THE DEFENDERS 21
"Enter: The Headmen!"
Published: March 1975, 25 cents
Writer: Steve Gerber
Artist: Sal Buscema
Inker: Sal Trapani
Letterer: John Costanza
Colourist: G. Roussos
Editor: Len Wein
The Defenders: Hulk, Valkyrie, Doctor Strange, Nighthawk
Guest Appearances: Clea, Trixie Starr
Nemesis/Villain Appearances: The Headmen (Dr. Arthur Nagan, Jerry Morgan and Chondu)
The Valkyrie's search for the woman she was has lead her, her fellow Defenders and the Thing, to Cobbler's Roost, Vermont, a quiet little town in the Green Mountain state. Outside the home of Barbara Denton's father, Doctor Strange and Nighthawk watch on as the Thing, seated in the Fantasticar, raises his hand and waves goodbye to Dr. Strange and Nighthawk. As the Thing flies off, the two Defenders wave back to the solo member of the Fantastic Four after expressing their gratitude and appreciation for his helping Val defeat the Executioner and the Enchantress (see Defenders #20).Created full-grown, without memory, without a past, by the magic of the Enchantress, Valkyrie inhabits the body of Barbara Denton, a person she never knew, but is coming to know. In the day just past, she has been reunited with her father...and seen him die. She has just met several of Barbara's acquaintances in Cobbler's Roost, and she has made one very disturbing recovery...one she has not yet shared with Nighthawk or Dr. Strange.
As Ben's vehicle disappears into the distance, Strange turns to Nighthawk and asks him if he has noticed how silent and withdrawn Valkyrie has become since they defeated Van Nyborg's cult that morning. Nighthawk comments that he is surprised she can function at all considering all that she has gone through on top of having to live in a house where she and her family spent their summers. He remarks that she must feel like the only living thing in a house full of ghosts. The pair enter the house to find Val in the living room, quietly flipping through an old photo album. Her eyes go over the pictures it contains but she finds nothing familiar, even though they all mark important moments in the life of Barbara Denton. She whispers that although she feels she should know these people, these places, they mean nothing to her, not even the face of her...husband.
Nighthawk is taken aback when he hears that Val is married and he asks her if she still loves him. The Valkyrie snaps the photo album shut in frustration and exclaims that how can she possibly know that? Val decides that the only way to find out the truth is to confront him. Strange suggests that he should accompany her in the event that her husband reacts oddly. Val thanks Strange for his concern but asks him to understand that she must do this alone. Abruptly, Kyle bursts in obvious frustration sarcastically commenting that he will try to understand how she forgot she was married. He storms out of the room telling Val to give her "hubby" his fondest regards and indicating that he has another iron or two in the fire anyway. Val is perplexed with his sudden change in behaviour, she cannot understand why Nighthawk is so upset...it is Dr. Strange who enlightens Valkyrie by asking her if she was not aware that Kyle had held great affection for her. Nighthawk leaves the house and heads back to the city.
Meanwhile, in Westbury, Connecticut, a man bids
his wife farewell as he heads out to an afternoon of golf. As he steps out his
front door, he is horrified to find a huge green behemoth standing over his
children as they play skip-rope on the front lawn. Having leaped across the
continent on the world's most powerful legs, a certain incredible green giant
has chosen to pause here, to watch these happy little people at play. He likes
children. Their laughter soothes his spirit, makes his smile...while an
awe-struck neighbourhood trembles. As the Hulk bends down to pat a small child's
head in admiration of her skipping talent, the child's father looks on in horror
as he mistakes the actions of the emerald Defender. He rushes the Hulk in anger
but is easily rebuffed by the shoulder of the Hulk. Turning, the green goliath
spies the stunned suburbanite sprawled on the lawn at his feet. The Hulk angered
by the man's intrusion into his fun with the children raises his arms high over
his head in preparation to smash the "puny human". But, as the jade-skinned
giant presses his eyes shut, grits his teeth and brings down his clasped hands
with pile-driver force, the man, driven by pure panic propels himself to safety.
Alas, the same cannot be said of his home as the Hulk's blow to the ground sets
up a shock-wave which courses across the lawn and brings down the house! And
then, the Hulk himself is struck with the cruelest blow of all. His diminutive
friend, wailing hysterically, pounds savagely on his massive kneecap. Screaming
that he broke her house and hurt her daddy. The Hulk, turns from the crying girl
with tears in his own eyes. He bemoans that all he wanted to do was have fun and
apologizes and with a mighty leap, he bounds off, leaving the girl's father
wondering what he is going to do with a ruined house. No one really seems to pay
much attention to a neighbour who was watching on and who now breathes a sigh
of relief: Dr. Arthur Nagan.
