Dedicated to the definitive superhero non-team.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

Unhappily Ever After

Married life is seldom easy for superheroes. Just ask Patsy Walker and Daimon Hellstrom. Following their wedding, the couple tried to lead a "normal" life as paranormal investigators and sometime-superheroes. But existing without his darksoul since Defenders #120 eventually took its toll on the so-called Son of Satan, as told in the protagonist's solo series titled Hellstorm: Prince of Lies.

With Daimon on the brink of death, Patsy bargained with her malevolent father-in-law to restore Daimon to health—darksoul and all. Her traumatic dealings with the netherworld left Patsy catatonic for an extended period of time (Hellstorm #3). Former teammate Gargoyle stayed in the Hellstrom household, acting as a caregiver to Patsy and a butler to Daimon.

Concern that Daimon had slipped into a state of moral debauchery prompted a visit from Dr. Strange in Hellstorm #2. On the subject of debauchery, the series also revived Daimon's sister, Satana.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Preferred Customer

During a visit last month to a bookstore where I buy new comics and back issues, the owner noticed that my Preferred Customer Discount Card was well worn and asked if I wanted a new one. Given to regular customers, the card provides 10% off most purchases. My card carried an expiration date of 12-31-07 (a few months before I started writing this blog), so it had its share of use. Since the store staff still honored the card, it seemed unnecessary to get a new one. If anything, the frayed card was a fond reminder of the years I've frequented that particular store.

When I stopped in earlier this week, the owner again pointed out that my card was badly worn and suggested giving me a new one. Since replacing my card seemed like a priority to him, I accepted the offer. In comic book lingo, my old card was in Fair condition. The new one is in Near Mint condition right now. The new card has an expiration date of 12-31-13. But as I learned, it really expires when the owner insists I get a new one.

Monday, December 16, 2013

… Try, Try Again

To save the Earth from annihilation, Wolverine went back through time to kill Henry Pym before he could build the artificial intelligence called Ultron (Age of Ultron #6). Accompanied by the Invisible Woman of the Fantastic Four, Wolverine arrived as Pym (then Goliath) originally examined the artificial construct known as Dragon Man (circa Avengers #41).

Following Pym's death, Wolverine and Invisible Woman returned to the present. But the divergent timeline that unfolded was no better than the apocalyptic reality they had hoped to prevent (Age of Ultron #7).

Led by Dr. Strange, the Defenders on this grizzled Earth included Thing, Star-Lord (from the Guardians of the Galaxy), Captain Marvel (formerly Wasp), Cable (formerly Cyclops), Hulk (with the mind of Bruce Banner), Colonel America (formerly Captain America), and Wolverine. The group operated out of Defenders Sanctorum (Age of Ultron #8), also referred to as Defenders Headquarters (Fearless Defenders #4AU).

In yet another time-travel attempt, Wolverine went back to stop himself from assassinating Pym. This time, Wolverine suggested that Pym follow through with his idea to build Ultron yet add a time-release program to prevent Ultron from one day devastating the world (Age of Ultron #9).

I would have liked to have seen more of the Defenders from this alternate reality before the timeline was more-or-less restored.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Age of Doom

When read outside the Age of Ultron crossover event, the Fearless Defenders tie-in issue held up as a stand-alone story just the same—with the heroes in an alternate reality addressing the threat of Dr. Doom.

Even in the company of Hippolyta (a.k.a. Warrior Woman), the Defenders in this divergent timeline had little connection to the all-female team appearing regularly in the Fearless Defenders series. Instead, the Defenders featured in this issue were Hulk, Wolverine, and Colonel America (Captain America with an eyepatch).

Fearless Defenders. No. 4AU. July 2013. On the cover, Hippolyta held up a decapitated Doombot, not the head of the real Dr. Doom. The pages inside revealed that Dr. Doom was the father of criminal mastermind Carolyn Le Fay. Her mother was legendary sorceress Morgan Le Fay.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Kissing Bandit

Feeling unlucky in love, Hawkeye set his eyes on Valkyrie during their short time working together as Defenders. Although he knew Valkyrie was emotionally volatile at the moment, the archer took a chance by initiating an impromptu kiss. When Valkyrie lashed out in return, Hawkeye reasoned that her lingering identity crisis was to blame (Defenders #9).

Later working as a security guard at Cross Technological Enterprises, Hawkeye lost further credibility as a casanova by forcibly kissing the villain Deathbird after apprehending her. With her arms bound by a titanium-steel net, Deathbird could not avoid his unwelcome lips (Avengers #189).

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Woman Scorned

MODOK, the super-intelligent leader of A.I.M. (Advanced Idea Mechanics) was so convinced that an encounter with the Hulk was inevitable that he decided to create a monster strong enough to defeat the green goliath. The plan required a test subject who was easily susceptible to hypnosis and who had built up enough tolerance to gamma radiation to survive the experiment.

