THE DEFENDERS 34
"I Think We're All Bozos in this Book!"
Published: April 1976, 25 cents
Writer: Steve Gerber
Artists: Sal Buscema and Jim Mooney
Letterer: Irv Watanabe
Colourist: Irene Vartanoff
Editor: Marv Wolfman
The Defenders: Hulk, Valkyrie, Doctor Strange, Nighthawk, Jack Norriss (well, his mind in Nighthawk's body)
Nemesis/Villain Appearances: Chondu of the Headmen (as a fawn!), Ludberdites of Zaar, Nebulon (the Celestial Man)
Nighthawk (well, his body with Jack Norriss' mind) finds himself inside a flying saucer hurtling through Earth's ionosphere clutching a bowl holding the brain of Kyle Richmond. Nebulon, the Celestial Man (whose outfit sparkles like the stars) is presenting his scale model miniature of Earth-to-come to Nighthawk. Ludberdites pace around in the background like anxious children. Jack appears somewhat skeptical of Nebulon's plans after what happened the last time they met (see Defenders #14) but, in a loud booming voice, Nebulon explains that he has changed his plans since then. He apologizes to Nighthawk about his abduction and explains about how he survived their previous encounter.
Apparently, pitted against the sorcery of Dr. Strange, Nebulon's dimension-spanning powers overloaded and he was hurled out of this reality, across the planes of existence to the land of the scientist-philosophers known as the Ludberdites. Their view of the universe (that higher beings bore an obligation to improve the lot of their inferiors) intrigued him. In time, under their tutelage, Nebulon embraced this philosophy as his own. Of all the worlds he had visited in his career as an interstellar geologist, Earth was by far the most inferior and therefore, the most in need of salvation. As such, the Ludberdites and Nebulon returned to Earth to collect specimens, to probe their minds for the race's common concept of peace. With their superior science, the aliens intend to realize Man's seminal dream...and the process has already begun! Nebulon then asks Nighthawk if he will aid them. Jack (having no idea who Nebulon is, but recognizing that Kyle must have) quietly and reluctantly agrees. The Celestial Man is pleased at this and sends Nighthawk to join the other "specimens", noting that it will be most enlightening when a truly heroic mode of thought is added to their collection.
In a pink flash of light, Jack, dressed as Nighthawk, appears in the holding area...where he is immediately spotted and attacked by Chondu the fawn! Jack pulls back to protect Nighthawk's brain from dropping. Fortunately, several of the other abducted intercede and pull "Bambi" off Jack and then restrain the berserk deer. They query the Defender but he is at a loss for words...how can he explain about who the deer really is? Jack realizing that things are quickly getting over his head, wishes the Defenders were here!
Meanwhile, back in Connecticut, the Defenders are extracting themselves from the goo which was issued from Ruby's head and the remains of the Headmen's headquarters. The man, George Teekle, whose house was destroyed by the Hulk previously (see Defenders #21) chides the team, snickering that they didn't get his house this time! The Hulk recognizes the man as the one who spoiled his fun (playing with a child). Despite Dr. Strange's intervention, George eggs on the Hulk until the emerald giant picks up a piece of the destroyed home and hurtles it at him. George ducks in time as a chunk of wall sails over his head, across the street, and directly into the wooden skeleton of the home he had hoped to rebuild. His neighbours rush to console him as he bemoans his loss...and two mortgages! Strange tires of this suburban madness, he raises his arms and calling on the hoary hosts of Hoggoth, magically transports the team to his sanctum.
Wong, accompanied by two workers, are startled by the sudden arrival of Dr. Strange and his associates. Strange asks Wong to explain the broken window. His man servant explains that the carpenter and glass cutter are here to repair the damage caused by fawn when it escaped. The Hulk grows upset at hearing this news about his "Bambi", but Val is more concerned that Nighthawk has yet to arrive. Wong explains that he is yet to see Nighthawk, an unexpected development which disturbs Strange. He then heads to his chambers and orders Wong to not allow him to be disturbed, unless by his fellow Defenders. One of the repairmen mutters that he thinks Strange treats "the Chinese guy" like his slave. Valkyrie hears the comment and explains that their relationship is obviously beyond them; she then advises the workers to complete their task and leave. One of the men protests, but the Hulk says he will smash the little men if they do not do what "sword-girl" has said. The workers wisely abide.
