Dedicated to the definitive superhero non-team.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Strange Heroes

Timed to coincide with the relaunch of the Defenders series, The Defenders: Strange Heroes works as a partial companion guide to the non-team.

Following the encyclopedia-style format of The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, this 64-page volume provides an historical overview of the various incarnations of the Defenders, with updated individual entries on Doctor Strange, Iron Fist, Namor, Red She-Hulk, and Silver Surfer.

Rather than showcasing other prominent heroes, The Defenders: Strange Heroes tends to focus on lesser-known villains and supporting characters. Case in point: The entry on Nighthawk describes the Earth-S counterpart who briefly assisted the Defenders, not the longtime member of the team.

While the end result might feel more like a grab bag than an exhaustive resource, I was particularly happy to find entries on the Chorus, the land of Here (and There), and Gargantua (called Leviathan when he battled the New Defenders).

Full entries also appear on the following:
Aleta, Andromeda Attumasen, Ardina, Belathauzer, Cyrus Black, Cloud, Doctor Spectrum (Squadron Sinister), Dollar Bill, Dolly Donahue, Eel (Stryke), Foolkiller (Salinger), Jake Fury, Gamma Spores, Geatar, Lorelei (Asgardian), Mad-Dog, Manslaughter, Jerry Morgan ("Shrunken Bones"), Nebulon, Jack Norriss, Richard Rory, Rose of Purity/Wasteland, Sea Urchin, Seraph (Tolsky), Slorioth, Solarr, Star of Capistan, Trish Starr, Torpedo (Jones), and Zusommin (viral swarm).

These characters receive half-page entries:
Blowtorth Brand, Dafydd ap Iowerth, Ludberdites, Papa Hagg, Sunshine Gross, and Tapping Tommy.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Here at Last!

The closing pages of the seven-issue Fear Itself limited series worked as a segue, with Hulk heading to the home of Stephen Strange.

When Wong greeted him at the door, Hulk pushed the servant out of the way and barged inside. The green goliath requested that Dr. Strange come to his aid to defeat Nul, a being best understood as rage incarnate.

The story continued in the highly anticipated debut of the latest Defenders series. To proceed on the quest, Dr. Strange in turn requested the aid of Namor, Silver Surfer, Red She-Hulk, and Iron Fist—all featured prominently on the cover of Defenders #1

As the adventure moved forward, the heroes ventured to Wundagore Mountain, which Dr. Strange aptly compared to The Island of Doctor Moreau. The issue ended on a suspenseful note, as one of the mountain inhabitants introduced himself as the legendary Prester John.

I certainly like the refreshing approach that the creative team is taking in both the writing and the artwork. I hope this new series has a long life ahead of it.

Defenders. No. 1. February 2012. "Breaker of Worlds Part 1: I Hate Myself and Want to Die." Matt Fraction (writer), Terry Dodson (penciler), Rachel Dodson (inker), Sonia Oback (colorist), VC's Clayton Cowles (letterer).
The top image comes from Epilogue 4 of Fear Itself. No. 7. December 2011.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Calling All Defenders

When Sub-Mariner sought revenge against the warlord Attuma for overthrowing New Atlantis, Dr. Strange offered his assistance. But with only the young mutant Loa at their side, the master of the mystic arts called for reinforcements (Fear Itself: The Deep #1).

Casting a spell initially designed to gather alchemical ingredients, Dr. Strange intended to summon core members of the Defenders. To everyone's surprise, the magic summoned Lyra (a.k.a. the Savage She-Hulk), even though she had never fought with the team. Lyra's mother was Thundra, a 23rd-century amazon—and her "father" was genetically engineered DNA from the Hulk, which explained why the magic inadvertently brought her instead.

Silver Surfer soon joined the fray as well, more or less rounding out this grouping of Defenders.

Yet against the armies of Attuma, Dr. Strange tried widening the scope of the earlier spell to summon even more allies. This time, to everyone's amazement, the magic summoned 11 more heroes who previously called themselves Defenders or accompanied the Defenders at least once (Fear Itself: The Deep #4).

Roll call:
(Top) Stingray, Cloak, Devil-Slayer.

(Middle) Daimon Hellstrom, Dagger, Blazing Skull, Black Panther, Hellcat.

(Bottom) Cloud, Moon Knight, Gargoyle.

Cullen Bunn wrote Fear Itself: The Deep, one of several Fear Itself limited series published in 2011.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Comics Economics

Comic books allotted me an early opportunity to track inflation, as I observed prices increase gradually during the 1970s and 1980s.

Here's an overview of how cover prices increased during the original run of the Defenders series.

The first 12 issues of the Defenders originally sold for 20¢ apiece.

Prices rose to 25¢ on #13 (May 1974). A yellow burst saying STILL ONLY 25¢ appeared on the covers of #35 and #37.

Notice how 25¢ then appeared inside a circle on the cover of #38.

Prices increased to 30¢ with #39 (Sept. 1976), and then to 35¢ with #53 (Nov. 1977).

