THE DEFENDERS (vol. 2) 1

"Once More, the End of the World..."

Published: March 2001, $2.99

The Defenders: Hulk, Sub-Mariner, Doctor Strange, Silver Surfer

Guest Appearances: Patsy Walker (Hellcat), Kyle Richmond (Nighthawk), Valkyrie (as Val), cameos: Fantastic Four, Avengers

Nemesis/Villain Appearances: Toad Men, Borers (from the Negative Zone), Night-Crawler, Mindless Ones (from Dormammu's dark dimension), Quasimodo, Yandroth, Gaea, Gargoyles, Gorgilla, Ravagers of Creation

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, there was a super-hero team, or something very like it. And they fought, both with their foes and with each other. They met all challenges, and were victorious. And they forged themselves a legend. And then, as legends do, they ended. But nothing ends forever. And now, today, in this time and place...a new legend begins.

It is raining in San Francisco. Patsy Walker, famous girl-next-door turned super-hero, is in the City by the Bay for a book tour. As she walks the rain-drenched streets, her red hair flowing over the upturned collar of her trench coat, she is lost in thought about her past life as the demon-sighted Hell Cat. Suddenly, she notices a gasping homeless man, helpless and almost dead. Passersby step around him doing their best to ignore him, except she cannot. Her demon-sense has kicked in. Her eyes crackle with mystic energy as she senses something not quite human about him. Patsy, never one to leave well enough alone, approaches the vagrant and helps the man to his feet. She offers him food and a chance to get out of the cold because it seems like a good least at the time it does. Moments later they are eating in Tommy's Joynt Sandwiches and Cocktails. The man eats ravenously, slopping soup all over, stuffing rolls into his mouth, in general, making a mess. But the food is good and the man speaks. He thanks Patsy for her help explaining that many simply walked by him. She shrugs off the thanks and relates that she is just happy he is feeling better. The stranger remarks that now he has a chance, if only he can reach Mother. Patsy mistakes the man to mean his mother...

Three weeks later, in Washington D.C., the sky is literally choked with thousands of strange aircraft. The alien fleet simply appeared, one minute a clear sky, the next...this! An attack squadron from Andrews Air Force Base is scrambled to meet them but the US fighters are easily dispatched by laser blasts from the alien ships. Below, people panic and head for cover but not Dr. Robert Bruce Banner who is here to watch a movie, get lost in the crowd and take a break from his troubles. Banner recognizes the alien craft's design as that belonging to the Toad Men and he wonders why they have returned. But Dr. Banner does not get many breaks it seems, and the pressure takes its usual toll. Some time ago, Dr. Banner had a little run-in with his own gamma bomb and now, in times of stress, he finds himself transformed into 1000 pounds of unfettered fury...a fury known as the incredible Hulk! And, the Hulk is not afraid of flying machines...the Hulk likes to smash stupid flying machines! The green goliath leaps into the air, onto one of the alien vessels. These days, the Hulk can turn into one of three Hulks; a smart one, an angry one and a nasty one. Today he is the angry Hulk because this one knows the ugly-men inside the flying machine best. He rips the canopy off the craft, grabs the surprised Toad Man inside, and tosses him over the side. With his free hand he pummels the Toad-ship into dysfunction.

Meanwhile, in New York's Greenwich Village at 177A Bleecker Street, the humble home of Dr. Stephen Strange, Sorcerer Supreme and Master of the Mystic Arts, Wong watches as his master's astral form regains possession of his physical body after an extended leave. Wong asks Strange if all is well. Wearily, Strange replies that it is taxing work strengthening the barriers between our world and the myriad of other hostile realms. Suddenly, Dr. Strange notices that outside the wind is howling and the walls are rattling and he asks Wong what madness has transpired in his absence. Wong replies that monsters from beyond have invaded the city. Specifically, Borers from the Negative Zone. Loose in New York, the creatures had been burrowing through buildings, chewing through walls and tunneling into the subway systems. However, Strange was annoyed as this was a temporal threat, not a concern for him. He remarks that the Avengers or Spider-Man should be dealing with this because at the moment, he has some serious work to attend to. Wong is incredulous and remarks that the Avengers, Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four have been battling these demons because the entire city is overrun with them. Suddenly, Strange senses a mystic threat amid the chaos and though he is badly in need of repose, he sets out to confront the menace. A simple gesture and the sanctum's skylight becomes intangible and Doctor Strange flies from his home into the fray outside. He passes over the Fantastic Four who are embroiled in inconceivable pandemonium but leaves them to their battle as he seeks out the mystic source. Moments later Dr. Strange is startled as he runs into the Night-Crawler crouching on the top of a building! The huge, dark armoured being, whose his head is adorned with three golden spikes and whose long tail flexes powerfully from behind, seems confused and angry. He asks Dr. Strange how it is that he has come to be in Dr. Strange's world?...Meanwhile, back at the sanctum, Wong worries about Dr. Strange's growing aloofness and detachment. He is concerned about his lack of human contact, his lack of companionship and he thinks about Clea and Sara Wolfe...

