The Avengers (Black Knight, Captain America, Captain Marvel, Dr Druid, She-Hulk and Thor plus the on-leave Wasp) have just fought the West Coast Avengers (Dr Pym, Hawkeye, Iron Man, Mockingbird, Tigra and Wonder Man plus thinking-about-joining Moon Knight) in the land of the dead while Silver Surfer sought out Death herself. The 2 sides had been recruited by Elders Of The Universe Collector and Grandmaster, but now it seems it was all a plan by GM to defeat Death.
They now unite against the GM but he easily repels them with the power he has stolen from Death, who is confined in chains of energy. And he explains what really happened:-
He reminds them how Collector was killed by Korvac (Av#174 during the Korvac Saga). And how Grandmaster and Death recruited heroes to battle for them in the Contest Of Champions mini-series - the prize being his 'brother' Collector's life. He claims that at the end of that conflict he devised a greater plan, and deliberately lost the game - letting Death take him.
While dead he studied Death. When he was ready he telepathically contacted Collector, and they concocted the stories that would bring the Avengers here and pit them against each other. It didn't actually matter who won. The true object was to get Death's attention - concerned with the damage being done to her realm. The distraction allowed GM to overcome her.
But that's not the end of the plan. He repeats the accepted origin for Elders Of The Universe, that he is the survivor of 1 of the earliest races in the universe. Now he intends to create a new universe for the Elders to rule. He uses Death's power to create 5 life-bombs which he sends to the furthest corners of the universe. When they explode they will start a chain reaction culminating in a new Big Bang which will destroy this universe and begin a new 1.
But the supreme game player can't resist accepting a challenge from Captain America - in fact he expected it. And he has readied a new Legion Of The Unliving - dead Marvel supercharacters. The Avengers must try to destroy the life-bombs, and the Legion will try to destroy them. GM even sends them all to the appropriate destinations. But he is confidant that he's going to win the game this time - for reasons we will learn later.
Dr Pym, Hawkeye and Thor find themselves in part of Hell facing Executioner, Nighthawk and Swordsman.
Nighthawk swoops on jet-wings towards Henry Pym. Hank enlarges 1 of the miniaturised weapons he carries - a gas grenade launcher which he fires at his foe, hoping it will be enough to overcome the power boost Kyle Richmond gains when not in sunlight. He then produces a shield to deflect Nighthawk's wing lasers back rip through his wings. But the blasts also start to bring the roof down, so Pym whips out a brace to hold it up - allowing Richmond to pierce him with a large stalagmite. The roof collapses, killing them both - but the dead guy didn't care.
Thor faces his old foe Executioner and his mighty axe. But he doesn't want to strike back at him because Skurge died in his place defending a bridge against a demon horde (Th#362). However Thor realises that this shade doesn't have the honour of the Asgardian, so he has no compunction beating him up.
Hawkeye has to dodge blasts from the techno-sword of his old trainer Swordsman. And the sword also chops up any arrows Clint Barton fires off. Until the archer sends an electro-arrow which shocks the enemy unconscious when it makes contact with his metal sword.
There's no time to defuse the bomb so Thor uses Mjolnir to create a vortex surrounding it and himself. When the bomb goes off it only destroys the Thunder God. Hawkeye is the only hero left.
Meanwhile Captain Marvel, Moon Knight, She-Hulk and Tigra are on an Earth-like planet with their life-bomb hovering above a lake. CM turns into her light-form and streaks towards it but she's intercepted by Drax the Destroyer and the original Kree Captain Mar-Vell. Both of them start absorbing her energy. Until She-Hulk throws a tree at them which knocks the dead guys aside. Weakened Monica Rambeau flies away to recover.
Green-hued Drax turns his attention to green She-Hulk while Moon Knight is attacked by the Green Goblin. And Tigra is pulled into the water by Death Adder. Mar-vell chases Monica until she turns and shoots back at him, just as Shulkie sends Drax flying.
But Jennifer Walters turns her back to help Tigra and Drax slams into her from behind, breaking her back. Goblin throws pumpkin bombs at Moonie containing hallucinogenic gas. And then his finger-blaster takes the hero out. Tigra escapes from the lake into a tree. As Adder follows she leaps down and knocks him off a branch. But as he falls his tail gets her with lethal venom.
CM uses her remaining energy to destroy the bomb. Shulk and Tigra die together with the satisfaction that they won. And Drax, Goblin and Mar-Vell join forces to rip her energy form to shreds.
