GIANT-SIZE DEFENDERS 3
"Games Godlings Play"
Published: January 1975, 50 cents
Writer: Steve Gerber (with Jim Starlin and Len Wein)
Artist: Jim Starlin
Finished Art: Dan Adkins, Don Newton and Jim Mooney
Colourist: Glynis Wein
Letterer: Charlotte Jetter
Editor: Roy Thomas
The Defenders: Hulk, Sub-Mariner, Doctor Strange, Valkyrie, Nighthawk
Hero Appearances: Daredevil
Nemesis/Villain Appearances: Grandmaster, Prime-Mover, (minor foes: Takkor, Grott, Korvac)
Like a satiny scarlet wraith, the sightless adventurer called Daredevil prowls the night shrouded rooftops of Manhattan. Swinging from his grappling hook, the city he notes is oddly quiet...almost ominously so, his hyper-senses probe the darkness but the sounds and scents he detects are all quite ordinary: the low rumbling of the subway, the aroma of sandalwood, voices chanting "Hare Krishna", the odour of fried fish and then...he stops, directly above him there comes a noise which he decides is the sound of a jet engine...a small personal jet pack worn on a man's back. Daredevil's radar sense and his memory give him the picture of the approaching individual...the villain (at least to him!) Nighthawk! Daredevil suddenly kicks out with his feet catching Nighthawk unawares, striking the Defender solidly in the chest. Nighthawk cries out to the Daredevil that he has got it all wrong, he was not going to attack him. But Daredevil is skeptical, mostly because of what happened at their last meeting (see Daredevil #62). Still, Matt Murdock is open to discussion and tells Nighthawk that he will listen when he has brought him down to earth. Daredevil tosses his grappling hook around Nighthawk's ankle but is deftly pulled from the rooftop as the Defender's back pack powers the pair into the night sky. Nighthawk informs Daredevil that he is going to listen to what he has to say...or else. Matt knows he has no choice. Kyle Richmond, informs the Daredevil that he is through with the villain stuff and has joined a group of heroes called the Defenders. Matt is disbelieving. Frustrated, Kyle explains that they have kept the group's existence a secret for their own reasons but the Earth is in peril and the Defenders need his help but he must come along willingly. Daredevil is incredulous, is Nighthawk serious? He decides he is and agrees to participate. Suddenly *FWASH!!* the pair disappear in a brilliant flash of light!
The Grandmaster, having selected his sixth player, settles back and awaits for his opponent to select his players. The prize of this game is the Earth! The Daredevil merely stands next to Nighthawk, gaping at the "picture" his senses relay to him: a huge game board adrift in space or what appears to be space. He also senses the insubstantial, yet overwhelming presence of the Grandmaster and four other heroes: These are the Defenders?
Daredevil uses his hyper-senses to scan the members of the Defenders as they approach him. The first is a veritable behemoth. His footsteps resound like thunder in Daredevil's ears, his weight nearly half a ton, leaves Daredevil awestruck. He hears a heartbeat that pounds with a trip-hammer force. The voice he hears is low, rasping and almost an animalistic growl. The huge man's every muscle (and his entire mass is muscle!) is taut, tensed, primed to unleash unimaginable power at the slightest provocation. Thus, though the Man Without Fear has never before met him face-to-face, he can only assume that this gargantuan brute must be the Incredible Hulk!
The heartbeat...the regal bearing...the sleek, supple, yet immensely powerful musculature of the second approaching titan are all familiar to Daredevil. And the deep, resonating voice confirms his impression as Namor, the Sub-Mariner announces that they are indeed the Defenders and that they are proud to have him stand beside them. Daredevil knows this man as he has met him twice before.
The third figure, however, is an enigma. Unlike the others, he seems almost at home in this unearthly setting. His heartbeat reveals no agitation. His footfalls are so light as to make one believe that his billowing cloak holds him at least partially suspended in mid-air. Daredevil realizes at once that though this man is human in every sense...he is also far more than human. And then, DD recalls a name he has heard spoken only in whispers, the name of the mage, a wizard, a Master of the Mystic Arts who, until this moment he presumed to be a mere legend. Daredevil understands this man to be Dr. Strange.
