THE DEFENDERS 26
Published: August 1975, 25 cents
Writer: Steve Gerber
Artists: Sal Buscema and V. Colletta
Letterer: K. Mantlo
Colourist: I. Vartanoff
Editor: Len Wein
The Defenders: Hulk, Valkyrie, Doctor Strange, Nighthawk
Guest Appearances: Guardians of the Galaxy (Charlie-27, Martinex, Yondu, Major Vance Astro), Jack Norriss
Nemesis/Villain Appearances: None (seriously, the origin of the Guardians is discussed, mostly!)
They are Mr. and Mrs. Jack Norriss...and they are having difficulties with their relationship. That's why, at Jack's urging, they've come here, to the windswept cliffs of the New Jersey palisades; to be left alone, to talk out their problems in the few hours before dawn breaks. With Aragorn, her winged-horse pacing restlessly behind her, Mrs. Norriss, better known as the Valkyrie, sits poised on the edge of the craggy cliff staring out, over the dark waters of the ocean. Not far away, standing miserably with his hands dug deep into coat pockets while the wind blows relentlessly around him, Jack Norriss breaks the silence by pleading with his estranged wife to try again. Valkyrie, frustrated by conflicting thoughts of both loss and incomprehension, hotly reminds Jack that she is not his wife despite the fact that she inhabits her body. She then turns to him and softens somewhat, explaining that the personality of Barbara Norriss was submerged beneath her won by the magic of the Asgardian Enchantress. She reminds him that he is a stranger to both her eyes and her heart. She insists that Barbara Norriss is gone forever and that he must accept that. Jack is unperturbed, he replies that he only accepts the fact that his wife has gone crazy. Valkyrie implores Jack to forget about Barbara because she cannot be resurrected. Jack kneels beside Val, putting his hand on her shoulder. He turns her to face him, replying that he can never forget her. Without warning, Jack pulls her toward him and presses his lips hard against hers. Yet. for all its passion, the kiss lasts but a single, chilling moment. Pulling away, Jack asks her if she felt anything at all. Valkyrie turns away, she felt nothing. Nothing at all. She then adds that if he values his life, he will never force himself on her again. She then gets up and prepares to leave, explaining that she must join the other Defenders at Doctor Strange's home where he is currently hiding the Guardians of the Galaxy (see GIANT SIZE DEFENDERS #5 for more details). Val mounts Aragorn then suddenly, the earth trembles beneath their feet and the cliff edge, upon which Jack stands begins to crumble. The earthquake causes Jack to slip off the edge and begin to fall to the sea below. As Jack tumbles backward, Val puts the disagreeable experience of a moment ago out of her thoughts. A man's life is in danger, and she alone can effect a rescue. With speed and grace, she guides Aragorn over the edge and downwards, dodging falling boulders, and under Jack. She grabs his arm firmly, moments before he was to plunge into the churning water below. As she hauls Jack astride the winged steed, Norriss cannot help but wonder which is more astounding, the sudden quake or his wife's prodigious strength? Preferring not to consider the latter, perhaps for reasons of self-esteem, he comments on the insanity of the fact that there are no earthquake faults in New Jersey.
