Dedicated to the definitive superhero non-team.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

What if ... Thor Had Joined the Defenders?

Today's blog post takes inspiration from Marvel's classic series that asked, "What if…?" In that vein, I consider how a key decision in the formation of the Defenders might have unfolded differently.

On that fateful day when Dr. Strange formed the Defenders (Marvel Feature #1), Prince Namor was his first recruit. In need of a second ally with great physical strength, the sorcerer reluctantly selected the Hulk. Dr. Strange summoned the green goliath only because Silver Surfer was trapped on Earth and couldn't travel with them to another dimension, and because Dr. Strange presumed that Thor was unavailable. But what if Dr. Strange hadn't jumped to that conclusion? And what if Thor was indeed available? In other words, What if … Thor had joined the Defenders?

In this speculative timeline, Dr. Strange, Namor, and Thor would found the non-team. During their early adventures, the thunder god would prove as capable a Defender as the Hulk had been in the original published stories.

Without the Hulk, however, the events from Defenders #7 would play out differently. In the original story, Hawkeye tried to capture the Hulk and then accepted Valkyrie's offer to join the Defenders. (Valkyrie herself joined in Defenders #4.) Yet if Hulk had no ties to the Defenders, Hawkeye would not have met the non-team at that time, much less join them.

This change in lineup would affect the crossover event spanning Defenders #8-11; Avengers #115-118, when the two teams clashed. As originally published, Thor of the Avengers battled Hulk of the Defenders, while Iron Man of the Avengers squared off against Hawkeye of the Defenders. In this alternate version, Thor of the Defenders would battle Iron Man of the Avengers. In both versions, the teams would put their differences aside at the end of the story. Not everthing would balance out so evenly, however.

Nighthawk's membership into the Defenders (#13-14) would inevitably lead the non-team to meet Power Man and then battle the Wrecking Crew (#17-19). Here, fate would change irrevocably. The original story required Hulk to return to his alter ego as Bruce Banner and save the day by deactivating a dangerous Gamma Bomb. Unlike Banner, Thor's alter ego of Donald Blake was a physician, not a physicist. Without Bruce Banner's know-how, the Gamma Bomb would detonate and kill 20 million people. As a result, this story would end in tragedy, just like many tales published in the series What If…?

This panel with Dr. Strange and Bruce Banner comes from Defenders #19.

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