she now understands how to fully control them! Vision notes his own powers remain unaltered. Longshot feels an upgrade in his probability-altering powers. Namor effortlessly lifts a vehicle over his head in celebration of his increased strength.
A frightened civilian approaches Wolverine and accuses him and his fellow mutants of causing this plague. Wolverine merely grunts at this predictable placement of blame. The human insists it must be true; he points to Wolverine’s sudden increase in size as evidence. Mankind has been doomed by a race of freaks, he says! As the man speaks, his head grows, quickly becoming disproportionate to the rest of his body. A nearby woman points the growth out, appropriately noting the man’s hypocrisy. Another bystander indicates the same thing is happening to her; it’s happening to all the humans, including the Avengers!
The craniums of every hero who isn’t a mutant grow in size, bursting right through their respective masks and helmets. The Captain, Hawkeye, Wonder Man, and Mantis all stare at their bodies in astonishment. Terrific, Wolverine says. Now the world will blame the X-Men for turning the world into a bunch of muties, and the real mutants will suffer because of it. Bring it on, Wolverine tells the human bystanders, but adds he is not in the mood to turn a lot of cheeks.
Surprisingly, the people do nothing. What gives, Wolverine asks? Why are they standing there like zombies? The civilians, speaking in near unison, ask what he expects them to do. They now see mutants for what they truly are: the next advancement in human evolution. They were fools to ever have feared mutants, they say. Instead, they should have revered mutantkind! “Are they for real?” Wolverine asks. Not only are these people for real, the Captain answers, but he wagers the same thing is occurring throughout the entire world.
Cap is correct. In the Middle East, the fighting stops momentarily before the two sides commence a battle of mental warfare. However, they quickly sense their overwhelming similarities and reach a mutual understanding.
In South Africa, the divisive racial boundary between black and white vanishes as the two groups no longer sense a reason to not share resources. After all, minds have no color to set them apart.
Tony Stark, his head and brain enlarged, removes his Iron Man armor for the last time. What need is there for superheroes in a world at peace?
Heroes with artificial mutations, meanwhile, find themselves altered once more in startling ways. Spider-Man grows three extra pairs of arms. Both Ms. Marvel and Thing of the Fantastic Four grow to enormous sizes. The Hulk finds suddenly finds himself blessed with the brilliant, accelerated mind of Bruce Banner. Daredevil’s already heightened senses spiral out of control; he finds himself unable to shut out the onslaught of sounds and smells coming from the city. He may have to retreat into the mountains, he thinks, lest he die of sensory overload.
It is only a day later when Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Iceman, and Angel, the remaining members of X-Factor, travel to Madison Square Garden to get some answers. The world, however, has changed much in the last day. Instead of being heckled by the mutant-hating crowd, X-Factor is met with a curious silence. Iceman correctly guesses it’s because of the humans’ new cranial growth; baseline humans have changed much more than X-Factor has. Cyclops disagrees; while the appearances of mutants have not changed, their powers have expanded exponentially. He doesn’t even have to wear his visor anymore.
Doctor Doom greets X-Factor at the door of their destination, much to their surprise. The contentious Iceman begins picking a fight, but Doom asks them to refrain from attacking. He only wishes to welcome them. He removes his helmet, revealing an enlarged cranium, as well as a gentle smile. He and his fellow humans await the decision of X-Factor and the other godlike ones. Iceman is shocked he’s given up his plans for world domination. What would be the point, now that the minds of the world are unified, Doom asks? He gestures for the mutants to enter.
As he walks through the door, Scott Summers reminds his team that the meeting Ben Grimm called may have already begun. He quickly sees how right he is. Inside the arena stands the greatest gathering of superheroes and villains in the planet’s history, all of whom have long possessed abilities beyond the scope of normal humans. There is one exception present, however: Steve Rogers, the Captain. He thanks everyone for attending, and before leaving to join his own kind outside, makes one request. The gap between superhuman and human is now wider than ever, he says. The so-called godlike ones now have the power to do great good not only for the Earth, but for the entire universe. He implores them to use their gifts wisely.
