THE DEFENDERS 35
"Bring Back My Body To Me, To Me...!"
Published: May 1976, 25 cents
Writer: Steve Gerber
Artists: Sal Buscema and Klaus Janson
Letterer: John Costanza
Colourist: Petra Goldberg
Editor: Marv Wolfman
The Defenders: Hulk, Valkyrie, Doctor Strange, Nighthawk
Guest Appearances: Red Guardian (Dr. Tania Belinsky), Jack Norriss
Nemesis/Villain Appearances: Headmen, Nebulon (the Celestial Man)
It says something about our culture...that North Americans find it difficult to conceive of a country where crime in the streets is not considered a major problem. The U.S.S.R. however, is such a nation. In this highly regimented, tightly policed society, the daily brutalities to which we have become inured are exceedingly rare...but not quite non-existent. For no society of human beings can be fully immune to crimes of violence.
Snow falls from a leaden sky and in a dark alley-way, a women is held at knife point by a man. This man is poor and hungry, even in this "worker's paradise". The woman has money, it is as simple as that. Suddenly, from out of the darkness, a woman swings into the crime and knocks the man off the stunned victim with a two-footed kick. She is dressed in red with white boots, gloves and belt. On her chest is a large red star. Her long black hair is held back by red cowl with a small white crest, which hides her upper face. The man regains his feet but does not flee. Instead, he turns the blade on the heroine. However, this woman is no "party intellectual" playing street fighter in a bolshoi costume. She kicks the assailant's hands and then quickly, turns the blade back at his throat. This time, the man is persuaded to release the knife. In the near distance, the grating sound of a police car is heard approaching. The heroine stands up from the man and releases his hands. Standing over him in disgust, she then turns and runs off down the alley, just as the police pull up. The woman who was attacked begs her to stay but the police seem to recognize the costumed hero and yell out for her to stop. When she doesn't, they pull their weapons and fire at her. However, she leaps and clears a fence before those who disapprove of the existence of the Red Guardian can harm her. The woman who was attacked asks the police why they firing at the person who verily saved her life. The policeman explains that they have party council orders to detain that "enemy of the state".
A short time later, the women known as Tania Belinsky who battles crime in the U.S.S.R. as the Red Guardian, swings into a window high in an apartment building. As she climbs in, she finds her phone ringing. Picking up the receiver, she is shocked to hear it is a call from the United States.
Back in the US, at the other end of the phone line, Dr. Strange introduces himself to Dr. Belinsky. He has just spent the entire night arranging this communication through the government. He is fortunate that Tania speaks excellent English. Strange then informs her of the reason of his call...the transplantation of a human brain! While Strange makes the necessary arrangements, Jack and Val ponder the situation and the Hulk begins to grow frustrated over the prolonged sitting and waiting. He wants to find Bambi (unknown to him as Chondu in a fawn's body). Moments later, the plans completed, Strange turns to Jack (in Nighthawk's body) and prepares for the delicate procedure of removing Jack's consciousness from the Chondu's brain. As Kyle's body slowly elevates from Strange's magics, Jack's body slowly stirs to life as the spell demonstrates it success. Jack awakens, this time in his own body. Suddenly, the Hulk loses it. He slams his mighty fist into the table, smashing it, wondering why they are not listening to him. He wants to find sparkle-hair (Nebulon) and get the deer back and if they are not going to help him, he will go alone. Val and Jack rush out after the jade giant while Dr. Strange maintains vigilance over Kyle's brain (which incidentally, is still in the bowl of unknown chemical preserves!). Strange, in deep thought, barely notices they are gone.
The leader of the Headmen, Dr. Arthur Nagan, has taken some liberties with the body of the mystic Chondu while his consciousness has been gone. Some surgical liberties because after all, Chondu's mind will now reside in Nighthawk, right? Nagan lifts the corner of the sheet to show his handiwork to Ruby and Jerry Morgan and asks for their opinion. Ruby is indifferent but Jerry is revolted. Ruby remarks that no one forced him to participate in the experiment but Nagan interrupts the pair before an argument ensues. Instead, he wants to hear how smart he was for example, in setting up their alternate headquarters (the old one was destroyed in Defenders #33). Suddenly, before either can reply, a flash of yellow light indicates the arrival of Nebulon and the fawn!
