Dedicated to the definitive superhero non-team.

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).