Published: January 1975, 25 cents

The Defenders: Hulk, Doctor Strange, Nighthawk

Guest Appearances: Power Man

Nemesis/Villain Appearances: The Wrecking Crew (Wrecker, Thunderball, Bulldozer, Piledriver)

"The gamma bomb! It's gone!" is yelled by Thunderball.

Freeze frame: a moment ago, these eight men (the Defenders and the Wrecking Crew) were locked in mortal combat. But now, with one man's hoarse, desperate cry, all that has anger and hatred have given way to bewilderment and fear. Five words. That is all it takes to sign New York's death warrant and somehow, it doesn't seem right. To some, it doesn't even seem real. Thunderball just stands there wide-eyed and open-mouthed, looking at the empty casing which he holds. Dr. Strange breaks the moment by demanding that Thunderball explain what he is talking about. Crestfallen, Thunderball seems a broken man. He explains to Strange that he is now a condemned man and tells his story...

Dr. Franklin's (now known as Thunderball) tale of woe begins a couple of years ago, in the days when he was an up and coming nuclear physicist. People used to call him the black Bruce Banner, and with good reason because he took part of Banner's gamma bomb research and did him one better. Banner had developed the gamma bomb but he had developed one you could hold in your hand...and one with tens times the power of the original! Dr. Franklin had begun his research at Caltech but he had built the bomb after he had moved on to Richmond Enterprises. His first mistake was taking his work to Richmond's right hand man, Pennysworth. The morning after he had revealed his creation, he had arrived in the lab to discover that the bomb had gone missing, along with all his notes. Later he discovered that the bomb had been patented in the company's name, and not his. This was when he made his second mistake, he got mad and accused Pennysworth of theft, arguing that the bomb and patents rightfully belonged to him. However, Pennysworth only laughed and then showed him the fine print on his contract. Richmond's lawyers had done a good job and he was crucified legally. Dr. Franklin had no claim to the bomb that he built. So, he set out to steal it back. And, he then made his third mistake. He had forgotten about the sensor web built into the main lab which was tied to the plant's security computers. Security officers arrived quickly and pursued him through the complex before finally catching up to him in the steel mill. One of the officers warned Dr. Franklin but when he failed to stop, he shot his gun. The bullet missed Dr. Franklin but hit the bomb and knocked it right out of his hands and into a vat of molten steel! However, the bomb was protected by the its adamantium casing. That steel was eventually needed for the core construction of three Richmond Enterprises' skyscrapers. So, all that was required to find the bomb, was to find the right building and knock it down! The Wrecking crew found the buildings alright, and Thunderball found the bomb's adamantium casing, however...someone else has the bomb itself! And if that person is not careful and accidentally detonates it, 20 million people will die!

Dr. Strange looks pensive as he ponders the predicament. He then asks if a sensing device could be built that could pinpoint the bomb's unique radiation. Thunderball, however, has broken from his reverie. He exclaims that of course he can but the Defenders won't be around to see it! Suddenly Wrecker orders Piledriver and Bulldozer into action and Strange and Nighthawk are slammed from behind. Meanwhile, Bulldozer plows into Power Man, taking him out of the action. Before the Hulk can react, he is whacked heavily with Wrecker's bar and sent spinning into unconsciousness. Ten seconds, no more, and suddenly the rubbles is littered with frighteningly still forms of four battered heroes. And, the Wrecking Crew, is triumphant! They have plans to find the bomb and then hold the city for ransom.

Night. Eternal darkness. Silence. The peace of dreamless sleep...of death. Suddenly, broken by noise. Cacophonous, unintelligible sounds skittering across his numb brain, drawing him back from the light. Dr. Strange awakes to see the Hulk standing over him, urging him to wake up and asking him if he is okay. Power Man and Nighthawk are also stirring, regaining their feet. But, just then, a harsh voice yells out from behind them that they are under arrest. The Hulk turns to see three cops approaching with guns drawn. However, Strange is angry and frustrated. He orders the police to hold and issues a restraining spell which causes the officers to freeze motionless. As the Defenders depart, Strange informs the group that they will awake is a few moments with no memory of this incident. 