The Silver Surfer materialises alone in space but he soon locates the life-bomb surrounded by a forcefield which repels him. Nearby Michael Korvac is sitting in an armchair on a floating rock. It was he who created the barrier and he boasts of even greater Power Cosmic than Surfie. When SS declines the offer of champagne while they wait for the universe to end he hits him with a cosmic bolt. When that doesn't work he smothers Surfer with rocks until he is the centre of his own planet.
But very soon Surfer blows the planet apart. A fragment knocks Korvac off his seat, and this allows SS time to blast through the forcefield. But Michael leaps on to the Surfboard to stop the final blow. And he causes Surfer's body-shell to dissolve, leaving Norrin Radd exposed to deadly space.
But Norrin is still in control of his board. And Korvac realises too late that they are aimed at the bomb. The collision destroys them all.
Black Knight, Dr Druid, Iron Man and Mockingbird are next, in the ruins of an alien civilisation. They split up to look for their bomb.
Druid is attacked by Dracula. His martial arts are useless as the vampire turns to mist. Then it is a battle of wills. Druid lasts a long time but eventually Dracula controls him - and then snaps his neck.
Mockingbird faces Red Guardian. She uses her currently-favoured tactic of taunting the man while evading his blows until he makes a mistake. And then knocks him out with her battlestaves.
Terrax fires cosmic energy blasts at Iron Man and also uses his power over earth to bombard him with big rocks which damage his armour. But IM absorbs the energy and then sends it all back to his foe. Terrax is defeated but Tony Stark's armour is fused and he falls to the ground.
Black Knight has to fight his mentor the original Arthurian Black Knight Sir Percy of Scandia. They and their magic swords are equally matched and the battle continues unabated.
Mocky joins Stark as he removes his useless armour. Now he uses his scientific smarts to try to defuse the bomb. Dracula attacks them but Bobbi Barton sacrifices herself to give Tony more time. But it's not enough and the bomb goes off. And a 5th of the universe is destroyed.
Captain America, Wasp and Wonder Man seek the last bomb in a snowy waste. They face Baron Blood, Bucky Barnes and Hyperion.
Cap is attacked by his ex-partner Bucky who is angry because Steve Rogers left him to die back in WWII. A biased account of the event, but which strikes Steve's conscience. Cap can't bring himself to do more than just hold off Bucky's blows. Wasp contends with the Nazi vampire Blood. She strikes his oversized and oversensitive bat-ears. Meanwhile the 2 superstrong men pummel each other, until Hyperion sends Simon Williams flying with a mighty punch that shatters ribs and breaks an arm. But Wondy refuses to give up.
Cap has evaded Bucky and switches to old foe Baron Blood. And Wasp isn't held-back from blasting Barnes with her stings. But slowed by the cold the diminutive heroine allows herself to be outmanoeuvred and KO'd with a punch and then crushed to death. Distracted Steve Rogers is about to be bitten by the vampire when Cap flips him over and impales him on a stalagmite. Hyperion grabs Wonder Man and propels them both through the planetoid and into the nearby sun.
As the sun flares up Captain America is left to get past Bucky to the bomb. He overcomes his personal feelings for the sake of the universe and savagely beats his friend. And then smashes the bomb with his shield.
Now Cap and Hawkeye find themselves back with Grandmaster and Death, to learn that they are the only survivors. They have no time to process the loss, especially Clint for his wife Bobbi, because GM announces that was only round 1. He creates 4 more life-bombs for the remaining 4/5 of the universe. And brings his whole Unliving Legion back, swelled with the recently-slain heroes.
Hawkeye's anger explodes at the sight of his dead wife. He fires a stream of arrows but the Elder easily dispels them all. Cap slaps him to bring him to his senses. They need to find a way to beat the villain ...
... and Hawk has an idea. He hands his bow to Cap and produces his 2 remaining arrowshafts. To 1 of them he attaches 1 of his special arrowheads. And he proposes to the supreme game player that they cut to the chase. Forget all the fighting and just reduce the whole thing to a 50/50 game of chance.
Clint shuffles the arrows behind his back and brings them back into sight with their heads hidden in his fists. If the Elder picks the 1 with the modular head attached he wins. GM just can't resist. He chooses ... and gets a headless shaft.
His disappointment makes his concentration slip, and allows Death to slip free of her energy bonds. And she sends him away.
Cap is gratefully relieved that the gamble worked. But Hawkeye admits he cheated, like the carny member he used to be. GM did pick the right arrow, but Clint pulled the head off as the Elder took it. It's there in his hand.
Then Death sends them away too ... back to the baseball stadium from the WCA Annual where they find all the other Avengers returned to life.
Grandmaster is also alive. He's been exiled from Death's realm so now he is truly immortal. He watches as they resume their baseball game. And his anger at the frustration of his plan fades as he gets interested in the game.