Meanwhile, at the Defenders headquarters (aka. Dr. Strange's sanctum), Nighthawk is reporting on the freakish weather to the Master of the Mystic Arts. A tidal wave in England, tornados in the Bahamas and earth tremors on the Palisades, just as Strange predicted would occur as a result of the temporal displacement caused by their "guests". Visitors not from another city, nor nation...not from any planet, but from Earth's future. Charlie-27, last survivor of Earth's Jupiter colony. Major Vance Astro, 1000-year-old survivor of our very own century. And, Yondu, the archer, last of the native race of Centauri-IV, Earth's only interstellar colony. Together, they compromise three-fourths of the Guardians of the Galaxy, freedom fighters from the alien-occupied Earth of 3015 AD. They crashed on Earth, in our era, a few hours ago (see GIANT SIZE DEFENDERS #5). Charlie-27, squat and powerful, pounds his fist with emphasis explaining that they are not the cause of the temporal disturbance as calculated by the absent Guardian, Martinex. Vance Astro, clad in a skin-tight black and white body suit, echoes this sentiment, repeating the fact that they took every conceivable factor into account. The Hulk, looking on and scratching his head, wonders how men from tomorrow can be here when it is still tonight. Dr. Strange picks up the Hulk's comments and explains that THAT is exactly the root of the problem. Namely, Major Astro's presence in this era is disrupting the time-stream because he exists in this time period as a child as well. No one may occupy two spatial points at the same moment in eternity. Major Vance Astro's achievement of this impossibility is spelling doomsday. As such, their ship must be repaired and he must be returned to his time with haste. Nighthawk, who was following the news while the group discussed temporal physics, then indicates that repairing their ship may be a bit of a problem...
The TV reports that: "What you are seeing is a genuine UFO, a ship presumably of extra-terrestrial origin which came crashing to the Earth here in upstate New York a few short hours ago. As you can see the strange craft has been cordoned off by a contingent of National Guard troops, and with good reason. It seems the pilot of this spacecraft has survived the ship's plummet from space and is concealing himself inside". The screen shows the Guardian's ship nose down in the ground, one engine badly damaged (ASIDE: it is interesting to note that the ship looks remarkably like the USS ENTERPRISE of Star Trek fame. So much for originality). The commentator goes on to report that the most puzzling aspect of the ship is it's insignia inscribed on the hull: the English words "Captain America". The commentator corners the presiding army general and asks for a comment on the ship's occupant when suddenly, a trooper yells out that the spaceman is coming out...and that he is a walking diamond...and that he has a kid with him! Exiting the ships portal is a gleaming, gem-like being, led by a younger boy who tells the troops not to shot. Diamond he is not but, rather silicon. And, his name is Martinex, last survivor of Earth's colony (to-be) on Pluto.
Back at Strange's house, Vance Astro sees the boy and exclaims that it is ME! Vance is stunned to see himself in his youth and begs Dr. Strange to do something. The Master of the Mystic Arts jumps into action, pointing out that if one of the Guardsmen should become unnerved, a stray bullet could plunge all eternity into irreparable chaos. Strange raises his hands to the ceiling of the Nassau/Suffolk HQ of the Defenders and a bolt of enchantment is emitted which soars through the roof, traveling hundreds of miles in scant seconds towards the downed spacecraft, striking the starship, Martinex and the young Vance Astrovik, enveloping all in a burst of clear white light. And, when they next appear, the sight that greets their eyes is a far different one as they are transported, ship and all, to an area outside the headquarters. Martinex greets Strange and explains to young Vance that the people responsible for the shift are his friends and allies. Strange asks Martinex how long it will require to repair their ship and he is pleased to discover it will take but a few hours. However, the ship is not designed for intra-atmospheric flight and will need some assistance. Strange advises Martinex to leave that to him to solve. He reminds the Guardian that every second counts due to the fact that the Earth is grinding to a halt on its axis because of the Guardians' presence in this era.
Before any of the Guardians or Defenders can bring himself to comment further, young Vance's unadulterated wonder eases the tension when he asks his older self if they are all spacemen from the same planet. Major Astro replies that if you trace back the ancestry, they are. In the background, Nighthawk wonders what good advice he would give himself if he had met a kid named Kyle Richmond. Young Vance explains that Martinex would not tell him anything about the world they came from so Major Astro quietly whisks his younger self away to give him a short history lesson while the other Guardians effect repairs on their spacecraft. Doctor Strange and Nighthawk follow the pair to a massive tree on the Defenders' grounds.
