Dedicated to the definitive superhero non-team.

Friday, December 25, 2020

X-Men Impostors

Before Blob joined numerous supervillains in pretending to be Defenders, he pulled off a similar stunt in X-Men #20 (reprinted in #71). During that earlier crime spree, Blob and fellow evil mutant Unus disguised themselves in costumes matching those of the original X-Men. The ruse exacerbated an undercurrent that followed the X-Men and would carry through to the New Defenders. To much of the general public, all mutants were a menace, with little distinction made between mutant heroes and mutant villains. X-Men #20 also provided an important piece of background about Professor X, telling how he had lost the use of his legs when facing an evil extraterrestrial called Lucifer.

As a sign of their achievements, the original X-Men began wearing individualized costumes in #39. The original costume style returned as a student uniform when Kitty Pryde joined the X-Men in #139; the New Mutants would would wear a variation of this original uniform as well.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Introducing Interloper

A series of cameo appearances beginning in New Defenders #147 culminated in #152, when the mysterious Interloper joined the team in a climactic battle against the Dragon of the Moon. Interloper had faced the wicked creature one thousand years earlier and had been living in seclusion ever since.

While keeping much of his history a secret, Interloper revealed a recent regret: he had trained Manslaughter in the use of mental powers … without anticipating how dangerous Manslaughter might become. A fear of making such mistakes, or being judged for them, had contributed to Interloper's overarching decision to stay hidden from the outside world.

This panel comes from New Defenders #152, the final issue of the series.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Titan, the Amphibian from Atlantis!

One month before Sub-Mariner regained his memory as the Prince of Atlantis in Fantastic Four #4 (May 1962), a very different Atlantean appeared in Tales of Suspense #28 (April 1962). In that tale, a water-breathing giant named Titan communicated telepathically to the residents of Manhattan. When Titan offered untold wealth to anyone willing to describe humanity's weapons and defenses, an automobile industrialist named John Cartwright jumped at the offer. Upon arriving in Atlantis, however, Cartwright told the giant amphibians that humans possessed weapons powerful enough to destroy the underwater civilization, deterring them from attacking the surface world.

Fantasy Masterpieces #7 (Feb. 1967) and Uncanny Tales from the Grave (Oct. 1975) reprinted this creative tale, titled "Titan, the Amphibian from Atlantis!" Throughout this time period, the science fiction and fantasy titles published by Marvel Comics did not inherently occupy the shared universe of superheroes … making room for these Atlanteans to be vastly different from Sub-Mariner's people. In contrast, a prior take on Atlantis from Amazing Adventures #2 (June 1961) became Aquatica when reprinted in Weird Wonder Tales #22 (May 1977), as the updated version helped establish Dr. Druid as a costumed hero.

As an aside, as compelling as Sub-Mariner could be as a character, his homeworld generally lacked the imagination of Titan's version of Atlantis or the lost city renamed Aquatica.

Friday, December 18, 2020

The Return of Whizzer

Like other members of the Squadron Sinister, the villain Whizzer was a nod to a member of the Justice League of America—specifically Flash (Barry Allen). Unlike the rest of the Squadron Sinister, Whizzer also had a similarly named counterpart at Timely Comics (a predecessor to Marvel Comics).

Robert Frank, the original Whizzer, first appeared in USA Comics #1 (Aug. 1941). The character acquired superhuman speed and vitality from a transfusion of mongoose blood designed to save his life following a venomous snake bite. As a costumed hero, Whizzer soon became a member of the All Winners Squad, a group that also included Miss America, Sub-Mariner, Captain America (with sidekick Bucky), and the original Human Torch (with sidekick Toro).

Three decades later, Giant-Size Avengers #1 (Aug. 1974) brought Whizzer out of retirement, getting more mileage out of the character. Without the benefit of half-Atlantean physiology, or years spent in suspended animation, Whizzer had aged normally and found himself past his physical prime. For a time, indirect evidence led Whizzer to incorrectly believe that he and Miss America (now deceased) were the true parents of the mutant twins Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver.

Whizzer's own history become more complex when retroactive continuity effectively split the All Winners Squad into two new teams set during World War II. Invaders #1 (Aug. 1975) sent Sub-Mariner, Captain America, and Human Torch to battle the Axis powers in Europe. Marvel Premiere #29 (April 1976), on the other hand, placed Whizzer and Miss America, along with Red Raven and a handful of other costumed crimefighters of that era, in a homefront team called the Liberty Legion.

Perhaps to avoid confusion with the increasing prominence of the original Whizzer, the villainous Whizzer from the Squadron Sinister later changed his handle to Speed Demon. It is worth noting that, over at DC Comics, the original Flash (Jay Garrick) first appeared in Flash Comics #1 (Jan. 1940).

This image of Whizzer comes from The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Featuring Ant-Man

Immediately after Marvel Feature #1-3 introduced the dynamic Defenders as a superhero team, Marvel Feature #4-10 re-introduced Hank Pym as the astonishing Ant-Man. Finding himself trapped at a shrunken height, without the gadgetry he previously used as Yellowjacket, this revamped version of Ant-Man wore a new costume and armed himself with a proportionally small sword. The seven-part story arc brought back old foes Egghead and Whirlwind, introduced new villains, and pitted the swashbuckling hero against natural threats reminiscent of the 1957 film The Incredible Shrinking Man.

