Dedicated to the definitive superhero non-team.


Saturday, June 28, 2008

Clea's Finest Moment

Clea made several guest appearances in the Defenders well before joining the team. Relegated to the role of romantic interest and mystic trainee, however, she stayed overshadowed by Dr. Strange. As a result, it is easy to forget that this mysterious woman from another dimension was instrumental in the team's second mission. This somber tale was one of Clea's strongest issues.

Marvel Feature #2 began with an evil sect plotting to bring the dread Dormammu to Earth on Halloween, when the barriers between dimensions were weakest. Detecting the threat, Dr. Strange traveled in astral form to hold off Dormammu in the Dark Dimension. But moving his consciousness to the astral plane left the magician physically unconscious and vulnerable. Dormammu's followers broke into the Sanctum Sanctorum, left Wong badly beaten, and abducted Dr. Strange's body, intending to bring Dormammu into the sorcerer's physical form.

Responding to Wong's call for help, Clea used Dr. Strange's mystical amulet (the Eye of Agamotto) to locate Sub-Mariner and Hulk. Still an inexperienced spell-caster at this point, Clea used hypnosis to prompt Hulk to revert to Bruce Banner, then outlined a rescue plan. Clea also brought a change of clothes so the tattered Dr. Banner and swim-trunk-clad Sub-Mariner could remain incognito until entering the sect's remote headquarters at Bald Mountain.

Banner took tranquilizers to stay calm and not become Hulk prematurely. This cooperation showed Banner's trust in the Defenders to act as superego to Hulk's impulsive id. When time came to transform, Hulk willingly followed Sub-Mariner's lead even without knowing why they were fighting the cloaked opponents.

Near the end of the battle, Clea's magic revealed that Dr. Strange had been drawing energy from Wong to remain in astral form longer than usual and keep Dormammu at bay. As the gateway to the Dark Dimension sealed, trapping Dormammu, Bald Mountain volcanically erupted. Dr. Strange, now conscious within his physical body, flew Clea and Wong to safety, while Hulk and Sub-Mariner smashed out from under the rubble.

Marvel Feature. Vol. 1. No. 2. March 1972. "Nightmare on Bald Mountain." Stan Lee (editor), Roy Thomas (writer), Ross Andru (artist), Sal Buscema (inker), Sam Rosen (letterer). The image of Clea appeared in The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. Dr. Strange first met Clea during his initial battle against Dormammu (Strange Tales #126-127). Dr. Strange received his cloak of levitation and the Eye of Agamotto at the end of that adventure.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Defenders Headquarters

The Defenders had several headquarters over the course of the original series, changing locations more often than most super teams. As a rule, their base of operations depended on the wealthiest member of the group at a given time.

  1. The Sanctum Sanctorum, home of Stephen Strange. This three-story townhouse at 177A Bleecker Street in New York's Greenwich Village was the Defenders' first and most recognizable meeting place.

  2. A Long Island riding academy owned by Nighthawk. The group first visited the ranch in Defenders #17. Nighthawk's penthouse later served as a base.

  3. A two-story house in Montclair, New Jersey, that Hellcat inherited when her mother died. The team relocated there in Defenders #89 after Nighthawk lost his assets. A street scene that issue placed the house on the corner of Hautvale and Cedar Streets.

  4. A mountaintop estate in New Mexico. Angel owned the mansion and surrounding land, which served as the base for the New Defenders.

I have never seen detailed floor plans of any of the Defenders' headquarters, but a sketch of the Sanctum Sanctorum and related notes appear below. The Defenders usually kept to the first-floor living room and adjoining library when they met there. Only Dr. Strange and his servant, Wong, lived in the building.

Third Floor: meditation chamber, library, storage area for occult artifacts, with a separate room for the Orb of Agamotto crystal ball.
Second Floor: Dr. Strange's bedchambers, guest quarters, Wong's bedchambers, and a study.
First Floor: foyer, drawing room, library, living room, dining room, and kitchen.
Basement: furnace, laundry room, and storage cellar.

