I’ve talked before about the many ways that I find the stories to tackle here on Marvel Madness. One of which is to track down some famously strange stories. Because, while I certainly enjoy sharing some of the weirder little tales that have slipped through the cracks, there are definitely a bunch of stories that are too weird not to have gotten a lot of notice before. You know, stuff like Capwolf, the types of stories that become legendarily weird. And, I happened to come across one such story recently, while working my way through the original run of the Defenders, my personal favorite Marvel team. If you’re only aware of this team from the radically different version shown in the Marvel Netflix shows, the Defenders are the more mystical superhero team, fighting demons and monsters more than alien invasions and Masters of Evil. It’s a team almost always made up of strange, semi-forgotten characters, and I love them so much. So, when I once heard about a story that involved the Defenders turning Magneto into an infant, I figured it would be something special. And, lo and behold, it was. So, buckle up folks, we’re going to get weird.
The story begins with Doctor Strange hanging out in the Sanctum Sanctorum with what amounts to the Defenders team at the moment. The team had been having quite a bit of turnover at this moment, leaving Doctor Strange to just be spending time with Valkyrie, the mighty Asgardian warrior currently inhabiting the body of a woman named Barbara Norris, and Nighthawk, a Batman ripoff who the Grandmaster summoned to Earth in order to battle the Avengers with a team of knock-off Justice League characters. And, to make matters even worse, Valkyrie almost immediately announces that she’s taking a leave of absence from the team in order to figure out what her whole deal is, and what’s going on with Barbara. Doctor Strange and Nighthawk are pretty shocked by this, since that would essentially leave the team at just the pair of them, but they decide to be supportive of Valkyrie, since they’re basically the only people she knows on Earth. But, while Nighthawk is busy using his vast wealth to buy a personal stable for Valkyrie’s flying horse, Doctor Strange is engaged in a bizarre mental conversation. With a very special guest star.
That’s right, after using the vaguely defined powers of the Eye of Agamotto to let Nighthawk and Valkyrie in on the identify of his secret conversational partner, Professor Charles Xavier. Professor X explains to the Defenders that he has come across a most dire problem occurring in Carlsbad Cavern, and he needs someone to help with the problem. Normally he’d obviously send the X-Men, but they’re currently too busy to investigate this issue, so he’s decided to all upon the Defenders. Why? Well, I’m not quite sure, I guess the Avengers were busy or something. But, regardless, the Defenders agree, and head out to meet Professor X.
Valkyrie tells the team that she’s willing to go on one last adventure with them before her sabbatical, and to gain a little bit of muscle on the trip Doctor Strange sends a message to the Hulk, imploring him to lend them a hand. The Hulk weirdly agrees to help them, even though he generally hasn’t been the best team-mate, and they all meet up in New Mexico, where Charles Xavier is waiting for them, just sitting outside of the Cavern in his wheelchair. He doesn’t really give the Defenders a good idea of what is inside Carlsbad Cavern, but they just march inside, looking out for some sort of “great evil,” that is inside. And, sure enough, a giant monster comes running out of the shadows at them, initiating a big fight.
So, that’s a little alarming. And, as you might have guessed, the Hulk responds to the sudden appearance of a monster by launching himself at it, choosing to smash first and ask questions second. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work out for him, and he swatted away like a fly by the monster, giving Nighthawk and Valkyrie a stab at fighting the beast. Which, pretty quickly results in Nighthawk and Valkyrie being picked up by the cyclops and shaken around, until Doctor Strange start launching bolts of bedevilment at the monster.
Weirdly though, these bolts seem to have no effect, much to Doctor Strange’s confusion. Which, leaves only Professor Xavier to take a crack. And, thankfully, he has the right idea. Because after focusing his mental energy on the monster, he finds that it’s not actually real, and just a very elaborate mental projection. Which, doesn’t really trak what with the whole picking up multiple Defenders, but whatever. The Defenders are pretty blown away by this realization, but Professor Xavier explains that this makes perfect sense, since he actually knows why they’re in these damned Caverns. But, before he can tell them what’s going on, they’re attacked by the great evil that Professor Xavier needed their help with in the first place. The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants!
That’s right, the primary foes of the X-Men are here, and they’re able to get the drop on the Defenders and knock them unconscious before they can even defend themselves. Which, they’d maybe be able to have kept themselves from if Professor Xavier had told them what in the hell they were here for. But, whatever. The Defenders have found themselves captured by a real weird assortment of Evil Mutants, including Magneto, Lorelei, Unus the Untouchable, Mastermind, and everyone’s favorite, the Blob!
