Stephen Strange a.k.a. Dr Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme, is inside his sanctum sanctorum, and is reading some tarot cards. The Ace of Wands shows up, ‘A new enterprise is begun…black magic…imagine my surprise!’ he remarks when the card of the Devil is turned. ‘Could be bad. Death reversed, signalling disaster’ Strange tells himself when the upside-down Death card is revealed. ‘Ah, this is more like it’ Strange decides when the Six of Wands is shown. “Victory after strife…with a little help from one’s friends” Strange states. The card of the Hermit is next turned, and it shows the vigilante hero called Nomad. ‘A journey may be needed to gain knowledge’ Strange tells himself. ‘A courageous young man’ he adds when the Knight of Wands, depicting the young hero Darkhawk, is turned over. The Queen of Pentacles is next, and it shows the second Spider-Woman. ‘A generous woman, rich of heart…’ Strange calls her, before the Knight of Swords’ is turned, upside down. It depicts Wolverine, and Dr Strange remarks that he is always ready to start a fight, leaving destruction in his wake. Finally, the Magician, depicting Strange himself, is turned. ‘Willpower…creativity…organizational skills…modesty forbids that I go on!’ Strange declares as he hovers, legs crossed.
A candle lights the dim room, and a book hover overhead, while Strange builds a tower with the tarot cards. ‘Still, I’d begun to wonder exactly where I fit into all this…house of cards!’ he declares. Strange wonders if reality is truly anything more than a fragile structure, built of cards in this troubled hour. ‘The walls between the worlds, weakened by the coming of Lilith and her despicable Lilin. Myself, stripped of much of my power, not to mention the good will of the Gods’. Strange decides that the safety of Earth’s astral plane is a drunken dancer, precariously poised on the edge of an abyss, and he must be careful indeed how he places each card. ‘NO!’ Strange shouts as he places the last card, calling the house of cards to topple. ‘And yet, an end was inevitable. It was all a matter of which card would bring everything down’ Strange tells himself, taking the card which caused the house to topple. ‘The Empress, reversed’ Strange sees. ‘Loss of possessions perhaps - even war, or famine or - poverty’. Dr Strange tells himself that he at least has mystic power enough left to sense the “where” of this particular threat.
Phoenix, Arizona, where several homeless people have gathered for the night. ‘Hey, Mary - you run into old Willie on Van Buren today?’ a man calls out. ‘Nope’ Mary replies, explaining that she is heading home from the Hall of Flame. ‘They slipped me a buck to soothe my conscience…cause they got a home to go to, I guess’ Mary remarks, adding that she hasn’t seen Lester in a few days, either. Mary points out that it will be dark soon, and asks the man if he wants to head on over to the Fillmore Shelter with her. ‘Sure. Why not’ the man replies. Pushing a shopping cart full of her belongings, Mary tells her companion that they gave her a fiver last week over there by 20th Street, when suddenly, an alarm goes off inside the Monument National Bank.
‘You think maybe we -’ the man begins, before several thieves rush past he and Mary, knocking Mary to the ground. ‘Outta the way, loser!’ one of the thieves shouts. ‘There’s plenty more for anybody else gets in our face!’ one of the thieves warns the homeless people. ‘Stop! Police!’ an officer shouts as he and his partner rush after the criminals. ‘Those young men - they robbed the bank!’ Mary exclaims, while her companion helps her up. ‘Don’t miss a thing, do you, grannie?’ one of the thieves mutters. Rounding an alleyway, the thieves approach their car. ‘Boy, that felt great!’ one of them declares. ‘Yeah! We outran those cops like they were wearing snowshoes!’ another exclaims. The third remarks that he feels like he could go on running all night. ‘But I guess from here on we drive’ he points out.
Suddenly, ‘Wrong!’ a voice exclaims, as a yellow disc is flung at the handle of the car door, before the thief can open it. ‘You ride. In the police van’ a voice calls out. The thieves turn and see Jack Monroe better known as the vigilante Nomad. He holds a gun towards them, while holding the baby he has dubbed Bucky on his back. Nomad tells the criminals to relax, and that the police van will be here before they know it. ‘Gagoo-chi-wooo…’ the baby gurgles. ‘There’s a lot in what you say, Bucky, me lass’ Nomad tells the girl. ‘I don’t believe this!’ one of the thieves bursts out. ‘A guy with a baby on his back is making a citizen’s arrest!’ another declares.
