THE DEFENDERS (vol. 2) 3

"The Armies of the Slain"

Published: April 2001, $2.25

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

Guest Appearances: Hellcat, Nighthawk, Valkyrie

Nemesis/Villain Appearances: Pluto, Lorelei (Ice Queen), minions of Pluto

It began, though no one suspected it at the time, six months earlier in fabled Asgard with the arrival of Pluto, Olympian lord of the stygian darkness. The dark lord comes across an older Asgardian and he demands to know where he may find the Enchantress. Sensing Pluto's great power, the elderly man explains that Amora has been long missing from the golden realm and, in an effort to save his life for bearing such bad news, offers Pluto another...

Moments later, Pluto enters a large room to find Lorelei, sister to the Enchantress, and a sorceress herself, known to the world as the Ice Queen. Reclining on a bed of soft purple pillows with a goblet in her hand, Lorelei asks who dares interrupt her leisure. But Pluto knows that this sorceress is very powerful, even more so than her sister and he tells her so. He also believes that the Ice Queen knows who he is. With the flattery finished, he asks her for a spell. The spell which the Enchantress once employed to create and bind to her a Valkyrie with power over the dead. In return, he promises her that he will make her a queen in more than name and supply her with power beyond imagining. At the mention of power, Lorelei eagerly agrees, but it is the thought that she can prove that she is indeed her sister's better which is really the impetus behind the Ice Queen's newly formed allegiance with the Dark Lord. Pluto enfolds the sorceress in his dark cloak and explains that they must first go to New York, and in a poof of dark smoke, they are gone!

Back in the present, it is apparent that the Lord of the Underworld has achieved his goal as it was a Valkyrie who defeated the Defenders. A dying curse placed on the Silver Surfer, Namor, the Hulk and Dr. Strange by Yandroth drew the Defenders to northern Canada and it was there that they encountered Pluto. However, it was the sudden reappearance of one of their old allies that won Pluto the day. The Valkyrie was a Defender herself in the past and it was her intervention and the element of surprise that felled them. The Defenders (and the old man they encountered on the mountain) awaken to find themselves entombed in a stone column with little more then their heads and hands sticking out! Now, Pluto commands the chooser of the slain to send out her clarion call and summon the dead to walk the Earth once more...and she does! The ground trembles as a blue bolt of light from the Valkyrie's lance strikes the earth...and grey-green bodies arise!

Dr. Strange reminds Pluto that he cannot hope to succeed as he is bound to Hades by his Covenant Eternal (see Thor #163-164) with Zeus which only grants him dominion over realms of the dead. Pluto is clearly annoyed by Strange's comments but explains that he has planned most carefully and has considered all contingencies. Pluto then indicates that he plans on channeling his power over the dead through Valkyrie's essence. She will then raise a vast unstoppable army which he will use to conquer the mortal world as his own. The Hulk, his head sticking awkwardly out of the stone column, yells back that he will not be able to do anything, even with sword-girl, as he will smash the bald man. However, the dark lord considers this an empty threat and likewise, does not demonstrate fear at Strange's mention of Zeus. Apparently, the temple in which the Defenders find themselves trapped in steeped in magicks that shield him from Zeus's prying eyes, just as Valkyrie's Asgardian magic will mask his own power until the Earth is overrun by his legions, making it a realm of the dead and thus, rightfully his!

Namor exclaims that the Defenders will resist his efforts for they have vanquished greater than he a hundred times over. The Hulk echoes this sentiment: "Hulk and Fish-Man will smash bald-man!" Pluto smiles at what he considers to be more hollow words. He knows as long as the Gem of Tartarus (situated at the top of the column) binds the heroes within the pillar, not even Dr. Strange's astral form can break free. Pluto explains that he plans on killing the Defenders and then, under the proper rites and rituals, raise them again with their powers fully intact as his slaves; generals of his hell-spawned legions! Suddenly, the old mountain man speaks up about his rights. Pluto, seems to notice the rustic for the very first time and reaches up with his massive right hand to grip the throat of the man. He calls the man a yapping cur and then swiftly, snaps his neck. The Surfer and Strange are sick with shock and it takes Namor to explain to the Hulk why the old man has suddenly ceased talking. The dark lord laughed at the Defenders' outrage but Dr. Strange noticed an interesting reaction from Valkyrie. Was that a slight twitch he saw? A narrowing of her eye? Could it be?

But, before Strange can ruminate further, the cavalry arrives! A gold and blue dressed, sword wielding Valkyrie (the real one?), Nighthawk and Hellcat burst onto the scene! Dr. Strange is not so much surprised at the group's arrival as much as he was shocked to see a second Valkyrie! Pluto immediately summons his lance-carrying Valkyrie to defend him. She does so easily as her weapon smashes the new Valkyrie's sword to pieces. Doctor Strange watches on with great interest. Meanwhile, Hellcat jumps into the fray and smashes the binding gem (apparently having overheard through Nighthawk's crystal ball that the gem was the source of their bondage) freeing the Defenders! The Surfer alights on his silver board and calls the team to stop the madman's scheming. Hulk on the other hand, is more self-important: Hulk is the strongest one and puny bald man was wrong! Namor tells him to save his breath for the battle. Meanwhile, Dr. Strange joins Nighthawk in flight and asks him how this all came to be. Kyle explains that his mystic advisor, Papa Hagg, linked the teleportation ring to the power of the Curse...which makes it easy to follow the group when they are whisked away! Kyle then adds that their Valkyrie is the real least he thinks!