An alleyway on Fenno Place led to a courtyard where Valkyrie often kept her winged horse, Aragorn.
Images here appeared in issues of The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. Aragorn and the Sanctum Sanctorum are not to scale.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Defenders Dialogue: No-Prize

For many years, Marvel Comics issued the occasional No-Prize to astute readers who explained away continuity errors or other discrepancies. As the name implied, the only prize involved was an acknowledgment on the letters page. But that in itself was an honor.

Consider this letter from Defenders #131, pointing out an error Bobby Drake (Iceman) made in #126, after Valkyrie dismissed Beast as a jester when he jockeyed to lead the team.

Dear Carl:

I predict that you will receive many letters such as mine this month, but mine will be different from the rest. Yes, I, too, spotted Bobby Drake's slip of the tongue in DEFENDERS #126, panel four, page 12, when he said that the Beast was a valued member of The X-Men and The Champions. As every Marvellite knows, the "jester" in question was a valued member of The X-Men and THE AVENGERS!

But I will not ask for a No-Prize. No-Prizes should be awarded for major lapses in continuity, character behavior, etc. Spelling errors or slips of the tongue just do not cut it! Bobby had obviously been thinking of his own qualifications for leadership, or perhaps Warren's. He became angry at Val, and since he had been thinking of The Champions … Got it?

When I win my No-Prize, I want it to be for something I can be proud of.

Jeff A. Plackemeir
Columbia, MO

Here's how editor Carl Potts replied:
As far as we're concerned, Jeff, No-Prizes should be awarded to readers who not only spot a major goof, but provide us with an intelligent explanation of said goof. You did just that so we're sending you a No-Prize whether you want one or not! (Geez, this is the first time we've had to force one of these on somebody!!)

Beast first suggested that the Defenders needed an official leader back in #121, after complaining that the group lacked the organization of the Avengers or X-Men. Valkyrie defended the group's loose structure and countered by saying that she would make a better leader than he would.

Despite Valkyrie's objections, Beast ultimately became leader of the New Defenders. Wealthy Warren Worthington (Angel), meanwhile, financially supported the team, as he had with the Champions.
Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 121. July 1983. "Savior." J. M. DeMatteis (scripter, co-plotter), Don Perlin (penciler, co-plotter), Abel, Mushynsky, Kupperberg (inkers), Shelly Feferman (letterer), Allen Milgrom (editor), Jim Shooter (chief).

Friday, June 13, 2008

Bobby and the Beast

Early fans of the Defenders could not have foreseen how the series might one day reunite members of the original X-Men. The most memorable scene in Defenders #122 began as Hank McCoy (Beast) contended with bags of forwarded fan mail after joining the team. A rod of ice suddenly struck the furry hero, and Bobby Drake (Iceman) unexpectedly arrived, pretending that the X-alumni were enemies.

Hank: Lay one hand on me, mister, and I'll … I'll …
Bobby: You'll what?
Hank: I'll hop straight into your icy arms--and kiss you! C'mon, cutie--pucker up!
The heterosexual heroes began laughing (not kissing). This warm welcome showed the comfort level between the men and set the tone for #131, when Bobby took the joke up a notch.

Invited to speak at a college campus, the usually extraverted Hank got stage fright. A young woman who was ogling Hank backstage approached Bobby Drake and Warren Worthington (Angel), both tagging along in their civilian clothes.
Woman: Are you two superheroes too?
Warren: Er, my name's Warren--I'm Mr. McCoy's booking agent.
Bobby: And I'm Lance, his boyfriend.
Woman: Oh! I'm terribly sorry! I mean--I understand, of course--!
Having taken an interest in someone who apparently was unavailable, the woman self-consciously left.
Hank: Bobby! Why did you say that?? What if she believes you??
Bobby: What ever happened to your sense of humor?
Hank then mumbled worriedly that women might not talk to him anymore. Given Hank's romantic history, his fear of rejection made sense without suggesting a prejudice against homosexuality. During his guest lecture, Hank described the alienation that superheroes face. The earlier excahange, however, made it easy for readers to interpret Beast's words as a metaphor about gay acceptance. (Several excellent articles about queer intertext in Science Fiction Studies could apply equally well to comic books.)

