Dedicated to the definitive superhero non-team.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Comparative Mythology

The ongoing threat of supernatural forces was a defining theme not only for the Defenders but also in the early days of Alpha Flight. Some indirect similarities unfolded in the original series for both super-teams.

Beginning with Alpha Flight #1, the premiere heroes of Canada had incremental battles against the Great Beasts, seven evil beings who were escaping to Earth, one by one, as the bonds between dimensions grew weak. The subplot had a personal connection to Snowbird, the half-goddess member of Alpha Flight who was a born enemy of the Great Beasts.

By this time the Defenders had defeated a string of demonic entities known collectively as the Six-Fingered Hand. The danger had a familial connection to Daimon Hellstrom, the half-devil member of the Defenders whose father was leading a charge to break through extra-dimensional barriers and conquer Earth (Defenders #99).

On top of that, both teams had a mystical orange monster among their ranks. Though introduced as an opponent of the Defenders, the hero Gargoyle was a repentant man trapped within the body of a demon. With Alpha Flight, the unsuspecting heroes eventually discovered that teammate Sasquatch actually transformed into the physical form of Tanaraq, one of the Great Beasts.

The above image from Alpha Flight #6 (January 1984) shows Snowbird facing the Great Beast called Kolomaq. It's worth noting that the Alpha Flight series took creative liberty in suggesting that the seven Great Beasts and various story points had roots in Inuit mythology.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

From Prince to Pauper

Following World War II, Sub-Mariner spent years suffering from amnesia until a chance encounter with the Human Torch restored his memory (Fantastic Four #4).

But suppose the two heroes hadn't met that fateful day. In short, What If … Sub-Mariner Never Regained His Memory?

A back-up story in What If? #29 peered into an alternate reality where a bearded outsider remained ever-unaware of his true identity as the Prince of Atlantis. Answering to the name of "Smith," he joined a seafaring expedition en route toward the North Pole. Taking to heart the writings if Jules Verne and other authors, the ship's captain believed the crew would find an entrance to the Earth's core.

As an aside, Defenders (Volume 4) speculated that Namor's father was in fact Captain Nemo, a character created by Jules Verne.

A series of complications in What If? #29 finally left "Smith" isolated in the Arctic, where his half-Atlantean physiology protected him from the cold. There, he discovered a block of ice that held Captain America in suspended animation (loosely mirroring events from Avengers #4). But in this alternate reality that block of ice never thawed, so the Star-Spangled Avenger remained frozen indefinitely.

What If? Vol. 1. No. 29. October 1981. "What If … Sub-Mariner Never Regained His Memory" Steven Grant (story), Rick Buckler & Bob McLeod (art), Karen Nemri (letters), Ann Nocenti (colors).

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Outside Looking In

For all his dedication to Dr. Strange, the magician's long-time servant never played more than a peripheral role in the pages of the Defenders. One story from the original series offered a rare look at Wong's point of view (Defenders #60).

A demonic cult had trapped the astral form of Dr. Strange, preventing his conscious mind from reuniting with his physical body. If his astral form and physical form stayed separate for too long, Dr. Strange could die. As the magician's body lay almost lifeless in the Sanctum Sanctorum, the Defenders turned to Wong for help.

Wong: Perhaps if his physical form is brought in close proximity to his astral form, the two might reunite. But I am unschooled in the mystic arts. I cannot be sure!

Dollar Bill, an aspiring film-maker who had been tagging along with the non-team, accompanied Nighthawk, Hellcat, Valkyrie, and Hulk on their quest. Wong, on the other hand, stayed behind. A thought balloon revealed Wong's feelings of isolation.

Wong: (Thinking) So the wheel of fortune whirls ever on--as others drive to save the master--and indeed the very Earth itself--Wong remains behind again … alone …

Devil-Slayer joined the Defenders in battling the cult and rescuing Stephen Strange.

Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 60. June 1978. "The Revenge of Vera Gemini!" David Kraft (words), Ed Hannigan (pictures), Dan Green (finished art), R. Parker (letters), B. Mouly (colors), J. Shooter (kudds).
An homage to a song by the Blue Öyster Cult, mystical cult leader Vera Gemini (above) had no connection to the super-criminal Gemini (right) or the rest of the villainous Zodiac team from Defenders #50.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Fearless Defenders

Fearless Defenders #1 teamed up Valkyrie with detective Misty Knight, but the underlying premise of the new series came clear in #2. In the absence of the traditional shield-maidens of Asgard, Valkyrie received a directive to assemble a band of super-powered Earth women.

Considering this undertaking left Valkyrie wondering which super-heroines, if any, might be up to the task.

In a roundabout way, the objective harks back to the debut appearance of Valkyrie (actually Enchantress in disguise), who led a band of super-women called the Lady Liberators. That one-time team, however, formed under the auspices of fighting chauvinism by battling male heroes (Avengers #83).

The above image of Valkyrie and Misty Knight appeared on the cover of Fearless Defenders #1.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Defenders Dialogue: Volume 2

 When seven members of the Defenders regrouped in Volume 2 of the series, they bickered as much as ever. The following letter from Defenders #7 (September 2001) addressed the disparate personalities within the team.

I just would like to say thank you for bringing this book back… Truly, in my eyesight, it was missed. It is so good to see the return of the "Big Four": Hulk, Surfer, Namor and Doc Strange (along with Hellcat, Nighthawk and the new Valkyrie). I believe this book is destined for greatness as it once was. the only thing I would like to suggest is that they get a leader … and soon! For truly with arrogant minds such as Namor and the Hulk, they need someone to toe the line. In other words, to put everyone in check. My suggestion is Nighthawk, since he seems to me to be the one with the most desire for the group to stay together. I think since he really has a heart for the team he would make a great leader. He has already been head of his own company, and I think he has qualities for the position. As a co-leader, in case of emergency, I choose Hellcat. She's been through a lot this year. I think the character has grown so much. Plus, she also has a heart for the team. This is not to say Doc Strange or Surfer could not do it. But at this time Doc Strange seems a little estranged to me. I don't think Surfer would want to be bothered with it. The new Val is just too new for it. So that is all I have to say except for keep up the good work. And until Gargoyle shows up in a pink mini skirt, Make Mine Marvel.

Cleo Bostick
Newark, NJ
Here was the reply from assistant editor Marc Sumerak:
A leader might help, Cleo, but I don't know if it'll happen. Heck, the Big Four don't even want to be on the team. I'm sure Kyle wold be up for the job, but do you really think that Namor and the Hulk are going to put up with orders from "Bird-Nose"? I'd give him two seconds as leader before one of the other Defenders smacked him and his jetpack across Manhattan.

That's it for this time. Now I gotta jet!