Dazed, the sightless adventurer, focuses his attention as best he can on the fourth Defender. There is rare beauty here, he senses, along with fierce pride and indomitable courage...and sheer strength beyond that of any woman he has encountered before. She seems to have combined in her the most outstanding qualities of the other three: the raw might of the Hulk, the nobility of Namor and the ethereal wisdom of Dr. Strange. She softly introduces herself as the one called Valkyrie.
In spite of himself, DD shakes his head and chuckles. He asks the group if Nighthawk invited them to the party the same way he did to him. Solemnly, Valkyrie explains that he did. She remarks that once they learned that the Earth's very existence was at stake, they came on their own volition. But, before Val could continue, the Grandmaster interrupted...
A huge blue-skinned head floats over the game board. The Grandmaster has deep red eyes and wears a high collared yellow cloak. He congratulates Nighthawk for rounding up the heroes then explains that this game will prove even more exciting than the one he created for him and the Squadron Sinister last time (see Avengers #71 which also featured Kang the Conqueror). Today, he has assembled a team even mightier than the Avengers, a team which not only defeated his Squadron Sinister but destroyed them and then added the lone survivor (Nighthawk) to their own ranks (see Defenders #14). Today, the challenge is far worthier the Grandmaster remarks for, the prize is the Earth itself! If they lose, then he must grant his opponent the power to enslave the planet. If they win, then the Earth goes free for the Grandmaster has no interest in the Earth, only in the game. Daredevil asks what if they decide not to play? In a moment of anger, the Grandmaster exclaims that if they spoil his game, he will simply destroy the Earth! And with another *FWASH*, he is gone.
Dr. Strange is curious about the Grandmaster and is frustrated that they did not learn more about him. The Hulk points out that Bird-Man knows him and he will smash the truth out of him if necessary. Strange remarks that there is no need for that and he asks Nighthawk to enlighten them. Nighthawk explains that Grandmaster is a galactic gambling addict and that gaming is his life. He once used the Squadron Sinister and wanted to use them again for this challenge but that group is no more. Since the Grandmaster could only find Nighthawk, he probed his mind and learned of the Defenders. However, the opponents agreed upon six players a side and it was Nighthawk who had recommended Daredevil. Now, they can play the game or watch the Earth destroyed.
On some unknown ship, the Grandmaster faces his opponent and declares that his team is now perfectly balanced for skill, ingenuity, intelligence and brute strength. His opponent remarks that although he finds no flaw in the Grandmaster's assessment, he will still be defeated. The yellow cloaked entity retorts that it is not his analysis that is in error. The opponent of the Grandmaster is Prime-Mover who remarks that he has calculated every possible permutation and will not lose. Prime-Mover is a machine entity who was created back in 1968 by Victor Von Doom, used to manipulate Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in games for his master's amusement. However, Doom tired of the games and departed (see Strange Tales #167). The machine grew tired of waiting and eventually effected a self-reprogramming. Prime-Mover left Doom's castle under its own power to seek out new games but found none on Earth of sufficient complexity to divert it. Prime-Mover launched itself into space, sending out random signals, seeking other players, eventually the Grandmaster responded.
Despite now realizing that Prime-Mover's sole programming was to play games, the Grandmaster was not intimidated; he looked forward to the challenge. An arena was designed by Prime-Mover and created by the Grandmaster...all that needed to be done now, was to advise the respective teams of the rules of the game!
In solemn, somber intonations, the Grandmaster addressed himself to those who will be his pawns in this contest for the mastery of the Earth, while the Prime-Mover directed a similar speech at his chosen warriors. The Defenders learn that the Grandmaster's opponent is in fact a computer. They also learn that the rules must not be broken at the cost of forfeiture of the contest. The game is to proceed as so: each player will select two of his pawns to be placed on one of three worlds created for the games to face a team from the opposing side. The object of the game is to defeat the opposition utterly. The Prime-Mover's teams will be attempting to kill and so the Defenders are advised to use whatever means at their disposal to do no less. Their is no foul but, in the interest of fairness, each world will be totally alien to every pawn such that no participant will be at any advantage due to environment. All will find the play areas equally hostile. The Grandmaster goes on to say that one of the worlds is inhabited and that any pawn may use that world's inhabitant's own devices as a weapon but they cannot request aid from the inhabitant's themselves...this will constitute an infraction and result in forfeiture. Finally, the Grandmaster provides one word of caution. He explains that the Prime-Mover was created by an earthling but it now considers itself superior to all Terrans, man or machine. Humans, it feels, are only fit for domination. For this reason, Prime-Mover has selected pawns from alien world's and the Defenders are advised not to pause in wonderment lest the alien's strike while they stand amazed. Each of the alien pawns have been promised governorship of some sector of Earth, should they win and so, they have entered the fray willingly. With that, the Grandmaster bids them farewell with no luck wished, and exclaims that the games are to begin!
