Dr. Strange’s Sanctum Santorum:
The Hulk is on a rampage and nobody knows it better than Luke Cage as his body is sent smashing through a wall by the raging behemoth. The Hulk is determined Dr. Strange is hiding somewhere within the building and he won’t stop looking until he finds him.
Nighthawk comes flying into the room joking with Cage that he needs to start getting along with the Hulk. Cage isn’t in the mood and complains these incidents are happening way too often.
Nighthawk finds Hulk, not that it was difficult, and wraps his arms around the ogre’s neck. He tries convincing “lettuce lips” to stop the senseless destruction. Hulk gets even angrier because no one tells him what to do. Valkyrie enters the scene and asks what all the commotion is about. Hulk says he’s looking for his friend. Valkyrie assumes he means Dr. Strange. Hulk gets in her face and tells her to get out of his way. Valkyrie stands defiant, and tells him she will not until he calms down. Valkyrie tells him smashing things isn’t going to solve anything, that they need to make a plan. Hulk ponders this for a moment and agrees, much to Nighthawk’s disbelief.
Valkyrie tells the boys they need to try reasoning before resorting to violence whenever Hulk gets angry. The men claim they had no choice because the Hulk just went crazy. Hulk agrees and says he’ll do it again if they don’t find the magician soon. Valkyrie leads the emerald-skinned brute away to discuss their next course of action. Cage and Nighthawk remain standing there, battered and bruised, in utter incredulity. Worst of all is the big mess they need to clean up.
Elsewhere in the Sanctum, Dr. Belinsky slams down the telephone in anger. She had just finished a conversation with some of her fellow countrymen who implied threats to her loved ones if she didn’t return to Russia. Her embittered thoughts are interrupted as Valkyrie and the Hulk enter the room.
She overhears Hulk venting his frustrations at finding Dr. Strange. Tania is taken aback and asks what’s happened to him. Valkyrie explains he’s been missing since yesterday when he went to meet some old friend. She messes up the guy’s name, “Homer...Kar... Karind—“, but Tania figures it out and asks if she means Omar Karindu. She explains that Dr. Karindu is one of the world’s most learned scholars of the paranormal sciences.
Tania continues, explaining her government is more respectful of these types of studies in comparison to the U.S. She adds that he’s staying at the Americana Hotel. Hulk says they go there now. Tania explains she can’t and relates her nasty phone call. Valkyrie grows concerned and inquires further on what happened. Hulk grimaces and says they find the magician first.
Cage and Nighthawk join in the conversation and ask to tag along to the hotel. As a group they decide Valkyrie will stay behind with Tania while Hulk, Nighthawk and Power Man will head to the Americana Hotel. Before they can leave, however, Jack Norriss enters the Sanctum. Nighthawk gets livid and accuses Norriss of backing out of their $300,000 agreement. Jack tells him not to worry, that he’s only there to talk to his wife. Nighthawk tells him not to be there when they get back.
Now left alone, Valkyrie voices her displeasure at Jack’s recurring visits. His appearance is a constant reminder that she inhabits the body of another woman. Jack says it’s his last visit. He wants to apologize for trying to force her to accept him. He tells Val he loves her and wants to help her through any problems she’s having coping with her newfound existence.
Val tells Jack he doesn’t love her, only Barbara, who is no more. She yells at him to stop trying to mold her into the image of his wife. Jack can only stand there, stunned. Val apologizes for unwillingly taking the body of his wife, but tells him it’s time to deal with it because nothing’s going to change. Jack angrily tells her it would have been nice to know her and storms out of the house.
Jack walks the streets of Greenwich Village, lost deep in his thoughts, trying to keep his focus off the past. He notices a shadow following his trail and turns to find someone he recognizes tailing him. Jack seems frightened and asks what the mystery figure wants with him. Before the stalker can answer Jack yells that he wants to be left alone and then takes off running.
The three Defenders arrive at the Hotel Americana and find a squad of police cars and ambulances waiting outside. Two of the figures being wheeled away for transport are Rhino and Solarr. Hulk gets angry thinking of the recent battle they had with the two. Cage tells him to chill, he might not even be breathing. Lt. Kris Keating overhears their conversation and explains his SWAT team almost always brings them back alive. He further explains the two costumed villains are under heavy sedation.
Cage doesn’t buy the fact his SWAT team took out the two Emissaries. Keating agrees they didn’t, they’re just making sure they stay caught. Nighthawk asks if there are any leads on who did take these guys out. He adds that they’re there to see Omar Karindu. Keating takes a drag from his cigarette and tells them to follow him inside.
As Keating takes them up a flight of steps he explains that Karindu claims to know who took those two guys out, but isn’t saying anything else. Keating figures he might say more to the Defenders.
They reach Karindu’s room, much to his dismay. He sarcastically asks if Keating’s brought more stone-faced inquisitors. He adds they’re wasting too much time as the entire planet is in peril. Nighthawk tells Dr. Karindu he’s been around Dr. Strange enough to not take a statement like that lightly. Karindu asks if they’re disciples of Stephen Strange to which Cage replies, “Close enough...”