Issues #64 to #70 included a white burst saying STILL ONLY 35¢. Note how 35¢ appeared in red on #68, instead of the usual black type.

Prices for standard-size issues continued to rise by a nickel or dime every one to three years.

40¢ beginning with #71 (May 1979).

50¢ beginning with #87 (Sept. 1980).

60¢ beginning with #103 (Jan. 1982).

65¢ beginning with #142 (April 1985).

Each issue of Giant-Size Defenders sold for 50¢ on stands in the 1970s. Afterward, double-sized issues of the Defenders increased incrementally in price by a quarter.

75¢ for double-sized #100 (Oct. 1981).

$1.00 for double-sized #125 (Nov. 1983).

$1.25 for double-sized New Defenders #150 (Dec. 1985) and again for #152 (Feb. 1986), when the series ended.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Defenders Yet to Come

This promotional image for Point One tipped off fans that an upcoming cast of Defenders would factor into the 64-page one-shot.

Framed as a series of possible realities observed from the Watcher's home on the moon, each story within the issue held together on its own—while setting the stage for comics slated to release in 2012.

A tale of particular interest found Stephen Strange in uncharacteristically good spirits, at home in his role as "The Shaman of Greenwich Village."

But Dr. Strange fell sullen as he tried to help a man named Joe Mitchell who was trapped in a state of waking-sleep. Entering Joe's mind, Dr. Strange saw a one-panel vision of Silver Surfer, Red She-Hulk, Sub-Mariner, Ant-Man, Nick Fury, and Iron Fist, who delivered a word of warning.

Iron Fist: We either shut the engines down, or the universe will break. Doc. The impossible is everywhere now…

Certain that the vision came from the future, Dr. Strange set out to decipher stacks of notebooks that Joe had kept over the years while writing "The Compleat History of Greenwich Village."
Point One. November 2011. The Defenders tie-in occurs in "The Shaman of Greenwich Village." Matt Fraction (writer), Terry Dodson (penciler), Rachel Dodson (inker), Sonia Oback (colorist), VC's Clayton Cowles (letterer), John Denning (asst. editor), Arbona & Brevoort (editors).

Six other stories foreshadowing comic books of 2012 also appear in Point One.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Introducing the Secret Defenders

Well after the original Defenders disbanded, Dr. Strange recruited Ghost Rider, Hulk, and Silver Surfer to do battle against the dreaded Dormammu. In a thought balloon at the end of that adventure, the master of the mystic arts first used the term "Secret Defenders" Dr. Strange #50 (Feb. 1993).

The phrase took hold one month later, with "Suddenly: The Secret Defenders" appearing on the cover of Fantastic Four #374 (featuring Spider-Man, Hulk, Ghost Rider, and Wolverine) and the launch of a new series with The Secret Defenders #1 (starring Wolverine, Nomad, Darkhawk, and Spider-Woman). Much in the way that episodes of Mission: Impossible opened with photos of the secret agents, these two issues each began with Dr. Strange perusing Tarot cards while deciding whose help to enlist.

Far more a non-team that the original Defenders had been, the Secret Defenders boasted a different combination of heroes each mission. The Secret Defenders ended at #25.

Fantastic Four #374 and Secret Defenders #1 both had cover dates of March 1993.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Listening to the Lunatik

Of all the opponents the Defenders faced, Lunatik was the most insufferable. As if being a serial killer wasn't bad enough, Lunatik persistently littered his speech with popular song lyrics and catch-phrases of the 1970s.

Growing up in that era, I got some satisfaction in recognizing when Lunatik was quoting the cuckoo bird from Cocoa Puffs or Mick Jagger from the Rolling Stones. But identifying the Lunatik's source material was no guarantee that he was making much sense. The Defenders, in fact, tried their hardest to tune him out.

Lunatik turned out to be not one man but several—each a splintered version of an extra-dimensional tyrant named Arisen Tyrk. The truth came out after drama professor Harrison Turk revealed that he too was one of the fragmented selves.

Reading between the lines, I now see the distracting use of quoted material in the Lunatik stories as an indirect indictment against popular culture.

The above image comes from Defenders #70, the issue when Professor Turk revealed he had a connection to Lunatik.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Alpha Flight and the Defenders

Sure, they might have been introduced in a battle with the X-Men, but the members of Alpha Flight soon had more in common with the Defenders. After losing their ties to the Canadian government in X-Men #140, Alpha Flight worked largely as a non-team throughout most of their original series, with a different combination of heroes taking part in each adventure.

As a physician turned medicine man, Michael Twoyoungmen had a career path that paralleled that of Stephen Strange. Though Shaman's magic concentrated largely around nature, his medicine pouch also gave him the ability to transport the team to other dimensions—a hallmark power of Dr. Strange.

A back story in Alpha Flight #11 told how Bruce Banner's transformation into the Hulk inspired Walter Langkowski to experiment with gamma rays, leading to his own transformation into Sasquatch. At a point when Sasquatch began to succumb to Hulk-like rage, Shaman bound him with vegetation (Alpha Flight #12), reminiscent of the Crimson Bands that Dr. Strange used at times to immobilize the Hulk.

