THE DEFENDERS 30
"Gold Diggers of Fear"
Published: December 1975, 25 cents
Writer: Bill Mantlo
Artists: Sam Grainger
Inker: Jack Abel
Letterer: Karen Mantlo
Colourist: G. Roussos
Editor: Marv Wolfman
The Defenders: Hulk, Valkyrie, Doctor Strange, Nighthawk
Nemesis/Villain Appearances: Tapping Tommy, Maggia hoods
(Warning: This is by far the lamest Defenders story printed)
Only rarely is there a lull in the noise level of a New York City street. A time when one may actually hear oneself think above the jack-hammers, auto-horns and the manifested presence of over eleven million people crammed into much too small an area. Still, there are such moments and it is during one such time that Dr. Strange, master of the mystic arts, walks the streets of Greenwich Village lost in quiet meditation...unaware that he is being followed. Behind him a long sleek car slowly creeps around a corner, its driver speaks quietly to the rear seat passenger that the man they follow is indeed Dr. Strange. The passenger gets out and sneaks up behind Strange who is concentrating deeply on Clea. The man pushes a gun into Strange's back but the magician is in no mood for games. With a subtle motion of Strange's left arm, the gunman is levitated and quickly dumped into a nearby garbage can. Two more thugs descend upon the magician with their guns drawn but before they can act, one of the men intercedes by explaining that their boss wanted Dr. Strange to see a note first (ASIDE: there is an error in dialogue here as the thug with the hat in panel 5; page one who is threatening to shoot Strange is suddenly the guy who in panel 1; page 3 says that they have to give him a note first. It just does not seem right). Dr. Strange magically pulls the note from the man's hand and quickly scans it. The short note is from Kyle Richmond, better known as Nighthawk. Apparently, Kyle has been kidnapped and the note indicates that there is a ransom to be paid for his release. Kyle writes that Dr. Strange is to come to him. The magician realizes that Kyle sent the note so that Strange can find him astrally. He turns to the crooks and asks them to follow him to his home where he can get the appropriate funds. Entering his home, Strange calls out to Wong to take his "guests" to the parlor while he goes to the "safe" in his study. Wong accepts the instructions with a knowing nod. Leaving the thugs in Wong's more than capable hands, Strange retires to his study and promises not to pull any funny business lest he put his friend in jeopardy.
In his study, the sorcerer supreme utters a quiet spell and through his magic, he mentally contacts Nighthawk and asks for an explanation. Kyle explains that he is located on the coast. It seems that Pennysworth had bought an old movie lot when he was employed with Richmond Enterprises. When Kyle went to oversee the investment, he discovered the entire place crawling with Maggia hoods. When they discovered who it was that was prowling, they figured he was worth millions and plan on collecting. Dr. Strange uses his mental powers to pin point Nighthawks location and explains he will be there in a hour. He then astrally contacts the Valkyrie who lives upstairs in Strange's home, and the incredible Hulk who is bounding across the desert. The both agree to his summons ("if bird-nose needs Hulk, the Hulk will come!"). Strange quickly provides directions for the Hulk by having him follow his astral image to Los Angeles! Val asks about the thugs downstairs but Strange can only smile and says that he is sure Wong has taken good care of them by now! Sure enough, down on the main floor, the thugs are out cold on the couch, having been put to sleep with a little powder in their drinks. Strange instructs Wong to call the police to have the men picked up then tells Val that they must depart without haste. Val asks Strange why it is that Kyle was not able to free himself. The magician responds that he is unsure but it suggests that there is more to this than a simple kidnapping. Wave after wave of eldritch energy pulses from the fingertips of Dr. Strange. Waves that seem to bend time and distance, for all dimensions are subject to the will of he who master of the mystic arts...and almost instantaneously, they arrive at their destination in time to see the Hulk thump to the ground.
The group exchanges greetings and Dr. Strange explains to the gathered Defenders that his magical probe has led them to the building they now stand outside of. The Hulk prepares to smash the structure but is stayed by the Valkyrie who warns him that Nighthawk is inside and that he might be harmed by that action. Instead, the team observes through the window...
Inside, they see a man dressed in formal tails and a top hat brandishing a walking stick known as Tapping Tommy. He stands before Kyle who is secured to a chair with coarse rope. Standing around the perimeter are several other thugs. They are gathered in what appears to be an abandoned movie studio. Tommy is explaining to Kyle that by now his associates should have collected his ransom money...or, his doctor friend is dead. Kyle tells the man he is mad and that sooner or later someone will come looking for him. With a graceful dance move, Tommy taps the ground with his stick and explains that they might find Kyle alright, but he will be dead. As once he has the money, neither the law nor the Maggia Associates will set eyes on Tapping Tommy again. Kyle then realizes that Tommy had no intention of releasing him after all. The well dressed villain then does a series of graceful tap steps, all the while explaining that murder is so clean after all! With that, he points his stick at Kyle's face and a sharp blade snicks out, hovering inches from his eyes. Kyle recognizes the madness in Tommy's words and actions and he agrees to be quiet while they await the ransom. Tommy turns with satisfaction to a henchman named Hodges (who apparently has taken care of Tommy since his parents died in prison 20 years ago).
Tapping Tommy then explains his motives: When he was 5 years old, his parents were arrested for running a distillery during Prohibition and put in jail. To get by, he became an extra in films while he was cared for by Hodges. When he was older, he got a job in musicals until that business went bust as well. The final straw however was when Kyle bought this L.A. studio and planned on turning it into a housing project. He swore to get Kyle Richmond back for all that has happened to him.