While others rush to aid their stricken
neighbour, Nagan returns his attention to his own affairs. Peering over his
shoulder, he believes he feels their eyes on him wondering why he does not join
them. Or maybe, they are pitying him for his stooped posture, or his shuffling
gait. With a half-hearted smile he shrugs it all off and enters his home. Inside
his quiet suburban home there is a well-stocked laboratory. Hard at work we find
Dr. Nagan's associate, Jerry Morgan, carefully pouring a solution from one flask
to another. Jerry asks Nagan what all the commotion was outside and then before
he hears an answer, exclaims that the mixture they have been working on is now
quite stable. Dr. Nagan, excited by the news that a correct formula may have
been found with which he may exact his revenge, removes a glove he wears to
reveal a blue furred hand, capped with sharp nails. Jerry is not as melodramatic
and as he turns, he reveals himself: his head is large and misshapen, his face
hanging from his skull like melted wax. Jerry reminds Nagan that the formula is
useless unless they find the proper head to receive it. With a note of surprise
in his voice, Nagan informs Jerry that he has, indeed, found the person they
have been searching for... At virtually the same instant, a jet-propelled
Nighthawk lands at Kyle Richmond's Park Avenue penthouse. Nighthawk quietly
mumbles that he brought it all on himself, citing his weakness for weird women.
Suddenly, he is brought out of his thoughts by an old girlfriend, model Trixie
Starr who had let herself into his
While others rush to aid their stricken neighbour, Nagan returns his attention to his own affairs. Peering over his shoulder, he believes he feels their eyes on him wondering why he does not join them. Or maybe, they are pitying him for his stooped posture, or his shuffling gait. With a half-hearted smile he shrugs it all off and enters his home. Inside his quiet suburban home there is a well-stocked laboratory. Hard at work we find Dr. Nagan's associate, Jerry Morgan, carefully pouring a solution from one flask to another. Jerry asks Nagan what all the commotion was outside and then before he hears an answer, exclaims that the mixture they have been working on is now quite stable. Dr. Nagan, excited by the news that a correct formula may have been found with which he may exact his revenge, removes a glove he wears to reveal a blue furred hand, capped with sharp nails. Jerry is not as melodramatic and as he turns, he reveals himself: his head is large and misshapen, his face hanging from his skull like melted wax. Jerry reminds Nagan that the formula is useless unless they find the proper head to receive it. With a note of surprise in his voice, Nagan informs Jerry that he has, indeed, found the person they have been searching for...
At virtually the same instant, a jet-propelled Nighthawk lands at Kyle Richmond's Park Avenue penthouse. Nighthawk quietly mumbles that he brought it all on himself, citing his weakness for weird women. Suddenly, he is brought out of his thoughts by an old girlfriend, model Trixie Starr who had let herself into hisapartment. So shocked is he to see her, he forgets that he is dressed as Nighthawk. Trish, as she explains she now prefers to be called, asks him about his Hallowe'en costume. So, Nighthawk sits her down and explains to her about his recent association with the Defenders. Long and bizarre, but in the half-hour or so that follows, Kyle tells all: The Grandmaster, The Squadron Sinister and by the time he comes to Cobbler's Roost, Trish Starr is left staring and speechless.
On the evening of the same day, a bleary-eyed Bruce Banner staggers from an alley way onto the sidewalks of Greenwich Village. Grasping his head and hobbling like a drunk, he makes his way to the sanctum of Dr. Strange. Inside, Clea and Strange look in on Val who seems lost in deep and private thoughts. They realize they can do nothing more for her. Clea suddenly hears someone at the front door and reluctantly, Strange and Clea move to answer it. As Bruce stumbles inside in near total exhaustion, he is aided by Strange to a nearby armchair, where he is left to recover. Valkyrie, upon hearing the commotion, rushes in to see what is happening. The team ponders that calamity that this day has brought them.
The next few hours however, pass in relative calm. Banner is shown upstairs to a guest room and summarily falls into a deep sleep as the evening moves on toward midnight. Meanwhile beneath a viaduct of the West Side highway, Dr. Nagan and Jerry Morgan appear to be waiting. Jerry comments that it is too bad that the two of them are unable to accept the serum. They are not trained to probe beyond the earthly sphere...they need a visionary, a seer. Suddenly, high above them a speck of light appears. But, it grows larger as it draws closer, descending into their presence like a living borealis...the multi-hued aura of Chondu the Mystic! The magician remarks that he, like the other Headmen, has been ostracized from his colleagues and from society. Like Jerry Morgan, whose experiments in cellular compression predated even those of Henry Pym but which ended in his disastrous disfiguration. He turns his attention to Dr. Nagan whose work on organ transplants worked too well. The apes he used as donors rebelled, somehow gained human intellect and grafted his head onto one of their bodies. Indeed, as Nagan removes his jacket, he reveals the body of a gorilla. Facing them both after removing his turban, Chondu remarks that he has investigated them both thoroughly and has decided to join them in their venture.