Of all the heroes in Alpha Flight, Northstar was arguably the least content, yet Dr. Strange once enlisted his help on a mission with the Secret Defenders. The Canadian mutant accompanied Hulk and Nova in Secret Defenders #11.
The above illustrations by John Byrne come from X-Men #120 and Alpha Flight #12.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Coming of Age

The end of Defenders #16 left five members of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants transformed into infants. Yet when the evil mutant Blob next faced the Defenders (#63), he was an adult again. What happened to the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants in the time in between?

Following his transformation into an infant, Magneto went in captivity at the mutant-research facility on Muir Island, off the coast of Scotland. When the villain Eric the Red used an energy ray to restore him to adulthood, the master of magnetism broke free (X-Men #104).

Held inside a neighboring cell, other members of the Brotherhood inadvertently returned to adulthood as well. But they did not rejoin Magneto. Instead, Blob, Lorelei, and Unus teamed up with Vanisher, who concocted a plot to keep them free (Champions #17).

Chased by a trio of mutant-hunting Sentinels (secretly controlled by Vanisher), the escaped members of the Brotherhood sought refuge in headquarters of the Champions. Since Angel and Iceman of the original X-Men were members of the Los Angeles super-team, Vanisher gambled that the Champions would sympathize with their fellow mutants and agree to harbor them.

The first part of the plan paid off beautifully, as Black Widow, Hercules, Ghost Rider, Angel, Iceman, and Darkstar trounced the Sentinel robots. But instead of taking in the evil mutants, the Champions captured the band of criminals.

Mastermind, a founding member of the Brotherhood who too became an infant in Defenders #16, did not regroup with his teammates in Champions #17. But the master of illusions must have returned to his true age with the others, as he would become the lynchpin in the Dark Phoenix saga in the pages of the X-Men.

Champions. Vol. 1. No. 17. January 1978. Bill Mantlo (writer), George Tuska (artist), John Byrne (embellisher), John Costanza (letterer), Phil Rachelson (colorist), Archie Goodwin (editor). This was the last issue of the Champions series.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Defenders Dialogue: Lost Souls

What made the Defenders a team was always fodder for debate. This letter from Defenders #31 nicely summed up why four of the earliest members stayed together.

Dear Defenders Dynamoes,

I hate to tell you this, but the Defenders aren't going to work. The original idea of a group that is a non-team and doesn't really exist isn't going to last because as long as the four main Defenders (Hulk, Dr. Strange, Valkyrie, and Nighthawk) live and fight together, they will become a team in almost every sense of the word, and not a non team.

In FOOM #7; the Avengers' butler Jarvis states that there is no interdependency which binds the Avengers together as a team. But there is an interdependency which holds the Defenders together. There must be. All the Defenders are really "lost souls" (Dr. Strange might be the exception to the rule) who have found their place in life as Defenders.

Hulk and the Valkyrie are most obvious as "lost souls" because of their pasts. The Hulk has been tortured and persecuted his entire life, with only a few friendships, none of which have lasted. He has finally found friends and he realizes it, so why should he leave? Who would?

Valkyrie is really a lost soul. She was, as we all know, created by the Enchantress into the body of Barbara Denton Norriss. She has managed to scrape up Barbara's past, including an unwanted husband, but she has no real past of her own to build on. So she stays with the Defenders, where she belongs, and where she has friends who care about her. Let us not forget the relationships that she has built with the other Defenders. With Dr. Strange I see a sister and brother relationship. She is carrying on a troubled romance with Kyle. The most interesting of these relationships is that which I see has developed between herself and the Hulk. I would say that the Hulk almost has a crush, of sorts, on Val. And Val has grown quite found of this greenskinned goliath with the mind of a small child. Nighthawk has gone from an aimless millionaire to an aimless villain. He has finally found his aim in life and his fulfillment as a Defender. What more can be said?

Dr. Strange is almost the exception. He has fulfillment and aim elsewhere. He has a past, he has a future. For all of these years he has been operating very well, he does not need steam.

Except, he is a loner of sorts. Even though he saved humanity, he has remained apart from it. Very few humans even know of his existence. His relationship with Wong is strictly business. Clea is a loner. Other than those two, and besides the Defenders, he has no other human relations. Now perhaps, isn't he remaining with the Defenders because he needs other people? Because he can't exist as an island any longer? The others need their individual forms of fulfillment; he needs other people.

So there is an interdependency which holds the Defenders together. I say fine. Let their relationships grow and evolve as they must. It will be these relationships which decide who comes and who leaves the Defenders. But let it be natural. Don't foresee anything because you think so-and-so would look nice in this magazine.

I would like to see one or two new members though. Four isn't a very big group. Especially when two of the characters have their series and can't do much developing here. Let Steve Gerber create a new female character. I'm very much in favor of that.

