"For Sale: One Planet...Slightly used!"

Published: May 1974, 25 cents

The Defenders: Hulk, Sub-Mariner, Valkyrie, Doctor Strange

Nemesis/Villain Appearances: Squadron Sinister, Nebulon

Night cloaks the neighbourhood called Greenwich Village with velvet shrouds. Outside the home of Doctor Stephen Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts, a mysterious hawk-cloaked figure watches intently from high on a building across the street. Inside Strange's sanctum sanctorum, the mystic mage is entertaining two most unusual guests: The Incredible Hulk and the Valkyrie. They are just discussing how quiet things have been lately when, as if on cue, the front door is blown off its hinges by the dark figure who moments ago, was spying on the three Defenders. The uninvited guest announces that he has business with the Defenders that can no longer wait. The Hulk however, does not care much for the intrusion from "bird-nose" and launches himself at the stranger. But, the man is much faster than the Hulk and he easily avoids the green-monster's rush. The cloaked figure again explains that he wishes to talk, but Valkyrie is none too happy with his handling of the Hulk and she swings her blade Dragonfang in a wide stroke. Still, like her partner the Hulk, she is too slow for the maneuvers used by the cloaked intruder and she ends up flat on her back behind a couch after he pulls her cape out from under her. The Hulk, having regained his orientation, turns again to face the intruder and charges him in a rage. Doctor Strange, meanwhile, orders the Hulk to stop but to no avail. The bird-nosed man is impressed with the green behemoth's persistence and is about to meet his attack when suddenly, the Hulk is surrounded by the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak and he is held immobile.

Doctor Strange apologizes to the jade giant for his entrapment spell but he says that they must hear the visitor out. After the Hulk agrees to calm down, Doctor Strange removes the crimson prison. Suddenly, Valkyrie springs from behind the couch prepared to attack but Doctor Strange stands between her and their mysterious visitor and orders her to quell her anger so that they can hear him out. Having calmed everyone down, Doctor Strange orders the stranger to speak.

The costumed intruder introduces himself as Nighthawk and he explains that he is here to warn the Defenders of something beyond belief...It all started with a letter, he relates, it had no return address and no post-mark but it ended up on his desk nonetheless six days earlier. The letter threatened to expose his dual identity unless he showed up at Crayton Observatory by midnight that night. So, he flew there in his silent Hawk-Plane all the while thinking about who might know about his brief criminal career (see Avengers #70 and Daredevil #62). The only ones who knew anything about him were the three men who had been his partners, but he assumed they were all either dead or in prison. And yet, as he entered the observatory, he realized he was wrong. There, sitting at a board room table, were his three ex-partners: The red uniformed and yellow caped Hyperion; Dr. Spectrum, who wore a costume of primary colours; and the Whizzer with his yellow eye shades and blue delta vest. With Nighthawk, the four of them were better known as the Squadron Sinister (ASIDE: Having read the excellent series Squadron Supreme, which deals with these same characters in another reality inwhich they are actually crime-fighters, I can say with some authority that these superheroes are loosely based on DC's Justice League where Whizzer =the Flash, Nighthawk = Batman, Hyperion =Superman and Dr. Spectrum =Green Lantern, END OF ASIDE). The criminals order Nighthawk to sit down as they prepare to discuss the certain business...

Nighthawk was astounded because he had heard that Dr. Spectrum's power prism was destroyed weeks earlier when he had battled Iron Man in Detroit (see Iron Man #63-66). Moreover, he saw Hyperion become entrapped in a small glass globe courtesy of Thor (see Avengers #70). Hyperion explains that they had some help escaping, help like you would not believe...Suddenly, almost in response to Hyperion's cryptic comment a blinding burst of light erupted in the room and when the brilliance faded the group was no longer alone. Before them stood a being so awesome, he seemed not so much human as he did heaven in the shape of a man and he spoke in a voice like the ringing of a thousand crystal gongs. Nebulon, the Celestial Man had arrived. Tall and heavily muscled, Nebulon's skin gleamed like polished gold. His wrists and waist were circled by bands of shining silver and his hair was long, thick and snow white. What amazed Nighthawk most however, was his uniform which appeared like it was made of the universe itself. Looking into the garment, one could see the stars of yet undiscovered galaxies.

