"A Titan Walks Among Us!"

Published: June 1972, 20 cents

The Defenders: Hulk, Sub-Mariner, Doctor Strange

Hero Appearances: General Ross, Jim Wilson

Nemesis/Villain Appearances: Xemnu

The space capsule Castor-and-Pollux I hits the Earth's tainted atmosphere like a metal fishing-plug tossed by some giant playing hookey on the moon. And, in that moment, after three long hours of radio silence, of uninterrupted, unbreachable static, the capsule speaks again. The astronauts announce that they are on target and on schedule. While onboard the aircraft carrier Emerson, maneuvers planned and programmed six months before were proceeding just as expected, with perhaps a small adjustment or two. For, onboard the massive ship, are none other than General Ross and Jim Wilson. They are here because something odd happened onboard the space capsule while it orbited.

Jim Wilson, who's somewhat privileged position in regards to the military stems from the fact that he alone can occasionally control the rampaging Hulk is just learning from Ross what occurred. Everything was going smoothly in Earth orbit as astronaut Wagner began his second space walk. Suddenly, Wagner noticed that a white mist approached the capsule. The mist then thickened and covered the astronaut, swirling around him. The last Earth command heard from them before the unbreachable static was a agonized plea from Wagner to be pulled in.

Back on board the aircraft carrier, Ross explains to Jim that the country's top scientific advisors are also onboard in case they have another "Andromeda Strain" on their hands. Suddenly, the moment of truth is at hand as the capsule is sighted in descent, slowed by three massive parachutes. Within the falling shell at that same moment, the crew, Calvin Beame and Richmond Wagner, watch from the anterior scope as their vessel hurtles from the sky but are shocked to see that they are headed straight for a whirlpool! Little occurs at sea however, which escapes the notice of the one called the Sub-Mariner (who happened to be flying by, observing the activity over his ocean). Especially when it concerns an object which hurtles directly into his path. Dodging the falling spacecraft, Namor watches the capsule strike the ocean, at the heart of the whirlpool. For a fleeting instant, CP-1 bobs like an airy chip on the ocean surface...but only for an instant...then it is pulled swiftly, relentlessly downward...toward some secret, sunken grave. But, it is not to go alone, Namor then turns and dives into ocean after it. Yet, inside the whirlpool, it is not the water alone which has caused the men to blanch with fear but a giant squid which has also been cast up from the nether fathoms. Gripping the capsule with powerful tentacles, the squid prepares to crush the fragile ship like eggshell. However, before this can happen, Namor dives hard and strikes the massive creature with a mighty blow, freeing the trapped capsule. Then, as ten writhing tendrils churn the water into an inky-black frenzy, the scion of Atlantis grasps the metal husk and hurls both it and himself towards the surface, into the cold clear light of day!

Unbelieving, Ross watches Namor carry the CP-1 to the deck of the aircraft carrier. With a thump, he lowers the vessel. A newspaper reporter, who witnessed the rescue, shouts out in glee that he has the story of the decade. This angers Namor who spits out his contempt that he does not care for paltry headlines, he rescued the craft because it likely contained men, and he had to harm a denizen of the deep to do so. This, in turn, angers three deck hands on the ship who quickly pounce on the Namor. But, three Navy men are no match for the Sub-Mariner as he quickly gets the trio into headlocks. Suddenly, Jim Wilson speaks up and tells Namor to stop the conflict else he would get the Hulk to lay a pounding on him. Namor is somewhat bemused at this prospect, but resigns himself to the fact that perhaps he did act a bit rashly, he releases the sailors.

From behind Namor, the astronauts disembark the space capsule and are somewhat upset. Not with Namor, but with the ship's crew members. It seems that the astronauts felt that they should not have had to be rescued if the proper safety precautions were taken. They also felt they were railroaded into space so the U.S.A. would have the first manned space station. The reporters and crew are shocked to hear the astronauts first denounce the space program and then announce that from now on they plan on being paid celebrities and no longer the government's guinea pigs. They point to the fact that over the past few weeks their faces have lit up more TV screens than Archie Bunker's, and now they plan on being paid for it. The pair ask Namor to join their "gravy train" but he indignantly declines explaining that the ocean holds all the treasure he requires. He remarks that he thought he was rescuing giants but instead brought back a pair of minnows. Namor then dives into the deep, leaving the crew to ponder that.

