Dedicated to the definitive superhero non-team.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Defenders Dialogue: Membership

The letters page of Defenders #103 asked readers which heroes—old or new—they wanted in the team. Seven issues later, the letters page published the results. Here were the top 20 heroes that fans requested.

  1. Doctor Strange    
  2. Valkyrie
  3. Hellcat
  4. Silver Surfer
  5. The Gargoyle
  6. Clea
  7. Beast
  8. Nighthawk
  9. Devil-Slayer
  10. Moon Knight
  1. Son of Satan
  2. Sub-Mariner
  3. Hulk
  4. She-Hulk
  5. The Angel
  6. Wonder Man
  7. Jack-of-Hearts
  8. Daredevil
  9. Ghost Rider
  10. The Scarlet Witch    

Defenders #110 provided this analysis of the reader responses:

One of the most interesting aspects of this poll was the high-ranking Clea received from our readers, based (we assume) on her strong performance in DEFENDERS #'s 100-103. You all seemed to like seeing Clea step to the forefront, taking over Doc Strange's role as the mystic focus of the book. Unfortunately, as recent events in Doc's own book have shown Clea has returned to her home dimension for the nonce. But, if she returns to this dimension, chances are she'll drop in to visit her DEFENDERS pals.

Considering the mail we received after DEFENDERS #100, begging the Son of Satan to return to these pages, we'd assumed he would rank in the top five, at least. As you can see, he didn't. Why? We think it's because (and again the mail bears us out) most of you assumed Daimon was lost in his father's realm for good. Thus, many of you didn't vote for him. The mail, since his return in issue #105, has shown us how much Marveldom is intrigued and excited by this inimitable character. And the warm response to the Beast and the Gargoyle proves what we already knew—that they're a couple of likeable guys!

Finally, one message was loud and clear in your letters—you want to see Moon Knight in THE DEFENDERS! Well, that's up to him—but we think he'll make an appearance. After all, the guy gets around!

One last prediction: we'll be that, come issue #112, with the introduction of the Vision and the Scarlet Witch to these pages, you DEFENDERphiles will be begging us to keep the titanic twosome around for the long haul. Let us hope it's not so…

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Watching the Watchmen

Many fans already know that the Watchmen are gritty reinterpretations of Charlton characters acquired by DC Comics. After enjoying the film this week, I noticed similarities between the Watchmen and the Defenders as well.

What do you get when you cross Hulk's origin with Silver Surfer's powers and disposition? The answer, of course, is Dr. Manhattan.

With acrobatic skills, mother issues, and frustrations with men, Silk Spectre is the Hellcat of the Watchmen.

As a financial heir with modest self-esteem and a bird motif, Nite Owl is like a brainy rendition of Nighthawk (who himself was an homage to Batman).

It would be a stretch to describe Rorschach, the Comedian, or Ozymandias as direct counterparts to any of the Defenders. But their grim, violent, and self-righteous existentialism would be no stranger to the non-team of Marvel Comics.

A peripheral character in Watchmen history was Dollar Bill, who died with his cape stuck in a revolving door (providing a guilty moment of comic relief). For a time the Defenders also featured a minor character called Dollar Bill. He was the the documentary director responsible for Defenders for a Day, a goofy chapter in the team's own history.

Alan Moore wrote the Watchmen graphic novel, originally published as a 12-issue series in 1986-1987.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Who's the Strongest of Them All?

When an extraterrestrial boxing champ wanted to go one-on-one against the super-strongmen of Earth, the competition that ensued told as much about the heroes' personalities as it did about their powers (Marvel Two-In-One Annual #7).

During the training period before the first match, Doc Samson was eliminated for lacking the stamina of the rest. Immediately afterward, the Prince of Atlantis announced that he would not participate in the competition. A coincidence? I think not.

Since the early days of Marvel Comics, Sub-Mariner was heralded as the strongest man of the sea. In this case, Namor's uncooperativeness may have spared him the embarrassment of being deemed too weak to compete on dry land, without a nearby water supply to replenish his strength against the alien Champion.

Usually described as the strongest man on Earth, with his strength increasing with rage, the Hulk was expelled for precarious reasons.

Hulk: Hulk hates puny alien! Hulk smash.
Champion: No! I shall not waste my time on a mindless brute!

In other words, the Champion wouldn't fight the Hulk because the Hulk could have won. Thor, meanwhile, was disqualified for using his hammer during his boxing match.