Suddenly, with a mighty *KRAMM!*, the Hulk smashes through the wall yelling that no one will hurt Hulk's friend. Strange and Val follow close behind. The thugs are startled to see the jade giant but get off some gun shots nonetheless. The Hulk is uninjured despite the bullets bouncing off his chest. Val and Dr. Strange deflect stray bullets with their sword and magics respectively. Kyle warns the Defenders to watch out for the guy in the top hat who is more dangerous than he appears. The Hulk is unfazed and grabs the nearest henchman and throws him at Tapping Tommy, who ducks in the nick of time to avoid the collision. Tommy then announces that none of them will leave here alive as he has more tools at his disposal then the hoods-for-hire supplied to him by the Maggia. Meanwhile the Defenders make short work of the Maggia thugs. Val sends one down with a powerful right hook while the Hulk takes two more out by bonking their heads together. Seeing this, Tommy orders Hodges to show them what tools he is referring to. Hodges pulls out a hand-sized box and presses a button and a door opens behind the Hulk. From inside there appears a giant metal robot who attacks the Hulk immediately. Apparently, Hodges invented a number of "movie-props" which can double as deadly engines of destruction. As the two giants tussle, Val launches an attack at Tapping Tommy. However, it seems that Tommy is an excellent swordsman and with his cane, is able to match Val's parries and thrusts, eventually disarming her (what?!). While she goes to recover her weapon, Tommy leaves to exercise another surprise.
Meanwhile, the Hulk makes short work of the attacking machine, smashing it into metal pulp. Dr. Strange then, seizes the opportunity to free Kyle with an eldritch bolt. Once freed, Kyle then quickly dons his costume which he had conveniently brought with him (ASIDE: is it me or is this story getting sillier by the second?). While Dr. Strange has a thug held powerless in a mystic power field, Nighthawk flies in and pops the villain with a strong left *WAM!*. But the Defenders seem to have forgotten about Tapping Tommy who sees himself as a loose cog in the machine...more than just a third rate hood...he sees himself as the next head of organized crime in Los Angeles! Removing his top hat, he reaches inside and withdraws a pair of small black balls and tosses them at the Defenders. They explode in a cloud of pale blue smoke; a gas which quickly overcomes the entire Defenders team in seconds! Tommy orders the remaining thugs to take the Defenders to the Main Set and call him when they awake...
Time passes...and slowly, Dr. Strange regains his consciousness. He finds himself held by arm bands to an elaborate set like a Broadway musical. Strange looks around to see his companions also awakening and held similarly. Tapping Tommy dances the two-step in front of the stage while surrounding the Defenders, a bevy of beautiful machine dancers...like robot Rockettes...sing "We're In the Money!". Having been robbed of his goal of achieving great wealth, Tommy is quite irate and Nighthawk believes him to be quite mad. This angers Tommy who orders Hodges to start the show and a bizarre number begins. While singing the famous show tune, the mindless automatons start to beat the Defenders. Nighthawk and Strange are attacked by "male" robots dressed like Tommy while the Hulk and Val are assaulted by the "female" machines. Dr. Strange tells his fellow Defenders to hold on because there is always hope (!?!). The Hulk faces three robots with raking fingers who slash at his body but the alloy that makes the behemoth's bonds prove too much for even his gamma ray induced strength. The Valkyrie fares no better as she is repeatedly struck by the robots. Moreover, she is powerless against the metal harpies because they are female...even if she was unfettered she would be useless because she has no powers against women, even metal ones!
But suddenly, the Hulk breaks his bonds as no alloy can stand against the rage of the rampaging Hulk for long. He grabs two of the robots and crushes them together in a massive bear hug. Taking inspiration from the Hulk's escape, the Valkyrie bursts her bonds with a bicep flex. Shaking off her fetters, she reacts quickly and, using her blade, quickly dispatches the two robot men pummeling Dr. Strange. Allowed to concentrate, the master of the mystic arts then performs a simple mystic gesture and he too, breaks from the metal bands which held him. Strange then blasts the bonds off Nighthawk, freeing the last of the Defenders, while using a second blast to disable another singing robot. Finally, Nighthawk grabs the last of the automatons flies the height of the ceiling, then throws the robot to the ground with a loud fatal crunch. As the Maggia men turn heels and flee, Kyle then turns his attention to the flesh-and-blood part of the act, Tapping Tommy. However, it is Val who realizes that the real cause of the attack is Hodges. With a speed reserved for the gods, she throws Dragonfang and smashes the box which controls the madman's robots. No sooner is the box destroyed than the murderous mannequins cease to move and drop where they stand. Their song is finally silenced. Enraged at having his life's work ended, Tommy makes a break for the nearest exit but he is quickly captured by a spell from Dr. Strange which immobilizes the disturbed showman. Tapping Tommy then gives up and asks Strange if they can make a deal. While Strange is not interested, the Hulk is. He grabs Tommy by the lapels and says he wants to be friends, but first he must teach the little man a lesson. He bumps heads with the demented showman *WOK!* and sends Tommy into unconsciousness. Nighthawk, who has since gathered Hodges, comments that the Hulk is a little crude at times, but always effective. The Hulk is a little sad because he liked Tommy despite his actions. The Defenders are just happy to be free and hope that the Hulk never expresses his friendship to them in a similar way!
(I warned you it was lame...)
NEXT: The Headmen return, this time to take Nighthawk's brain! All in The Defenders #31
Front Cover: The Defenders Issue 30