"The Titan Strikes Back!"

Published: February 1974, 20 cents

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

Hero Appearances:  (Nighthawk cameos as Kyle Richmond but his identity is not revealed)

Nemesis/Villain Appearances: Xemnu

To look at him, you would not think that the emerald behemoth who lumbers this day through the great American heartland is really a most gentle soul. But upon closer inspection, you may note a slight tilt of his head, a gentle flaring of his nostrils as they take in the scent of turning leaves, and his red-rimmed eyes bathing in nature's simple beauty. Yes, he loves the forest this great, green brute and perhaps it loves him in turn. But regardless, it is a trifle much to believe that any tree could love the Hulk enough to want to rise up from its roots and follow him! And yet, this is exactly what is happening. Unbeknownst to the Hulk, who is lost in the quiet beauty of the day, a leafless tree moves stealthily behind him walking on its roots. Its lower branches extended like reaching arms and fingers and three bark knots twist into a pair of eyes and a crude mouth. Suddenly, the branches grab the Hulk around the neck from behind in a strangle hold. This angers the Hulk immensely as he becomes frustrated that even in the peaceful forest his enemies will not leave him alone. With one hand he rips free of the hold around his neck and with the other, he smashes the trunk *SKRAKK!* However, the Hulk is confused to find that he was attacked by a tree. Just getting over this, he is suddenly attacked by more trees and pelted by flying rocks which hit him from all directions.  The Hulk cannot understand why the trees and rocks attack him but he figures that the forest is now his enemy too, and so he lashes out! Ripping trees from the ground and pulverizing trunks, tearing branch limbs and deflecting massive rocks, the Hulk screams in rage at the forest telling it to LEAVE HIM ALONE! But the green goliath's maddened words fall upon deaf ears. The trees and rocks keep coming and the Hulk's confusion deepens. He bellows out that he does not know why the forest hates him so. Then, just as quickly as the barrage started, it ends. 

A voice announces that it is not the forest that hates him, but he that caused the attack. Standing just on the edge of the zone of destruction is Xemnu, the white furred alien who last year attempted to enslave Earth's children but was foiled by the Defenders (see Marvel Feature #3 for details). The Hulk seems to not be able to place the white titan so Xemnu reintroduces himself and then blasts the Hulk with a psionic blast that sends the jade giant sprawling. The blast drains the Hulk of his energy making him feel weak. Struggling to maintain consciousness, his energy draining like a spilled flask, the Hulk's last thought before a dark curtain falls over his mind, is that he wishes that dumb magician was here to help him understand what has happened to him...

Miles away, in the home of Dr. Strange, the battle-garbed beauty Valkyrie, gazes pensively out an upstairs window. She is startled out of her reverie when the Master of the Mystic Arts enters the room bearing a concealed package. Val asks what it is he holds and is shocked to discover it is a sword! A weapon to replace the ebony blade which she returned to the Black Knight (see Defenders #11). It seems that Strange had this weapon resting in an almost forgotten niche in his study and when he found it, he immediately thought of her. Val is speechless but manages to thank Dr. Strange and remark that she feels the sword was made for her. Dr. Strange then recounts the sword's origin. He explains that the sword has a name: Dragonfang. Centuries ago, the great wizard Kahji-Da slew a mighty dragon and then carved this enchanted weapon whole from one of the creature's tusks! This weapon, he continues is a formidable sword, which he feels Val is worthy to wield. Val is touched by the gift but remarks to the mystic that she thinks she will no longer have a use for it because she has decided to leave the Defenders.

Dr. Strange is floored by this admission from Valkyrie and he asks her if he has offended her in some way. Val waves off Strange, remarking that in fact, he has been far too kind to her. Val recounts her origin, reminding Strange that she is no longer the insane woman (Barbara) the Defenders rescued from the dimension of the Nameless One (see Defenders #3). That woman was freed of her insanity purely at the whim of the eldritch Enchantress; freed to lose her identity, possibly forever, so that she, the Valkyrie, could live again (see Defenders #4). Val feels that the woman hiding inside her has a life unfulfilled and she feels that she owes it to the woman named Barbara to try to find out who she was.