One of the thieves turns and begins to run, ‘I’m getting outta here’ he decides, but Nomad fires his weapon, striking the thief in his foot. ‘you’re lucky, man. He was aiming for your calf’ one of the other thieves exclaims. ‘I got a good aim, too’ the female thief declares, and fires a gun, the bullet knocks Nomad’s weapon from his hand. ‘No. First my gun - then you!’ Nomad shouts as he lunges at the criminal, who aims her gun upwards: ‘Okay, you asked for -’ she begins, but her shot misses him. ‘Where’d you learn to jump like that?’ she mutters.
With baby Bucky still strapped to his back, Nomad takes hold of the criminal and replies ‘Watching old Kung Fu movies’, before telling the criminals that it is time to punch their lights out, so they won’t do any more of that championship sprinting. Just then, Nomad realizes that this particular criminal is a girl. ‘I got a bulletin for you, Charlie…we’re called women now!’ she exclaims as she punches Nomad in the face. ‘I…knew that’ Nomad mutters, while the two remaining criminals make it into their car. ‘Floorboard it, man! I caught him flat-footed once - but it won’t happen a second time!’ one of them calls out. ‘It’s floored!’ comes the reply, as the car speeds down the alley.
‘Soon as we clear this alley, we’re - hey! What’s that?’ the driver calls out as he sees something up ahead. The female criminal remarks that it looks like some kind of big spider web covering the exit. The male criminal tells her to hold on, because whatever it is, they are plowing through it. However, as the car hit’s the oversized web, it comes to a screeching halt, slowing right down, before snapping through the web, and careening sideways, where it slams into a nearby wall. The criminals emerge from the car, the male muttering that whatever it was, it gave, just barely, before the whole car did. ‘We gotta run for it’ he decides, while the woman motions to the side of the building: ‘Look! There’s the one did it!’ she shouts.
The criminals begin firing their gun up the side of the wall, ‘It’s that She-Spider or whatever she’s called, from the Avengers West Coast!’ the female criminal remarks, adding that she picked a fine day to shlep out from Los Angeles. ‘Let’s make her wish she’d stayed there!’ the male thief suggests as they continue to fire. Climbing down the side of the wall is Julia “Spider-Woman” Carpenter, indeed of the Avengers West Coast. ‘Uh-oh. They spotted me sooner than I thought they would’ Julia tells herself. She plans her next move to evade the bullets, when suddenly, Chris Powell a.k.a. the young hero called Darkhawk flies in front of Spider-Woman to protect her from the flurry of bullets. ‘Darkhawk?’ Julia exclaims. ‘Glad you remember me’ Darkhawk tells her. ‘And I’m even gladder your armor’s bullet-proof!’ Spider-Woman exclaims.
Julia drops down from the wall and lands behind the female criminal, while calling out to the male, who begins to make a run for it. ‘Hey, stop!’ Julia calls out to him. ‘Wadda you think I’m crazy?’ he calls back as he runs onwards - coming to a stop when he smacks into someone - not just anyone, but Wolverine a.k.a. Logan of the X-Men. Logan folds his arms across his chest and blows cigarette smoke into the thief’s face. ‘The web-lady asked you real nice to stop, bub. Left your manners in the barn?’ Wolverine remarks. The criminal offers no response, so Wolverine remarks ‘I’m talking to you, punk. What you got to say for yourself?’ he asks.
The criminal offers no response, other than punching Wolverine in the face. Logan’s head turns slightly, and he remarks ‘You know something? I didn’t think it would…but that kinda hurt’. ‘It did?’ the criminal asks, smiling. ‘It did’ Wolverine confirms, as he punches the thief over, knocking him into a nearby garbage can. ‘What’re you steroid types doing here?’ Nomad asks as he walks over to Wolverine, Spider-Woman and Darkhawk, who have gathered together. ‘We’re not buckin for a fat lip - which is more than I can say for you’ Wolverine remarks. ‘You mean, that guy didn’t come with you - whoever he is?’ Spider-Woman asks Wolverine.
