Dedicated to the definitive superhero non-team.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Turbulent Team-Ups

Of all the heroes to call themselves Defenders, Luke Cage and Daimon Hellstrom may have had the least in common. This made the duo's impromptu reunion in Marvel Team-Up #126 all the more intriguing.

The issue began with Hellstrom and Cage each responding to a cry for help. But as they approached a wounded man in a dark alley, the heroes mistook one another for the assailant. Not until they began fighting did the two recognize each other (having worked together only briefly as Defenders).

The injured man had been a mentor to Luke Cage, one of the few supportive adults in his life while growing up. Yet desperate for power and purpose, this same man had joined a secret sect intent on conjuring up an demonic entity. The cult thought Power Man's steel-hard body would make a perfect host for the malevolent spirit.

With crimefighting partner Iron Fist away on a meditation retreat, Power Man gladly accepted help from the Son of Satan.

Marvel Team-Up. No. 1. Vol. 1. February 1983. "A Firm Offer!" J.M. DeMatteis (scripter), Bob Hall (penciler), Mike Esposito (inks), Diana Albers (letters), Bob Sharen (colors), Tom DeFalco (editor), Jim Shooter (chief).

The second team-up this issue was a retelling of a story originally published in a Sunday newspaper supplement.

With a S.W.A.T. team on his tail, Hulk was in the midst of a reckless rampage until Spider-Man lured him to a deserted warehouse, where the green goliath calmed down and turned back into Bruce Banner.

Concerned that apprehending the distraught physicist might induce yet another violent transformation, the web-slinger tried a different approach. Changing back into his street clothes. Peter Parker gave the shirtless scientist the jacket off his back, the last $5 in his pocket, and a suggestion to head out of town.

The tale ended with Hulk handing a destitute man a wad of cash from his own ripped pants. Hulk's generosity would have been more touching, though, if he hadn't needlessly smashed parked cars and uprooted lampposts earlier that issue.
"The Obligation!" Jim Shooter (story), Tomoyuki Takenaka (art), Jim Novak (letters), Bob Sharen (colors).

Monday, May 25, 2009

As Seen on TV

One of their earliest foes used television as part of a disturbing attempt to manipulate the children of Earth. Using his muppet-like appearance to his advantage, the extraterrestrial named Xemnu was a hit on a Saturday morning kids' show (seen in Marvel Feature #3).

Through his popularity and mind-control abilities, the furry giant intended to lure hoards of children to a hijacked rocket, then use them to repopulate his planet. Beneath the surface of this offbeat tale was a serious message about the threat of child abduction.

Dr. Strange, Sub-Mariner, and the Hulk thwarted the plot. Although Xemnu's hypnotic powers could influence both children and adults, the Hulk's altered intellect was resistant. Xemnu returned in Defenders #12 and appeared briefly in #100.

Marvel Feature. Vol. 1. No. 3. June 1972. "A Titan Walks Among Us!" Stan Lee (editor), Roy Thomas (writer), Ross Andru (artist), Bill Everett (inker) Art Simek (letterer).
Before Bruce Banner ever overdosed on gamma rays, the monstrous Xemnu was billed as the "Hulk" in Journey into Mystery #62 (November 1960) and #66 (March 1961). To avoid confusion, the giant extraterrestrial later became "Xemnu the Titan."

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Past Lives

One of the most moving stories in the history of the series came in Defenders #117.

Six powerful telepaths had sacrificed their lives to save the world from destruction (Defenders #106). Physically, they were dead. But in an astonishing turn of events, they now mentally resided in the extraterrestrial body of Over-Mind.

To make peace with the past, the mental "chorus" within Over-Mind partook in a ritual to bid farewell to the lives they left behind.

At first, the lumbering body of Over-Mind psionically took the appearance of Mindy Williams, a woman who had been romantically involved with Nighthawk. She left flowers at a ceremonial site for the hero, who was believed dead at the time.

The two psychics to receive the most attention were Ursula Richards and young Philip Le Guin (subtle homages to author Ursula Le Guin; an appropriate choice given the themes of metaphysics and gender identity in some of her works).

When Over-Mind changed into Philip, the boy's schoolyard friends responded with fear. When Philip returned home, the Le Guin parents were so horrified to see their dead son in the flesh that Dr. Strange cast a spell to wipe the experience from their memories.

Next, the mind of Ursula Richards came to the forefront. Resuming Over-Mind's physical form, she smashed down a building in the slums where she was raised—without realizing some children were playing inside. Dr. Strange intervened to magically save their lives.

The message was clear. Making up for lost time was impossible. The six psychics resolved to heroically continue their unusual coexistence as Over-Mind.

Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 117. March 1983. "The Gift." J.M. DeMatteis (scripter), Don Perlin (penciler), Jack Abel (inker), Shelly Leferman (letterer), George Roussos (colorist), Allen Milgrom (editor), Jim Shooter (chief).

Friday, May 22, 2009

Return of ... Cover Versions

Here are four great covers that each announce the return of a hero. For Yellowjacket, Giant-Size Defenders #4 marked the end of his lengthy leave of absense from crimefighting, yet it was his first mission with the relatively new non-team. Silver Surfer, on the other hand, returned in Defenders #6, regretting his hasty departure in Defenders #3.

Dr. Strange, meanwhile. rejoined the group in Defenders #58, after resigning in #46. Having made his first guest appearance in Giant-Size Defenders #2, Daimon Hellstrom not only returned in Defenders #92 but also became a regular member.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

There and Back Again

For the longest time I disregarded Defenders #115 as a humor issue that didn't require much attention. But when I recently noticed it was dedicated to Theodor Geisel, I bought an extra copy for a friend who is a fan of Dr. Seuss—and finally got around to reading the issue for myself.