Magneto and Klaw remark how they both once fought these same people for profit and power. Now, in a time when a renewed battle between superhumans would certainly devastate the planet, their former ends all seem so petty. Yes, Magneto says, but reminds Klaw they still have one great need: a leader. All present seem to agree. Wolverine, meanwhile, suddenly realizes the entire room is staring at him. Why are they staring at him, he asks? Mister Fantastic thinks he already knows the answer to his own question. Heroes like the Hulk and Reed Richards may have the intellect required to lead, but they lack some intangible element Wolverine seems to possess. Well, what is that element, Logan asks? She-Hulk tells him they’re not quite sure yet. “Terrific!” Wolverine says. “We don’t know where we’re goin’, or what we want, but we’re on our way, huh?” He asks his fellow mutants how they feel about his appointment to leader. Magneto gives him his blessing. Wolverine turns to Storm and asks her next: how does she feel about his being leader? He always leaned on her for support, he says. She leaned on him too, Storm replies. They were supporting each other that entire time; he simply failed to notice. “Okay, then,” Wolverine says. “I guess it’s time to get going.”
Everyone in the room lets out a resounding shout of “It is time!” Outside, the humans do the same. “It is time!” Deep in the ocean, aboard his ascending mobile base, the High Evolutionary makes a similar proclamation. “It is time!”
Not all is perfect, however. Overhead, a hole opens in the sky as the eldritch sorcerer Dormammu makes an attempt to take over the Earth. He senses this may be his last opportunity, and brings an army of demons with him. Doctor Strange, Talisman, and Doctor Druid, all of whom have long battled the forces of evil, present Dormammu with formidable opposition. Their might alone succeeds in staving off the villain, but to clinch his defeat, they attack with the entirety of their essences, and the whole lot of them disappears in a blinding flash of light. They will never be seen by mankind again.
The Captain and the Punisher immediately realize the significance of this loss. They step away from the crowd and address their fellow humans. The sacrifice of the world’s sorcerers has given mankind a chance to propel its own evolution with the interference of magical forces. Destiny is theirs to seize.
Behind them, Madison Square Gardens, which currently houses the heroes of Earth, suddenly disappears. “It is the work of those within!” someone shouts. The heroes, suddenly standing before the people of New York City, confirm their suspicions. Not only do they possess the same enhanced mental capacity of baseline humans, but they also possess a variety of abilities of incalculable power. Once they put their collective minds together, they easily banished the arena from existence.
What do the godlike ones wish of them, the humans ask? Are they to be slaves? Hardly, says Storm. However, in her experience, even with the best of intentions, human and “mutant” cannot coexist on the planet forever. Mr. Fantastic concurs; until that point, the destiny of mankind has been inextricably linked to that of the superhumans. This will no longer be the case. The Captain asks what he means; do the godlike ones intend to leave? If so, where will they go? Wolverine points skyward with his claws extended. “Out there,” he says.
A shimmering aura envelops the godlike ones as they rise into the air. After reminding the humans to treat one another well, they launch into space, never to return. Thor and the High Evolutionary watch their departure from the city’s skyline. The heroes now belong to the universe, and it, to them, the High Evolutionary says. Thor senses truth in his words. He asks the man responsible if he now intends to walk among the people he elevated. No, the High Evolutionary says. Although he admits he came back to Earth intending to oversee mankind’s progress, it seems to be progressing well enough without him. Therefore, he intends only to observe. What will Thor do, he asks?
“I – and Hercules, whom you slew – were never human or ‘mutant’, but of another race entirely,” Thor says. The High Evolutionary takes this moment to apologize for what he did to Hercules; he acted only in defense of his dream for mankind. “The Nazi, Hitler, could have said the same,” Thor replies. Nevertheless, he has no intention of killing the High Evolutionary, as mankind may come to one day need him. He then flies away, declaring that Asgard and Olympus will now cross over to realms far beyond human comprehension, and leave only a rainbow to mark their passing.