And, after making short work of the Defenders and Professor Xavier, Magneto and company drag the heroes back to their secret base of operations inside the Caverns, and traps them inside some sort of machine that uses Magneto’s poorly defined powers to keep them confined. And, as you might have guessed, since the heroes are trapped that means it’s time for Magneto to start monologuing. And that begins with him explaining what he’s been up to since we last saw him, which is insane. See, Magneto was last seen fighting with the Avengers, and that fight ended with him being imprisoned in some sort of magical sphere, where he was then placed in the exact core of the Earth, which apparently would nullify his magnetic powers, and keep him prisoner. Where he would then suffocate, or starve to death? I don’t know, but after waiting out his time in the core of the planet a comet passed by Earth which made the magnetic poles shift imperceptibly, but enough that Magneto was able to use his powers to escape, tunneling through the ground until he eventually came upon a hidden cavern within the Carlsbad Cavern system, which seemed to hold the ruins of an ancient and advanced civilization.
So, yeah, for whatever reason Magneto has stumbled upon some wise civilization hidden under the New Mexican desert, and inside he finds quite a bit of knowledge. Which he apparently was able to read after learning their language through sheer force of will. But, once he accomplished that minor miracle, Magneto was able to learn that these people also had mutants, and they’d been studying them for quite some time, coming across a pretty staggering realization. And, always on the lookout for some new scheme to achieve mutant superiority, Magneto decided to reform the Brotherhood in order to use this information to take over the world.
And, what is this great secret that the cave-dwelling people of New Mexico discovered? Well, they apparently created a giant glass tube that is brewing an ultimate mutant, using advanced genetic science. But, while Magneto is blathering on about his evil plan, Professor Xavier has been putting the Defenders into a mental link with himself, coming up with a plot to escape. Because, as Xavier explains, mental energy is all electrical impulses, so if they all concentrate as hard as possible their thought energy should be enough to disrupt the magnetic energy that Magneto is holding them with. Which…sure. The heroes are able to free themselves, and Magneto and his Brotherhood jump into action, getting ready to battle in the caves.
This of course leads to a lot of shenanigans. The Hulk and the Blob end up insulting each other enough to come to blows, but the Blob’s powers of energy absorption are strong enough to take the full brunt of the Hulk’s punches, and he’s able to knock back at the Hulk, sending the giant green monster flying through the air. Valkyrie is having no better luck with Unus, whose incredibly strange mutant power to generate a force-field causing him to be untouchable keeps her blade from striking its target, all while he just laughs at her. Doctor Strange gets to deal with Mastermind and his elaborate illusions, which Strange ends up fighting even though he knows full well that they aren’t real. And Lorelei is able to use her hypnotic singing voice to lull Nighthawk and Professor Xavier into unconsciousness.
But, pretty quickly, the Defenders are able to get some luck breaks. The Hulk realizes that Blob’s power comes from him being rooted to the ground, so he just tosses the fat mutant up into the air and is able to punch him from the sky. Doctor Strange creates a wall of duplicates of himself, causing Mastermind to panic so Strange can blast him with a magical bolt. Professor Xavier is able to turn on Nighthawk’s jetpack, sending his unconscious body to rocket into Lorelei, knocking her out. And Valkyrie sees that Unus drops his force field when he attempts to punch her, and is able to time a punch to knock him out. So, with the Defenders back on top, Magnet has no choice but to unleash his new supermutant. And, well, it maybe leaves a little to be desired.
Cool. So, this is Alpha, the mutant that Magneto has been home-brewing in this ancient laboratory. Magneto doesn’t fully know what this giant caveman can do, but he assumes it’s going to be impressive, as does the Defenders, who decide to attack Alpha as quickly as possible. But, it ends up being surprisingly ineffective. Alpha has some sort of force field around him that keeps away Doctor Strange’s bolts, and it’s even able to deflect a direct attack from the Hulk, bouncing him off into an alcove. Because this hasn’t been a particularly dignified showing for the Hulk.
And, with this trial run complete, Magneto decides that Alpha is going to be a big asset to him and his organization, and decides it’s time to leave. He uses his magnetic powers to cause a cave-in, trapping the Defenders while he, the Brotherhood, and Alpha are able to escape using Alpha’s new powers. Because, it seems like Alpha can kind of do whatever he wants, given the right suggestion, and after staring off into space and turning gold, Alpha is able to teleport his villainous new friends out of the cavern, leaving the Defenders trapped. So, how will our heroes escape? Perhaps by using some sort of cunning plan, or magical spell? Well, no, they just use their various powers to literally punch their way out of Carlsbad Caverns, which I guess is just as effective.
After a brief scare where they thought the Hulk may have died in a surprise cave-in, the Defenders are able to blast their way free of the caves, and get to work tracking own Magneto and his cronies. They take a moment to regroup while Professor Xavier uses his vast psychic abilities to begin scanning the entire country, looking for the right signatures of Magneto and his new Brotherhood. And, after an exhaustive search, Xavier has found them in New York City, getting ready to storm the United Nations building. So, the Defenders situate themselves in a manner to fly across the country, and give chase.
