Dedicated to the definitive superhero non-team.


Friday, December 25, 2009

Defenders Defenses

Considering how often villains broke into their headquarters, the New Defenders needed to bump up their security measures.

Defenders #145 showed their upgraded base, protected by holograms of several heroes carrying guns.

The life-like holograms included the three founding members of Hulk, Prince Namor, and Dr. Strange, along with recurring ally Captain America, and Wolverine, who had never worked with the Defenders but later joined the Secret Defenders.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name

Moondragon had shown a maternal protectiveness toward Cloud ever since the younger hero joined the team. When an encounter with the villain Manslaughter left Moondragon shaken, Cloud offered comforting words, and said, "I love you." And she didn't mean platonically.

That was the closing scene in Defenders #134. The following issue showed Cloud's misgivings about her feelings, echoing the thoughts many people face when coming to understand their sexuality. This was groundbreaking material for mainstream comics at the time (before Northstar became the first major comic book hero to officially come out of the closet in Alpha Flight #106).

A surprise for readers came in Defenders #136 when the female hero transformed into cloud form, then resolidified as a young man—describing the metamorphosis as a way to be close to Moondragon without raising eyebrows about homosexuality.

Cloud: (As a male) I can love you, Moondragon--everything that was wrong is now right! I can love you--and I do.

It didn't matter whether Cloud was male or female. The feelings were unrequited either way. Moondragon put her cards on the table in #140, explaining how she had inadvertently manipulated Cloud's feelings (following telepathic commands she began using as early as #126) in an attempt to persuade someone to help remove the mystical headband that limited her power.
Moondragon: I was sending out subliminal sexual impulses in hope that someone, Angel or Iceman say, would fall in love and so help to remove the band. You got caught in that net. Please shake off your mad impulse--as I have shaken off mine.

Cloud: It's not a mad impulse! But--all right--before I go--just tell me one thing--does it mean you don't love me at all?

Moondragon: If you can tell me what love is--then I can answer you. Otherwise--

Cloud: I see. Goodbye, Moondragon.

For all her arrogance, Moondragon was remorse that she may have unintentionally altered the emotions of someone else—particularly someone to whom she felt kindness. But maybe Moondragon wasn't at fault. Attraction isn't always rational. Perhaps Cloud's feelings toward the standoffish telepath were indeed real.
Peter B. Gillis wrote the Defenders issues that disclosed the feelings between Cloud and Moondragon.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What if Rick Jones Had Become the Hulk?

In issue #12 of the classic What If…? series, Rick Jones became the Hulk instead of Dr. Banner, recasting the heroism both men displayed during the Hulk's early appearances.

In that alternate story from 1978, the green-skinned Rick Jones initially joined the Avengers (as the original Hulk had), then trained under Captain America and assisted Captain Mar-vell (much as Rick Jones had in the core Marvel Universe).

Notice how the art aptly depicts Jones-Hulk in bluejeans, while Banner wears his trademark purple pants.

Like many comic books of this period, #12 promoted the Hulk's live-action TV series on the cover. What also caught my attention was how a note on the opening page emphasized that the character from The Incredible Hulk TV show was not the same character from the comics.

You've read of DR. ROBERT BRUCE BANNER's career as the ever-incredible Hulk—and, more recently, you've savored one DAVID BANNER's stint as ol' greenskin in living color on TV. Now, here's the most OFFBEAT Hulk of all--!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Manslaughter

This is the first time I've felt obligated to issue a SPOILER ALERT on the fansite. That's because this installment discusses several key plot points of Defenders #134 that might be enjoyed best without knowing how things end. Overall, #134 was perhaps the most tightly written and suspenseful issue featuring the New Defenders.

Following an out-of-town speaking engagement, Beast returned to Defenders headquarters to find his teammates on edge. After leaving a threatening message on their answering machine, an unseen assailant had begun to target each of the heroes when unaccompanied within the mansion.

Cloud was surprised to find a garland around her neck—and even more surprised when snakes began to crawl out of it. Iceman was rendered unconscious in the gym, with THE HEAT'S ON seared into his chest. A note with a death threat was attached to Angel's wing. The Dragonfang sword was missing from Valkyrie's scabbard and replaced with another threatening note. Moondragon could sense nothing about the stalker.

With that pattern, the five heroes decided to stay together—until Cloud announced that she had to use the washroom and insisted that didn't need anyone to accompany her. That's slasher-film formula for getting killed, and she knew it.

A costumed man with a sword jumped out from the shadows and put a sword to Cloud's neck. She cried out, and the Defenders stormed inside to find her on the ground, and indirectly pronounced dead.

After the Defenders split up to search for the elusive assailant, scenes of Iceman showed him carrying an ice club—not something a man could generate his own ice blasts typically needed to do. When the ice-covered fell to the floor from a blade the neck, the perpetrator believed that two of the Defenders were now dead.

The assailant was in fact Manslaughter. Hired to murder the Defenders, the professional assassin had the psionic power to make himself invisible unless looked at directly—similar to an ability Moondragon used in Avengers #211, before Odin's headband limited her powers.

As Manslaughter readied to murder Moondragon, a bolt of lightning struck him from behind, revealing that Cloud was still alive. And Iceman came from another direction to encase the villain in ice.

Flashbacks revealed what really had taken place during the earlier murder scenes. When Cloud initially left for the bathroom, she prepared herself for an attack, discreetly turning her neck to mist when Manslaughter slit her throat. And she was the one inside the full-bodied sheath of ice and wielding the ice club, while the real Iceman hid to outsmart the assassin.

A degree of luck clearly entered into the success of the heroes' plan. But it remained a chillingly satisfying adventure. In turning the slasher conventions inside out, the Defenders showed more intelligence and teamwork than they had before.

Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 134. August 1984. "Manslaughter!" Peter B. Gillis (story), Don Perlin (pencils), Kim DeMulder (inks), Janice Chiang (letters), Christie Scheel (colors), Carl Potts (editor), Jim Shooter (editor-in-chief).

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Beast: The Intellectual Unconventional

Of all of the intellectuals in comics, Beast is the most well-rounded. An accomplished biochemist, he is one of the few scientifically minded superheroes with an equal passion for the humanities.

Defenders #133 brought this to the forefront when Beast jumped for excitement during a chance encounter with an unassuming Professor Frye, for a conversation smattered with subtext.

Beast: Professor, I just had to tell you that your book on Blake was one of the most brilliant pieces of criticism I've ever read! It really enabled me to see the visionary epic form as quite distinct from the romantic! It opened up worlds to me! I particularly appreciated the insight into the apocalyptic imagination that the events of his era generated.

Frye: Why--I believe you do understand the thrust of my inquiry, young--er, man!

Beast: Have you, I wonder, read Bloom's book on Blake and revolution?

Frye: Of course! But a political approach seems almost tangential--

A remarkable aspect of this exchange was the way it made sense even to those unfamiliar with the works of William Blake, or the scholarship of Northrop Frye and Harold Bloom. Allusions to apocalyptic themes certainly had their place in the Defenders.
Peter B. Gillis wrote Defenders #133. The above image of Beast first appeared in The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Defenders in Bloom

Reading Defenders #132 immediately brought back memories of #37, the first issue of the series I ever remember seeing while growing up.

At the time, a very different group of Defenders faced their own villainous Plant Man.

The highlight of that issue took place after the plant-battle was over, however, when Power Man explained to his teammates that he had to earn a living and couldn't afford to work with them regularly for free.

That discussion led to a fight in its own right, as the non-team's latest member took offense.

Red Guardian: You expect remuneration for aiding your fellow man?! I am revolted! As the Red Guardian, I am an outcast of the state, yet--

Power Man: Lady … I had my hassle with "the state," too…!

Nighthawk: Enough! Can the ideological debate, will ya? If you can't work for free, Cage--suppose I put you on a retainer? I'm rich, remember?

Although Nighthawk's wealth undoubtedly helped provide for other members of the group, Luke Cage was the only professionally paid Defender.
Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 37. July 1976. "Evil in Bloom!" Steve Gerber (writer), Sal Buscema & Klaus Janson (artists), Ray Holloway (letterer), D. Warfield (colorist), Marv Wolfman (editor).

Friday, October 23, 2009

Plant Attack

Uncertain about her true past, Cloud fled the Secret Empire after Defenders #123 and now found sanctuary among the New Defenders.

But the team's mountainside mansion was not always the safest place to be.

When a destitute man arrived unexpectedly, the heroes who were home at the time invited the stranger inside to offer him help. No sooner did the man walk through the front door than he transformed into a giant plant-creature (#132).

When Moondragon attempted to subdue the plant-man with her thoughts, he retaliated. When she got back on her feet, Moondragon stated that she could not affect the creature, as its mind had regressed to something akin to a savage impulses.

Valkyrie's sword, Cloud's lightning, Gargoyle's bio-energy blasts, and Iceman's standard attacks proved almost useless against the vicious vegetation. More than once the heroes thought they defeated the creature only to watch it further mutate and regrow.

The usually calm Angel half-panicked when he spotted one of the plant's spores latched to his back. The winged hero flew as high into the atmosphere as he could until the thin air caused the seed to fall off. But that still left the bulk of the plant-monster growing stronger inside the mansion.

Ordering everyone else to evacuate, Iceman devised one of the most innovate plans of career. He intended to use dehydration to defeat the plant. Situated by a window, Iceman froze water molecules in the air to create massive amounts of ice outside, drying out the air inside until the plant could no longer survive.

Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 132. June 1984. "The Phantom of Gamma Ray Flats." Peter B. Gillis (writer), Don Perlin (artist), Kim De Muilder (inker), Janice Chiang (letterer), Christie Scheel (colorist), Carl Potts (editor), Jim Shooter (editor-in-chief).

Friday, October 16, 2009

What's Eating Bobby Drake?

Iceman was one of the last heroes you'd expect to have angst. Physically, he could easily pass for a typical human—something most of his teammates couldn't do. And he lacked the mythic turmoil that inherently plagued so many Defenders.

But for existential Bobby Drake, the ability to choose whether or not to be a hero was the source of his problems. After leaving the original X-Men, his interest in studying accounting at college seemed to come more out of a desire to be conventional than a deeper interest in the field.

Revisiting some of the plot threads from his days in the Champions, Iceman's 1985 limited series forced the hero to face the on-the-fence position that he carried with him into the Defenders.

More a psychological journey than an adventure story, the limited series ultimately asked Iceman to decide to be the leader of his own life, independent of his parents' wishes or the expectations of his super-powered friends.

And though he did decide to stay with the New Defenders, there was no guarantee that Iceman would be happy.

J.M. DeMatteis wrote Iceman's limited series. The story was set soon after New Defenders #130.

Monday, October 12, 2009

State of Mind

Defenders #129 opened with a jarring predicament. The seasoned heroes found themselves under attack by the New Mutants, teenage students at Professor Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters.

Angel, Beast, and Iceman were decidedly passive during the fight. As original members of the X-Men, they spent their youth battling older and more experienced opponents. Now, years later, they were reluctant to attack the newest students at their alma mater.

Gargoyle dissuaded Valkyrie from slaying the New Mutants until Moondragon saw through the troubling situation. The entire battle was an illusion. In reality, the Defenders were in holding cells, captives of the Secret Empire, and resisting attempts to be brainwashed.

