"And Who Shall Inherit The Earth?"

Published: July 1974, 25 cents

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

Nemesis/Villain Appearances: Squadron Sinister, Nebulon

RECAP: The Hulk, Namor, Doctor Strange and the Valkyrie are trapped in an energy globe created by Nebulon (aka. the Celestial Man) to contain the superhero team, after he witnessed the defeat of his cohorts, the Squadron Sinister, in their most recent battle versus the Defenders. Having just "bought" the planet Earth from it's "previous owners" (Whizzer, Hyperion and Dr. Spectrum) Nebulon wishes to put the entire planet under water to create a more useful environment and to do so, he planned on melting the polar ice caps. Despite thwarting the Celestial Man's plans, the Defenders are now at the mercy of Nebulon as he decides their fate...

Doctor Strange, pounding on the inner aspect of his transparent prison, is the first to speak up and demand the Defenders immediate release or else face the consequences. Nebulon however, is somewhat perturbed at the inconvenience caused by Earth's heroes in his attempt to take possession of the planet. He raises his silver gloved hand and prepares to eliminate the Defenders when suddenly, a strained voice urges Nebulon to stay his sentence. The Celestial Man turns to see Hyperion regaining his feet and he asks the Squadron member why he should delay his plans further. As Dr. Spectrum and Whizzer recover, Hyperion explains that killing them now would mean they would die without knowing why they wasted their lives and what their failure means to the future of their world. The red and yellow caped villain then explains why he cares little for the Earth...

(ASIDE: Hyperion's world was an atom that was the first atom to be split by a man-made cyclotron (huh!....imagine the chances of THAT!). Somehow, Hyperion survived, drifting unconscious in the atomic void until one day he was awakened and enlarged by the games-playing Grand-Master! Once human-size, he was set to battle Thor in a contest to determine the fate of the Earth (see Avengers #70). At first, his atomic powers played havoc with the Asgardian, but in the end Thor's mystic hammer Mjolnir was brought into play. Thor used it to whirl around Hyperion at a super-speed which created an electrically charged vortex that somehow reversed Hyperion's atomic enlargement and imprisoned him in a bubble of glazed glass. There he remained until the Grand-Master departed the Earth, when the super-powerful backwash of his passing sucked Hyperion into the black void of space. For many months he drifted in interstellar emptiness helpless to free himself, hoping for death to release him of his private hell. But his hopes were answered in a far less drastic fashion. A passing starcraft detected his presence and pulled his globe-prison into the ship. Once inside, he met Nebulon who released him from the sphere and subsequently, Hyperion was restored to human-size. They talked for hours and he discovered that Nebulon is from a race of interstellar geologists who survey the cosmos in search of various materials needed to insure his world's continued existence. However, Nebulon has been singularly unsuccessful in discovering a mineral rich planet and he is about to fall from grace amongst his race. Hyperion, excited by the mere thought of it, tells Nebulon about a certain planet he knows of and, in the end, "sells" Nebulon the Earth in exchange for the vengeance he so deeply craved END OF ASIDE).

After hearing this tale, Doctor Strange relates to Hyperion that he is insane and that he will also be destroyed if Nebulon's plans come to fruition. However, Hyperion explains that the Celestial Man will transport them to one of countless other dimensions. Nighthawk, upon hearing this, blows his cool and pounds on the globe's walls telling Hyperion that he should be transported under a rock! Nebulon, then uses this outburst to remove Nighthawk from his sphere and transports him to the globe occupied by the Defenders, to share their fate since he shares their views.

Having the Defenders' fate now settled, Whizzer approaches Hyperion and demands that he be permitted to "make them bleed". The speedster grabs Hyperion's cape in upset when the Squadron's leader says no, which results in Whizzer getting heavily backhanded into a wall of ice and sent into near unconsciousness. Hyperion then turns to Nebulon, the Celestial Man and asks that the Defenders be thrown into space and set adrift helplessly in their globe prison, suffering as he most recently had suffered. Nebulon acts swiftly and with a wave of his hand, the globe is sent accelerating upwards into the sky. With the heroes no longer a concern, and while the Whizzer shakes the cobwebs out of his head, the remaining squads men get back to work on their plan...melting the polar icecaps by nightfall.

As the Defenders' sphere leaves the Earth's atmosphere, the heroes inside can be seen pounding uselessly to break the energy globe. Their wasted efforts are noted by Nighthawk who then suggests that the reason they may be failing is that they are not combining their forces. They should be focusing their powers on a single spot. Doctor Strange regards Nighthawk with some admiration and agrees that THAT would be the best approach. The team then prepares themselves and on Strange's word, they strike a common point on the sphere with successful results *BWOOM!* their prison shatters! The Defenders, free from the confines of the globe, now begin to fall back to the Earth. However, Valkyrie is caught by Namor and Doctor Strange manages to snare the Hulk and Nighthawk with a beam of energy from his chest amulet. The magician also manages to create a mystic aura around the team as they make their descent, supplying them with oxygen. The Defenders return to the planet's surface, intent on battle!

