Questions for the Defence

This is an article with a difference. Instead of positing a theory, or giving a philosophy or a review, I want to ask some questions about The Defenders and see if you, my beautiful and well-read readers, can answer them in the comments.

I’ve been reading Marvel’s The Defenders (1972) recently, mostly in Epic Collection reprints.

Only two subtitles; you're slipping, Marvel.
The cover to The Defenders: Epic Collection 6: The Six-Fingered Hand

I have Epic trades of #92-109, #110-125 and scattered other issues. (I’ve recently bought an Epic trade with #s 126-137, but it’ll be a while before I get a chance to read it.) Reading them, and things about them, makes me wonder. Oh, and it makes me wonder.

Non-Team

What’s with the ‘non-team’ thing? I’ve always heard The Defenders described as a non-team, both in and out of the comics, but nothing about them makes them stand out from other teams. A recent CBR article implied they had an unstable roster, but their roster is no more unstable than anyone else’s, that I’ve noticed.

'The Search For The Silver Surfer'? Dudes, he's right. there.
This shows the original line-up, which may not have happened until #2. All individuals, so not a team?

I’ve also heard it said that it’s because the characters on the original team (Dr Strange, Silver Surfer, Namor, Hulk) are all individualistic. The trouble with that is, if you combine a bunch of individualistic people onto a team, you know what you get? A team. Not a non-team. So, what makes them a non-team?

“Permanent” Break-Up
They came together just to fall apart.
The Defenders, reunited at las– oops, sorry.

Speaking of the original line-up, why did they need to be broken up forever? In #125, they were brought back together so they could be broken up. They hadn’t been the team in the entire run I own, and as far as I can tell, not for a long time before that. So why permanently break them up? (I’m asking about the behind-the-scenes reason, not the one that’s clearly put on the page. Yes, I’m aware they’re getting back together soon… did anybody actually think this was permanent? Anybody?) Were the fans of the time clamouring for Marvel to get the band back together, maybe?

Devil Slayer’s Costume

One of the team members is named Devil Slayer. Background characters are terrified of him in costume.

Run away! It's a SCUBA diver in a BAR!!!
Truly, this costume is terrifying.

When I first ran into this in solo stories in Marvel Comics Presents, I thought it was just the writer being dumb; but it seems to be a running thing. It’s not even a particularly distinctive costume; if I saw somebody dressed like that anywhere near a beach, I’d assume they were a SCUBA diver. (I’d probably think the cape was a towel or something.) And yet, people are scared of him in costume – and only him. Not Gargoyle, not beast, just SCUBA diver man. Is there an enchantment on his costume to make it scary? Something like that?

These are my questions for now – can you answer them?

16 Comments

  1. The Non-Team thing: The Defenders is just whoever happens to be crashing at Dr. Strange’s house that week. It’s just that some stayed there longer than others.

    That may sound like a joke, but it’s not. The Avengers had bylaws and shit, the FF is a family, the X-Men is a school, and the Defenders is just a bunch of heroes hanging out.

    Break-Up: To set up the New Defenders, an actual team organized by Beast with only a couple of the old members (Valkyrie and Gargoyle) joined by Angel, Iceman and Moondragon, and an actual retitle for the series, starting in the next issue.

  2. The non-team aspect, at the time, didn’t mean they were unstable, just informal. No charter. No obligation to show up for meetings or fight scenes, just a choice that yes, this menace was worth dealing with. After Valkyrie moved, the team began bonding more into a unit but when she announces her intention to join, Subby tells her that’s impossible — it’s not like they have a membership application process or anything.

  3. I think Greg H. talked about this a while back, maybe on the Dr. Strange roundtable; it seemed that everybody liked hanging out at Doc’s. Even if they didn’t much like each other, or maybe annoyed each other, they liked Dr. Strange and felt comfortable at his place. So if something came up, anyone who was around was kind of obligated to jump in and help deal with it, but it wasn’t a planned thing.

  4. Edo Bosnar

    Can’t help you with Devil-Slayer – haven’t read many of his appearances, and I just know he was basically Marvelized version of Bucker’s character Demon Hunter, created for Atlas/Seaboard. I don’t recall if there was something about him that just naturally scared everyone around him.

