They say that in space no one can hear you scream. Apparently the same rule doesn’t apply to kvetching, as an Avengers Quinjet suddenly emerges from Shi’ar stargate! ‘Into the Dimension of Death…rode the seven Avengers!’ exclaims Eric Masterton a.k.a. the new Thor as he stands near his fellow Avengers inside the Quinjet. Wanda Maximoff a.k.a. the Scarlet Witch of the Avengers West Coast tells Thor that she sincerely doubts Tennyson would be flattered by his paraphrase, before asking him if he is always this light-hearted, or whether he is making a special effort on their behalf. Thor tells the Scarlet Witch that he is sorry if he is depressing her, but that this mission is pure insanity. ‘We’re actually supposd to convince the entire Shi’ar Empire to keep their intergalactic war with the Kree out of our galaxy and - whoa! What’s that?’ Thor exclaims as energy ribbons wave over the Quinjet.
‘Spacequake! Back in your seats now! We’re headed for some rough riding!’ Simon Williams a.k.a. Wonder Man of the Avengers West Coast calls out. The Avenger called Vision is seated next to Wonder Man at the controls and states that logic should have dictated that they wear seatbelts when entering hostile space. Inactive Avenger Starfox is seated behind the Vision, while Thor falls backwards into the Scarlet Witch, who was standing next to him. Wanda and Simon’s fellow Avenger West Coast teammate, Miguel Santos a.k.a. the Living Lightning and another inactive Avenger, Monica Rambeau a.k.a Captain Marvel, are at the back of the Quinjet and brace themselves against the wall.
Wanda falls to the floor, and Thor lands with his arm over her body. Living Lightning points out that the tremors seem to have stopped for the moment, and asks if everyone is okay. Wanda tells Migul that there don’t seem to be any casualties, but that that could change if Thor doesn’t remove his arm. ‘Er…sorry Miss Scarlet, uh, I mean…Miss Witch…’ Thor mutters. ‘The arm -?’ Wanda exclaims. ‘Sorry!’ Thor utters again as he gets to his feet. Living Lightning and Starfox laugh, while Starfox asks ‘Do my eyes deceive me, or has our new Thunder God finally found something about this mission he fancies?’, to which Thor tells Starfox that if he keeps pushing, he will have a mallet where his mouth should be.
Captain Marvel makes her way to the front of the Quinjet and tells the men to ease up on the testosterone, as they have more important things to worry about than bruised egos. She asks Wonder Man how the Quinjet is holding up, and Wonder Man assures her that it is fine. Captain Marvel asks the Vision if he has any idea what caused those tremors, and the android Avenger announces that they apparently originated on the small planet directly ahead of them.
Down below, inside a monitor booth, Shi’ar officers are going about their business. ‘That Kree starfighter is swinging in for another laser run!’ one of the officers exclaims, pointing out the window to the Kree vessel above their station. ‘He’s already knocked out most of our defenses!’ one of the officers exclaims, while the first realizes that the Kree has opened fire on helpless civilians below. ‘That murderous monster!’ one of the officers shouts, before ordering the planetary beacon to be activated, and the throne world to be informed of the situation. A beacon is activated, and a pulsing signal is emitted from it.
At that very instant, many light-years away, a lone warrior effortlessly glides a massive burden through space. He is Gladiator, of the Shi’ar Imperial Guard, and he tells himself that he must carefully adjust the orbit of the asteroid he is pushing to prevent it from intersecting with nearby star lanes. But, ears that hear far beyond the normal frequencies suddenly become alert, as he hears the planetary beacon and knows that one of the outer settlements is under attack.
Meanwhile, the Shi’ar officers are still dealing with the attacking Kree vessel. ‘Commander, our targeting computer finally locked on the accursed Kree!’ one of them announces. ‘Excellent! One my command - FIRE!’ the commanding officer orders. Powerful weapons blast energies into the air, and strike the Kree vessel, sending it plummeting downwards. ‘Looks like the Shi’ar scored a direct hit’ one of the Avengers remarks, before someone else suggests they get out of Shi’ar airspace before they start shooting them down also. Captain Marvel agrees, ands tells Wonder Man and the Vision to move the Quinjet to safety while she and Living Lightning check for survivors. They turn to their electrical forms and exit the Quinjet, blasting through the space towards the wreckage on the planet.