Meanwhile, the Squadron Sinister, with Nebulon standing by patiently, are at task melting the icecaps with the laser cannon designed by Nighthawk. As he works the laser's controls, Doctor Spectrum is lamenting the loss of his comrade but Whizzer is more resigned that Nighthawk had his chance. Suddenly, a whooshing sound from behind the squadsmen draws their attention to the return of the Defenders! Nebulon notices their arrival and is annoyed that his time schedule is being affected. He commands the Squardon to keep at their tasks while he deals with the superheroes. The Celestial Man sends a beam of blinding white energy out of his left hand which misses the Hulk and is absorbed by a mound of snow and ice. While the Hulk scoffs at Nebulon's shody marksmenship, it quickly becomes apparent that Nebulon had no intention of striking the Hulk with the ray when a massive creature of ice and snow rises from the spot of contact. The frosty giant easily hammers the unprepared Hulk *POW!* with a punch of one icy fist. Namor, meanwhile flies at top speed and slams into the ice creature's chest sending the giant onto its side. While the monster writhes in seeming agony, Nighthawk attacks but he is backhanded away easily, like an annoying gnat. Valkyrie then uses her blade to deftly slice the ice creature's left arm off with surgical percision but then watches in awe as the giant regenerates another arm in mere seconds! The Valkyrie then narrowly misses a massive punch from this new arm as she gaped in amazement at her opponent's powers. The blow however, hit the ice wall which supported her and she tumbles unharmed to the snow below. Doctor Strange then diverts the creature attention with a mystic bolt of energy into the monster's face, while she scrambles to safety.

The Hulk meantime is royally ticked at being attacked by the ice-man and attacks the monster with a vengeance. With one powerful wallop he shatters the frosty giant's left leg and then picks up the ice creature and hurls the frigid foe directly into the laser beam's path with explosive results! His snow monster destroyed, Nebulon reappraises his enemy with a troubled look. The Squadron meanwhile, aches at the chance to join the fray but are again ordered to remain at their posts and complete the task they are committed to. The Defenders face Nebulon who has decided to handle his antagonists personally. The Hulk advances, intent on showing the Celestial Man just who the most powerful one in attendance is. Nebulon marvels as the Hulk takes a blast of energy directly in the chest and keeps coming. Surprised at this, Nebulon doubles his efforts and use blasts from both arms against the Hulk which finally sends the green behemoth flying backwards.

Nighthawk and the Valkyrie then advance on Nebulon from either side. The Celestial Man sends a blast at Nighthawk but misses the agile hero who deftly ducks the blast. As the two Defenders continue their charge, suddenly Nebulon raises his arms and the air shimmers around him for an instant and when it clears, Nighthawk and Valkyrie find themselves rushing at each other. The Celestial Man's powers seem boundless and vast as he transposes his point in the universe for the Valkyries. The two heroes then collide in a bone-crunching *THWUMP!* Doctor Strange exclaims that a frontal attack is useless and that the Defenders must attack from all sides at once. But, as the felled Defenders regain their feet, Nebulon blasts Namor and Valkyrie to their knees with hand-spawned energy bolts. Suddenly, Doctor Strange hits Nebulon directly in the face with a Bolt of Bedevilment that knocks the Celestial Man off balance. The golden alien manages to counter this attack with a blast of his own, striking both the Hulk and Strange but as he staggers to his feet, he is knocked back heavily again with a resounding punch in the head by Namor. Reeling from the Sub-Mariner's blows, Nebulon stumbles, then sinks to his knees beneath a renewed assault from the Master of the Mystic Arts. Strange blasts mystic energy at the fallen alien who writhes under the attack.

His enemy visibly in pain, Strange stops the attack. Nebulon sprawls forward on the ice, his god-like form seeming to shimmer and then blur. The Defenders hear his utterances about how close he was to success and they back off the beaten alien. Meanwhile, the Squadron Sinister rushes to aid their fallen companion but Nebulon orders them to stand clear. The ice field is bathed in a golden light as the form of Nebulon continues to blur and glow. The flickering figure of Nebulon emits a final burst of brilliance and then coalesces into a form that holds both the Squadron Sinister and the Defenders speechless. For it is a form that does not even begin to resemble the god-like being who had confronted them mere moments before. In fact, Nebulon's true form does not even resemble anything remotely human! Nebulon is a creature that seems the very essence of every misbegotten monstrosity to ever slither through a maniac's nightmare. A slavering, slime-caked, unnervingly repulsive obscenity that speaks in a hauntingly familiar voice. Nebulon is a massive green-yellow beast with a long spiny dorsal fin and six many-suction cupped arms. His two bulbous red eyes are separated by two slimy antennae and his rasp-like mouth drips a foul liquid.