With some curiosity, Strange asks Astro about the "chronology" of "his" planet. Almost whimsically, with his back leaning against a tree, Major Vance Astro explains, as he examines a wildflower, that they no longer have any wildflowers because they were not deemed essential after the Ozone Catastrophe. All the indoor agricultural space had to be given over to food crops or they all would have starved to death. Astro then realizes that he cannot let on to the boy that what he is about to explain is the future. So, Astro explains that they were not much more advanced than "we" are now when it happened. But, they had made a foolish choice.
They decided they valued dry armpits and the three-billion dollar aerosol industry over our flowers, our food and ultimately, our health. The scientists had warned them. They said the gas in those cans would break down the ozone layer, the world's protection from the sun's ultraviolet rays. But, they didn't believe them, not until the first skin cancer epidemic of 1982. Not until a walk in the sun became so deadly that even to cross the street they needed protective clothing over every inch of their bodies. The sun-suits were not a solution though, the cancer rate continued to soar. If they were going to survive, they had to find a better way to repair the people who were being eaten away bit-by-bit. The answer was bionics, mechanical replacements for human limbs. They were stupid enough to be proud of that great advance. Then, in 1988, their space program ended with a bang when they sent a man on a thousand year journey to the stars which took the last of their funding. Congress had appropriated the rest to pay for more bionics research. This ultimately led to the Bionics Wars of the 1990's. Armies of those man-machines from every country in the world fought over Earth's dwindling food supply. It might have gone on forever, if not for another disaster. A nuclear power plant exploded rendering a land area the size of "your" Canada, uninhabitable. Humanity finally came to its senses. In 1995, the Treaty of Peking was signed forming the first Confederation of Nations. At last, they were going to work together and technology was turned away from the mindless proliferation of weaponry and put to work for people instead of against them. The cities slowly began to smile and laugh again. Human kind was united at last, the realization of a dream. But that dream was cruelly obliterated in the year 2001 when they were invaded by their neighbouring planet (Dr. Strange understands this to be Mars). The population was all but decimated. The invaders actually bred humans for food. The cities crumbled, science died and civilization collapsed. In a word, their world was conquered. (ASIDE: for the second time this issue, a lack of originality is apparent as the drawn panel shows massive machines on tall tripod legs which are exactly what is proposed by H.G. Wells "War of the Worlds"). There are no reliable histories of the period of occupation. Legend had it that a band of "Freemen" led by a charismatic figure known as Killraven, began a revolt against the invaders. All they knew for certain was that by 2075, the aliens had abandoned their world for some unknown reason. However, over the next 500 years there was a Barbaric period, with science highly centralized in feudal city-states ruled by the so-called Techno-Barons who eventually went to war with each other for possession of the Moon. That was their undoing. The serf's didn't want to fight their war. They rebelled and with the execution of the tyrant Kwaal in 2525, the reign of the Techno-Barons ended. Communications were restored between the city-states and a second World Federation was established. They were on their way up once again. This time, they would reach for the stars.
Genetic engineering developed under the Techno-Barons, allowed them to breed sub-species of humans to colonize the solar system from the planet nearest to the sun, to the world farthest from its light and warmth. There, only the silicon men of Martinex's species could survive. But everywhere, men were studying, learning about their universe as never before. In time, they overcame the constraints of gravity to study the gas giants of our solar system. They built city-spheres that hung in those planets' poisonous methane-laden atmospheres and they populated those spheres with the men and women of Charlie's race, whose mass and density were adapted to thrive under those conditions. It all took hundreds of years of course, but by the mid-2900's, they'd undertaken construction of their first starship fleet. By 2960, they reached the nearest star-system to their own and established the first friendly contact with an alien race. The year 3000 was celebrated with the joining of all the colonies as co-equal partners in a United Federation. The Millennium had come...and only a thousand years late. And, speaking of late, remember that guy they sent out into space back in 1988? Well in 3006, he landed. That man turned out to be Major Vance Astro!...a 1000 year-old prisoner in a suit of copper foil. A suit he couldn't discard, because contact with the air would reduce him to dust. And the irony? Man was already there to greet him! The sad soul, he was given a hero's welcome, but somehow he just couldn't make himself care... At least, not until 3007 when, believe it or not, it happened all over again.