Betty Ross had carried a torch for Bruce Banner long after learning about his transformation into the Hulk. Only after the world thought Hulk was dead did she agree to marry Maj. Glenn Talbot. Soon after the world discovered that Hulk was still alive, Glenn went missing on a military operation. At this time, MODOK turned the emotionally conflicted Betty into the green and powerful Harpy (Incredible Hulk #168).

Firing self-described Hellbolts, Harpy all but killed the Hulk. As Bruce Banner, the hero successfully reversed MODOK's experiment and restored Betty to normal the next issue.

Venturing into Hulk's psyche, Dr. Strange, Sub-Mariner, and Tunnelworld native Aeroika fought a facsimile of Harpie and other antagonists of the Hulk in Defenders #83.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Going Nova

Fearless Defenders #12 marked an abrupt end to the series as Frankie Raye, a former herald of Galactus, became the eighth (or ninth) member of the team. Along with Valkyrie (now physically and mentally linked to archaeologist Annabelle Riggs), the other Defenders in the series were Misty Knight, Dani Moonstar, Hippolyta, Clea, Elsa Bloodstone, and novice crimefighter Ren Kimura.

Introduced in the pages of the Fantastic Four, Frankie Raye initially had powers in keeping with the Human Torch.
As a herald of Galactus, she took the name Nova and gained cosmic powers on par with the Silver Surfer.
Frankie Raye should not be confused with Richard Rider (a.k.a. The Man Called Nova) from prior incarnations of the Defenders

Friday, November 29, 2013

The World of Mutant X

The Mutant X series found Havok trapped in a parallel world where many of Earth's heroes suffered a fate far more tragic than their counterparts experienced in the mainstream Marvel Universe.

The group of heroes who formed the Defenders on that alternate Earth consisted of a cybernetic Stingray, a female Yellowjacket, a version of Doc Samson with green skin/hair, and a cryptic Dr. Strange with an affinity for the Nexus of All Realities (Mutant X '99 Annual). After the other Defenders perished while battling the powerful entity known as the Beyonder, Dr. Strange orchestrated a plan to send Havok back to the reality he called home (Mutant X #32).

This panel from Mutant X '99 Annual shows Havok's decision not to join the newly formed Defenders.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Wonder Mania

Soon after she joined the Defenders, Hellcat dropped by Avengers Mansion for an unannounced visit. Letting herself in with the electronic passkey she had received as an Avengers trainee, Hellcat found that the only one home was Wonder Man (Defenders #47).

Since the two heroes had never met, Wonder Man reacted to Hellcat as though she were a dangerous intruder. Fighting ensued and then intensified when Valkyrie and Moon Knight came to Hellcat's aid. The skirmish ended when Hellcat accessed the Avengers computer records to prove to Wonder Man that was was in fact welcome at Avengers Mansion.

Wonder Man later allied with the Defenders in battle against an evil sorcerer seeking revenge against Devil-Slayer. This was Beast's first adventure with the non-team, and it was his idea that Dr. Strange ask Wonder Man to tag along (Defenders #104).

Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 47. May 1977. "Night Moves!" John Warner (guest scripted), Keith Griffen & Klaus Janson (artists), David Kraft & Roger Slifer (plot), John Costanza (letters), Archie Goodwin (editor).
Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 104. February 1982. "Yesterday Never Dies!" DeMatteis (story), Perlin & Sinnott (art), Milgrom (edits), Albers (letters), Roussos (colors), Shooter (was here).

Monday, November 18, 2013

Dazzled

Hellcat and Valkyrie were at a nightclub listening to the singer Dazzler when all three of them were teleported away for the Contest of Champions. At the time, Dazzler was still getting accustomed to her own superhuman powers and served as a reluctant hero.

After the world learned the Dazzler was a mutant, the ostracized performer crossed paths with Beast while he was vacationing in Hollywood. Set during the run of the New Defenders, the Beauty and the Beast limited series showed Beast's concern not only for Dazzler but for the well-being of all mutant-kind.

Although Dazzler accepted Beast's emotional support during their four-part adventure, she largely ignored his romantic overtures until finally suggesting that they go their separate ways.

Ann Nocenti wrote the Beauty and the Beast limited series from 1985.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Symptoms

Feeling uncharacteristically under the weather, Spider-Man dropped by the home of Dr. Strange for a magical check-up. The master of the mystic arts diagnosed that Spider-Man's dizzy spells and upset stomach were signs of fowl play connected to the reptile cult they faced in Marvel Team-up #111.

In their investigation, Dr. Strange and Spider-Man joined forces with Scarlet Witch and Thing to overthrow at plot at Project: PEGASUS (Potential Energy Group/Alternate Sources/United States), where the metaphysical Serpent Crown had seized control of the hero Quasar and the entire research facility.

