Dedicated to the definitive superhero non-team.


Monday, October 28, 2019

The Making of a Witch

Though her "hex power" could defy the laws of physics, there was nothing inherently supernatural about the Scarlet Witch or her mutant ability to alter probability. At least not at first.

That changed in Avengers #128 when renowned witch Agatha Harkness offered to help Scarlet Witch better control her power through the study of witchcraft.

Having recently been the target of a mystical attack, Miss Harkness (as Scarlet Witch called her) recited this magical verse for privacy and protection within her new guest room inside Avengers Mansion.

Storm-clouds above us
And hellfire below--
May we here between you
Serenity know!
Dark powers of midnight--
Dark powers of day--
Envelop this chamber
And seal us away!

A moment later, the evil Necrodamus materialized within the room. A servant of the Undying Ones from Defenders #1-3, Necrodamus mystically stunned Agatha Harkness and her cat, Ebony. Alone against the intruder, Scarlet Witch used her hex power to open a magic box in Necrodamus' hands, unleashing a maelstrom of evil spirits that subsumed him.

Agatha Harkness trained Scarlet Witch until Giant-Size Avengers #4 (June 1975). The element of witchcraft gave more creative license to the character's unpredictable mutant power.

Avengers. Vol. 1. No. 128. October 1974. "Betwitched, Bothered, and Dead!" Steve Englehart (story & color), Sal Buscema (art), Joe Staton (embellishment), Tom Orzechowski (lettering), Roy Thomas (editor).

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Pegasus

With the Champions having recently disbanded, Marvel Two-In-One #44 found Hercules asking the Thing for assistance. Powerful monsters had overrun Olympus, and Hercules needed help rescuing his father, Zeus.

The story introduced Hercules riding a chariot drawn by winged white horse. Although the valiant stead resembled Aragorn, the unnamed animal would have been the Pegasus from Greco-Roman mythology.

Marvel Two-In-One. Vol. 1. No. 44. October 1978. "The Wonderful World of Brother Benjamin J. Grimm." Marv Wolfman (guest-writer/editor), Bob Hall (penciler), F. Giacoia (embellisher), J. Costanza (letterer), Michele W. (colorist), Jim Shooter (consulting ed.).

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Greenpeace

Public Service Announcements aren't commonplace in comic books, but an interlude from Defenders #75 read like a PSA for Greenpeace.

While walking along the shore of Long Island, Hulk spotted a beached whale. Muttering that he wanted to be left alone, the green goliath pulled the marooned animal back into the water, where it swam away safely. A footnote at the bottom of two panels contained the following message about Greanpeace, plus the organization's mailing address at the time.

 *IF YOU WANT TO HELP THE WHALES, TOO 
 WRITE: GREANPEACE

That same whale later rescued Bruce Banner when he fell overboard a ship in Defenders #88. Dr. Banner suspected that the whale sensed that he and the Hulk were the same person and was responding perhaps out of gratitude.

The Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 88. October 1980. "Lord of the Whales." Ed Hannigan (writer), Don Perlin and Pablo Marcos (artists), Joe Rosen (letterer), George Roussos (colorist), Al Milgrom (editor), Jim Shooter (leader of the pack).

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Nighthawk-eye

When the villain Foolkiller burned down Nighthawk's ranch in Defenders #75, the hero was understandably on edge. When TV news reporter Fia Lundstrom arrived on the scene to cover the story, she made matters worse by mistaking Nighthawk for Hawkeye (who had resigned from the Defenders shortly before Nighthawk joined).

Nighthawk reacted to the tense situation by announcing that the Defenders had dissolved. As a non-team, however, the Defenders continued without Nighthawk as their leader or his ranch as their headquarters.

The Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 75. September 1979. "Poetic Justice." Ed Hannigan (writer), Herb Trimpe (penciler), Mike Esposito (inker), I. Watanabe (letterer), Carl Gafford (colorist), Allen Milgrom (editor), Jim Shooter (editor-in-chief).

Sunday, July 28, 2019

The Time Machine

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells must have been required reading for the Defenders. The characters discussed the 1895 novella without directly stating the title.