Henry Pym's wife, Janet (a.k.a. Wasp), lost much of her edge during these new adventures of Ant-Man, appearing largely as a romantic interest and occasional sidekick. As founding members of the Avengers, however, both characters had years of adventuring experience by this point and might very well have shared equal billing on the title.

Pym's lab assistant, Bill Foster, made a cameo appearance in Marvel Feature #9, investigating the disappearance of the super-couple and foreshadowing his eventual transformation into Black Goliath.

Henry Pym resumed his Yellowjacket identity in Giant-Size Defenders #4. Wasp featured prominently during her guest appearances in Defenders #76-77.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Lord of the Wings

Defenders #6 (Vol. 2) revived the costumed adventurer known as Red Raven. Orphaned as an infant and raised on a floating island of bird-people, the character returned to human society as an adult. Equipped with a pair of artificial wings, Red Raven made his crimefighting debut in 1940. Like many Golden Age heroes, however, Red Raven fell into obscurity after World War II.

When the Defenders encountered the floating island decades later, Red Raven asserted the isolationist stance that he and the bird-people wanted nothing to do with surface-dwellers. Parallels between Red Raven's abrasive disposition and that of Sub-Mariner did not escape the Defenders.

Red Raven made his first comeback in X-Men #44, when the winged mutant known as Angel accidentally discovered the hidden civilization of bird-people. The territorial Red Raven violently defended his adopted homeworld from the intruder. Gaining the upper hand in combat, Angel made an unusual remark, saying that he now knew he could lick Red Raven's weight in hobbits.

There certainly is a possibility that Red Raven could have read The Hobbit. Published in 1937, the novel was available during his time living among humans. The bigger mystery, however, is whether or not Angel actually read The Hobbit either as a student at Professor Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters or on his own. Of all the creatures described in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, hobbits were among the least formidable. A human-sized hobbit, or the number of hobbits equal in mass an adult human, would hardly pose a threat to the average superhero—even a hero whose only power was flight.

As far as temperament, it would be a stretch to liken the headstrong Red Raven to that of a homebodied hobbit. All things considered, Angel's attempt at trash talk didn't land.

This image of Red Raven and Angel comes from X-Men #44 (May 1968).

Friday, December 4, 2020

Devil-Slayer and the Flying Dutchman

Strange Tales #98 included a ghost story about the crew of The Flying Dutchman, a legendary ship from seafaring lore. The title of the story was "They Vanished Forever!"

When superheroes later encountered the haunted ship, the term Flying Dutchman also referred to the vessel's netherwordly captain. In league with the entity Mephisto, the Flying Dutchman approached Devil-Slayer in Marvel Comics Presents #46, offering earthly pleasures aboard the supernatural ship in exchange for the hero's soul. Devil-Slayer refused the offer yet the demonic adversary persisted.

Flying Dutchman: Your soul is already lost! All that remains undecided is which underworld lord will possess it!

After trails and tribulations, Devil-Slayer discovered that holy water could weaken the Flying Dutchman and keep him at bay (#49).

This rendition of The Flying Dutchman appeared in Strange Tales #98 (July 1962).

Saturday, November 28, 2020

The Making of Mandrill

At the time of his debut in Shanna The She-Devil #4 (June 1973), the villain Mandrill worked with an accomplice named Professor Skecher. Mandrill had the superhuman power to compel women to do his bidding, and the heinous Professor Skecher would tattoo Mandrill's facial markings onto the face of each follower. Sketcher himself had no visible tattoos. The adventurer Shanna O'Hara surprised both men with her athleticism and her ability to resist Mandrill's influence.

By the time the Defenders faced Mandrill, Professor Skecher was out of the picture and Mandrill's new female followers (the Fem-Force) were not tattooed in his image.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Dungeons of Doom

The covers of Shanna The She-Devil (Feb. 1973) and Marvel Two-In-One #68 (Oct. 1980) each promoted a Dungeon of Doom! The dungeons inside the two issues, however, could not have been more different.

For Shanna, the dungeon was minimalistic. Captured by the underlings of crimelord El Montano, Shanna found herself bound on the floor of a holding cell. Imprisoned alongside Shanna were her two trained leopards, Biri and Ina. Although the heroine described El Montano's men as jackals, there were no actual jackals in the cell (in spite of the cover image). Shanna easily escaped, defeating the sword-bearing jailer standing guard at the cell door.

Thing and Angel, on the other hand, ran into each other at a new disco called Zanadu Zone, only to find themselves caught in the secret dungeon underneath. Filled with mechanical traps and robots, the dungeon was the brainchild of Toad (one of the villainous Defenders for a Day and an original member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants). After escaping, a sympathetic Angel agreed to pay off Toad's debts and finance a fun house called Toadland. Candy Southern was Angel's date to Zanadu Zone and again to Toadland.

Friday, November 20, 2020

All the World's a Stage

Dr. Strange #55 found the sorcerer supreme distraught. Clea had ended their relationship two issues before … a decision some time in the making.

Acting as a mystical guide, Dakimh the Enchanter visited Dr. Strange, who was experiencing visions that his life lacked substance—an understandable fear for a sorcerer who spent so much time traveling across dimensions. To Dr. Strange, his teammates in the Defenders were now a facade and his home was no more real than a theatrical set. Wandering outside, he saw a movie marquee promoting the film Doctor Strange II: Beyond Raggadorr! To the world, Dr. Strange was a fictional character.

