"Breakthrough!" (Defenders vs. Avengers Chapter 9, 10)

Published: November 1973, 20 cents

The Defenders: Hulk, Sub-Mariner, Valkyrie, Hawkeye, Silver Surfer, Dr.Strange, Black Knight

Hero Appearances: Thor, Vision, Scarlet Witch, Iron Man, Black Panther, Mantis, Swordsman, Captain America

Nemesis/Villain Appearances: Dormammu, Asti the All-Seeing (servant of Dormammu)

(NOTE: This issue continues the classic Defenders Vs. Avengers story arc, however the previous chapters may be found in Avengers #117).

Defenders Vs. Avengers

Chapter Nine: Hulk vs. Thor

The great green behemoth plods mightily up the center of the street while both cars and people make way for his advance. Some running with their hands waving in the air, in terror. It is morning in Los Angeles, a morning the terrified Angelinos will never forget. For now, stalking grim and hard-eyed through their smoggy streets comes the world's most powerful monster. Like a living tank, the Hulk pounds forward, toward one of L.A.'s finest hotel's finest fountains. He seems more than ever, to have no mind behind his brow, but that is merely illusion. He is merely...listening...listening to mystical voices commanded hours before by Dr. Strange to lead him to the sixth and final component of the Evil Eye. In the preceding chapter of this saga (see Avengers #117), the Sub-Mariner and Captain America learned that the Defenders and the Avengers were somehow being used in their searches for the Eye. But the Hulk, being half a world away, can know nothing of this...and wouldn't want to anyway. He is doing a favour for his friend the Black Knight, as far as he knows and, it makes him feel good to do it. And, so the stage is set for a clash of titans.

The Hulk begins to dig at the base of the fountain, ripping up the concrete in huge chucks with his bare hands. There he finds the final piece of the Evil Eye. However, coming in low over the city at that very moment is Asgard's most powerful god, the mighty Thor! The thunder god flies in and land behinds the Hulk. He explains to the Hulk that he must have words with him about the wrong doings of the Defenders. Thor reminds the green behemoth that they were once team mates in the Avengers. The Hulk agrees that he was once an Avenger but says he never liked it...then he smashes the golden-haired hero with a massive right fist, sending the Avenger flying into the wall of an adjacent building! The Hulk then reflects that he does not like the Defenders much either and were it not for the Black Knight, he might smash the dumb magician when he sees him, too. Then suddenly *WHAM!* the Hulk is struck forcibly by Thor's mighty mjolinr! Retrieving his Uru hammer, the mighty Thor reminds the green Defender of their last tussle (see Journey Into Mystery #112) and then asks the Hulk why he thinks he can turn away when the Hulk should know that Thor is his superior. The Hulk is incredulous; he turns on Thor with a unexpected quickness for such a large creature, and screams that "Thor is NOT better than Hulk". Pounding the earth with his mighty fists, he sends Thor airborne and then lays on a powerful right hook which sending Thor flying. "No one is better than the Hulk!"

Meanwhile, others watch on in fear, awe and excitement as they witness the two titans battle. Thor realizes he cannot talk reason to the Hulk...and so he chooses action. With a mighty *KA-DOW!* the pair run straight into each other. However, Thor gets the upper hand and smashes the Hulk on either side of the head with a double punch. The green goliath crashes to the pavement but his indestructible body impatiently shrugs it off. Furious, he clamps his left fist onto Thor's flapping cape, and yanks the golden Avenger into a sizzling spin which effectively screws him into the sidewalk! The Hulk gloats on his apparent conquest over Thor but suddenly, the ground beneath his feet gives way as Thor bursts through the sidewalk, sending the Hulk reeling. The green Defender lifts himself frenziedly from the rubble, his mouth working but his vocal chords constricted with rage! Emitting only a defiant rage, he seizes a tumbled car to throw but the machine is blasted from his grip by Thor's thrown hammer! The Hulk is livid and as the hammer returns he throws his hand out and catches the mystical Uru hammer from mid-air! However, in his grasp the sacred mjolnir falls to the ground, pinning the Hulk's left hand down. Perplexed, the Hulk cannot understand why he cannot lift the hammer. Thor explains that by Odin's decree, none but his true son may lift the sacred mallet. He then wallops the Hulk with a powerful right, sending the Hulk sprawling. Crawling from the rubble, the Hulk is unscathed but is blind with rage. 