Val then turns to ask Dr. Strange if he understands but her next words die in her throat for the expression on her fellow Defender's face is inhumanly unnerving. The expression of a man whose mind has taken flight from his body, a man whose eyes are studying what cannot be seen. Val is shaken by his unresponsiveness so she grabs and shakes Strange to awaken him. The mystic slowly comes around, reporting that he is fine, however he explains to Val that the Hulk is in dire trouble. He explains that for some reason, the Hulk's brain is attuned to his own mystic vibrations and that the green behemoth has called out to him in need, a summons that must be answered quickly! Both Defenders know that they must act.

Moments later, Val and Dr. Strange are airborne on Aragorn, Val's winged stallion. Strange's uses the trail of mystic emanations left by the Hulk's mental message to guide them to the ruined forest from where the Hulk called. From the air it is easy to see the site where the Hulk has battled. Once on ground, the mystic uses his amulet to scan the area for further clues and quickly, he makes the discovery of the Hulk's own peculiar vibrations which lead away from the glade in which they landed. Val tethers her steed and the two Defenders set off. For a time, the companions pursue the fading glow of the Hulk's energy, until they top a verdant ridge which overlooks a modest looking town at which point the trail ends. Val is confused because the town seems too peaceful to have had a visit from the Hulk. Strange remarks that nonetheless, he is there. Realizing that if they are to be discreet they must not look as they do, Dr. Strange utters a spell of transformation and the clothing of the pair becomes that of two unobtrusive travelers.

But, beginning a search for a seven-foot, half-ton, green-skinned gruesome in tattered purple pants is not quite as easy as Dr. Strange first thought. They realize that when they ask the residents of the small town if they have seen their "friend", that they have difficulty describing the Hulk in a way that will not make the people go into a panic. Suddenly, they are approached by a man identifying himself as Amos Moses, Mayor of the town which is called Plucketville, named after Col. Bradley Plucket, who fought at Gettysburg. Amos leads the two Defenders on a brief tour of the small village, giving a brief description of its history. Strange grows somewhat weary of the man's tales and asks him again about their "friend". Amos apologizes and explains that a couple of hunters found their green-skinned friend lying in the forest nearby and carried him to town. He said that to avoid causing the resident's fear, they moved him in secret to Mizz Brophy's place which is just up ahead through an alley. They head down the dark passage and Dr. Strange inquiries about the Hulk's current condition. However, when he gets no answer, he turns to see the way they entered blocked by a brick wall. The Defenders realize they have been duped by magic and Strange quickly dissolves their now useless disguises. Dr. Strange begins to warn Val to be on the look out for something sinister when suddenly the pair are ensnared, there arms pinned, by water pipes which seem to have come alive from the walls of the alley. The two, struggling to free themselves from the trap, hear a low rumble and look up to see a steam-roller churning out of the darkness. It is so wide it fairly fills the alleyway and it seems possessed with a malevolent life of its own. Unable to free his hands, Strange realizes they are doomed to be flattened because his powers are somewhat constrained when his hands are tied, especially by magic. However, the Master of the Mystic Arts has his voice. As such, he calls on the powers of Celestial Worth to send down sky borne fire to free them. Suddenly, two bolts of lightning scorch the air and blast the pairs bonds effortlessly. Once free, Strange turns his attention to the approaching steam-roller, but Val tells him to stand aside as she wishes to put Dragonfang to the test. Raising the golden weapon high, Val slices the blade downward, cleaving the heavy machine into two! She promptly declares the sword worthy. Strange then blasts a passage out of the alley through the newly grown brick barricade.

Free from the trap, the Defenders discover that the battle is far from over, as outside the broken wall, hundreds of entranced villagers await them. Amos Moses, stands among them and tells the Defenders that the townies are at his command. The malevolent man then instructs his mindless pawns to tear the Defenders into streaming scarlet ribbons. Val prepares to battle by unsheathing her blade but Strange reminds her that the people are innocent and are not to be harmed. Instead, Strange directs his attack at Amos Moses who he senses is not who he appears to be. However, the attack comes too late as the mayor seems protected by some psychic aura. In moments, the townspeople are upon Strange taking him down. And, before Val can intercept, she too is brought down by blows to the back of her head. As the two Defenders slip into unconsciousness, the echo of laughter fills their ears.

While back at the mystic mage's sanctum sanctorum, an incident is about to transpire that will soon have dramatic bearing on the careers of Earth's Defenders. A man wearing his hat pulled down and his collar up knocks on Dr. Strange's door and is answered by Wong. However, the man is disappointed to find that Strange is not at home and as he leaves, there is the impression that some impending doom is on its way (ASIDE: I would think that this man is Kyle Richmond whom we will meet as Nighthawk next issue).