At a time when few comics even hinted that a character might be gay, the Defenders brought up the topic directly. Yes, it was in the context of a joke, but the joke was not disparaging or at the expense of gay people. This was pioneering in the mid-1980s and foreshadowed more serious-minded stories in the works.
Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 122. August 1983. "Things to Come!" J.M. DeMatteis (scripter), Don Perlin (penciler), Kim Mulder (inker), Shelly Leferman (letterer), Christie Scheele (colorist), Al Milgrom (editor), Jim Shooter (chief).
Defenders, Vol. 1, No. 131. May 1984. "If This Be … Walrus!" J.M. DeMatteis (plot), Peter B. Gillis (script), Alan Kupperberg (art), Janice Chiang (letters), Glynis Wein (colors), Carl Potts (editor), Jim Shooter (big guy).

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Ultimate Mutant

With the original X-Men on assignment (Marvel Team-Up #23), Professor Xavier turned to the Defenders for help. The result was one of the most important tales in mutant history (Defenders #15-16). The Defenders accompanied Professor X to the technologically equipped caves that Magneto and his latest incarnation of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants were using as a base. The battle that transpired emphasized the strengths and weaknesses of each character.

  • After learning that Mastermind's monsters weren't real, Dr. Strange still responded defensively to the convincing illusions, creating mystic mirror-images of himself to avoid getting hit.
  • When punching alone didn't harm the Blob, Hulk was smart enough to uproot his grounded foe.
  • Valkyrie's mystical blade could not penetrate the force field surrounding Unus the Untouchable, but she easily knocked Unus backward when he let down his guard.
  • Nighthawk and Professor X were immobilized by the siren song of Lorelei, a woman Magneto had technologically mutated. But Xavier had enough willpower to reach over and activate Nighthawk's new jetpack, propelling Nighthawk into Lorelei.
The heroes might have won, were it not for Magneto's latest creation, Alpha the Ultimate Mutant. The brutish being withstood all attacks, then teleported the evil mutants away. Since Magneto had already sealed off the exits, Hulk tunneled a new way out. The escaped heroes soon found Magneto and company threatening the United Nations.

Naïvely obeying Magneto's commands, Alpha levitated the U.N. building into the sky while Magneto proclaimed that it was his mutant birthright to rule humanity. When the heroes approached, Alpha used his vast power to freeze the Hulk in place, spin Nighthawk in a whirlwind until he blacked out, and turn Valkyrie's legs to putty. As Dr. Strange readied to cast a spell, Professor X intervened. Instead of fighting, Xaviar challenged Alpha to use his growing intellect to discern if Magneto was truthful or deceptive.

After contemplating the situation, Alpha set the U.N. building back in place and announced that he would leave Earth while his abilities continued to evolve. Before flying into space, Alpha punished the evil mutants by turning them into infants. The villains eventually recovered, but the event became a turning point in X-Men continuity. Magneto's rebirth accounted for his increased stamina and progressively sympathetic disposition in later years, and even came up during his landmark trial in Uncanny X-Men #200.

In Defenders #15, Professor Xavier harnessed mental energy from the Defenders to break through an electrical barrier in Magneto's lair. This panel noted Hulk's reduced intellect while asserting his desire to work with the team. Lein Wein wrote #15-16. Sal Buscema and Klaus Janson illustrated the two-part tale.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Nighthawk's Sinister Beginnings

The Squadron Sinister first appeared in Avengers #69-70 as a way for Marvel heroes to square off against members of the Justice League: Superman (Hyperion), Green Lantern (Dr. Spectrum), Flash (Whizzer), and Batman (Nighthawk). Yet when time came to tell Nighthawk's origin, the bird-nosed adventurer had only superficial similarities to the Dark Knight.