Led by Professor Power, this latest incarnation of the Secret Empire intended to broadcast subliminal messages prompting the United States and the U.S.S.R. to enter into nuclear war—so a dystopian empire might emerge from the ruins. Several Defenders had been imprisoned by the Secret Empire before (Captain America #268). But this time there was a personal reason for manipulating the heroes.

Professor Power's son was traumatized as a result of his experiences fighting in the Vietnam War. When Professor X was unable to reverse the son's condition, Power sought to get back at Xavier by taking revenge on three of his earliest students, along with their latest allies. To hold his own in combat, Professor Power had his own mind psionically transferred into the body of his physically healthy (but comatose) son—land equipped himself with a battlesuit.

By tapping into Gargoyle's energy-draining abilities, Moondragon psychokinenically freed the team.

When time came to face Professor Power, Moondragon had her own turn at revenge. She caused Power's conscious mind to suffer the repressed mental anguish of his son (Defenders #130).

J.M. DeMatteis wrote Defenders #129-130 along with Marvel Team-Up #118 and #124, which established Professor Power's background and motivation.

Friday, October 9, 2009

They Might Be Giants

Only days had passed since their unofficial first mission (Defenders #125), but the Beast was already concerned that the newly revamped Defenders lacked solidarity (#126).

When Beast suggested that the team form a charter and nominated himself as leader, Valkyrie restated her prior objections to such plans. Iceman, meanwhile, tripped over his words defending the Beast (landing one observant reader a No-Prize).

But there was more chaos underfoot than anyone realized. Twice that issue, simultaneous thought-balloons showed Angel and Iceman romantically wondering about Moondragon, a woman who had mind-controlled them both in Avengers #211, before Odin limited her powers (Avengers #220). What came across as humorous serendipity in Defenders #126—with Angel and Iceman thinking the same words—brilliantly foreshadowed events that no reader could have foreseen at the time.

The more immediate threat that issue was Leviathan, a S.H.I.E.L.D. scientist accidentally transformed into a giant, rampaging neanderthal.

Valkyrie had bravely faced giant opponents before. Now in her true Asgardian body (since Avengers Annual #11), she was the physically strongest member of the New Defenders.

But Valkyrie was not invulnerable. To her surprise, one blow from the towering opponent almost did her in, prompting Gargoyle to fly her safely out of the way. Ultimately a coordinated group effort was needed to defeat Leviathan.

Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 126. December 1983. "State of the Union!" J.M. DeMatteis (writer), Alan Kupperbert (guest artist), Janice Chiang (letterer), Paul Becton (colorist), Carl Potts (editor), J.M. Shooter (chief).

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Importance of Being Gargoyle

Introduced as a reluctant opponent in Defenders #94, Gargoyle nevertheless became the first hero to originally appear in the series. All previous members of the team, and heroic guest stars, had appeared first in other series—or took over the reigns for someone else.

This was only one of several ways that Gargoyle stood out.

Comic books are filled with relatively young heroes, as well as the magically immortal. But a hero who gains superhuman powers later in life is rare indeed.

To save his hometown from economic ruin, Isaac Christians had made a pact with a demon. According to the deal, the town of Christiansboro, Virginia, would financially thrive if the elderly man would agree to temporarily serve the forces of evil as a gargoyle, furthering a larger plot to destroy the Defenders.

But this Gargoyle didn't have the heart of a villain. Instead of leading the Defenders to defeat, he tried to warn them. And because he did not keep up his side of the bargain, Isaac Christians would stay trapped in his demonic form indefinitely.

For all his regrets, the hero with bat-wings and orange hide kept a mild disposition much of the time. Through lineup changes and the formation of the New Defenders, Gargoyle remained a steady reminder of the mystical and often cryptic history of the team.

This image of Gargoyle first appeared in The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Nighthawk's Ranch

One of the earliest posts on this site showed rough schematics of Dr. Strange's Sanctum Sanctorum, the original headquarters of the Defenders. Here at last is an image of Nighthawk's ranch, which served as the group's base of operations from Defenders #17-75.

Keith Giffen illustrated this view of the Defenders' Hang-Out, which appeared in #50, and David Kraft wrote that issue.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Moonstruck

When an alien planet was in the midst of war, Moondragon stepped in to intervene as only she could … by mentally seizing control of the entire population.

Any pretense that she was acting in the planet's best interest fell flat, seeing how she brought along Thor as her brainwashed love slave (Avengers #219-220).

When the Avengers defeated Moondragon, and Thor returned to his senses, the thunder god brought his abductor to Asgard to stand in judgment before his father.

But discerning that Moondragon had the capacity to accomplish good—in spite of her narcissistic need for control—Odin was sympathetic when issuing punishment. Moondragon would wear a headband to greatly limit her power until she learned to live respectfully among others.

Yet in the circular reasoning of Moondragon's mind, the fact that a god took pity on her confirmed that she was indeed godlike and therefore justified in her self-righteous actions. Moondragon was a piece of work.

Under the surveillance of Valkyrie, Moondragon's path to humility would become an underlying narrative in the New Defenders.

Jim Shooter wrote Avengers #219-220. Bob Hall pencilled those issues.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Moondragon Knows Best

Given her off-putting personality, Moondragon did not enter the Avengers' ranks during a lineup change in Avengers #151. And when the federal government reconfigured the team in #181, Moondragon didn't make the cut. Thirty issues later, the insufferable Moondragon took membership matters into her own hands.

When the Avengers discussed plans to streamline the team to only six active members, a horde of heroes suddenly arrived at Avengers Mansion (#211).