Nebulon is indignant that he was swept away from his battle with the Defenders when Chondu tapped the Celestial Man's dimension spanning power. Nagan is stunned at the entrance but curiously asks the new guest who he is, and why he is addressing the deer. Nebulon announces that his arrival was not by his choice. And, as Nagan and the Celestial Man exchange exclamations, the fawn's eyes flash first with anger, then with otherworldly fire...energy erupts from its eyes and the words "I AM CHONDU" appear on the opposite wall. In a fury, Nagan grabs the deer by the throat and shakes the creature, yelling that his brain was supposed to be in Nighthawk's body. Chondu manages to project himself outside the deer and explain that it was Dr. Strange who placed his consciousness into the fawn's body before his first meeting with the Headmen. Nagan is shaken because he realizes that the Nighthawk to whom they related their origins and strategy was an imposter. Ruby says there is no need to panic because they can locate Chondu's EEG in the deer's brain and salvage him. She then turns to Nebulon and flirtingly asks him he would like to stick around and see how it is done. But, Nebulon is indignant, his mission is to save mankind from itself and he has met too many delays as it is. In a yellow flash of light, he disappears. The Headmen, then turn their full attention to Chondu...
Meanwhile, at JFK International Airport some time later, a Soviet jet carrying a trio of passengers pierces the clouds like a silver needle and drops to a landing. Waiting at Gate B, Dr. Strange and Taylor Charles (who represents the State Department) meet Dr. Belinksy. Charles arranged the meeting because he owed a favour to Strange for removing an ulcer years earlier...but, of course, Strange's patient, Kyle Richmond is a millionaire as well!). Mr. Kaslov introduces Tania as a world-renowned neurosurgeon. Strange knows she is the only one able to perform the job that is required on Kyle Richmond. Unknown to the gathering, a stranger watches them from the shadows...
While at the Central Park Zoo, the jade giant, oblivious to all but his quest, has engendered a major panic by the fact of his presence alone. Confrontation is imminent...but fortunately, so is benign intervention. The Hulk, pre-occupied with a small deer, does not notice the police sneaking up on him but, as he turns they open fire on him. The bullets bounce of the Hulk's massive chest but as he advances on the frightened police, he is tackled from above by the Valkyrie who just caught up with her fellow Defender. With Jack and Aragorn flying overhead, Val lands on the Hulk's back and despite her magically imbued strength, the fall is painful. But, it is also effective insofar as could be hoped. The impact of the warrior-woman's body unbalances the green behemoth, distracts him...and the police. The Hulk is shocked to see it is sword-girl who jumped him. Val pleads with the police to leave as she promises she will get the Hulk under control. However, the Hulk, miffed at Val's attack, no longer trusts her either, and jumps to the sky like a rocket and flies away.
Back at the Headmen's HQ, Ruby slowly removes the electrodes from the head of the sleeping fawn. She announces that the engram transfer should now be complete. On a table, opposite the fawn, the body of Chondu stirs under the operating sheets. Jerry asks Arthur to lift the sheet already so that he may witness the horror he has created. However, Nagan fumes at Jerry's incipience. Turning his attention, Nagan asks Chondu to rise and look upon his new-self, his "improvements".
Improvements??! Huge crimson bat-wings spread from his back, a hideous twisted horn protrudes from his forehead, his teeth have become fangs, his tongue that of a serpent. Clusters of lampreys have replaced his arms and his legs ended in feathers and knife-sharp talons. Chondu stands as the ultimate achievement of Nagan's transplant surgery, Morgan's biochemical researches and Ruby's experiments in plasticized prosthetics...and, he sums up his reaction to his new status in a single utterance: Y-AAAR-GH! The newly transformed magician then goes berserk and attacks Nagan. However, he is held back by Ruby's tentacles which suddenly project from her crimson head. She explains to the enraged Chondu that they have made his mind immortal by taking his brain patterns from the deer and inscribing them upon an artificial brain, crafted from the same material as her head. She goes on to inform the mystic that if he finds his body distasteful, he need only employ his power to steal himself another as his new brain can be implanted anywhere!
