THE DEFENDERS (vol. 2) 2

"The Curse"

Published: April 2001, $2.25

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

Guest Appearances: Patsy Walker (Hellcat), Kyle Richmond (Nighthawk), Valkyrie (as Val?), Papa Hagg

Nemesis/Villain Appearances: Pluto, Titans, Valkyrie (as ?), Attuma

The Defenders are back. To some, like Kyle Richmond, wealthy young man-about-town (but better known to his close friends as the dashing super hero Nighthawk) it was a dream come true. But for others, like the Sub-Mariner, it was not! In fact, at this very moment, the Avenging Son, Prince Namor the First, was quite angry...but for a different reason. Atlantis, once again, has fallen under attack by Attuma and his barbarian hordes. Face to face, Namor and Attuma posture the strength of their armies. Attuma's forces outnumber the Atlantean Guardsmen but with Namor leading his troops, what they lack in number they make up in fight. Namor hurls an insult to Attuma calling his men bottom feeders that feed off ocean waste. Attuma argues that the ocean waste makes his men hardy while Namor says it makes them fools. Attuma slowly makes his advance but Namor stands firm swearing that he has thwarted his advances in the past and will do so again. For, as long as Namor stands Atlantis will not fall...then suddenly, the unthinkable happens...Namor vanishes in a green flash *POIT!* Nita who swam at Namor's side, turns to her fellow Guardsman with a confused and grim look...Attuma's face grows more sinister and a smile spread across his ugly face...he resumes his advance.

It is difficult to tell whether the Hulk cares about the Defenders or not. He is a bit of a mixed bag. He changes into any number of Hulks, from cranky to downright irritable. And, some of them are not even green. In a dimly lit bar, the grey Hulk "Joe Fix'it" is currently shooting pool with some lovely young ladies. It took a while, but the green haired Doc Samson finally found him. The Hulk grunts an acknowledgement as Samson enters the bar. Samson explains that he needs to come back to the lab for some tests to determine why Bruce's disease affects him but not any of his Hulk forms. Samson goes on to say that the reason Bruce transformed himself into the grey Hulk was for this purpose. Joe Fixit tells him to beat it. He does not care about tests because he is not sick and being a lab rat is not his idea of having a good time. Suddenly, in a green flash of light *POIT*, the Hulk is gone!

In Greenwich Village, Dr. Strange and Hellcat are trying to figure out the curse which was placed upon them by Yandroth. Hellcat apologizes for causing this all to develop because it was she who called the Hulk, Namor, the Silver Surfer and Strange together to begin with. However, Strange wants to understand how the curse works, yet he is only able to deduce that it is powerful magic which draws from the power of Gaea herself. A dying curse, Strange tells Hellcat, is more tenacious but what makes it worse is that it is backed up by the power of Mother Earth! Suddenly, a green flash of light and *POIT*, Strange disappears, much to the shock and surprise of Hellcat.

Somewhere in Northern Canada the sky is clear and the air is cold. The snow covered ground runs for miles and in the distance a small inhabited cabin rests on the mountainside. Suddenly, the quiet is shattered by the arrival of the Defenders! A confused Hulk, Surfer, Namor and Strange burst onto the mountain in a green flash of light. The Hulk is the first to wonder where he is...and he also asks why the "fish-man" wears such funny clothes. Namor is not amused, he tells the Hulk to still his tongue and then announces immediately that he must return to Atlantis because of Attuma and flies off. As the Hulk watches him go, the Silver Surfer relates to Dr. Strange that he was in the Himalayas seeking solitude when he was brought here. The magician explains to the Surfer that it was Yandroth's curse which was responsible for their gathering. In his defeat, Yandroth sought to punish the Defenders by banding them together against their wills, when the need arose. Suddenly, with a quiet *poit* and flash of green light, Namor reappears...and now he is furious. The Hulk notes his return with a "Fish-Man is back" comment. Namor turns on Dr. Strange in a rage and exclaims that his people are in danger and that he must return to Atlantis at once. Strange quietly explains that it is not within his power to do so. The Hulk comes up behind the fuming Atlantean prince and puts his hand on his shoulder. He relates that he too, has no desire to be here because of the cold and snow and if the "dumb magician" cannot send the "fish-man" home, then the Hulk will help him smash those responsible for bringing them here....and then he will help Namor smash Attuma as well! However, the Sub-Mariner is too angry and demands that the Hulk not touch him and he brushes off the great green hand. A mischievous look washes over the Hulk's face as he watches the Prince of Atlantis fume. In defiance, the jade giant gently places his index finger on Namor's shoulder and says "touch". Well, Namor just spins on the Hulk and wallops him with a resounding left hook, his patience all but gone. The Hulk goes flying!