An element of reverse psychology was at work here. In presenting Dr. Strange with visions that nothing in his life was real, the story showed the sorcerer how much he still had left.

This image from from Dr. Strange #55 (Oct. 1982) features Dakimh and Dr. Strange, with visions of Gargoyle, Daimon Hellstrom, Hellcat, and the Sanctum Sanctorum.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Mythology Lessons

Defenders #92 placed the non-team into pairs, with each heroic duo searching for various missing persons … missing persons who were in fact personified aspects of the entity Eternity. Mystically teleported by Dr. Strange, the mission took Hellcat and the Son of Satan to a temple in India, and Nighthawk and Hulk to a Russian village.

Meanwhile, Valkyrie and Sub-Mariner traveled to Patras, Greece, where a harpy reportedly had swooped down and carried off one of the missing men. Oddly, though, the flying creature in question resembled a gigantic bird rather than the bird-women of Greek mythology. During their quest, Valkyrie and Sub-Mariner also faced interference from Glaucus, a transformed fisherman from Greek mythology. With his fish-like tail, Glaucus emerged from the water and attacked the two heroes unexpectedly. It was left unsaid whether either hero actually recognized Glaucus or wondered whether the giant bird was technically a harpy.

During their teammates' journeys, Dr. Strange and Clea tried to magically restore Eternity itself.

The Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 92. February 1981. "Eternity … Humanity … Oblivion!" J.M. DeMatteis (writer), Don Perlin & Pablo Marcos (artists), Diana Albers (letters), George Roussos (colorist), Al Milgrom (editor), Jim Shooter (editor-in-chief). The so-called harpy in this story had no connection to the super-villain Harpy.

Friday, November 13, 2020

The Arrows of Golden Archer

In several of his comic book appearances, Golden Archer of the Squadron Supreme seemed to fire ordinary arrows. Other times, such as Defenders #113, he suffered defeat before taking his first shot. There were instances, however, when Golden Archer used specialized arrows in step with the superhero genre.

Avengers #147 (May 1976) showed Golden Archer wielding an explosive Detonation Arrow similar to Hawkeye's Blast Arrow, along with an ultra-sonic Siren Arrow with sonic effects resembling the vocal powers of Squadron member Lady Lark.

Squadron Supreme #4 (Dec. 1985) depicted a wider array of weaponry, as Golden Arrow fired Magnesium Flare Arrows, as well as an arrow that produced smoke to provide cover. He also referenced a Parachute Arrow that he did not have on hand at the time.

Acknowledgment goes out to the blog Dispatches from the Arrowcave for a series of posts about the trick arrows of Green Arrow, the DC hero who inspired the creation of Golden Archer.

This image of Golden Archer comes from Avengers #147.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Becoming Blue Eagle

While Nighthawk was the only member of the Defenders with a direct counterpart in the Squadron Supreme (a group pf heroes from a parallel Earth), other similarities existed between the teams. Although the two would never meet, Red Guardian—a Soviet crimefighter who joined the Defenders during the Cold War—had a politically contrasting counterpart in the Squadron.

Introduced in Avengers #85 (Feb. 1971), the Squadron Supreme included a headstrong hero originally called American Eagle. Upon meeting the Avengers, American Eagle jumped to the conclusion that the Avengers were enemy Communists.

American Eagle: I think they're a bunch of Reds--or at least Commie-symps!

The Squadron Supreme limited series would provide more background about the patriotic character, whose given name was James Dore. He was in fact the second hero on his Earth called American Eagle, as his father fought crime under that alias in an earlier group of crimefighters known as the Golden Agency. The limited series alluded to a falling out between the father and son, which could account for the younger character's decision to adopt a non-political costume and change his alias to Cap'n Hawk (as seen in Avengers #148; Defenders #112-114).

After his father's death (Squadron Supreme #1), Cap'n Hawk changed his costume and codename once more, now calling himself Blue Eagle (a nod to his original name of American Eagle and, indirectly, to his early distrust of Reds! Blue Eagle died in combat against the Redeemers, a band of heroes and villains who challenged the Squadron's Utopia Program (Squadron Supreme #12).

This image of Blue Eagle (left) comes from the deluxe edition of The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. Interestingly, the original entry for the Squadron Supreme in TOHOTMU #10 (Oct. 1983) listed James Dore as Condor, a codename he never used in the comic book stories. The preliminary design for Condor resembled the costume the character would wear as Blue Eagle.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Red Ghost of the Sea

Defenders #7-8 creatively repurposed an establish character. Red Ghost, who had demonstrated the ability to mentally command apes after bombarding them with cosmic rays, found them increasingly difficult to control. As a result, the villain decided to try out his power on porpoises—also highly intelligent mammals and perhaps more responsive to his commands. Red Ghost's new modus operandi found him an ally in the Atlantean conquerer Attuma.

Red Ghost tried to expand his powers even more, using advanced technology to mentally command Sub-Mariner, and then Valkyrie and Hawkeye (during his short time with the Defenders). The mental tampering had a side effect for Valkyrie, who as already internally conflicted with the mind of of Barbara Norriss, causing her to hallucinate monstrous images (foreshadowing events in Defenders #64).

Dr. Strange ultimately freed the others from the influence of Red Ghost by creating a mystic shield to prevent cosmic rays from reaching Earth.

This panel of Red Ghost comes from Defenders #7 (Aug. 1973).