Meanwhile, the collective heroes of Earth ascend into space in a bolt of light and soon pass by the moon. The moon’s residents, the Inhumans, decide to join them, and they merge into the glowing mass. Shortly after that, the Uni-Mind, a collective of Eternals, joins as well. The assemblage of godlike ones journeys through the cosmos. They do not seek any particular conquest; instead they seek a fate worthy of their united power.
Many other alien races of the universe grow suspicious of the godlike ones. The Shi’ar, the Kree, and the Skrulls join forces to oppose the powerful collective of heroes. They gather all the forces of the universe who fear, and wish to destroy, the powerful Earthlings. Although the collective of godlike ones pleads the opposition to halt their attack, claiming they have no ill-intent, the alien forces open fire anyway. Their actions invite brutal retaliation. The godlike ones swiftly and decisively destroy the entire alien armada. They do not rejoice in their victory, however, but lament the unnecessary loss.
What is perceived as mere moments in space actually spans years back on Earth, thanks to the relative nature of time. In that time, cities have crumpled, and once-revered human heroes have passed away. A group of mourners stands by the graves of Steve Rogers, Frank Castle, and Clint Barton. Daredevil approaches; the mourners are surprised to see him, the so-called lost hero, alive. He wasn’t lost; he was hibernating, he tells them. By cutting out all of his sensory input for the last several years, he prevented his body from aging. Additionally, he grew beyond the need for his super-senses, and can now communicate directly with the minds of others via telepathy. Marveled, the mourners ask if he can teach them and even propel them into the next stage of evolution. He promises to try, but wishes some of his old friends were around to keep him company. Surprisingly, one such friend stands nearby. Vision approaches and tells Daredevil he also wants some company; believe it or not, even androids can cry when they get lonely enough. Vision simply asks that Daredevil let him keep secret how he still lives.
Nearby, the High Evolutionary, in a state undetectable by even advanced humans, observes this scene and wonders when he should return to claim leadership of the evolved humans. The time is not yet right.
In space, the godlike ones continue their journey, but are eventually met with resistance from Nova, the herald of Galactus. They tell her to stand aside; it is Galactus they seek. She refuses. They destroy her with the slightest effort. Wolverine sheds a tear at her passing, but vows to not shed any more for this mission. Meanwhile, Nova’s lover, the Silver Surfer, retaliates in a fit of rage, but even his vast powers are no match for the enormous might of the godlike ones. They bind him as amber would a fly, and fling him into the void of space, where at least he may have another chance at life.
Galactus appears and scolds the godlike ones for slaying his herald. Is this the thanks he gets for upholding his oath not to consume their pitiful planet, he asks? Since these heroes have left their domain, and are now in his, he has no compunction against consuming them. Unfortunately for him, the heroes of Earth have surpassed even his power, and defeat him in battle. Galactus, a being who survived the end of his universe only to be reborn into this one, and who lives to consume the energy of planets and stars, cannot fathom such a humiliating defeat. He wills his own destruction.
Meanwhile, the humans left on Earth continue to evolve, eventually reaching a state of being in which they could surely leave the planet as the godlike ones did. They no longer speak with voices, but with their minds. In fact, the only speaking being left on the planet is Vision. With all his former companions gone, including the recently deceased Daredevil, Vision decides to undo his own existence, and commits suicide.
Out in space, the godlike ones finally near the end of their journey. Some unknown compulsion has been driving them, and only now do they realize what their true destination has been all along. It is the being known only as Eternity. Even with their vast powers and understanding, the heroes of Earth marvel at Eternity’s cosmic appearance, and wonder how they will get past his unstoppable companion, Death. They have no time to ponder this, however, as Death immediately charges at them. They collide with a flash of light. Only one being emerges from the collision, but it is truly neither of the two; instead, the godlike ones now inhabit the form of Death and control his actions. Wolverine, the leader of this entity, ponders the words of the Mahabharata. “I am become Death – the shatterer of worlds,” he says. “Only – we’re shatterin’ a whole universe!” With that, they set their sights on Eternity.
