"First and foremost," said Lucia von Bardas, her voice officious and yet pleasant as she spoke in thickly accented English, "I wish to thank you for the opportunity to speak to the American people, Mr. Godfrey. There has sadly been much confusion and misinformation regarding the recent hostilities between the People's Republic of Latveria and our new protectorate, the Democratic State of Symkaria. I, as well as the rest of the administration, am grateful for such a large stage on which to, as you say, 'set the record straight.'" G. Gordon Godfrey's news talk show was generally considered to be a crass, sensationalist, typically American news outlet; it also happened to be the most widely-viewed news show in the country. The host was boorish and profoundly unpleasant, but this very same sleazy behavior was what drew in audiences. "It's always a pleasure to have foreign dignitaries on my show, Ms. Prime Minister," Godfrey said with a toothy grin, "particularly ones as fetching as you, if I may say so." Lucia's upper lip curled upward slightly, belying a sneer, but she maintained her composure. She would very much like to break the man's neck, but she had a job to do. "But yes, let's discuss the annexation of Symkaria," Godfrey continued. "In the short but decisive engagements between the two countries, the Symkarian military received staggering casualties, and yet virtually no civilian casualties were reported." "If I may correct you, Mr. Godfrey," Lucia interrupted, "'virtually no civilian casualties' is not quite accurate. No civilians at all were harmed by the Latverian Defense Forces. The brave fighting men of Symkaria died with honor, but ultimately our fight was not with the nation or its people, but the corrupt and incompetent politicians who drove us to military action." "Speaking of, the actions taken by one Nyssa Raatko on the final day before the cease-fire have sparked tremendous outrage in the international community. Her squad of 'People's Security Bureau' agents openly executed the entire Symkarian Parliament-- how on Earth can you answer for that?" von Bardas' diplomatic smile went cold as ice. "That," she said, "was a response for Harlsburg." Harlsburg was a small city not far from the border between the two countries. As the Symkarian military crumbled before Doom, a desparate Parliament had authorized the use of biological weapons, breaking the Geneva Convention, in an attempt to dissuade further Latverian aggression. Missiles loaded with chemical warheads were launched across the border and detonated over Harlsburg, killing nearly a thousand men, women, and children. Rather than frighten the enemy away, this grotesque act only hardened their resolve-- Latverian soldiers had overrun the capital less than a week later. "I think we can all agree the Harlsburg incident was tragic," Godfrey said, "but wouldn't most people believe that the political leaders deserved to stand trial?" "The decision to use biological weapons on Latveria's children was a unanimous one," the Prime Minister said coldly. "In so doing, they signed their own confessions for crimes against humanity. Director Raatko saw that justice was delivered swiftly. If it makes you feel better, they died swiftly, without much suffering....unlike their victims." "I can understand your sentiment, but with sanctions now being placed upon your country by the UN--" "If the international community has issue with our actions," Lucia said, her smile returning, "our Lord Protector is more than willing to hear them. To that end, we have been organizing a peace summit, during which we will discuss the future of our nation as well as its standing in the region, and in the world at large. We have already confirmed dignitaries from neighbors Pokolistan and Bialya, as well as officials from Russia and China. Thus far, the NATO countries have yet to accept our invitation, but soon--" "Enough." The news broadcast cut off, the large display at the command console going blank. "Lucia has done her job well, has she not, my Beloved?" Talia von Doom remarked, all but hanging off the shoulder of the armored figure at the console. "She has played her part in this facade, yes," he said, "but there is far more to come." In the darkness of Victor von Doom's war room, deep within the bowels of Castle Doom, three figures emerged from the shadows. They made not a sound as they approached, but neither The Demon's Head nor his bride had to turn their heads to sense their presence. "I have use for you," Doom said flatly to the trio of assassins in his lair. "Many look at the actions we have taken so far and seen nothing but a petty grab for land, yet another in a never-ending line of small, worthless dictators who spill blood for the most meager of gains. They fail to see how much the world has changed around them. Nations, armies, governments-- these are all now things of the past, an old order that does not even know it is dead....." The screen on the command console behind him came alive again, this time showing a humanoid figure, a black-haired man in a blue bodysuit with a red cape, smiling as he held a passenger airliner in his bare hands. "This is the new world order," Doom stated. "The American 'Superman' and those like him. They wield power that would sweep away even the largest armies, could withstand the most advanced weaponry. They may not know the extent of their abilities as of yet, but soon notions like laws and borders will mean nothing to them. We must adapt to the new climate, and prepare for the new world that comes with them." Doom turned to face his agents, addressing a large man in a white-and-red robe, a scowling kabuki mask covering his face. "Gorgon," he said, "You will go to Metropolis, and draw the Superman into a confrontation. Direct experience fighting the creature will provide us with far more information than passively gleaning intelligence from afar." "Should we not send more than a single agent? Gorgon alone might not prevail against--" "Of course he will not," Doom all but spat. "We are not attempting to destroy the Superman, but to probe him for weaknesses, both physical and mental. We will not attempt a killing blow until I am certain it will succeed. For now, merely read as much as you can from him, then report back to me once you escape from the Americans' custody." Gorgon nodded silently, but even as his mask hid his face, his slumped shoulders betrayed annoyance at being sent to America merely to lose. "Nyssa," he addressed his sister-in-law, chief of his secret police, "The Americans are already in the process of compiling information on the various metahumans around the world, and their knowledge will become ours. You and your agents are to infiltrate the agency called SHIELD and uncover their secrets. Any metahumans in their employ, you have my full permission to deal with as you see fit, so long as it is done discreetly." Nyssa saluted sharply, playing her role as the feared officer to the letter. "Lady Shiva," he addressed the final assassin, "I am dispatching you to New York City. There is a vigilante in that place, a 'Spider-Man.' His influence is of little consequence, but his agility and reflexes could be invaluable if imparted to our own agents. I want samples of his blood for study-- the rest of the body, you can dispose of as you please." Lady Shiva grinned eagerly. "I believe you are forgetting one, my Beloved," Talia said as she looked at the various targets on the console. "I do not wish to question your wisdom, but should we not devote some of our agents to neutralizing the Batman of Gotham City?" There was a pause, a deadly quiet in the air upon mentioning the vigilante. Then, a noise came from behind Doom's riveted metal mask. It was a low, staccato thing, so strange to hear in the Lord Protector's voice that it took them all a moment to realize what it was..... .....Doom was laughing. "In time, my queen, the 'Bat-Man' will come to us," he said. "Soon enough, he will have no choice but to find us....assuming our mutual enemy from Santa Prisca does not find him first." Talia's soothing smile faded as Doom spoke; theirs was a loveless marriage, but both knew it was one of necessity. Should the former prize pupil of Ra's al Ghul, or the master's second-in-command, attempt to oust him, the control they had established over the Legion of Shadows may well break. It was something that Doom would see never happened...and something that Talia secretly wished for every night. "You have your orders," Doom said to his assassins. "Do not fail me." With a bow, the three Shadows retreated into the darkness, setting out to do their work. "As for you, my beloved," Doom turned his attention to Talia, "I have a special task for you. The world believes the pest-control I carried out in Symkaria to be 'war.' They have yet to see the meaning of the word. I am sending you to be the spark that sets off an inferno, and you will do so in a place that most do not believe even exists. A land of such wonders indeed......"