A return trip through another dimension left Beast, Gargoyle, Sub-Mariner, and Valkyrie stranded in an unusual world where everyone spoke in rhyme. At the request of Mayor Greeneggs, the heroes agreed to defend the land of "Here" from their enemies from "There." The decidedly silly story paid homage to a handful Seuss characters, while combining elements from other works of children's literature.

The irreverent adventure ended with the usually barefoot Prince of Atlantis donning the pair of ruby sneakers to click himself and his teammates back home. The shoes were still on his feet when he returned.

Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 115. January 1983. "A Very Wrong Turn!" J.M. DeMatteis (script), Don Perlin (pencils), Hilary Barta (inks), Shelly Leferman (letterer), George Roussos (colorist), Al Milgrom (editor), Jim Shooter (editor-in-chief).

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Supreme Showdown

When the conqueror called Over-Mind gained mental control of the Squadron Supreme, Hyperion was the only member of that team powerful enough to resist.

Escaping from his home dimension, Hyperion found help from the Defenders. The group's extensive lineup at the time consisted of Dr. Strange, Sub-Mariner, Hulk, Silver Surfer, Valkyrie, Nighthawk, Son of Satan, Gargoyle, Beast—and temporary associates Scarlet Witch and Vision.

The Defenders accompanied Hyperion back home to square off against the mind-controlled Squadron Supreme in a high-stakes battle with plenty of surprises (Defenders #113).

  • Dr. Spectrum used energy from his Power Prism to create a giant hand that grabbed Silver Surfer's board out from under him. The giant hand beat Surfer hero with his own board until the cosmic champion got back on his feet and retaliated.

  • Tom Thumb boasted that his Quadra-Titanium Bands could enwrap and entrap any man—until the Hulk broke free from the metal straps and knocked out the super-inventor.

  • Amphibian claimed to be unbeatable underwater. But during their fight, Sub-Mariner proved to be the water-breather supreme.

  • Lady Lark's siren song immobilized several of the Defenders. So Dr. Strange countered with his own melodic magical words.
By the screaming Demons of Denakk
By Eternity's timeless cry
Let a Sphere of Silence now appear--
and cause this song to die!

Other Defenders defeated the remaining members of the Squadron Supreme without as much hoopla. But victory over the Squadron brought the Defenders even greater troubles.

At the end of the #113, the hoard of heroes were left facing an even greater threat in Null—The Living Darkness!

The Nighthawk who accompanied the Defenders on this mission was actually his counterpart from the Squadron Supreme.
Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 113. November 1982. "Moon Madness!" J.M. DeMatteis and Don Perlin (script--co-plotters--breakdowns), Mike Gustovich (finishes), Shelly Leferman (letterer), George Roussos (colorist), Allen Milgrom (editor), Jim Shooter (chief).

Monday, May 4, 2009

Nighthawk Supreme

The Kyle Richmond who joined the Defenders as Nighthawk was a reformed member of the Squadron Sinister (first seen in Avengers #69). As it turned out, Nighthawk and other members of that villainous team had counterparts in the Squadron Supreme, a group of heroes from a parallel dimension (first seen in Avengers #85).

The Kyle Richmonds of both worlds were financial heirs who became leaders of their respective super-teams. But the Nighthawk of the Squadron Supreme attained a level of self-actualization that the Defenders hero never saw.

Instead of drinking a serum to boost his strength, the Nighthawk of Earth-S trained extensively to become an exceptional athlete and crimefighter—even without the benefit of super powers. Whereas the Defenders knew a Kyle Richmond plagued with personal and business frustrations, the ambitious Kyle Richmond of Earth-S became president of the United States.

The Nighthawk of Earth-S truly came into his own as a character during the Squadron Supreme's acclaimed 12-issue series (1985-1986). When his teammates assumed political control of their planet to create a utopia free of crime and poverty, the principled hero resigned in protest.

Opposing such totalitarianism—no matter how well intentioned—Nighthawk organized a group of super-vigilantes to stop the Squadron Supreme. He was one many characters who died in the battle at the end of the series.

The above image of Nighthawk (Earth-S) comes from the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe (deluxe edition).

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Fansite Anniversary

One year ago today I launched this blog by examining the psychology of the Hulk and his involvement with the Defenders (in a post titled For He's a Jolly Green Fellow). That initial post also gave a nod to the Hulk's 2008 film, which I still haven't gotten around to seeing.

That said, now seemed like the right time to discuss why I decided to create a fansite about a persistently overlooked group of heroes.

Truth be told, I found the concept of the non-team confusing when I read my first issues of the Defenders while growing up.

I didn't take a real interest in the series until the roster began to change in the early 1980s. A level of sophistication underlay many Defenders stories from that era. Recurring themes of theology and sexuality caught my attention then and remain captivating today.

As a series, the Defenders had its share of ups and downs. But there was a novel-like quality to the way that many of the storylines unfolded, with intelligent foreshadowing and emotional depth.

Over the past 12 months, this blog has afforded me an opportunity to revisit many favorite issues from my youth, and uncover some classic 1970s tales that I was too young to catch at the time.

In the months ahead, I expect to keep moving forward with posts about the original series and finally give the New Defenders the attention they deserve. There will still be flashbacks to earlier issues and discussions of pertinent crossovers. As I'm discovering, some of the Defenders' best adventures—and most relavent developments—happened in other comic book series.

I'm happy to say that there's still a lot left to cover.

The image at the top comes from Defenders #14, when the early members began to gel as a team.