Dedicated to the definitive superhero non-team.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

To Be Continued Next Month!

After a misunderstanding with the Hulk, Hawkeye joined the Defenders (#7), largely because his solo career after quitting the Avengers wasn't working out. But the avenging archer left the non-team after only four issues and easily dropped out of the picture.

More important about Defenders #7 was an announcement printed on the last page. The note alerted readers that the Defenders was becoming a monthly series (instead of coming out every other month). This was big news in 1973, and evidence of the growing popularity of the title.

As promised, Defenders #8 appeared one month later, with a September cover date.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Dynamic Defenders

This artwork by Sal Buscema appeared on the last page of Defenders #6 (then reproduced as a two-page spread in Giant-Size Defenders #1). Although pin-up pages sometimes felt like filler, this piece did a nice job capturing the early team. While common during the Silver Age, these features all but faded out in the 1970s. The "once-in-a-lifetime" text (reproduced below) that originally accompanied the illustration may not have been exaggerating, as this the first Defenders pin-up page I've seen.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Valkyrie, the Determined Defender

Of all the heroes to call themselves Defenders, Valkyrie was the most dedicated to the team. Yet she joined their ranks in the most roundabout way.

Realizing the malevolent intent of a secret ceremony, Barbara Norriss sacrificed herself into another dimension to spare an innocent man that fate. That man was Bruce Banner (The Incredible Hulk #126). Hulk and his non-teammates later rescued Norriss from her otherworldly imprisonment. But they were saddened to find that the horrors she experienced there, in the clutches of the Nameless One, had driven Norriss mad (Defenders #3).

Immediately afterward, the Defenders encountered the unscrupulous Enchantress, who had magically enslaved the Black Knight. The Asgardian sorceress placed the spirit of a valkyrie into the body of Norriss, expecting to control her as well. Yet the reborn valkyrie proved to have a mind of her own. The Enchantress fled, turning Black Knight to stone as she left (#4; Dr. Strange reversed the spell in #11).

Valkyrie assumed custody of Black Knight's winged horse, Aragorn, and sought membership into the Defenders.

Namor: One minute now! The Defenders have no "members." We have only fought together for common causes. This is not the Avengers!
Dr. Strange: Further--with all due modesty, we are three of the most powerful people in the world. What could we possibly need you for?
Valkyrie didn't take long to prove herself. When Omegatron (from Marvel Feature #1) unexpectedly returned, Valkyrie's combination of magical origin and physical force injured the mystical robot in ways the others could not, finally laying the creature to rest (Defenders #5).

Valkyrie was the only early Defender to stay with the team through the creation of the New Defenders (#125) and the end of the series (#152).
Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 5. April 1973. "World Without End." Steve Englehart (author), Sal Buscema (artist), F. McLaughlin (inker), Charlotte Jetter (letterer), Glynis Wein (colorist), Roy Thomas (editor). The illustration of Valkyrie at the top appeared in the fourth issue.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Silver Subplot

When the Defenders formed in Marvel Feature #1, Sub-Mariner and Hulk weren't the only ones Dr. Strange tried to reach. After summoning the Prince of Atlantis, the master of the mystic arts visualized the whereabouts of Silver Surfer, only to watch him crash into an invisible barrier in the sky.

Dr. Strange: Happily, I can sense he is not badly hurt. Yet, he'll not recover in time to help us--or our threatened planet. Then, since time grows short--and immortal Thor is doubtless battling menaces on worlds beyond our ken---there is but one with power enough to help us. In truth, there is only---the Hulk!
That scene in the Defenders' origin issue laid important groundwork for the first several issues of their own series.

Tricked to believe that Silver Surfer had become a servant of evil, the Defenders spent two months tracking down the cosmic-powered champion (Defenders #1-2). Further investigation led Dr. Strange, Hulk, Sub-Mariner, and Silver Surfer into battle against the horrific Nameless One in his home dimension (#3).

