THE DEFENDERS 24
"...in the Jaws of the Serpent!"
Published: June 1975, 25 cents
Writer: Steve Gerber
Layouts: Sal Buscema
Inker: Bob McLeod
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colourist: Phil Rachelson
Editor: Len Wein
The Defenders: Hulk, Valkyrie, Doctor Strange, Nighthawk
Guest Appearances: Yellowjacket, Daredevil, Power Man, Son of Satan
Nemesis/Villain Appearances: The Sons of the Serpent
(RECAP: It began with the rescue of a young woman and her infant daughter from a rat infested tenement. Mere hours later, that building was reduced to ashen rubble by the sinister Sons of the Serpent. That was the Defenders' first meeting with this army sworn to drive "the unfit, the foreign-born, the inferior" from America's shores. Their second confrontation came after the serpent-spawn fire bombed lower Manhattan. Half that area now lies in smoldering ruin while Doctor Strange, Valkyrie, Yellowjacket and Nighthawk are held captive. END OF RECAP).
In the lair of the Serpent, Strange, Val, YJ and Nighthawk are held captive, bound to poles, wrapped by metal snakes which signify the Sons of the Serpent. The leader of the snakes is ranting to his prisoners about the ramifications of betraying their "fellow white man" to the "oppressed minorities". They are slated to be executed publicly as examples to those who would oppose the "tide of history". The leader talks of a Great White Revolution when the white race purifies the nation by torching the ghettos in every major city across the USA, forcing the "non-white vermin" to flee the cities to the suburbs "where white men herded their families decades ago to escape the black, brown and yellow skinned animals". Here the whites will have a choice: accept the refugees into their homes or slay them. For a time, the suburbs will be a battleground and many whites will die but, in the end, whites will prevail.
Fortunately, Dr. Strange was spared this tirade as he remains unconscious. Valkyrie is sickened by what he hears from the Serpent leader. Can the colour of a person's skin call for so much? Yellowjacket is miffed at the pettiness of channeling so much energy into something so minor. Nighthawk understands that there is no reasoning with the Sons of the Serpent, but inwardly he wishes Strange were awake so they could escape these bonds and pound some sense into these foul villains. The Serpent leader announces that they are going to leave to begin there work on the streets when suddenly Valkyrie snaps. Using every ounce of strength, she bursts from her bonds with a cry of freedom, sending pieces of the snake bonds in all directions! The troops are momentarily stunned by this show of unbelievable force and Val uses this to her advantage, throwing herself at four Serpent members. The warrior-woman has taken Nighthawk's advice to heart; the Serpents believe what they believe because they really believe it. To argue would be futile, and far less satisfying than the course she has chosen. So she simply hammers away at them, dodging their gun blasts, tossing them this way and that, until one of the horde loses a headpiece and Val sees to her alarm that the Serpent member is a woman. Stunned, Val stumbles backwards knowing that she is forbidden to harm another woman through the Enchantress' magic. Nighthawk tries to warn Val to look out behind her but his shout comes too late. Her one instant's hesitation proves Val's undoing. While she stands paralyzed, unable to act, another foe strikes. Val is struck by a gun blast and collapses. The leader is pleased by her re-capture and announces that they will take Val with them and make her the first to die publicly. One Serpent, his ego and head bruised by being walloped by Val, moves to collect her fallen body. Meanwhile the Serpent-woman chides the male Son of the Serpent remarking that it is lucky for him that the charter was amended to allow Daughters of the Serpent as well.
Meanwhile, back in Greenwich Village, in the sanctum of Dr. Strange, a haggard Bruce Banner recovers slowly after making his way back from the ruins of what was lower Manhattan. With a fuzzy head, he tries to recount the events of the Defenders capture to Clea, Wong and Val's husband, Jack (who has trouble believing Bruce is the Hulk). Bruce explains that the Defenders are in danger, and are in need of assistance from others who have worked with the team in the past such as the Silver Surfer, Daredevil, Power Man, Daimon Hellstrom, the Sub-Mariner and Hawkeye. Bruce asks Clea if she is able, as Strange's disciple, to summon the heroes. Clea remarks that she has never attempted this before but will try if it will help Strange and his allies.