Back in the penthouse of Kyle Richmond, Nighthawk is working through aerial acrobatics in preparation for rejoining the Defenders when Hellcat arrives. Watching over his exercises, his "body guard" Val stands against the far wall. Nighthawk's night-born powers and jet pack seem to be in order but his combat skills need some honing. Landing next to Hellcat, he comments on her original yellow costume with approval. She reminds him that with both he and Strange in blue, yellow was an obvious choice...after all they are not the Fantastic Four and do not require matching costumes. The costume Nighthawk wears is the one he donned when he first joined the Defenders: dark blue suit with a yellow nighthawk on the chest, red cape with yellow boots and gloves. He is obviously happy that the Defenders have re-grouped. Suddenly, Hellcat explains that her arrival is business and not social and she tells Nighthawk of Strange's vanishing. Inwardly, he is happy that she came to him and not the Avengers. Nighthawk then orders Val to find his own mystic, Papa Hagg. Patsy then asks Kyle a torrent of questions about Val and Papa Hagg. He tells her to slow down then begins to explain. He had called her several months ago to tell her he was not dead as previously thought. In fact, he had spent a great deal of time and money learning about mysticism and the occult attempting to get rid of the demonic powers he acquired thanks to Mephisto because they were like a cancer in his life. Eventually, Nighthawk encountered Papa Hagg who lifted the spell and freed him. Now the diminutive mystic acts as his mystical advisor. Hellcat asks him why he did not go to see Dr. Strange. Kyle hangs his head in shame and explains that he was too embarrassed at having been so dumb. Moreover, he felt that Strange had been so aloof lately. Quickly he changes the subject to discuss Val whom he found on the streets a few weeks ago. Apparently, she was both amnesic and unable to speak and so he took her in as he would any "family" member. He has been trying to solve her problem ever since. Papa Hagg though had discovered that she was shrouded in very powerful Asgardian magic. So he assumed she was Valkyrie, there Val...who else could she be?

Meanwhile, up in northern Canada, Namor and the Hulk continue their slugfest. The Surfer asks Strange if there is not some way he can end this wanton destruction. Dr. Strange replies to let them fight for he is not the keeper of these children. Anyway, he has more pressing concerns to attend why did Yandroth's curse bring them here? The Surfer is incredulous at Strange's lack of heart and conscience. But. Strange is unfazed because he has no intention of being cursed by a "two-bit techno-mystic" forever. Suddenly, a gunshot rings out over the snow covered mountainside. This brings the battle between the Hulk and Namor to a stop and it also draws the attention of the Silver Surfer and Dr. Strange. Standing just outside a nearby cabin, an old white haired man holds a smoking shotgun. He tells the Defenders that he does not care why they are here but they are to get off his mountain! But before the Defenders can respond, the ground erupts and a group of massive men-monsters crawl from the Earth set to attack the heroes! The Surfer yells to get the old man to safety while the Hulk goes into smash-mode! The Sub-Mariner is primed for battle, ultimately frustrated that he is not aiding his fellow Atlanteans. He feels these are Yandroth's minions and wallops one huge yellow-crested beast while the Hulk battles a three-headed many tentacled creature. Strange corrects Namor and advises him that these are not agents of Yandroth, rather...they are Titans, creatures of Greek mythology. The mage then prepares to banish the beasts when suddenly he is struck by a blast of energy which sends him sprawling. This heralds the arrival of Pluto, Lord of the Underworld!

