"A Dark and Stormy Knight" (Defenders vs. Avengers Chapter 12)

Published: December 1973, 20 cents

The Defenders: Hulk, Sub-Mariner, Valkyrie, Hawkeye, Silver Surfer, Doctor Strange

Hero Appearances: Black Knight, Vision, Scarlet Witch, Iron Man, Black Panther, Mantis, Thor, Captain America, Swordsman, Nick Fury, Prester John

Nemesis/Villain Appearances: Loki, Temax, Giant Gnomes, Chandu (Arabian Wizard), Prince John, Modred

(NOTE: This issue concludes the classic Defenders Vs. Avengers story arc and is a continuation from The Avengers #118).

Defenders Vs. Avengers

Chapter Twelve: A Dark and Stormy Knight

The Defenders and Avengers return to Earth after defeating Dormammu and Loki in their attempt for dimensional conquest. Doctor Strange holds the Evil Eye before his team, exhilarated in victory while Thor restrains Loki in an arm-hold. Although Loki can now see, his mind is shattered as a result of the Evil Eye's power which recently blasted full force into Loki's face. Nonetheless, Thor remarks on the magnificence of the feat that the two teams accomplished. The Black Panther seconds the notion and points out that although the devastation is widespread, it is not total. If were not for Wanda, the Scarlet Witch, and the hex sphere she was able to get out, they might all be mindless monsters under the rule of Dormammu. Col. Nick Fury thanks Wanda on behalf of humanity but she is curt in reminding Fury that what she did was simply do her duty as an Avenger and nothing more. Somewhat rebuffed, Fury than turns to Doctor Strange and begins to inquire about the Defenders when suddenly, Strange magically cleanses his brain of any knowledge concerning the Defenders existence. Doctor Strange then turns to Iron Man and Captain America and explains to them that the Defenders wish to remain unknown to the world at large and he proposes to treat every living brain as he did Nick Fury's with the exception of the Avengers. Iron Man agrees to the request and with no more to be said, Doctor Strange, aided by the power of the Evil Eye, simultaneously cleanses humanity of the knowledge of the Defenders, repairs all the damage caused by Dormammu and wills the Defenders back to his sanctum! (*whew!*).

Back in Greenwich Village, the sanctum of Doctor Strange, the mystic master asks the Defenders if they concurred with his decision to purge the minds of humanity, perhaps worried that he acted so unilaterally. He is relieved to know that they do. And so, anxious to deliver the Black Knight from his petrified state, Strange begins the process. Previously, he was only able to contact Dane Whitman (the Black Knight) through his mind. Now however, using the Evil Eye, Strange is able to send himself via his astral form.

Not unlike a comet, except for its purposive twisting and turning, Doctor Strange's astral form is a turquoise streak which bursts into limbo and slices cleanly across it. As Strange nears the location of where he last contacted the Black Knight, he reflects on the irony that it was Dormammu, in his attempt to deceive the Defenders, who suggested using the Evil Eye to revive the Black Knight, when in the end, that is exactly what happened. Suddenly, the master of the mystic arts is baffled when he comes across the point where Dane Whitman should be, but is not!

Meanwhile, back in the home of Stephen Strange, the former Avenger Hawkeye sits in a huge easy chair lost in deep thoughts. The foremost of which is why his former team mates made no comment about him being a Defender. Valkyrie notices his mood and reminds him that he does have a place with the Defenders should he wish. Hawkeye thanks Val for her concern but replies that one of the reasons he left the Avengers was to prove he could go it alone and it does him no good to move from one team's roster to the other. Namor then reminds Hawkeye that being in a group is not the way of demonstrating one's true self worth. The Sub-Mariner goes on to say that he also plans on leaving the Defenders once Strange and the Black Knight return. The Silver Surfer then chides Namor for that remark because it was the Sub-Mariner who previously protested the identity of the Defenders as a group to begin with! Suddenly, the room is filled with a brilliant orange light and Doctor Strange re-appears...alone! The Hulk looks over at the magician and scoffs that he has returned without the Knight. Strange re-enters his mortal shell and begins to explain that the Black Knight has disappeared when all of a sudden a new sorcerers force envelopes the entire room and *FOOM!*, the Defenders vanish...

...Only to re-appear in what seems to be (judging by the surrounding architecture and the non-polluted air) a middle eastern country sometime in the past! Suddenly, rushing towards them is none other than the Black Knight! He is just as surprised as the Defenders are but he quickly informs them that they are in the 12th Century and in the middle of the crusades...and the Arabs are attacking! Having said that, hundreds of Arabs rush them with blades drawn. Doctor Strange commands the Defenders to stand down arguing that the crusades are not their fight and he prepares to immobilizes the advancing Arabs. The Hulk, who is tired of getting orders from the magician is just itching for a fight and he pounds the earth with one mighty fist *WHUMP!* which causes the multitude of Arabs to be thrown into the air! And, with that....the remaining Defenders enters the fray with fists and fury blazing!