Secretly summoned by Moondragon, the cavalcade included Angel, Black Panther, Black Widow, Dazzler, Hawkeye, Hercules, Iceman, Moon Knight, Tigra, and Yellowjacket.

Mentally compelling them to attack one another and try out for the team, Moondragon evaluated each hero's abilities and potential, while the Avengers remained powerless to stop her.

Scarlet Witch: Enough! We demand that you cease this outrage! We can make our own decisions!
Moondragon: Can you? Some of you would choose to stay out of force of habit … or loneliness … or fear of failure in the world beyond these walls! You are children! And it is better that I choose!

Moondragon eventually agreed to back off. Yet her words struck a nerve, as several longstanding Avengers suddenly decided to depart. The Scarlet Witch and Vision, for example, left to focus on their marriage.

Of all the changes, the Beast's was the most surprising—if not conspicuous. The hero announced out of the blue that perhaps Moondragon was right—so he too quit the Avengers to resume his scientific career. This change of heart didn't last long, however, as Beast joined the Defenders soon afterward, and tried to reshape them into an Avengers-like team.

Considering Moondragon's previous decision to mentor Hellcat (Avengers #151), it's of interest that Tigra (who wore the Cat costume first) was the only new hero to stick around and join the team following the chaos (along with returning member Yellowjacket). Was the "cat" symmetry a coincidence? I can't help but imagine that Moondragon was discreetly involved in that and other decisions.
Avengers. Vol. 1. No. 211. September 1981. "…By Force of Mind!" Gene Colan (penciler), Dan Green (inker), Janice Chang (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist), Jim Shooter (scribe).

Friday, September 4, 2009

Divine Inspiration

This is the first in a string of posts foreshadowing Moondragon's involvement with the New Defenders.

I'm sure I wasn't the only reader initially taken aback by Moondragon's off-the-cuff references to being a god (without any mythological pantheons to back her up).

Not until reading Avengers #149 did I understand that "Goddess of the Mind" was her self-appointed designation.

With the rest of the Avengers captured that issue, only Thor and prospective-member Moondragon remained to face the Atlantean conquerer called Orka. Yet when Moondragon fell to the ground in battle, Thor was both concerned and relieved.

Thor: By Asgard's gleaming gates! Moondragon is down! Tis my misfortune though, that she must rise again--to bedevil me further with her delusions of--superiority--?

No sooner did the thunder god singlehandedly defeat the giant opponent than Moondragon confidently stood up.
Moondragon: Yes, Thor! I have not been unconscious all this while! You had to let yourself see--that you alone are equal to all your fellow Avengers.

In forcing Thor to acknowledge his own superior strength, Moondragon confirmed—to herself at least—that she had the superior judgment worthy of a god. And with that biting sense of entitlement, Moondragon would have no qualms doing whatever she pleased, dismissing the rest of humanity as beneath her.
The Avengers. Vol. 1. No. 149. July 1976. "The Gods and the Gang!" Steve Englehart (story), George Pérez (art), Sam Grainger (inks), Tom Crzechowski (lettering), Hugh Paley (coloring), Marv Wolfman (editor).

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Marvel Heavyweights

Hulk and Sub-Mariner, the two physically strongest members of the Defenders, were also two of the hardest heroes to pin down in terms of strength.

The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe (first edition) placed Hulk lifting up to 90 tons when he was calm, with the ability to lift more than 100 tons when angry. Prince Namor, meanwhile, was slated with the ability to lift 40 tons on land and 75 tons underwater.

Two years earlier, Amazing Spider-Man Annual #15 (1981) made an initial attempt to classify heroes by their physical strength. Breaking the fourth wall, the humorous back-up feature also included many of the heroes' reactions to their ranking.

THE SUPER-HEAVYWEIGHTS
Hulk: Bah, Hulk should be in a class by himself!
Thor: Forsooth, there is not a match for my mighty thews in all midgard!
Hercules Nay, friend Thor, if Hercules be on Earth, thou art but a close second!
Iron Man: With a potent enough energy source I can charge my armor to this power level--for about two seconds.
Wonder Man: Er … I want to be an actor, not a super guy!

THE HEAVYWEIGHTS
Black Bolt: (empty word balloon)
Doc Samson: I am as strong as a calm Hulk--too bad the Hulk is never calm.
Sasquatch: I haven't met Spider-Man yet, but I once took on the Hulk for fun. (See Incredible Hulk Annual #8.)
Sub-Mariner: Beneath the sea, Namor's strength is supreme. On land, I am still a force to be reckoned with!
Thing: Of all the bum raps I ever got, this beats 'em all! I ain't no crummy second-rater!
Thundra: If I ever run into that web-headed fool, I will squash him for having dared to place me in this category.
Vision: At my maximum density, my strength is most devastating.

Spider-Man and several Defenders fell among the Super Mediumweights or below.

Edward Hannigan illustrated the first-edition covers for The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe (1983).

The Marvel Mediumweights

Two years before The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe stated precisely how much each character could lift/press, Amazing Spider-Man Annual #15 (1981) included a lighthearted back-up feature ranking many popular heroes by their physical strength.

Here's a list of the characters who fell at Spider-Man's strength level and below, along with some of their retorts to the web-slinger. It wouldn't take long for Marvel to establish that Colossus and She-Hulk truly belonged among the Heavyweights.

SUPER-MEDIUMWEIGHTS
Colossus: I am still a teenager, Tovarisch. You wait until I am grown.
Ghost Rider: Blazes to you all!
Giant-Man/Black Goliath: I may not be the strongest hero in town, but I am the biggest.
Power Man: Jiminy Christmas--I've got better things to do than stand around posin' with these turkeys.
She-Hulk: Wait until you know me better, Spider-Man. You'll change your mind about my power.
Silver Surfer: I need not rely on super brute strength, for mine is the power cosmic.
Spider-Man: This is my strength class folks.
Valkyrie: I am the foremost warrior-goddess of Asgard--and you presume to mock my might by ranking me here?