The next instant, the deck of the aircraft carrier becomes ablaze with the flashing of bulbs. The astronauts explain that these will be their last official pictures and then, they will be up for grabs to the highest bidder! However, much later that evening, as the photographers develop their prints in a dozen darkrooms, they are all shocked to discover images of bright light and nothing more!

In the end, pre-flight photos of Wagner and Beame were run in the tabloids of the nation like the Daily Bugle, beneath fast-following headlines that delighted some and revolted others: "Astros Sign TV Pact! Deal Set Within Hours of Resigning; Format of Show Not Revealed". Where there's a will, there's a way and not to mention sponsor money! And now, in record time, there's a new star in the heavens which one euphemistic network likes to call its second season: "The AstroNuts". Thousands of children find themselves riveted to the show which they feel is hokey but which they are powerless to resist. "Captain" Cal welcomes the kiddies in the audience to the Launch Pad. The real star of the show is Xemnu from the Magic Planet a massive white furred being with a broad metal belt and metal skull cap (whom we are lead to believe is Rich Wagner in costume). Adults cannot seem to grasp the humour in the show which is sheer tripe, but kids just eat it up. Xemnu, whom Captain Cal explains is to be held on Earth, is adored by the children. The white furred alien thanks the children for their support and expresses a desire to take them all with him when he leaves. The camera zooms in on Xemnu's eyes which seem to have an unnatural, spiraling depth as the behemoth pleads to both the studio and TV audience for his release.

Meanwhile, somewhere in New York, General "Thunderbolt" Ross snaps off the AstroNuts in disgust, wondering how trash like that could make it on the air. Jim Wilson, watching with the General, slowly comes back to reality after being semi-tranced by the program. Suddenly, he announces that he has to leave. Moments later, Jim is out on the street hailing a cab. He is out in search of someone to talk to...someone who will understand what he is suddenly feeling. The cab pulls up in front of a gloomy house in Greenwich Village, the sanctum of Dr. Strange. The cab driver is not too thrilled to be here on a Saturday morning and demands payment. Jim, however, in his rush to leave forgot his wallet. The cabbie is about to get physical with Jim when suddenly Dr. Strange appears and offers to pay the driver.

As the cabbie pulls away, Strange asks Jim how he knows the location of his home. Jim explains that he knows Bruce Banner. Dr. Strange nods understandingly, explaining that they must talk then. As they enter the living room, Strange is about to shut off the TV which, co-incidentally is showing AstroNuts, when Jim stops him and explains that THAT is the reason why he is here. Jim goes on to relate that when he was watching the children's show, he felt compelled to join Xemnu and never come back to Earth! Dr. Strange remains quiet, apparently deep in thought as he watches the show end with Xemnu telling the viewers that in four short weeks, they will join him on the Magic Planet.

Meanwhile, back uptown at the TV station, Cal is growing tired of the act but Rich reminds him that because they own the rights to the show, they will soon be rich beyond their dreams. Cal is not convinced and is about to say more when suddenly they are interrupted by the arrival of the Hulk! Cal is terrified as Jim Wilson enters the room with the green behemoth trailing not far behind. Rich, on the other hand is nonplussed. Jim explains that they have come here to talk about getting the Hulk on the show to prove to the world that he is not as bad as people think. Rich loves the idea and the deal is struck. Moments later, after the handshakes are done, Jim lays down a huge red cape that he had brought, the Hulk and Jim sit on it and with a whoosh, the pair fly out of the studio! Neither of the two ex-astronauts has noted that the scarlet cloak has lifted off at the merest wrinkle of the Hulk's grim brow. Nor, of course, can they hear moments later when the green skinned golem's gutturals suddenly undergo a marked the Hulk becomes Dr. Strange! Jim and Dr. Strange understand that something fishy is going on with the ex-astronauts and the Xemnu character they have created. They plan on meeting again in four weeks to see if their hunch is right.