Marvel Team-Up Annual. Vol. 1. No. 5. 1982. "Serpent Rising." Mark Gruenwald (script), Jim Mooney (embellishment), Diana Albers (letters), Bob Sharen (colors), Tom DeFalco (editor), Jim Sooter (editor-in-chief).

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Counterparts

Notable episodes of the Justice League Unlimited animated series gave a nod to the Defenders by banding together a handful of DC characters with parallels to the earliest members of Marvel's non-team.

The two-part episode "The Terror Beyond" featured an unlikely alliance among Dr. Fate, Aquaman, and Solomon Grundy (acting as Dr. Strange, Sub-Mariner, and Hulk), as well as Hawkgirl. A sequel episode titled "Wake the Dead" reunited the group with the addition of the android A.M.A.Z.O. (standing in for Silver Surfer).

As a weaponed warrior with wings, Hawkgirl worked as a counterpart for both Valkyrie and Nighthawk. Solomon Grundy even referred to Hawkgirl as "Bird-Nose" (aping Hulk's nickname for Nighthawk). The irony, of course, is that Nighthawk was designed as an homage to Batman in the Squadron Sinister and later Squadron Supreme (Marvel's looking-glass version of the Justice League).

Also of interest, when the Defenders faced the Squadron Supreme (Defenders #113), Valkyrie proved evenly matched against Power Princess (the Squadron's homage to Wonder Woman). Power levels notwithstanding, Valkyrie's origin as a female warrior from Norse mythology made her similar to Wonder Woman (an Amazon tied to Roman mythology).

Hawkgirl, incidentally, did not have a direct counterpart in the Squadron Supreme, but a member of that group called Cap'n Hawk was an homage to Hawkman.

This image of Valkyrie vs. Power Princess comes from Defenders #113.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Tag Cloud

Like many blogs, this fansite features a Tag Cloud of labels for searching content (in the purple column on the right). The panel shown here from New Defenders #127 looked like a fitting image to place there as well.

No longer a pawn of the Secret Empire (#123), Cloud came to the Defenders for help. Gargoyle and Valkyrie were suspicious of Cloud's motives at first, but Moondragon knew they could trust her.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Mind Games

A story idea originally kept on hold for a possible fill-in issue of Volume 2 of the Defenders eventually saw the light of day as Defenders: From the Marvel Vault (September 2011).

A curse from the magician Yandroth seemed to transplant the minds of four college students into the bodies of Sub-Mariner, Silver Surfer, Hulk, and Dr. Strange. Making reference to dungeon-crawls and random-encounter tables, the four suspected they were playing a surreal game and that the Defenders were their avatars.

While inhabiting the physical selves of the Defenders, each of the four experienced situations that tugged at the emotions.

  • Sub-Mariner (Jerry) reunited with his lost love Dorma on a version of the Earth where the surface world was submerged underwater.
  • Silver Surfer (Tyler) reunited with romantic interest Shalla-Bal while retaining the power to explore the cosmos.
  • Hulk (Ramona Fischer) discovered that the Abomination and other long-time enemies now wanted to be Hulk's friend.
  • Dr. Strange (Morgan Nicholls) felt the wisdom of eternity.

The foursome deduced that they were in fact trapped in a dream-like reality, and Dr. Strange finally returned things to normal with these magic words:

Winds of Watcomb,
embrave you this power,
Sweep through the cosmos,
where'er life doth flower!
Find you the kinsmen of
these that did roam.
Then loft up their fellows, and transport them … home!

Kurt Busiek wrote this story "Mind Games" more-or-less from a plot by Fabian Nicieza.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Creative Conjuring

A magazine article in Dragon #100 discussed three categories of energy that fueled magical powers within the Marvel Super Heroes role-playing game.

  • Personal energies allow magicians to cast illusions or use psionics, such as telepathy, astral projection, and mental attacks.
  • Universal energies are necessary to fire magic bolts, transform one object into another, dispel magic, or acquire knowledge through divination.
  • Dimensional energies come into play when summoning otherworldly creatures, creating objects out of nothing, or raising the dead.

This magical taxonomy wasn't explicit within the comics. For example, Dr. Strange might invoke the name of Dormammu or other extra-dimensional beings when wielding magic that the game described as using Personal or Universal energies instead of Dimensional energies.

To prevent sorcerers from becoming disproportionately more powerful than other heroes in the game, the article set parameters around the number of magical powers they could wield within each of the three categories.

This image of Dr. Strange appeared with the article "Creative Conjuring" by Eric Walker in Dragon #100 (August 1985).

Monday, October 7, 2013

Nebulon: By Popular Demand

"The MARVEL-Phile" column in Dragon magazine complemented the Marvel Super Heroes role-playing game from the 1980s by providing ability ranks and power descriptions for comic book heroes and villains. Dragon #163 included a game conversion for Nebulon, a quintessential foe of the Defenders.

