Operation "Peanut Dumpling", a Black-Ops team of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents sent to seek out and destroy some enemy technology, is underway. The stealthy squad makes their way through the dense foliage until they come across a fortified bunker.
Team leader, Joaquin Pennysworth, tells them to quiet down. He takes cover behind a tree and signals Stevens to get up there with the security scanner. Stevens rushes forward and runs a check on the remote station standing not far away. The results come back with the scanner reading multiple security signals, infrared...laser array...motion sensors.
Pennysworth cuts him off convinced they found it. He checks to make sure everyone has their whistles ready as neural immunization can only go so far being this close to the source. He starts to go over the initial plan, but then one of his team is taken out in a blaze of gunfire.
Pennysworth orders his men to take defensive positions. Another trooper is blown away and Pennysworth returns fire. Men in serpent uniforms come busting out of hollowed out tree trunks, surprising the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and putting them at a severe disadvantage. Thompson is quickly killed leaving only Pennysworth. He takes a shot to the front of his helmet and falls. The Serpent soldiers check the bodies and realize Pennysworth is the only one still alive. One of them suggests taking him to the Supreme Serpent to see what he wants to do with him.
Three Weeks Later
Grand Coulee Hydroelectric Power Station, Washington State
Nighthawk delivers a high-flying kick sending one of the Brothers Grimm smashing to the floor of the plant. Nighthawk tells him to give it up, but Grimes, a bit groggy, tells the Initiative soldier they still have a job to do. He charges toward Nighthawk, calling him “some two-bit cape." Nighty delivers an uppercut to the chin and Percy Grimes goes down. Nighthawk tells Grimes he's far from A-List.
Nighthawk turns around and finds Gargoyle standing over the other Brothers Grimm. Gargoyle admits the bad guys weren't that good in close quarter’s combat and then points to the explosive device the Grimms planted, which they were able to prevent from detonating along with the others.
Nighthawk suggests they call in the cleanup crew and get them sent back to the Raft. Gargoyle remarks how it felt a bit like the old days. Nighthawk asks what he means by that. Gargoyle explains he's been thinking about moving back to Christiansboro. He's doesn't feel he fits in with this "new world" and isn't a big fan of Henry Gyrich either.
Nighthawk tells him to forget about Gyrich, that he has a meeting with Stark that will get them both transferred out of Camp Hammond personally. Gargoyle doesn’t understand what he means. Nighthawk cautions him against doing anything rash just yet, that he has it all worked out.
S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, 2.7 miles above New York
Tony and Kyle are in the midst of a meeting in one of the office rooms, Tony congratulating Kyle for another job well done. Tony adds that the Rangers found a new Gypsy Moth trying to blow up a genetic research facility outside Houston and confides it might be part of a series of coordinated attacks. He then digresses and gets to the reason why he called the meeting.
Tony brings up Kyle's petition to restart the Defenders as part of the 50-state initiative. Tony explains the Defenders were always part of the plan; he just needed more time to get it together. He tells Kyle the time has finally come, though questions why he’s wearing a business suit as opposed to the Nighthawk costume.
Kyle goes on the defensive, saying he knows Tony might have a problem with him since he started off siding with the Resistance. Tony tells him it's all water under the bridge and asks if he's ready to meet the new team. Kyle, with slide show clicker in-hand, is shocked to hear the team's already picked. Up on the screen he has a presentation ready to display some of the members he's been grooming for this assignment (Devil Slayer, Gargoyle and Hellcat specifically).
Stark points out that past Defenders lineups have never worked out, or at least for any long period of time. He tells Kyle there's a formula for making a successful team and assures him he has the experience and know-how to do it.
Tony gets up from his seat and tells Kyle to follow him. Kyle argues he has the experience to know what's going go work and if he's leading the team he should have a say in the matter. Stark doesn't argue, but explains Kyle’s history is why he was picked to lead the team. Stark assures Kyle he won't be disappointed with his teammates. Kyle continues his argument, but as they near the security doors Tony tells him to hold that thought and say hello to the New Jersey Defenders. Kyle can only think "...New Jersey?"
