Dedicated to the definitive superhero non-team.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Pawns of the Grandmaster

Nighthawk may have reformed from a life of crime, but the Grandmaster wasn't about to forget his ties to the one-time villain. In Giant-Size Defenders #3, the extraterrestrial game-player forced Nighthawk to enlist the help of five other heroes and participate in a cosmic wager. Dr. Strange, Valkyrie, Sub-Mariner, Hulk, and Daredevil all accepted the challenge—some more begrudgingly than others.

Following the rules of the contest, the heroes squared off against animal-like creatures summoned by the intelligent robot called the Prime Mover. If the Defenders won, the Earth would be spared; if they lost, the Grandmaster would give the Prime Mover enough power to enslave the planet.

The Defenders won the challenge, yet their problems weren't over. The Grandmaster unexpectedly declared that the people of Earth were "uniquely suited to selective breeding to produce and entire world of super-powered pawns." Although the heroes were not strong enough to stop these plans, there was still hope.

Basically viewing Grandmaster as a compulsive gambler, Daredevil challenged him to a double-or-nothing coin toss. If the Grandmaster won, he would get the Earth and the moon. But the Grandmaster lost, relinquishing his claim on the planet. In the privacy of his own thoughts, the "man without fear" acknowledged that his extraordinary senses had enabled him to tell how the coin would land even before it was tossed.

Artistically ahead of its time, the issue included two pages where the dialogue and actions were described in typewritten prose, instead of through multi-panel scenes with word balloons.

Giant-Size Defenders #3. January 1975. "Games Godlings Play!" Steve Gerber, Jim Starlin, and Lein Wein plotted this tale together. Then Jim did the layouts, Steve wrote the script, and Dan Adkins, Don Newton and Jim Mooney finished the art. Charlotte Jetter lettered it, Glynis Wein colored it, Roy Thomas edited it, and aren't these credits ridiculously complicated?

Nighthawk battled the "man without fear" in Daredevil #62 (reprinted in Giant-Size Defenders #5).

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Luke Cage, Defender for Hire

Working as a security guard for Richmond Enterprises, Power Man first accompanied the Defenders in #17-19, when Nighthawk's corporation came under attack by the villainous Wrecking Crew.

Lacking the inheritance of Nighthawk, or the taken-for-granted resources of other heroes, Power Man kept a realistic approach to fighting crime. During his recurring adventures with the Defenders, Power Man often was the first to point out the bizarre nature of magic or superheroics in general.

When Bruce Banner telephoned Luke Cage in #24, requesting help on another mission, the hero for hire responded skeptically to Hulk's alter ego.

Power Man: (Speaking into the phone) Bruce who? No , man, I ain't never heard o'--Oh, uh-huh. You're the Hulk--an' I'm George Wallace!

Although Hulk was more powerful than Power Man, Luke Cage had enough strength and invulnerability to save the team more than once, and without any hulkish drawbacks. Further, Power Man seemed physically stronger during his stints with the Defenders in the 1970s than he did in the 1980s, when Marvel Comics estimated that he could lift only a few tons (far less than most heavy-hitters at the time).
This scene of Power Man vs. Piledriver of the Wrecking Crew appeared in Defenders #19.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Hulking Cover Versions

Poor Hulk. These covers gave the impression that the Defenders spent much of their time stopping the good-intentioned goliath from smashing someone who shouldn't be harmed or breaking something better left alone.

But covers aren't always right. In Defenders #41, for instance, no one was encased in a crystalline cage, and the Hulk posed no threat to his teammates. The cover simply gave Hulk a bad reputation.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Somber Surfer

A backup story reprinted in Giant-Size Defenders #1 helped explain the brooding disposition of one of the team's strongest affiliates.

"The Peerless Power of the Silver Surfer" opened with the cosmic champion waxing philosophical as he rode across the skyline. Speaking to himself, in his customary style, the hero in exile projected his own frustrations onto the inhabitants of Earth. Adding to the Surfer's own despondence was this seldom-discussed hypersensitivity to the feelings of others.

Silver Surfer: Thru how many ages shall they be condemned to dwell--like insects in a hive--never knowing the glories of the endless universe? … I cannot endure being near them for more than a few of their minutes--the waves of human emotion which I sense are overwhelming! Fear--envy--greed--and hatred engulf me in ever-increasing torrents!!

Sensing a specifically inhuman torment, the Surfer discovered Quasimodo, the living computer with human-like emotions who longed for his abandoned master, the Mad Thinker.

Wielding cosmic energy, the Surfer forged a robotic body to liberate Quasimodo. But with powerful arms and legs, Quasimodo returned to his original programming and set forth on a destructive rampage. The Surfer felt responsible for the outcome.

As the robot tried to escape, the Surfer again enveloped Quasimodo in cosmic energy, this time transforming him into a motionless statue, resting on a clock tower. Because his best intentions had backfired, the Surfer questioned his own ability to understand or act in the defense of others. No wonder he felt most comfortable alone.
This story originally appeared in Fantastic Four Annual #5 (1967). Stan (The Man) Lee and Jack Kirby (King) Kirby, F. Giacoia (inking), Artie Simek (lettering). The illustration of Quasimodo appeared in The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe.