Dedicated to the definitive superhero non-team.

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.