    As to the other matter, as others have noted, the non-team aspect really came to the fore in their initial appearances, in Marvel Feature and then in the early issues of their own series. Hulk, Namor and Dr. Strange, and then Silver Surfer, were often brought together by some Earth-threatening circumstance, and usually the story ended with Sub-mariner and/or Hulk telling the others to go f* themselves and then storm off. Namor in particular excelled at this until he was finally cut from regularly appearing in the title after about the first dozen or so issues.
    Basically, to get the answers to those first two questions, you kind of need to read the initial sweep of Defenders stories; personally, that is my favorite run of Defenders, i.e., everything from the aforementioned original appearances in Marvel Feature up to about issue #50 or so. It’s too bad that there’s no Epic collections of those issues and we have to settle for the b&w Essentials instead.

  5. Le Messor

    Thanks, all! I asked this yesterday, and I already have as many examples as seem to exist. 🙂

    Edo, the Epic Collection of the initial run should happen – the ones I’ve got are listed as #6-8, and they don’t get released chronologically.
    That sounds so like Namor. 🙂

    buttler – thanks for the info about Devil-Slayer. Disappointing, but I’m glad I’m not missing anything (?).

  6. Louis Bright-Raven

    I always looked at the original Defenders as sort of a loose group that came and went, with interchanging membership, whereas the X-Men, FF, and Avengers always had a regular stable membership, even if a member or two left from time to time and were replaced. The original Defenders were never stable under the Dr. Strange led era – characters came and went, many characters would guest appear for a only a single or few issues and walk out – Hawkeye, Yellowjacket, Hercules, Iron Fist, Power Man, Falcon, Havok, Polaris, Stingray, Torpedo, White Tiger, etc.

    Any real stability in terms of membership didn’t come until it was Val, Nighthawk, Doc Strange, Hulk, Son of Satan / Hellstrom and Hellcat (and Doc and Hulk still rotated in and out), and that wasn’t until about four to five years into the series run IIRC. And then Hellstrom left and Gargoyle came in, then Beast, and then Doc and Hulk left for good, which opened up for the “Ex-X-Champions” version that was the last ‘real’ Defenders lineup which ended at #152 and concluded the series (for me).

    As for Devil Slayer and why everybody feared him… he’s got psychic abilities and he was supposedly telepathically projecting an aura of fear into those around him. Doc Strange, Val, Son of Satan, Gargoyle, and Patsy are all mystically protected by such attacks. Any of the X-Men who were members of the Defenders while Devil-Slayer was around would have been trained to ignore such attacks by Xavier. Hulk’s too angry to notice. So that leaves Namor and Nighthawk as the only two teammates who might have noticed it.

  7. Jeff Nettleton

    Well, I’ve been discussing the Defenders, for a bit, over at the Classic Comics Forum….

    http://classiccomics.org/thread/5589/defenders-non-reviews-team

    Initially, Fish-Man, Smart-Friend Magician and Hulk were brought together by circumstances and then would reunite when needs arose; but, they were not a formal team. Some time later that rationale was expanded with legal formalities, like the lack of a charter, formal HQ, funding, etc. They also hid their existence from the world, until it was revealed by a gonzo student filmmaker (leading to Defender For A Day). The Sanctum became a sort of flophouse for whoever was hanging around, which probably drove Wong mental (as if helping fight Dormammu, in Rutland, VT, wasn’t enough to do that). Soon, Silver Surfer was involved (though not for very long) and then there was a succession of characters rolling in and out. Nighthawk turned babyface and sought their help to stop the Squadron Sinister, then stayed on permanently. Valkyrie inhabited the form of a woman named Barbara Norriss and was stuck there, thanks to Enchantress. The nucleus of the team became, Smart-Friend Magician, Sword Lady, Bird-Nose, and Hulk. That continued through Steve Gerber’s run.

    With Gerber, the guest stars slowed down, to little or none. Gerber focused on the core group and their battles with the Headmen, and Nebulon and the Bozos. Then, Gerber was out and Gerry Conway tried turning it into more of a standard team book. He was short-lived and David Anthony Kraft and Kieth Giffen added some guest stars (including Wonder Man and Moon Knight) during the Scorpio saga. By this point, Hellcat, Patsy Walker) was hanging out with the team. From that point on, they were relatively stable as a group, with Dr Strange leaving, then periodically returning for long stretches (and short ones) and the odd Namor reunion. Later, Gargoyle and Son of Satan were regulars, as was Devil-Slayer. The Defenders always had a fairly strong supernatural angle to it. Nighthawk provides them with an HQ, at a riding academy he owned, which got busted up fighting Foolkiller and burnt to the ground.

