S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier, Stark’s Office
Tony Stark stands behind his desk, his faceplate flipped open displaying a look of exasperation. In front of him is a memo from someone within the agency detailing the utter chaos that ensued on the Defenders’ first official mission. The Defenders in question, Nighthawk, Blazing Skull, Colossus and She-Hulk, are in his office awaiting his debrief.
Tony starts off discussing how he personally handpicked the Defenders, and how each and every one of them are seasoned veterans. Unfortunately, as a team they’re a disaster, he finishes. Kyle immediately goes on the defensive, but Stark doesn’t want to hear any of his “spin.” Kyle tells him it’s not spin; he only wanted to point out that their Intel said nothing about a giant monster.
Stark moves closer, and sarcastically tells Kyle to “cry me a river”, that that’s often how things go down. Jen starts reciting the Initiative creed and Tony tells her to knock it off. He points at the screen behind him showing a live-feed of the hotel’s destruction.
Colossus, sporting a bathrobe, admits it looks pretty bad. When Kyle tells him to maintain some professionalism Blazing Skull cracks wise. Then Skull turns his attention to Tony and tells him to cut them some slack. After all “you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.” She-Hulk tells him his brain is fried beyond repair. Blazing Skull brushes off the comment and starts to tell his side of the story.
The Defenders stare upwards at the giant monstrosity that just emerged from the ground. The heroes don’t know what to make of it. She-Hulk explains it’s a mythical Aztec snake creature. Then it takes to the sky.
Tony moves in front of Jen and asks if they really didn’t know the Sons of the Serpent have been known to engage in occult practices. She-Hulk says it wouldn’t have made a difference either way. She still would have gone with her immediate response...
Blazing Skull yells, “Bombs Away!” as he flies through the air, fastball special style, courtesy of She-Hulk. Both Kyle and Colossus aren’t sure it’s the right tactic and they’re both correct, at least in this instance, as the Skull’s flames are momentarily snuffed out from the beating of the Quetzalcoatl’s wings. He begins plummeting towards the ground.
Tony directs his attention towards Todd now and asks him if that happens often. Skull tells him he may be immortal, but he’s not infallible, and then adds he wasn’t the only act in the circus.
Kyle tells Colossus to run interference, but before he can react, the armored mutant is bathed in the Quetzalcoatl’s fire.
Tony puts an armored hand to his face, a look of frustration crossing over him. He didn’t know it breathed fire and is surprised they didn’t burn down the boardwalk. He asks them to continue.
She-Hulk leaps at the beast’s chest and wallops it hard. The gigantic bird/snake creature crashes backward into the Caesar’s Hotel. That makes the Quetzalcoatl very angry.
Not far below Blazing Skull crawls his way up the building, ready for round two.
Tony interrupts once more to complain that Trump’s going to have a field day with this debacle. He’s almost afraid to ask who delivered the coup de grace.
Blazing Skull leaps toward the Quetzalcoatl’s face. He douses its eyes with flames. The creature falls back once more into the hotel causing even more damage.
Stark tells them they completely destroyed the hotel. Skull points out that at least “Quackenbush” didn’t get away. She-Hulk corrects his pronunciation and thinks to herself she was better off chasing skips in the sewers.
Tony tells Kyle he isn’t exhibiting the leadership skills he was hoping for and now has a tough decision he needs to make. Stark closes his faceplate and tells the Defenders they are shut down until further notice. Kyle looks dejected. He can’t believe Stark is disbanding the team. Iron Man tells him it’s effective immediately. He tells Kyle they may revisit the idea in a year or so.
Stark starts to walk away. Kyle tries pleading with him, but Tony cuts him off. He thanks them for their service and says he’s sorry it didn’t work out. He explains his office will be in touch to set up exit interviews for each of them and to go over their next assignments with the Initiative.
Kyle blurts something out in an attempt to get the team to stay together, but She-Hulk storms out of the room. Kyle next looks at Colossus who tells his short-lived team leader that not all things are meant to be. He puts out his hand, which Kyle takes. They shake and Piotr tells Kyle he has a noble heart. Kyle still tries to get him to stay, to which Colossus politely tells him someday... maybe.
Blazing Skull, the only one left, agrees Tony may have a point about this particular group not working out. Kyle, rather emphatically, says it did occur to him, but doesn’t think the Defenders should be taken off the table. Skull attempts another joke, but Kyle’s not amused.