The well-researched column noted how Nebulon jumped from a modest Popularity score to Monstrous worldwide popularity as head of the Celestial Mind Control Movement).

The section on Nebulon's powers detailed the game mechanics that might cause the shape-shifting Nebulon to revert back into his six-tentacled true form.

Lastly, the section on the character's history alerted readers that including Nebulon in a game adventure would require explaining how the would-be world conquerer survived his apparent death (Avengers Annual #11).

The above image of Nebulon appeared in Dragon #163 (November 1990). That issue also provided game information about the villain Solarr, a member of the Emissaries of Evil from Defenders #42-43.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Tigra, the Were-Woman!

Greer Grant had been the costumed heroine known as Cat for only a short while when agents of HYDRA set out to kidnap Dr. Tumolo, the scientist responsible for giver her superhuman powers (Giant-Size Creatures #1).

While protecting her mentor from HYDRA, Cat was shot in the back by a pistol that fired alpha radiation. The heroine was doomed to die unless she received help from a hidden society of Cat People. Combining science and magic, the Cat People cured Greer Grant by transforming her into Tigra.

Back on the tails of HYDRA, she encountered Jack Russell in his alter ego as Werewolf by Night. Regarding the fur-coated female as a kindred spirit, the Werewolf helped Tigra.

To stop the evil organization from learning the secrets of the Cat People, Dr. Tumolo exposed the agents of HYDRA to a modern dose of the Black Plague.

Within the issue, a column by editor Roy Thomas addressed how changes in the Comics Code beginning in 1971 now made room for werewolves and vampires, which were banned under the original version of code from 1954.

Roy Thomas ended the column with the following remarks concerning the billing of Tigra, the Were-Woman!

One final footnote: Yes, we know that the Germanic word "were" actually means "man"—so that the term "were-woman" is actually something of a misnomer. However, in everyday parlance, people have come to attach the prefix "were-" to something when they want to indicate an element of lycanthropy—so we've no real fear of being misunderstood. But, for those linguistic experts out there in Marvelland, we just had to et you know that we do read things besides comic-mags.
Honest, we do.
Giant-Size Creatures. Vol. 1. No. 1. July 1974. "Tigra, the Were-Woman!" Tony Isabella (writer), Don Perlin (artist), Vince Colletta (inker), Artie Simek (letterer), P. Goldberg (colorer), Roy Thomas (editor).

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Old Mutants

Fearless Defenders #9 featured several male heroes who were one-time romantic interests of the female members of the team. In the mix, Sam Guthrie (better known as Cannonball) found himself caught in a love triangle with Danielle Moonstar (who was affiliated with this fearless version of the Defenders since #3).

Sporting their original yellow-and-black school uniforms, the likenesses of Cannonball and Moonstar appeared in New Defenders #129, when the Secret Empire forced the New Defenders to (appear to) battle the five earliest members of the New Mutants at Charles Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. Though only a mental illusion, the sequence nonetheless illustrated how poorly the teenage heroes fared against the relatively seasoned members of the New Defenders.

With the passage of time, of course, the original New Mutants have long been experienced enough and capable enough to hold their ground.

This image comes from the opening page of New Defenders #129 (March 1984), published three decades before Fearless Defenders #9 (Nov. 2013).

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Hard-Rock Heroes

With unique stage costumes and face makeup to mask their identities, Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley, and Peter Criss of the rock band KISS became comic book heroes in Marvel Comics Super Special #1 (1977).

The foursome gained their super-powers from the Box of Khyscz, which held mystical properties understood by a man identified as Dizzy.

At the Sanctum Santorum, Dizzy met with Dr. Strange and a group of the Defenders consisting of Daredevil, Nighthawk, Valkyrie, Son of Satan, Hulk, and Red Guardian. The Defenders, along with other established super teams, decided not to intervene as the members of KISS embarked on an inter-dimensional adventure that pitted them against Dr. Doom.

KISS returned in Marvel Comics Super Special #5 (1978). This go-around the group encountered the infamous Elf with a Gun while entering the Land of Leftovers, where symbolic figures of the 1960s lived out that decade indefinitely.

Stever Gerber wrote Marvel Comics Super Special #1 and #5 after his tenure as writer of the Defenders.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Valhalla Can Wait

Slain by Valkyrie (a.k.a. the Doom Maiden of Rage in Fearless Defenders #6), archaeologist Annabelle Riggs would spend her afterlife among the honored dead in Valhalla. Whereas others might have felt at home, Riggs felt out of place and despondent among the Norse warriors who too died in combat.

Back to her senses, Valkyrie sought to remedy the predicament by asking a favor of an old friend. Would Clea magically return Riggs to the land of the living? Though sympathetic, the sorceress was reluctant to interfere with matters of life and death. She warned Valkyrie that such a request would come at a cost (#7).