Back in New York, at Richmond Enterprises, Hellcat, Val and Nighthawk are in conference with Papa Hagg. The mystic's  faces glows a ghostly blue from the light which issues from the orb that he gazes into. He then announces that he has found Dr. Strange. Nighthawk turns with pride to Hellcat telling her that he told her this guy was good! The orb reveals Strange in conflict with Pluto and Hellcat overhears their battle banter. Pluto is not sure how the Defenders discovered his machinations but he will not let them impede his plans. Strange very quickly points out that it was Pluto's minions who began the aggression.  Watching this, Hellcat realizes that it was the curse which drew the Defenders together.

At the battle scene, the Surfer tries to extract the old mountain man from the battle who is running around in terror. He emits the power cosmic to protect the man but the hell-witch Titan named Ampharon intercedes and uses her gem to drain the power and then turn it back onto the Surfer is a fiery blast. Suddenly, Dr. Strange comes to a realization and he explains it to his fellow Defenders. Yandroth saw the team at its worst, fighting amongst themselves even as they defeated him...they were unwilling to work together, cooperate or compromise...Yandroth wanted them to be miserable, at each other's throats, so he cursed them to be drawn to points of peril for the world, whether they wanted to or not. Dr. Strange realizes that they were brought here for a reason; to stop the plans of Pluto, for he represents a real danger. The mage summons his mystical powers and calls the Defenders into action. Namor and the Surfer fly at his side in agreement whereas the Hulk reminds the trio that he was already hitting the monsters! Meanwhile, the mountain man looks on in amazement, shocked to comprehend that the Defenders are actually the good guys.

The Hulk plows through the many Titans like they are bowling pins, not understanding the curse but knowing what it means to smash. Namor calls him a dull-witted imbecile who has grown even more annoying than when last they met. The Hulk comments that the Sub-Mariner simply talks too much. The Surfer is frustrated that the numbers of Titans seems endless and he asks Dr. Strange if there is no way to banish these hordes. However, Strange has his hands full at the moment holding off the forces which Pluto launches at him. Realizing they are getting no where with this method of battle, Namor calls the Hulk to join him and the pair fly off to an adjacent mountain peak. The Hulk is prepared to smash the Sub-Mariner at this point. However, Namor convinces the green behemoth to smash the mountain, bringing a torrent of rocks down on their foes below. With mighty fists, the Hulk obliges because although he hates the Fish-Man, he hates the monsters even more. With a deafening crash, the entire mountain falls on Pluto's minions below, ending the battle.

Suspended in the air by Strange's magic, the mountain man quietly asks if that was necessary. Noting that the villains are vanquished, Namor asks if they are through yet as he is anxious to get back to Atlantis. However, as the team regroups, they notice that Pluto is still present, floating several feet off the ground. Pluto tells the heroes to depart and annoy him no more but the Defenders are incredulous, having just defeated his minions. Namor threatens to drop a mountain on him but Pluto is unfazed. For he is a god, after all and he has aid which they can even scarcely suspect...suddenly, the entire Defenders team is blasted into unconsciousness by some unseen assailant's energy bolt. Only Hellcat, Nighthawk and Val, who are watching the events unfolding through the safety of Papa Hagg's orb bear witness to the unknown attacker...they are shocked to see that it is the Valkyrie!

NEXT: The Defenders continue to battle Pluto...and each other! "The Valkyrie Triumphant!" in Defenders (vol. 2) #3

Front Cover: The Defenders (vol. 2) Issue 2a/b

Cover Defenders (vol. 2) 2a    Defenders (vol. 2) 2b