A great distance away, in the undersea realm of Atlantis, Prince Namor, the Savage Sub-Mariner is fuming again at the insolence, selfishness and carelessness of the surface dwellers who continue to pollute the ocean like it is their personal toilet. This time, it is their broadcast satellite radiation which has filtered through the oceans and has interfered with the defense scanners of Atlantis, leaving them vulnerable to attack. Namor calls them all "contemptuous pigs", a comment which Vashti does not understand. Namorita leans over to Vashti to explain to him just what pigs are. Suddenly, a deep rumble courses through the palace and startles the Prince of Atlantis into action. He assumes it is another affront from the surface world and he swims off in anger to meet the disturbance...and this time, he will not tolerate their continued ignorance! However, as Namor arrives at the site of the conflict he is confused by what he sees. Faceless, stone beings attacking the Royal Guard and driving them into the sacred palace grounds. But he moves into action quickly. The Avenging Son, with the war cry "Imperious Rex!" enters the fray with fists swinging. Unbeknownst to Namor, the attacking beings are the Mindless Ones from Dormammu's dark dimension and they were not so much invading as passing through. Attacking everything that moves is simply their nature. With Namor in the battle, the process of forcing them away from the city and around it was begun...

Hawaii. This paradise has two extra tourists. The Silver Surfer, former herald to the planet devouring Galactus, and the Surfer's companion, the blind sculptress Alicia Masters. As they fly low over of the tropical foliage on the Surfer's board, Alicia tells Norrin Radd that she cannot join him for a sojourn in boundless space despite the wonders she would experience. She explains that Earth is her home and that she does not want to leave. Still, Norrin presses her, explaining that the stars beckon him and that he has tarried too long on this maddening world. But, Alicia does not relent and reminds the Surfer that she has obligations here and that she cannot drop her work because the stars call his name. Norrin asks her if she can't or won't when suddenly *WHAMM!* the Surfer is knocked off the board by a mighty blow from Quasimodo! Alicia clings to the board and cries out to Norrin, asking what is happening. The Silver Surfer quickly regains his board and using the power cosmic, lower Alicia to the ground in a protective cocoon. He then returns his attention to Quasimodo whose massive arms surround him in tight hold...

Meanwhile, back in Washington D.C., the Hulk continues his battle with the entire fleet of Toad Men vessels. Standing on one air ship, he tosses another at a third, sending the ships and their hapless pilots spiraling to the ground below. Reaching into the cockpit of the ship on which he stands, the Hulk yanks out the pilot and asks the "ugly-man" why they are attacking. The Toad replies that they did not mean to attack, in fact, they did not even know this was the Hulk's planet. The Hulk shakes his fist at the alien and expresses his doubt. However, the Toad goes on to explain that until they saw the Hulk, they were not aware they were on Earth. They were supposed to be on Trellnax-3 assaulting a Kree stronghold. The Hulk considers the Toad Man's explanation and then wonders aloud that if they did not mean to come to Earth, then who brought the Toad Men here?

Point Promontory, Maine. The waves wash up against the coast ceaselessly. Only the cries of the seagulls hanging in the overcast sky overhead break the monotony of the breaking surf. On closer inspection, a lone fisherman sits in a large wooden chair on the rocky shore in the shadow of a lighthouse. In his hand he holds a long fishing pole with a line in the water. He is not an average fisherman however. He was once a disheveled bum who was rescued by one Patsy Walker. Fed and content, the bum sapped her from behind. He then cleaned himself up, shaved and showered...he even found an ugly super-costume to wear. Now, sitting in the chair near motionless, wearing a lime and emerald green jumpsuit, his gaze is held steady over the water, a faint smile on his demented face. Silently, he twitches his left index finger in a slight mystic gesture...and Warlord Kaa and his Shadow Warriors invade Ontario and attack the Canadian super-team known as Alpha Flight. Then, another near imperceptible twitch and a squad of Living Erasers appear in the Tokyo HQ of Big Hero Six. Twitch, and in Genosha is inundated with Lizard-Men of Tok. And, while all this is happening, inside the lighthouse, Patsy Walker is waking up...