As a result of the sorcery, Valkyrie could dematerialize to allow Riggs to return in her place (and vice versa). But the two women could not exist at the same time (#8). Having previously shared her existence with Samantha Parrington and Barbara Norriss, Valkyrie was undoubtedly prepared to make this sacrifice.

Written by Cullen Bunn and illustrated by by Stephanie Hans, the above scene comes from Fearless Defenders #7, the strongest issue of the new series.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Avid Reading

While settling into my new home this month, I decided to move my comics out of their customary long boxes and into a barrister bookcase. Rearranging my collection drew attention to the handful of back issues I inadvertently purchased twice over the years, including Avengers #188.

My favorite scene from that issue involved Scarlet Witch firing a hex bolt to jar Beast away from reading through a book of Darkhold, which the Avengers previously confiscated from Modred the Mystic.

Scarlet Witch: I--I'm sorry, Hank, but there are traps in tomes such as this -- passages phrased so as to subtly ensure the unwary in a dark web of evil!
Beast: Frankly, Scarlet, a simple "Hank, please refrain" would have sufficed! But if you want to hog the only bedtime reading on this barque, be my guest. Just don't complain when I shed all over your cape.
Avengers. Vol. 1. No. 188. October 1979. "Elementary, Dear Avengers." Bill Mantlo (guest-scripter), John Byrne, Dan Green & Frank Springer (artists), Gaspar (letters), Sharen (colors), Jim Shooter (plotter/guest editor/chief).
Other issues that I bought twice include Defenders 98, 102, 112, 117, 122, 123, and New Defenders 126, 129.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Raven

The final scene from Fearless Defenders #6 featured criminal mastermind Caroline Le Fay reviewing images of super-villains up for consideration as Doom Maidens. Looking over her shoulder was the subservient Mr. Raven.

Seeing that one of the most prominent pictures in the rogues' gallery was of the shape-changing Mystique (real name Raven Darkholme), I couldn't help but wonder if Mr. Raven might in fact be Mystique playing the part of second-banana in disguise.

Fearless Defenders #6 was written by Cullen Bunn and illustrated by Will Sliney.

Monday, June 17, 2013

More Coming Attractions

Building on the popularity of an earlier post about Coming Attractions, here are additional teasers from the pages of Marvel Age.

Marvel Age #3 (June 1983):

  • DEFENDERS #123—Written by J.M. DeMATTEIS. Pencils by DON PERLIN. Doctor Strange, the Silver Surfer, and the Submariner are trapped in time and must relive the most traumatic points in their lives—and this time they might not survive.

Marvel Age #9 (December 1983):
  • DEFENDERS #129—It's the beginning of the end of the Secret Empire Saga, as the New Defenders—aided and abetted by Cloud and the mysterious Seraph—try to stop Professor Power's plans to topple both the United States and the USSR! It's not as simple as it sounds, though—not when the New Defenders must also battle the New Mutants—sort of! "Countdown" is written by J.M. DeMatteis, penciled by Don Perlin, and inked by Kim DeMulder.

Marvel Age #23 (February 1985):
  • THE DEFENDERS #141—Just when the Defenders had totally forgotten them, the gamma ray spores seen in issue #132 are back—and have spread into everything! If the spores cannot be stopped, they will destroy the Defenders! "All Flesh is Grass!" written Peter B. Gillis, penciled by Don Perlin and inked by Kim DeMulder. 60¢.

Marvel Age #26 (May 1985):
  • THE NEW DEFENDERS #144—The evil Dark Dragon offered her almost limitless power—and Moondragon took it! Now she's a rampaging emissary of evil whose first task is to slay her friends, the Defenders! "Dragon Midnight!" written by Peter B. Gillis, penciled by Don Perlin and inked by Kim DeMulder. 65¢.

Marvel Age #32 (November 1985):
  • THE NEW DEFENDERS #150The New Defenders are in space. The galaxy destroying Star Thief is why. Even with the help of The Cosmic Cube and the aliens Moe, Larry, Curly, and Shemp, will the New Defenders be able to stop him? "The Stars in Their Courses" is written by Peter B. Gillis, penciled by Don Perlin and inked by Randy Emberlin and Alan Kupperberg. A double-sized issue! $1.25.
The image of Moondragon's attack against Valkyrie in New Defenders #144 also appeared in the Coming Attractions section Marvel Age #26.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Return of Mimic

Of all the explanations for a character cheating death, the revival of Cal Rankin was among the most impressive.

With his ability to absorb the powers of super-beings spiraling dangerously out of control, Cal Rankin (Mimic) went into hiding in a secluded area of Canada. Seeking a cure for his predicament, he enlisted the scientific know-how of Henry McCoy (Beast).