Upstairs, the crystal of Agamotto bathes the rich, dark wood and rococo appointments of the meditation chamber in a warm, yet unearthly, glow. Dr. Strange consults the crystal and reports that he can find no trace of Jack or Kyle anywhere on Earth. He concludes that they have somehow vanished from this sphere of existence. Valkyrie notes that it would take an eternity to scour the cosmos, can they not await some sign and turn their efforts for the moment in tracking down the Headmen? Dr. Strange reminds Valkyrie that they cannot because unless Jack's mind and body are reunited, his corporeal form will perish. The Hulk, meanwhile, growing tired of the discussion he does not follow, announces that he is leaving to find his friend "Bambi". The jade giant makes his exit almost unnoticed for the magician is occupied with his crystal and the Valkyrie is lost in thought over Jack. She is disturbed that she has feelings for him. She is not truly his wife after all. Her persona merely occupies the body which once belonged to Barbara Norriss. She says out-loud that she has none of Barbara's memories, nor emotional attachments yet, what draws her to reach out and touch his comatose body? Dr. Strange overhears her private dialogue. He cautions her that these self-discussions are best carried out inside, especially now since it appears that Val has made some sort of contact with Barbara's suppressed consciousness. The Valkyrie is stunned into silence at this revelation.
Meanwhile, in Times Square at high noon, people in the streets break out in panic as a flaming meteor comes plummeting down from the sky, blistering the very air as it falls, bursting open as it strikes the ground. That in itself would be odd enough, even without the slight unimposing figure who saunters out of the centre of the inferno! A small framed, bald headed man carrying a briefcase walks out of the flames and issues salutations to the city of New York. The police move in quickly and attempt to place him under arrest for endangering the public. However, waving his finger in the air, the small man explains that what he did was a simple trick and there never any danger. With that, the flames of the inferno die out quickly. The bald man then explains to a gathering crowd that he can teach all those so inclined to accomplish even greater miracles.
From above, the Hulk, carrying on his search for the missing fawn, spies the throng congregating about the bespectacled bald man...and is suddenly, inexplicably, seized by rage. His response is...or seems...instinctual. The sight itself is somehow wrong, even if he can't pin down why...and so, he lands. The gathered crowd disperses on his arrival but the bald man looks on thoughtfully. Because something in his head tells him to, the Hulk attacks, concluding entirely irrationally that the bald man with the glasses stole his fawn! And the truth of the matter is...he is absolutely right! As the green goliath's fist thrusts mightily outward, its slope shouldered, unmuscular, brittle-boned target undergoes an marked change in appearance. Silent, imperturbable, Nebulon, the Celestial Man grips the Hulk's massive fist in one power charged hand...while slowly lifting the other. Then, he lets go as his free hand delivers a power blast of energy, knocking the Hulk backwards. The jade giant now recognizes the "sparkle-man" as his enemy. Reaching behind, the Hulk grabs the fender of a car and lifts the vehicle over his head. Even facing two tons of hurtling steel and chrome, Nebulon retains his chilling, wordless, stolid-faced calm. His plan to save the Earth requires that he employ only such power as needed...to eliminate the threat to his person. Nebulon shrinks the car down to play-toy size and catches it in his hand. Above all, he must inspire no fear in Terran hearts. Precisely the opposite, he must have humanity's trust. And what better way to gain it than by disposing of the gamma-ray-born plague Earth has suffered all these many years. Another gesture, another display of power deployed defensively, and the Hulk becomes entrapped in a clear pink bubble of force...and then sent skyrocketing into the space! In all, it has taken barely two minutes from one transformation to the next. Nebulon returns to his small, bald-headed man disguise. The crowd, having witnessed the altercation, returns to swarm him in excitement. There are cheers and applause from the gathered folk who are incredulous that this man has just defeated the Hulk! One woman adds that for a moment, he was almost...beautiful. Nebulon replies that he is beautiful. What they saw, he explains, was a physical manifestation of his true self. He promises that they too, can have one just like it...he pops open his brief case and begins to distribute pamphlets on how to unlock their potential by attending a free seminar in "Celestial Mind Control". The crowd snaps up the brochures and several women throw themselves at bald-man escorting him up the street, both intent on becoming his helper...