Larry (Fooman Torch) Twiss
King of Prussia, PA

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Holy Halloween Hijinks

As the real-life organizer of the Rutland Halloween Parade, Tom Fagan made recurring appearances in comic books that referenced the annual event. The trend began with Avengers #83, which marked the 11th year of the parade and pictured him wearing a Nighthawk costume.

On the parade's 12th year, Tom Fagan appeared not only in Marvel Feature #2 (wearing street clothes before the Halloween festivities) but also in Batman #237—making his DC Comics debut dressed as the Caped Crusader. The parallelism was fitting, given how the creation of Nighthawk in the Squadron Sinister was an homage to Batman of the Justice League.

The next Halloween was a particular treat. With Glynis Wein the colorist on Amazing Adventures #16, and husband Len Wein the writer of Justice League of America #103, the couple appeared with Gerry Conway and Steve Englehart in a subplot that drove through the Halloween issues at both Marvel and DC as the foursome headed to Tom Fagan's Halloween party. Appropriately enough, he went as Nighthawk in Amazing Adventures #16 yet wore a Batman costume for the Justice League.

JLA #103 gave an additional nod to Marvel Comics in a humorously haunting way, when villain Felix Faust transformed ordinary people in Halloween costumes into super-powered foes. These included a Web-Slinger, the shield-carrying Commando America, and the Norse Thundergod (who was particularly apt seeing how Thor's series at Marvel also referenced the Rutland subplot).

The above image of Tom Fagan comes from Justice League of America. Vol. 1. No. 103. December 1972. "A Stranger Walks Among Us!" Len Wein (writer), Dick Dillin & Giordano (artists), Julius Schwartz (editor).

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Where Walks the Juggernaut?

Following a tradition in the 1970s of tying comic books stories to the Rutland Halloween Parade, Amazing Adventures #16 brought Beast to Vermont just in time for the annual event. The tale began on a comedic note, with cameo appearances by members of Marvel's creative staff. But the story turned tragic after the arrival of Juggernaut.

A mystical side effect of the Ruby of Cyttorak, which gave him superhuman powers, trapped Juggernaut in Crimson Cosmos since X-Men #33. Inside another dimension, Juggernaut encountered Dr. Strange, who too was imprisoned at the time but managed to escape (Dr. Strange #182).

As Juggernaut remained trapped, he acquired a prescient knowledge of events on Earth. He knew that exactly one year after an abduction of Dr. Strange (Marvel Feature #2), Beast would be in Rutland on October 31. That degree of symmetry would allow Juggernaut to magically escape.

Unlike the other opponents Beast faced during his run on Amazing Adventures, Juggernaut already knew that the hero had grown fur since his days with the original X-Men. Through experience, Beast knew he could disempower Juggernaut by removing his helmet. But when he finally succeeded, Beast was astounded to witness Juggernaut age rapidly—yet another side effect of the villain's magical origins. To escape death, Juggernaut returned to the Crimson Cosmos.

There was unintentional subtext to the storyline. By stating explicitly that one year had passed between the Rutland Halloween adventures, the tales situated the characters in real time—a storytelling trope best ignored under scrutiny since comic book characters routinely age much more slowly than real people.

When Juggernaut next returned to Earth, magic forces of the other dimension restored him to his normal age (Incredible Hulk #172).

Amazing Adventures. Vol. 2. No. 16. January 1973. "… And the Juggernaut Will Get You … If You Don't Watch Out!" This message brought to you as a public service by the titanic team of Steve Englehart (writer), Bob Brown (artist), Frank McLaughlin (inker), and Charlotte Jettter (letterer); in cooperation with Marie Severin (caricaturist), Glynis Wein (colorist), and Roy Thomas (editor).

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A Fistful of Fury

A supporting character at various times throughout Defenders history, agent Nick Fury starred in his own back-up adventure in Defenders #54.

Taking place within S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, the solo story found Nick Fury under attack by a group of his own Life Model Decoys, now dubbed the LMDs of Doom!

After battling several of the androids, Nick Fury discovered that the hooded figure commanding the LMDs was in fact yet another decoy of himself. Having apparently developed the capacity for independent thought, the malevolent android intended to kill the real Nick Fury, then take his place as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.*

* Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division.

Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 54. December 1977. "Fury Times 5!" Scott Edelman (writer), Juan Ortiz (penciler), Bruce Patterson (inker), Howard Bender (letterer), Ken Klaczak (colorist), Archie Goodwin (editor).
The main story that issue, "A Study in Survival" by David Anthony Kraft, continued an ongoing saga against the Presence.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Full Circle

Following New Defenders #152, Valkyrie led an unlikely band of adventurers in battle on another plane of existence. Through the borderlands between life and death, her teammates consisted of Andromeda, the once-treacherous Manslaughter, and the extra-dimensional Interloper.

But they would not stay trapped forever; the cover of Strange Tales #5 promised the return of the New Defenders.

On an expedition to the Himalayas, Stephen Strange and his apprentice Rintrah sought to journey to the remote location where Dr. Strange had learned the mystic arts. When evil forces prevented the duo from magically transporting into the hidden lamasery, they enlisted the help of a mountain guide named Jigme, who recalled pointing Stephen Strange in the direction of the Ancient One years before.