Unlike Bruce Wayne of DC Comics, Kyle Richmond spent much of his life unfocused. Kyle's mother died in an accident when he was nine, and he grew up estranged from his wealthy father. When his father later died in a plane crash, Kyle inherited Richmond Enterprises (instead of Wayne Enterprise). His father's top business associate had the last name Pennysworth (a nod to Batman's butler, Alfred Pennyworth).

But money couldn't solve Kyle's problems. Poor grades got him expelled from college, reckless driving almost killed his girlfriend, and a heart murmur kept Kyle out of the military (when he received a draft notice, as originally told in Defenders #32, before the Vietnam War inference dated the hero).

In a reversal of Captain America's origin story, the Grandmaster offered Kyle a secret serum to cure his heart condition and magnify his strength at night if he agreed to battle Earth's mightiest heroes. Kyle agreed to the challenge and joined the Squadron Sinister.

Nighthawk gained a stronger sense of direction after reforming and joining the Defenders. He financially supported the team throughout much of the series and became leader for a time. Nighthawk has resumed these responsibilities in the Last Defenders limited series, with Pennysworth now a hero as well.

Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 32. February 1976. "Musical Minds." Steve Gerber (writer), Sal Buscema and Jim Mooney (artists), P. Goldberg (colorist), J. Costanza (letterer), Marv Wolfman (editor). The illustration at the top shows Nighthawk in his original costume, from the opening page of Defenders #13.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Something Sinister This Way Comes

Beneath the sensationalism of the Earth up for sale, Defenders #13-14 told a satisfying, character-driven story.

The plot began with the extraterrestrial Nebulon searching the cosmos for a mineral-rich planet where his species could relocate. The quest seemed hopeless until he encountered the criminal Hyperion, who had been imprisoned in space.

The last survivor of his own homeworld, Hyperion directed Nebulon to Earth (euphemistically selling him the planet). Making Earth hospitable for Nebulon's species would require melting the polar ice caps to cover the entire surface with water. Nebulon presumably had the technology to do this himself but arranged to spare Hyperion and his colleagues in the Squadron Sinister in exchange for their cooperation.

Not everyone bought into the idea. Lacking the nihilism of his teammates, Squadron-member Nighthawk went to the Defenders for help. Dr. Strange, Hulk, and Valkyrie were on board. But when Sub-Mariner refused to join them, the sorcerer supreme forcibly transported Prince Namor out of Atlantis to accompany the Defenders to the Arctic Circle. (Sub-Mariner warned Dr. Strange against ever abducting him again, even after learning that Nebulon's plan to flood the Earth would destroy Atlantis in the process.)

Though evenly matched against the Squadron, the Defenders lost the battle; neither magic nor might could penetrate the energy fields Nebulon used to contain them. Instead of killing the Defenders, Hyperion wanted them stranded in space, with their homeworld in ruins, as he had experienced. Nebulon agreed, unaware that Dr. Strange could mystically transport the heroes back to Earth.

Upon their return, the Defenders saw Nebulon's true form; a six-tentacled, aquatic creature (able to become a golden humanoid for brief periods of time). Amid the confusion, Nighthawk destroyed Nebulon's technology but nearly died from the explosive backlash, while Nebulon and the three loyal Squadron members vanished. Dr. Strange drew energy from the Defenders to restore Nighthawk to health. The repentant adventurer gladly joined the team.

Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 13. May 1974. "For Sale: One Planet--Slightly Used!" Len Wein (writer), Sal Buscema (artist), Klaus Janson (inker), Glynis Wein (colorist), John Costanza (letterer), Roy Thomas (editor).
Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 14. July 1974. "And Who Shall Inherit the Earth?" Len Wein (writer), Sal Buscema and Dan Green (artists), Klaus Janson (inker), Glynis Wein (colorist), Artie Simek (letterer), Roy Thomas (editor), Irving Forbush (kibitzer).

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