Nighthawk then protested the arrival of this new presence, asking the other members of this sinister team just what they knew of him. Dr. Spectrum explains that it was Nebulon who restored to him the power prism and eliminated its "annoying personality". Hyperion then relates that the Celestial Man also saved him from the glass sphere and returned to him his super-powers. But, at what cost, asked Nighthawk, what was Nebulon's cut? And, he was stunned to learn that Hyperion sold the planet Earth to him! After hearing that, Nighthawk angrily declined any involvement in their plans and turned to leave but suddenly, Nebulon paralyzed him with a blast of energy promising not to release him until he joined. Having that ultimatum before him, he had no choice. But, when Hyperion related their cold blooded plan, he wished he'd had...

Later, he knew he could not go through with the Squadron Sinister's diabolical plan which was to construct a weapon of death. So, Nighthawk slipped out of the observatory one night and headed for the one place that he thought he could find help...the Avengers Mansion! However, his partners were thinking one step ahead of him. Fearing that the Avengers might interfere somehow before they could activate their plan, the Squadron had arranged, via Nebulon, to become invisible and intangible when ever an Avenger came near. So desperately though he tried, he could not make Captain America notice him during a conversation with Iron Man in the mansion, but Nighthawk did overhear Cap talking about the Defenders and their recent victory over Dormammu and Loki (as recounted in the last several Defenders and Avengers issues). It was this fact that led Nighthawk here to Doctor Strange's home.

Valkyrie, still irritated from her recent tumble, angrily questions Nighthawk as to why he felt it necessary to blast open Doctor Strange's front door. Nighthawk explains that he did try the direct approach (albeit in disguise) a few hours earlier (remember the stranger dressed in the trench coat from last issue?) but this time he had to be sure that he would be heard out. Strange agrees that he was right to tell them but then asks Nighthawk, exactly what are the Squadron Sinister's plans? Nighthawk explains that it is all part of their deal with the Celestial Man. Having sold him the Earth, they've promised to deliver it precisely the way he wants it...underwater! When their weapon is completed, the Squadron Sinister will have its hands on a laser device unlike any ever before seen on this Earth! A laser with more than enough power to melt the sprawling polar icecaps. If that much ice is suddenly turned into water, a flood that would dwarf even Noah's Great Deluge would occur...and the world-wide results would be devastating.

With the story finally out, Nighthawk appears exhausted. Doctor Strange asks him how the Squadron Sinister hopes to survive such a planetary catastrophe themselves? Nighthawk responds that he thinks Hyperion hates this world anyway for destroying his own...maybe he thinks that revenge is worth his own life. And, Dr. Spectrum would probably prefer killing the Earth, if he could not rule it. The Whizzer, Nighthawk remarks, is probably just flat-out crazy!

The Hulk looks at their new guest and thinks he is as crazy as the story Nighthawk just related. But, the hawk-nosed would-be-hero challenges the remaining Defenders to help him stop the plans of the Squadron Sinister because they are intent on melting the North Pole ice cap at sunrise tomorrow! Doctor Strange is about to agree to the Defenders participation when suddenly Nighthawk is gripped by some unseen force and he screams in pain. Obviously, the Squadron has discovered his indiscretions and are exacting their revenge. The room is bathed in a dark pink glow as Nighthawk writhes in agony and then with a sudden burst of light and column of smoke...he is gone!

The Defenders stand aghast, shocked at the sacrifice made by Nighthawk. Stunned, Dr. Strange vows not to betray the trust given by Nighthawk. Valkyrie urges Strange that they can still make it to the polar ice cap before the Squadron Sinister. Doctor Strange agrees but first he suggests that they will need a full company of Defenders if they are going to be successful in defeating such a menace as the Squadron Sinister. The Master of the Mystic Arts then focuses inwardly and sends outward an astral projection which appears in the mid-Atlantic above the floating fortress called Hydro-Base. Here, Strange finds the avenging son, the Sub-Mariner, and he pleads his case for aid in defeating this newest threat. However, Namor is angered at this intrusion into his work with helping the Amphibians. Strange persists in his demand, explaining that the very fate of the planet depends upon them. Namor, argues that he has very little concern for the surface-dwellers who are all self-serving maniacs! Strange responds to this outburst by imprisoning the Sub-Mariner in a mystical force field and draws him back to his sanctum sanctorum. The mage apologizes to Namor for his kidnapping but explains that his attitude made it necessary. Namor is infuriated at being brought here against his will and prepares to attack the sorcerer. However, Valkyrie intervenes before blows are landed and asks that the sea-prince hear her out first. The Valkyrie's words are slow and deliberate as she recounts the Nighthawk's grim tale and explains that if the Squadron Sinister is permitted to complete its operation, all life, including Atlantean, would be certain to perish. When she finishes her tale, she asks Namor if he now understands why he was brought here. Namor concedes that, although he owes the surface world nothing, there is a need for his services as a Defender. The Hulk appears happy to see the Fish-Man and the green brute comments on Namor's funny new clothes which now consist of tight dark leggings belted by a gold trident buckle and a matching open-chested vest with folding yellow-wings under the arms. Val also comments on his new attire but Namor refuses to be drawn into further discussion as there is work to be done elsewhere!