Jigme: And I remember an American surgeon with whiskey-breath who gave me the last of his money to take him to the Ancient One so that his shaking hands could be cured.

Dr. Strange explained that he was now the sorcerer supreme, and the seasoned guide agreed to assist. While leading Dr. Strange and Rintrah through the snow and toward their destination, Jigme slipped down the mountainside and lay critically wounded.

In her mythic role as guide to fallen heroes, Valkyrie then appeared to deliver disheartening news.
  • If Dr. Strange used his magic to prevent Jigme from dying, he and Rintrah would not be strong enough to battle the evil forces awaiting them ahead.
  • If Dr. Strange allowed Jigme to die, a magical balancing act could allow the four Defenders to return to the land of the living—giving the two sorcerers the backup they needed.

The two heroes did not mince words while debating the dilemma.
Dr. Strange: What you're asking me to perform is a blood sacrifice! The foulest of all rites of black magic! I won't do it! I can't do it!
Valkyrie: Stephen, it's exactly the type of sacrifice that ages ago first bound the evils you now fight! He's dying anyway! And we're no ghastly undead--we are the Defenders! Manslaughter--Interloper--Andromeda--and me! Let us help you, Stephen!

In a morally dubious decision, Dr. Strange followed Valkyrie's pragmatic advice and did not intervene as Jigme died. The Defenders accompanied Dr. Strange and Rintrah through Strange Tales #7, in a crossover storyline with Cloak and Dagger against the entity Nightmare.
Strange Tales. Vol. 2. No. 5. August 1987. "The Snows of Yesteryear." Peter Gillis (script), Larry Alexander (pencils), Randy Emberlin (inks), Janice Chiang (letters), Bob Sharen (colors), Carl Potts (editor), Jim Shooter (editor in chief).

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

The collective being called Over-Mind seemed intent on staying with the Defenders as it transitioned from a non-team into a "new" group. Yet the character inexplicably vanished from the series after Defenders #122 … just before the debut of Cloud in #123.

Not until #149-150 did the New Defenders learn of the intertwining events that transpired between those two earlier issues.

When stars in an area of space began to disappear, a cloud of mass from a sentient nebula journeyed to Earth in search of help. Over-Mind sensed the nebula's thoughts and traveled into the void of space to investigate the phenomenon on his own.

New to Earth, the sentient Cloud tried making contact with a young couple, Carol Faber and Danny Milligan—only to witness their automobile skid off the road and crash. The accident left them both comatose. Psychically traumatized, Cloud acquired the paranormal ability to assume the appearance of the two humans (alternating between female and male forms), while forgetting its own true nature.
This image of Over-Mind appeared in The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Andromeda Strain

For all his complaints about helping the Defenders, Prince Namor's exploits with the team made a lasting impression on at least one citizen of Atlantis.

When sexism within the Atlantean military prevented a female commander from gaining further promotions, she circumvented the glass ceiling by heading to the United States. Taking the heroic name Andromeda, she sought to follow in Namor's steps and become a Defender. After joining the heroes in battle at the end of New Defenders #146, Andromeda became a full member of the team in #148.

Unlike the half-human prince, Andromeda was a full Atlantean with naturally blue skin. She required advanced science to breathe air on the surface of the Earth and alter her appearance to pass as Caucasian in her civilian alter ego as Andrea McPhee.

For all the intrigue surrounding the legend of Atlantis, the sea kingdom from Marvel Comics never lived up to its literary potential. Career opportunities aside, I don't blame Andromeda for wanting to leave.

The above image of Andromeda comes from the pages of the New Defenders #152, the last issue of the original series.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Mutant Affairs

During one of Beast's public lectures about his life as a superhero, Adrian Castorp, a musician who was persecuted for being a mutant, challenged the hero to take his role as a public figure more seriously. Instead of relying on humor, why didn't Beast discuss the discrimination mutants faced?

The message struck home, prompting Beast to found a movement advocating that mutants only need sensitivity, tolerance, and equal rights (New Defenders #142). As an homage to Adrian Castorp, who happened to have six fingers on each hand, the symbol for M.O.N.S.T.E.R. was a fist with six fingers (no connection to the Six-Fingered Hand).

Based on the letters column, reader response to the mutant storyline was favorable. The following letter on the topic appeared in #151.

Dear Peter, Don, Kim, Janice, Michele, & Carl,

I'm writing to thank you for THE NEW DEFENDERS #142. I think this was the best of THE NEW DEFENDERS so far. I'm glad to finally see some intelligent Homo Sapiens in the Marvel Universe. Seeing people who accept mutants as people is an overwhelming joy. I thought this story was very touching.

I guess one of the reasons I liked this story so much was because of Adrian Castorp. He, like the first born male in my family, has six fingers on each hand. Just thought you'd like to know you really hit home with this one!

I guess this makes me a mutant too, huh? I wish you would consider making another character like him. You could even use my name!

Keep up the good work.

