This time they're playing 6-a-side. It's Hawkeye, Iron Man, Mockingbird, Tigra, Wonder Man and the newly-recruited Dr Pym for the WCA against Black Knight, Captain America, Captain Marvel, Dr Druid, She-Hulk and Thor. Espirita and Moon Knight are sitting it out because they aren't officially Whackos (and Moon Knight doesn't have his full powers in the day). Wasp is watching not playing because she's not currently an active Avenger. But she doesn't appear to be acting as umpire like her ex-husband Henry Pym did last time.
Thor strikes out twice. For the 3rd ball Simon Williams throws the ball so hard it catches fire. But Thor's hammer hits it through the glass roof. However when the flaming ball appears to be returning it is instead the Silver Surfer, who suffuses the dome with energy.
When the energy dissipates the WCA recover. Iron Man asks Surfer what he's doing here - according to the Fantastic Four he'd left Earth for good. SS quickly recounts his recent history. In the 1st issue of his new series the Elder Of The Universe known as Champion came to Earth to kill him because the Elders didn't want him interfering in their plans out in space. This made him think that there must be a way past the barrier Galactus erected to keep him on Earth. So he and the FF found a way through it.
In #2 he took time out to visit his love Shalla Bal. Then he says he sought the Elders to find out why they wanted him dead but heard that 1 of them planned to kill the Avengers. He rushed back to Earth just in time to catch up with the Elder's energy bolt.
But they look round and see that he was too late - the Eakos (as Hawkeye has christened them) are all dead - even Thor.
Wonder Man wonders if SS is a fake, and he killed the Avengers with his own energy blast. Norrin Radd tells Hawkeye a detail of their shared time with the Defenders which convinces Clint Barton that he's the real deal.
Surfer tells them more about the Elders Of The Universe. They are each the long-lived survivor of a different otherwise extinct alien race. Each has dedicated his life to an obsession. We know of the Collector, the Gardener, the Possessor and the Grandmaster.
Moon Knight remembers how all the heroes got involved with that last 1 in the Contest Of Champions 3-issue series. Didn't he die to bring the Collector back to life? Norrin agrees, but he is still the 1 behind this plot. His death was his ultimate gamble - that he could win his own life back. And if Elders can come back from death then the Avengers can make it too.
Hawkeye readies his team for action, and Espirita and Moon Knight elect to accompany them. Their best plan is to find the Collector, and Surfer knows where his spaceship is. SS gets on his surfboard and drags their quinjet behind him (presumably at speeds faster than they could achieve, unless the Collector just happens to be parked nearby).
They enter the spacecraft without incident and confront the Collector. The Elder knows what has happened, and his gratitude for the Avengers' part in COC outweighs his feelings for his fellow - he'll help them. He explains that the Elders share a partial telepathic link, so he knows Grandmaster's plan.
In COC#3 GM swore never to use the heroes as pawns in his games again, but he has convinced himself that his death has nullified that vow. He offered the Avengers to Death in exchange for his own life. But he didn't know about the division in their ranks, and so his wager didn't include the WCA.
Collector says that the only way to save their friends is to go into Death's realm and take them from Grandmaster. But not even Silver Surfer can find a way there - the only way there is to die. WM protests that as an ionic being he can't die, but Taneleer Tivan insists that everyone will die sometime, even the Elders.
He offers them the strongest poison in the universe. Despite not trusting him completely, each for their own reasons decides to take the chance - and the poison. But when they are all lying dead Espirita is still standing - despite the fact that she drank too. The Collector realises that she must be a being who is uniquely exempt from the rule he proposed in the previous paragraph. He 'offers' her a place in his collection.
Meanwhile the 7 East Coast Avengers have appeared in Death's realm next to Grandmaster, who gives them his version of the plot. (It will turn out to probably not be a coincidence that his opening sentence is phrased identically to the Collector's.) He claims that Collector's period of death made him desperate to avoid it again. So he's promised the WCA to Death in exchange for true immortality. GM learned of this and brought the Eakos here to grab the Whackos before Death can get them. Because he has found a way the return them all, GM included, back to life.
At this point the WCA arrive. Tigra notices that Espirita isn't with them, and because she doesn't like Bonita she suggests that she chickened out. As they menace GM Thor convinces the others that Collector must have poisoned their minds. So the Easties spring to the Elder's defence, which convinces the Westies that Grandmaster must be controlling them. Both sides are convinced that they have to defeat the others for their own sake.