MEDIUMWEIGHTS
Aquarian: The greatest strength of all is the strength to refrain from violence.
Beast: (looking at Spider-Woman) Hubba-Hubba.
Captain Britain: As the embodiment of the fighting spirit of ancient Britain, my power is many times human level.
Nighthawk: By night I'm twice as strong as any human--by day, I'm an invalid.
Spider-Woman: Spider-Man, you have some nerve putting me in a class beneath yours.
Tigra: I'll show you my strength if you'll show me yours.
Werewolf by Night: Grrrr.

A final category included heroes at peak-human strength: Black Panther, Captain America, Daredevil, Falcon, Hawkeye, Iron Fist, Ka-Zar, Moon Knight, Shroud, Wolverine, and Ant-Man (Scott Lang).

This back-up feature carried the title: "Just How Strong Is … Spider-Man?" Script and Layouts: Mark Gruenwald.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Case of the Mystery Cover

Here's what looks to be cover art for a not-yet published adventure that pits a classic group of Defenders against the villain Arcade.

To the best of my knowledge the Defenders never faced Arcade, but I'd love to see how they'd fare against the death traps of Murder World.

I spotted this illustration on Comic Vine, a source for many of the images that appear on this site.

John Byrne appears to be the illustrator, and the copyright line reads 2009. If you have more information about this eye-catching artwork, please post a reply!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Famous Fan Appeal

An interview this week at Marvel.com offers some fun perspective into the appeal of the early Defenders.

In the interview, TV writer and radio host Tom Scharpling discusses why he tended to read "the second tier books of the day," including Defenders, Power Man and Iron Fist, and Doctor Strange.

Here's an excerpt:

I always weirdly gravitated towards the Defenders over the Avengers, because the Avengers just had everything locked down and were on it.

… and the Defenders were just this group of third stringers, where it's like, "Ugh, these guys are losers, and they don't like each other either!"  Guys would just check out for huge stretches.  For some reason the messiness of that appealed to me.  Just how chaotic that was. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Namor, the Evil Mutant

After several former X-Men found their way into the Defenders, the non-team seemed to veer away from its mystical roots.

So it's easy to forget that Sub-Mariner, a founding member of the Defenders, had once called himself a mutant. Well at least for an issue (X-Men #6). What else could explain why the man from Atlantis had feathers on the side of his feet?

When the criminal Magneto informed Prince Namor of his homo superior genetic status and offered him a spot in the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, Namor took the invite in stride. After all, Namor already considered himself superior.

Ultimately, though, it was his hatred of the surface world, not his connection to mutantkind, that prompted Sub-Mariner to join the Brotherhood … just long enough to see that he had no interest in following Magneto's orders or taking sides in the mutant struggle.

X-Men. Vol. 1. No. 6. July 1964. "Search for the Sub-Mariner!" Written: with the flair of Stan Lee. Drawn: with the air of Jack Kirby. Inked: with the care of Chic Stone. Lettered: on a dare by S. Rosen.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Something Old, Something New

Weddings usually spell trouble in the world of comics. So when Patsy Walker and Daimon Hellstrom decided to tie the knot, they should have expected some unwelcome guests (Defenders #125).

Now known as Mad-Dog, ex-husband Buzz Baxter led the villain group Mutant Force in an attack on the bride and groom.

But there were also more heroes on hand than anyone had expected. Beast (arriving with guests Iceman and Angel), Valkyrie (now in custody of the headstrong Moondragon), and Gargoyle soon defeated the intruders.

Like other super couples before them, the happy-go-lucky Hellcat and the so-called Son of Satan now wanted to hang up their costumes and try to lead normal lives. They weren't the only ones to say goodbye to the team.

In response to a cryptic prophesy by the murderous Elf, Doctor Strange, Prince Namor, Hulk, and Silver Surfer announced their departures as well. If certain visions of the future held true, the Earth would lay in ruins unless the four earliest Defenders vowed never to work together again.

After such an official changing of the guard, the six heroes who remained formed the New Defenders.

Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 125. November 1983. "Hello, I must be going." J.M. DeMatteis (writer), Don Perlin and Kim De Mulder (artists), Christie Scheele (colorist) Carl Potts (editor), Jim Shooter (chief).

The above image by Mike Zeck comes from Defenders #130, during a rematch against Mutant Force.

Monday, July 6, 2009

And Then There's Cloud

On a break from their crimefighting careers, Scarlet Witch and Vision planned a quiet get-together with Gargoyle, Beast, and Iceman (Defenders #123). Over dinner, Scarlet Witch made a telling remark about her experience as a reformed criminal.

Scarlet Witch: Strange how time changes things, isn't it, Bobby? It seems like only yesterday that my brother, Quicksilver, and I battled your original X-Men as members of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.
No sooner did the heroes clear away the dinner plates than the group came under attack by three agents of the Secret Empire. Their objective was to capture the Vision.

The trio of attackers consisted of Seraph (with super strength and eye beams), Harridan (with a near lethal touch), and Cloud (with transformation powers suited for her name). As dangerous as they were, in-fighting contributed greatly to the villains' defeat. It would come as no shock when Cloud, the most sympathetic of the bunch, later changed sides herself and joined the Defenders.
Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 123. September 1983. "Of Elves and Androids" (J.M. DeMatteis (writer), Don Perlin (penciler), Kim De Mulder (inker), Janice Chiang (letterer), Christy Scheele (colorist), Carl Potts (editor), Jim Shooter (tall guy with a big office).