The doors slide open to reveal Blazing Skull and Colossus standing at the ready. Stark explains with their proximity to New York City, a proven prime target for superhuman aggressors, they need a powerhouse team in place. He introduces Piotr Rasputin, codenamed Colossus, and Mark Todd, codenamed Blazing Skull.
Blazing Skull asks Stark what kind of superhero he's supposed to be (referring to Nighthawk) not wearing a costume. Nighthawk interrupts to ask why there are only three of them.
Stark puts an armored hand on his shoulder and explains there is a fourth, but she's going to need more convincing. He then tells Kyle that'll be his responsibility. "What?!" Kyle exclaims. Stark just walks away and wishes him luck. Kyle has a sinking feeling he's going to need a lot more than luck.
Kyle turns around and tells his new teammates he's determined to make this work. He begins to explain why he's not in uniform, but decides not to bother them with the details of his meeting gone awry. Instead, Nighthawk tries to start a conversation with the Blazing Skull, but instead receives a heavy dose of attitude from the veteran hero.
Richmond turns his attention to Colossus, mentioning his tenure with the X-Men. Colossus explains the X-Men are no more and that people he trusts advised him this would be a beneficial use of his abilities. Kyle tells him he understands and keys in on the word "trust." He starts to go off on a spiel, but Blazing Skull cuts him off, telling him to put on a uniform before going off on any speeches.
Colossus suggests they wait for the fourth Defender Tony spoke of. Kyle agrees, but silently wonders whom else Tony Stark decided to ram down his throat.
Six Hours Later
Nighthawk finally locates the fourth Defenders’ recruit, She-Hulk. He also finds the Scorcher deeply embedded into a granite wall, an obvious consequence of She-Hulk's rage. Sidestepping the flames, Nighthawk follows her as she gathers the Scorcher, who skipped out on bail.
She-Hulk tells Nighthawk she knows who he's been hanging out with and he can forget it if he's there to rope her into one of the Police State actions. Nighthawk brings up her team days with the Avengers and the Fantastic Four trying to convince her it can work. She-Hulk sarcastically asks if he shouldn't be going after her cousin (referring to the Hulk’s Defender days). Kyle tells her she's a much better fit.
She-Hulk lifts Scorcher over her shoulder and tells Nighthawk he can stop with the sales pitch, she needs to get Scorcher in and collect her percentage fee. Kyle blurts out, "Is this about Tony Stark?" She-Hulk asks him rather heatedly to repeat his question.
Nighthawk puts up his hands as if he didn't mean any offense. He alludes to the history the two have shared with the whole lawsuit thing and embarrassingly catches himself as he starts to mention their brief romance. With an angry look in her eyes she shoves Scorcher's limp body into Kyle, knocking him backwards. Kyle makes a mental note of her short fuse.
Nighthawk tries a different approach. He asks She-Hulk what she thinks the odds are that Stark picked her because he knew she wouldn't do it. He confides in She-Hulk that he doesn't think Tony wants the Defenders to work out and just needs a reason to pull the plug... which would be her.
She-Hulk stops dragging Scorcher through the sewage and thinks for a moment. She admits it sounds like the kind of Machiavellian move Tony has been good at lately. Nighthawk is happy she sees it his way and asks her to help prove Stark wrong. She-Hulk tells Nighthawk he really knows how to shovel it, but tells him to keep talking.
Many Years Ago
A robed person kneels at the feet of the Ancient One to receive the wise man’s decision. The Ancient One tells his follower that after much meditation and consideration he has determined there is nothing he can teach him.
The disciple doesn't understand. His search led him there. He asks does he not have the unique capabilities to take on the mantle of... but the Ancient One cuts him off. There is another, a Westerner... an American, he explains. The Ancient One thinks he may be tempting destiny, but the war for the young man's soul is one he's ready to wage... and must win. One day, the Ancient One continues, that man will wear the Eye of Agamotto.
The Ancient One tells the traveler becoming the Sorcerer Supreme is within him, but also beneath him. He tells him to take heart, that he is young and the answers he seeks will be found, but elsewhere. The man looks up, a scowl on his face, as the Ancient One calls his name, Son of Satan.
Hoboken, New Jersey, Defenders Headquarters
The four Defenders sit around an oval table with a capital 'D' in the center and the outline of New Jersey inside. Nighthawk covers the basics: data systems, the network, computer system access with every Initiative team across the country, the security system, etc.
Blazing Skull remarks how the whole Initiative thing is getting a bit old. Nighthawk ignores the comment and fills them in on the combat simulator next door. Nighthawk says he would like to set up a session to see how they work together, but something’s already come up.
Nighthawk informs them of scattered reports hinting at a resurgence of the Sons of the Serpent with an active cell in New Jersey. Blazing Skull wants to know who these Sons of the Serpent are. She-Hulk describes them as an “extremely xenophobic hate group.”
Kyle agrees with her description and continues with the mission brief only to be cut off by Colossus, who surmises their hatred probably extends towards mutants. Blazing Skull moves forward in his chair and yells, “Hey Russkie! We didn’t get drafted into this outfit so we could debate sociopolitical topics.” Colossus doesn’t take kindly to the term “sociopolitical.” Skull thinks he’s trying to pick a fight and Nighthawk has to yell at them to calm down.
Kyle says they have a location for the Serpents. Colossus asks what they’re waiting for. Nighthawk explains there’s more than meets the eye. There was a S.H.I.E.L.D. interceptor team sent in and they have been missing for almost a month. She-Hulk crosses her arms in frustration. She points out the agents have locator tech built into their uniforms. Nighthawk explains the locator tech isn’t responding to the homing signal.
A S.H.I.E.L.D. transmission comes in with details on the mission in question. Joaquin’s picture displays causing Nighthawk to space out as he realizes now who is involved. She-Hulk holds her head in her hands thinking she made a big mistake joining the Defenders while the Skull takes a more direct approach asking Nighthawk if he’s going to space out every time they have a meeting.
Nighthawk is still deep in thought remembering that last he checked Pennysworth was still in training. He wonders if Stark knew about this and purposely assigned him this task. Skull yells at him again and Nighthawk snaps out of it. He tells them the Serpent activity has been centered in Atlantic City and it’s his hope they capture one of these guys and squeeze them for information on the missing S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, as finding them is their prime objective.
“Alive or Dead...?” Colossus asks. Nighthawk says he refuses to believe that. Colossus points out the locator tech not responding would indicate the worst. Nighthawk tells him they’ll cross that bridge when they come to it. He stalks out of the room leaving the other three to ponder what just happened. Colossus tries apologizing, but Nighthawk tells him to forget about it, there’s a transport warming up out on the tarmac for them.
Transia, Wundagore Mountain
An armored individual rambles on to his test-subject, the enigmatic Krang, about the High Evolutionary and whether or not he would approve of this experiment. Krang tells him to cut the chatter and get on with it. The experimenter doesn’t seem rattled by Krang’s brusque nature and continues to voice his thoughts about the process that will successfully mutate Krang’s Atlantean physiology.
The robotic-looking fellow tells Krang there will be considerable pain. Krang doesn’t care and says as much when he tells the guy to get on with it, “Enough! You have your orders. Do whatever it takes to make me more like... him.”
The man behind the mask acquiesces by pushing a button on the console in front of him. He initiates the molecular genetic splice. Krang’s face contorts into an expression of severe agony. He screams as the pain is nothing he’s ever felt before. It feels good to him, though. It feels right.
Trump Plaza, Imperial Ballroom
A giant, bubbling pool of greenish fluid with ornate snake sculptures protruding from the side sits in the center of the room. Surrounding the pool are over a dozen Sons of the Serpent, some kneeling and some standing, all in meditation. A few armed soldiers enter the room and are taken aback by what they see. One of the Serpents explains the new use of organic weaponry they’re testing. He further adds if it ends up working they’re taking it to Mexico to solve the “immigration nightmare.” The other soldier notices something from above.