The Grandmaster makes his first move: Valkyrie and Nighthawk vanish from the gameboard to reappear on a world unlike any either has seem before. It is a virtual panorama of despair. A world cloaked in purple mists through which jagged spires of stone jut upward towards a fiery orange sky. It is a lonely world. A silent world. And, it drapes its pall of depression even over the vivacious Valkyrie until she realizes that she has been united with her faithful winged steed, Aragorn, her living symbol of hope. Nighthawk, hanging in flight, sees the desolation of the place as well and comments on its bleakness. Suddenly, their conversation is interrupted by a loud screeching. Two creatures descend upon the heroes, looking as if they were spawned from the bleakest pits of Hell.
The first attacks Nighthawk; a creature more blood hungry demon than man. A beast which resembles a human bat with pointy ears, sharp teeth and leathery wings. It attacks without hesitation, hurling Nighthawk down from the sky and into the swirling mist below. The bat-creature then turns to follow! The Valkyrie's opponent is no less horrifying; a six-limbed, skull-faced killer astride a blood coloured, leather-winged nightmare. It swoops downward, flailing the fetid air with its axe and sword...and mace...cackling and taunting the warrior -woman telepathically. The creature identifies itself as Takkor, He Who Cannot Die. The red demon swings its blade at Valkyrie but she deftly ducks the effort and counters with her own, neatly decapitating the winged horror. And yet, the Viking Maid senses that something is terribly wrong. The severed skull seems to almost laugh as it hurtles surface ward and then the body and the steed dive beneath the falling bone in perfect trajectory...to effect a perfect catch! And, before Val's unbelieving eyes, Takkor sets his head back in place and his mount soars skyward once again! The demon laughs out to Val that he cannot die despite her sword work! Val is incredulous but suddenly, she comes to a realization. The demon Takkor has an awkwardness with his weapons, he communicates by telepathy...and the way his mount took after the plummeting skull can only mean...her real foe is not Takkor at all, but the steed on which he rides! In a swift and true throw, Valkyrie aims her sword at the flying horse and connects! Wailing its death-cry, the demon mount with its mannikin rider goes plunging into the all-concealing mist, never to return. However, Val's victory has come at a price, she has lost her enchanted blade. A small cost, however, when weighed against saving the world.
Suddenly, Val remembers that Nighthawk is still in battle with the bat-creature and she returns to the location where he vanished below the mist. Just as she arrives, Nighthawk comes flying out of the fog, his costume torn, and the bat-thing screeching in pursuit. Nighthawk is wondering why the beast could see so easily in the gloom below when it comes to him...the creature locates its prey by sonar or better yet, echo-location. Nighthawk then decides that the bat-thing is blind and plans on a way to end the battle. The jet-packed Defender baits the flying man-bat into following him as he maneuvers in loops and twists in the air. Finally, Nighthawk sees the opportunity and quickly turns around and darts through a rock abutment that is shaped in an arch. The creature's sonar however, is not as quick in response as Nighthawk's sight and with a sickening crack, the bat-thing smashes into the edge of the abutment. As the creature falls dead into the mists below, Nighthawk flies over to join Valkryie. They confirm their victories when suddenly *ZOT* in a green flash they are removed from the battlefield, presumably to great space gameboard.
Prime-Mover, with what can only be interpreted as shock in his voice, rechecks his probability permutations as if something is amiss. He simply states that this outcome was not possible. The Grandmaster nevertheless, explains that is was, and wishes the computer better luck in the next round.
