Thursday, April 20, 2006
THE DEFENDERS -- STILL ONLY 25 cents!!! While I'm still using Rip Hunter's time machine to travel back to last month, I wanted to mention one of my favourite 70's superhero groups: Marvel Comics' Defenders. That's right. The oddball collection of Marvel superheroes who were, in the words of Dr. Strange himself (in Defenders #14) "...a loosely-knit band of independent adventurers". Unlike their sister group The Avengers, the Defenders had no solid membership; heroes wandered in and out at their own whims. The thing I loved most about the Defenders was how utterly 70's they were; the team consisted mainly of Marvel's more offbeat characters like Valkyre (a sort-of female Thor), Nighthawk (a former villain from the Squadron Sinister who gained super-strength at night) and Hellcat (a former 60's romance comic heroine turned Catwoman clone) teaming up with heavyweight (but still offbeat) characters like the Sub-Mariner, The Hulk and Dr. Strange. My absolute favourite era for the Defenders was circa 1974-1976 when the title was written by the iconoclastically subversive Steve Gerber (who was launching the amazing Howard the Duck series around the same time) and drawn (mostly) by the solid Sal Buscema. Gerber's warped sensibilites reached their apex on "Howard the Duck" but his delirious writing on The Defenders came pretty close. Favourite villains of the time include the sparkly "Nebulon" (who was in fact a Chthulu-like monster in disguise) and the Headmen. Stunningly bizarre events happened routinely: the bad guys shrunk Washington D.C., brainwashed the population into becoming Bozos (literally wearing clown masks!) and succeeded in removing Nighthawk's brain (seriously. . .Nighthawk's body was seen walking around carrying his brain sloshing around in a bowl!!!!!). This is good stuff, folks! Who could resist it? Other terrific characters who fought with the Defenders included Power Man and The Son of Satan! (The only thing that could've made it perfect would have been if Morbius the Living Vampire had joined but I guess he was busy with The Legion of Monsters at the time). There was just something about these mid-70's Steve Gerber stories that are gloriously unhinged. Gerber's "Howard the Duck" and "The Defenders" deserve to be rediscovered. These stories remain one of the fondest memories from my 70's childhood. There's just a style and feeling I get from re-reading them which transports me right back to my grandparents' porch on a hot summer night. Long live the Defenders!!!