And, back in the Bradburyan town of Plucketville, the good Doctor and his armour-clad companion tumble out of darkness to find themselves shackled by twisted lamp posts in the village square, standing before the statue of the town's founder. Strange explains to Val that he will again issue the enchantment which previously freed them but Mayor Moses is there to relate to the mage that he took the liberty of removing Valkyrie's blade and implanting a mental block into Strange's mind that prevents him from using his powers. There is visible strain on the mage's face as he attempts to conjure a spell...and fails! Strange concedes that the two Defenders are truly trapped by a madman. He then watches on as the madman morphs into what is considered his normal form...that of Xemnu, the Titan! Dr. Strange is shocked speechless so Xemnu explains to him how he survived their last encounter (see Marvel Feature #3). It seems that when the Hulk took it upon himself to pummel the white furred alien into the asphalt at the Cape, Xemnu abandoned his physical form and let his mental essence drift silently away, out of the behemoth's reach until he arrived in Miami and happened on the body of Amos Moses the mayor of this small village. Xemnu then quickly possessed the body and then allowed it to carry him here. Strange asks the alien why? What advantage is gained by affecting all the townspeople? Xemnu explains that he needed the people to construct a new starship which he had hidden in the clock tower. With a mento-blast, the brick-front fašade of the clock tower is torn asunder to reveal the beast's transportation. A ship capable of carrying countless humans through the cosmos, to repopulate his long-dead homeworld. Specifically, Xemnu plans on carrying the entire population of Plucketville, because the town is so isolated and all the townspeople are under his control. Xemnu then begins to order his obedient slaves into the ship.

Xemnu then makes his first mistake; he lets it be known to Dr. Strange that the Hulk is not dead but under his spell. Dr. Strange then focuses deeply, remembering that the Hulk and he share a psychic link. Reaching out with his mind, Dr. Strange calls to the green behemoth to free himself...FREE YOURSELF HULK! Suddenly, from behind the bound Defenders, the statue of Col. Pluckett explodes *THRANGG!* revealing the Hulk inside, who apparently has freed himself as instructed! The Hulk turns to Xemnu in immediate rage just as the white furred alien blasts him with his most potent mento-blast. The Hulk growls that the white ray hurts him, and when he gets hurt, he gets mad, and when he gets mad, he is the strongest of all! Realizing, that his mento-blasts are no longer effective against the Hulk, Xemnu switches tactics...he orders the villagers to form a mindless murderous mob. However, before the mob reaches the Hulk, the green behemoth pounds the ground with one foot *THOOM!* and sends the advancing townspeople into the air and out of commission. Again, the Hulk turns to Xemnu with raging wrath and intent on smashing the "stupid white thing" and for the first time, Xemnu reveals fear. He warns the Hulk that his powers are greater than when they last fought. The alien demonstrates this by mentally hurtling fire hydrants and lamp posts at the green Defender but this time, empowered by his rage, the Hulk knocks all the flying objects aside like bothersome insects. Xemnu has seen enough, riding a large flat piece of concrete like a surf board, the alien flies off into the sky vowing to return for both his ship and the people of Plucketville. In frustration, the Hulk calls the white beast to come back. Then, the Defender's dullish eyes espy the ship to which Xemnu referred. His mind may be small but he figures, if the "stupid white thing" said it would come back for the ship, why not give the ship back to the white thing? Showing a strength rarely seen on the Earth, fuelled by an unmatched rage, the great and powerful Hulk picks the mammoth rocket ship up...and throws it at the departing alien. Miles above the Earth, the ship connects with Xemnu *THWA-ROOM!* The white alien's last words: "No, oh no!"

With Xemnu gone, so leaves his magic and Dr. Strange frees himself and Valkyrie. The two Defenders rush to greet the third, in exuberance. The Hulk is quite touched that both Val and Strange came all this way to help him and he is pleased to hear Strange call him "friend". With arms around each other, the trio depart, the Hulk happy to leave "this dumb place" in the company of friends.

NEXT: The Squadron Nebulon! For Sale: One Planet...Slightly Used

Front Cover: The Defenders Issue 12

Defenders 12