An hour later, the Defenders are far uptown still following a tenuous mystic trail. Strange explains that he is following the mystic energy which charges the Wrecker's crowbar. From a side alley a vagrant surprises Dr. Strange with a request for a quarter for some coffee. With a swiftness which belies his bulk, the Hulk moves in quickly and grabs the bum and lifts him off the ground by the back of the jacket. Strange however, orders the Hulk to put the man down as he means no harm. Stephen Strange is disgusted that he lives in the wealthiest country on Earth and yet men go hungry. With a flick of his wrist and an utterance to Vishanti, the mage conjures up a long table of food fit for a king and invites the street person to feast. The Plaza, a few blocks away will not miss one gourmet dinner tonight.

The heroes moved cross town then, deep into Harlem, when a young boy with a baseball glove came running up to Power Man and asked him for help. The boy explained that some big super-goons were wrecking their club. It seems that the Wrecking Crew came into the club holding a strange electric gizmo and said they were looking for something. Thunderball had ordered them to hand over what he wanted else he would deliver some whopping. However, one of the boy's friends smashed the device from the goon's hand and the boy took off. The boy then pleads with Power Man to help him before the men hurt his friends. Without any hesitation, the Defender's move up the street, each prepared to give his own life that innocents may live. As the Defenders depart, the boy watches them and absentmindedly tosses the baseball in his mitt up into the air and catches it...except, it is not a baseball at all, it is the bomb.

Moments later, the heroes arrive at the Harlem Boys Club. Inside they can hear a commotion and the Hulk wastes no time because he has no time for puny humans hurting children, he heads for the entrance. Dr. Strange calls after the Hulk to stop but the green behemoth does not hear the magician's plea...and even if he had, he would not care. The jade giant enters the building and there is a moment's silence...and then...WHAM!...the Hulk is sent flying out through the door he entered, knocking out the entire frame. His great form strikes the building opposite the entrance with a CHOOM! Nighthawk and Strange rush to see if the Hulk is okay but are sorry they do for the Hulk is enraged. He pulls his massive body from the rubble and races across the road knocking the entire wall out of the Harlem Boys Club. Inside the Defenders find the Wrecking Crew questioning the kids. The Wrecker is incredulous that the Hulk is still alive and says so just before he is walloped by a smashing left hook in the jaw by the green hero. 

Meanwhile, Nighthawk takes out Bulldozer with some aerial judo, smashing the thug through a wooden table and Power Man blindsides Piledriver with a bone crushing slam to the head. As pieces of the building begin to fall around him, Dr. Strange pleads with his friends to stop fighting immediately in order to protect the children still inside. Thunderball echoes the sentiment but for different reasons as he fears their fighting might trigger the bomb. He demands that they all go outside. The Hulk is only too pleased to oblige the Man-With-Ball. With a powerful right punch, the villain is sent out through the wall, making yet another entrance to the building. Thunderball however is not down for the count. He regains his feet and spins his massive wrecking ball over his head and releases it at the Hulk. The green behemoth deftly ducks the approaching projectile and mocks Thunderball's aim but the metal ball strikes the building behind the Hulk and ricocheted, striking the Hulk in the back of his head. However, to Thunderball's surprise, the Hulk gets up. As most people know, the madder the Hulk gets, the stronger he becomes. Thunderball brings the ball down to finish off the Hulk but the green Defender grabs it in his hand, and crushes the ball to pieces! Thunderball gasps in astonishment just before he is put out for good with a mighty right hook from the Hulk, *buh-THOOM*!