Daredevil and the Sub-Mariner find themselves trapped on a world still in the throes of its creation. The foul odour of sulfur permeates the hot heavy air. The ground shudders, convulses and erupts in a cacophony of sequential volcanic spasms. Namor called the planet an inferno but DD thought the place was more like a minefield. The noise, smoke and showering stones playing havoc with Daredevil's radar sense. Namor's sea-spawned form thus begins to slowly dehydrate, to weaken in the oppressive heat, while the Man Without Fear stands paralyzed, confused by the barrage of sounds, shapes and scents...and, neither senses his foe about to strike!
Suddenly, Namor is tackled from behind by what can only be described as an intelligent, upright lizard. Like Namor himself, his opponent is an amphibious creature, though of a drastically different sort. For Namor's life supporting armour is entirely artificial, while that of his foe is natural and seemingly impregnable. The Sub-Mariner whacks the creature with a powerful left hook and sends it flying but the beast seems unaffected by the punch. DD's attacker, however, is of an entirely alien nature. A shapeless, free-flowing glob with a single eye, whose movements the hero's radar sense cannot anticipate. DD attempts to escape but the off-coloured blob splashes after him like a liquid slinky-toy and then quickly changes its shape into a ball of spikes, narrowly missing the Daredevil. The red costumed hero struggles for a moment to think. The creature has no heartbeat or distinct odour that DD can detect because everything is drowned out by the sulfurous fumes and the noise of the eruptions.
Meanwhile, the Sub-Mariner, Avenging Son of Atlantis battles on, exchanging punch for punch with his green scaled adversary. However, his assailant has a tail which it uses repeatedly. Its sinewy armoured appendage lashes out sending Namor careening wildly. However, what is worse is that the attack has ripped asunder the vital moisture recycling system concealed in Namor's costume without which, the Sub-Mariner cannot live.
The radar-sense jammed Daredevil seems to be fairing no better. His only option it appears is to attempt to outrun the pursuing glob and to avoid the constant eruptions spewing randomly over the planet's surface. Suddenly, the Man Without Fear feels something crawl around his legs and neck...and tentacles ensnare him. The Daredevil had only a moment to realize that the creature was lifting him up and over towards an exploding crater before he died. The heat from the eruption literally cooking the Man Without Fear. The smell of roasting flesh is barely noticeable in the sulfurous laden atmosphere. But, Daredevil's piercing death-scream slices the dull roar of the eruptions and reaches the shell-shaped ears of the savage undersea Prince. He whirls and spies the flaming corpse of the man once called Daredevil and for perhaps the first time, Namor is forced to confront the fact of his own mortality. The Altantean Prince, who had met DD on two other occasions (both in opposition) had respected and admired the hero. Witnessing his destruction by some madman's lust for cosmic amusement only fuels Namor's anger. With a new found purpose, the Sub-Mariner launches himself at the Man-Lizard with the expressed purpose of making his assassins pay! The lizard creature seems to grin obscenely, as if sensing that this will be the final clash and as if he too is certain that there can only be one victor. Charging at the beast, Namor lands a monster blow, but alas, for the blow that Namor strikes is also his last. Gasping for breath, he staggers back, only to be slammed once again by his reptilian foe's steely tail. Namor is sent reeling across the landscape on the verge of unconsciousness and when he lands in the coarse volcanic dust, he finds he cannot rise. The telltale bluish mottling has begun to appear on his flesh. He is suffocating due to lack of moisture. But that does not stop his foe from speeding the process by beating the fallen Namor into pulp with repeated thrashings of its tail. The man-lizard glares at the crushed, bloodied form of the Sub-Mariner...watching for any sign of movement, any sign of life. But, he has done his work well as no such sign appears. He is the victor and Namor the First, Avenging Son of Fen, Prince of the Blood, Atlantis' Savage Scion...is dead.
This time, the Prime-Mover is pleased with the results of the match and the computer asks the Grandmaster if he doubts his calculations. But, the Grandmaster reminds the machine that there is one round left.