Sunday, November 1, 2020

The Secret Origin of Dr. Druid

As Dr. Druid grew in prominence, the similarities between his origin story and the origin of Dr. Strange became hard to overlook. Avengers Spotlight #37 reconciled this coincidence while reinvigorating the character.

Within the issue, Dr. Druid learned that the lama who had sent for and trained him in the Himalayas some time ago was none other than the Ancient One who went on to train Dr. Strange. The world needed a magical protector before Dr. Strange was psychologically ready to learn the mystic arts, so the Ancient One selected Dr. Druid as a precursor to Dr. Strange—cultivating the powers of the ancient Britons that Dr. Druid inherited.

With this revelation, Dr. Druid felt repentant for his manipulative behavior as a member of the Avengers. Further, he underwent a physical transformation, appearing as he might have looked a few years before his initial meeting with the lama (a.k.a. the Ancient One). Dr. Druid retained this younger body, with a full head of hair, during his time with the Secret Defenders.

Avengers Spotlight. Vol. 1. No. 37. October 1990. "Interlude in a Peaceable Kingdom!" Roy & Dann Thomas (writers), Bob Hall (penciler), Win Mortimer (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), R. Witterstaetter (colorist), Mark Gruenwald (editor), Tom DeFalco (editor in chief).

Thursday, October 29, 2020

You Can't Judge a Comic Book by Its Cover

According to the cover blurb, Marvel Two-in-One #34 was the shocker of the year! Though not particularly shocking by comic book standards, the story within the issue made for a worthwhile read.

The protagonist of this introspective tale was a tendrilled extraterrestrial long frozen in ice. Unbeknownst to the creature, the others of its kind who had embarked on Earth died in 1908 when their spacecraft crashed in Siberia. Narrating portions of the text, the revived extraterrestrial had peaceful—even selfless—intentions toward humanity yet was met by fear and hostility.

Ben Grimm, the orange hero called Thing, understandably sympathized with the misunderstood extraterrestrial. Nighthawk, too, was sympathetic while also reflecting on his own life circumstances, Nighthawk recognized how much more comfortable he felt helping others as a costumed hero than attending to weighty financial responsibilities as millionaire Kyle Richmond.

Marvel Two-In-One. Vol. 1. No. 34. December 1977. "A Monster Walks Among Us!" Marv Wolfman (writer/editor), Ron Wilson & Pablo Marcos (artists), Bruce Patterson (letterer), Sam Kato (colorist).

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Powergirl Parallels

Of all the Rutland Halloween Parade tie-in comics during the Seventies, the most prophetic was Thor #207 (Jan. 1974). The story's splash page depicted a parade float carrying two men dressed as Superman and Batman (illustrating an awareness of DC characters within the world of Marvel Comics). As with some other Rutland stories, Thor #207 featured guest appearances of Marvel staff, including colorist Glenys Wein (née Glynis Oliver). One panel spotlighted Glenys wearing a Superman-inspired Halloween costume with the insignia G. Her husband at the time of the story, Len Wein, mentioned that she was dressed as Powergirl.

This scene becomes historically intriguing when considering that the DC character Power Girl would make her debut two years later in All-Star Comics #58 (Feb. 1976). Introduced as Superman's cousin on Earth 2, Power Girl wore a unique costume absent of any insignia. Gerry Conway, who scripted Thor #207, also wrote All-Star Comics #58, making it all the more noteworthy to see a Powergirl costume that visually resembled Superman before the creation of a Power Girl character with familial ties to the hero.

Glynis Wein (pictured below in Powergirl costume) was the colorist on Thor #207. The panel also shows Len Wein and Gerry Conway. John Buscema illustrated this issue.

Friday, October 23, 2020


During the Defenders' run-in with the Zodiac, the villain Scorpio led the astrological organization. The true identify of Scorpio was Jake Fury, the complicated brother of S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury.

Spidey Super Stories #34 presented a friendlier version of the Zodiac. In this story, three extraterrestrials with animal-like features returned to Earth after visiting the planet thousands of years ago. Upon their return, the extraterrestrials named Leo, Aries, and Taurus encountered the super-villain Scorpion, a long-time nemesis of Spider-Man. Although the extraterrestrials initially trusted Scorpion because he resembled their crew mate Scorpio, they soon grew wise to Scorpion's plans to dupe them into committing crimes.

Spidey Super Stories. Vol. 1. No. 34. May 1978. "Spidey Meets the Zodiac People." J.M. Salicrup/Nick Cuti (writers), Win Mortimer, Ron Perlin & Mike Esposito (artists), A.J. Hays/Julie Mishkin (editors), David Kraft (Marvel consultant), Marie Severin (art director).

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Double Disguise

Avengers #119 (Jan. 1974) continued a comic book tradition of acknowledging the real-life Rutland Halloween Parade, where residents of the Vermont town celebrate in superhero attire. For several years in a row, Marvel Comics depicted parade organizer Tom Fagan dressed as Nighthawk, an ironic decision since Nighthawk was still a villain at the time.

Within the comic book, the devious Collector capitalized on this situation during Rutland's Fourteenth Annual Halloween Parade by wearing a Nighthawk costume to disguise himself as Tom Fagan. Anticipating that the Avengers would attend the festivities, as they had in the past, the Collector laid a trap to capture the heroes.

On a serendipitous note, the actual Nighthawk (Kyle Richmond) would soon reform from his criminal ways in Defenders #13 (May 1974) and redesign his costume as a hero.