Four weeks later: in far less time, shows are born and cancelled, but some survive, even thrive...and for those favoured few, fortunes are assured. The Xemnu and AstroNut show has scored big in the  morning TV sweepstakes. It has even spawned games and action figures. But, General Ross is none too happy about having the show broadcast at a manned launching in Florida. And, to rub even more salt into the wound, the Hulk is present after getting special amnesty by Congress (because, the military gets its funds from Congress and congressman have kids, kids who like Xemnu!). However, the Hulk is really Dr. Strange who is holding the disguise with supreme effort. Strange whispers to Wilson that he feels forces at work against his spell. Just then, the show's floor director tells the pair that the show is about to go live and to assume position.

Cal announces to the kids in the audience that today is the day that Xemnu claims to be returning to the Magic Planet and that they have a special guest, the incredible Hulk. The camera pulls back to watch the countdown of the rocket ship as the real astronauts board the ship in their bulky spacesuits. Cal mysteriously quips that kids who travel with Xemnu will not need spacesuits or have to worry about oxygen. The Hulk (Dr. Strange) meantime, glances over at Xemnu and quietly ponders the white furry beast.

Miles away, just entering a drug store, Bruce Banner, his head spinning with fatigue and in need of aspirin, happens to see his alter-self on TV. Suddenly his temples throb and his anger soars with the impersonator, and in moments he becomes the Hulk! In a rage, the green skinned giant smashes the TV and several stock shelves because he thinks the impersonator is trying to get humans mad at him. With a mighty leap, the Hulk smashes through the low ceiling of the drug store and into the sky, vowing that all will soon know the true Hulk!

Back at the Cape, Xemnu takes command. Pushing aside Cal with a rude and forceful whack, the white furred creature speaks to the cameras; his eyes spiraling, his voice commanding. Each Saturday for the past four weeks, he has been telling the children who watch the AstroNuts, that he will be taking them back to the Magic Planet. Today, he promises them, that this dream will come true for a chosen few...Xemnu calls out to the children to come. And, in the homes of families whose children are watching, they come. By the thousands, maybe by the millions, across the nation they march toward the Florida coast, toward the Cape, in a trance-like state.

And, in the shadow of the spaceship itself, Xemnu calls Earth's youth. A senator's son slowly moves toward Xemnu. Strange now understands what is happening, as does Jim, who is just young enough to feel a tingle of Xemnu's power. Jim then rushes toward the marching boy but is too slow to reach him as Xemnu grabs the child shouting that it is too late for any to oppose him! Even as those sepulchral tones resound, hundreds of entranced children begin to appear just outside the compound's electrified fence. A quick thinking guard shuts down the fence's power just as they begin to scale the barrier. Dr. Strange has seen enough and quickly sheds the man-monster guise, and stands before all as the Master of the Mystic Arts. He then sends a blast of mystic energy at Xemnu which stuns the creature and knocks the boy free. Jim Wilson moves with speed and catches the child before he falls to the ground.

While Xemnu was stunned, Dr. Strange was able to probe the creature's mind, hoping to learn a weakness, if any. What he got instead were images of a truly mammoth form sprawled months ago in some remote swamp: Xemnu, the Living Titan. He once enslaved the entire Earth for one dire purpose, to build him a rocket so that he may return to his own world, while destroying Earth as he departs (as seen in Monsters on the Prowl #11 and #14). Apparently, one brave man turned Xemnu's super-hypnosis back upon him with a simple mirror and Xemnu was reduced to a gaseous form. Earthmen universally, forgot their enslavement. However, unknown to all, that gaseous and nearly invisible form was hurled into space by the pressures of our atmosphere. Thus, Xemnu accomplished in defeat what he had failed to gain in victory. Yet, after a long voyage, he found nothing in his homeworld except an empty, lifeless shell. All life upon his planet had been destroyed by some microscopic germ. And so, the creature wandered spaceward once more, heading in cosmic loneliness, back toward Earth. Here, Xemnu encountered and possessed the orbiting body of Rich Wagner, so that even in smaller stature, he could walk the Earth once more.