At the edge of the atmosphere, the Hulk continues to rise into the heavens. He realizes that if he wants to stop, he must do it himself. With a mighty swing of his right fist, the Hulk hits the side of the sphere and smashes it. However, having destroyed his prison, he begins to fall back to Earth. Moments later, he crashes back to the ground in mid-town Manhattan. Crawling out of the crater his impact created, the Hulk notices that "sparkle-hair" is gone. However, he also notices a piece of paper with the face of "puny-four-eyes" who he knows is Nebulon. The Hulk grabs the paper and jumps into the sky, intent on finding Strange who he thinks will help him find both Nebulon and Bambi.
Meanwhile, on an uncharted island in the middle of an unknown sea on a world that is not our own, Jack as Nighthawk struggles to understand his situation. In the background, an old woman deals with her anxiety by examining the architecture of the building which houses them. She thinks it is Greek but Jack knows it is Ludberdite or Nebulon in origin. Suddenly, they all begin to feel weak and tired. Jack notices a massive computer-like machine, with a dial that begins spinning wildly. He has the impression that this machine is draining their life-energy. Suddenly, the old woman passes out and stops breathing. Realizing that they may be next people turn to Jack, who is the only one dressed as a hero, for help. But, inside, Jack knows he cannot even help himself. For the second time, he wonders where the Defenders are...
He would be surprised to know that they could be found in the lobby of the Park Plaza Hotel in disguise! (Well, as best as the three can disguise themselves considering they are with the Hulk in a trench coat and hat). Val notes that the crowd is very large. Dr. Strange had expected this, considering the claims made in the leaflet that the Hulk gave him. Man is prone not to question too closely a system which promises so many benefits at so little cost...of course, the true payment is inevitably exacted later. The three prepare to enter the lecture hall but they must first pass through a metal detector. Whereas the Hulk and Strange pass through easily, Val's hidden sword sets off the alarms. The guards grab Val figuring she is a wacko set out to assassinate their leader. The Hulk sees this and prepares to intercede but Strange restrains him, explaining that his spell of concealment is the only protection she requires. Val opens her jacket to reveal that she carries no such weapon. The guards are baffled and one attempts to frisk her. Val however, will not let anyone touch her and grabs the guard by the arm so tightly that she threatens to break it. Deciding caution is the better part of valour, the guard releases her. Holding his numb arm, the guard wisely lets Val, and her friends, pass.