‘Jack Monroe a.k.a. Nomad. Has been super-soldier and wanna-be easy rider’ Wolverine remarks, adding that he would bet all of them came here separately. Darkhawk suggests that the cops could clear things up for them, and they turn to the Phoenix Police Dept vehicle which has pulled up. Two officers are loading the thieves into the back of the van, and the female thief remarks ‘Three costumed guys, I tell ya, plus some hippie with a kid strapped on his back!’ The officer looks surprised - ‘Super heroes - in Phoenix - where’d they go?’ he asks. ‘How should we know, copper? Maybe they rode off yelling “Hi yo Silver”!’ the male thief mutters. “Where’d we go?” Darkhawk asks, quoting the police officer. ‘We’re standing right here -’ Darkhawk begins.
The other officer opens a case full of money and points out that they caught the bad guys and recovered the money, so that will have to do them for tonight. With the thieves loaded into the van, the police then drive away. ‘Yep, that sure cleared things up, all right’ Julia remarks. ‘The police - even those hoods now - they couldn’t see us - couldn’t hear us!’ Darkhawk declares. Wolverine suggests that it must have been Strange’s doing. ‘Strange? Did he contact you, too?’ Nomad asks. Suddenly, ‘I contacted all of you, Jack Monroe’ Dr Strange calls out, as his astral form appears overhead. Strange tells Nomad that he had to spirit the others here to Phoenix by mystic means, otherwise they would have arrived too late for their rendezvous with destiny.
‘Hey, cool it with the levitating, already!’ Wolverine calls out as Strange lifts the heroes into the air. ‘It’s okay, Buck’ Nomad assures the infant girl, while Darkhawk remarks ‘To coin a cliché, what’s up, Doc?’, and Spider-Woman tells Strange that he never mentioned to her anything about teleporting her to a super hero convention. ‘Strictly speaking, I didn’t take you - I sent you’ Strange explains, adding that, for the present, only his astral body can be here with them, but assures them that everything he has done was absolutely necessary. ‘I want some answers, mister - and I want ‘em now!’ Wolverine barks, but Spider-Woman declares that if Dr Strange says it was necessary, then that is good enough for her.
‘Yeah, well, I don’t exactly appreciate being dragged all the way out here to Phoenix’ Wolverine mutters, ‘Man’s got a point, Strange. I was already close by, but they -’ Nomad begins, until Strange interrupts, announcing that there is danger abroad in the Multiverse, a growing rift in the dimensional walls has made Earth more than usually vulnerable to menaces from beyond. Strange reveals that certain circumstances have dictated that his own magical powers are at a low ebb, just now and that he was recently forced to call upon several other heroes to help him deal with one aspect of the cosmic peril. He tells Wolverine, Julia, Nomad and Darkhawk how that reminded him of how the Hulk, Namor, Silver Surfer, Valkyrie and he once formed a loose-knit team known as the Defenders.
‘Such an ad-hoc group I decided was needed again. I devised a way to let my mystical subconscious do the selecting for me. Yet, knowing little of the precise nature of the threat - how could I choose which heroes to summon?’ Strange remarks.
Narrated by Strange in the present, shown with flashback images:
Dr Strange explains that his selection sent him to New York in search of Darkhawk. ‘You’re Dr Strange, right?’ Darkhawk asked as he and Strange’s astral form hovered over New York City. Darkhawk reveals that the Avengers West Coast told him about Strange when he helped them out against Professor Power. ‘Count me in!’ Darkhawk exclaimed.
In California, Dr Strange found Spider-Woman, who was with her daughter, Rachel. ‘We don’t care if the nice see-through man knows who we are without our masks, do we, Rachel?’ Julia asked her daughter. ‘Nope!’ the girl replied.
At the X-Mansion, where Wolverine was unwinding in his own way - beer cans littered the floor, as did an overturned bowl of popcorn, while Logan reclined on a sofa, smoking cigarettes and watching television. ‘Got another Sa’arpool flooding your basement with creepy-crawlies, Doc?’ Wolverine asked without even looking up. ‘Not saying, huh?’ Wolverine mutters, before indicating that he will go as soon as his television show is over.
As the inner consciousness to which Strange was responding would have it, he was then lead to an Arizona highway, where Nomad was. ‘Bank robbery, huh? Yeah, guess that is more in my line than yours, magician’ Nomad told Strange’s astral form.