Thor asks if that was wise, wondering if the Shi’ar will just assume that they are aiding their Kree enemies? ‘Perhaps’ the Vision replies, but announces that that is hardly their most pressing problem, as his scanners have detected something streaking towards them. ‘I first mistook it for a highly sophisticated guided missile - but our computers have finally identified this speeding object as the Shi’ar Imperial Guardsman known as Gladiator!’ the Vision announces, reporting that according to the files they have received from the Fantastic Four, Gladiator possess almost limitless strength, virtual invulnerability and a host of super-enhanced sensory powers. ‘He is effectively…undefeatable’ the Vision states as Gladiator continues his streak through space to the small outpost.
‘Considering that we happen to be flying over a recently devastated Shi’ar settlement during a time of intergalactic war, I’d say that one of us had better try reasoning with him…before he attempts to dismantle the Quinjet and all of us in it!’ Starfox announces. Thor tells Starfox to get serious, and asks who would be dumb enough to try such a crazy stunt. Everyone turns to look at Thor who exclaims ‘Me? You gotta be kidding!’, but Wonder Man gets out of his seat and offers to go, pointing out that Thor may have the original’s power, but that he lacks the necessary experience to handle a delicate situation like this.
Moments later, Wonder Man is annoyed that he has to wear an old jetpack, but knows he doesn’t have much choice after losing his belt-jets. As he flies upwards he wonders if he came down too hard on the new Thor, as the guy is obviously out of his depth. Some distance away, a caped figure hovers high above the smoking settlement, and scans the destruction with eyes whose vision can penetrate the densest matter. A fury, even colder than the dark void of space, hardens within Gladiator - a fury that will soon find release. ‘Hey, Gladiator! We have to talk!’ Wonder Man calls out as he flies towards the powerhouse. ‘I represent a negotiating team from the planet Earth!’ Wonder Man begins, but Gladiator replies ‘You must think me a fool to fall for such an obvious trick!’
Gladiator fires beams from his eyes which destroy Wonder Man’s jet pack. ‘There will be no negotiations while my people lay hurt and dying from your cowardly attack, man of the Kree!’ Gladiator booms. ‘Uh-oh’ Wonder Man utters as he is carried forward by momentum alone, he suddenly loses speed, and cries out in pain as Gladiator smacks him hard to the ground below. Wonder Man lands so hard that the ground breaks up around him. ‘Ouch’ Wonder Man mutters as he gets to his feet. ‘You still live?’ Gladiator asks, surprised. ‘Afraid so. You want to make something of it?’ Wonder Man calls out. ‘Indeed, I shall!’ Gladiator exclaims as he goes over and prepares to punch Wonder Man in the face - but Simon rolls with the blow, and just as well, otherwise Gladiator would have taken his head off.
Wonder Man punches back, and sends Gladiator careening backwards, where he slams into a large rock formation. ‘Considering the way they’re used in Hollywood, being headless probably wouldn’t hurt my acting career’ Simon thinks to himself, before deciding that he still fees like a real jerk after the way he put down Thor. Without even pausing to acknowledge Wonder Man’s punch, Gladiator quickly blows from his mouth an icy blast, which freezes the air around Wonder Man and encases him in ice.
As the battle rages below, another boils within the heart of the new Thor. He looks away from the other Avengers and tells himself that he doesn’t belong here, as he is only a reluctant pinch-hitter for the real Thor, and not a true hero, like the others. ‘I lack their courage…their conviction’ Thor thinks to himself, deciding that Gladiator is proof positive that they don’t stand a snowball’s chance in a furnace of success.