Employing a strange diamond tipped hypodermic drill, Nagan injects the Morgan Serum directly into Chondu's skull. Almost at once, the mystic's brain cells react. Impulses race from neuron to neuron at shorter and shorter intervals, the interior of his head is a veritable electron blaze. And, he enters a trance that is more than a trance. According to plan, he probes further than he ever dared before beyond our universe...for a weapon! The fingers of his unconsciousness reach out, clutch and pull...drawing a nightmare into our world. A sinister dream that dissolves into a black rain and seeps into sleeping minds throughout the city. Of course, the phenomenon is not a physical one...nor even visible...to those who are awake this night.
High on the balcony garden of his expensive penthouse, still attired in his superhero costume, Nighthawk ponders the evening he just spent talking aimlessly with Trish. He left her sleeping on his couch where she drifted off in mid-sentence. Suddenly, a shriek startles Kyle out of his reverie. He turns in time to see Trish come racing out of the living room onto the roof garden, eyes wide open but seeing nothing save the dream terror. Nighthawk yells at her to stop and moves with incredible speed and grabs her by the wrists just before she nearly plunges fifty stories to the street below. But, she seems not to hear his anguished cries...nor even feel his powerful hands upon her. He shakes her, her body snaps forward and back, whip-like. But the nightmare will not relax its grip. Trish continues to writhe and scream, until Kyle takes drastic action. He slaps her hard across the face and only then does the tautness in every muscle begin to dissipate as she loses consciousness.
As Nighthawk cradles her in his arms wondering what it is that she could be dreaming of, he hears screaming and the sounds of panic from the streets below. Setting Trish down gently, he races back to the parapet and gazes in horror at the madness below. Thousands of sleeping New Yorkers, in assorted states of dress and undress, leap from windows, race blindly into traffic, their voices commingling in a continuous siren-like shriek, as they all run from the same nameless haunter...as midtown Manhattan becomes an arena of death and dementia.
And, the situation in Greenwich Village is no better. Dr. Strange and Val exit from the sanctum and watch on the street as hundreds of people flee some invisible madness. Suddenly, from the guest room above the Hulk smashes through the window and into the street where he pound a car into a mess of steel and glass. Val and Strange realize that whatever has plagued the masses has also affected the sleeping Bruce Banner. Now, they are faced not only with a screaming populace but also a behemoth gone berserk!
Valkyrie reacts swiftly, in the only manner natural to her. She unsheathes the sword which hangs invisibly at her hip, causing her battle garb to appear. She runs to intercept the mindless Defender before he can do further damage. Standing near the Hulk, she pleads for him to stop endangering lives with his behaviour. But, the monster is asleep and his already limited vocabulary is thus further reduced...to the language of brute force. With one powerful swipe, he knocks the Valkyrie aside like a rag doll. Strange attempts a magical spell but for some reason he senses a mystic interference of incredible magnitude which blocks his spells.
Meanwhile, on 47th Street, better known as New York's "diamond row", the gorilla-bodied Dr. Nagan smashes window after window and scoops the diamonds therein in great handfuls while those around him scream senselessly. Netting themselves a small fortune, Dr. Nagan hopes that his strength, Chondu's talents and Morgan's serum will further the Headmen in their quest to control and conquer the world! Unbeknownst to Dr. Nagan, Nighthawk spots the thieving figure from high above, he swoops down and wallops Nagan from behind. However, Nighthawk is startled to discover that the skulking figure he attacked is not quite human. Without warning, Nagan wallops Kyle in the head with the sack of gems he carries putting Nighthawk out for the count.
Minutes later, across town, Nagan arrives just in time to discover Chondu passing out, just as Jerry predicted. They bundle up the prone mystic into their car and escape the city before the police are out in full force. Meanwhile, in the Village, Strange assists Val to her feet as the madness which gripped the city stops as suddenly as it started. The Hulk stands baffled, embarrassed that her hurt his friend, the Valkyrie. Val and Strange assure him that they understand. Strange expresses his frustration that they have no clue as to who was responsible for the outbreak of madness when suddenly, Nighthawk arrives and relates that he may have a clue. Kyle then goes on to explain to the Defenders about the apeman-thief he encountered. He also apologizes to Val and Strange for his earlier behaviour. Strange ponders if they have heard the last of him, or if this has all been but a prelude to the weirdest menace the Defenders have ever faced...
NEXT: The Sons of the Serpent
Front Cover: The Defenders Issue 21