Bill Lawrence
Montclair, NJ
The above image comes from the New Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 142. April 1985. "M.O.N.S.T.E.R." Peter B. Gillis (writer), Don Perlin (penciler), Kim DeMulder (ink), Michele Wrightson (colorer), Janice Chiang (letterer), Carl Potts (editor), Jim Shooter (editor-in-chief).

Monday, September 12, 2011

Defining the New Defenders

In launching the Marvel Super Heroes role-playing game during the mid 1980s, TSR published a line of adventure modules and sourcebooks showcasing characters from the comic books.

Although the Defenders never had their own game supplement, "The MARVEL-Phile" article in Dragon #100 included Marvel Super Heroes game stats for three members of the New Defenders.

With her matter-of-fact fighting abilities, Valkyrie made for a straightforward transition into game terms. Stats for her horse Aragorn appeared as well.

Game mechanics for Gargoyle were more complicated than most, as writer Jeff Grubb captured the nuances of the hero's energy-drain powers.

Notes for Cloud, the newest of the New Defenders, were necessarily enigmatic—describing the character's alternate forms while adding that the truth about Cloud's identity remained unknown.

As for the other New Defenders, game stats for Beast and Moondragon previously appeared in the sourcebook Avengers Assembled! The X-Men sourcebook titled Project: Wideawake had included stats for Iceman, Angel, and Candy Southern.

The above image of Cloud, from The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, was one of the illustrations included in Dragon #100 (August 1985).
Dragon #100 also featured the article "Creative Conjuring," in which Eric Walker proposed variant rules for the magic of Dr. Strange and other spell-casters in the Marvel Super Heroes game.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Leader of the Pack

Candy Sothern absolutely shined during her debut in X-Men #31, when a chance encounter reunited her with "childhood sweetheart" Warren Worthington III. The two knew one another before Warren entered Professor Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters as Angel, and then would become romantically involved as young adults.

Though originally introduced in dialogue with the last name Sothern (without the letter u), further appearances clarified that her last name was Southern (with a u) by the time Angel joined the Defenders.

As far back as Defenders #121, Beast and Valkyrie were at odds about who should lead the team, while Gargoyle dodged the debate. That push-pull dynamic helped explain the group's eventual decision to appoint Candy Southern as leader of the New Defenders (#138).

For all her intelligence and poise, Candy had no real qualifications to lead a super-team—except what she might have learned through osmosis over the years as Angel's girlfriend. So she was understandably surprised that the heroes selected her for the position.

While in charge, Candy focused her attention on improving the security system of the group's headquarters (#145), acting more like an honorary leader than the real thing. But a non-leader was all the New Defenders could agree on at the time.

The top panels show Warren Worthington's reunion with Candy Sothern in the X-Men. Vol. 1. No. 31. April 1965. "We Must Destroy the Cobalt Man!" Good-as-gold editing by: Stan Lee. Solid-silver scripting by: Roy Thomas. Platinum-plated penciling by: Werner Roth. Iridium-bright inking by: Jon Tartaglione. Lead-lined lettering by: Sam Rosen.
The bottom panels show the heroes and housekeeper Dolly Donahue expressing their support for Candy Southern as leader of the New Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 138. December 1984. "Three Women." Peter B. Gillis (story), Don Perlin (pencils), Kim DeMulder (inks), Janice Chiang (letters), Petra Scotese (colors), Carl Potts (editor), Jim Shooter (editor-in-chief).

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

It's Either in You or It's Not

A friend was kind enough to alert me this week that Marvel plans to launch a new Defenders series in December 2011.

Doctor Strange, Sub-Mariner, Silver Surfer, Iron Fist, and Red She-Hulk (Betty Ross) are among the characters slated for the ongoing series.

For all my mixed feelings about previous attempts to either revisit or ravamp the non-team, I have to say that I am looking forward to the upcoming Defenders title.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Coming Attractions

When Marvel Age magazine began publication in 1983, the Coming Attractions section featured promotional blurbs about upcoming comics.

Here is a sampling of Coming Attractions about the Defenders as they transitioned from a non-team to the New Defenders.

Marvel Age #2 (May 1983):

  • DEFENDERS #122—Written by J.M. DeMATTEIS. Pencils by DON PERLIN. The Iceman Cometh! Hellcat and the Son of Satan Goeth! And for you action lovers, you'll be knocked off your pins as—the Beast gets a dog and picks up his old mail!!!

Marvel Age #6 (September 1983):
  • DEFENDERS #126—Remember Moondragon? Remember how her arrogant personality turned her from a hero to the most incorrigible AVENGERS villainess of all? Well, she's in the DEFENDERS—and Valkyrie on orders from Odin has to teach her humility and cooperation! Needless to say, our newest ensemble of Defenders is in for some growing pains as a team. Don't miss "State of the Union," written by J.M. DeMatteis and penciled by Don Perlin.