Trembling, Clea ascends the stairs to the sanctum's third story, enters a small, dark antechamber, closes the door behind her and calls forth from its cask of concealment the Crystal of Agamotto. Using deep concentration, she sends her thoughts through space, reaching out to contact first Daimon Hellstrom, the Son of Satan (currently in St. Louis, Missouri). Her message is terse and delivered with the swiftness of thought, for she cannot maintain this degree of concentration for long: "Defenders in peril of their lives...come at once...New York...sanctum of Dr. Strange". And, then she is gone. Daimon ponders the request and quickly decides that the need is genuine. Last time he aided the Defenders (see Giant Defenders #2) he was teleported by Dr. Strange. This time however, he calls upon the psychosensitive properties of his nether-metal trident and sends forth a command of his own: "Hecate...Set...Amon! To your master!" And, from beneath the waters of Fire Lake near his home in Massachusetts, his demon-steeds rise into the cold night sky, drawing his fiery chariot after them!
Back in the Big Apple, atop another rooftop, a certain Man Without Fear surveys the devastation in the streets below. He notes that the police now have things under control but he is frustrated that he did not arrive earlier to stop the Serpent's destruction. Suddenly, Clea's astral projection appears next to the Daredevil on the roof. Daredevil's radar sense indicates that there is nothing next to him and yet he hears a woman's voice. Clea repeats the same request she gave Daimon. Daredevil marvels at the fact that being blind does not prevent him from seeing "visions". Like the Son of Satan, he ponders the authenticity of the request as it did not come from Dr. Strange. Trusting his instincts and the given the facts that no one else really knows that the Defenders actually exist as a team, and that they have worked together in the past (see Giant Defenders #3), he forges ahead, fearless!
Clea attempts to press on with her task But even as her thoughts probe seaward, toward Atlantis, her fingertips quiver, her eyelids droop, a multihued wave washes over her brain and she drops to the floor. Bruce, Wong and Jack Norriss hear her thud above in the upstairs chamber. Wong and Bruce rush up the stairs, fearing the worst, but are relieved to see that she simply fainted from the stress associated with astral contact. Bruce apologizes to Clea for putting her through the ordeal as she relates that she was only able to contact Daredevil and Daimon Hellstrom. Realizing that to contact Namor, the Silver Surfer and Hawkeye they would require the crystal, Bruce turns to more prosaic means of communication, the telephone. He puts a call through with directory assistance and remarkably, he makes connection the first time he dials. Luckily, Luke Cage, Hero for Hire, better known as Power Man, is there to answer Bruce's call. He at first has difficulty believing what Bruce relates to him but he scribbles down an address anyway and departs his shabby 42nd Street office. A short time later, after an uneventful transit ride, Power Man walks up the steps to Dr. Strange's home at the same time the Daredevil arrives. They make introductions and are about to knock when a scream and screech shatters the quiet of the night. The pair turn to watch the arrival of the Son of Satan and his trio of hellish stallions.
Stunned and speechless, Daredevil and Cage gape at the equally silent, grim-visaged emissary of Hell, who has descended into their midst. Slowly, with a chilling calm that belies his fiery presence, the young exorcist steps from his blazing chariot, eyes fixed on the doorway of Strange's sanctum. Daredevil's radar sense detects a figure which appears like Satan, but he cannot believe it. Even more strange, DD senses two heartbeats as though someone else, another being, was suppressed inside the fork-holding figure which approaches (NOTE: Daredevil is sensing the Son of Satan's demonic Second Self, the raging wildly violent beast within, which he must forever fight to hold in check). The Son of Satan does not utter a sound, nor make any gesture, but DD and Power Man step aside, allowing him to pass and his is the finger which finally rings the doorbell. The door is answered by an astonished Clea and a disheveled Bruce Banner.
Moments later, after introductions are made all around, the three new arrivals are briefed on the Defenders perilous situation. Their first course of action is to learn the location of the Serpent's Headquarters. The group turns to the captured Serpent member whom Yellowjacket captured earlier...
Back at the Serpent's HQ, Doctor Strange is still out cold. YJ asks Nighthawk why he and Val recovered so much quicker. Nighthawk explains to Yellowjacket that Strange is still out because, despite his magic powers, he is only human. Whereas Valkyrie is physically very powerful and his own strength is doubled at night. YJ seems a little miffed at the comment of being "only human". Now that Yellowjacket's ankle pain has subsided, he is able to focus his concentration to activate the cybernetic circuitry in his cowl and he shrinks to insect-size. Seems YJ is more than human too! Nighthawk is shocked because he was unaware Yellowjacket could do that. And, as YJ slips beneath his restraints to freedom, Nighthawk apologizes for his comment. Yellowjacket then regains his human size and attempts to break the coils which still ensnare Nighthawk, but he is unable to. Realizing he cannot free his fellow Defenders, YJ decides to head off on his own to discover where they have taken Val, or at the very least bring back the Hulk. As Nighthawk calls good luck after Yellowjacket, YJ is surprised to find no guards posted as he leaves the area of their imprisonment, he wonders why. But, as YJ rounds the corner of the grey metal corridor, he discovers that reason...he eyes widen and his jaw drops at the site of a foot thick window of glass which looks out onto the floor of the Atlantic ocean. YJ immediately sets out to find a way of escape from their watery prison.
