Dedicated to the definitive superhero non-team.

Monday, October 27, 2008

An Illusionary Adventure

Watch out! Clea's casting a spell that could destroy the Earth, and only Power Man, Red Guardian, and Nighthawk can stop her! So why is Dr. Strange interfering? And what startling discoveries await the Hulk?

Defenders #39 looked like an amazing issue. In actuality, though, the inside didn't have anything to do with the cover. Clea's spell was actually an illusionary fireball to distract the public so the Defenders could rescue Valkyrie from wrongful imprisonment without anyone noticing. All of the heroes were in the loop, so none of them had to fight one another.

Despite the inconsistencies, #39 remains one of my favorite Defenders covers. For what it's worth, by the way, Hulk appeared only in a three-panel flashback (to Omega the Unknown #2).

Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 39. September 1976. "Riot in Cellblock 12!" Steve Gerber (script) Sal Buscema (layouts), Klaus Janson (finished art), Hipp & Watanabe (letterers), Don Warfield (colorist), Archie Goodwin (editor).

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Cat Came Back

Before Patsy Walker ever took to fighting crime, Greer Nelson wore the original yellow-and-blue Cat costume. But after four issues of her own series, and a guest spot in Marvel Team-Up #8 (1972), the Cat seemed to disappear.

When Spider-Man first spotted Hellcat in Defenders #61 (1978), the astute arachnid knew there was something different about the woman in the Cat suit. Hellcat (Patsy Walker) acknowledged that she wasn't the first person to try on the uniform.

Interestingly, though, when the wall-crawler first encountered the transformed Tigra in Marvel Team-Up #67 (also 1978), his spider-memory didn't recall how had met this woman before she had stripes. Thought balloons privately divulged that Spider-Man recognized Tigra only from news photos in The Daily Bugle.

Although Tigra (Greer Nelson) spoke to "Spidey" in a familiar tone, he must have thought she was just being friendly. She didn't reveal how Cat People had turned her into a virtual tiger-woman back in Giant-Size Creatures #1 (1974). Tigra, incidently, never became a Defender.


Friday, October 17, 2008

The Patsy Walker Story

Patsy Walker was perhaps the least likely character to become a superhero. Making her debut in 1944, she starred in humor and romance comics for 20 years before crossing into the world of costumed crimefighters.

It began with a guest appearance in Fantastic Four Annual #3 (1965), attending the wedding of Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Girl. A decade later, Patsy's backstory turned on its ear.

Her longtime boyfriend and eventual husband, Robert "Buzz" Baxter, became a crook (later the villain Mad-Dog) in an intricate storyline that prompted Patsy to become the heroic Hellcat.

To explain the genre-defying discontinuity, Marvel Comics explained that although Patsy and "Buzz" existed in the same world as the Fantastic Four, the numerous comics showing the couple's idyllic courtship actually hadn't taken place. In fact, all of the issues of Patsy Walker's own series became metatext, apocryphal accounts penned by Patsy's mother, Dorothy Walker (herself a character in the series).

After Hellcat joined the Defenders, flashbacks showed how Patsy never lived up to the pristine expectations of her demanding mother. If that wasn't bad enough, when Dorothy Walker suffered from a terminal illness, she tried to safeguard her own life by selling Patsy's soul to a demon, in one of the scariest story arcs the non-team ever faced.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Crux of the Defenders

Defenders #16 began a tradition of placing a descriptive paragraph about the team at the top of Page 1.

The mysterious DR. STRANGE! The vibrant VALKYRIE! The savage SUB-MARINER! The high-flying NIGHTHAWK! The incredible HULK! Evil-doers TREMBLE at the names … for these five form the crux of the greatest NON-TEAM in history, heroes called together only when the need arises … to battle MENACES that threaten the security … or the very LIFE … of the planet EARTH!

In later issues, "five" became "four" as Sub-Mariner (and then Dr. Strange) left the group for extended periods of time. Although numerous superheroes had brief stints with the Defenders, only one subsequent member ever joined the "crux" of the group. That, of course, was …
The happy-go-lucky HELLCAT!
First adventuring with the Defenders in #44, Hellcat's tagline entered the opening pargraph in #47.

After Defenders #76, different descriptions of the non-team sometimes appeared instead, before the series dropped the opening block of text altogether.
This image of Hellcat appeared in The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe.

Friday, October 10, 2008

What if Wolverine Had Killed the Hulk?

Although Hulk's temper stayed largely in check around the Defenders, his rampages continued when left on his own. It was only a matter of time before new heroes popped up to drive off the Hulk. Enter: Wolverine.

Their historic first encounter established that the Canadian hero was tough enough to keep fighting after Hulk tossed him around, and that Wolverine's claws were sharp enough to penetrate Hulk's gamma-tough skin (Incredible Hulk 180-181). There was a chance Wolverine might win.