However, Strange reveals that he did not tell Jack everything he knew, for the robbery he brought them here to foil was only peripherally connected to the far greater threat whose mystic vibrations Strange felt through the ether. Strange reveals that even he knows little more than that, and asks if the four of them will trust him enough to believe him when he says that the future of Earth itself may well be at stake here in Phoenix. ‘Will you join forces with me - and with each other - to learn the true perimeters of the peril?’ Strange asks.
‘I saw the way you handled Satannish when he materialized in LA. I’m in!’ Spider-Woman announces. Darkhawk declares that he is glad Strange’s subconscious - or whatever - chose him instead of somebody else. However, Chris tells himself to ease off, as he doesn’t want the others figuring out that inside the armor is an over-eager high school students. ‘Okay. But just for this one caper’ Nomad states, adding that the day he becomes a joiner, especially with the spandex crowd, is the day he can be carried away. ‘You don’t ask much, do you, Strange? Just hang around Phoenix, waiting for the world to end? All right - I’ll give you 24 hours, for old time’s sake!’ Wolverine declares.
Nomad turns to the baby and tells her that it looks like Tucumcari will just have to wait. ‘Froo…zumml’ the baby utters. Concerned, Spider-Woman points at the baby strapped to Nomad’s back and asks ‘This is a real baby? I thought it was some kind of doll!’, to which Nomad replies that she is a doll. ‘Are you crazy, taking a child into action with you?’ Julia enquires. ‘Hey, do you know what baby sitters cost these days?’ Nomad replies. Dr Strange requests their attention once more, and announces that one of the few things he learned is that this threat seems to have something to do with both the robbery, and the homeless. ‘Can I make that 23 hours?’ Wolverine mutters. ‘Logan!’ someone scolds.
Darkhawk asks the others if any of them notice Strange is doing a fade-out on them, and as he disappears, Strange explains that he has exhausted the time his astral self can remain apart from his body these days until it is renewed by several hours of intimate contact. He then promises to join the heroes at the earliest possible moment. Spider-Woman tells Strange to do what he has to, and that they will follow up all leads. Nomad frowns and wonders whether he should contact the Undergrounders and have them take care of Bucky after all, while Wolverine mutters ‘Some leads! Sounds to me like this main villain in this piece is a sick economy!’
Soon, at the Phoenix Police Dept, ‘You guys are kidding, right?’ one of the officers asks. ‘Serious as cancer, officer’ Nomad replies. ‘Real phrase-maker, aren’t you, Monroe?’ Julia remarks, while the officer asks the four super heroes how they even learnt about these creeps, let alone got interested in them. ‘Slow news day’ Darkhawk replies as they stand around the cell where the three young bank robbers are kept. The officer announces that the only unusual thing is that none of their prints checked out. ‘You’d think at least one of ‘em would have a record somewhere. That, and those phony names they gave us!’ the officer remarks.
Motioning to the three prisoners, Spider-Woman asks the officer if he doesn’t believe they are really “Humphry Clinker”, “Tobias Smollett” and “Tabitha Bramble”. Leaning back against the wall and smoking a cigarette, Wolverine asks if there was no ID on any of them. ‘None’ the officer replies, and adds that they had a rash of these robberies by punk teenagers over the last few weeks. ‘Only, till tonight they were all fast and smart enough to get away, huh?’ Darkhawk asks. The officer replies that all but one a few nights ago were. ‘What? Quick officer - we’ve got to see that one!’ Julia exclaims, suggesting that he might talk to them, while the other three didn’t.
The officer leads the heroes down to another cell and remarks that it is a waste of time as far as he can tell, as none of the heists has anything to do with the other. ‘Besides, if you think those three are playing dumb, this next guy’s a one-man silent movie!’ the officer adds, before remarking ‘Anything for visiting firemen and super heroes!’. Arriving at the cell, the officer calls out to the inmate, ‘Yo, “Tom Jones”, if you won’t sing for us, maybe you will for your visitors?’ the officer calls out. ‘Go away!’ comes the reply from inside the dark cell. But the officer remarks ‘That voice - it doesn’t sound like -’ and asks the inmate to turn around, as they want to talk to him.