Chained to an interior wall at the ankles and wrists, Patsy fights off the spell that kept her woozy with her newfound hell born resistance. With deep concentration, the chains are broken and go flying with a loud snap, and the happy-go-lucky Hellcat is free once more! She takes only a moment to notice that it was her old costume that materialized. She remembers that the madman that slugged her had said he had plans to destroy the Earth so she runs off on search of him. Frantically searching for her keeper, she turns a corner and suddenly discovers a massive women bound and trapped by some ethereal force!

Back in New York, above the Richmond Enterprises building, a helicopter weaves in and out of a flock of gargoyles. Reporters had gathered on the roof, looking for a vantage point from where they could watch the carnage below. And, Kyle Richmond, jet-setter and alter-ego of the high-flying super-hero Nighthawk lands right into their laps. Immediately they begin their aimless questions, but Kyle asks his body-guard Val to show the reporters the way out. He heads into his apartment to answer the phone. Surprisingly, the caller is Patsy Walker who managed to swim to freedom and find a payphone in a Maine harbour town. She explains her situation and asks Kyle to get hold of the Avengers because she is in need of A-level help. As Kyle listens to her, his eye catches his Nighthawk costume hanging in the closet. He assures her that he will do all he can. Hanging up the phone, Kyle hears the TV news reveal that the Avengers currently have their hands full with the monstrous Gorgilla and figures that they may not be able to make it. He turns to study a picture on his study wall which features himself in flight along with Dr. Strange, Namor, Valkyrie and the Hulk. Kyle realizes that there may be others who can help. Quickly, the man known as Nighthawk summons Papa Hagg, his mystic advisor and instructs him on what to do...

A short time later, in the woods near Point Promontory, the Silver Surfer, Namor, Dr. Strange and the Hulk suddenly appear from thin air. Namor accuses Strange of this doing and insists he is returned to his home, but the magician is quick to deny any involvement. It takes mere seconds before the accusations of stupidity fly and then the Hulk and Namor are at it with their fists. While Strange tries to break up the fight explaining that they must find the one who summoned them, the Hulk slams the ground sending Dr. Strange and Namor flying. The Surfer simply cannot understand the mindless rage which drives Earth's mortals. He sends a cosmic bolt between the two which drives them apart. This only causes the pair to turn their rage on him. Suddenly, the din is disrupted by a woman's voice. Hellcat arrives in time to inform the group that it was she who summoned them because the world was in danger. The group waits long enough for her to explain; she finishes by relating that there is an unknown giant woman they must rescue as well...

"She is Gaea, Mother Earth". The reunion is broken by the strange voice...the green-suited fisherman appears floating above the ground and explains to the group that it is so fitting that his old nemeses are present to witness his greatest triumph. The triumph of Yandroth! The Silver Surfer has no idea who the green-suited villain is but Strange, Namor and the Hulk recognize the enemy they once defeated, and they do not have a high opinion of him. Yandroth shrugs off their indifference but explains that although the Defenders once overturned his plans to destroy the Earth, they never truly understood why. Yandroth explains that he is not of this world. After his first clash with Dr. Strange (back in Strange Tales #168, a clash which left him seemingly doomed to fall forever through a world that never was) he found that he could not return to his home dimension, that it was denied to him. However, he learned that he could be re-born there, with enough power behind him. And, the power unleashed through the destruction of a world would be more than enough. So, he had built the Omegatron but the Defenders had beaten that, too (see Marvel Feature #1). In fact, Omegatron was defeated two more times (as seen in Defenders #5 and #69). Feeling lost, he became a disembodied spirit and therefore, only able to act through possession of a human host (as he did in Defenders #119 when he was, as the Hulk remembers, a "fuzzy-haired girl"). Then he possessed this new body, but this time, he was dying the true death. That is, until Patsy Walker's gullible, trusting nature saved him and helped him regain his strength. Now, he continues, he has captured Gaea and tapped her power to bring forth countless menaces to this plane. The powers released by their battles with Earth's super-humans has enabled him to do far has allowed him to manifest the forces that will destroy the entire world...the Ravagers of Creation! A white winged monstrosity flies overhead representing Air. From the ocean, a huge amphibious creature rises with fins spread representing Water. The ground rumbles as a mammoth rock-like creature arises representing Earth. Lastly, a fire-monster appears brighter than the world around it, somehow as if the light around it was being sucked into it. 