There is a theory that the Earth was created in 1934 by a cosmic entity known only as Fred. That all evidences of a past beyond that year are Fred's fabrication. Dr. Strange cannot help but recall that whimsical hypothesis as he and the Hulk appear on a world where, save for the names and dates, it is true! A world created full-blown by the Grandmaster and the Prime-Mover solely for the purposes of the game. The two Defenders stand in the middle of a courtyard surrounded by people from some unknown time. Suddenly, a man yells out that two more Outworlders have arrived and one is a great green demon. In fear, the people all flee to their homes. Dr. Strange notes that the man said "two more" and so he assumes that their opponents have arrived. As if on cue, from behind the Hulk a voice introduces itself as Grott, the Man-Slayer and asks the Hulk if he is ready to fight. The Hulk turns to see a yellow-skinned midget in green shorts with antennae on its bald head staring up at him. The Hulk scoffs at the midget and announces that he is the strongest one here. Then, the imp merely gestures and the green goliath is sent flying backwards. It happens so suddenly that not even the master mage (let alone the slow witted Hulk) can comprehend it. The Hulk is enraged and as he pulls himself to his feet he warns the imp what happens when the Hulk gets mad. But, before the jade giant can get to Grott, the Hulk is once again send hurtling backwards. This time, Dr. Strange sees the curious energies that crackle about Grott's antennae, but he has no time to ponder, to analyze the phenomenon. For at that moment, his attention is diverted to a voice and a bizarre rumbling sound from behind him. He turns to see a purple garbed, hunched figure wearing an eye patch riding in what appears to be flat, box-like craft which hides his lower half. The man introduces himself as Korvac, an earthman from 2977. This foe uses the science of the 31st Century to combat Dr. Strange's magic. The magical Defender launches a mystical attack which is quickly countered by a perfect defense. The flow of energy is huge, and between the two combatants, a massive amount of free energy builds as their two forces collide but do not disperse. Suddenly...*WA-DOOM!*...chaos on a cosmic scale, as the very atmosphere folds in to fill the gap burnt in it by the unsolid, yet immensely potent bursts of force!
But, though the planet has been rocked to the core, Dr. Strange and Korvac still stand, exhausted but unharmed. Dr. Strange decides that they are two evenly matched and starts to analyze the situation. The Hulk too is unharmed, save for his ego. But, the rampaging jade giant is hardly exhausted. Indeed, he picks up a massive boulder and runs at the yellow midget preparing to pulverize his diminutive foe. However, before he can connect with the huge rock, the midget's antennae glow and the Hulk is sent reeling. The green Defender kicks a pile of rocks in frustration knowing in his heart that the little yellow man should have been crushed under the blow. Grott then indicates that the battle is to end, as his antennae glow and a mountain of rocks is raised into the air then brought down on top of the Hulk! When the dust has cleared, only Grott is visible. The Hulk has been buried under what was once half a city.
Korvac, meanwhile continues his assault on Dr. Strange. Matching Strange's powers with multiple attacks in rapid succession. As if to gloat, Korvac explains to the mage how he is able to fight so. The half-man, half-machine explains that his brain is directly hard-wired to his computerized weapons pedestal. This enables him to analyze Strange's energy spells before they leave his fingertips. Which allows Korvac to instantly calculate precisely the correct defense. Strange realizes he cannot out-think a computer but he recognizes that if the human mechanism cannot function then maybe he has a chance...Without warning, the mystic master leaps and, aided by his cloak of levitation, soars as if weightless directly at his foe. Then fisted leather slams hard against Korvac's jaw! The machine-man is sent spiraling. Strange winces at the pain of the blow. His are the hands of a former surgeon, unaccustomed to exploring bone in such indelicate fashion. Nonetheless, the procedure is successful as Korvac the man lives, but his machine-half does not. Its complex circuitry shattered on impact with the rocky ground. Looking at his fist in wonderment, Dr. Strange marvels that all his mystical powers were not enough to stop Korvac. But, Strange is not merely a wizard, he is above all else, a human and he can fight! Strange then turns to look for the Hulk and he is instructed by the yellow imp that the green giant lies beneath the fallen rubble. The little man gloats at his easy victory over the Hulk. He explains that his antennae make his entire body living solar-cell. They transmute the energy of the sun into a psycho-kinetic force or into an impenetrable shield. Either way, the Hulk could not harm him because he could not touch him. The little imp explains that he had to use his entire charge to defeat the Hulk but...suddenly, the Hulk's hand extends from beneath the rubble and the jade Defender deftly flicks his yellow foe in the back, sending Grott the Man-Slayer flying. Dr. Strange remarks that obviously he was mistaken. But, the tiny self-styled man-slayer cannot hear. Blackness envelopes his consciousness as he hurtles toward an ungraceful landing against a mound of tightly-packed earth, on which his antennae snap, rendering him powerless.