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Untold Adventure

Told as a flashback story, Defenders #119 read like an issue between issues, situated between #68 and #69.

With the groundwork for the New Defenders underway, this "forgotten" tale gave a last hurrah to early members of the team. The story showed how much the series had evolved over the past 50 issues, while revisiting the group's inception.

The magician Yandroth had physically died in Marvel Feature #1, when the Defenders first stopped his Omegatron machine (only to defeat it again in Defenders #5). Now bent on revenge, the spirit of Yandroth merged with the mind and body of a scientist who felt unrecognized for her genius and honored by the opportunity to acquire power (Defenders #119).

Now equipped with mind-control implants, this revamped Yandroth subdued most of the Defenders, then pitted them against one another. The conflict reached a climax with Valkyrie, Hulk and Dr. Strange facing Clea, Hellcat, Nighthawk, and Prince Namor, under this new Yandroth's influence. But having the evil magician's astral spirit inside her mind overwhelmed the villain. As tensios rose, she collapsed.

Dr. Strange: She thought she was fighting against seven minds when, in fact, eight were raised against her! Had she moved more slowly and consolidated her power, she might have won all our minds! Instead, she lost the single one that mattered most … her own!

Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 119. May 1983. "Ashes, Ashes … We All Fall Down!" Steve Grant (scripter), Sal Buscema (penciler), Jack Abel (inker), D. Hands (letters), George Roussos (colorist), Al Milgrom (editor), Jim Shooter (editor-in-chief), J.M. DeMatteis (invaluable asset).

Saturday, June 6, 2009

A Match Made In...

The relationship between Daimon Hellstrom and Patsy Walker was rooted in sorrow.

Touting the name Son of Satan, the soul-struck hero knew angst to the Nth degree. As a pre-emptive measure, he'd mastered the art of keeping others at bay. But could Hellstrom accept that someone might still accept him no matter what his lineage might be?

Since taking up crimefighting, the scorned Hellcat had used humor as a defense-mechanism. The superficial veneer masked the turmoil of her past. Could Hellcat come to terms with her own complexity? Could she truly open herself to someone else?

As they each looked for wholeness in their lives, these two Defenders found each other. They had passion. But given his side of the family, did the young couple ever stand a real chance at happiness?

These scenes come from Defenders #122.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Daimon's Double

The delineation between good and evil was ever complicated for Daimon Hellstrom. In Defenders #118, the Son of Satan discovered that while he was away on missions (or trapped in his father's netherworld), a demon had assumed his civilian identity.

As suspicious as things looked, this was not part of an nefarious plot. The Satan entity had felt kindness toward the unnamed demon and bestowed free will upon him—a sharp contrast to the unquestionably evil nature of most comic book demons.

With his newfound freedom, the demon left for earth and decided to pick up where the true Son of Satan had left off. That meant taking over Hellstrom's job as department head of a university parapsychology department. That also meant pursuing a relationship and marrying a good-natured witch who was one of Hellstrom's closest friends.

Here came the slap in the face: The woman knew her husband was a demon-dopplegänger, but she loved him anyway. The disguised demon was more attentive, more genteel, than the brooding Daimon Hellstrom had ever been.

Hellstrom was dumbfounded. He had spent his adult life operating with tightly defined notions of good and evil. But the insidiousnes of the impostor predicament turned those preconceptions upside-down. The identity crisis left the hero reconsidering what type of person he wanted to be.

Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 118. April 1983. "The Double!" J.M. DeMatteis (script), Don Perlin (pencils), Mushynsky & Milgrom (inks), Shelly Leferman (letters), George Roussos (colors), Allen Milgrom (editor), Jim Shooter (chief).

Friday, May 29, 2009

Turbulent Team-Ups

Of all the heroes to call themselves Defenders, Luke Cage and Daimon Hellstrom may have had the least in common. This made the duo's impromptu reunion in Marvel Team-Up #126 all the more intriguing.

The issue began with Hellstrom and Cage each responding to a cry for help. But as they approached a wounded man in a dark alley, the heroes mistook one another for the assailant. Not until they began fighting did the two recognize each other (having worked together only briefly as Defenders).

The injured man had been a mentor to Luke Cage, one of the few supportive adults in his life while growing up. Yet desperate for power and purpose, this same man had joined a secret sect intent on conjuring up an demonic entity. The cult thought Power Man's steel-hard body would make a perfect host for the malevolent spirit.

With crimefighting partner Iron Fist away on a meditation retreat, Power Man gladly accepted help from the Son of Satan.

Marvel Team-Up. No. 1. Vol. 1. February 1983. "A Firm Offer!" J.M. DeMatteis (scripter), Bob Hall (penciler), Mike Esposito (inks), Diana Albers (letters), Bob Sharen (colors), Tom DeFalco (editor), Jim Shooter (chief).

The second team-up this issue was a retelling of a story originally published in a Sunday newspaper supplement.

With a S.W.A.T. team on his tail, Hulk was in the midst of a reckless rampage until Spider-Man lured him to a deserted warehouse, where the green goliath calmed down and turned back into Bruce Banner.

Concerned that apprehending the distraught physicist might induce yet another violent transformation, the web-slinger tried a different approach. Changing back into his street clothes. Peter Parker gave the shirtless scientist the jacket off his back, the last $5 in his pocket, and a suggestion to head out of town.

The tale ended with Hulk handing a destitute man a wad of cash from his own ripped pants. Hulk's generosity would have been more touching, though, if he hadn't needlessly smashed parked cars and uprooted lampposts earlier that issue.
"The Obligation!" Jim Shooter (story), Tomoyuki Takenaka (art), Jim Novak (letters), Bob Sharen (colors).