Dr. Strange exclaims that what Yandroth says is true, these elemental creatures are capable of destroying the globe. He instructs each Defender to put aside their differences and each take on a Ravager. Namor does not like being told what to do but takes on a foe nonetheless. Likewise, the Hulk feels he will smash what he wants to smash, and at the moment, the rock-monster seems smashable. Hellcat, meantime launches herself at Yandroth yelling that it is payback time. But, Yandroth is prepared and a with a simple backhand, he sends her sprawling into the ocean! Despite their awesome powers, each Defender has problems with their opponent. The fire-beast uses flames which shatter Strange's Shield of the Seraphim. The Surfer cannot regain his board because of the winds the air-creature unleashes upon him. The water-beast sends forth endless volumes of water at Namor which prevents the Prince of Atlantis from launching an attack. And the Hulk, well he is being pounded relentlessly. Defeated, the Defenders are grounded, only able to watch as the Ravagers of Creation come together. They reach for one another, floating above the ground with right arm extended, and the fate of the world hangs in the balance. However, the Hulk is not finished. His anger now rising, the green behemoth crawls along the ground towards the stone-monster and strikes a mighty blow. It is then, that Dr. Strange realizes that they do not have to battle the four Ravagers, they only need to defeat one to prevent their cataclysmic union. The Defenders concentrate their forces on the stone-beast. The Hulk pounds with heavy blows as does Namor, while Strange and the Surfer blast with cosmic and mystic energy respectively. As they battle, the remaining Ravagers come together. But, with the spell triggered incomplete, the creatures explode from the misplaced energy. With three Ravagers vanished, the stone-creature issues a howl of rage and then it too, explodes into nothingness. With his energies depleted by the spell, Yandroth lies dying a real death, his last.

Standing over the fallen villain, Namor demands that Strange send him home. The Hulk steps up and with a blow to the back offers to send the fish-man home. The pair tussle as Strange demands they stand down and be quiet while Yandroth dies. They do not listen and continue to wrestle. The Silver Surfer looks on in disdain, once again seeing the madness that is mankind. Strange asks if they are men or children and commands them to stop at once. They do long enough to hear Yandroth curse them with for their actions. He can think of no greater punishment for them all, but to band together even when they do not want to. He then dies.

With his death, Gaea was freed, released to take her true place in the world once more. And, in that moment, all around the world, everything was corrected...just like that. The crisis ended with Yandroth's death and the beings he summoned were returned to where they belonged. All was right once more in the world. Or so it was thought.

Returning from the water where she was flung, Hellcat asks if she missed anything. Namor replies that she just missed the ravings of a pathetic lunatic. However, Strange is not as dismissive. He explains that Yandroth wielded great power in his final moments and the "curse" may be more than they think. Dr. Strange asks Namor if he will return with him to Greenwich to assess the situation properly. The Sub-Mariner is indignant. He will no longer tolerate the commands of Dr. Strange and he quickly flies off over the ocean to return home. The Hulk takes this as his cue and he too, tells Strange that no one is to tell him what to do. With a powerful leap, the Hulk sails off into the distance. The Surfer explains to Strange that mankind has left him heartsick and he has no desire to go to any city. Where the Surfer soars, he soars alone. With that, the silver hero heads off over the horizon leaving Hellcat and Strange to ponder the reality of a curse.

Back in New York, in the home of Kyle Richmond, his mystic reveals to Nighthawk and Val that the curse was very real and this was far from over. Kyle says, "Cool".

And now today, in this time and place...a new legend begins.

NEXT: The Defenders travel to northern Canada to face Pluto and a mysterious ally (plus a return of the least expected Defender of all)  in The Curse! in Defenders (vol. 2) #2

Front Cover: The Defenders (vol. 2) Issue 1

Cover Defenders (vol. 2) 1