THE DEFENDERS 23
"...and the Snakes Shall Inherit the Earth!"
Published: May 1975, 25 cents
Writer: Steve Gerber
Layouts: Sal Buscema
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: Junie B.
Colourist: Don W.
Editor: Len Wein
The Defenders: Hulk, Valkyrie, Doctor Strange, Nighthawk
Guest Appearances: Yellowjacket
Nemesis/Villain Appearances: The Sons of the Serpent
(RECAP: It began when the warrior-woman Valkyrie rescued a young mother and her infant daughter from a heatless, rat-infested tenement in lower Manhattan. Mere hours later, that same tenement was reduced to ashen rubble by the sinister Sons of the Serpent whose leader spouted, "As the first serpent drove Adam and Eve from Eden...so shall we drive from this land the unfit, the foreign-born and the inferior!" In other words, the building housed mostly blacks, Puerto Ricans and old people. Adding insult to injury, the white landlord of the building arrived on the scene in time to see the blaze extinguished and, to fan the still smouldering tempers to near riot level heat by accusing the tenants of arson. That is when all hell broke loose surrounding the Defenders. Fortunately, before more lives could be lost, the only cooler head present prevailed, that of Dr. Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts. By animating the heavy fire hoses, sending them snaking through the mob, the Sorcerer Supreme downed friend and foe alike, forcing the serpent-spawn to retreat, but not before they avowed vengeance. And, with the mildest tinge of regret, allowing slumlord Harold Holliman to escape to his waiting limousine barely in time for the lessor to avoid being torn to bits by his irate lessees. After the crowd had dispersed, Nighthawk noted to Strange that he had met Holliman earlier that evening at a party. The Doctor pointed out to Nighthawk that the forces of Karma work in puzzling ways and that next time he should listen more closely. Moments later, the Defenders prepare to depart the scene and head back to Strange's sanctum to consider their newest enemies, leaving the clean up to the tenants and the fire department: END OF RECAP).
And so, Valkyrie, Nighthawk, Strange and the Hulk depart for the magician's Greenwich Village abode, unaware that they have been followed not only by a deadly duo of reptilian garbed foes, but also by the man called Yellowjacket! The ex-Avenger was on his way to see Dr. Strange when he spotted the pair of Serpents following the Defenders. Jumping down from a high perch, Yellowjacket slams an unsuspecting Son of the Serpent in the back. From behind him, the second Serpent rushes Yellowjacket with a club in hand. But, he is easily subdued with one solid punch. Suddenly, a sharp pain lashes across Yellowjacket's shoulder as the first Serpent, who recovered faster than YJ suspected, fires his weapon. Before the villain can get off a second shot, Yellowjacket launches himself at his adversary, right for the gut this time. Then, his fist lunges hard into the Serpent's solar plexus. YJ can feel the wind come rushing out from his foe's gaping jaws, a veritable summer breeze on this chill winter night. Yellowjacket turns to see his other assailant fleeing so he decides one in hand is worth two in the bush, so he lets him go.
And so, moments later, the Defenders, seated in the large living room in Strange's sanctum, receive two surprise visitors. Nighthawk is first to notice the ex-Avenger. Yellowjacket issues a greeting to the group (NOTE: they met last in GIANT-SIZE DEFENDERS #4) and tosses the stunned Serpent onto the floor, at the feet of Nighthawk. The caped Defender grabs the villain, rips off the mask and begins drilling the Serpent for details concerning the Sons of the Serpent organization. The Valkyrie and Dr. Strange meanwhile, turn to greet YJ and fill him in on their latest run-in with the Serpents. Turning their attention back to their foe, the Serpent babbles on about the Sons being a great white army with battalions coast-to-coast in every major city with thousands of members. He goes on to explain that no one can stop them and that tonight at midnight, on TV, the nation will see their leader speak! Dr. Strange speaks a spell and using the Flames of the Faltine, holds the Serpent motionless. Nighthawk scoffs at the Serpent's remarks calling him stark raving mad. Strange meanwhile, notes that is near midnight and is about to go to the TV room when Nighthawk suddenly exclaims that they are being watched. He whirls around to face the ground floor window and sure enough, a shadowy figure could be seen outlined against the dark of the night. Nighthawk is about to jump through the glass window when Yellowjacket intercedes and pulls from his belt, his cellular disrupter. A narrow, sharply focused beam of light issues forth from the gun passing harmlessly through the window pane and causing the fleeting figure outside to drop in his tracks. And with good reason, every cell in his body has momentarily been stopped from functioning. And, in the seconds it requires for the numbness to pass from his prone form, the Defenders are upon him. Nighthawk turns the man over and is shocked to find that it is the "peeping tom" he saw earlier that night. Dr. Strange indicates that he does not look like a Son of the Serpent and the Valkyrie pulls Dragonfang from its scabbard and, holding it at his throat, asks him what the purpose of his spying was. The man turns his face up to Val and says to her that he is Jack Norriss, her husband! Val stand motionless, then her sword slips from her grasp and clinks to the apartment's floor. For long moments, she stares at the face of the handsome young man, but it remains the face of a stranger to her. For though Val inhabits the body of Barbara Denton Norriss, the body of this man's wife, she possesses none of Barbara's memories. Inexplicitly horrified and revolted by Jack Norriss' presence, the swordswoman averts her eyes and darts from the room to the back of the house, leaving her compatriots...and her conjugal partner...behind. Yellowjacket picks up the fallen sword and attempts to understand just what occurred. Meanwhile, Strange and Nighthawk pulls Jack to his feet and help steady him.