Meanwhile, back at the sanctum sanctorum of Dr. Strange, Hellstrom, urged by the Hulk's milder alter-ego Bruce Banner, attempts to hypnotize their captive. At first he resists but then soon, the Serpents' will falls under the control of the Son of Satan. Staring into his eyes, Hellstrom commands the snake to reveal the location of their headquarters. In a dazed voice, the man reports that they have two secret bases but before he can tell more, he breaks into a mixed nursery rhyme, babbling incoherently. Standing back, Hellstrom explains that evidently, the Serpent's foresaw this exact possibility and programmed their minions to respond in this manner when under hypnosis. He explains it will take time to pierce this barrier. Suddenly, the Serpent member is grabbed roughly by the shirt collar and thrown violently against the opposite wall by Power Man who indicates he does not intend to sit around and wait while his people are being slain by these snake-face chums. There are other ways of making a person talk...Cage pushes the terrified Serpent against the wall and demands some answers or else face a fist full of big, black hairy knuckles. But, before the panicked villain can speak, Elena (the woman Val rescued from the tenement that the Serpents destroyed) runs into the room screaming that the Sons of the Serpent are going to kill Valkyrie. Earlier in the evening, the Serpents were able to interrupt broadcasts nationwide to present an address by their leader and now they want to make a spectacle of Val's murder! Jack Norriss if the first to see her on the TV and he flies into a rage, cursing the Defenders for dragging his wife into this, he then rushes past them all, explaining that he has to save Barbara! It is only then that the new Defenders catch their first glimpse of the TV screen and they all are shocked at what they see.
In the middle of the street, hanging upside down on an inverted cross, over firewood, Valkyrie is being prepared for her death. The pyre is surrounded by hundreds of Sons of the Serpent who hoot and holler with each word from their leader who stands next to Val, a burning torch in his hand. The leader cries out that "this white traitoress shall die by the flame on an inverted cross which symbolizes blasphemy and ignominy. Let her death be fair warning to all others who would betray their hereditary kinsmen...that their fates will be the same!"
Daredevil senses the anger in the room grow but turns his attention to Banner who, he is stunned to discover, has transformed into the Hulk! The jade giant bounds out of the room, out of the house and into the street. His new partners-in-peril follow close at his heels. Hellstrom instructs Clea to do her best to contact Dr. Strange and to pray that they reach Valkyrie in time! An instant later, they are gone: Daredevil carried away on his billy club's steel cable; the Hulk catapulted into the sky by the mightiest leg muscles on earth; the Son of Satan at the reins of his fiery chariot with a still-disbelieving Power Man hanging on for dear life, as the team of hellspawn pulls it aloft.
Traversing miles in mere moments, they arrive just as the torch touches the tinder near Val's head, and braced for battle, they descend. However, just as Hellstrom and Cage enter the fray, the chariot and its occupants are swallowed by an hole in the air. The Hulk sees this and thinks they departed on their own but does not care for them, his sites are on rescuing Val whom he does care for. His first attack sends four Serpents flying as he lands with a mighty thud! Daredevil swings in and takes out three himself with solid kicks to their astonished jaws. DD understands that something must have happened to the pair but, considering the odds they are facing and the fact that the Hulk gets stronger the angrier he gets, it might be just as well! Daredevil takes two more out with solid swinging fists and is nearly at the burning cross when suddenly a Serpent clubs him on the head from behind and as Daredevil slips into unconsciousness, he hears his assailant scream "death to all white traitors!" The Hulk continues to wipe the street with the Serpents but he is unprepared for the gun which a Serpent points at his face. A special pistol rigged to fire a brilliant flash of light which effectively blinds the Hulk! The irony of it is all too bitter. The massive Hulk felled by a weapon which would have no effect on the far less powerful Daredevil...and now, both are blind. The green behemoth kneels helpless and trembling like a frightened child, while the Man Without Fear is borne to the flames to join Valkyrie, in a final blaze of glory!
NEXT: The stunning conclusion as the Doc, Val, Hulk, Kyle, YJ, DD, Daimon and Luke uncover mind-boggling revelations in ...The Serpent Uncoiled!
Front Cover: The Defenders Issue 24