Dr. Karindu seems crestfallen when he gives them the news that he is responsible for dooming Dr. Strange. Hulk charges at him, bursting with anger and lifts him into the air by his collar. Karindu blames the Star of Capistan for Dr. Strange’s predicament, that it wasn’t his intention. He explains that the Star’s power has been unleashed.
Strange’s Sanctum Santorum:
Tania expresses worry over why her homeland wants her back so badly. Val suggests they may fear her defection. Tania insists she always intended on going back to the Soviet State. Val assures her whatever the problem the Defenders will be there to help.
A voice calls out from another room, marveling at Valkyrie’s appearance. Val turns and finds a young woman in a yellow and blue costume sitting upon Dr. Strange’s desk. The lady apologizes for startling her and introduces herself as Hellcat. She explains she needs to see Dr. Strange ASAP. Val informs her the good doctor’s gone missing. Hellcat, losing her optimism with the bad news, states her fears of the Earth’s impending demise.
Both Red Guardian and Val want to know what she’s talking about. Hellcat starts her tale off six weeks earlier when she was offered membership into the Avengers. She turned down the proposal and went with Moondragon to Titan to be trained in the use of her abilities. In the midst of Hellcat’s education, Moondragon sensed awesome danger and Hellcat was sent back to Earth. Immediately upon arrival she went to the Avengers and put them on alert and then headed to see Dr. Strange. Hellcat now worries she may be too late.
Red Guardian stares out the window, nonplussed with the dire story. She asks what the whole imminent danger thing is about. Before Hellcat can answer Tania notices something going down on the streets below. She calls Val and Hellcat over to check it out. Hellcat says it’s already begun, the curse of the ruby. Sure enough, dozens of people are walking the sidewalks in a zombie-like state all headed in the same direction.
The two Defenders decide to forgo their problems of the missing mystic and the menacing Soviets, and along with Hellcat head out into the city to uncover the perpetrator of the problem.
Dr. Karindu briefs the Defenders on the Star of Capistan’s magnitude. He explains that the power of the jewel is an incredible force, which can be used for good or evil. It serves as the “Key” to the cult of the Unliving Four of which Karindu is the Brahmin. With its power now unleashed, it’s a threat nearly beyond comparison.
He goes further into detail explaining the sentience of the Ruby and how it’s sensitive to the human brain. It has a will of its own and a desire to end conflict by creating an absolute harmony among all men’s minds.
Earliest accounts of the Star originated in ancient Lemuria, but its existence was always in doubt until 1933 when the jewel was found in the ruins of Dashetal. Upon contact with its discoverer it transformed him into the Red Rajah. Karindu describes how he was also there and eliminated the Red Rajah with the use of his sidearm and brought the jewel under control. It had been held in check by the cult of the Unliving Four up until a few hours ago.
Nighthawk admits it’s an intriguing story, but asks what that has to do with them and their missing friend. Everything, Omar admits, because the latest incarnation of the Red Rajah is none other than Dr. Strange.
Nighthawk and Cage have more questions for the good doctor, but his face glazes over and he begins walking toward the lobby door, along with everyone else in the area. Cage takes off to find out what’s going on and the other two Defenders follow closely behind.
Once outside they notice everyone is headed in the same direction. Hulk wants to know where all the puny humans are going. Nighthawk observes giant flashes of red light appearing over some skyscrapers near Central Park and assumes that’s where they’re headed.
The trio takes off toward their destination, Nighthawk with his jetpack and Cage clinging to the leaping Hulk’s neck. They arrive quickly and find the Red Rajah aka Dr. Strange standing atop a makeshift pyre with throngs of followers surrounding him, waving their arms in deep devotion.
Strange repeats his mantra to the masses, his message of the single spirit. He implores his followers to submit to the collective consciousness and join the harmonious union in a world in accordance with the will of the Red Rajah.
Nighthawk swoops above him and yells for him to snap out it. Red Rajah is angered by the outburst from the unenlightened and fires a spell at the millionaire playboy. He scores a hit and Kyle crashes into the hard grassy surface.
Hulk lands behind Red Rajah. He accuses the Red Man of being evil. Rajah turns about just as the Hulk threatens to smash. The red-garbed Strange tells Hulk violence is not the solution. He fires another spell and sends the Hulk flying backwards, eventually smacking into the sidewalk, but not before obliterating a park bench.
Now it’s Cage’s turn, as he creeps up onto the platform. The crowd pulls him back down telling him it’s the will of the Rajah. They start pummeling him and he is unable to break free. His body is submerged beneath a mass of thundering limbs.
The Red Rajah looks upon his followers and states how proud he is. They have proved to him the strength of the single spirit. He levitates the fallen bodies of the Defenders and brings them towards him. He proclaims the end to the era of the “individual.” Someone nearby yells out, “Baloney!” He turns to see three super heroines staring right at him. Valkyrie, Red Guardian and Hellcat defy the Red Guardian’s message, and despite the male Defenders now under his control, are ready to fight him to the finish.