Avengers #31
(August 2000)

Title: And So It Begins...
Story: Kurt Busiek
Art:George Perez/Al Vey/Tom Smith

Summary: In Chicago, the Vision (in his human guise of Victor Shade) is spending some time apart from his fellow Avengers and hanging out in the Windy City. While visiting a favorite pub, he overhears some patrons mention a gathering of mob bosses... a meeting organizaed by the Grim Reaper!

Meanwhile, at Avengers Mansion the team spends some time dealing with various loose ends following their adventure in Costa Verde. Iron Man, Wasp and the Scarlet Witch along with Duane Freeman are examining Hank Pym in hopes of discovering the cause of his most recent physical problems. The exam comes up empty, though it does prompt Hank to reveal how he has recently tweaked his Pym particle formula to allow him to grow again without physical impairment. During the exam, no one notices that they are being watched by the diminutive Yellowjacket, who has managed to evade the mansion's security systems because he registers as Henry Pym!!

In the combat room, Warbird programs a special game of magno-ball for Triathlon and She-Hulk. The pair of Avengers have a ball while honing both their teamwork and budding rivalry. Triathlon uses speed, agility and guile to defeat the She-Hulk...muh to the surprise of Carol and Shulkie! In the lab, Wanda recives a call from the Beast who is looking for Wonder Man! Wanda is suprised to learn from her hirsute friend that both he and Simon returned to New York almost a week ago! This leads both Wanda and the Beast to wonder what has happened to Wonder Man.

Wanda's concern is interrupted by an urgent summons from the Vision! Having uncovered the Maggia meeting in Chicago, the Vision calls on his teammates for assistance in bringing down the cadre of crimelords. The team leaves with the approval of Mr. Freeman, who despite his good intentions, remains alienated from the team.

In Chicago, the Maggia leaders have assembled from all over the world at the behest of the Grim Reaper. Among them are Madame Masque, Cyclone, Silvermane and the Eel along with several non-powered individuals. The Reaper is apparently working for someone himself...someone who wants the Maggia united. The Avengers, led by the Vision, easily infiltrate the meeting. As they burst into the room, Madame Masque unleashes a squad of Dreadnoughts! The Avengers are initially overwhelmed which allows Cyclone to escape. The Reaper himself grabs Madame Masque and threatens her in the hope of facilitating his own departure. The assembled heroes are shocked when Madame Masque's head explodes after telling Iron Man that "she" (the true Masque) still loves him and needs his help. In the confusion, the Grim Reaper manages to escape in a cloud of smoke.

As SHIELD takes the Maggia leaders into custody, the Scarlet Witch tries to learn why the Vision left the team months ago. As the synthezoid Avenger begins to reveal his reasons, Iron Man interrupts and summons the estranged lovers to the Quinjet. Iron Man has a hunch what is going on and is determined to discover the truth!

NOTES: Not much Carol this issue. This story leads right into the Madame Masque/Thunderbolts crossover storyline which will dominate the rest of the summer...so who knows when Carol will get the spotlight next!