Then, from behind the many Arabs a massive figure appears. Doctor Strange quickly recognizes the misshapen creature as that of an Earth Spirit...a gnome...which is many times its normal size. An Arab informs the Defenders that the being is called Temax, He Who Guards Allah's Faithful. Doctor Strange and the Silver Surfer use their powers against the grey behemoth but to no effect because of Temax's elemental forces. The Hulk steps up and lets his fists do the talking *BOOM!* But, like his team mates, his attack is no more successful and he is hit heavily with a one handed swipe that sends him flying. Doctor Strange begrudgingly realizes that this creature is best avoided as its power is unmatched by anything he has ever seen. As Strange prepares to magically transport the Defenders and the Black Knight to safety, the beast picks up what amounts to a small mountain and hurls it at the team. But, fate smiles on the team as they vanish just before the rocks crush them leaving the creature and its masters in astonishment.

Miles away, the Defenders reappear and Strange turns to the Black Knight and asks for an explanation as to their predicament. The Black Knight gathers his composure and explains: Through a spell cast at the time of Camelot's collapse by Merlin, Dane Whitman's ancestor, the original Black Knight, now lives again in the current Black Knight (see Marvel Super-Heroes #17 for more details). Their spirits were intermingled in a quest to find and fight the man who murdered the original Knight, Modred the Evil. Modred also died centuries ago but his essence lives on and can appear anywhere, at anytime. Currently, Modred is in this time, in the middle of King Richard the Lion Hearted's crusades to recover the holy land from the Mohammedans. Everything is in chaos in this time because of Modred's presence and the King himself is an Arabian prisoner. Richard's sinister brother, Prince John, has allied himself with Modred who is in human form again, and they plan on deserting the King. Merlin's spell brought opposition to Modred by plucking the Dane Whitman's soul from limbo, and apparently sweeping the Defenders up in it too! Possibly, the Black Knight suggests, because the Arabs have powerful magicians on their side.

Later that night, the Defenders form a plan on rescuing King Richard. Dressed in black cloaks and hoods, the seven Defenders pass slowly and confidently passed bored prison guards who think the entourage is made up of priests. Once inside, the team divides as Namor, the Hulk and Strange head off in search of the source of the sorcery which works against them while the other team members, Hawkeye, Valkyrie, the Surfer and the Black Knight head off to rescue King Richard.

The Black Knight remarks to Valkyrie that she seems over-confident and that besides the enchanted ebony blade she carries (which he implies is still his), the Silver Surfer is the only one with any real power. Hawkeye reminds the Knight that she got the sword "fair and square" and that his real body is still a stone statue which these "over-confident" Defenders have been trying to restore since the day he was trapped. The Silver Surfer echoes Hawkeye's sentiment adding that he is much a prisoner in their century as Richard is here. Little does the team know that their presence has been detected by one of the over-sized gnomes who quietly follows them.

Meanwhile, Strange, The Hulk and Namor follow the corridors which have no sand (indicating an Earth-Spirit has passed because they absorb sand) until they come to a massive door which indicates to them that behind the door lies the birth place of the giant gnomes. With one mighty fist, the Hulk makes short work of the door. The splinter group quietly enters another corridor through the ruined door but then hush themselves as the hear approaching voices...Mohammedans! A group of five or so approach preoccupied with some argument over camel racing. One accuses the other of drugging his beast and he pushes his comrade. This causes the other to drop his torch, right at the feet of the Hulk. The guard notices the large green foot of the Hulk and sounds the alarm to the other guards but the Sub-Mariner and Strange easily makes short work of the group, and the battle ends as quickly as it began. The trio of Defenders turns and continues deeper into the maze of corridors.

The noise of the short battle does not go unheard by the second group of Defenders led by the Surfer, still they press onward. Deep in thought, Valkyrie tries to understand why she no longer feels the love for the Black Knight she had previously. The group comes across the holding cell of King Richard but are disturbed by the conspicuous absence of guards. The team members remove the heavy cloaks they used as disguise while the Surfer blasts the cell lock open. In no time, the Silver Surfer enters the cell and rescues Richard who, after long days in captivity is in a weakened state. King Richard groggily shows recognition of the Black Knight and Dane explains to him that they are here to rescue him. Suddenly, the group finds themselves surrounded by giant gnomes!