To escape from a horde of vampires in Defenders #95 (May 1981), Daimon Hellstrom recited an ancient chant to safely move his teammates several hours into the future. Afterward, Gargoyle asked if they had traveled through time like H.G. Wells. Hellstrom explained that they did travel through time, though not precisely in the way Gargoyle imagined.

When Dr. Strange suggested sending Spider-Man 20,000 years backward through time in Marvel Team-Up #112 (Dec. 1981), the wall-crawler said in jest that he was not H.G. Wells. Dr. Strange clarified that he intended to send Spider-Man's astral form to the ancient past while keeping his physical body in the present. The purpose of the mission was to find a cure to an illness Spider-Man contracted from the reptile cult in #111.

An adaption of The Time Machine by H.G. Wells appeared in Marvel Classics Comics #2 (1976). Set in the distant future, the evolutionary tale depicts two offshoots of humanity: the surface-dwelling Eloi and the subterranean Morlocks. Appropriately enough, a group of mutant outcasts introduced in Uncanny X-Men #169 (May 1983) called themselves the Morlocks.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

The Priorities of Paladin

The mercenary Paladin, who served briefly as one of the Last Defenders, makes a worthy candidate for discussion of character class in Dungeons & Dragons. Historically defined as a royal knight, a Paladin in the classic rules for the D&D role-playing game was bound to a strict moral code described as Lawful Good. The D&D source book Deities and Demigods classified King Arthur as a Paladin.

The Marvel character Paladin, on the other hand, did not adhere to such narrow criteria. While Paladin's line of work regularly brought him in opposition to evil-doers, he was motivated by a desire to get paid by his clients rather than by a desire to do good deeds. When circumstances led Paladin to meet other superheroes, he wondered why they chose to fight crime for free. Unlike Luke Cage, who also made crime-fighting his professional career, Paladin described himself as a soldier-of-fortune rather than a hero-for-hire.

Given his cavalier disposition, it's unlikely that Paladin spent much time worrying if his code name was in fact a misnomer. He once joked, however, that Janet Van Dyne called herself the Wasp because she was a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #105).

Paladin got his first solo story in Marvel Premiere #43 (Aug. 1979). The character made his first appearance in Daredevil #150 (Jan. 1978).

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Magics

Marvel Chillers #1 (Oct. 1975) was the first in a two-part story that brought Modred the Mystic from the time of King Arthur to the present. The title page of that first issue included a block of text announcing that Marvel was ushering in a brand-new era of stories with magics.

That new era did continue—with one caveat: most Marvel references to magic ending with the letter s favored an alternate spelling of magicks (with the letter k).

This nuanced spelling was evident when Modred guest-starred in Marvel Two-In-One #33 (Nov. 1977) and faced a mud-monster that spoke of Merlin's magicks (with k). While wielding the book Darkhold in Avengers #186 (Aug. 1979), Modred would boast how his raging powers now exceeded mere spells and magicks (with k).

Characters in other stories followed this spelling convention. When traveling back to 14th century England in Avengers #209 (July 1981), several of Earth's mightiest heroes again heard of magicks (with k). Likewise, in Marvel Team-Up #112 (Dec. 1981), Dr. Strange reflected on the arcane magicks of the serpent cult from #111.

A notable exception to this spelling trend appeared when Wong discussed magics (without k) in Dr. Strange #55 (Oct. 1982). Wong's spelling differed from the sorcerer's reference to his own magicks (with k) in Dr. Strange #34. That being said, there's no evidence that Wong's definition differed from that of Dr. Strange.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Magicks

When traveling across dimensions in Defenders #4 (Feb. 1973), Dr. Strange faced the evil conjurer Fragon. In the midst of combat, Fragon used the term magicks (spelled with k) to describe the sorcery of Dr. Strange. The British version for the story from Rampage #5 retained this alternate spelling. In both versions, the word magicks appeared in bold, as comics often do when introducing a name or term.