Dr. Strange and Dr. Belinsky prepare to operate on Kyle. However, Strange senses a certain wistfulness in Tania and asks her to speak freely as Kaslov and her "bodyguard" are not able to hear them behind the theatre glass. Whimsically, she muses that it would be nice to extend her stay here without the constant companionship of her fellow country men. She explains that they are here to prevent her defection, but she never would. Strange asks her if they could be persuaded. Sadly, she says she does not believe in magic (ha ha). They begin the operation.
It takes a certain amount of sheer nerve to work the high iron in mid-Manhattan. To balance oneself on a girder barely wider than one's work boots. To maintain said balance against the vibration of a rivet gun...to accustom oneself to the sight of people the size of ants. It takes a strong man...precisely what Chondu needs. As a steel worked rivets girder, the creature that is now Chondu swoops down from the sky and plucks him from his work while his co-workers watch in horror.
A few blocks away, Val and Jack rest Aragorn on the top of a low building, having lost track of the Hulk (to find out where he disappeared to, read Omega the Unknown #2). As Val leans back against a chimney, Jack puts his arm around her and she asks him what he is doing. He explains that if she'd rather he not...he begins to pull back his arm...but Val allows it and remarks that it is a better pillow than cold brick. However, Jack's rooftop romance is nipped in the proverbial bud when Val gasps, and lurches out of his gentle hold...she witnesses the horror that is Chondu carrying the construction worker. They quickly mount Aragorn.
The slap of the flying horse's mighty pinions against the air alerts Chondu to the approach of his pursuers. He is enraged to see THEM again (meaning the Defenders). He abruptly drops the startled worker to a rooftop and turns to attack his followers and exact revenge! Devil wings propelling him forward, Chondu takes the offensive. His razor-like claws dig deep into Aragorn's side and Chondu sneers at the horse's painful cry. Chondu is effulgent with pride...in fact, at his ability to deal with Valkyrie on her own terms: Using his long "unicorn" horn, he fences with Val and meets her parrying, easily. His bailiwick is mysticism...spells, enchantments, the powers of the mind. Frankly, he has never had the body for physical combat...until now! The teeth of his sinuous eel-arms sink into the swords-woman's flesh...his serpentine tongue plays disgustingly over her face. He pulls her off the injured horse and up into the sky. It's open to debate whether it's the injury or the insult which drives Val to use her blade harshly...she cuts off Chondu's left bat-wing! The magician screams in rage and pain and he lets go...but, both begin to fall.
They crash through the roof of one of Manhattan's more elegant eateries, "The Top of the Sevens", forty-three stories above the the street. Chondu recovers first. Stepping from behind an overturned table he jumps towards the fallen Defender. However, although she is too breathless to stand, she is able to retrieve her blade and also able to exert a well placed kick into Chondu's mid-section. The steely sinews of Val's leg hurl the strange magician the width of the room, toppling every culinary appurtenance in his path. Then, wordlessly, heedless of the blood tracing rivulets down her arms from the puncture wounds of the lamprey, she comes charging! But, Chondu grabs an upended coffee urn and throws it at her. Although she deflects the impact, she is unable to avoid the scalding liquid which sears her arm and quickly begins to form blisters. WHile she summons every iota of will to blot out the boiling agony, Chondu attacks again! Charging like a one-horned bull, he intends to impale her on his twisted point. No time to retrieve her sword, or even to think of her actions, she moves on pain-blind instinct. Amazingly, she seizes the horn and then rams the monstrous mystic's face into her knee with a loud *KRAK!* He drops in her grasp, unconscious. Suddenly, two police officers enter, alerted by the restaurant's staff, and order Val to freeze. One cop then orders her to drop his head or she'll break his neck. She remarks that THAT was her intention but drops his face to the floor instead. Thinking that they will take Chondu into custody, Val turns to retrieve her sword and leave, but is shocked to hear from behind her a cop remark that SHE is under arrest!
NEXT: Valkyrie behind bars, the Red Guardian under fire, Nighthawk gets himself together, more on the Headmen and Nebulon and the macabre menace of the Idiot! (NOTE: I do not know what "the Idiot" refers to because it is the Plant Man who actually appears in the next issue)... The Defenders #36.
Front Cover: The Defenders Issue 35