Thor realizes the the Hulk is near-berserk and only his death will satisfy him. As if that cold thought closes a psychic switch, the very atmosphere in Los Angeles suddenly turns clammy. Fear has come to claw at the gathered crowd's hearts...fear that, with no quarter able to be given, one of these great beings will perish here today! Their eyes search Thor's tight face reading the purpose and commitment there. Then they scan the Hulk's twisted visage and the crowd recoils! Each person there assembled silently makes his choice for the winner of this final struggle...and then stands transfixed, able only to look on in mute horror. The super-beings stand facing each other, and each issues a challenge of advance. The green behemoth takes two steps...hurling himself, reaching...his brawny arms thrust out and are met by those of the Thunder God! Mammoth muscle snap and flex along the heavy lengths of two half-mythical forms...and both grind to a trembling halt! The two men stand in dead-lock, each holding the other with the same immeasurable force. Their sweat slicked faces are only inches apart, close enough that their panted breaths mix. The two titans lock into an unmoving sculpture of seething, bridled force! 

Ten minutes they hold their pose, each straining futilely to break the status quo.

Twenty minutes they hold! Thirty minutes! One hour!

Neither shows any signs of resigning or tiring. And then, a voice rings out that there is no need for such violence. It is Dr. Strange, and with him are both the Avengers and the Defenders! The two titans release their grips as Strange explains that they are united at last, having overridden the lies which set them at each others throats. They are now ready to face their common foe!

Chapter Ten: United We Stand!

The time is one hour ago. The place is the sanctum sanctorum of the master of the mystic arts, Dr. Strange. The Defenders look over the four pieces of the Evil Eye which they have gathered so far. Winning each of the pieces involved bitter battles with the Avengers. They only now await the results of the Hulk and Namor's efforts before they can apply the Evil Eye to free the entombed Black Knight. Valkyrie asks Dr. Strange how it is that each looks the same except each smaller in size than the next. It is the Surfer who explains to Val that the pieces telescope inside each other. Each piece contains a certain amount of power, and once joined, the Eye will be invincible. Suddenly, Dr. Strange yells for silence as he senses the return of the Sub-Mariner. He then slowly dissolves the mystic forces around his dwelling to allow Namor to gain entry. Winds rise from nowhere, within and without the structure, darting through billowing shadows and licking across the Defenders' necks. A voiceless chill touches their minds. Then, all that is gone, and a door swings open to reveal the once and present Prince of Atlantis and...some guests! The Avengers! 

The Defenders cry out their dismay and outrage at what appears to be Namor's betrayal. But the crisp, commanding voice of the Atlantean monarch slices through his teammates outraged chorus. He explains to the group that he has vital news. During his battle for a section of the Eye, he faced Captain America (seen in Avengers #117) but he was also forced to face an old foe named Sunfire, who stole the piece from both of them. This resulted in Cap and Namor joining forces and also allowed them to talk. The Sub-Mariner explains to his team that the Avengers were told by Loki that the Defenders wanted to conquer the universe! Namor realized that the two teams needed to discuss this, so as they flew back from Japan, they swung through the South Pacific, South America and Central America to gather the other Avengers. Captain America defends the Avengers' actions by citing the evidence regarding the Black Knight's mysterious disappearance, the magical forces that kept them out of this house, and the Silver Surfer's attack on the Vision and the Scarlet Witch. He then asks the Defenders for a more logical explanation for their more recent combat. Before Strange can provide an answer, the Black Panther intercedes. He asks that since the Defenders are not seeking revenge on humanity, why have the Defenders joined together? (ASIDE: it is here that the each heroes motivations behind the origin of the Defenders is revealed). Dr. Strange explains that all of them follow their own paths, away from the well-traveled routes of the mass of mankind. In effect, they are outsiders. Namor adds that from time to time, their separate paths lay side by side and may even overlap. It is at these times they may choose to travel together (or may not!). They retain their right to freedom. Val perks up and concludes the comment by explaining that they only want to defend, not seek revenge. Humanity means a great deal to them.