Marvel Age #15 (June 1984):
  • THE NEW DEFENDERS #135The New Defenders may not be your ordinary team of super heroes—but they've never met an adversary like this! He's Blowtorch Brand—and he's not your average arsonist! Angel, Beast, Iceman, Gargoyle, and Moondragon have to stop him—before he reduces New Mexico to a pile of ashes! "The Fire at Heaven's Gate" is written by Peter B. Gillis, penciled by Don Perlin, and inked by Kim DeMulder!

Marvel Age #17 (August 1984):
  • NEW DEFENDERS #137The New Defenders face a fight to the finish—with one of their own members! Will the Gargoyle have to sacrifice his own life to save that of his friends? Also, more on Cloud, one of the most unusual super heroes to be introduced in years! And it's all for six dimes! Written by Peter B. Gillis, penciled by Don Perlin and inked by Kim DeMulder! 60¢.

Marvel Age #25 (April 1985):
  • NEW DEFENDERS #143—What a choice Moondragon must make! Should she die a horrible death, and thus spare the world from being destroyed by a monstrous evil force—or should she live and accept the almost limitless power that can be hers, by agreeing to forever become the immortal tool of the Dark Dragon? All that the New Defenders can do is watch—helpless! "Another Runner" written by Peter B. Gillis, penciled by Don Perlin and inked by Kim DeMulder. 65¢.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

In with the New

This image appeared in Marvel Age #11 (February 1984) alongside an interview with Peter B. Gillis about his writing plans for the New Defenders, beginning with #131. Gillis continued to script the New Defenders through #152, when the series ended.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Gargoyle against Himself

In breaking a proverbial pact with the devil, 78-year-old Isaac Christians resolved himself to being trapped indefinitely in the body of a demon (Defenders #94).

But Gargoyle's limited series raised an important question: What became of Isaac's original body?

A return trip to his hometown of Christiansboro disclosed the unpleasant truth that when Isaac's mind entered the body of the demon, the demon's spirit entered Isaac's physical self.

With that revelation, the hero battled the vindictive gargoyle-spirit, who blamed Christianity for the demise of ancient magick.

Though published in 1985, Gargoyle's limited series had a degree of Gothic suspense reminiscent of nineteenth-century horror stories.

J.M. DeMatteis wrote the Gargoyle limited series. Mark Badger illustrated the four-part tale. The above image of Isaac Christians appeared in #1.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Necessary Evil

One of their most challenging sagas pit the Defenders against an alliance of evil demons calling themselves the Six-Fingered Hand.

Along with long-timers Dr. Strange, Valkyrie, and Hellcat, the Son of Satan and Gargoyle were principal members of the non-team at the time.

Given the group's open mind when it came to demon-heroes, Ghost Rider might have seemed like an obvious choice for membership. But Ghost Rider's brazen disposition made the Defenders think twice before seeking his help against just one member of the Six-Fingered Hand (Defenders #96).

With Ghost Rider on their side, the Defenders defeated the demon Fashima, and a cult of followers led by rock singer Asmodeus Jones (no direct connection to the villain Asmodeus from Giant-Size Defenders #2).

Ghost Rider's alter ego, Johnny Blaze, returned for a guest appearance in Defenders #145. Ghost Rider later became a founding member of the Secret Defenders.

Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 96. July 1981. "The Rock and Roll Conspiracy!" J.M. DeMatteis (writer), Don Perlin and Joe Sinnot (artists), Diana Albers (letterer), George Roussos (colorist), Al Milgrom (editor), Jim Shooter (editor-in-chief).

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Soul Searching

A storyline that began in Defenders #120 emphasized that the pentagram on Daimon Hellstrom's chest was emblematic of the "darksoul" he inherited from his father. When the villain known as Miracle Man absorbed Hellstrom's powers, he gained the chest emblem as well. Though often equated with demonic magic in the comics, the five-pointed star became an important symbol in ancient Greece for highly intellectual reasons that had nothing to do with good vs. evil. The subject crossed my mind during a recent viewing of Donald in Mathmagic Land, a film I hadn't thought about in years. The classic Disney short set the pentagram in a far more positive context. But perhaps the Son of Satan never watched Donald Duck.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

To Hell and Back

Unable to find an antidote for the poison that a Skrull had slipped Beast's ex-girlfriend, Vera Cantor (Avengers #209), Mr. Fantastic suggested that they seek the help of Dr. Strange (Defenders #105).

The master of the mystic arts took the lead as the trio ventured into the extra-dimensional realm tied to the Resurrection Stone. They did not realize it at the time, but the malevolent spirit of the gemstone had mentally lured the three heroes to that dimension to harness their life force. The battle ended as the entity transformed Dr. Strange, Mr. Fantastic, and Beast into crystalline statues, frozen within the magical realm.

They weren't the only ones trapped in another dimension.

After their epic mission to hell (Defenders #99), one of the Defenders had not returned to Earth (#101). Daimon Hellstrom, the Son of Satan, remained a prisoner in his father's domain.

As he tortured his son, the Lord of Lies added insult to injury by flatly describing the interdependence between good and evil, and the conflicted nature of evil itself (#105).