Sasquatch, Colossus, and Wonder Man each fared reasonably well, but Thing ultimately held out the longest against the Champion.

The Avengers, Fantastic Four, and X-Men made guest appearances this issue. Even with Hulk and Sub-Mariner summoned into the competition, the rest of the Defenders did not guest star. As a non-team, they sometimes were overlooked.
Marvel Two-In-One Annual 7. 1982. "And They Shall Call Him … Champion!" Tom DeFalco (script), Ron Wilson (pencils), Camp, Esposito, Giacoia, Green, Gil, and Stone (inkers), Jim Novak (letters), George Roussos (colors), Jim Salicrup (editor), Jim Shooter (referee).

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Truth about Evil

A decade worth of subplots culminated in Defenders #111, when Hellcat learned the nature of evil within the gates of hell.

Reinforcing earlier stories, the issue described how Mephisto and several other extra-dimensional antagonists in the Marvel Universe were in fact separate aspects of Satan. But what exactly did that mean?

Satan: We are not independent entities who have sprung into being of our own volition … we are the creations of humanity itself! Physical projections of mankind's collective unconscious! We exist because man exists! We are, in truth his dark side given flesh!

When Hellcat questioned how these claims fit into the Bible, the devil delivered an agnostic reply.
Satan: Ah yes--the Bible. The story of the Angel Lucifer who was cast out of heaven by an angry God. It was from that story that I took my current name … the better to be what man wants me to be! But I am not that Satan--if indeed such a being does exists.

This explanation came as a relief to me, as it distanced the demons of theology from the demons of comics, making them more palatable in a way. It also helped sidestep arguments about religious interpretation. Daimon Hellstrom's hellspawn heritage was no more a reflection of Christianity than Valkyrie's Asgardian roots were bound by traditional Norse mythology.
Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 111. September 1982. "Fathers and Daughters." J.M. DeMatteis (writer), Don Perlin (breakdowns), A. Mushynski (finishes), Shelly Leferman (letterer), George Roussos (colorist), Allen Milgrom (editor), Jim Shooter (editor-in-chief).

Friday, March 6, 2009

Sage Advice from the Hulk

In a room full of despondent Defenders, leave it to Hulk to give the pep talk.

In this opening scene from Defenders #101, the gamma-green hero encouraged everyone to feel proud of their latest triumph against evil. But Hulk's tough-love wisdom was short-lived. When the other heroes remained sullen, Hulk got mad.

Hulk: Nobody smiles anymore--nobody is nice to Hulk anymore! And if nobody is nice--then there's no reason for Hulk to stay!

This wasn't the first time Hulk left the team, and it wouldn't be the last.

There's more to the story, of course. In saving the Earth from destruction (#100), teammate Daimon Hellstrom still remained trapped in the realms of hell. Thus, Hulk's attempt to lift everyone's spirits did not signifiy philosophical enlightenment but rather his inability to grasp what was going on. There was something sad about that as well.
Clockwise from top: Silver Surfer, Devil-Slayer, Gargoyle, Sub-Mariner, Dr. Strange, Clea, Valkyrie, Hellcat, Nighthawk (accompanied by nurse Luann Bloom), and Hulk (center).

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Final Conflict

Too young to appreciate the series during the 1970s, Defenders #99 was the first issue that truly grabbed my attention. That's when I became a fan.

Early issues of the series had emphasized the fragile bonds that kept netherworldly entities from conquering the Earth. Following back-to-back missions that drew on the mystical nature of many heroes, the Defenders relied one-too-many-times on the dimension-traveling powers of Dr. Strange and Devil-Slayer's magical Shadow Cloak.

Playing into the hands of a demonic plot, the heroes inadvertantly weakened those dimensional barriers just enough to let the armies of evil break through. Brilliantly uniting core members with recurring and new heroes, a cavalcade of Defenders ended the issue facing nothing less than hell on Earth.

Defenders #99 gave novelesque meaning to the series as a whole, as if all previous storylines had been leading up to this ultimate threat—powerfully concluduing in the double-sized centennial issue that followed!

Roll call:
Hulk, Valkyrie, Gargoyle, Sub-Mariner, Silver Surfer, Dr. Strange, Clea, Son of Satan, Devil-Slayer.
Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 99. September 1981. "The Final Conflict?" J.M. DeMatteis (writer), Don Perlin and Joe Sinnott (artists), Jean Simek (letterer), George Roussos (colorist), Al Milgrom (editor), Jim Shooter (editor-in-chief).