Strange then turns to Yellowjacket and promises to explain the reaction of Val to him when there is time but now they have a more pressing matter to deal with. Namely, the TV appearance of the Son's of the Serpent. Nighthawk is miffed at Strange's apparent callous dealing of Val's distress but the Doctor quietly turns to his manservant Wong and is informed that Val has regained her composure. Moments later she returns, apparently recovered from her personal crisis. The tension in the room is palpable however, everyone turns their attention to the room's TV. Suddenly, the TV program they were viewing is cut off and the screen fills with the image of the head of a cobra. A calm, evenly modulated voice over announces the arrival of the Serpent Supreme of the United States. Again, the picture changes revealing the Sons of the Serpent's leader.
"My fellow Americans," the Serpent Supreme begins, "I come before you at a time when our nation stands at the crossroads of its destiny." The effect is disconcerting. His voice- calm, assured, reasonable in tone- belies his fanatic's garb. For a moment, Nighthawk seems to sense a friendly familiarity about it, and then realizes, it must be the words, not the voice. He's heard them before from senators, congressmen, presidents and they are as comfortingly vacuous as ever. The Serpent Supreme continues, explaining that the United States is plagued by unseen enemies: inflation, unemployment, recession. While the average American struggles daily, the government wastes billions of dollars on the lazy, the malcontents, and those who threaten the well-being of the majority...the WHITE majority. The snake leader goes on to identify the blacks, the Chinese, the Jews, and anyone else who speaks a foreign language. The minorities who rule the American nation because they have not the courage to refuse. Finally, the Serpent Supreme gets to the point: they intend to rid the country of these "leeches" and they call upon every "oppressed" member of the white race to join them, the Sons of the Serpent! Together they will become an army of common man who stand pledged to "wipe out" the cancer in this great land. "As the first Serpent drove Adam and Eve from Eden, we shall drive drive from this land the unfit, the foreign born and the inferior". The battle begins tonight, in New York.
The image fades, and the Defenders gaze speechless and horrified at the now black screen. Yellowjacket can only mutter the word "communist" but the team is grimly aware that there are those who will believe this madman's ranting. There are frustrated Americans who will answer his call. Strange turns to his friends and asks them, what are the Defenders to do? The Hulk simply wants them smashed, but Nighthawk is quick to inform the green skinned behemoth that they must find them (and their leader) first. Yellowjacket asks the team who'd benefit from such a disruption as planned by the Serpent's but it is Nighthawk who realizes that Holliman, the landlord whom he spoke to earlier, would be just the man! Suddenly, the house begins to shake from an explosion somewhere outside. Racing out into the street and sighting no damage in the immediate neighbourhood, the Defenders cast their eyes around and above them and are stunned to see the midnight sky to the south pulse with the brilliant, and eerie, glow of red-orange which could have only been a fire-bomb! YJ remarks that it was most likely dropped from a plane and have of lower Manhattan could be in flames! With an authority that Nighthawk respects, Yellowjacket orders the Hulk to follow him (which amazingly he does!) and commands the rest of the team to find Holliman!
Moments later, YJ and the Hulk arrive in Manhattan only discover their worst fears realized. The city's streets are engulfed in flames. Yellowjacket explains to the Hulk that they must quickly erect a barricade to contain the fire and he orders the Hulk to bring down several abandoned warehouses. Without question, the Hulk obeys and, hurtling down from the sky like a one-man demolition squad, he smashes a building to pieces. Flying above the burning city, YJ spots several kids running through the streets and sweeps down to rescue them before a nearby wall collapses on them.