But Silver Surfer flies off with a plan of his own.
That leaves 7 on each side, and what follows is a set of 1-on-1 battles.
Iron Man tackles Captain Marvel. While they fight they restate the Elders' claims and try to persuade each other that they're on the wrong side. IM disrupts CM's control of her energy, but she splits into multiple images and then attacks him with magnetism. He counters that with a forcefield so she just pours energy at him. But he absorbs as much of that as his suit can stand and then fires it all back in an intense laser burst which renders her unconscious. But Tony Stark is left wondering whether Grandmaster really is the villain here.
Mockingbird chooses to fight Captain America rather than She-Hulk, leaving husband Hawkeye to deal with her. She figures she stands a good chance against another costumed athlete, and she keeps up chatter to distract him. She joins her battlestaves into their telescoping pole mode, and Cap has to use his shield to avoid her long-range strikes. Steve Rogers 'runs away' and leads Bobbi Barton into a tangle of huge thorny branches. She follows leaping from branch to branch but her pole isn't so useful here. Suddenly Cap turns and throws his shield to break the pole apart. Then he dives to the attack and relieves her of 1 of the staves. But he turns and runs again, deeper into the tangle. As Mocky follows her long loose sleeves get snagged on thorns, and Cap is able to take her other stave and accept her surrender.
Meanwhile Surfer has found Death and implores her, as 1 of the highest beings in the universe, to ignore Grandmaster's wager and let the Avengers go.
Henry Pym faces his ex-wife Janet Van Dyne. Wasp expects to win because Hank can't shrink any more and her stingers have been improved. But Dr Pym pulls out 1 of his shrunken artefacts - a plexi-glass shield to repel her stings. And then 3 flying guns to attack her. She dodges them and then flies behind Hank's head so that their blasts all hit him in the face. But Jan is worried when he falls to the ground. She quickly destroys the guns and flies down to check he's still alive. But he was playing possum - his weapons won't work on him. He captures her in a bubble of sleep gas.
Thor and Wonder Man trade mighty blows even as the Thunder God tries to persuade Simon to let Grandmaster save them all. But Williams is intent on proving himself unbeatable, until Thor summons the power of a storm into Mjolnir and throws it at WM knocking him out.
Tigra doesn't know what she's facing in Dr Druid. His telepathy enables him to dodge her attacks, and he sends 2 monsters against her. Until she realises they are illusions because they have no scent. And he can't take over her mind because it's half-cat. He runs into an area with towers of stones and topples 1 on her - but that's an illusion too. He topples another 1 which she ignores, until a real rock lands on her tail. The distraction allows him to dominate her mind.
It's Black Knight vs Moon Knight. Dane Whitman explains how Dr Strange has purged his magic Ebony Blade of its bloodthirst. But if he kills with it the curse will return. However he's willing to risk that for his comrades. MK throws various weapons (which he recently learned were designed by Hawkeye in the distant past) at BK but the sword deals with them all until bolas tangle his legs. However he tricks MK into cutting the bolas with his axe and then leaps to the attack. But Marc Spector throws himself on the sword. Shocked Whitman is easily KO'd with an ankh. And MK reveals that he held his body to 1 side within his cloak and has the sword trapped under his armpit.
We finally get to Hawkeye vs She-Hulk. And the results are tied so this is the decider. A blast arrow doesn't stop Shulk so Clint tries to talk her into switching sides - when Thing left the WCA and returned to the Fantastic Four, his stand-in Jennifer Walters should have transferred to the Whackos rather than back to her old bunch the Eakos. But she just responds by breaking his bow and crushing his quiver of arrows. Running away he tricks her into falling into a lake. Then the archer quickly fashions a bow and arrows from sturdy reeds (and a spare bowstring). But he has no time to attach his trick arrowheads so he throws an explosive head into the water where the concussion knocks Jen back down again. This gives him time to complete a gas arrow. And as She-Hulk surfaces to gulp in air she gets a lungful of sleeping gas.
The West Coasters have won and the awake Easterners honourably surrender, hoping that the right side has won. The WCA hope that they've rescued the others from the fate Grandmaster planned. But GM makes no move. Instead he waits as Death materialises before them, but apparently bound. All the Avengers are now awake. And now GM gloats. His plan all along was to get Death's attention - and now he has won the universe.
To be continued in AVENGERS ANNUAL #16.