Satan: Still, I have my role to play--you have yours! We are sworn enemies--we must fight each other through eternity! But know that, behind the facades--your father loves you! I do not expect you to fully comprehend this, Daimon. Few could without going mad. That is why this memory will fade from your mind … leaving behind only a glimmer of what you've learned. Now--return to your human friends, whelp! The sight of you sickens me!

Cast out of hell, the Son of Satan materialized in the home of Dr. Strange, where the Resurrection Stone had restored itself. Using his own magic, Hellstrom instinctively destroyed the gemstone once and for all—thereby freeing Beast, Mr. Fantastic, and Dr. Strange. Hellstrom then used his healing powers to return Vera Cantor to health.
Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 105. March 1982. "… Rising … " J.M. DeMatteis (writer), Don Perlin & Joe Sinnot (artists), Shelly Leferman (letterer), George Roussos (colorist), Allen Milgrom (editor), Jim Shooter (editor-in-chief).

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Butler Did It

Beast had become something of a ladies' man during his time with the Avengers, shedding much of the social awkwardness of his youth. When a chance encounter reunited him with Vera Cantor, his steady girlfriend during his days in the original X-Men, the now-blue hero invited her to Avengers Mansion to catch up (Avengers #209).

As the couple got reacquainted over tea with some of Beast's new teammates, Vera suddenly fell unconscious. A Skrull impersonating Jarvis the butler had poisoned her (while the real Jarvis was on vacation).

The Skrull demanded that the Avengers partake in a dangerous journey through time to retrieve the legendary Resurrection Stone. The Skrull promised that once the crystal was in his hands, he would repay the Avengers by using its magic to save Vera.

Utilizing time-travel technology from Fantastic Four headquarters, Wonder Man, Vision, and the Scarlet Witch accompanied Beast on a journey to the year 1364 to battle an evil sorcerer who held one-half of the Resurrection Stone—then landed in 1945 Nazi Germany to retrieve the second half before returning to the present.

Having come face to face with the horrors of the Black Plague and the Holocaust, Beast decided that power over life and death was too much for anyone to possess. Rather than hand over the crystal to the Skrull, and rescue Vera, Beast destroyed the Resurrection Stone.

Skrull: You crushed it! But that is … impossible! My plan was perfection! The vagaries of human love should have assured me victory!

Mr. Fantastic placed Vera Cantor in a suspended animation tube to keep her alive until an antidote might be found. Searching for a cure might be what Beast had in mind when he decided to leave the Avengers to pursue scientific research (#211). And that quest ultimately led to his joining the Defenders.

To be continued…
Avengers. Vol. 1. No. 209. July 1981. "The Resurrection Stone." J.M. DeMatteis (scripter), Alan Kupperberg (penciler), Dan Green (inker), Janice Chiang (letterer), Ben Sean (colorist), Jim Salicrup (editor), Jim Shooter (editor-in-chief).

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Riddle Me This...

Here's a lighthearted ad for the New Defenders that appeared the back cover of Marvel Age #7 (October 1983).

In retrospect the riddle reads like a trick question, of course, since more than two mutants formed the New Defenders. But there may have been sound reasons to frame the question that way.

With more-or-less symmetry, the ad used only images on the front cover of Defenders #124, which was on sale that same month. And only two of the heroes spotlighted on that cover were mutants.

Even so, the puzzle continues...

QUESTION: Why were Angel, Beast, Valkyrie, and Gargoyle the only New Defenders pictured on the cover of Defenders #124?

Saturday, February 5, 2011


When the Hulk got mad, the Defenders grew concerned—not only for their teammate but also for the public at large.

So when an angry Hulk outmaneuvered even Dr. Strange by figuring a way out of the Crimson Bands of Cytorrak, the Defenders knew this was serious business (Incredible Hulk #207).

But what had caused the Hulk to become so upset?

The love of his life had died.

First introduced in Incredible Hulk #140, when Hulk shrank into another universe, Jarella was a rare woman indeed. The green-skinned empress from another world developed romantic feelings for both Bruce Banner and Hulk—and the culmination of the two.

But tragedy struck during Jarella's first visit to Earth. As the Hulk did battle with Crypto-Man, the villain threw a car at the hero. The car struck a building instead, causing a wall to collapse. Jarella ran to rescue a boy who was in harm's way. Yet as she pushed the boy the safety, Jarella was crushed by falling bricks. Soon afterward, Doc Samson pronounced her dead (#205).

Emotionally devastated, Hulk searched the streets for Dr. Strange, the one person who might have the power to resurrect Jarella.

With the Hulk at large, military personnel tried again and again to apprehend the Hulk, disrupting his quest for the magician (#206).

The Defenders managed to calm the Hulk by the end of #207. After learning what had happened Jarella, Dr. Strange regretted that he could not bring her back to life.

Dr. Strange: I am truly touched that you place so much faith in me Hulk--but there is much that even I cannot accomplish. The forces of life and death weave a most delicate tapestry indeed--one that cannot easily be tampered with!
Under the circumstances, there was little the Defenders could do to console their friend.
The image of the Hulk at the top of this post comes from The Incredible Hulk #207.