Escaping from authorities, Hulk leapt through Canada and crashed into the log cabin where Mimic was staying. In fighting off the green goliath, Beast noticed that Hulk seemed far weaker than usual, as Mimic was draining the strength Hulk originally acquired from exposure to gamma radiation. But instead of turning green and becoming more powerful himself, Mimic grew ill from radiation poisoning. The issue ended with Mimic left for dead (Incredible Hulk #161).

On the trail of the monstrous Wendigo (who first battled Hulk in #162), Wolverine originally appeared in Incredible Hulk #180-181 as a super-powered agent of the Canadian government.

In an amazing twist of fate, Marvel Comics Presents #59 surmised that because Wolverine was already in the general vicinity at the time, Mimic survived by inadvertently duplicating Wolverine's mutant healing factor and physical traits.

 
The top panel comes from Incredible Hulk #161.
The version of Mimic who appeared in the Exiles had an altogether different fate as a member of the Defenders.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Greatly Exaggerated

The closing pages of New Defenders #152 found Angel, Iceman, and Beast mourning several teammates who had turned to ash. Disbanding the Defenders, the threesome joined with other original X-Men to form the group X-Factor.

Imagine Beast's surprise when he later crossed paths with Andromeda, one of the New Defenders he thought was dead. During her short time with that team, Andromeda initially hid the fact that she was a native of Atlantis. But why was she so guarded about her past? Because, as she disclosed to Beast at last, Andromeda's father was the Atlantean warlord Attuma. Andromeda still did not explain to Beast how she astonishingly was alive (X-Factor Annual #4).

 
X-Factor Annual. Vol. 1. No. 4. 1989. "I Just Go Down to the Sea Again…" John Byrne (story and pictures), Walter Simonson (embellishment), Jim Novak (lettering), Tom Vincent (coloring), Bob Harras (editing), Tom DeFalco (down the hall, turn left).
The Defenders initially battled the forces of Attuma in Defenders #8. The non-team later faced Attuma in Fear Itself: The Deep.
The top panel comes from New Defenders #152. This image of Andromeda in her natural blue form appeared in The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Ruffled Feathers

Angel's decision to accompany Beast and Iceman in Defenders #125 turned the non-team into a partial revival of the original X-Men. And that's exactly what Angel wanted.

Before joining the New Defenders, Angel tried renewing his involvement with the mutant team. Yet beginning with X-Men #137, the high-flying Angel was uncharacteristically careless and klutzy when working alongside the "new" X-Men who largely replaced the original team in #94.

Though initially depicted as out of practice, that wasn't the full story. Rather, any beginner's mistakes on Angel's part resulted from him feeling ill-at-ease among the reconfigured team. A disapproving attitude toward Wolverine, and shock that the X-Men would tolerate anyone with such homicidal tendencies within their ranks, led Angel to again fly the coup in #148. Professor Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters no longer felt like home.

The above image comes from from Uncanny X-Men #148 (August 1981).

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Recollections

In the five years since I started this blog, this is the first time I've felt prompted to mention Free Comic Book Day. Available Saturday, May 4, 2013, one of this year's titles is a sampling of work by authors Jonathan Kellerman and Louis L'Amour. The free offering brings back a memory from my early years reading comics.

While growing up, I occasionally perused a secondhand bookstore in my neighborhood that also sold back issues of comic books. One summer around the time I was in junior high, the owner of the shop started up a conversation with me by saying I looked like someone who spent a lot of time at the library. He then asked if I would be willing to do some research for him by reading through the neighborhood library's microfiche catalog and writing down every entry for Louis L'Amour. The shop owner was a fan of L'Amour's westerns and said he would pay me for the legwork.

In all honesty, I actually did like going to the library on my own. But I felt self-conscious that I came across that way. So even though I had the time, I declined the offer. In retrospect, I wish I had said yes.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Anatomy Lessons

 

Reading comics in my formative years, two issues of the Defenders particularly drew my attention to the body types of the characters.

This image of Valkyrie, Hellcat, and Red Guardian from the closing page of Defenders #44 was the first time I noticed different breast sizes among super-heroines.

It goes without saying that Hulk is more muscular than the average hero. But I remember thinking how his super-developed torso on the cover of Defenders #87 looked like a face.

Both of these examples invariably say more about my age at the time I first read these issues than the artwork itself.

 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Belonging

The most moving, truly unique story of the year! So said a cover blurb on Marvel Team-Up #119. The issue itself paired Spider-Man with Gargoyle in a tale about aging and mortality. Gargoyle came to accept that, even in the body of a demon, he could do good in the world.

By this point, Marvel Team-Up had become supplemental reading for fans of the Defenders. The friendly neighborhood Spider-Man had co-starred in recent issues with Valkyrie (#116), Devil-Slayer (#111), and Nighthawk (#101).

In spite of his adventures with various Defenders, the web-slinger explained to Gargoyle why he himself didn't belong in the non-team (#119).