Avengers. Vol. 1. No. 119. January 1974. "Night of the Collector." Steve Englehart (author), Bob Brown (artist), Don Heck (inker), Artie Simek (letterer), Glynis Wein (colorist), Roy Thomas (editor).

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The Lost City of Atlantis

While investigating the disappearance of the S.S. Luxuria in the pages of Amazing Adventures #2 (June 1961), Dr. Droom discovered that the people of Atlantis had captured the ship as a first step in launching an all-out invasion of the surface world.

At the end of the story, Dr. Droom successfully hypnotized the green, fish-like Atlanteans into believing the surface world was an uninhabited wasteland. Concerned that knowledge of Atlantis would make humans too apprehensive to travel the seas, Dr. Droom also hypnotized the Luxuria passengers to forget their experience.

Perhaps coincidentally, the events in this story were compatible in a roundabout way with Sub-Mariner suffering from amnesia in Fantastic Four #4 (May 1962), his first published appearance in years.

When Weird Wonder Tales #22 (May 1977) reprinted this Dr. Droom tale, changing the character's name to Dr. Druid, an additional change occurred. The title of the story remained "The World Below!" But the underwater civilization changed from Atlantis to Aquatica, with no discernible ties to Sub-Mariner.

Weird Wonder Tales. Vol. 1. No. 22. May 1977. "The World Below!" A Stan Lee • Jack Kirby Masterwork. Inks by Dick Ayers.

Friday, August 28, 2020

The New Mutants

The New Mutants have, at best, a tertiary connection to the Defenders. Even though I've written next to nothing about superhero films since my first post, I wanted to acknowledge the theatrical release of The New Mutants. Originally slated to open two years ago, the highly anticipated film officially opened today, with limited seating to ensure social distancing during the pandemic.

The film draws inspiration from New Mutants #1-3, 18-19 of the original series while crafting a unique story. Eagerly catching a matinee, I liked the film's rendering of all the characters—in some cases better than their comic book counterparts. More cinematic thriller than action-adventure, the film shows the young mutants coming to terms with their powers without the conventions of heroic costumes or dual identities. The stakes are personal and contained, a refreshing change of pace from the cosmic threats that have become commonplace in superhero films.

As a pair, X-Men and X2 are my all-time favorite superhero films. The New Mutants wisely acknowledges the existence of the X-Men while working as a stand-alone picture.

Monday, August 10, 2020

The Discreet Debut of Dr. Druid

An earlier post on this blog noted how the first few appearances of Dr. Droom in Amazing Adventures appeared years later in Weird Wonder Tales … prominently reintroducing the mystical hero as Dr. Druid.

Interestingly, Dr. Droom had returned for a fifth appearance in Amazing Adventures #6 (Nov. 1961), which had the same publication cover date as Fantastic Four #1. But while the Fantastic Four would enjoy lasting success, launching a new generation of heroes in Marvel Comics, the character of Dr. Droom fell into obscurity.

In that fifth and final Dr. Droom adventure, an extraterrestrial menace named Krogg used advanced technology to send houses in the town of Greenbirch to another dimension. That five-page story was reprinted as a back-up feature in Giant-Size Man-Thing #3 (Feb. 1975), changing the name Dr. Droom to Dr. Druid two years before Weird Wonder Tales #19 (Feb. 1977) … and effectively making the last published appearance of Dr. Droom the first published appearance of Dr. Druid.

This image of Dr. Droom/Druid comes from the final page of the story "Krogg!"

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Fashion Faux Pas

During most of her time as leader of the New Defenders, Candy Southern wore conventional clothing rather than a heroic costume. That changed when the villain Manslaughter captured her, dressed her in a caped outfit with a bell-shaped insignia, and then programmed a holographic image of Candy announcing that her code name was Southern Belle. In the words of the real Candy Southern, however, the costume was "atrocious" (New Defenders #151).

Candy retained the Southern Belle costume throughout #152, with a slight alteration. Her bodice, which appeared consistently blue the previous issue, was now yellow. A reasonable explanation can be found in the credits, which show that a different colorist worked on each issue.

Petra Scotese colored the upper panel from New Defenders #151 (Jan. 1986). Ken Fedunieiwicz colored the lower panel from #152 (Feb. 1986).

Friday, July 31, 2020

The Evolution of Mutant Force

Fans of the Defenders might recognize Burner, Lifter, Peeper, Shocker, and Slither as Mutant Force … but that wasn't the group's original name. When they first appeared in Captain America Annual #4 (1977), they were billed as Magneto's all-new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants!

It wasn't until they began working for Mandrill in Defenders #78 (Dec. 1979) that the five henchmen adopted the name Mutant Force. The team remained Mutant Force when they changed leaders once again, working next for Mad-Dog, who incidentally was not a mutant.

As of Captain America #342 (June 1988), Slither left Mutant Force and became a member of the Serpent Society, a group of super-villains unified by their reptilian powers rather than mutant status. Meanwhile, the rest of Mutant Force altered their code names and started wearing matching costumes to mask their previous identities. Calling themselves the Resistants in #343 (July 1988), they fought against the Mutant Registration Act, which now required mutants to register with the U.S. government.