Afterward, as the Defenders returned to our own dimension, Dr. Strange hoped to transport Silver Surfer into the cosmos so he could go back to his native planet of Zenn-La. But even magic couldn't take the Surfer beyond the barrier that Galactus put in place to confine him to Earth.
Silver Surfer: I am trapped like a rat on this insane planet! Once more the Silver Surfer has trusted men--and once more men have shattered that trust!
The Surfer flew off but soon returned to apologetically assist the Defenders (#6. He returned again in #8-11 and for a handful of later missions). Thor, by the way, never joined the non-team but helped subdue a disgruntled Hulk in Defenders #10, during a crossover story with the Avengers.
Steve Englehart wrote Defenders #1-11. Sal Buscema illustrated those issues. The Silver Surfer image at the top comes from The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

New Cover Versions

When the lineup stabilized in #125, the New Defenders took an original cover concept and ran with it.

Of all these group portraits, I like Defenders #138 the best.
Given the team's habitually unofficial status, the flag in the background was a nice touch. The moniker Sgt. Fury and His Howling Defenders appeared only on the cover of #147.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Origin of the Defenders

When the intelligent Omegatron doomsday device set out to destroy planet Earth, Dr. Strange knew he couldn't face the threat alone. He needed powerful allies at his side.

That was the premise of Marvel Feature #1, the origin issue of the Defenders. And that's where Sub-Mariner and Hulk came in.

With numerous physical and mystical obstacles in the way, the trio reached Omegatron with only five seconds to spare. By casting a spell to make time all but stop around the nihilistic machine, Dr. Strange added countless years to Earth's future. Yet when the sorcerer explained what had happened, no one else felt like celebrating.

Hulk: Too confusing for Hulk. Hulk will go now--some place he can be alone.
Namor: Aye--it is best that we part. For, we all but caused the Earth's destruction---while we sought to be its valiant defenders.
Dr. Strange: Defenders! A fitting name for such a group--if ever we need to meet again.
Hulk: Hulk never wants to get together again. Never.
Such quarrels characterized the early years of the Defenders, with one or more characters calling it quits after almost every mission, though often showing up again later. As it turns out, Hulk, Sub-Mariner, and Dr. Strange returned in Marvel Feature #2-3, again billed as the "Defenders," shortly before the Defenders series began in 1972.
Marvel Feature. Vol. 1. No. 1. December 1971. "The Day of the Defenders." Stan Lee (editor), Roy Thomas (writer), Ross Andru (artist), Bill Everett (inker), Sam Rosen (letterer).

Friday, May 9, 2008

Partners in Crime

Years before they helped found the Defenders, the Hulk and Sub-Mariner tried teaming up on their own. Things didn't work out as planned.

Feeling like an outcast among the Avengers and in society as a whole, Hulk sought refuge on a small island when the Prince of Atlantis first approached. After the obligatory slugfest, the Hulk listened to Sub-Mariner's criminal proposition (Avengers #3).

Namor: We both share a burning hatred for the human race! If we act together, we can bring humanity to its knees!

Hulk: You mean you want me to team up with you? Well, maybe it ain't such a bad idea at that! You're pretty tough for a little guy!
The misanthropic Hulk and snippy Sub-Mariner bickered constantly as they battled the Avengers. The conflict came to a hedge when Namor fell injured.
Namor: Hulk, where are you?? I need you now! To my side, you lumbering oaf!

Hulk: You'll never call me names like that again, Namor! I'll help you, all right … and when we've beaten the Avengers, I'll finish you next!
Just then, Hulk involuntarily reverted to the form of Bruce Banner, gaining the sympathy of the Avengers. Exclaiming that he had been betrayed, Sub-Mariner used his remaining strength to escape.

Over time, Dr. Banner became less intelligent and more rampaging as the Hulk. Meanwhile, Sub-Mariner retained his antagonism toward surface-dwellers. Yet both characters were tolerated, even moderately liked, within the Defenders.
Avengers. Vol. 1. No. 3. January 1964. "The Avengers Meet … Sub-Mariner!" Stan Lee (writer), Jack Kirby (illustrator), P. Reinman (inker), S. Rosen (letterer).

Monday, May 5, 2008

Defenders Dialogue: DeMatteis

Remember when comic books used to print letters to the editor? Here's one from the "Defenders Dialogue" letters page in Defenders #112 that aptly captured the direction of the series, along with the general demeanor of the Hulk.