The ugly creatures advance on the quartet of Defenders. The Surfer blasts a creature with a cosmic bolt of energy but to no effect. He notes that the beast is like a living rock and yet does not crack before his power blasts...and then, he is hit hard into unconsciousness by a single blow! Hawkeye's arrows bounce off the rock gnomes like match sticks and then he too, is knocked out with a massive blow. Valkyrie holds her own against one of the big headed gnomes but then, with surprising speed, the rock giant seizes her arm and slams her into the adjacent wall. However, before she passed out she managed to toss her ebony blade to the Black Knight. With the renewed energy and purpose, bearing the weapon he was born to wield, the Black Knight takes on three of the gnomes. He is valiant and skillful but he is one man against three giants and even as his blade cleaves one of the grotesque creatures, another lands a solid fist on his head. An unfitting finale it seems for one who fought with passion and pride beyond compare, but an end it is as four Defenders lay, fallen.

The Hulk, Strange and the Sub-Mariner meanwhile, discover the chamber in which Prince John, Modred and Chandu the Arabian Wizard use to conjure the Earth-Spirit gnomes. The trio launches their attack led by Doctor Strange wielding the Evil Eye. However, the Arab wizard acts incredibly fast and Doctor Strange is struck by magic never before directed against forces he normally employs himself and he drops the Evil Eye! The Sub-Mariner is quick to enter the fray and easily subdues Chandu the wizard with a well-timed blow to the chin. But, just as quickly, a gnome materializes from out of smoke and crashes into Namor through a stone wall. The monster's slab-like chest and unyielding arms press agony into Namor's raw flesh. The force of the creature's tackle carries the pair into a pool of water, the fortresses interior oasis. The water allows strength to flow back into the Sub-Mariner and with renewed energy, he turns to the gnome and is about to pound the creature when he notices the effect water has on an Earth-Spirit! They dissolve! Realizing this fact as the gnome's weakness, the savage Sub-Mariner pounds the water mightily which empties the oasis and sends water through the entire fortress. Inside, at ground level, water flash floods through the mystic chamber before spilling back out leaving no remaining gnomes. The flood of water also awakens the fallen Defenders and they join the other members.

Namor stands, a man who dislikes surface dwellers, a man who hates groups, a man who swims and walks unique among all other men with both the joys and sorrows that entails...a man who swells with fierce pride at the aid he has given the Defenders. The thought flickers in his brain that for many days, the Defenders fought for the Evil Eye, pinning their hopes for the Black Knight's revivification on that wondrously wizardly weapon and now, all danger to the Black Knight is past but the Evil Eye was left unused. Their victory was not gained through magic.

Suddenly, Namor turns to discover that the weapon has fallen into the hands of Modred and Prince John. The prince turns the Eye on the Defenders and King Richard preparing to use it, but then as the weapon begins to glow, a portal opens and someone steps forth out of the nothingness. The newcomer is Prester John (last seen in Fantastic Four #54), a man who has served Richard in the past and the one true master of the Evil Eye. Prester John explains that he has wandered time itself to recover the last remaining remnant of the fabled land of Avalon. And, with that, he sends the evil duo into unconsciousness with a burst of Evil Eye energy *FWAM!*. Prester John goes on to explain that since his inner senses told him that the Evil Eye was restored he has been in search of it for it was given into his charge. Oddly enough, he holds the Evil Eye in a time before he actually received it...a time paradox.

Prester John notes that it is only just that he recovers his prize in the era of his birth. An era he goes on to explain, that the Black Knight also belongs in. Dane Whitman agrees, his place is in this time as he was never really comfortable in the 20th Century or being a full time Avenger, anyway. Doctor Strange congratulates the Black Knight on his choice. King Richard the Lion-Heart invites Dane to serve with him as there is much adventure still ahead to which Dane agrees. Prester John, then turns to the Defenders and with the Evil Eye and sends them home. He then inwardly reflects on the future ahead for King Richard and the Black Knight...a future he is already aware of, but which he keeps to himself.

Back in present day (1973) as the Defenders gather in the home of Stephen Strange, one Defender turns to leave. Hawkeye decides that he signed on for a specific job and although the idea of a permanent team is intriguing, it is not what he truly wants. The Silver Surfer, Namor and the Hulk echo Hawkeye's feelings on the matter and make known that they too are leaving.

And, as Valkyrie and Doctor Strange watch the heroes depart and go their separate ways, they wonder if they will ever see them again...

NEXT: A new saga begins: The Return of Xemnu!

Front Cover: The Defenders Issue 11

Defenders 11