  • Burner, sporting fire powers, changed his name to Crucible.
  • Lifter became Meteorite and used his power to negate gravity in a novel way, transporting the Resistants on a floating chunk of rock.
  • Peeper, who had telescopic vision and optic blasts, chose Occult as his new secret alias.
  • Shocker, with an electro-touch strong enough to render someone unconscious, became Paralyzer. With the new uniform, Paralyzer wore metal gloves and boots to hide that his hands and feet resembling pincers; these physical mutations were visible in his previous costume as Shocker.

Several other mutants joined the Resistants by their next appearance in Captain America #346 (Oct. 1988). The Mutant Registration Act described in this story was a colloquial term for the proposed Mutant Affairs Control Act referenced in New Defenders #142.

The cover of Captain America #343 shows Burner, Meteorite, and Oracle using their powers, and incorrectly pictures Paralyzer with ordinary hands.
The cover of #346 depicts the unique gloves and boots covering the character's mutant pincers.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Deadpool: The Postmodern Poster Boy

Deadpool was hard to ignore during his appearances in Secret Defenders #15-17. With constant quips and unrelenting references to pop culture, the anti-hero's dialogue had a stream-of-consciousness quality about it.

As a temporary member of the Secret Defenders, Deadpool accompanied Dr. Druid (now leading the covert team), the mysterious Shadowoman (not to be mistaken for Spider-Woman), and Luke Cage (billed simply as Cage instead of Power Man). Fittingly, Deadpool complained that Heroes for Hire like Cage gave mercenaries like himself a bad name.

For all his insufferable banter, however, Deadpool had a semblance of self-awareness. Consider his opening words from #15.

Deadpool: Now up ahead, on our left … we see a stunning example of post-modernist expressionism! And when it comes to expressionism, you ain't never had a friend like me!

Deadpool's identification with postmodernism made sense. This was the Copper Age of superhero comics, after all, when cosmic-level continuity shifts became commonplace and deceased characters routinely resurrected from the dead. Within this storytelling framework, the stakes weren't as permanent or lasting as they seemed been in the past, and Deadpool's facetiousness reflected that.

Secret Defenders #15 included an insert with three detachable Marvel Cards for the villain Venom, another popular character to emerge during Copper Age of comic books.
Secret Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 15. May 1994. "Strange Changes, Part the First: Strangers and Other Lovers." Tim Brevoort & Mike Kanterovich (writers), Jerry DeCaire (penciler), Tony DeZuniga (inker), John Costanza (letterer), John Kalisz (colorist), Craig Anderson (editor), Tom DeFalco (mystic harbinger in chief).

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Elven Kind

The serial killer known as Elf with a Gun made several seemingly random appearances in the pages of the Defenders. Beginning with the Elf's debut in #25 (July 1975), the sound effect BLAM would fill the final panel of any sighting of the Elf, denoting that he shot his victim and seemingly teleported away.

Through a string of coincidences, the mutant hero Nightcrawler developed several similarities to the homicidal Elf.

Introduced in Giant-Size X-Men #1 (May 1975), Nightcrawler too had the ability to teleport. Nightcrawler's next appearances added the signature sound effect BAMF whenever he would teleport away.

A flashback in X-Men King-Size Annual #4 (1980) elaborated on Nightcrawler's origin, telling how his foster brother had been a crazed serial killer in the village of Winzeldorf, Germany. After Nightcrawler unintentionally killed his brother while trying to stop him, the villagers blamed Nightcrawler for all of the murders his brother had committed.

Early on, other heroes often joined the general public in mistaking Nightcrawler for a demon based on looks alone. By the early 1980s, however, some of the X-Men warmed up to Nightcrawler well enough to give him the friendly moniker of "elf" (or "fuzzy-elf").

On a separate tangent, an elf named Indel was a member of an adventuring party featured in a series of ads for Dungeons & Dragons that ran inside comic books during the early 1980s. Although Indel could not teleport, he did vanish through a trapdoor during one of the stories. There were no sound effects, but Indel did cry out, "Help!" The rest of the party eventually found the unlucky elf as the serial continued.

The BLAM panel comes from Defenders #25 (July 1975). The panels of Nightcrawler come from Uncanny X-Men #148 (Aug. 1981).

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

The Marvel Age of Comics--Phase 2

A promotional blurb on the cover of Defenders #10 (Nov. 1973) asked readers, "See For Yourself Why It's the Marvel Age of Comics All Over Again!" In the months that followed, several covers went one step further, directly referencing a second era of Marvel Comics.

Captain America & Falcon #173 (May 1974) prompted readers, "Make Way for the Marvel Age of Comics--Phase Two!" Guest-starred two of the original X-Men, the story pre-dates the "The All-New, All-Different" mutant team billed on the covers of X-Men #94-99, #101-111.

Marvel Chillers #6 (Aug. 1976), featuring Tigra the Were-Woman and Cheyenne hero Red Wolf, reiterated, "It's the Marvel Age of Comics--Phase 2!"

Covers of other Marvel titles during this time frame expressed a similar sentiment. Daredevil #121 (May 1975) announced, "The Mighty Marvel Renaissance Moves Ahead!" Marvel Presents #6 (Aug. 1976), starring the Guardians of the Galaxy, declared, "The New Marvel Mage of Comics!"

This begs the question, What did this new era entail? Although the covers didn't specify, several factors were at work. The 1971 revision to the Comics Code gave publishers renewed leeway in portraying realistic themes in comic books—and creative license to draw inspiration from the genre of horror. In tandem, the Seventies saw an increase in international and multicultural superheroes, as well as superheroines with origin stories and identities independent of male heroes.