Wonder Man bursts through the ice, ‘That breath must play havoc with your social life, pal!’ he exclaims, while Gladiator flies towards him and declares that a true warrior-born has little interest and no time for such mundane concerns. ‘Really? Guess that explains why you’re such a bundle of laughs -’ Wonder Man begins to reply, before Gladiator flies up behind him and slams a fist to Wonder Man. ‘The battle is ended, Kree! Gladiator claims victory!’ Gladiator boasts, as he strikes another blow, and another, relentlessly hammering Wonder Man downwards, deep into the heart of the planet.
Back in the Quinjet, Vision states that Wonder Man will need precious minutes to dig himself free, but they cannot allow the safety of one Avenger to jeopardize the mission. ‘Are you suggesting that we desert him?’ the Scarlet Witch asks her ex-husband. ‘Of course not!’ the Vision replies. He tells Starfox to take the controls and prepare for an immediate retreat. The Vision prepares to exit the Qunjet, but Thor steps forward: ‘NO!’ he shouts. ‘My turn!’ and as he exit’s the Quinjet, Thor hurls the enchanted hammer and is pulled instantly towards the planet below, smashing into the indestructible Imperial Guardsman moments later with the intensity of a living thunderbolt.
Gladiator lands in a pile of crumbled rocks, and Thor rushes over to him, ‘I know that it wasn’t exactly sporting to hit you from behind, Gladiator…but I had to get your attention’ Thor tells him, announcing that they are here to talk peace, to prevent the stupid, macho war from spilling over into Earth’s galaxy and endangering their planet. ‘This is no game to me!’ Thor adds. ‘No…nor is it one to me!’ Gladiator replies as he shoves his hand into the planet surface and from it pulls out a huge asteroid-sized rock. ‘A true warrior has little taste for the horrors of war! Only poets and those who have never been stained by the blood of battle glorify such conflicts!’ Gladiator exclaims. ‘You talk of the danger to your planet! What about the suffering that has already been inflicted upon this settlement?’ Gladiator asks.
As Gladiator hurls the asteroid rock towards Thor, he declares that he has a sacred duty to protect his Empress and his people. ‘The security of your world is of no concern to me!’ he adds, announcing that he would gladly sacrifice their entire galaxy to save the life of a single Shi’ar. ‘Nice speech!’ Thor replies as he splits the asteroid in two with his mallet. He adds that it is obvious Gladiator is a real sweet, caring individual. ‘But any gross atrocity can be rationalised in the name of duty! You’re nothing but a super-powered storm trooper…with an extremely bad haircut!’ Thor booms as he fires energy from his mallet, ‘Let’s see how your renowned invulnerability stands up to Asgardian magic!’ Thor declares.
The magics strike Gladiator on his chest. ‘That…hurt…’ Gladiator utters, as the energy ricochets off his chest and is fired back towards Thor. ‘The real Thor would have known better than to try such a stupid stunt! Sometimes I’m my own worst enemy!’ Thor tells himself. ‘Perhaps, but you need no other foe than I!’ Gladiator exclaims as he flies over to Thor and smacks him backwards. ‘You are evidently not a true warrior, bearded one! You are hesitant, clumsy and inept!’ Gladiator declares. ‘Maybe so. But I look good...which is a lot more than you can say!’ Thor replies, before asking Gladiator to tell him the truth: ‘Does your mother style your hair…or is it the result of some Shi’ar fraternity hazing ritual?’.
‘I shall crush the frivolity from you!’ is Gladiator’s response, ‘Go for it, man!’ Thor tells him. ‘Go! Go! Go!’ he shouts as the men struggle, with terrible, irresistible strength against unrelenting, immovable muscle. A power born of the stars opposes an immortal force. Who shall prove the stronger? Alas, the fragile soil cannot withstand the immeasurable strain of such a titanic duel - and a victory is lost amid a mountain of tumbling debris. Until, ‘Enough! I must end this nonsense!’ Gladiator shouts as he punches Thor, sending him careening backwards. ‘I shouldn’t have relaxed my grip’ Thor thinks to himself, while Gladiator decides ‘This Kree dupe is much too powerful, too dangerous. His very existence is a threat to the Shi’ar Empire’.
