Dedicated to the definitive superhero non-team.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Revisiting Red Guardian

The Incredible Hulk #250 included a dynamic page with Silver Surfer gliding through the sky, attracting the attention of heroes across the globe. The upper-left panel showcased the Soviet Super Soldiers, with Darkstar and Crimson Dynamo flying through the air. In the background, Red Guardian stood between Vanguard and (apparently) Ursa Major. The panel raised a question of continuity, as Ursa Major would receive his codename and join the Soviet Super Soldiers in #258-259; at the same time, Red Guardian continued to work alongside the Presence. Although a shoehorned explanation might suffice, the page could be taken symbolically, illustrating the international presence of superheroes, including many who would appear in The Contest of Champions.

The Incredible Hulk. Vol. 1. No. 250. August 1980. "Monsters!" Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema; John Costanza (letters), G. Roussos (colors), Al Milgrom (editor), Jim Shooter (editor-in-chief).

Saturday, March 6, 2021

To Abin Sur, With Love

The Squadron Supreme had twelve active members when they fought the non-team in Defenders #113. The Squadron Supreme limited series that followed would reveal a former member of the Squadron: a Skrull who helped found the group. Adding to the decided parallels between the Squadron Supreme and the Justice League of America, the green-skinned Skrull was a nod to J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter.

That Skrull turned out to be a counterpart to another character from DC Comics as well. In presenting the origin of Dr. Spectrum, Squadron Supreme #4 showed how the hero received his Power Prism as a gift after saving the Skrull's life. The Skrull, therefore, was analogous not only to Martian Manhunter but also to Abin Sur, the dying extraterrestrial who gave Green Lantern his Power Ring. I admired the clever and economical storytelling in blending two DC characters into one character in the Squadron Supreme. As a fan of this version of the Squadron Supreme, I also enjoyed seeing any glimpse into the early years of the team.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

What if ... Thor Had Joined the Defenders?

Today's blog post takes inspiration from Marvel's classic series that asked, "What if…?" In that vein, I consider how a key decision in the formation of the Defenders might have unfolded differently.

On that fateful day when Dr. Strange formed the Defenders (Marvel Feature #1), Prince Namor was his first recruit. In need of a second ally with great physical strength, the sorcerer reluctantly selected the Hulk. Dr. Strange summoned the green goliath only because Silver Surfer was trapped on Earth and couldn't travel with them to another dimension, and because Dr. Strange presumed that Thor was unavailable. But what if Dr. Strange hadn't jumped to that conclusion? And what if Thor was indeed available? In other words, What if … Thor had joined the Defenders?

In this speculative timeline, Dr. Strange, Namor, and Thor would found the non-team. During their early adventures, the thunder god would prove as capable a Defender as the Hulk had been in the original published stories.

Without the Hulk, however, the events from Defenders #7 would play out differently. In the original story, Hawkeye tried to capture the Hulk and then accepted Valkyrie's offer to join the Defenders. (Valkyrie herself joined in Defenders #4.) Yet if Hulk had no ties to the Defenders, Hawkeye would not have met the non-team at that time, much less join them.

This change in lineup would affect the crossover event spanning Defenders #8-11; Avengers #115-118, when the two teams clashed. As originally published, Thor of the Avengers battled Hulk of the Defenders, while Iron Man of the Avengers squared off against Hawkeye of the Defenders. In this alternate version, Thor of the Defenders would battle Iron Man of the Avengers. In both versions, the teams would put their differences aside at the end of the story. Not everything would balance out so evenly, however.

Nighthawk's membership into the Defenders (#13-14) would inevitably lead the non-team to meet Power Man and then battle the Wrecking Crew (#17-19). Here, fate would change irrevocably. The original story required Hulk to return to his alter ego as Bruce Banner and save the day by deactivating a dangerous Gamma Bomb. Unlike Banner, Thor's alter ego of Donald Blake was a physician, not a physicist. Without Bruce Banner's know-how, the Gamma Bomb would detonate and kill 20 million people. As a result, this story would end in tragedy, just like many tales published in the series What If…?

This panel with Dr. Strange and Bruce Banner comes from Defenders #19.