The word magicks would stay in comic book lexicon—without the bold lettering for emphasis. Although Dr. Strange typically used the conventional spelling of magic, he referred to his own magicks (with k) in a showdown against rival sorcerer Cyrus Black in Dr. Strange #34 (April 1979).

Pronounced the same with or without the k, the alternate spelling would suggest a distinct meaning. While no hard and fast rules would apply, generally speaking, characters from the past or from another dimension seemed more likely to favor the alternate spelling.

When the X-Men traveled to Limbo in Uncanny X-Men #160 (Aug. 1982), the demon Belasco spoke of his own magicks. The hero Nightcrawler, in turn, described that dimension as magickal (also spelled with k). Events from that story led to Illyana Rasputin becoming the hero Magik (adopting a personalized spelling without c). In most other contexts, Illyana's teammates in the New Mutants spelled magic the usual way.

In other instances, the alternate spelling (with k) accentuated the difference between the past from the present. The Canadian hero Shaman contrasted the healing power of his traditional magicks to the effectiveness of modern medicine in Alpha Flight #2 (Sept. 1983). Exposition in Gargoyle #2 (July 1985) delineated the modern era from a time of ancient magick (singular).

These distinctions, however, remain subjective, as the criteria for including the letter k might vary from issue to issue within a comic book series.

Monday, June 17, 2019

X-Factor

Well before the original members of the X-Men formed the group X-Factor, an arcade game titled X-Factor appeared in Marvel Two-In-One #94. Power Man, Iron Fist, and Thing took turns playing the challenging arcade game, which involved outmaneuvering obstacles while navigating through a maze—and had no connection to mutant affairs.

One of the other games seen at the arcade was titled The Invaders, with no apparent ties to the World War II super team by that name.

Marvel Two-In-One. Vol. 1. No. 94. December 1982 "The Power Trap!" David Anthony Kraft (scripter), Ron Wilson (penciler), Ricardo Villamonte (inker), Joe Rosen (letterer), George Roussos (colorist), Jim Saliscrup (editor), Jim Shooter (editor-in-chief).
Published the same month as New Defenders #152 (Feb. 1986), X-Factor #1 reunited Angel, Beast, and Iceman with the rest of the original X-Men. A problematic premise of the new series was that Marvel Girl (Jean Grey) was a different character from Phoenix and therefore did not die in X-Men #137.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Olympian Alignments

An earlier post looked at several Asgardian characters in in terms of their alignment from the the classic Dungeons & Dragons source book Deities & Demigods (later titled Legends & Lore).

To follow up, here are the D&D alignments listed for a number of characters in Greek mythology, better known by their Roman names to the Defenders.

Neutral Evil: Hades (god of the underworld and death). Known by the Roman name Pluto, this god fought the non-team in Defenders #2-4 (Volume 2).

Chaotic Neutral: Poseidon (god of seas, oceans, streams, and earthquakes). Worshipers include all who depend on the sea. To this point, Sub-Mariner invoked this god by his Roman name whenever he exclaimed, "By Neptune's Trident!"

Deities & Demigods also assigned the Chaotic Neutral alignment to the demigod Heracles from classical mythology. I would describe the Marvel hero Hercules (Roman spelling) as Neutral Good during his modern adventures as a superhero, including his involvement in Defenders for a Day.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Ringer

Introduced in Defenders #51, Ringer had the trappings of a one-shot foe. While stealing money from Richmond Enterprises, Ringer regarded himself as too insignificant to attract the attention of a superhero. Nevertheless, Nighthawk (a.k.a. Kyle Richmond of Richmond Enterprises) did take time to stop him.

Spidey Super Stories #51 saw more potential in Ringer. Published in conjunction with The Electric Company public television series, these stories had a different continuity from most Marvel titles, such as The Defenders and Amazing Spider-Man.

Ringer designed a costume with the power to launch solid rings as weapons. He could also use chains of rings for grappling and climbing, making him a suitable adversary against Spider-Man's webs and wall-crawling. After committing robbery in Spidey Super Stories, the inventive villain even used his rings as roller skates while making a getaway … that is until Spider-Man caught him, with the help of Mary Jane Watson (Peter Parker's girlfriend).