Thor lands against some debris and rubs his head. ‘I haven’t had a headache this bad…since my IRS audit!’ he thinks to himself, while wondering how the Vision would react if he flew back to the Quinjet and told him he had reconsidered his grand gesture. But, Thor decides that he must be punchy if he thought he could get any reaction out of old stone-face. ‘Hey what happened to Gorgeous George? Don’t tell me he got nabbed by the fashion police?’ Thor calls out as he gets to his feet, unaware that Gladiator is approaching from behind. ‘For the safety and security of my people, I cannot suffer this interloper to live!’ Gladiator decides, before thinking to himself ‘In the name of the Empress Lilandra…I sentence him to DEATH!’
Meanwhile, Living Lightning and Captain Marvel descend upon the wreckage of the Kree spaceship. ‘We must complete our search before the Shi’ar arrive!’ Captain Marvel exclaims, while warning Living Lightning that this will not be pretty, that crash sites never are. They enter the ship and see piles of ashes scattered about. Captain Marvel declares that something is very wrong, as the ship should be filled with broken bodies. ‘Where’s the crew?’ Living Lightning asks, while commenting on the piles of ashes. Suddenly, they see something moving in the shadows. ‘I…I don’t believe it!’ Captain Marvel gasps when she sees what it is. ‘That’s…a Skrull, isn’t it..?’ Living Lightning asks. ‘Yes, and he’s…move out!’ Captain Marvel instructs Living Lightning, pushing him out of the craft as the Skrull taps some keys on a control panel.
‘We made it!’ Captain Marvel exclaims as she and Living Lightning streak skyward. ‘He was activating a destruct sequence just like I suspected!’ Captain Marvel announces, while Living Lightning remarks that he thought the Skrulls and Kree were enemies. ‘Why was he in that ship?’ he wonders. ‘That is the question’ Captain Marvel tells him, before instructing Living Lightning to report back to the others, while she scouts the Shi’ar settlement for answers. They then go their separate ways.
Just then, I strike for Empress and Empire - to the death!’ Gladiator exclaims as he slams into Thor’s back. ‘I guess that war cry is my cue to burst into tears, fall on my knees and beg for mercy!’ Thor exclaims, but instead he wraps an arm around Gladiator’s head and slams his face into the ground. ‘Ignorant savage! You still joke! You still ridicule me! And you still refuse to acknowledge the overwhelming superiority of my strength! My power!’ Gladiator booms as he breaks free of Thor’s hold, forces Thor up and then slams him down again. ‘I am a true warrior-born in every sense of the word! I will never shirk my responsibility to my people! I will never fail my Empress!’ Gladiator exclaims, adding that he will never be defeated by a buffoon like Thor, as he smacks Thor aside once again.
‘Buffoon? Moi? Now you’ve really done it! You hurt my feelings!’ Thor exclaims, as he lies fallen on the ground. ‘Not to mention every bone in my body! I’d better come up with something fast, or…’ he tells himself, before suddenly noticing Living Lightning up in the sky over them. Eric Masterton sometimes forgets that Mjolnir can summon the elements of the storm, and that includes lightning. He taps the handle of the mallet on the ground, and suddenly, Living Lightning is seized by a force far beyond his comprehension, he is enthralled by Asgardian magic, and he is wrenched from the sky, and an instant later, strikes Gladiator in spectacular display. ‘It worked! I finally managed to stun the sucker! But I know he won’t be out for long unless -’ Thor begins, as he goes over to the stumbling Gladiator, and shouts ‘Batter up, bad guy! It’s hammer time!’ as he slams his mallet into Gladiator, knocking him backwards with a mighty slam.