Inside the lecture hall, the team is fortunate to find three empty seats in the front row. Suddenly, the houselights dim and a hush falls over the crowd. A spotlight hits the red velvet curtain and the room becomes charged with electric anticipation. The Hulk whispers to Val and Strange that they will see that "four-eyes" stole Bambi. Val asks Strange if he thinks that the Hulk is correct. He explains quietly, that it is the mind control fraud which worries him the most. The three Defenders are told to hush from patrons behind them. The curtain splits and the small, bald headed man takes the stage. He announces that he is here to set each of them on a path to a fuller, more fruitful, more productive life. But first, he indicates with a raised fist, they all must admit what a stinking mess each has made of everything so far. How stupidly each has arranged their own lives. How little each of them knows of anything. He then raises his voice and yells that each of them is to admit that they are nothing but BOZOs! The crowd is somewhat taken aback but lets him go on. Dr. Strange notes that subtlety is not in the would-be-guru's forte. The bald man asks them if they were so happy with their life, why would they be here? He then gets the crowd to reach under their seats and put their real faces on. The audience (and the Defenders!) complies by putting on their white-faced, orange-haired, red-nosed, plastic masks...Bozo the clown masks! The bald-headed Nebulon in disguise then asks for a front row patron to come on stage. Dr. Strange rises from his seat and takes the stage. Nebulon thinks that the man he has invited on stage is here to find out what he wants out of life. However, Dr. Strange says that he merely finds this a curious path to enlightenment. Nebulon assumes that this "Bozo" needs a little more convincing, he then opens the red curtains fully...revealing the "guests" he and the Ludberdites of Zaar had "kidnapped" earlier (including Chondu the fawn and Jack Norriss as Nighthawk!). Each of the guests whispers "Bozo" as if they are in a daze. Four cheerleaders with pom-poms who flank the curtains, yell out "B-O-Z-O!" Nebulon explains that this group represents a random sampling of humanity whose brains revealed the secret of celestial mind control. Dr. Strange is shocked, while the Hulk stands and angrily explains that he was right...four-eyes DID take Bambi and, it seems bird-nose, too! Hulk prepares to attack but Val holds him back, asking him to show patience as Dr. Strange is. The cheerleaders crowd all around the magician calling him a "Bozo!"
Suddenly, Dr. Strange pulls off his mask and relates that he is grossly offended yet curious as to what Nebulon has done to these people. The bald-headed Nebulon is visibly shocked as he recognizes Dr. Strange. He then reverts into his Celestial Man disguise as the magician demands an explanation. Val recognizes Nebulon immediately and rushes the stage (cursing the Hulk for his inability to recall names). The jade giant is not far behind. With a wave of his hands, Dr. Strange reveals the heroes' true identities and he once again, demands an explanation. Meanwhile, the guards rush in to gain control. Nebulon fires a blast of energy at the Defenders and explains that he has come to save this malaise ridden world, his duty to the human race. Val is incredulous, asking him if he thinks it is his duty to turn them all to zombies?!? Instead of answering, Nebulon vanishes in front of the rushing Valkyrie...only to re-appear on stage-right. Back in his bald-man guise, Nebulon apologizes to the gathered throng for the unscheduled interruption, but hopes they will stay to observe the finish. He tells the crowd that the costumed savages before them intend to deprive them all of their opportunity for true happiness. Whirling around, he quickly reverts back to his celestial form and blasts Val and the Hulk with a power bolt of energy from his right hand. The two Defenders are knocked violently across the room, but are able to hear him explain that his celestial mind control is a power that they all possess but which trapped is in their minds, locked away, with only a few men ever able to find the door, let alone gain access to the power by the key. As the pair smack into the far wall, they learn that only Nebulon is able to give them both door and key, allowing each to be master of his own mind.
Meanwhile, Dr. Strange senses the severe depletion of psychic energy in all the members of Nebulon's "random sampling". As such, he places a simple spell over Jack and Kyle's brains, to protect them from further abuse. He then turns his attention back to his foe. But, suddenly he senses the presence of another magical force growing, straining to achieve potency, about to attack. However, he cannot pin point its source. If Strange had looked closely, he may have seen Chondu, the fawn's eyes glowing brighter and a certain intensity in its face. Suddenly, there is a flash of green, yellow and red energy followed by a wisp of smoke and both Nebulon and Chondu are gone. Strange realizes too late, that the power he sensed was Chondu tapping into Nebulon's vast reservoir of power. The Hulk and Valkyrie, recovered from their earlier attack, rush to Dr. Strange's side. The green monster is once again angered at the loss of his Bambi, but Val is happy to have all of Kyle's "parts" again. The sorcerer supreme however, is not so optimistic. He realizes that an alliance between Nebulon and the Headmen is a situation which has become truly perilous...
NEXT: The "Return of the Red Guardian" in The Defenders #35.
Front Cover: The Defenders Issue 34