Dear Editor,

A few months ago, I was driving through a lonely stretch of Nevada highway, when I was suddenly forced to stop for a hitchhiker. I mean, this guy was big and green and there was no way I was gonna refuse to stop, y'know?

Anyways, with my new passenger weighing down his side of the van, I tried to make conversation … just to be friendly, y'know? I got to asking him about THE DEFENDERS comic … bad move! After calling them "puny humans" which didn't make me feel any-too secure, he added that they were "dumb" and that they fight "magicians and devil beings all the time."

I considered pointing out to "big green" that, as strange as the stories may be, they are a welcome relief from the standard super hero fare we get each month. But I thought better of signing my death warrant since, obviously, this guy disliked THE DEFENDERS with a passion that bordered on mania.

Well, my hitchhiker grunted something about getting out in upstate Arizona and I watched, incredulous, as he jumped—yes, jumped—right into the air with a single bound! This was the last that I saw of that hulking passenger, and I hope I never see him again. But once I had a chance to relax, I began to wonder: Can J.M. DeMatteis write a normal super hero story?

The Fantasy Farmer
Rumford, ME

Here was the reply:

The really big question is, F.F.—would he ever want to?

Defenders #112, incidentally, began a powerful storyline involving a world conquerer known as the Over-Mind. J.M. DeMatteis wrote the Defenders from issue #92 to #131.
Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 112. October 1982. "Strange Visitor from Another Planet!" DeMatteis (scripter), Perlin (penciler), Gustovich (inker), Leferman (letterer), Roussos (colorist), Milgrom (editor), Shooter (editor-in-chief).

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Cover Versions

Some covers are so good they're worth repeating.

In the last example, though, Defenders #119 was too soon to recycle the milestone layout of #100.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

For He's a Jolly Green Fellow

The plight of Dr. Bruce Banner continues on the big screen in June, when The Incredible Hulk film hits theaters. The trailer depicts Banner as a political fugitive struggling to control his anger-induced transformations.

But the green goliath has known better days.

Twenty-five years ago, Bruce Banner seemed to achieve the impossible by maintaining his intellect when becoming the Hulk.

The world took notice, and Hulk (with Banner's mind) received a full presidential pardon for his previous acts of destruction (The Incredible Hulk #278). Afterward, he got a key to New York City and a parade in his honor. Heroes from across the globe gathered for the commemoration (#279).

Yet when Iron Man recalled how the once-menacing Hulk had been a founding member of the Avengers, two heroes in the audience responded with chagrin.

Hellcat: Hey, Doc—You gonna let the Avengers claim the Hulk as one of their own? The green guy's a Defender now!
Dr. Strange: I am no longer sure, Hellcat. The old Hulk was a member of our non-team. The new Hulk may not so readily fit in.
These reactions made sense. Hulk left the Avengers after only a few issues but fought regularly alongside the Defenders throughout most of the original series, even with his lowered intelligence and tendency toward rage. One of the Defenders' ongoing accomplishments was keeping Hulk calm so he wouldn't smash everything to pieces.

During Hulk's amnesty, long-time love interest Betty Ross felt remorse in a different way. After sticking by Banner for years as he struggled to cure his uncontrollable alterations, she didn't like the idea of a man who now wanted to become the Hulk, even with his brain intact.

Bringing Hulk and Banner together, even temporarily, brought challenging questions to the table. Was turning into the Hulk, under any circumstances, a type of affliction? Was Hulk's mind a mere side effect of gamma-radiation poisoning, a repressed aspect of Banner's core personality, or a new person in his own right?
The Incredible Hulk. Vol. 1. No. 278. December 1982. "Amnesty!" Bill Mantlo (writer), Sal Buscema and Joe Sinnott (artists) , Jim Novak (letters), Bob Sharen (colors), Allen Milgrom (editor), Jim Shooter (editor-in-chief).
The Incredible Hulk. Vol. 1. No. 279. January 1983. "Acceptance." Bill Mantlo (author), Mark Gruenwald and Greg LaRocque (artists), Janice Chiang (letters), Bob Sharen (colors), Allen Milgrom (editor), Jim Shooter (editor-in-chief).

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