The Grandmaster announces that he is the winner. Two matches out of three. the computer Prime-Mover can only say *squork* and declares that the results cannot be, that the Grandmaster cheated somehow. The Grandmaster shrugs it off and remarks that what the machine failed to do was take more than physical powers and weaknesses into account. In winning the contest, the Grandmaster reminds Prime-Mover, he is rewarded with the Earth and the pawns win the right to life...including the ones who died. For the Grandmaster has the ability to exercise the powers of life and death. He can control the very forces which are the cosmos. The roots of matter and spirit are his to tap. The thinking computer knocks the gameboard which floats in front of it, in frustration. The Grandmaster then gestures and the elemental energies which compromise his being flow out to the arena worlds. Each Defender feels a sudden rush of cold up his spine...feels the world on which he stands (or lies) fall away into cosmic dust...feels himself momentarily as one with the void. And then, the Defenders are together once more. The Sub-Mariner and Daredevil resurrected to stand by their team. The Hulk is first to ask if the game is over and demands to go home. Nighthawk seconds the notion. However, the Grandmaster has second thoughts. He explains that he has decided to retain the Earth as his prize and the Defenders will become his permanent stable of gladiators. The Defenders are incredulous. After witnessing the Defenders victory and knowing the performance of the Avengers in the past, it seems that the Grandmaster is convinced that the Human race is uniquely suited to selective breeding to produce an entire world of super-powered pawns for him to use. In anger, the Defenders rush the Grandmaster, all except Daredevil. The cosmic gambler raises one hand and the attacking team is sent reeling into unconsciousness. The only remaining hero, Daredevil then faces the Grandmaster alone. The gamester asks DD why he did not attack. The Man Without Fear replies that he knew there was no hope of winning a direct assault, so he challenges the galactic gambling addict to another game...double or nothing. If DD wins, the Earth and its inhabitants go free. If he loses the Grandmaster takes the Earth, its people and moon as well. With interest, the Grandmaster nods in agreement. Taking a deep breath, Daredevil grabs a red metal disc that is part of Prime-Mover's module and scratches an "X" on one side. He then turns to the Grandmaster and explains: the game is a simple one of chance, the odds are 50-50...that is Heads or Tails. The cosmic gambler remarks that he usually prefers games of strategy but the simplicity of this game intrigues him. The Grandmaster calls tails and DD calls heads. The glittering metal disc is launched from Daredevil's hand...and for what seems to him an eternity...it hangs spinning in the tension charged air...with the fate of every man, woman and child on Earth...resting on which of its sides will be upturned...when gravity pulls it back down. DD catches it and flips it on to the back of his right hand. As, the Defenders slowly recover, Daredevil reports that the result is...heads. The Defenders win! Anticlimactically, the Grandmaster expresses his pity because he had such grand designs for the Human race. Until next time, the Grandmaster abides by the rules of the game and frees the Earth from his control. A burst of light is emitted so blindingly bright that only DD is aware of anything else...of the trip across space...back to Earth!
The Defenders express their gratitude that DD won the game for Earth, but Dr. Strange asks him if he felt that perhaps he also took a great risk. DD, however just throws his line out the window and as he perches on the ledge, explains that there was really no risk at all...and he swings away leaving nothing but questions in Strange's mind. Little do the Defenders know that DD's touch is so sensitive that he could feel exactly how the disc was balanced and therefore how to flip it so that it had to come up heads...to let them know this would be a hint at DD's blindness and that is a secret that DD cannot afford to have spread around...
NOTE: This issue also features a 1950's Sub-Mariner vignette entitled "The World Destroyers" which was originally presented in Sub-Mariner #38. It also features a Stan Lee and Steve Ditko Dr. Strange tale entitled "The House of Shadows" which was originally presented in Strange Tales #120. These have no direct bearing on the Defenders so they are not summarized.
NEXT: Giant-Size Defenders #4
Front Cover: Giant-Size Defenders 3