An enraged Pluto then orders his minions to kill them all. His words are nearly drowned out by a chittering scream, as like some great tide, his armies surge forth! Namor points out that there are hundreds, no thousands of resurrected warriors as they advance on the Defenders. The Hulk tells him to shut-up. Nighthawk exclaims that now that the "old team's" back together they should defeat these creeps in no time. He then kicks the head off one of the hordes. Namor, who is busy mowing down greenies himself, reminds Kyle that they are NOT a team. Their sole connection is the infernal curse and he is desperately needed in Atlantis and does not intend to suffer this unwanted alliance any longer than necessary. Overhearing the Sub-Mariner's comments, the Hulk argues that fish-man complains too much. Why worry about somewhere else when there is so much to smash and get mad at here? The Hulk brings his mighty hands together in a clap and the concussion sends the swarming minions sprawling. Meanwhile, the Silver Surfer is swarmed by several of the grotesque fiends and they drain his cosmic energy as they attempt to bear him down. However, they do not count on the silver hero unleashing his power cosmic freely and with force. Bilateral energy blasts bloom from the outstretched hands of the Silver Surfer and his adversaries are literally blown away.

Doctor Strange confronts Pluto, telling him that his minions are failing him and that he'd best retreat. However, as their mystic energy blasts meet, Dr. Strange's powers appear no match to that of the God of the Underworld. Hellcat pipes up though and reminds Strange that a certain God of Thunder would tell you that Pluto is a pushover on his best day. Then Hellcat turns her attention to another flaxen-haired Asgardian...where is Val?

Val is fighting herself it appears. The two Valkyries are locked in battle over the magical lance. Hellcat has a moment to wonder why their Val is yet to speak to any of them, heck even show any recognition! Perhaps it is the Asgardian magic which Papa Hagg said surrounded her. Dr. Strange senses these waves of invisible magic which ripple around the two Valkyries, warping the fabric of reality. Shifting first to one, then to the other as they struggle...then suddenly, there is a shattering release!

It appears that the Valkyrie which was housed by Nighthawk was really Lorelei, the Ice Queen. This fact shocks Kyle. Finally, she has reclaimed enough of her power from the accursed spear to break the spell which left her devoid of power and voice. Lorelei is extremely angry, she blast Valkyrie to the ground and then she directs her rage at Pluto who appears surprised by this development. However, he warns her not to challenge him. He who trapped her in the backlash of her own spell and robbed her of form, power and voice. It was his intention to leave her thus until such time that he had a use for her. Further enraged at his comments, Lorelei reminds him that his scheme depended on her power. She then takes her power back and directs it at Valkyrie (in a brilliant blue blast!). It was now her intent to gain control of Val so that she may complete the original plans...except with herself on the throne! Pluto argues back that she will complete nothing as the spear-maiden is his to control. He then releases his own energies at Val. Like two children arguing over a toy, their energies pull back and forth over Val...tearing at her soul. Finally, Val cries out that she is a warrior and will not be a slave to man, woman or god! Her will too strong to be controlled, and with the death of the old hermit still fresh in her mind, the Valkyrie breaks free from the powers of Pluto and Lorelei and stands on her own accord. Pluto is disturbed by this occurrence. Realizing that he may be matched in power by Lorelei, he proposes that they again join forces to make his plans complete. The Ice Queen is incredulous by this request. She replies to it by suggesting that she will visit such tortures on him that he will long for the comparative mercy of Zeus! 

Meanwhile, the Defenders battle the endless hordes of the risen dead. It is then that Hellcat remembers that the temple has been shielded Pluto from Zeus. She suggests they destroy the temple! The Surfer, Namor and the Hulk pick up on Hellcat's idea figuring that with the temple destroyed, Pluto's machinations will be exposed to Zeus' auspices. They set about its destruction...however, although it was a sound plan in theory, a catastrophe results. Dr. Strange explains that they should have consulted him first because the temple was riven through magic. It didn't just hide Pluto from Zeus, it was a piece of his realm on Earth. A link...a gateway to Hades itself! The ground begins to shake under the feet of the Defenders...and a calamity unfolds. As long as the gateway was whole, Pluto was able to control it and through Valkyrie, he could call the dead to Earth under his command. Pluto is aghast at what has happened. With the gate shattered...the legions of dead come. With none to lead or direct them, there is nothing that can hold them back. Hellcat grins sheepishly and surmises quite correctly that she screwed up. Lorelei laughs at the irony...Hell has been released on Earth after all, but who shall be left to pick up the pieces when it is all over...?

NEXT: More Defenders, more Valkyrie, more Pluto, more bickering!... "Hell on Earth!" in Defenders (vol. 2) #4

Front Cover: The Defenders (vol. 2) Issue 3

Cover Defenders (vol. 2) 3