Friday, February 25, 2011

Defenders 32: Musical Minds! from Steve Gerber

These details remain from #31: they begin and continue subplots.

What I forgot to mention was that the Hulk befriends a deer and its fawn. Two hunters shoot the deer. "Men shoot Bambi's mother!!
says the very, very angry Hulk. Run as they might, these men are born to fly...from the hands of the Hulk. But what, now, will he do with the fawn, "Bambi"? He decides Magician will know what to do. He takes the fawn under his arm and bounds towards New York, Greenwich Village, to see Dr. Strange and co.

Jack and Val try a date at the carnival, just like in the old days, before he talked Barbara into joining the cult of the Undying Ones, and before she became host to the spirit of the ancient Valkyrie, Brunhilde. He tries to impress her with his shooting skills, but she really doesn't get why a man would win a stuffed bear for a woman. But after Jack tries the old hammer and bell strength attraction, Val decides to heft the mallet herself, to the jeers of the operator. When she smashes the bell with her swing, scratch one stogie-in-disbelief. Which stuffed bear does she win for this, she asks? Jack hustles her away before there's too many questions, which really puts a cramp in her style!

The Hulk and Valkyrie (with Jack) soon meet up at the Sanctum Sanctorum, along with Nighthawk, who followed Hulk. Ah, but you read the last post---and you know Nighthawk's body now harbors the brain of Chondu, of the Headmen! (You can't help but wonder how complicated it is to rewire a brain into a this is what happens when someone with those skills gets a little bored. And insane.)

The next issue opens with Daimon Hellstrom summoned to examine their fallen team mate, who of course lives. Yet no possession or mind control of any sort can be found---only a surly tempered, different personality. Where is the real Nighthawk?
In a phantasmagoric tableau: with his brain disconnected from his senses, his consciousness dreams, lucidly. So the brain sits over in a petrie dish and provides us with half of the comic book, depicting a spoiled but lonely and neglected little rich boy. In a better comics universe, he could've been Richie Rich, but Kyle Richmond's forced to fight for his identity from some of his earliest memories, accompanied by depictions of him at different sizes in his Nighthawk costume. In a few pages, we are treated to an engrossing autobiography of this villain-turned-hero, following him from confusion in academics to one fist fight to the next, always bailed out by his father's checks until his wild first year in college ends with a horrible drunk driving accident. Somehow he avoids being charged with the fatality (see MTU #101, I believe, where DeMatteis picks up the tale), but not his expulsion from the college. So, he punches the administrator.

What can he do with his colossal waste of a life? He joins the Army---and in these days, this means you are on the plane out to Viet Nam. Only---he has a heart murmur. 4F! And this discouraging day ends with the televised footage of his father's plane---which also contains an ambassador---going down in flames. The little boy who Couldn't is suddenly alone in the world...with all the money he could ever ask for, and no one to love.

This money goes into developing the serum that doubles his strength at night...and so begins the ignominious career of Nighthawk. Yet the eventual redemption story following his defeat by Daredevil, and his bust stint with the Squadron Sinister, goes wrong, too. The goodhearted, talented, lovely Trish Starr loses an arm the night his car explodes, thanks to her uncle, the villain Egghead (though the Defenders at first go looking for the returned Squadron Sinister; see Giant Size Defenders #5.) He holds her hand, then he is only holding her arm, and he is swept from the beach, into a black ocean with Death looming in its perpetual, humorless grin. This, in the end, is the foe we all face---the one whose secrets we fathom, without knowing its final location in our future.

The fellow Defenders become aware of the brain swap and end up in Connecticut, ringing the Headmen's door soon enough. During the classic vignette featuring the Hulk, the little girl, and the wrecked home and tears with which both end their friendship, a nearby neighbor was revealed to be Arthur Nagin (see DEFENDERS #21---ed.) An awkwardly flying Nighthawk joins their search---which begins with a rang doorbell. Too bad an exploding head is the next thing they see...the last thing they see...before their unconscious bodies are dragged by Ruby Thursday, newest member, into the presence of Nagin and Dr. Jerry.

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