Richmond shuts his eyes in frustration. He can’t believe after one mission the Defenders are canned. This was certainly not how he envisioned it.
She-Hulk confronts Iron Man out on the helipad. She calls him “General Patton” and asks if someone wrote that speech for him. Iron Man defends his decision saying they can’t afford any more mistakes. She-Hulk points out they’re training kids in Stamford and she doesn’t see why they’re willing to downsize professionals.
The Initiative is still a work in progress, Tony admits and he concedes he’s made mistakes. She-Hulk doesn’t care for his lip service, telling Tony that doesn’t do much for his reputation as a futurist. Stark asks if he should have his lawyer present for this cross-examination.
She-Hulk stares straight at him and starts visualizing the best way to take him down, “Pounds per square inch...faceplate strike...target stress points in rear shoulder seams...crush chest beamer...dismantle battery package...tear off both power cells...” Tony asks what that look’s supposed to mean. Jen replies she’s staring into the abyss. Tony says he gets that a lot and tells She-Hulk it wasn’t personal, that she was the best asset on the team. He apologizes once more and walks away. She-Hulk stares angrily after him, arms crossed over her chest.
Plaza Motel, Manhattan
As soon as Daimon Hellstrom walks into the Oak Bar a guest at another table calls him over. The guest, “Mr. Smith” (Yandroth), remarks on how young Hellstrom looks. Daimon isn’t a big fan of pleasantries and tells “Smith” he’s pressed for time. Hellstrom sits down and asks about the paranormal situation “Smith” needs investigating.
“Smith” tells him not to worry, calling him by his secret identity Son of Satan, that he won’t always be this naive. Hellstrom is taken aback that this stranger knows his codename. “Smith” presses on discussing how easy it was to go into the past and find Hellstrom in this unspoiled state. He forewarns Daimon that what he’s talking about might be confusing, but he really can’t help it.
Ruminating, “Smith” tells Daimon that he lives his life in a distinctly linear fashion, which surprised him given Hellstrom’s background. “Smith” adds that he’s encountered him and his colleagues several times already. Daimon has no idea who he means by colleagues.
“Smith” pauses and sips from his cup of tea. He tells Hellstrom it will be decades before he’ll understand the significance of this meeting, of “Smith’s” significance and of his own. Daimon cuts him off right there. He’s heard enough. He tells “Smith” not to play games with him. “Smith” puts his hand up in a stopping gesture, telling Hellstrom to stop with the theatrics for he, Yandroth, has his own power.
Instantaneously, the room around them disappears, save the table where they’re sitting. Instead, they are surrounded by deep space, several planets within eyesight. Daimon scoffs at Yandroth’s parlor trick. Yandroth concedes the point, but adds that Hellstrom’s mastery of the occult puts him on a greater path to defend the world.
Yandroth continues, explaining there will be a group of heroes, and that he has to become one of them. Yandroth pauses and reflects at the irony that he’s the one to make him join the group that’s been a thorn in his side time and time again.
Hellstrom is not amused, calling Yandroth a mere fortuneteller. He tells Yandroth whatever path he chooses will be his own. Yandroth calls him arrogant and then disappears, leaving Daimon back in the restaurant to ponder what just transpired.
former Defenders Headquarters
Kyle walks into the former Defenders headquarters and finds the place almost completely stripped of all furniture and equipment. He punches Pennysworth up on the computer console, feelings of failure plaguing him for Joaquin was supposed to be his proudest achievement.
Kyle hangs his head rubbing the back of his neck, still bewildered by all that’s happened recently. The computer voice system comes to life with an incoming locator signal trace. Kyle looks back at the screen in surprise. It’s Pennysworth and he’s been located. The computer locks onto the signal. Kyle can’t believe his luck.
Nighthawk places his cowl on intent on finding Pennysworth even if the Defenders are no more. That’s when She-Hulk enters the room. She reads the signal trace up on the monitor and makes a joke about S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives and their stamina. She coyly asks if they’re going to finish this thing.
Webster County, West Virginia
Four hours later
Nighthawk and She-Hulk find a hidden, underground entrance and dispatch the half-dozen guards outside. Once inside, they peer down a hallway through one of the ceiling tiles. They’re surprised to find Sons of the Serpent soldiers running rampant. It appears something else has them scampering about, which Kyle hopes will provide them with enough cover to find Joaquin.
