THE DEFENDERS 32
Published: February 1976, 25 cents
Writer: Steve Gerber
Artists: Sal Buscema and Jim Mooney
Letterer: J. Constanza
Colourist: Petra Goldberg
Editor: Marv Wolfman
The Defenders: Hulk, Valkyrie, Doctor Strange, Nighthawk, Jack Norriss (well, his mind in Nighthawk's body)
Guest Appearances: Son of Satan (Daimon Hellstrom)
Nemesis/Villain Appearances: Headmen (introducing Ruby Thursday)
Chapter 1: Musical Minds
As Hulk, Valkyrie, Jack Norriss and Dr. Strange look grimly on, Daimon Hellstrom, Son of Satan, raises his nether-metal trident over Nighthawk's supine form and utters a somber prayer. The ritual is one of exorcism. The reason for its invocation: Nighthawk's mind is not his own. He has turned on his fellow Defenders...attacked them with mystical prowess he never before possessed (as see in last issue). Thus, Dr. Strange's assumption that his winged-caped ally is possessed by some demonic power. Hellstrom commands the entity within Nighthawk to reveal itself and momentarily, it seems to obey...surfacing...twisting Nighthawk's features into a vile leer. Suddenly, Nighthawk sits up and yells out his hatred for Dr. Strange and that this body is to be his forever...he then lies back down and falls to sleep. Daimon announces that his ritual has had no effect whatsoever. He feels that there is no demon present and that Nighthawk's affliction stems from some other cause entirely. Dr. Strange is puzzled because he explains that there is no sorcery present either. Val proposes that perhaps it is hypnosis or some bizarre psychological process. The Hulk simply does not understand why bird-nose hates everybody. The Defenders thank the Son of Satan for his help anyway and he departs.
With the young exorcist gone, Dr. Strange commands the Defenders to silence and enters a trance-like state. Focusing all his energies on his amulet, he calls forth the ultimate organ of vision, the all-seeing Eye of Agamotto, to illuminate the soul of his lost companion. As Strange probes, Nighthawk sits up again and protests the violation. The Eye casts its unblinking gaze and its unfailing light over the dark evil to seek out the innermost truth. It casts aside all pretense, guise and guile to expose the reality of who the Nighthawk is! Suddenly, Nighthawk's face changes into that of an older bald-headed man. The Hulk is shocked at the transformation. But, it is Jack who recognizes the face first. He reminds Val that they once saw him at the Vermont Fair on their first date (well, she was Barb then anyway). However, the Valkyrie does not remember that time. Frustrated, Jack explains that the man who is Nighthawk was a sideshow magician whose names sounded like a cheap perfume...Chondu. Coming out of the trance, Strange confirms this, identifying the mind within Kyle's body as Chondu the Mystic (aka. Harvey Schlemerman)...it is the Hulk then, who asks the obvious question...so where is bird-nose?
Meanwhile, in the Westbury, Connecticut, HQ of the Headmen, Dr. Arthur Nagan reaches into the bowl which holds Nighthawk's brain and prepares to give it a squeeze. However, he is stopped by Jerry Morgan who says he needs the brain for his experiments. Nagan asks Morgan if he is anxious that Chondu has been away so long. Morgan relates that he is somewhat nervous that Nighthawk's friends may find out the truth. Nagan grins and explains that if that happens, then Ruby will destroy them. Morgan is confused but suddenly, a woman enters the room. A woman only from the neck down that is. She is dressed in a provocative plum jump suit which is slit open from the neck to the navel. Her hands are covered by red evening gloves which match her boots. A thick gold studded choker surrounds her neck. Where her head should be, there is a ruby-red crystal ball. In the reflection of the ball there is a hint of smiling mouth and two glints suggesting eyes. Nagan makes the introduction of the newest member to the Headmen to the shocked Morgan.
He introduces Ruby as a scientist who, like the rest of the Headmen, was scorned and ridiculed by both her colleagues and the public. However, unlike Nagan's work in organ transplants and Morgan's work in cellular compression, which ended in failure, Ruby's research was reviled for its success. Her head, Nagan explains, is an organic computer, composed of malleable plastic able to assume whatever shape she desires. Ruby reaches out to touch Jerry Morgan's face gently and then as he watches in horror, her own face melts into an exact duplicate of his own! Morgan is horrified and tells Nagan that she is not human, a monstrosity, a technological perversion whereas at least the Headmen are human! Suddenly, Ruby's head morphs again, this time three red tentacles reach out and grab Morgan. Mortified, he realizes that Ruby disagrees with his assessment...
Back at Dr. Strange's sanctum, the attention of the Defenders is held by a different crystal sphere. Dr. Strange stands over his mystic orb and explains that the orb will place them in direct contact with Kyle's mind and his perceptions will reveal his location to them. But, when the mists within the crystal part, the mystery only seems to deepen as the image that appears is that of Nighthawk standing at a crossroads in the middle of black space. Since Kyle seems to lack all sense of his own whereabouts, Dr. Strange suddenly realizes that they are dealing with a transfer of brains not minds, surgery not sorcery. Dr. Strange formulates a plan and invites Jack Norriss to participate...if he is willing...
Chapter 2: My Life and Times...Good and Bad (as told by the brain of Kyle (Nighthawk) Richmond)
Nighthawk stands at a junction with its four paths to choose from (six, if you count up and down). He is confronted by Death who has released, as his instrument of vengeance, an army of Hawks. They attack and tear at Nighthawk's costume (symbolic of the fact that Nighthawk has always caused himself for pain than others). Death swings his mighty scythe but it passes right through him as if he weren't alive to fall victim to its blade. Nighthawk screams soundlessly as he reaches to his face but can feel nothing, as if he wasn't there...without his sense, he is unsure if he is even alive. To search for answers, Nighthawk searches his memory for some clue as to how he lost his senses. However, he looks back too far and finds himself in his childhood...