Close by, Bulldozer regains his feet and runs head first at Nighthawk. However, the caped hero easily jumps to avoid the rampaging villain, causing him to plow into the side of a building. Enraged, Bulldozer turns and charges at Nighthawk again. However, this time, as Nighthawk jumps to avoid the onrush, he places his magnetic jet pack on the metal armour of Bulldozer and switches it on. With a swoosh, Bulldozer is carried high into the sky then suddenly, the pack cuts off and the metal headed thug falls to the ground with a crushing thump! Nighthawk is pleased with his work, as he stands over the fallen Crew member, having set the automatic shut-off was the finishing touch!

As Nighthawk finishes off Bulldozer, Power Man is dealing with Piledriver. They exchange powerful blows, each more mighty then the last. Suddenly, Luke Cage takes a blow which nearly puts him down. Luckily, he manages to grab hold of Piledriver's forearm during a powerful blow and using the momentum of the swing, he tosses the villain into an adjacent wall, ending the confrontation. 

Lastly, Dr. Strange faces the Wrecker. The Master of the Mystic Arts warns the thug to surrender but the Wrecker laughs because with his Eldritch-charged crow bar, he once almost beat Thor. The Wrecker forces the magician to the ground but makes the mistake of allowing Strange to touch the metal bar. The mage says nothing as raw power coruscates around the two men. He slowly forces himself to his feet, every fiber of his being focused on the Wrecker's bar until slowly, he forces the power back into the Wrecker and blows the super-villain across the street. Standing over the fallen Crew member, Strange curses the villain for acting like a child playing with a loaded gun. The mystic takes the bar in his hands and, although he cannot destroy it, he wills the bar to another dimensional plane. Suddenly, a dozen or so children rush up to the Defenders to congratulate the heroes on their victory. Strange quickly asks the boys where the bomb is but they are all speechless. That is, until it dawns on a child that the baseball Joey had may be what the Defenders are talking about. Horrified, the Defenders set out in search for Joey...

They find him where they left him, after he came to tell them about the Wrecking Crew destroying his clubhouse, sitting on tenement steps tossing the ball into the air and catching it. Dr. Strange yells out to him not to drop the ball! Then, the mage relieves the boy of the bomb, only to discover it is ticking! Realizing that he has no idea when it will detonate or how to disarm it, Strange turns to the only hope they have...the man who invented the first gamma bomb...the Hulk...or rather, his alter ego...Robert Bruce Banner! Strange turns to the Hulk and tells him to gaze deeply into his Eye of Agomotto and to relax. The green behemoth does not understand but agrees. Slowly, the giant feels sleepy and begins to relax...and transforms...into his human form. Banner asks Strange what is happening and the magician quickly explains their situation. Then gravely, he asks Banner if he can disarm the device. Bruce scratches his head somewhat perplexed explaining that this is a miniature gamma bomb and he has no tools. Strange quickly summons the necessary tools: an Air Force Nuclear Disarming Pack fresh from a Hulkbuster base supply locker! Banner then sets to work on the bomb. Minutes seems to stretch into hours as the scientist works on the bomb. Sweat pours down his face as the stress mounts. Suddenly, the tension becomes too great and Banner begins to feel the change coming on...his skins begins to take on a green hue. But, with great luck, it is not too late as the disarming is done! And, just in time as the man known as Bruce Banner becomes the Hulk once more!

Power Man congratulates the Defenders but is upset because his job was to keep Richmond's building from getting knocked down and he was not successful. Which means he won't get paid. Dr. Strange turns to him and says perhaps they can explain. However, Luke Cage just laughs it off. He knows Pennysworth too well. And, as Power Man walks away from the Defenders, he tells them the next time the world needs to be saved, not to contact him...

NEXT: The curtains begin to part on Valkyrie's secret past as the warrior-woman meets the Thing in Marvel Two-In-One #7. Then, bashful Benjamin Grimm joins forces with our dynamic non-team to combat the threat of the Cult of the Undying in Defenders #20! Don't miss it!

Front Cover: The Defenders Issue 19

Defenders 19