Read The Avengers Assemble Online

Authors: Thomas Macri

Tags: #Marvel Junior Novel (eBook)

The Avengers Assemble

www.marvel.com

TM & © 2012 Marvel & Subs.

All Rights Reserved. Published by Marvel Press, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Marvel Press, 114 5th Avenue, New York, New York 10011-5690.

ISBN 978-1-4231-7440-0

PROLOGUE
THE FIRST AVENGER

STEVE ROGERS
came of age in a time unlike any we had seen before and, hopefully, will see again. The entire world was at war. Worse, this was the second war of its kind in less than a quarter century. Steve's parents had served in that last war—the Great War, as it was called in Steve's day—and through them, he learned valuable lessons about what it meant to be a good soldier and, moreover, a good man.

By the time Steve was a teenager, the Second World War had been raging in Europe for years. And in 1941, just before Steve turned twenty-three, America joined in the worldwide fight. Steve had grown up watching the boys in his Brooklyn neighborhood line up at recruiting centers, suit up in uniform, pack their bags, and leave for deployment, many—
most
it sometimes seemed—never to return home. Every day, the streets outside his cramped four-story walk-up sounded less and less like games of stickball, skelly, and kick-the-can and more like the quiet of a church on a weekday afternoon. The gruff male voices that had filled the air gave way—slowly at first, then more rapidly—to the chatter of women on the home front:
Did you hear what
happened to Tony McGrath? My Johnny hasn't written in weeks;
he makes me so nervous, that boy. I just want James to come home,
Jimmy, Jr., needs to meet his father.
…

Occasionally, a wail would pierce a quiet evening. Steve always knew what it meant—another Brooklyn boy gone forever. Did he know this one? He'd already stopped counting the friends he'd lost months ago. Nothing seemed to make sense anymore. The streets outside his window had changed. The nation and the world had changed. Nothing was certain except one very important thing: Steve had an irrepressible desire to fight—to help end this war so that throughout Brooklyn, America, and the entire world the sounds of laughter and games would replace the sobbing of those waiting for their loved ones to return home. He was going to fight to liberate the people who had been held prisoner by this war. He was going to fight to overthrow the madmen waging it. And he was going to fight to win the war so that after it was over not another drop of blood would be spilled.

So as soon as he was of age, Steve and a few other neighborhood boys, including his best friend, James “Bucky” Barnes, lined up at the local recruitment center to join the fight. Steve always felt small around the other boys, mainly because, physically, he
was
. Steve was much shorter than average, with a slight frame, and he weighed in at just under a hundred pounds. He had difficulty breathing the polluted New York City air and was easily winded. His cheeks looked hollow, and he was so thin that his eyes nearly bulged from his skull. But those same eyes revealed another side of Steve. He was filled with kindness, compassion, and a need to defend what was right and just.

If Steve had any power at all, it was not in his body, but in his soul.

The army, however, was not interested in what Steve believed in, so much as what he could
do
. And after a brief physical exam, they determined he couldn't do much. He'd be more of a liability on the battlefield than an asset. For Steve's own good, and the good of the other soldiers, the army refused to allow him to enlist.

“Don't worry, Steve,” Bucky said. “You'll be safe here, and you'll be here to look after the old neighborhood while we're away.”

Steve wasn't ready to give up. “I'm coming with you,” he told Bucky.

Bucky laughed it off. “I know you want to do this, but…”

“But
nothing
, Bucky. This guy here didn't take me, I'll try somewhere else. Everyone's doing their part; I want to do mine.”

The next week—and the week after that, and the next two weeks following—Steve tried his luck again, each time at a different recruitment center. But each time, he failed his physical. And though it seemed as if his luck would never change, Steve refused to give up hope.

The night before Bucky was set to leave for the army, he and Steve went out on a double date to the World Exhibition of Tomorrow—a World's Fair that was part science show and part amusement park. Bucky and the girls he'd brought along wanted to see the Stark Industries exhibition. The world-renowned inventor Howard Stark was going to personally present some of his latest creations, including a car that could hover aboveground and ride the wind instead of the road. But despite the amazing display of futuristic technologies, Steve was focused on plans for his
own
future. He wandered away from the others and approached the exhibition's army-recruiting center.

Bucky stepped away from the girls and jogged over to Steve.

“You're really going to do this
now
?” Bucky asked.

“It's a fair. Figured I'd try my luck,” Steve joked.

“As
who
this time?” Bucky asked. “Steve from Ohio? It's illegal to lie on your forms, Steve. They'll catch you. Or worse, they'll
take
you! This isn't some back-alley scrap. It's a
war
.”

“It's
the
war,” Steve said. “It's the war we can't lose. This is the one that counts, and I mean to be counted.”

Bucky asked Steve to forget about enlisting—at least for now. It was Bucky's last night before shipping out. There were two pretty girls who wanted to go dancing waiting for them. Steve just smiled and shook his head. Bucky sighed, seeming to know that nothing would change his friend's mind. The two hugged, not sure if they'd ever see each other again, and each began a new journey. Bucky was off to war, and Steve was walking into the sixth battle of his own personal war—a battle to be allowed to fight.

After filling out a form with a list of questions he'd memorized by now, Steve was brought to the exam room. It was a scene he'd played out what felt like a thousand times. There was the exam table where they'd ask him to lay down so they could check his vitals. There were the tools that the doctor would use to perform the exam. The wastebasket in the corner, the eye chart on the far end of the wall.…The sign above his head read
IT IS ILLEGAL TO FALSIFY YOUR ENLISTMENT FORM
. The moment Steve saw the notice, an MP walked in.