The inmate does turn around, but its not a punk teenager, instead an old man. ‘Why would you want to talk - to a dead man?’ the old man asks. ‘What in the -?’ someone calls out, when suddenly, ‘Please just leave me alone -’ the old man begins, before convulsing, and keeling over. ‘Good Lord! How’d that old man get in there?’ the officer gasps. ‘Never mind that now - just unlock his cell, fast!’ Wolverine orders as he sees the old man in danger. The officer replies that he doesn’t have the key, an will need to go get them. ‘No time!’ Darkhawk declares, announcing that they will have to do this their way, and he and Spider-Woman tear the prison bars from the wall. ‘You two beat me to it’ Wolverine tells them, while Spider-Woman announces that it looks like the old man is having a heart attack, and tells her companions to keep back, as she will give him CPR. Julia wonders, however, why Doctor Strange tapped her, when the other three have all the muscle.
Moments later, the officer tells Spider-Woman that she did her best, but that the old man is a goner. He adds that the old man shouldn’t even be in here. ‘He’s wearing the same clothes - but the guy we locked up was about nineteen’ the officer explains. Darkhawk suggests that perhaps Dr Strange did know what he was doing, bringing them all to Phoenix. ‘Officer, I think what we need here is an instant wake’ Wolverine remarks.
In short, the new prisoners are brought in to view the corpse. ‘Sorry, coppers’ one of the punks remarks. ‘Never saw this stiff before in my life’ another declares. Nomad tells his companions that the punks are lying through their teeth, while Julia turns to “Tabitha” and exclaims ‘You’re not as hardened as they are yet, are you?’, and crying “Tabitha” replies ‘I - guess not’. the young woman replies, to which Spider-Woman tells her to spill - ‘What did this man die of?’ Julia asks. Teary-eyed, “Tabitha” looks up and replies that she honestly doesn’t know. ‘It just made me so sad to see that poor old guy dead, that’s all’ she claims, before asking if she can go back to her cell now. ‘You call can - three separate ones’ an officer orders. ‘Good! I never could stand sob sisters’ one of the punks mutters as the officers lead them away. Out of earshot from the two male punks, “Tabitha” whispers to Spider-Woman ‘Regents…on 5th…room 322”. ‘What?’ Spider-Woman asks, before Wolverine tells Julia to “clam-up”.
Before long, on the fringes of the downtown area, Spider-Woman climbs up the side of a building with ease, while Wolverine uses his adamantium claws by shoving them into the brick to climb up the side of the building. ‘How long you been an Avenger, lady? That girl tries to toss you a bone, without her buddies hearing - and you nearly blow it!’ Wolverine remarks. Julia admits that she deserved that, and thanks Wolverine for shutting her up, explaining that she is still learning. ‘Speaking of which - you’d heard those three fake names those punks used before, hadn’t you?’ Logan asks his new ally. Julia replies that two o them are characters in an early English novel by the Third, and that she had to read “Humphry Clinker” in college, before she dropped out.
Entering an abandoned and dishevelled room through the window, Wolverine tells Spider-Woman that he sees what she means - not the kind of names most teenage hoods would pick out of a hat. ‘And that’s another thing - one of those kids called that guard a “copper”. That’s not exactly current street talk, either’ Julia points out. Shinning a small torch into the dark room, Julia wonders which of the “Tabitha” meant was staying at this hotel during its declining years, assuming that is what she meant. Lighting a cigarette, Wolverine tells Julia that if it isn’t, they can go and join Darkhawk and Monroe and help canvas the homeless, before seeing Julia look over a piece of paper, he asks her if she has something.
Julia replies ‘Maybe’ and points out that these guys travel light, not many personal effects, only this seems to be a diploma. ‘Huh?’ Wolverine asks. Julia reveals that it is made out to Tabitha Bramble, in fancy script from something called the Second Chance Institute. ‘What second chance? She’s barely old enough to be out of high school - unless’ Wolverine begins, while Spider-Woman turns around, and suddenly bangs into something in the darkness. ‘Oof’ she utters. ‘What’ Wolverine asks her. Julia tells him that she ran into something in the middle of the room, but that she could have sworn there was nothing here a minute ago. She decides to throw a little light on the subject, when suddenly, she is electrocuted, and falls backwards.
