The Defenders Fansite

Dedicated to the definitive superhero non-team.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Deadpool: The Postmodern Poster Boy

Deadpool was hard to ignore during his appearances in Secret Defenders #15-17. With constant quips and unrelenting references to pop culture, the anti-hero's dialogue had a stream-of-consciousness quality about it.

As a temporary member of the Secret Defenders, Deadpool accompanied Dr. Druid (now leading the covert team), the mysterious Shadowoman (not to be mistaken for Spider-Woman), and Luke Cage (billed simply as Cage instead of Power Man). Fittingly, Deadpool complained that Heroes for Hire like Cage gave mercenaries like himself a bad name.

For all his insufferable banter, however, Deadpool had a semblance of self-awareness. Consider his opening words from #15.

Deadpool: Now up ahead, on our left … we see a stunning example of post-modernist expressionism! And when it comes to expressionism, you ain't never had a friend like me!

Deadpool's identification with postmodernism made sense. This was the Copper Age of superhero comics, after all, when cosmic-level continuity shifts became commonplace and deceased characters routinely resurrected from the dead. Within this storytelling framework, the stakes weren't as permanent or lasting as they seemed been in the past, and Deadpool's facetiousness reflected that.

Secret Defenders #15 included an insert with three detachable Marvel Cards for the villain Venom, another popular character to emerge during Copper Age of comic books.
Secret Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 15. May 1994. "Strange Changes, Part the First: Strangers and Other Lovers." Tim Brevoort & Mike Kanterovich (writers), Jerry DeCaire (penciler), Tony DeZuniga (inker), John Costanza (letterer), John Kalisz (colorist), Craig Anderson (editor), Tom DeFalco (mystic harbinger in chief).

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Elven Kind

The serial killer known as Elf with a Gun made several seemingly random appearances in the pages of the Defenders. Beginning with the Elf's debut in #25 (July 1975), the sound effect BLAM would fill the final panel of any sighting of the Elf, denoting that he shot his victim and seemingly teleported away.

Through a string of coincidences, the mutant hero Nightcrawler developed several similarities to the homicidal Elf.

Introduced in Giant-Size X-Men #1, Nightcrawler too had the ability to teleport. Nightcrawler's next appearance in X-Men #94 (Aug. 1975) added the signature sound effect BAMF whenever he would teleport away.

A flashback in X-Men King-Size Annual #4 (1980) elaborated on Nightcrawler's origin, telling how his foster brother had been a crazed serial killer in the village of Winzeldorf, Germany. After Nightcrawler unintentionally killed his brother while trying to stop him, the villagers blamed Nightcrawler for all of the murders his brother had committed.

Early on, other heroes often joined the general public in mistaking Nightcrawler for a demon based on looks alone. During the early 1980s, however, some of the X-Men warmed up to Nightcrawler well enough to give him the friendly moniker of "elf" (or "fuzzy-elf").

On a separate tangent, an elf named Indel was a member of an adventuring party featured in a series of ads for Dungeons & Dragons that ran inside comic books during the early 1980s. Although Indel could not teleport, he did vanish through a trapdoor during one of the stories. There were no sound effects, but Indel did cry out, "Help!" The rest of the party eventually found the unlucky elf as the serial continued.

The BLAM panel comes from Defenders #25 (July 1975). The panels of Nightcrawler come from Uncanny X-Men #148 (Aug. 1981).

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

The Marvel Age of Comics--Phase 2

A promotional blurb on the cover of Defenders #10 (Nov. 1973) asked readers, "See For Yourself Why It's the Marvel Age of Comics All Over Again!" In the months that followed, several covers went one step further, directly referencing a second era of Marvel Comics.

Captain America & Falcon #173 (May 1974) prompted readers, "Make Way for the Marvel Age of Comics--Phase Two!" Guest-starred two of the original X-Men, the story pre-dates the "The All-New, All-Different" mutant team billed on the covers of X-Men #94-99, #101-111.

Marvel Chillers #6 (Aug. 1976), featuring Tigra the Were-Woman and Cheyenne hero Red Wolf, reiterated, "It's the Marvel Age of Comics--Phase 2!"

