Dedicated to the definitive superhero non-team.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Day the Defenders Stood Still

Although it read like a farce, Defenders for a Day became a defining moment in the team's history. This is the first of several posts discussing the foreshadowing and impact of that fateful day.

Nighthawk, Valkyrie, Hellcat, and Hulk were the core members of the group in Defenders #62. But when a well-intentioned TV documentary explained that the team lacked an official roster, numerous heroes arrived at the Richmond Riding Academy to announce their membership.

However, half of the superheroes featured on the cover of #62 didn't show up in the story. For starters, Spider-Woman and Human Torch were not Defenders for a Day. Neither was Angel, although he later joined in #125.

Power Man, a former Defender, did not return for this issue either. But his business partner, Iron Fist, was a Defender for a Day without him. A flashback in Last Defenders #3 (2008) pictured Luke Cage's future wife (Jessica Jones) among the Defenders for a Day. This was one of several attempts to situate her heroic alias into the history of the Marvel Universe.

As for the rest, Captain Mar-Vell, Falcon, Jack of Hearts, Nova, and Hercules were Defenders for a Day, along with many heroes not pictured on the cover of Defenders #62.

Iron Man finally arrived in #63. But instead becoming one of the Defenders, he alerted them that swarms of villains also had declared their membership!

Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 62. August 1978. "Membership Madness!" David Kraft (dashing dialogue), Sal Buscema and Jim Mooney (pandemonius pictures), J. Costanza (lively letters), B. Sharen (cozy colors), Bob Hall (enthusiastic editing), Jim Shooter (editor-in-chief).

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

No Time Like the Presence

The Defenders saved the Earth from interdimensional enemies countless times, but the brooding realism of Defenders #52-56 still stands out, as the non-team warded off the threat of nuclear destruction.

Carmine Infantino and Klaus Janson's artwork was absolutely stunning during this run on the Defenders, adding immeasurably to this multi-part story by David Kraft.

A series of underwater nuclear tests prompted the Sub-Mariner to reacquaint himself with the Defenders in an effort to save Atlantis from deadly radioactive emissions.

Joined by Hellcat, Nighthawk, and Hulk, Prince Namor led the heroes into battle against a nihilistic Soviet scientist known as the Presence, whose unauthorized experiments had garnished him with vastly destructive power. As Hulk's alter ego, Dr. Bruce Banner expertise in nuclear physics did not go to waste on this mission.

In a quest for companionship along with power, the Presence had transformed the Red Guardian into a being of nuclear energy to stand by his side as he conquered the world. The Defenders were horrified to fend off attacks from their former teammate, mentally enslaved by the twisted genius.

When the Red Guardian regained her own will, she emotionally depleted the Presence by scorned him for the inhuman futility of his plan. The mission concluded with the Defenders exceptionally ill, in need of treatment for radiation poisoning. In time, the two radioactive beings left the Earth to protect humanity from the dangerous side effects of their new forms (in a subplot that ended in Defenders #65).

Though presumed dead, Red Guardian and the Presence returned in The Incredible Hulk #258-259 (1981), this time facing the Soviet Super Soldiers.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Red Guardian: The Super Surgeon

The Red Guardian's role in the Defenders was largely symbolic. When Nighthawk needed brain surgery, Dr. Strange sought the help of world-renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Tania Belinsky.

Her introduction reminded readers that slight nerve damage had ended Stephen Strange's surgical career, and that modern medicine could be more powerful than magic. (To further illustrate this point, Nighthawk's medical problems became a recurring theme in the series.)

Only after Dr. Belinsky arrived in the United States did the Defenders discover that she was secretly a superhero, the latest incarnation of the Red Guardian (Defenders #35).

While envisioning herself as a Soviet version of Captain America, the Red Guardian fought crime covertly in her homeland. In the midst of the Cold War, the Soviet Union suppressed superheroes, regarding them as too "American," no matter how patriotic their intentions. The end result villainized the Soviet government while explaining the shortage of communist heroes in the world of Marvel Comics.

The Red Guardian was standoffish toward the other Defenders, but without inciting the emotional tug-of-war reminiscent of other tempestuous members of the team. Although the results may have been less dramatic, they provided an understated sophistication to the character.

Dr. Belinsky's neurosurgical skill again came into play during a complicated story involving the Cobalt Man (Defenders #43, basically a sequel to his debut in X-Men #31).

The above image of Red Guardian first appeared in The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. A male Soviet agent with a similar costume had died in Avengers #44.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Cover Title Treatments

The gold-plated nameplate of Defenders #50 set the tone for that landmark issue, with the heroes moving from behind the title treatment to the front. Several later issues further incorporated the title into the cover scenes.

On a subtle level, of course, numerous issues show a cover element partially overlapping the title, but without drawing the title into the action.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A Milestone with Moon Knight

Moon Knight could have made a great Defender. With his mystical background, nocturnal inclinations, silver costume, and handful of alter egos, he was like half the Defenders rolled into one.

Although Moon Knight thought highly of the team, the self-styled solo adventurer accompanied the Defenders for only five issues (#47-51), barely enough time to scratch the surface of the complex character.

This two-page Defenders spread comes from their milestone 50th issue. Hulk was the only original Defedner in the group at that point, with Valkyrie and Nighthawk as longtime members. Hellcat was still a new recruit, and Moon Knight fashioned himself as a temporary Defender.

Defenders Dialogue: Elf

The Defenders faced several serial killers over the years. But few villains garnished as much mail as the inexplicable gun-toting elf. Here's an editorial note from Defenders #43 and the letter that followed.

The elf sub-plot has been one of the most controversial in the history of the DEFENDERS mag. Fan mail has been split almost down the middle as to whether it should ever have been started in the first place. But Paul Butler kind've put the situation in a very appropriate tongue-in-cheek perspective. It gave the Bullpen a big laugh, and we think it'll give you some snickers.

Dear Marvel,

Report on the elf phenomenon by the Univac 1108 computer.

A: Elf appeared in DEFENDERS #25, #31, #38, #40. NO APPRECIABLE PATTERN.

B: Victims of elf were Tom/Pritchett, Charles Lester, Stewart (no last name given), and an unidentified woman. NO APPRECIABLE PATTERN.

C: Locations of crimes were a mobile home park in California; Las Vegas, Nevada; the Grand Canyon in Colorado; somewhere in the southwestern United States. CRIMES WERE COMMITTED IN THE WESTERN HALF OF THE UNITED STATES.

D: Activities of the victims at the time of death were singing, gambling, exploring, hiding. NO APPRECIABLE PATTERN.

@Conclusion. Steve Gerber is suffering from a severe mental disorder which zorf gglmf ndjb. BLAM!

The Univac 1108 computer is unable to complete its report due to an unidentified elf with a gun! But all seriousness aside, when is this thing coming to a head?

Paul Butler
Madison, WI
This image of the Elf comes from Defenders #25. Long after his killing spree, the Elf returned in an equally ambiguous subplot that convinced early members of the team to step aside, making way for the New Defenders.