Spider-Man: Whipping across the dimensions--fighting the Enchantress and her winged beasties--might be right up the Defenders' alley--but I've always been the down-to-earth sort myself!
 
Marvel Team-Up. Vol. 1. No. 119. July 1982. "Time, Run Like a Freight Train …" J.M. DeMatteis (scripted), Kerry Gammill (penciler), Mike Esposito (inker), Jim Novak (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist), Tom DeFalco (editor), Jim Shooter (chief).
That same month, Spider-Man guest-starred in Defenders #109 (July 1982), with his head featured in the cover corner that issue.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Kangaroo Court

When a special tribunal of the International Court of Justice charged Magneto with crimes against humanity in Uncanny X-Men #200, the scope of the legal proceedings hinged on the time Mutant Alpha reverted the master of magnetism from an adult to an infant (Defenders #16).

Prosecuting the case against Magneto was Sir James Jaspers, attorney-general of England. Leading the defense, Gabrielle Haller argued to strike all criminal counts that happened prior to that incident with Mutant Alpha.

Gabrielle Haller: As I was saying -- at that time, Magneto was reduced to infancy, returned to a state of grace. His life can be said to have begun again. The man that was, at that moment, ceased to exist. In effect. he died. Which is, of course, the ultimate penalty for any crime.
James Jaspers: Objection! This is the most preposterous perversion--!

Building her defense, Gabrielle Haller noted that Magneto was an adolescent during his internment at a Nazi concentration camp. Yet, decades later, medical testimony would now place the mutant criminal in his early 30s instead of his much older chronological age.

James Jaspers: That's irrelevant! He committed those crimes, regardless of his age!

After a long deliberation, the court found in favor of the defense, restricting the indictment to those crimes committed after Magneto's "resurrection" (the court's term, not mine).

I, on the other hand, would have sided with the prosecution. For starters, Magneto did not die at the hands of Mutant Alpha. And once restored to physical prime through the actions of Eric the Red (X-Men #104), Magneto retained his full memories and mental faculties. His biological age may have altered back and forth, but he was the same person as before.

The Uncanny X-Men. Vol. 1. No. 200. December 1985. "The Trial of Magneto!" Chris Claremont (writer), John Romita Jr. & Dan Green (artists), Glynis Oliver (colorist), Tom Orzechowski (letterer), Ann Nocenti (editor), Jim Shooter (editor in chief).

Monday, March 25, 2013

Comparative Mythology

The ongoing threat of supernatural forces was a defining theme not only for the Defenders but also in the early days of Alpha Flight. Some indirect similarities unfolded in the original series for both super-teams.

Beginning with Alpha Flight #1, the premiere heroes of Canada had incremental battles against the Great Beasts, seven evil beings who were escaping to Earth, one by one, as the bonds between dimensions grew weak. The subplot had a personal connection to Snowbird, the half-goddess member of Alpha Flight who was a born enemy of the Great Beasts.

By this time the Defenders had defeated a string of demonic entities known collectively as the Six-Fingered Hand. The danger had a familial connection to Daimon Hellstrom, the half-devil member of the Defenders whose father was leading a charge to break through extra-dimensional barriers and conquer Earth (Defenders #99).

On top of that, both teams had a mystical orange monster among their ranks. Though introduced as an opponent of the Defenders, the hero Gargoyle was a repentant man trapped within the body of a demon. With Alpha Flight, the unsuspecting heroes eventually discovered that teammate Sasquatch actually transformed into the physical form of Tanaraq, one of the Great Beasts.

The above image from Alpha Flight #6 (January 1984) shows Snowbird facing the Great Beast called Kolomaq. It's worth noting that the Alpha Flight series took creative liberty in suggesting that the seven Great Beasts and various story points had roots in Inuit mythology.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

From Prince to Pauper

Following World War II, Sub-Mariner spent years suffering from amnesia until a chance encounter with the Human Torch restored his memory (Fantastic Four #4).

But suppose the two heroes hadn't met that fateful day. In short, What If … Sub-Mariner Never Regained His Memory?

A back-up story in What If? #29 peered into an alternate reality where a bearded outsider remained ever-unaware of his true identity as the Prince of Atlantis. Answering to the name of "Smith," he joined a seafaring expedition en route toward the North Pole. Taking to heart the writings if Jules Verne and other authors, the ship's captain believed the crew would find an entrance to the Earth's core.

As an aside, Defenders (Volume 4) speculated that Namor's father was in fact Captain Nemo, a character created by Jules Verne.

A series of complications in What If? #29 finally left "Smith" isolated in the Arctic, where his half-Atlantean physiology protected him from the cold. There, he discovered a block of ice that held Captain America in suspended animation (loosely mirroring events from Avengers #4). But in this alternate reality that block of ice never thawed, so the Star-Spangled Avenger remained frozen indefinitely.