A race called the Badoon, this time. They came out of nowhere questing for Galactic Empire and again, their civilization was wrecked. Ten centuries of human struggling, a thousand years of painfully crawling their way up from the dregs...wiped out in what seemed a mere instant. They were slaves, for the third time. The Badoon got all the colonies and finally captured the Homeworld. And, since they had no use for its occupants, only for their resources and labour, they eradicated most of the population. But, four survived: Martinex, Charlie, Yondu and Vance Astro.
The Guardians vowed to take back their world and, over eight years, they had a few triumphs. Like, stealing the last remaining ship of the Starfleet to use as a traveling base. Together, with the Homeworld underground, and several heroes who mysteriously appeared out of their planet's past (namely Captain America and the Thing as seen in Marvel Two-In-One #5), they managed to regain control of one major city.
Major Vance Astro goes on to explain that they have still ten planets to reclaim and fifty million people to release from bondage. Suddenly, he notices that young Vance is crying because he is worried that it may happen to Earth as well (of course, young Vance was unaware that his older self was talking about Earth). Vance tries to soothe young Vance by explaining that no world is predestined, only the past is absolute. Nighthawk asks Dr. Strange if it is true that Astro's story is, in fact, just one possible destiny. Strange, puts his arm around young Vance and explains to Nighthawk that although it may seem paradoxical, it is true. Earth need not suffer the fate of that other world. Young Vance then asks Dr. Strange if he can take him home because his parents may be worried about him. Strange stands behind the young boy and places his hands on the boy's temples. Calling upon the power of the Eternal Vishanti, Dr. Strange transports the young Vance home in a brilliant flash of light. Strange then turns to Major Astro and explains that the boy will remember nothing of what he was told and Vance, suppressing a small smile, indicates that he should have known (after all, he never did remember meeting himself!).
Suddenly, the sound of massive pinions slapping against the night air directs all eyes skyward as Val and her husband arrive. Nighthawk comments somewhat sarcastically on this event. Strange advises Nighthawk to be careful of his choice of words when referring to Mr. Norriss as Val's "hubby". Val asks Strange as to the origins of the spacecraft and Strange quickly fills her in on the story as told by Major Astro. Just then, Charlie notifies Strange that their craft is now space worthy (owing to Charlie and the Hulk pounding out the dents with their fists and some onboard sealant!) and the life support system is operational. Strange tells the Defenders and Guardians to board but Jack Norriss holds Val back, asking her if she is seriously considering this new adventure. Val spins around on Jack, roughly pulling her arm from his grasp, telling him to keep his hands off her and remove himself from her life. Jack stands back dumbfounded and in shock.
Moments later, within the ship, Yondu asks Strange if they are planning on returning with the Guardians. Dr. Strange indicates that they are Earth's Defenders, and this mission is true to their name. Vance informs Strange that all systems are operational. The Master of the Mystic Arts raises his hands in preparation of uttering a spell. Martinex begins to say that he cannot believe that a few esoteric utterances could possibly launch them into orbit but before he can finish, he is amazed to find that the ship suddenly finds itself in space! Dr. Strange then advises the groups to prepare for battle. But, Astro asks Dr. Strange if he has forgotten the time barrier that they must still break. With a minor wave of his hand, Strange points to the view screen showing that this too, has already been dealt with. On the screen, the Empire of Badoon is seen in occupation of Earth. (ASIDE: It seems this was accomplished rather too easily doesn't it? I mean remember back in Defenders #3 when Strange wanted to transport the Silver Surfer beyond Galactus' barrier and that was big fiasco??). Strange tells the team that they should study well the sight of an Earth enslaved because before they leave, the sight shall be no more!
NEXT: The might of the Defenders are turned against the savage Empire of the Badoon, but not before you meet the mysterious being known only as Starhawk! In the next issue Defenders #27 "Three Worlds to Conquer"!
Front Cover: The Defenders Issue 26