Meanwhile, back in the village, Jack Norriss confronts Val as she prepares to join her team mates. He asks her if she really believes she is "some sort of Amazon". Val tries to explain that she is not the woman he wed and, as she turns to fly off, she calls back that her place is now alongside the Defenders. Silently, Norriss watches his wife and her winged steed take to the sky and concludes that either he or she is utterly insane...and it matters not a whit: he loves her.
Back in Manhattan, the Hulk surveys the damage he created and is frustrated to see the fire still advancing. So, he decides to take matters into his own hands, literally. A single clap of the mightiest mortal hands on earth...that's all it takes to set up a wind blast of near-hurricane force that sends stray bricks and charred wood flying madly through the streets and snuffs out the raging holocaust. And, which catches the only flying human in the vicinity, Yellowjacket, completely unawares. His wings beat ineffectually against the gale and he plummets earthward where he manages to execute a painful one-point landing. Still, the two children he holds are put to ground safely and unharmed. However, his left ankle is badly twisted. Grimacing, he instructs the children to quickly find the police and sends them away. Suddenly, from behind the fallen rubble, a troop of the Sons of the Serpent arrives and notices the incapacitated Yellowjacket. YJ attempts to activate his cybernetic circuitry and shrink to insect-size but he is in too much pain to concentrate and they are upon him swiftly. With a club to the head, he is rendered unconscious.
The Long Island estate of Harold Holliman is a chillingly quiet contrast to the pandemonium that reigns in the city. Which is not to say that tempers are not calmer here. Dr. Strange has just had the front door slammed in his face by an irate Holliman who refuses to answer any questions the Doctor poses. He lives alone in his suburban palace of white granite, eighteen rooms all to himself. He rarely has visitors and never entertains and when people drop by uninvited, disturbing his sleep and invading his privacy, he becomes enraged. He drives them away and sputters curses down his empty corridors. Tonight, he stalks upstairs back to his bedroom, throws open the door and then freezes in arrant horror, for floating above his bed he sees the astral image of Dr. Strange who commands him to return to the door and admit them at once. With his head nodding wildly and perspiration racing in rivulets down the loose, bouncing flesh of his cheeks and jowls, Holliman accedes. Moments later, Nighthawk is interrogating the landlord about his involvement with the Sons of the Serpent. However, after several minutes of rough questioning, even Strange has to admit that perhaps Holliman has nothing to do with their adversaries after all. They decide to return to the city to aid Yellowjacket and the Hulk.
Moments later, the Defenders find their emerald comrade walking amidst the rubble which was once an abandoned warehouse but YJ is no where to be seen. They question the Hulk as to Yellowjacket's whereabouts but the jade giant has no idea. Suddenly, the team is surrounded by the same troop of Serpents that earlier captured Yellowjacket. They open fire on the Defenders. Six ray-blasts stab out and instantly stun Dr. Strange, Valkyrie and Nighthawk senseless. But, although his body is the target of fully half the gunman, the incredible Hulk still stands. He is shaken to be sure, but more important, he is very, very angry! Enraged, the Hulk launches himself at the snake-men, their guns weaken him, but do not stop his advance. The leader orders his troops to use their robot staves. Like Magi in some pharaoh's court, the serpent-spawn strike their staffs hard against the asphalt and they are transformed into writhing coils of roboticized steel! Coils which flash and hiss with pulsing, throbbing, deadly electricity! The electric snakes twine themselves about the jade giant, and the pain they inflict is quite literally staggering. But, even this is insufficient to halt a creature whose gamma ray-altered body chemistry translates his anger into raw power. The Sons of the Serpent then add their blasters to the attacking robot snakes. They say the third time is a charm and this proves no exception. When the pistols cease firing, the Hulk stand stock still. His jade jaw drops, his emerald eyelids grow enormously heavy, then shut tight as he falls with a thud, unconscious.
The serpent-men gather up the fallen Dr. Strange, Valkyrie and Nighthawk with plans on taking them to their headquarters for what the troops believe to be a public execution. They leave the Hulk because none of them is strong enough to lift the green giant. As the Sons of the Serpent carry the Defenders off, the Hulk sleeps on. Moments later, unbeknownst to the Sons, his anger spent, the Hulk slowly transforms from the green behemoth back to his human form, Bruce Banner...
NEXT: The Defenders join forces with Daredevil, Power Man and Son of Satan to save a nation on the brink of chaos ...The Serpent Sheds Its Skin!
Front Cover: The Defenders Issue 23