    Devil Slayer began as Demon-Hunter, by Rich Buckler, at Atlas/Seaboard. He is a Vietnam vet who ends up as an assassin for a demon cult, until he rebels and starts killing his masters. This would drive his purpose for a while, overlapping with the Defenders, briefly, then coming back to them. He first appears in Marvel Spotlight, where he encounters a time travelling Deathlok. His Shadow Cloak is alive and his sole purpose is killing demons. He’s a creepy kind of guy and pretty comfortable with killing. Not exactly the kind of guy you hang out with and drink beer. he was always in costume, though illusions would make him appear to be in civies.

    Through the Gerber and Kraft runs, Nighthawk became the benefactor for the team and Dr Strange was phased out, to concentrate on his solo series. That was the initial reason for Namor and Surfer also leaving. They would be back to pop sales, from time to time, such as during Ed Hanigan’s run, as writer.

    JM DeMatteis would end up having the last really strong run on the group, returning some of the more comedic and absurdist elements, which were big draws during the Gerber years. The series often fluctuated between satirical and serious, depending on who was writing it (and editing). It always had that supernatural hook and was occasionally focused on straight superhero battles, though not as much as Avengers. By the end, it was a sort of haven for ex-X-Men and a couple of Defenders vets.

    1. Edo Bosnar

      “With Gerber, the guest stars slowed down, to little or none.”
      Really? Gerber’s run starts with the Thing popping in, as well as Yellowjacket and Son of Satan appearing in the Sons of the Serpent story (and Yellowjacket also appeared in a giant-size issue, and Daredevil appeared in the preceding one). Then there was a multi-issue story arc featuring the Guardians of the Galaxy, while in the last leg of Gerber’s run (the Nebulon/Bozo/Headman saga), Power Man and the Red Guardian are basically full-time members of the team.
      One could also argue that Jack Norris, the estranged – and annoying – husband of Barbara, whose body is being occupied by Valkyrie, was also more or less a member of the team. He did participate in their adventures, even occasionally managing to be somewhat useful.

      1. Jeff Nettleton

        Prior to Gerber, the Defenders is almost Marvel team-Up, with more than one regular. It becomes more about a core group, during his run, with the guest heroes having more specific story roles, rather than turning up for a couple of issues. I don’t really count the GITG as members, since the defenders end up sucked into their story, compared to a Yellowjacket running into them, or a red Guardian coming to America to operate on Kyle Richmond (or Power Man being hired as a bodyguard for Jack Norriss). My point is that Gerber kind of slowed the number of guest members and made them more purposeful and he has a more stable roster. The Giant Size are kind of a separate world (apart from the GOTG appearance, which sets off their storyline), for me, as they don’t overlap as much with the regular series, as much as provide a side story.

        Jack Norris I just consider a pain in the tuchus. Probably the most unlikeable character ever created in comics who wasn’t intended as a villain. Absolutely no redeeming features, even by the Scorpio story. You just couldn’t sympathize with the guy

      2. Rereading them I felt like Gerber would have preferred to kick Valkyrie off the team. He introduced her “hitting a woman causes me pain” weakness and ran with it like it was silver-age kryptonite. He’s also a textbook case of “Dr. Strange’s limits are whatever I need for the current story.” I never really cottoned to his run as much as other people.

  8. Jeff Nettleton

    ps A lot of people who are listed as Defenders are from the storyline Defender For a Day. During this timeframe, Valkyrie is attending Empire State U, to learn more about the world. She ends up with some friends, including a whacko wannabe filmmaker, named Dollar Bill. He secretly shoots footage of the Defenders and then puts out a documentary, revealing their existence to the world. he also announces a recruiting drive. Suddenly, everyone, from villains, to heroes, to ordinary people are claiming to be Defenders. A whole group shows up at the riding academy to join up, including Torpedo, Hercules, Jack of Harts, Nova, Ms and Captain Marvel, Tagak the Tiger Man, Black Goliath, Power Man, Prowler, Marvel Man (Quasar), White Tiger, Havok, Polaris, Stingray, and, the most infamous of all, Captain Ultra.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.