In short, the shift initially described as "Phase Two" of Marvel Comics matches what we know more broadly today as the Bronze Age of comics books.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Seduction of the Innocent

Out of historical interest, I recently purchased a copy of Seduction of the Innocent by psychiatrist Fredric Wertham M.D. At approximately 400 pages, the 1954 book led to the development of the Comics Code that year and had a lasting influence on public opinion about comic books.

Amid his sweeping generalizations, Wertham's treatise issued numerous concerns against comic books. He warned that even children who appear to enjoy only animal comics like Donald Duck might secretly read crime comics (including Westerns and superheroes), which Wertham found particularly dangerous.

According to Wertham, the prevalent violence within crime comics directly contributed to juvenile delinquency and disturbed thinking. As an example, Wertham told of a nine-year-old boy who insisted his favorite comic book was called Human Torture rather than Human Torch.

In discussing superheroes, Wertham leveled most of his attacks against a handful of DC characters. Many comic book fans today are well aware of Wertham's homophobic inferences about Wonder Woman, and the partnership between Batman & Robin. Similarly, Wertham criticized the salaciousness of "love comics" as a genre.

As for Superboy/Superman, Wertham argued that the character's unrealistic powers misled children about the laws of science and overshadowed historical figures deserving of true admiration. To Wertham, Superman embodied the dangerous ideal of a super-race. Wertham found fault with other comics, particularly those with Jungle settings, for for their racist depictions of native peoples.

Discrediting the literary merit of comics, Wertham noted their frequent reliance on words like BLAM and KAPOW. Further, their vivid illustrations made comic-book depictions of horror far more pernicious to Wertham than the most unsettling fairy tales.

Wertham felt that comic book adaptions of classic literature, such as Robert Louis Stephenson's Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, corrupted the source material and failed to motivate children to seek out the original text. In contrast to comic books, Wertham saw educational promise in film and children's television, media that are also intrinsically visual.

Wertham's concern about the content of comic books extended to the advertisements within. He deplored ads for (largely ineffective) health products that capitalized on the insecurities of girls and boys. Wertham also condemned ads for B.B. guns and knives, regarding these weapons as inappropriate for children.

Human Torch #38 (Aug. 1954) was published the same year as Seduction of the Innocent. Human Torch was the only superhero from Timely (later Marvel) directly mentioned in the Wertham's 1954 book.
Marvel Classics Comics #1 (Jan. 1976) launched a new series that presented critically acclaimed literature in comic book form, following a tradition other publishers had carried out in the past.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Tagak, the Leopard Lord

One of the most promising Defenders for a Day was Tagak, the Leopard Lord. Introduced in Daredevil #72, the mysterious Tagak was a costumed adventurer from another dimension. His home land was polytheistic, with only hints of what the religion entailed.

In his debut, the acrobatic Tagak revealed he was blind but could see by way of a mind-link with the trained leopard accompanying him. The leopard, however, did not join Tagak during his day with the Defenders, suggesting more nuance to the hero's sensory abilities.

Had Tagak stayed with the the non-team, or rejoined at some point, he certainly would have had potential to explore.

Daredevil. Vol. 1. No. 72. January 1971. "Lo, the Lord of the Leopards!" Stan Lee (editor), Gerry Conway (writer), Gene Colan (artist), Syd Shores (inker), Artie Simek (letterer).

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Tall Tales

Not long after his experience as one of the Defenders for a Day, Bill Foster decided the time was right to redesign the costume he wore as Black Goliath. Upon seeing the new look, Thing suggested that Black Goliath update his superheroic name as well (Marvel Two-In-One #55).

Thing: I mean, it's pretty obvious that you're black -- and if I remember my Sunday School lessons, Goliath was a bad guy.
Black Goliath: What do you suggest, Ben?
Thing: Why don't ya just call yerself Giant-Man? They ain't improved on that name yet … and ya won't have to change the monogram on yer new shorts.
Black Goliath: Well, I don't suppose Dr. Pym would mind. Okay, I'll try it.

There was a certain irony, however, in taking naming advice from someone known as the Thing.

Spidey Super Stories #47 guest-starred Bill Foster as Giant-Man … this time sporting the red version of the Giant-Man uniform originally worn by Henry Pym. The supervillain within that alternate story was the Human Top (a.k.a. Whirlwind in Defenders #63-64).

Marvel Two-In-One. Vol. 1. No. 55. September 1979. "Giants in the Earth." Gruenwald/Macchio (writers), Byrne/Sinnott (artists), Costanza (letterer), Sharen (colorist), Stern (editor), Shooter (chief).
Spidey Super Stories. Vol. 1. No. 47. July 1980. "Two against the Top!" Jim Salicrup/Steven Grant (writers), Winslow Mortimer (penciler), Ricardo Villamonte (inker), Raymond Holloway (letterer), George Roussos (colorist), Deborah November/Anita Malnig (editors), Jim Shooter/Jim Salicrup (Marvel consultants), Bob Budiansky (art director).

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Gnome Knowledge

Gnomes often appear genteel in popular culture. Not so with Defenders #11. When the non-team traveled back to the Twelfth Century, the time of the Black Knight, the gnomes they encountered were anything but tame.

Described as an earth spirit, just one of these malevolent creatures was strong enough to challenge the Hulk. A gnome's only vulnerability seemed to be water. Because the medeival wizard Chandu had enlarged these gnomes to about the size of the Hulk, it is unclear how tough they would be at their original height.

