Dedicated to the definitive superhero non-team.


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).

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