Just as Spider-Man could run out of web fluid, Ringer could run out of rings!

Spidey Super Stories. Vol. 1. No. 51. March 1981. "The Ringer's Big Rip-Off." Sim Salicrup/Steve Grant (writers), Winslow Mortimer (penciler), Esposito & Villamonte (inkers), Raymond Holloway (letterer), George Roussos (colorist), Caroline Barnes/Deborah Walker (editors), Jim Shooter/Jim Salicrup (Marvel consultants), Bob Budiansky (art director).

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Discerning Dr. Druid

Previous posts on this site have looked at several members of the Defenders, and even Man-Thing, in context of the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons. Given his name, Dr. Druid is another character worth considering from this perspective.

First things first: the mystical hero bears almost no resemblance to a Druid as described in D&D or other literature. The incongruency arose when the character's name changed from the original (albeit vague) Dr. Droom to Dr. Druid.

If not a Druid then, where might he fall within the game? Dr. Druid's power of hypnosis and cerebral school of magic map closely to the spells available to an Illusionist, a Magic-User sub-class from Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. In his earliest adventures, Dr. Druid demonstrated the exceptional intelligence and dexterity required of Illusionist characters.

Although an Illusionist could follow any philosophical alignment within the game, Druid characters would automatically identify as Neutral, seeing good/evil, law/chaos as balancing forces in nature. With regard to his own moral compass, the shadowy Dr. Druid could be hard to pin down.

This image of Dr. Druid comes from The Office Handbook of the Marvel Universe.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Droom Patrol

Defenders #27 (Sept. 1975) took the non-team to the year 3015 A.D. In that future timeline, Dr. Strange, Hulk, Nighthawk and Valkyrie teamed up with the Guardians of the Galaxy to battle the Badoon, a species of green-skinned extraterrestrials that had conquered the Earth. Leading the Badoon was a despot named Droom.

That character's name caught my attention for historical reasons.

Amazing Adventures #1 (June 1961) introduced Dr. Droom, a physician from the United States who learned magic in Tibet. The magician's amazing adventures continued each month through issue #4 (Sept. 1961), but Dr. Droom did not become part of the extended superhero universe that cemented with Fantastic Four #1 (Nov. 1961).

That changed, in a way, with the publication of Weird Wonder Tales #19 (Dec. 1976), which reprinted that tale from Amazing Adventures #1 with minor revisions.

The original story depicted Dr. Droom as gaining a stereotypical Asian mustache and slanted eyes as a result of learning magic. The reprint, on the other hand, inked over the original artwork and gave the character a beard and consistent facial features throughout the story.

The reprint also changed the hero's surname from Droom to Druid. Revised versions of the remaining Dr. Droom stories appeared with the renamed Dr. Druid each month through Weird Wonder Tales #22 (March 1977). That issue included an introductory paragraph that gave more cohesion to the eclectic character:

My name is Anthony Druid, and in my time I have been many things. I have the skills of a Yogi—the wisdom of a Lama—and the powers of the ancient Britons! I dwell in a dark, shadowy world—destroying evil, protecting the innocent. Danger is my task … Justice, my goal! DR. DRUID. MASTER of the UNKNOWN!

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Madame Olga

Experiencing something of a mid-life crisis, a melancholic Adam Henderson sought guidance from a carnival soothsayer named Madame Olga. Adam had worked as a high school English teacher for eight years but dreamed of being a professional musician.

Madame Olga, on the other hand, was a charlatan who only pretended to have psychic powers; her crystal ball was a prop she'd purchased for $1.98. So Madame Olga was understandably shocked when her so-called "mystic crystal" filled with images as Adam sat down to speak (Ghost Rider #71).

Adam described how a race of winged beings called the S'raphh had ventured into space in search of the reason for being. The S'raphh never found the ultimate truth, however, and their despair led them to a point of racial suicide. The negative emotions from the collective unconsciousness of the S'raphh brought forth the evil being called Null—the Living Darkness!