‘You okay, darling?’ Wolverine calls out, unsheathing his claws as he goes over to Spider-Woman. Rubbing her had, Julia replies that she thinks she is okay, bur that the shock might have killed a normal person. Logan asks Julia for her flashlight and announces that he is going to find out what zapped her. Suddenly, ‘If you wish to see us - that can be arranged, eh, Decimator?’ a glowing white figure calls out. ‘Yes, Tokamak’, Decimator calls out to his companion. ‘But I fear they will not like what they see’ the over-sized Decimator adds. ‘You feared right, high-rise’ Wolverine remarks, to which Julia asks them what they are doing in a fleabag motel. ‘It’s not what we’re doing, woman - it’s what we’re about to do!’ Tokamak calls out as he races towards Spider-Woman.
‘Watch it, Red!’ Wolverine calls out as Tokamak charges towards her. Julia is pulled to safety by Wolverine, and she exclaims that Tokamak is so blindingly bright, she didn’t see for a second that he was charging her. ‘Trick is to keep an eye on shadows. When they move, he’s moving’ Wolverine remarks, while Tokamak calls Wolverine a “bestial fool” and warns him that next move, he will cease to move all together. “Bestial”? Wolverine quotes Tokamak. ‘Now that hurt’ he mocks as he puts an arm around Julia and they leap out the window. ‘I’m outta here - and I’m taking my ladybug with me’ Logan declares, while Julia asks him why they are running from those creeps.
Wolverine explains that he is just getting some elbow room, when suddenly, Decimator and Tokamak burst from the run-down motel. ‘Not that they can’t make their own’ Logan adds. ‘They must have taken the stairs in record time’ Julia points out. ‘You change that walking light bulb, while I-’ Wolverine begins, only for Decimator to go over and smacks Wolverine hard in the face. ‘While you what, little man?’ Decimator asks. ‘While you die, maybe?’ Decimator suggests. ‘No, darling - while I slice you in half and make two normal sized people outta you!’ Wolverine snarls, releasing his claws.
‘This is crazy!’ Julia thinks to herself as she leaps above Tokamak when he lunges at her. ‘Phoenix is knee-deep in teenage bank robbers - one of whom dies of old age! But what’s that got to do with these super-goons?’ Julia wonders. ‘You cannot elude me for long, woman!’ Tokamak exclaims. ‘Spider-Woman, to you!’ Julia shouts, while realizing that if she uses hits Tokamak, the shock will hurt her more than him. Julia knows that she hasn’t used her psi-web in a while, so she should have lots of energy stored up. ‘I just hope it’s enough’ she tells herself as she releases her psi-web on the villain. Wrapped in the psionic webbing, Tokamak asks Spider-Woman if she thinks the flimsy webbing will stop him, while Julia thinks to herself that it won’t stop him, not yet anyway, but that it will slow him down.
Suddenly, Julia realizes that she shouldn’t have looked directly at Tokamak, as now she can’t see well enough to evade him. All she can do is keep forming webs around him and hope they hold, when suddenly, Tokamak’s form is no longer blinding, and he begins to dim, like headlights when the car battery is going dead. ‘It must’ve been the armor that did the glowing’ Julia realizes as Tokamak’s human form can be seen. ‘Gotcha!’ Julia exclaims as the villain is imprisoned in her psi-webs.
Nearby, ‘I want some answers, bub - and I want ‘em now!’ Wolverine exclaims as he slices at Decimator, who falls back against the brick wall. Logan tells himself that his opponent has the edge on him in muscle, ‘And we won’t even mention his breath’ Logan mutters, before knocking the over-sized villain off balance. Wolverine demands to know what the connection is between these two and the juvenile delinquent who rents the room. Wolverine keeps slashing away at Decimator, and one of his blows causes the wall to fall outwards over Decimator. ‘Nuts! That wall was even weaker than I thought!’ Logan tells himself.
Spider-Woman walks over to Wolverine and announces that Tokamak is all wrapped up after running out of juice. Wolverine reports that Decimator is out cold, which doesn’t get them any info. Wolverine decides that he might try to pry Tokamak out of his armor, when suddenly, ‘Actually - I was sorta thinking I might take Decimator and Tokama off your hands!’ a voice calls out. A woman clad in a revealing silver costume materializes. ‘Huh? Who the -?’ Wolverine asks, while the woman introduces herself as Dreadlox, and warns the heroes that they are about to find out why!