Chandu has no connection to the mystical Chondu of the Headmen.

Defenders. Vol. 1. No. 11. December 1973. "A Dark and Stormy Knight." Steve Englehart (writer), Sal Buscema (artist), Frank Bolle (inker), Tom Orz (letterer), G. Roussos, (colorist), Roy Thomas (editor).

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Patsy Walker, a.k.a. Cat

Published in cooperation with The Electric Company television show, Spidey Super Stories followed a separate continuity from the rest of Marvel Comics. We see this difference in an issue that revealed a unique origin for the Cat (#53). Here, we learn that Patsy Walker had agreed to participate in a scientific experiment that exposed her to a special ray under laboratory conditions. Gaining superhuman strength as a result, Patsy became the costumed crimefighter Cat (with no ties to the character Tigra).

During her guest appearances in Spidey Super Stories, Cat demonstrated overall athleticism as opposed to super strength … even when facing the villain Meteor Man, who had gained superhuman strength from exposure to a meteor (#53).

Spidey Super Stories. Vol. 1. No. 53. July 1981. "The Meteor Man." Steven Grant (writer), Winslow Mortimer (penciler), Esposito & Villamonte (inkers), Raymond Holloway (letterer), George Roussos (colorist), Anita Malnig / Caroline Barnes (editors), Jim Shooter / Jim Salicrup (Marvel consultants), Bob Budiansky (art director).
Within Marvel Comics' standard continuity, Spider-Man and Nighthawk battled Meteor Man in Marvel Team-Up #33 (May 1975). The villain called himself Looter when he later appeared in Defenders #63-64.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Star Jaws

Spidey Super Stories #31 paid homage to the 1977 film Star Wars by retelling the story with an unlikely cast of characters drawn from various media.

In this version, Dr. Doom held Moon Dragon captive aboard a space station called Star Jaws. Moon Dragon's robot companion SAM (a recurring character from Sesame Street) escaped in a rocket ship to Earth, where he enlisted the help of Spider-Man and Marvel Boy (a hero originally from the 1950s).

Once rescued, Moon Dragon used her Mind Force (or Force for short) to create an illusion that tricked the Star Jaws space station to swallow one million tons of T.N.T. instead of engulfing the Earth.

Spidey Super Stories. Vol. 1. No. 31. February 1978. "Star Jaws." Kolfax Mingo (writer), Winslow Mortimer (pencils), Mike Esposito (inker), A.J. Hays / Julie Mishkin (editors), David Kraft (consulting Marvel editor), John Romita (art director).
Though a number of villains from the live-action Spider-Man segments of The Electric Company would appear in Spidey Super Stories, the comic book series did not have inherent ties to Sesame Street, making SAM an anomaly. This image of SAM (short for Super Automated Robot) comes from an early episode of Sesame Street.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Neutral by Nature: Godzilla

The nine-alignment system outlined in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons recognized that some creatures lack the intelligence to consider Good vs. Evil or Law vs. Chaos. Within the realm of comic books, the character Godzilla fit into this brand of neutrality. Godzilla's monstrous size, however, posed a very real threat to those around and prompted characters of various alignments to take action.

Godzilla #3 found the giant lizard in San Francisco, facing the Champions superhero team on top of the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Supreme Headquarters International Espionage Law-Enforcement Division). Although both groups had similar objectives to subdue the giant lizard, S.H.I.E.L.D. commander Timothy "Dum-Dum" Dugan refused to work alongside any of the Champions.

Dugan: Far as I'm concerned, you're a civilian and that makes you a vigilante--and that makes you a lawbreaker!

Through the lens of AD&D, Dugan wouldn't recognize the Champions unless they too were Lawful Good. As such, while S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Champions remained at odds, Godzilla managed to escape.

  Lawful Good    Neutral Good    Chaotic Good  
  Lawful Neutral    True Neutral    Chaotic Neutral  
  Lawful Evil    Neutral Evil    Chaotic Evil  
Godzilla. Vol. 1. No. 3. October 1977. "A Tale of Two Saviors." Doug Moench (writer), Herb Trimpe (artist), Tony Dezuniga (inker), Wohl & Watanabe (letterers), Don Warfield (colorist), Archie Goodwin (editor).

Monday, April 20, 2020

Defending Dracula

Daimon Hellstrom made a curious decision in Defenders #95. To ward off a horde of vampires, he cast an ancient spell to cause the sun to rise. Dracula was among the vampires present and, a moment before the spell took affect, Hellstrom privately warned Dracula to flee.

The other Defenders understandably wondered why the Son of Satan spared the Lord of Vampires. Hellstrom explained that Dracula had negotiated a temporary truce with heroes and deserved mercy.

Hellstrom: For all his sins, Dracula is a man of his word.

The decision, however, may have had less to do with the ethics of Dracula and more to do with Hellstrom's need to find compassion within himself.

For background, Dracula was not on favorable terms with Daimon Hellstrom's father. Satan took vengeance against Dracula by ridding him of vampiric powers in Tomb of Dracula #64, forcing him to live as a normal human for several issues. To Dracula, temporarily becoming a mere mortal was far worse than the plight of a vampire.

Tomb of Dracula. Vol. 1. No. 64. May 1978. "Life After Undeath." Marv Wolfman (writer/editor), Gene Colan & Tom Palmer (illustrators), Denise V. Wohl (letters), Francoise M. (colors).