Originally defeated in Defenders #103, a bitter Null traveled to Earth in energy form to merge with a human. With his despondent disposition, Adam Henderson proved to be a compatible physical host.

Null proceeded to go on a minor rampage until the hero Ghost Rider used his hell-fire powers to banish Null from Adam's body. Following the experience, Adam gained new appreciation for life and for his dedicated wife, Maureen.

Ghost Rider. Vol. 1. No. 71. August 1982. "The Tears of Adam Henderson." J.M. DeMatteis (scripter), Don Perlin (breakdowns), Danny Bulanadi (inks), Diana Albers (letterer), George Roussos (colorist), Tom DeFalco (editor), Jim Shooter (chief).
Null would return much more powerful in Defenders #113.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

The Avenging Wasp

Almost any issue of the Defenders shows the non-team defending themselves against something or another. In contrast, however, how much avenging do the Avengers actually do?

Seeing how it was Wasp who suggested the group name in Avengers #1, the cover of Marvel Team-Up #59 stands out. Here we see Wasp promising to avenge the death of her husband, Yellowjacket. Though not identifiable from the cover, the villain at hand is Equinox (previously seen in #23).

For better or worse, Yellowjacket is merely presumed dead in #59. The hero safely returns the following issue with a rather complicated account of escaping death.

Marvel Team-Up. Vol. 1. No. 59. July 1977. "Some Say Spidey Will Die By Fire … Some Say By Ice!" Chris Claremont (writer), John Byrne (artist), Dave Hunt (inker/colorist), B. Patterson (letterer), A. Goodwin (editor). Dedicated—with respect and admiration—to Roy Thomas.

Monday, January 28, 2019

In the Cards

Power Man & Iron Fist #64 pits the heroic duo against evil brothers Muerte (Death) and Suerte (Luck). Suerte's talents enable him to win a game of poker against other crime bosses within the issue. Although Suerte uses ordinary playing cards in the story, the cover creatively pictures the heroes and villains on a hand of cards. Trying to find irrefutable meaning in the cards, however, is challenging.

As the stars of the series, Power Man and Iron Fist both appear on the cover as Aces. Power Man's suit is Clubs while Iron Fist is Diamonds. (Within the issue, incidentally, Bob Diamond of the Sons of the Tiger describes himself as an "ace" martial artist and a sparring partner to Iron Fist.)

As for the villains, Suerte appears as the Eight of Diamonds—the same suit as Iron Fist. Suerte's pet cat is also an Eight but instead holds the suit of Clubs—the same suit as Power Man. Meanwhile, Muerte appears as the Jack of Spades—a different rank and suit from everyone else on the cover.

Bob Layton illustrated Power Man & Iron Fist #64 (August 1980).

Saturday, January 5, 2019

The Ambiguous Amphibian

Introduced in Avengers #148 as the resident water-breather of the Squadron Supreme, the character Amphibion was an homage to Aquaman of the Justice League of America. In fact, The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe revealed that Amphibion's given name was Kingsley Rice, a play on Aquaman's secret identity of Arthur Curry.

During a showdown between the Squadron Supreme and the Avengers (#148), Amphibion faced Hellcat on her first adventure since donning the costume previously worn by the hero Cat. Reminiscent of the chauvinism Cat had faced, Amphibion dismissed Hellcat as a member of the "weaker sex"; Hellcat, however, easily defeated him.

During that first appearance, Amphibion commented on his mother's human heritage, implying that his father wasn't human. Amphibion also described himself as "King of the Seven Seas" (not necessarily a royal title like Prince of Atlantis).

By the time the Squadron Supreme appeared in Defenders 112-114, Amphibion had changed the spelling of his name to Amphibian.

In the 12-part Squadron Supreme limited series, Amphibian referred to his "sea-born muscles" (#4) and "my native ocean" (#6) without offering further insight into his past.

The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe (deluxe edition) described Amphibian as a mutant, yet the possibility of a more complicated origin remains. After all, the half-human, half-Atleantean Sub-Mariner met the criteria for membership in Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.

This image of Amphibian appeared with the Squadron Supreme entry in The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe (deluxe edition).

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