...slipping down a slide as a child (albeit in the "Nighthawk uniform") into the waiting arms of his family's governess. She was visibly upset but would not tell him why, she just cried and took his hand to lead him away. There had been an accident, and being the man of the house (his father was always away) he sat at his mother's bedside and watch as she died. His father had made it back from Europe in time for the funeral, and in time to make a decision about Kyle's future...he was placed in Westhaven Boarding School for Boys. On the first day there, he cried as his father's limousine pulled away and was ridiculed by the other boys. On that day, he learned that there was no percentage in letting your feelings show...and he also learned how to fight. As the days passed, he was hauled into the principal's office on a regular basis and he heard speech after speech about trouble making and how they'd love to expel him. By age 17, he learned that the real reason he was never expelled was related to his father's generous donations to the school. He confronted the principal with this information, which earned him a slap to the face. Kyle knew he had hit a sore spot. However, the principal was more wounded than Kyle because the insults flew, and then so did Kyle's fists as he sent the miserable old man to the floor with a solid right hook. As Kyle stormed from the room, the principal called after him that he would pay for that by never getting into another college.
However, money talks and soon Kyle was registered in Grayburn College in upstate New York with thanks to his father's "generosity". It was here that Kyle discovered his first true love, Mindy. She was good for his attitude as she helped him get to class. However, all those years of protecting himself instead of studying had taken their toll. From the first word of the first lecture, he was swamped. And so, it was back to his usual state of freefall with nothing to grab onto. An empty past, with no future to picture. One night, the dangerous mix of booze and a fast car lead to Mindy's death when Kyle drove into a tree. This time, money or no money, he was expelled. His father offered to pull some strings but Kyle was determined this time to get what he deserved. He also got his draft notice. Where his father and schools had failed, now it was Uncle Sam's turn to attempt to manage his life. However, Kyle thought he'd end up in Asia with a bullet in his heart, but when a murmur was found, it was his 4-F heart that prevented him from entering the conflict.
It was that night that Death, the joker he'd expected to meet in the South-East Asian jungles, showed him that his last obligation to any other human being was wiped out. On the evening news, he watched as his father's plane crashed at JFK. Pennysworth, his father's right hand man, attended the funeral with Kyle and told him that Richmond Enterprises was now Kyle and that decisions had to be made. However, at that moment, Kyle could really care less and passed the buck to Pennysworth. After abdicating the throne of his father's financial empire, Kyle divided his time between jet-setting and finding a cure for his heart murmur. The latter was completed with the help of the Grandmaster. This also led to the discovery of a serum that doubled his strength after sundown. And, so he became a super-villain. For awhile, he battled against super-heroes as a member of the Squadron Sinister, only to eventually abandon his darker ways and become a Defender. And, through it all, his life has continued to fall apart: Trish Starr was disfigured by a bomb planted in his car; Pennysworth financing the Sons of the Serpent with his money. Twenty-eight years old and what has life given him? Inside, Kyle is still the nine-year old child left at Westhaven, still a trouble maker, still hot-tempered, still looking for someone to be his father, and still alone...now, more alone then ever. And, now back at a crossroads. The same crossroads he's stood paralyzed at all his life and he still cannot remember how he got there.
Chapter 3: Step Into My Parlour
Westbury, Connecticut: It's early morning. The kids are packing off to school, as fathers are racing to their cars for the daily crawl into Manhattan and their offices. The Defenders (Hulk, Val, Strange and Jack Norriss mind in Nighthawk's body!) descend on the otherwise peaceful, desperately ordinary suburban drive with the result, naturally enough, being blind panic. The residents run away in terror as the Defenders land. Jack asks Dr. Strange if he is sure they got the right place, after all, the neighbourhood does not seem that sinister. The Hulk comments that he thinks he has been here before (indeed he was briefly back in Defenders #21!). Dr. Strange remarks that Chondu's mind was fully open to him and that the "brain-thieves" dwell on this street. The group approaches a house and Dr. Strange reaches to ring the bell. Val harshly questions Strange's actions in that they have come here to do battle, not pay a social call! However, Dr. Strange reminds the team that they are dealing with a set of most unusual felons, with unorthodox procedures...suddenly, the door swings open. Standing there is a glowing, angelic woman in a white robe and gold sash with her hands clasped to her chest in prayer. She welcomes the Defenders in to this abode of love. Norriss thinks this is ridiculous but, before he can protest further, the head of their angelic hostess explodes (but without a sound!) and the quartet tumbles backward, falling defeated and insensate to the floor.
The thousands of glass-like fragments of that living grenade slowly roll back across the carpet to merge into a coherent and familiar shape...a ruby red crystal ball, the size of a head! It then rises in the air and deposits itself back into its proper place atop the neck of Ruby. She then calls Nagan and Morgan into the room. Morgan is flabbergasted! He cannot believe she felled them all, even the Hulk! Nagan points out that she simply generated an anti-gamma radiation. While Morgan is worried, Nagan and Ruby are pleased...they will all be fine. As Nagan surveys their victory, he comments that if they can't control the world peacefully, why bother?...
NEXT: The creature from the brown lagoon "Bambi" goes berserk and the battle for Nighthawk's brain...all in "Webbed Hands, Warm Heart" The Defenders #33.
Front Cover: The Defenders Issue 32