What If? Vol. 1. No. 29. October 1981. "What If … Sub-Mariner Never Regained His Memory" Steven Grant (story), Rick Buckler & Bob McLeod (art), Karen Nemri (letters), Ann Nocenti (colors).

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Outside Looking In

For all his dedication to Dr. Strange, the magician's long-time servant never played more than a peripheral role in the pages of the Defenders. One story from the original series offered a rare look at Wong's point of view (Defenders #60).

A demonic cult had trapped the astral form of Dr. Strange, preventing his conscious mind from reuniting with his physical body. If his astral form and physical form stayed separate for too long, Dr. Strange could die. As the magician's body lay almost lifeless in the Sanctum Sanctorum, the Defenders turned to Wong for help.

Wong: Perhaps if his physical form is brought in close proximity to his astral form, the two might reunite. But I am unschooled in the mystic arts. I cannot be sure!

Dollar Bill, an aspiring film-maker who had been tagging along with the non-team, accompanied Nighthawk, Hellcat, Valkyrie, and Hulk on their quest. Wong, on the other hand, stayed behind. A thought balloon revealed Wong's feelings of isolation.

Wong: (Thinking) So the wheel of fortune whirls ever on--as others drive to save the master--and indeed the very Earth itself--Wong remains behind again … alone …

Devil-Slayer joined the Defenders in battling the cult and rescuing Stephen Strange.

Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 60. June 1978. "The Revenge of Vera Gemini!" David Kraft (words), Ed Hannigan (pictures), Dan Green (finished art), R. Parker (letters), B. Mouly (colors), J. Shooter (kudds).
An homage to a song by the Blue Öyster Cult, mystical cult leader Vera Gemini (above) had no connection to the super-criminal Gemini (right) or the rest of the villainous Zodiac team from Defenders #50.
 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Fearless Defenders

Fearless Defenders #1 teamed up Valkyrie with detective Misty Knight, but the underlying premise of the new series came clear in #2. In the absence of the traditional shield-maidens of Asgard, Valkyrie received a directive to assemble a band of super-powered Earth women.

Considering this undertaking left Valkyrie wondering which super-heroines, if any, might be up to the task.

In a roundabout way, the objective harks back to the debut appearance of Valkyrie (actually Enchantress in disguise), who led a band of super-women called the Lady Liberators. That one-time team, however, formed under the auspices of fighting chauvinism by battling male heroes (Avengers #83).

The above image of Valkyrie and Misty Knight appeared on the cover of Fearless Defenders #1.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Defenders Dialogue: Volume 2

 When seven members of the Defenders regrouped in Volume 2 of the series, they bickered as much as ever. The following letter from Defenders #7 (September 2001) addressed the disparate personalities within the team.
Dear DEFENDERS,

I just would like to say thank you for bringing this book back… Truly, in my eyesight, it was missed. It is so good to see the return of the "Big Four": Hulk, Surfer, Namor and Doc Strange (along with Hellcat, Nighthawk and the new Valkyrie). I believe this book is destined for greatness as it once was. the only thing I would like to suggest is that they get a leader … and soon! For truly with arrogant minds such as Namor and the Hulk, they need someone to toe the line. In other words, to put everyone in check. My suggestion is Nighthawk, since he seems to me to be the one with the most desire for the group to stay together. I think since he really has a heart for the team he would make a great leader. He has already been head of his own company, and I think he has qualities for the position. As a co-leader, in case of emergency, I choose Hellcat. She's been through a lot this year. I think the character has grown so much. Plus, she also has a heart for the team. This is not to say Doc Strange or Surfer could not do it. But at this time Doc Strange seems a little estranged to me. I don't think Surfer would want to be bothered with it. The new Val is just too new for it. So that is all I have to say except for keep up the good work. And until Gargoyle shows up in a pink mini skirt, Make Mine Marvel.

Cleo Bostick
Newark, NJ
Here was the reply from assistant editor Marc Sumerak:
A leader might help, Cleo, but I don't know if it'll happen. Heck, the Big Four don't even want to be on the team. I'm sure Kyle wold be up for the job, but do you really think that Namor and the Hulk are going to put up with orders from "Bird-Nose"? I'd give him two seconds as leader before one of the other Defenders smacked him and his jetpack across Manhattan.

That's it for this time. Now I gotta jet!
—Sumerak

Monday, January 7, 2013

The (Secret) Defenders

Beginning with Secret Defenders #4, an image of eight heroes consistently appeared with the DEFENSE Lines logo on the letters page.

The choice of Wolverine made sense, as he worked as a member of the team in Secret Defenders #1-3.

Captain America and Spider-Man were among the heroes to star in #6-8.

Silver Surfer arrived in #14 and appeared again in #23-24.

Human Torch, Cable, Cyclops, and Iron Man, however, never made their way into the story pages of the 25-issue series.

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