On Earth, humanity reaches a point in which individualism almost ceases to exist. They no longer differ in sex, or age, and their thoughts are essentially one. In serene silence, they await fate’s arrival, but do not know the form it will take. It finally arrives one day in the form of the Celestials. They have decreed their creation, mankind, be destroyed.
At the nether ends of the universe, the amalgam Death-being charges at its counterpart, Eternity. Eternity meets the attack head-on, and life and death collide like they never have before. A new entity emerges from the collision, comprised of Eternity, Death, and the godlike ones. It stands as far above its former components as Death and Eternity used to stand above all else in the universe. This new entity looks back toward Earth one last time, only to see it subject to the judgment of the Celestials. Should it turn aside from its mission, the Entity asks itself? It decides to not intervene.
It turns out humanity can defend itself. The humans stare back at the Celestials, and instead of awaiting the decision of the Celestial called Arishem, they pass their own judgment and disintegrate Arishem the Judge in the blink of an eye. The surviving Celestials flee. As humanity watches them go, it ponders its place in the cosmos. It knows it has no place beyond Earth, so it makes the most of what it has. All of mankind’s minds become one, and then, that unified mind becomes one with the Earth. It is now truly a living planet.
The High Evolutionary finally reappears and approaches the Entity, who watches the developments on Earth from a distance. “They have done it, Entity,” he says. “Mankind has gone beyond the Beyonders – beyond all other races in this universe, just as I always desired!” He tells the Entity he will now stand beside him as he completes the destiny he long ago foresaw. However, the Entity rejects his proposal. Its destiny is its own, it tells him. Perhaps it should feel gratitude for the High Evolutionary’s role in its formation, but it cannot.
“You – are right,” the High Evolutionary answers, humbled. “I was a fool to imagine I could set in motion forces even I scarcely understood – yet still control that which evolved. Go in peace – and think of your creator kindly, from time to time.” It shall do so, the Entity says, when time once again exists. In the meantime, it sends the High Evolutionary back to the living Earth, opens up a hole in the space-time fabric, and steps through into an entirely empty vacuum of a universe.
The Entity’s arrival in this new, blank universe initiates another Big Bang, as it becomes the stars and planets and energy and matter of this new creation. And who was the progenitor of so great an explosion in the cosmos you know? Uatu now asks. That is beyond my province. It is the birthing universe which concerns us now. The collective components of the Entity split, and Eternity and Death exist as separate beings once again. As for the heroes who once inhabited the Entity, now, they are no more. Their essences have been absorbed into either Death or Eternity, or released into this new creation.
And what of the Living Earth, Uatu asks? It still exists in the dimension the Entity left behind, self-contained and self-sustaining. The same cannot be said of the rest of the universe. Without the Entity to give it meaning, it implodes, leaving the Living Earth alone in a blank universe, awaiting the inevitable rebirth of the cosmos. Uatu calls both the Entity and the Living Earth the logical ends to human evolution. Each of them, he says, contains within itself the seeds of future greatness.
Meanwhile, on Living Earth’s surface, the High Evolutionary stands motionless, staring out into the empty reaches of space. He stands there not by choice; rather, the great mind of Living Earth holds him there as a prisoner, and it is there he will stand until time and death begin anew. He is both the ultimate victor and ultimate victim of the events he incited. After all, his dreams for mankind came true, but mankind then left him behind. Is he happy? Unhappy? The very words are meaningless to him now, Uatu says. Well, at least he has a nice view.
And so, one continuum of space and time ends, while another begins anew. Is one universe better off because, in it, the valiant Avengers triumphed in an Evolutionary War, Uatu now asks, or another because therein the High Evolutionary achieved his grandiose goal? That is not for such as I to say. I only…watch.