All this, the mystic mage glimpses in one fleeting second, then suddenly Xemnu, who earlier detected that Strange was hiding something, erects a psychic aura around himself. Savagely, the white furred creature lashes out with his own mystic energy, sending Dr. Strange flying. Xemnu then makes short work of the few army guards who are present. Meanwhile, the number of entranced children has been increasing and they are now making their way towards the awaiting spaceship. Suddenly, the rocket and launch pad begin to tumble, toppling into the sea. Dr. Strange, although still trying to recover the blast of energy delivered by Xemnu, manages a smile as he recognizes the handiwork of Namor, the Sub-Mariner! Emerging from the frothing ocean, Namor moves like lightening and hoofs Xemnu with a solid left foot, the follows that quickly with a left hook. However, Namor underestimates the brute strength and mystic powers of his foe and he is quickly subdued with a mental energy blast from Xemnu.

Suddenly, Xemnu is attacked from behind by a recovered Cal Beame, who puts a choke hold on the white behemoth. However, Xemnu makes short work of the ex-Astronaut by crushing him in one hand. Beame's death scream is loud, drowning out for the moment all other sound in the evening stillness. That is, until a crunching of massive heels on cracking cement is heard and the titan turns to face the real Hulk! The green behemoth advances but Xemnu recognizes the power and quickly blasts the Hulk with a bolt of pyschic energy, which hurts the jade gaint more than he likes. Xemnu then explains that he is taking Earth's children because he needs them to re-populate his own planet. The Hulk, of course could care less for his plans, he is just upset that the furry behemoth hurt both him and his friends. Xemnu is pounded with a two-fisted punch but recovers in time to strike the Hulk with an energy bolt. However, Xemnu is amazed to see that the Hulk keeps coming. His mento-blasts have felled Sirian Swamp Beasts and even Dragons from far off galaxies but they are not fazing the Hulk.

The Hulk then pounces on Xemnu and begins to pound mercilessly on the Titan. Xemnu counters with an attack on the Hulk's mind. However, the Hulk keeps pounding, pounding, pounding at the white furred creature's head. His own head throbbing from the mental attack, the pain excruciating, the Hulk's punches fall endlessly on Xemnu *KWAM! BAMM!* until suddenly, the creature begins to become insubstantial, fading and shrinking to almost nothing...leaving a thin white vapour. The Hulk slowly comes out of his pounding fugue. He wonders what he was doing and ponders whether he was dreaming or not. Dr. Strange is there to remind the green goliath that he was, in fact, not dreaming and that it was, perhaps, the fact that his mind was not large enough for Xemnu to grab onto, to paralyze, that allowed the Hulk to defeat the alien. The Hulk asks Strange if he is trying to insult him but Namor is there to advise the Hulk that more pressing issues are at hand. The Hulk, somewhat confused,  turns to see that he is surrounded by army men with there weapons drawn.

The next instant, the Hulk proves that what he lacks in intellectual subtlety, he more than makes up for in lightning fast reflexes. The jade giant pounds the ground, sending a shock wave outwards which send the troops flying. And, the instant after that, as if to remind them all that the startling Sub-Mariner is still in the vicinity, Namor sends wave of water onto the launch area which washes out another soldier troop. He reminds the men that the Hulk lashed out only to save their children and then they repaid him with weapons drawn and suspicion. Namor remarks that it would have served them right if the Hulk had wreaked havoc instead. The Hulk grunts that he will do just that the next time. Namor then tells the Hulk that their work here is finished, and then, turning to Dr. Strange he advises him not to summon him or the Hulk again when the Earth is in need, as they will not come! The pair then bound off into the sky and are soon lost over the horizon.

Many are the things that could be said as the two forms vanish into the distance. Yet, in essence, they all boil down to life and death. Jim Wilson, looking down at the dead body of Cal Beame, asks Dr. Strange if he will cast the spell which will cause all present to forget what they have just seen. However, Strange tells Jim that Beame gave his life for the children and that they are always to remember that. The children will always survive, he states, because in the long run, what else is there?

NEXT: The Defenders begin there own series in The Defenders #1

Front Cover: Marvel Feature Issue 3

Marvel Feature #3