The ceiling window smashes as four Defenders come crashing through. Blazing Skull yells, “Defenders defenestrate!” They land and Colossus questions the altar constructed in the center of the room. Blazing Skull says he doesn’t care he has enemies in his sights and he’s “off my meds!” The Defenders charge, She-Hulk cautioning them, as there may be civilians nearby.
Sure enough, the powerhouse team of Defenders sends Serpents crashing through the ballroom walls and into the middle of the casino. Nighthawk tells them to end it quick so no innocents get hurt. Colossus draws gunfire while Blazing Skull sends fire blasts the Serpents way.
Colossus feels the heat from the fire and tells Blazing Skull to tone it down a bit, that they’re on the same team. Skull tells him to quit moaning and that he’ll give him some turtle wax to put on after they’re done.
Nighthawk pounces off the head of one guy, his thoughts turning to worry about the situation getting out of hand. He makes his way toward She-Hulk and asks her for a little propulsion assist. She grabs him and throws him across the room. Nighthawk’s projectile body takes down a bunch of Serpents in his path.
Realizing they’re overmatched one of the soldiers orders a retreat. Nighthawk tells Colossus to keep them from getting away while snagging one himself. He grabs the Serpent by the collar and demands to know where the missing S.H.I.E.L.D. agents are. The Son of the Serpent stammers before telling Nighthawk he doesn’t know. Nighty reels back and clocks him, saying that was the wrong answer.
She-Hulk grabs a hold of Kyle before he can lay into him some more. She reminds her fearless leader they’re the good guys. He tells She-Hulk she doesn’t understand, but she cuts him off and tells him to take a deep breath. She takes a stab at it and asks the Serpent grunt if he wants to make her angry.
The Serpent tells her they need to tend to the altar otherwise they can’t control Quetzalcoatl. Kyle has time enough to wonder what he means by that when Blazing Skull yells out he destroyed the snake altar. She-Hulk says, “Uh-oh” as the whole place starts to rumble. From out of the depths of the pool comes a green, scaly creature of giant proportions.
The Defenders scatter backwards as the monstrosity continues to emerge from its resting place. Blazing Skull is a bit shocked and asks if he’s going to get blamed for it. There’s no time for the blame game as the creature stands fully revealed, a seemingly five-story tall hybrid with large, red wings, a tyrannosaurus rex head, snakelike body and furred legs with taloned feet.
By the shocked expressions on their faces it’s obvious the Defenders are unsure how to approach this. Kyle tells them it’s pretty much safe to say their mission parameters have changed. “Yeah, maybe just a little...” She-Hulk replies.
Yandroth stands looking out over his empire. He recounts to the floating head, Recorder, how he was brought to this planet as a prisoner and will leave as its conqueror. Where once he was called Yandroth the Foul he is now labeled the Techno-Mage, the Quantum King.
Recorder reiterates that he was sent by the Rigellian ambassadors to record the advancements of Yann’s Scientist Supreme, Christopher Ganyrog. Yandroth tells him he killed his captors and spared Recorder so it could observe what happens next.
Yandroth continues, he sees all points of time simultaneously; the past, present and future are all the same to him. However, he is still obsessed with his longtime enemies, though once he believed he was the cause of their creation he now understands he was part of something much greater, a simple formula of specific entities that, when combined, contains the power to shake the pillars of all reality “—a master of the occult...an expression of pure, brute force...a water elemental...and, most importantly, a strong presence to lead them...”
Yandroth can’t believe with such a rich history the formula had never been fully realized. As he looks over various incarnations of the Defenders displayed before him he comments on how so many iterations never found success. Recorder asks if this information is useful to him. Yandroth agrees that it is.
The Quantum King explains that once Earth’s Defenders, the correct pieces that is, are in place they will be part of a greater destiny yet unrealized. Yandroth believes their destiny can be manipulated to serve him. He continues as he stares up into the violet sky, “In many ways, this has already happened. And I have emerged victorious. In other ways, it is all just beginning...”