The Squadron members fall back, obviously unnerved by this sudden disillusion. Nebulon begins to explain that he created the illusion of the Celestial Man to be more easily accepted by our race. His own race is aquatic by nature which explains why he had planned on inundating our world with water before laying claim to it. In his humanoid form, he may exist for extended periods out of water but this requires concentration. As the heroes and villains alike watch in awe, Nebulon's form again begins to shift and the vague outline of the Celstial Man within begins to coalesce.

However, as the gathering watches the transformation, Nighthawk jumps to the laser cannon and re-directs the beam at Nebulon. Struck by the laser blast, Nebulon's concentration is again broken, thwarting his attempt at regaining human form. The mucus dripping alien retaliates with a blast form one suction cupped-ladened tentacle but the laser cannon power whines on. Power feeding power, building in intensity, until the creature known as Nebulon begins to pulse as well. Nebulon screams in agony pleading them to stop the power surge. For an instant, the Squadron Sinister stands its ground, unsure of what to do. Then, as one, they realize their alien companion is beyond their help and they turn to run. But, their sudden realization has come just the barest fraction of an instant too late for the frigid ground beneath the afflicted Celestial Man is abruptly bathed in an unnatural light and the barren patch of land heaves upwards spewing great chunks of ice into the brittle sky. When the gleaming shards of ice settle back to the Earth once more, there remains but a crater. Nighthawk, watching from the top of the laser cannon, gathers that Nebulon must have imploded from the power surge and taken the Squadron Sinister with him!

Suddenly, the laser cannon itself begins to shudder as the gun's wiring begins to short-out, most likely the result of Nebulon's retaliatory ray blasts. Valkyrie yells out a warning to Nighthawk but as he prepares himself to jump from the machine, it explodes violently! As the sound of the destructive blast echos throughout the desolate waste, where jutting towers of soulless ice do little to absorb the sound, anguished voices can be heard as well. The Defenders rush to the side of their fallen saviour hoping against all hope that their worst fears have not become realized. Nighthawk is found lying on his back amongst the wreckage of the laser cannon, unmoving. Doctor Strange then reaches to his neck and feels for a pulse. Valkyrie asks the question on all the Defenders' minds..."Is he dead?" Strange indicates that he is not but will be shortly, and there is nothing that he can do...unless...

Doctor Strange, tells the Defenders that they surely owe Nighthawk their lives and he suggests that it would be fitting if they were to sacrifice a small part of their lives to save his. The group silently agrees as Doctor Strange explains the process which, allow possibly dangerous, is the least they could offer the newest Defender. The group gathers around the fallen hero and holds hands. Even the Hulk, slow-witted though he may be, understands the importance of concentrating for this task. Concentration is the key, explains Strange, to let part of yourself flow into him and then flow into Nighthawk. It is difficult for the Hulk but he does his best to emulate his friends as they clasp hands and focus their minds. Suddenly, there is a glow from the mystic Eye of Agamotto which bathes the broken and bleeding Nighthawk in a light that is not a light but rather, the collected energies of four determined people's souls. This gathered life force spilling across the Nighthawk's pain-wracked face cleanses him, heals him and fills him with the fires of life once more! He awakes and asks the questions one would expect to hear from one who nearly died...Where am I? What happened!

After Strange explains to Nighthawk what occurred, it becomes apparent to Nighthawk that his life is sustained by the collective life forces of the Defenders. The hero takes a moment to allow that fact to sink in, and then turns to Doctor Strange to ask him, despite his past association with the Squadron Sinister, if he could be permitted to join the Defenders full-time. Strange is about to point out to Nighthawk about the loosely-knit nature of the Defenders when Namor interrupts with the news that Nighthawk can replace him. The Sub-Mariner reminds the magician that he was brought here against his will and that no man controls the actions of the Prince of Atlantis. Namor flies away, leaving the team a reminder that the next time they meet may not be as allies.

The Hulk scratches his head wondering why the Fish-Man is going away angry but shrugs it off and places his arm around the shoulders of his new friend and the newest Defender, Nighthawk. Val and Strange also welcome him to the team and Nighthawk relates that he hopes he never gives them any cause to regret their decision.

NEXT: Professor X...and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants!

Front Cover: The Defenders Issue 14

Defender 14