With Nighthawk lost deep in thought She-Hulk asks if there’s something about Pennysworth he’s not disclosing. Kyle wonders if She-Hulk knows anything about “stealth.” It’s too late, as an observant soldier spots them up in the ceiling. The soldier calls his comrades over and they open fire. Nighthawk and She-Hulk run for cover. The soldiers realize it’s not who they’re looking for and break off the attack.
She-Hulk punches through a wall to secure their exit. Unfortunately, it’s into a room with a squad of snipers above them. She can’t believe their luck and grabs Nighthawk despite his protests. She asks him if he’s bulletproof as bullets rain down upon them.
She-Hulk zigzags through the hallways until someone in the shadows offers them some help. She changes direction to see who their new friend is. It’s Pennysworth, sporting some gashes, a swollen eye, a bloody nose and a bloody lip. She-Hulk finally puts Nighthawk down after he yells at her to get off him. She-Hulk asks for some gratitude. Pennysworth, taking fire, thinks to himself how the “masks” are always fighting with each other.
The bickering continues until Pennysworth finally tells them to shut up, that the Snakes are almost upon them. She-Hulk says, “Fine!” and pushes Joaquin out of the way. She enters the center of the hallway and smashes the ground in front of her. It causes a tidal wave effect and the Serpent soldiers are sent flying every which way.
With the immediate threat averted, Nighthawk asks agent Pennysworth how he managed to stay alive. Joaquin tells him it’s not the time or place right now and asks them to follow him to somewhere less conspicuous.
They reach their destination, though they won’t be able to stay for long. She-Hulk wants to know what happened. She points out he’s been missing for weeks. Pennysworth is surprised to hear it’s been that long. He explains his entire squad is dead and he would have been too if the bullet didn’t just graze his head. After being tortured for a while he eventually mustered his faculties and escaped. Ever since he’s been lying low and working towards his mission’s original objective.
Nighthawk asks if he hasn’t bitten off more than he can chew. Look who’s talking, Pennysworth tells him, and asks if either of them is registered. She-Hulk throws out another sarcastic comment, calling Pennysworth a “free thinker.” Nighthawk grits his teeth and asks her what her problem is, pointing out nobody asked her to come in the first place. She-Hulk gets in his face reminding him who it was that “begged” her to join Stark’s club. Nighthawk says he thought she did it out of love.
She-Hulk snaps and throws a punch, which Nighthawk deflects. He then wraps his legs around her head and knocks her onto her back. She-Hulk gets to her knees and smile wickedly. She punches the floor, which knocks Nighthawk to the ground. She comes over and grabs him by the throat. Kyle can barely breathe. She lifts him into the air by his neck and threatens to break him in half.
Joaquin wonders if letting them kill each other would make his life easier. Instead he pulls out some sort of whistle and blows. Both heroes place their hands on their ears, letting out noises of pain. She-Hulk finally tells him to stop with the dog whistle. Pennysworth explains he had to do it, as it’s the only way to counteract the effects of Harding’s invention. He further explains he was neurologically immunized before he was deployed; otherwise he probably would have knocked both of them out already.
Both Nighthawk and She-Hulk want answers on “Harding’s invention”, but they’re interrupted by a broadcast on a nearby monitor from the Supreme Serpent himself. There’s also a woman standing next to him, who Pennysworth explains is named Cheer Chadwick. The Supreme Serpent compliments Pennysworth on his resourcefulness, a credit to his inferior ethnic background. He says America will soon get a full taste of what his friends just experienced and if they make it out alive they won’t recognize the country they call home. He tells them good riddance and then the transmission cuts out.
Nighthawk tells Pennysworth they need to evacuate him. Pennysworth tells him that’s not an option; he’s not leaving until he finishes what he came to do. He explains the Serpents are trying to create their vision of a utopian society, wiping out all non-white ethnicities, using massive, extreme violence.
She-Hulk infers he’s talking about Harding’s invention. Pennysworth says they just experienced a taste of it. The Serpents are going to use it to tear the country apart and achieve total white supremacy. He explains Chadwick brought them the blueprints to rebuild the sonic device and they are going to detonate it. Back in the day it was called “Big Daddy”, but it also goes by the name Madbomb.
Somewhere else in the facility there’s an enormous laboratory staffed with scientists and guards. In the middle of the lab is a huge rocket and inside the top of the rocket sits a giant brain, the Madbomb!