The Defenders arrive in the Arctic at dawn, the landscape white upon white, streaked with banners of gold and vermilion. Streaking across the landscape, the four Defenders scour the ice and snow below for their quarry. It is Namor who espies the Squadron Sinister on the surface, hard at work constructing their machine of destruction. Also with the evil group, imprisoned in a force-globe generated by Nebulon is the Nighthawk! As the Defenders make their approach, it is the Whizzer who notices that the Squadron Sinister is about to have company. The Defenders move in as the Squadron brace themselves for conflict.

Dr. Strange releases the Hulk from his flying force field and the green giant is thrown straight at Hyperion. The yellow and red villain puts down the machinery he is holding and wallops *BWAAPP!* the Hulk squarely on the jaw. The incredible Hulk is knocked soundly into an adjacent wall of ice but he gets himself up easily, impressed by the strength of his foe. The Hulk chides Hyperion by remarking that he is almost as strong as the Hulk. This comment angers Hyperion who rushes headlong to meet the Hulk. The Hulk in turn, advances full speed towards Hyperion. They meet with an impact that radiates staggering shock waves and which causes the ground beneath them to shudder violently. Countless miles away, geologists look to their seismographs and shake their heads in disbelief!..

Meanwhile, the two doctors, Spectrum and Strange, battle it out on an nearby ice field. Dr. Spectrum uses his power prism to generate a massive fist which narrowly misses the Defender, crashing into the icy ground. The evil doctor then constructs an enormous mace and prepares to crush Dr. Strange. However, the Master of the Mystic Arts calls upon the Shield of the Seraphim and destroys the mass in mere seconds...

In another part of the ice field, the Whizzer circles Namor and lands blow after blow. The Sub-Mariner is astonished at the speed of his foe and comments that he is even faster than Quicksilver. So, Namor takes to the air where the speedster cannot follow him and ducks behind an adjacent iceberg. The Whizzer taunts Namor for his cowardice and sets off in pursuit. But suddenly, as the Whizzer rounds the iceberg's corner, a hand shoots out deftly and grabs the running villain by the ankle. Commenting on the fact that the speedster's mouth is faster than his feet, Namor throws the startled villain across the icy field. However, the Whizzer quickly regains his balance and turns to rush the Prince of Atlantis...

Valkyrie, meantime, has discovered the globe-prison of Nighthawk, who inside is pleading for Val to release him so that he may aid her teammates. Valkyrie raises her sword Dragonfang and strikes the magic sphere...but to no avail as the Nighthawk's prison holds.

The remaining Defenders however, are accomplishing the task they came to finish: The Hulk punches Hyperion with a force which drives the super-villain to unconsciousness. Doctor Strange invokes the Vapours of Valtor and commands Dr. Spectrum to sleep. And, Namor who has grown tiresome of the Whizzers endless prattle, uses all his strength to knock the advancing speedster away, like a bat hitting a baseball. However, it is a victory short-lived for suddenly, the Defenders become trapped in a energy globe not unlike that which already imprisons Nighthawk. There is a sharp call for silence and the Defenders look to discover the generator of their prison, descending from a crest of snow is Nebulon. The Celestial Man relates that he has no wish to harm them but the Defenders are in no mood to discuss terms of release considering their planet faces uncertain doom. As such, Nebulon concedes that he has no choice but to destroy them all!

NEXT: And Who Shall Inherit the Earth?

Front Cover: The Defenders Issue 13

Defenders 13