Further, the battle was interrupted by the cannibalistic man-monster called Wendigo, then cut short when a villain's magic spell put Hulk and Wolverine to sleep. The set up was ripe to consider what might have happened if the heroes hadn't been forced into a mystical draw. More specifically, "What if Wolverine Had Killed the Hulk?"

Faced with murder charges after fatally wounding the green goliath in self-defense, the clawed Canadian in this storyline fled from authorities. Recruited by Magneto into the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, Wolverine's first assignment was to infilterate the X-Men.

Wolverine trained in the Danger Room with most of the original team, and proved himself against the Sentinels. So when time came to double-cross the mutant heroes, he instead turned on the master of magnetism. The story ended in a tragic draw, with Wolverine and Magneto killing each other (What If? #31).

For continuity lovers, this hypothetical tale hinged on the premise that Incredible Hulk #181 (October 1974) ended before Defenders #15 (September 1974), when Professor X turned to the Defenders to stop Magneto and Alpha the Ultimate Mutant. Len Wein wrote both of those classic stories.

During the 1990s, Hulk and Wolverine worked together briefly as Secret Defenders.

What If ? Vol. 1. No. 31. February 1982. "What if Wolverine Had Killed the Hulk?" Rich Margopoulos (script), Bob Budiansky (pencils), Mike Esposito (inks), Bob Sharen (colors), Karin Nemri (letters), Tom DeFalco (edits), Jim Shooter (chief).

Friday, October 3, 2008

Defenders Dialogue: Dragonfang

In this two-page fight scene from Defenders #25, Valkyrie's opponent seemed to fall backward in battle instead of getting cut by her magical blade. In other issues, Valkyrie held out the sword Dragonfang, only to punch enemies with her fist. A letter from #25 pointed out the complications of Valkyerie's weapon.

Dear Marvel,

I've just finished reading Defenders 22. Not bad. It's good to "see" Valkyrie out of costume, even if it's still there. Valkyrie is a good character and fits well in the Defenders. Still, there's one thing about her that bugs me. It's that sword. What is it good for, anyway? In this issue she stabs a rat on page 7, then on page 30 chops a gun, apparently knocking another guy down with the wind. I'm not trying to put the writers down, but the sword stinks. All it's good for in a fight is cutting people in half, and that's in poor taste. Every time there's a fight you see her waving the thing around, but usually not connecting. So why a sword? Why not something else? A mace, maybe. At least she could hit somebody without taking his arm off. What might make a better weapon for her, in my opinion at least, would be some type of quarterstaff. Thing about it. It's a versatile weapon, capable of striking and deflecting more blows than you're liable to use in one story. And best of all, it doesn't dismember the opposition! Molenna and Firelord have similar weapons, but as long as you don't build any gimmicks into Valkyrie's staff (you know, keep it a plain striking instrument) it should be fairly unique. So let's leave the swords in Asgard. They just don't make it in New York.

Brian Murphy
Cleveland, Ohio

Here's how the Marvel staff repsonded:

Truth to tell, Brian, the same thought has occurred to us from time to time about Val's sword, but we've been hesitant to make any change because Dragonfang seems to have become a sort of trademark for the warrior-woman. But how 'bout it, people? Do you agree? Should Val take up a slightly more blunted bit of armament? Should she use any weapon at all besides her physical strength (which is considerable)? Again, we're very interested in your opinions. The dialogue resumes in thirty days.

Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 25. "The Serpect Sheds Its Skin." Steve Gerber (writer), Sal Buscema (artist), Jack Abel (inker), Ray Holloway (letterer), Petra G. (colorist), Len Wein (editor).

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Return of Yellowjacket

Hank Pym's career in the Avengers had plenty of ups and downs. Though a founding member of the team, he wasn't satisfied with his original alter ego, changing from Ant-Man to Giant-Man, and then to Goliath, before settling on Yellowjacket.

Following a lengthly leave of absence, Yellowjacket returned to fighting crime … this time in the pages of the Defenders. Narrative text and a footnote pointed out that four years had passed between his last adventure (Avengers #74) and his costumed return (Giant-Size Defenders #4). Granted, time within the comic books would have passed at a slower rate, but it was significant nonetheless.

Given his perpetual identity crises and bouts of self-doubt, Yellowjacket's short run with the Defenders reestablished him as a hero, without relying on his history as an Avenger or longtime partnership with the Wasp. Although "man in bug-suit" had fought alongside the Hulk during their early days in the Avengers, the green-skinned Defender didn't recognize Henry Pym dressed as Yellowjacket.

This image of Yellowjacket readying to attack members of the Sons of the Serpent appeared in Defenders #23, launching a storyline that continued through #25.

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