Monday, May 25, 2009

As Seen on TV

One of their earliest foes used television as part of a disturbing attempt to manipulate the children of Earth. Using his muppet-like appearance to his advantage, the extraterrestrial named Xemnu was a hit on a Saturday morning kids' show (seen in Marvel Feature #3).

Through his popularity and mind-control abilities, the furry giant intended to lure hoards of children to a hijacked rocket, then use them to repopulate his planet. Beneath the surface of this offbeat tale was a serious message about the threat of child abduction.

Dr. Strange, Sub-Mariner, and the Hulk thwarted the plot. Although Xemnu's hypnotic powers could influence both children and adults, the Hulk's altered intellect was resistant. Xemnu returned in Defenders #12 and appeared briefly in #100.

Marvel Feature. Vol. 1. No. 3. June 1972. "A Titan Walks Among Us!" Stan Lee (editor), Roy Thomas (writer), Ross Andru (artist), Bill Everett (inker) Art Simek (letterer).
Before Bruce Banner ever overdosed on gamma rays, the monstrous Xemnu was billed as the "Hulk" in Journey into Mystery #62 (November 1960) and #66 (March 1961). To avoid confusion, the giant extraterrestrial later became "Xemnu the Titan."

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Past Lives

One of the most moving stories in the history of the series came in Defenders #117.

Six powerful telepaths had sacrificed their lives to save the world from destruction (Defenders #106). Physically, they were dead. But in an astonishing turn of events, they now mentally resided in the extraterrestrial body of Over-Mind.

To make peace with the past, the mental "chorus" within Over-Mind partook in a ritual to bid farewell to the lives they left behind.

At first, the lumbering body of Over-Mind psionically took the appearance of Mindy Williams, a woman who had been romantically involved with Nighthawk. She left flowers at a ceremonial site for the hero, who was believed dead at the time.

The two psychics to receive the most attention were Ursula Richards and young Philip Le Guin (subtle homages to author Ursula Le Guin; an appropriate choice given the themes of metaphysics and gender identity in some of her works).

When Over-Mind changed into Philip, the boy's schoolyard friends responded with fear. When Philip returned home, the Le Guin parents were so horrified to see their dead son in the flesh that Dr. Strange cast a spell to wipe the experience from their memories.

Next, the mind of Ursula Richards came to the forefront. Resuming Over-Mind's physical form, she smashed down a building in the slums where she was raised—without realizing some children were playing inside. Dr. Strange intervened to magically save their lives.

The message was clear. Making up for lost time was impossible. The six psychics resolved to heroically continue their unusual coexistence as Over-Mind.

Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 117. March 1983. "The Gift." J.M. DeMatteis (scripter), Don Perlin (penciler), Jack Abel (inker), Shelly Leferman (letterer), George Roussos (colorist), Allen Milgrom (editor), Jim Shooter (chief).

Friday, May 22, 2009

Return of ... Cover Versions

Here are four great covers that each announce the return of a hero. For Yellowjacket, Giant-Size Defenders #4 marked the end of his lengthy leave of absense from crimefighting, yet it was his first mission with the relatively new non-team. Silver Surfer, on the other hand, returned in Defenders #6, regretting his hasty departure in Defenders #3.


Dr. Strange, meanwhile. rejoined the group in Defenders #58, after resigning in #46. Having made his first guest appearance in Giant-Size Defenders #2, Daimon Hellstrom not only returned in Defenders #92 but also became a regular member.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

There and Back Again

For the longest time I disregarded Defenders #115 as a humor issue that didn't require much attention. But when I recently noticed it was dedicated to Theodor Geisel, I bought an extra copy for a friend who is a fan of Dr. Seuss—and finally got around to reading the issue for myself.

A return trip through another dimension left Beast, Gargoyle, Sub-Mariner, and Valkyrie stranded in an unusual world where everyone spoke in rhyme. At the request of Mayor Greeneggs, the heroes agreed to defend the land of "Here" from their enemies from "There." The decidedly silly story paid homage to a handful Seuss characters, while combining elements from other works of children's literature.

The irreverent adventure ended with the usually barefoot Prince of Atlantis donning the pair of ruby sneakers to click himself and his teammates back home. The shoes were still on his feet when he returned.

Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 115. January 1983. "A Very Wrong Turn!" J.M. DeMatteis (script), Don Perlin (pencils), Hilary Barta (inks), Shelly Leferman (letterer), George Roussos (colorist), Al Milgrom (editor), Jim Shooter (editor-in-chief).

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Supreme Showdown

When the conqueror called Over-Mind gained mental control of the Squadron Supreme, Hyperion was the only member of that team powerful enough to resist.

Escaping from his home dimension, Hyperion found help from the Defenders. The group's extensive lineup at the time consisted of Dr. Strange, Sub-Mariner, Hulk, Silver Surfer, Valkyrie, Nighthawk, Son of Satan, Gargoyle, Beast—and temporary associates Scarlet Witch and Vision.

The Defenders accompanied Hyperion back home to square off against the mind-controlled Squadron Supreme in a high-stakes battle with plenty of surprises (Defenders #113).

  • Dr. Spectrum used energy from his Power Prism to create a giant hand that grabbed Silver Surfer's board out from under him. The giant hand beat Surfer hero with his own board until the cosmic champion got back on his feet and retaliated.

  • Tom Thumb boasted that his Quadra-Titanium Bands could enwrap and entrap any man—until the Hulk broke free from the metal straps and knocked out the super-inventor.

  • Amphibian claimed to be unbeatable underwater. But during their fight, Sub-Mariner proved to be the water-breather supreme.

  • Lady Lark's siren song immobilized several of the Defenders. So Dr. Strange countered with his own melodic magical words.
By the screaming Demons of Denakk
By Eternity's timeless cry
Let a Sphere of Silence now appear--
and cause this song to die!

Other Defenders defeated the remaining members of the Squadron Supreme without as much hoopla. But victory over the Squadron brought the Defenders even greater troubles.

At the end of the #113, the hoard of heroes were left facing an even greater threat in Null—The Living Darkness!

The Nighthawk who accompanied the Defenders on this mission was actually his counterpart from the Squadron Supreme.
Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 113. November 1982. "Moon Madness!" J.M. DeMatteis and Don Perlin (script--co-plotters--breakdowns), Mike Gustovich (finishes), Shelly Leferman (letterer), George Roussos (colorist), Allen Milgrom (editor), Jim Shooter (chief).

Monday, May 4, 2009

Nighthawk Supreme

The Kyle Richmond who joined the Defenders as Nighthawk was a reformed member of the Squadron Sinister (first seen in Avengers #69). As it turned out, Nighthawk and other members of that villainous team had counterparts in the Squadron Supreme, a group of heroes from a parallel dimension (first seen in Avengers #85).

The Kyle Richmonds of both worlds were financial heirs who became leaders of their respective super-teams. But the Nighthawk of the Squadron Supreme attained a level of self-actualization that the Defenders hero never saw.

Instead of drinking a serum to boost his strength, the Nighthawk of Earth-S trained extensively to become an exceptional athlete and crimefighter—even without the benefit of super powers. Whereas the Defenders knew a Kyle Richmond plagued with personal and business frustrations, the ambitious Kyle Richmond of Earth-S became president of the United States.

The Nighthawk of Earth-S truly came into his own as a character during the Squadron Supreme's acclaimed 12-issue series (1985-1986). When his teammates assumed political control of their planet to create a utopia free of crime and poverty, the principled hero resigned in protest.

Opposing such totalitarianism—no matter how well intentioned—Nighthawk organized a group of super-vigilantes to stop the Squadron Supreme. He was one many characters who died in the battle at the end of the series.

The above image of Nighthawk (Earth-S) comes from the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe (deluxe edition).

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Fansite Anniversary

One year ago today I launched this blog by examining the psychology of the Hulk and his involvement with the Defenders (in a post titled For He's a Jolly Green Fellow). That initial post also gave a nod to the Hulk's 2008 film, which I still haven't gotten around to seeing.

That said, now seemed like the right time to discuss why I decided to create a fansite about a persistently overlooked group of heroes.

Truth be told, I found the concept of the non-team confusing when I read my first issues of the Defenders while growing up.

I didn't take a real interest in the series until the roster began to change in the early 1980s. A level of sophistication underlay many Defenders stories from that era. Recurring themes of theology and sexuality caught my attention then and remain captivating today.

As a series, the Defenders had its share of ups and downs. But there was a novel-like quality to the way that many of the storylines unfolded, with intelligent foreshadowing and emotional depth.

Over the past 12 months, this blog has afforded me an opportunity to revisit many favorite issues from my youth, and uncover some classic 1970s tales that I was too young to catch at the time.

In the months ahead, I expect to keep moving forward with posts about the original series and finally give the New Defenders the attention they deserve. There will still be flashbacks to earlier issues and discussions of pertinent crossovers. As I'm discovering, some of the Defenders' best adventures—and most relavent developments—happened in other comic book series.

I'm happy to say that there's still a lot left to cover.

The image at the top comes from Defenders #14, when the early members began to gel as a team.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Who Was Barbara Norriss?

Long before she was physically and mentally restored as one, an ongoing burden faced Valkyrie. She was living in the body of someone else.

The armored adventurer joined the Defenders with her mind mystically bonded to the body of Barbara Norriss, a woman rescued from another dimension, but driven mad by the netherworldly imprisonment (Defenders #3-4).

With no memory of this other woman, and only a general sense of her own self, the spirited Valkyrie found friendship and acceptance among the Defenders.

But there was still one problem. Barbara Norriss was married. And explaining the situation to her husband was an uphill battle (Defenders #21).


Valkyrie: Must I remind you again, Mr. Norriss? This is your wife's body--but I am not your wife. And my name is Valkyrie--not "Barbara." The personality of Barbara Norriss has been submerged 'neath my own by the magic of the Asgardian Enchantress. I am what I am--the woman warrior. The Defender. And you, Mr. Norriss, are a stranger to my eyes and to my heart.

Out of obligation, Valkyrie tried to play the role of wife to Jack Norriss. But he disapproved of her life as a hero, and she did not love him. The feminist subtext played out topically in the 1970s, with Valkyrie symbolic of a woman forging her own identity amidst social expectations to be someone she was not.

Because of the fragmented nature of her psyche—with the madness of Barbara Norriss and the manipulative intentions of the Enchantress in the mix—Valkyrie often swung her sword when men behaved chauvinistically, only to second-guess her rash behavior afterward.

The inner conflict came to a head in Defenders #64. While fighting a minor villain named Joe the Gorilla, Valkyrie began to hallucinate that all of the nearby Defenders for a Day were Norse trolls. When she realized what had happened, Valkyrie knew she could not continue this way.

An initial trip to Asgard seemed to remedy the situation, with the mind of Barbara Norriss resting safely in Asgard and Valkyrie returning to Earth (Defenders #66-68). But not until Defenders #109 was Valkyrie back in her own body, with her full sense of identity intact.

Along with peace of mind, Valkyrie also gained more strength. The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe (1983) ranked Valkyrie with the power to lift 45 tons (in her restored Asgardian body).

Though not precisely recorded, her strength level in the human body of Barbara Norriss was much less than that.

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