No espirit de corps: a difficult concept for most of the mighty Avengers to understand. They feel that working as a team is the highest form of human endeavour. In any event, they respect the skill and power of these Defenders. And, they are prepared to listen to them, and believe. For the next half hour, both sides learn more than they care to know about how they've been used (while in doing so, presenting one of the most stirring sights in modern heroic fiction!...12 heroes in conference!) The Surfer apologizes to the Scarlet Witch for his actions which inadvertently injured her. She explains that there is no need for apologies because they all jumped to conclusions. Cap and the Vision look on in agreement. Meanwhile, Hawkeye and Iron Man argue over their battle. Hawkeye is clearly still upset with the Avengers. The injured Swordsman adds fuel to the fire by calling Clint "dumb as ever". However, before the argument can escalate, Iron Man and Valkyrie interrupt to remind the pair that there are two heroes who remain on the battlefield: Thor and the Hulk! The gathering of heroes rush outside where Dr. Strange uses the sunlight to weave a special spell that transports the group to Los Angeles. 

And, so it is that the two teams arrive in the City of Angels and stop a slightly bemused pair of titans from further conflict. Thor is enraged at being treated like a pawn, while the Hulk understands no of this. Thor suggests that it cannot be Loki alone as when he last fought him in the Halloween-dark forests of Rutland, Vermont (see Thor #207) Loki had lost his sight. At the mention of Rutland, Dr. Strange suddenly realizes who it must be who is assisting Thor's evil half-brother. He then recounts the tale of where the Defenders last fought Dormammu! (as seen in Marvel Feature #2). Dr. Strange then asks the Hulk to hand over his piece of the Evil Eye for closer examination. However, the green behemoth is not amused at having to fight Thor for so long only to be forced to give up the prize. He pounds the street with a powerful right fist, sending a concussion force through the pavement, knocking pedestrian onlookers to their seats. Captain America jumps into action and orders all watching civilians to vacate the area immediately on Avengers authority. However, there is really no longer any danger as the Hulk grudgingly gives his piece of the Eye to the magician. The Silver Surfer then hands over the other pieces which he had brought. Dr. Strange then aligns them on the street in increasing size but does not dare to put them together. Suddenly, Iron Man notices a disembodied face-mask appear out of nowhere; yellow-skinned and red-eyed with a bird's beak, the face scoops up the pieces at the feet of Strange and then flies off! The bizarre mask never falters and Dr. Strange recognizes the apparition as Asti, the All-Seeing, a servant of Dormammu (as seen in Strange Tales #144). Their worst fears are realized, it is Dormammu who they are up against. The Surfer, Thor, Namor and Iron Man fly after Asti but to no effect as the mask suddenly blinks out of sight, most likely returning to Dormammu's dark dimension!

Dr. Strange is perplexed as he realizes that the Lord of the Dark Dimension must have been hiding all along. Clearly, the Evil Eye is something of paramount importance! Suddenly, the streets and buildings around them begin to change before their very eyes. Everything reforms, becoming an alien landscape! Including the onlookers, who themselves begin to metamorphosize into gruesome monsters! Suddenly, flashing garishly into the multi-hued heavens, the face of Dormammu appears! The Dark Lord announces to the gathered heroes that although he once swore to never again invade the human dimension, now that he has acquired the Evil Eye, he has decided to merge the two dimensions into one world! In one earth hour, he declares, all humans will be his slaves!

With fierce pride, the Defenders and the Avengers stand firm. They retort that they will fight back and if it is the Earth that Dormammu wants, he will have to kill them all first!

NEXT: Defenders vs. Avengers continues in Avengers #118 with the final war, with more surprises than you'd ever guess! And then in Defenders #11, the fate of the Black Knight!

Front Cover: The Defenders Issue 10

Defenders 10