But, in the time it takes the Defenders to get there, Magneto and his lackies are able to get quite a bit accomplished. The Brotherhood are able to more or less just stroll into the building, utilizing Magneto’s abilities to throw anyone who might try and stop them out of the way. And all while recognizing the fact that Magneto has previously attempted to attack the United Nations, proving that they didn’t come up with a better anti-Magneto plan, which is really just poor planning on their part. And, after fighting his way into the general assembly room, Magneto approaches the podium and begins making a speech about how mutants are superior to human beings, and the only logical course of action would be for all of the humans to give up authority and let the mutants take over. This is of course met with derision, so Magneto has to flex a little bit.
Magneto orders Alpha to help them out, and at his master’s order the giant begins glowing once more, and the entire United Nations building suddenly lifts off the ground and begins floating up into the air. Now, you might have noticed by this point that Alpha looks kind of different. Well, apparently each time he uses some of his abilities and is bathed in golden energy, he evolves a little more, becoming more and more human, and more and more intelligent, with each use of power.
But, that doesn’t really matter at the moment. What does matter is that when the Defenders finally get to New York they find a crowd gathered around the giant crater where the United Nations used to be, while the building is soaring ever-higher into the air. They obviously realize that Magneto is to blame, and begin flying upwards to catch the building, which ends up being recognized by Mastermind pretty easily. Mastermind informs Magneto, who demands that Alpha do something to destroy the Defenders. Alpha seems pretty against destroying strangers at this point in his evolution, but he still uses his abilities to create a group of concrete golems to do battle with the Defenders.
But, it seems like Alpha maybe wasn’t giving this his all, because the Defenders are able to make pretty short work of these concrete monsters, easily dispatching them in time to start marching on the United Nations building once again. The heroes burst into the general assembly room where Magneto is positively fuming, berating Alpha for failing him. Alpha, now evolved roughly to the level of a human being, tries to explain to Magneto that he has no cause to destroy these people, and doesn’t want to do it, but Magneto forces him into action, causing Alpha to use his powers on the Defenders, again and again to stop them. He turns the Hulk to stone, causes Nighthawk to spin helplessly in circles, and even fuses Valkyrie’s legs to the ground so she can’t charge him.
And, all the while, Alpha continues to evolve. Each time he uses his abilities he changes, to the point that he’s standing before them with a massive skull housing what could only be an impressive brain. Xavier and Strange recognize this, and decide that Alpha must be at a point beyond both human and mutant, and attempt to reason with him, explaining that they have no quarrel with him, and that Magneto is the true villain. Alpha takes these words to heart, and uses his vast powers to begin peering into everyone present’s soul, hoping to gain a better understand of who they are, and what they want. And, as that process winds down, he recognizes the fact that Magneto is a supervillain, and not to be trusted. Magneto obviously tries to fight back, but Alpha just blasts him and his Brotherhood with some energy, and then uses his abilities to lower the United Nations building back onto the ground. Alpha then bids farewell to the Defenders, and announces he has no interest in humanity and their petty squabbles, leaving the planet behind. He also leaves the Defenders to deal with what he’s done to the Brotherhood. Which is turn them into infants.
Well, there you have it. A weird ancient mutant has just turned into a Starchild and de-aged the Brotherhood of Mutants to the point where they’re just a bunch of bawling babies. Now, I’ve mentioned before here that I’m not the biggest X-Men fan. I read some of the stories, and can occasionally have a fun time with them, but I’m by no means an expert on those books, so I have no idea how Magneto rectifies this present situation. Probably some bullshit involving M’Kraan crystals or something. But, regardless of future developments, I just adore the idea that someone’s plan to neutralize a bunch of supervillains was to just make them babies. And to then leave the planet so they become someone else’s problem. I assume Professor Xavier will take charge of these babies, but part of me hopes to learn that each of the Defenders took one for a while, because I’d love to see the Hulk trying to care for a baby Blob. I had heard about this story for quite a while, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Yeah, I’d always heard that the Defenders turned Magneto into a baby, when they actually had a passive role at best in that particular transformation, but it’s still a really fun story, and just such a wonderfully weird footnote in Magneto’s history. Suddenly his increasingly improbable age isn’t the weirdest thing about Magneto.
Defenders #15-16 were written by Len Wein, penciled by Sal Buscema, inked by Klaus Janson and Mike Esposito, colored by Glynis Wein, lettered by John Costanza and Charlotte Jeter, and edited by Roy Thomas, 1974.
Categories: Marvel Madness