The attack is relentless, as Thor declares that he is tired of hearing about Gladiator’s blind obsessive dedication to duty. ‘I couldn’t care less about your stupid empire! I have responsibilities of my own!’ he exclaims as more punches with the hammer land against Gladiator’s face. ‘I left a son - and people I care about - back on planet Earth! I won’t let you and your pointless war endanger them!’ Thor adds. He tells Gladiator that he is going down, and that so will every other muscle-bound bully who thinks power gives him the right to terrorize and to destroy. More powerful punches land against Gladiator, until, suddenly, ‘Enough, Thor! Get hold of yourself, man! Stop it! You’re killing him!’ Wonder Man exclaims as he and the Vision drag Gladiator away from Thor. ‘Cease this emotional maelstrom at once! You must force yourself to regain rational thought’ the Vision points out. But Thor asks them what is wrong with themselves. ‘Can’t you understand? God help me…but killing this clown may be the only rational course of action!’
At that instant, Captain Marvel decides that the Shi’ar seem less than hospitable as she dodges energies fired from their weapons. But, considering what has happened, she doesn’t blame them. Monica thinks to herself that she would be more concerned if it wasn’t so easy to dodge the blasts, before realizing that she may have hit pay dirt, as she sees a beacon down below, which she assumes is broadcasting an interplanetary SOS. Once Monica analyses the wave frequency, she knows they will be able to track it all the way back to the Shi’ar throne world - and Empress Lilandra.
Meanwhile, Living Lightning has joined Wonder Man, Vision and Thor as they stand over the motionless Gladiator. Wonder Man remarks that Thor brought up a good point and asks what they are supposed to do with this guy, adding that it is obvious he won’t be unconscious for long. ‘Thor is loco! He used me! Exploited me for a cheap stunt! I thought Avengers treated each other with more respect!’ the annoyed Living Lightning declares. ‘They usually do’ the Vision replies, before pointing out that it doesn’t change the fact that it is pointless to proceed with their mission until Gladiator is completely neutralized. Vision adds that, unfortunately, there is no adequate way to contain him. ‘Wrong…I know the perfect place to keep him on ice!’ Thor declares as he twirls Mjolnir above his head and grabs Gladiator by his cape. ‘Where are you taking him?’ Wonder Man asks. Thor tells Wonder Man not to worry, assuring him that this won’t hurt much.
Thor takes to the sky, dragging Gladiator behind him and realizes that his speeches about duty and sacrifice really hit home. ‘There’s only one way to eliminate this creep from the field of play, but the cost is high! Maybe…too high’ Thor thinks to himself, before noticing that Gladiator has begun to stir. He realizes that only instants remain before Gladiator regains consciousness, but lucky for Thor, he has already spotted his target. Thor sees the Shi’ar stargate up ahead, and tosses Gladiator into it. He knows it is the Avengers’ only way home, but cannot let that stop him. Before Gladiator has a chance to fly free, Thor calls upon the enchanted energies within his hammer to implode the stargate and seal it forever. Spectacular energies pour from the hammer, shutting the stargate down.
Shortly, the seven Avengers have regrouped inside the Quinjet. ‘You WHAT? You just wrecked our only avenue of retreat!’ Wonder Man exclaims. ‘I told you this hombre was crazy!’ Living Lightning mutters. Thor points out that he doesn’t know how those stargates work, and suggests they might be able to find another one to return them to Earth. ‘And if not…we’re stranded!’ Starfox exclaims. Annoyed, Thor exclaims that he didn’t have much choice and points out that this is total war. ‘Our entire solar system could be incinerated! No sacrifice is too great!’ Thor shouts, until Captain Marvel tells him to simmer down, that he is starting to sound like Gladiator. ‘And we’re supposed to be the good guys’ Monica points out, before adding that what is done is done.
‘I’ll say one thing for you, man…you get real down and real dirty…and I can respect that’ Living Lightning tells Thor, before Wonder Man calls out to Captain Marvel, who turns to the front, and looks as shocked as both Wonder Man and Vision are. ‘Isn’t the information which I suppled leading us toward the Shi’ar throne world?’ Captain Marvel asks. ‘It is functioning quite well! Unfortunately we seem to be - expected’ the Vision points out as the seven Avengers in their little Quinjet find themselves in deep space, and surrounded by a large fleet of Shi’ar vessels….