Dedicated to the definitive superhero non-team.


Friday, December 24, 2010

To Thine Own Self Be True

Of all the evil mutants the Defenders faced, Mandrill seemed the most driven by vengeance. As Mandrill described it, the torment he experienced as a child justified his criminal objectives.

Unusual appearance notwithstanding, Mandrill's mutant pheromones enabled him to enslave a Fem-Force army of women. The women of the Defenders were just as susceptible to the intoxicating effects, turning them against their own teammates (Defenders #90).

Hulk: Why does Valkyrie fight against Hulk? Valkyrie is Hulk's friend!
Valkyrie: Bumbling brute! Such as yourself could never be a friend of the Valkyrie! Stand away, or feel the sting of my blade, Dragonfang!
Hulk: Hulk doesn't understand--but if Valkyrie wants to hurt Hulk … Hulk will have to hurt Valkyrie.

Even with such chaos underfoot, the battle against Mandrill and his Fem-Force revealed how much the Defenders had come together as team.
  • Hulk remained calm under pressure. When a mind-controlled Valkyrie drew her sword at the Hulk, he tried to reason with her before fighting.
  • Valkyrie outgrew her allegory. Early incarnations of Valkyrie were decidedly feminist clichés (Avengers #83; Incredible Hulk #142). Seeing the character mind-controlled to join the one-dimensional Fem-Force showed how far removed Valkyrie of the Defenders truly was from such caricatures.
  • Hellcat honed her psychokinesis. Despite her inability to control her psionic abilities since learning of them in Avengers #151, Hellcat successfully used the paranormal Shadow Cloak she acquired in Defenders #60 when attacking the women under Mandrill's command.
  • Nighthawk lived up to his position as leader. After noticing that an electrical shock could free someone from the Mandrill's mental hold, Nighthawk used his resources at Richmond Industries to develop a bracelet that would emit an electrical pulse to protect against the villain's hypnotic power (Defenders #91).
  • Daredevil returned! After several guest appearances as attorney Matt Murdock, the man without fear returned in costume to accompany the non-team during this adventure.

Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 90. December 1980. "Mind Over Mandrill!" Ed Hannigan (writer), Don Perlin and Pablo Marcos (artists), Diana Albers (letterer), George Roussos (colorist), Al Milgrom (editor), Jim Shooter (final arbiter).
Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 91. January 1981. "Defiance." Ed Hannigan (story), Don Perlin and Pablo Marcos (art), Diana Albers (lettering), George Roussos (coloring), Al Milgrom (editing), Jim Shooter (ed-in-chief).

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Secret Origins of the Headmen

Three of the four criminals who would later form the Headmen first appeared in tales published in science-fiction and suspense anthologies. Those cerebral stories ran as reprints in Weird World Tales #7 (December 1974).

Dr. Arthur Nagan led a group of aging men on a jungle expedition in the story titled "It Walks Erect!" Building on his prior research, Nagan exchanged internal organs from each of the men with those of a captured gorilla. The procedure made the men feel young and vigorous while greatly weakening the ape. As a form of retaliation, a group of gorillas attacked Nagan and placed his head on the body of an ape, turning him into a Gorilla-Man.

Before ever becoming Shrunken Bones, Jerry Morgan was a scientist with big ambitions. But when not even his step-brother believed in him, Jerry threw out the experimental vapor he'd been developing. In irony of ironies, step-brother Sam happened to walk through the cloud of Cellular Shrinkage Vapor. Inadvertently reduced to a few inches in height, Sam Morgan was a "Prisoner of the Fantastic Fog."

The mysterious Chondu attracted his share of critics early on when speaking of the powers of the mind. But he proved the nay-sayers wrong, and even acted heroically, in his debut adventure titled "The Wrath of Chondu!" When an escaped convict threatened to murder Chondu on the street, the mentalist made the criminal's gun vanish—then mystically banished the crook to limbo.

"It Walks Erect!" originally appeared in Mystery Tales #21 (Sept. 1954).
"Prisoner of the Fantastic Fog" first appeared in World of Fantasy #11 (April 1958).
"The Wrath of Chondu!" originally ran in Tales of Suspense #9 (May 1960).

Monday, December 13, 2010

Primates

If Beast had been a member of the Defenders during their skirmishes with the Headmen, he most certainly would have exchanged barbs with Gorilla-Man.

While the face of Arthur Nagan (Gorilla-Man) looked nothing like Henry McCoy (Beast), from the neck down Gorilla-Man bore a striking resemblance to Beast, after further mutation added fur to the hero's already ape-like anatomy (Amazing Adventures #11).
The above portrait of Gorilla-Man first appeared in The Official Guide of the Marvel Universe. Beast's profile image from that edition appears with the post titled Beast: The Intellectual Unconventional.
Amazing Adventures. Vol. 2. No. 11. March 1972. "The Beast!" Stan Lee (editor), Gerry Conway (scripter), Tom Sutton (artist), Syd Shores (inker), Sam Rosen (letterer).

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Four Heads Are Better Than One

The four criminal geniuses known collectively as the Headmen were a group of super-villains the Defenders could truly call their own.

In their first major storyline, the Headmen kidnapped Nighthawk (Defenders #32) and abducted Dr. Strange, Hulk, and Valkyrie as part of a twisted plot to swop minds and bodies (Defenders #33). Although the other Defenders escaped intact, Nighthawk required surgery to place his brain back inside his head (Defenders #35).

With their plans foiled, the Headmen to turned against each other. Known for their distinct appearances, Shrunken Bones, Gorilla-Man, and Ruby Thursday experimented on their teammate, Chondu the Mystic. The operation changed Chondu from the most conventional looking member of the Headmen to the strangest of them all.

  • A horn protruded from his forehead.
  • His teeth became fangs.
  • His tongue was that of a serpent.
  • Clusters of lampreys replaced his arms.
  • Crimson bat-wings spread from his back.
  • His legs ended in knife-sharp talons.

Chondu was so horrified when he awoke to discover his altered form that he went berserk.

Reading between the lines, the villain's magical influence might explain why the police arrested Valkyrie for using excessive force when apprehending Chondu. Any bias against Valkyrie was short-lived, however. After Valkyrie broke out of jail (#39) a judge dismissed all charges against her (#40).
Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 33. March 1975. "Webbed Hands, Warm Heart!" Steve Gerber (story), Sal Buscema (layouts), Jim Mooney (finished art), Annette K. (letterer), Phil. R. (colorist), Marv Wolfman (editor).
Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 35. May 1975. "Bring Back My Body to Me, To Me…!" Steve Gerber (writer), Sal Buscema and Klaus Janson (artists), John Costanza (letterer), Petra Goldberg (colorist), Marv Wolfman (editor).

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Flame On!

Before Spider-Man became the regular headliner, Marvel Team-Up often gave the Human Torch top billing instead. Two of the issues with Johnny Storm are of special interest to the Defenders.

While on the lookout for a villain with temperature powers, Human Torch saw Iceman in the area. Jumping to the wrong conclusion, the Torch tried to apprehend the mutant hero. The battle of fire against ice was reaching a stalemate when the other X-Men arrived and cleared up the misunderstanding. Human Torch and Iceman then joined forced against Equinox, a criminal with hot and cold powers (Marvel Team-Up #23, coinciding with events in (Defenders #15-16).

When an evil spirit took possession of his friend Wyatt Wingfoot, the Human Torch enlisted the help of demonologist Daimon Hellstrom. After ridding the spirit from Wingfoot's body, an over-zealous Hellstrom announced plans to kill Wyatt Wingfoot just the same. The Human Torch intervened, of course. And though his flame powers were little match against the "soulfire" of Daimon Hellstrom, the fight lasted just long enough for the Son of Satan to come to his senses instead of committing murder (Marvel Team-Up #32).

Even when Hellstrom used his mystical talents for good, those powers were nevertheless evil in nature—and could get the best of him. (This was particularly true early in his career, and it explained Hellstrom's initial reluctance to assist the Defenders in Giant-Size Defenders #2.)

Marvel Team-Up. Vol. 1. No. 123. July 1974. "The Might of the Frozen Inferno." Len Wein (writer), Gil Kane (artist), Mike Esposito (inker), Glynis Wein (colorist), C. Jetter (letterer), Roy Thomas (editor).
Marvel Team-Up. Vol. 1. No. 132. April 1975. "All the Fires in Hell…!" Gerry Conway (author), Sal Buscema and Vince Colletta (artists), Artie Simek (letterer), Janice Cohen (colorist), Len Wein (editor).

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Visions of Valkyrie

Of all the examples of similar cover designs throughout the course of the Defenders, the most deserving instances of parallelism honored turning points for Valkyrie.

Defenders #4 marked the introduction of Valkyrie into the team. With the horse Aragorn at her command, there was no mistaking this Valkyrie (Barbara Norriss) for the previous incarnations of the character. Defenders #66 appropriately reworked the cover layout to reintroduce Valkyrie during a milestone trip to Asgard (where she left the troubled mind of Barbara Norriss behind).


#130 wasn't a landmark issue for Valkyrie, but the striking surrealism of the cover conveys her depth of character just the same.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Meanwhile...

During my dry spells from updating the Defenders Fansite, I spent my free time this past year writing two adventure modules for Villains and Vigilantes, a superhero role-playing game similar to Dungeons and Dragons.

Villains and Vigilantes was popular during the 1980s, and Fantasy Games Unlimited began publishing a new round of materials for the game system in 2010. Of the new products, Enter the Gene Pool and Escape from the Micro-Universe (with its built-in sequel titled Return to the Micro-Universe) are the modules I wrote. As one of my friends noted, writing this blog was probably good preparation for creating those adventures.

Enter the Gene Pool introduces a new group of supervillains, along with some supporting characters with different perspectives on superheroes. The cover pictures the villains of the Gene Pool: Professor Phylum (in back), Invisible Menace, Drifter, Serenade, Roadkill, Persephone, and Sunscar.

The cover of Escape from the Micro-Universe shows three sample heroes shrinking through the subatomic barrier that separates our standard universe from the micro-universe of the game. The adventure pits the heroes against a horde of dangerous foes who threaten Earth.

James Bishop illustrated both adventures.

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