Steve might have been weak and frail, but until this moment, he had never been frightened. It looked like the government was finally fed up with what they clearly saw as his games. Trailing behind the MP was an older, bearded man in a lab coat and glasses. He thanked the MP and dismissed him.

“So, five exams in five tries, in five different cities. All failed. You are very tenacious, yes?” The man said in heavily accented English. Was it a
German
accent that Steve detected?

Steve stuttered and tried to explain, but the man held up his hand.

“So, you want to fight?” the man asked.

“I don't like bullies,” Steve answered.

“I can offer you a chance,” he said.

Steve's eyes widened.

“Only a
chance
,” the man repeated. He introduced himself as Doctor Abraham Erskine of the Special Scientific Reserve unit of the US Army. Steve wasn't sure what that meant, and he didn't much care. If Dr. Erskine had a way to get Steve into the army, he would take it—no questions asked.

For weeks, Steve trained at a boot camp with a core group of other men—as usual all of them were taller, healthier, and fitter than he was. Steve scrambled to run through obstacle courses, which he routinely failed to complete. He struggled to keep up during training runs, barely crossing the finish while the rest of the pack jogged hundreds of yards ahead. But Dr. Erskine could see something in Steve that others didn't—a fire in his eyes and a desire to do the right thing.

On Steve's final day at training camp, a grenade was dropped in the middle of the trainees.

“Grenade!” cried Colonel Phillips, who was in charge of the camp.

The soldiers scattered, finding cover behind tanks, inside ditches, under any shelter they could find. Every soldier fled.

Except one.

Steve jumped on the grenade in the hopes that he would save his fellow soldiers. He balled himself up on top of it and waited for it to explode. But it never did. It had been a test—the last and most important in a long line of them. And Steve had passed. For all his physical shortcomings, he had exactly it would take to become the best man the army had—a Super-Soldier.

Steve had always been a Super Hero in spirit, but now he would be one in body as well. The chance that Dr. Erskine had offered Steve was to take part in a clandestine experiment called Project: Rebirth. For years, the government had been working on a project that would deliver them a soldier who was stronger, more agile, and more adept than even their best men. Steve, having proved he had the heart, would be awarded the body.

The very next day, Steve, Dr. Erskine, Colonel Phillips and British agent Peggy Carter arrived in a secret lab under an old antiques shop in Brooklyn. Steve was awed by the secret nature of the place and the unbelievable technology in use there. He was escorted by Agent Carter through doors into the main area of the lab, where a crowd of scientists and government officials looked on skeptically—this weak and skinny fellow was America's greatest hope?

Agent Carter held her head high, encouraging Steve to ignore the group.

Steve didn't have the time or, frankly, the head, to worry about them. Not only was he used to people's disapproval, he had also recently gone from being an ordinary kid from Brooklyn to being a soldier in the company of some of the most brilliant scientific minds on Earth.

First, he'd met Dr. Erskine, and now Howard Stark—the famous inventor whose presentation he'd skipped out on months before at the exhibition. That night Steve only had one thing on his mind—joining the army. But now he couldn't have been more interested in Mr. Stark's creations. The most intriguing was one that looked like a steel capsule in the center of the lab. Mr. Stark and Dr. Erskine explained that Steve would be dosed with the Super-Soldier Serum, which would enlarge his muscles, and then he would be enclosed in Mr. Stark's tank and bombarded with vita rays. These would control his muscle growth and prevent him from going into shock or, worse, being subjected to unchecked growth. Mr. Stark explained that the lab was in Brooklyn because they needed to draw on as much energy as possible and the New York City power grid offered just that—at least he hoped it did.

Without hesitation, Steve allowed himself to be strapped to a table within the chamber. Soon its doors sealed shut around him. Mr. Stark pulled a lever, and several doses of serum were administered by Mr. Stark's device. Steve's vitals all registered normally as the first stage in the process was completed. Then Mr. Stark pulled a lever and turned a dial to administer the vita rays. He slowly and carefully increased the dose, closely monitoring Steve, and watching Dr. Erskine, who stood beside the chamber. As the radiation increased, Steve's heart began to race. It was clear that the stress was weighing on him. An unearthly wail came from inside the chamber—and some in the group called out to stop the experiment. But Steve hollered from his confines, telling them not to stop.

“Keep going,” he yelled. “I can do this!”

Howard Stark continued to increase the vita rays. When the machine neared 100-percent capacity, the lights began to flicker—some even burst. The technicians scurried as a gradually increasing hum filled the lab as the raw energy being fed to Steve mounted. Finally, the wave culminated in a spectacular pop. The technicians, doctors, special agents, and everyone else in the room ducked for cover. Then the doors of the airtight chamber opened with a low hiss, and Steve emerged from within.

But it was no longer the same Steve.

Dr. Erskine and Agent Carter helped Steve from the chamber. As he stood up, he attempted to adjust to his new perspective.

“How do you feel?” Agent Carter asked.

“Taller,” Steve replied.

Steve, who had entered the lab a sick and weak kid was now the fittest soldier in the US Army. A feeling of joyous success permeated the room. But before any celebrating could commence, an explosion rocked the lab's control booth. Then, one of the observers pulled a gun from his jacket and shot Dr. Erskine in the chest.

Steve rushed to the doctor's aid, while the man who had shot him grabbed the last vial of serum and fled the scene. Agent Carter ran after him, while Steve tended to the doctor. With what appeared to be the last bit of strength he had left inside of him, the doctor, who had always told Steve he had the guts to be the world's best soldier, pointed to Steve's heart. He tried to speak, but couldn't. There was no need. Steve knew what he was telling him. The doctor let out a long, slow breath and went limp in Steve's arms. Steve let the older man's body down gently. Then, with all the amazing power he had just acquired, he rushed off to avenge the only man who had ever believed in him.

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