Covers of other Marvel titles during this time frame expressed a similar sentiment. Daredevil #121 (May 1975) announced, "The Mighty Marvel Renaissance Moves Ahead!" Marvel Presents #6 (Aug. 1976), starring the Guardians of the Galaxy, declared, "The New Marvel Mage of Comics!"

This begs the question, What did this new era entail? Although the covers didn't specify, several factors were at work. The 1971 revision to the Comics Code gave publishers renewed leeway in portraying realistic themes in comic books—and creative license to draw inspiration from the genre of horror. In tandem, the Seventies saw an increase in international and multicultural superheroes, as well as superheroines with origin stories and identities independent of male heroes.

In short, the shift initially described as "Phase Two" of Marvel Comics matches what we know more broadly today as the Bronze Age of comics books.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Seduction of the Innocent

Out of historical interest, I recently purchased a copy of Seduction of the Innocent by psychiatrist Fredric Wertham M.D. At approximately 400 pages, the 1954 book led to the development of the Comics Code that year and had a lasting influence on public opinion about comic books.

Amid his sweeping generalizations, Wertham's treatise issued numerous concerns against comic books. He warned that even children who appear to enjoy only animal comics like Donald Duck might secretly read crime comics (including Westerns and superheroes), which Wertham found particularly dangerous.

According to Wertham, the prevalent violence within crime comics directly contributed to juvenile delinquency and disturbed thinking. As an example, Wertham told of a nine-year-old boy who insisted his favorite comic book was called Human Torture rather than Human Torch.

In discussing superheroes, Wertham leveled most of his attacks against a handful of DC characters. Many comic book fans today are well aware of Wertham's homophobic inferences about Wonder Woman, and the partnership between Batman & Robin. Similarly, Wertham criticized the salaciousness of "love comics" as a genre.

As for Superboy/Superman, Wertham argued that the character's unrealistic powers misled children about the laws of science and overshadowed historical figures deserving of true admiration. To Wertham, Superman embodied the dangerous ideal of a super-race. Wertham found fault with other comics, particularly those with Jungle settings, for for their racist depictions of native peoples.

Discrediting the literary merit of comics, Wertham noted their frequent reliance on words like BLAM and KAPOW. Further, their vivid illustrations made comic-book depictions of horror far more pernicious to Wertham than the most unsettling fairy tales.

Wertham felt that comic book adaptions of classic literature, such as Robert Louis Stephenson's Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, corrupted the source material and failed to motivate children to seek out the original text. In contrast to comic books, Wertham saw educational promise in film and children's television, media that are also intrinsically visual.

Wertham's concern about the content of comic books extended to the advertisements within. He deplored ads for (largely ineffective) health products that capitalized on the insecurities of girls and boys. Wertham also condemned ads for B.B. guns and knives, regarding these weapons as inappropriate for children.

Human Torch #38 (Aug. 1954) was published the same year as Seduction of the Innocent. Human Torch was the only character from Timely (later Marvel) directly mentioned in the Wertham's 1954 book.
Marvel Classics Comics #1 (Jan. 1976) launched a new series that presented critically acclaimed literature in comic book form, following a tradition other publishers had carried out in the past.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Tagak, the Leopard Lord

One of the most promising Defenders for a Day was Tagak, the Leopard Lord. Introduced in Daredevil #72, the mysterious Tagak was a costumed adventurer from another dimension. His home land was polytheistic, with only hints of what the religion entailed.

In his debut, the acrobatic Tagak revealed he was blind but could see by way of a mind-link with the trained leopard accompanying him. The leopard, however, did not join Tagak during his day with the Defenders, suggesting more nuance to the hero's sensory abilities.

Had Tagak stayed with the the non-team, or rejoined at some point, he certainly would have had potential to explore.

Daredevil. Vol. 1. No. 72. January 1971. "Lo, the Lord of the Leopards!" Stan Lee (editor), Gerry Conway (writer), Gene Colan (artist), Syd Shores (inker), Artie Simek (letterer).

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