Avengers/Defenders War

Av-def war
By Steve Englehart, Bob Brown, Sal Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2759-8 (HC),       978-0-7851-5902-5 (2012 TPB)

For kids – of any and all ages – there is a simply primal fascination with brute strength and feeling dangerous, which surely goes some way towards explaining the perennial interest in angry tough guys who break stuff as best exemplified by Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner and the Incredible Hulk. When you add the mystery and magic of Doctor Strange the recipe for thrills, spills and chills becomes simply irresistible…

Last of the big star-name conglomerate super-groups, the Defenders would eventually number amongst its membership almost every hero – and a few villains – in the Marvel Universe. No surprise there then since the initial line was composed of the company’s major league bad-boys: misunderstood, outcast and often actually dangerous to know.

For Marvel in the 1970s, the outsider super-group must have seemed a conceptual inevitability – once they’d finally published it.

Apart from Spider-Man and Daredevil all their heroes regularly teamed up in various mob-handed assemblages, and in the wake of the Defenders’ success even more super-teams featuring pre-existing characters would be packaged: the Champions, Invaders, New Warriors and so on… but never again with so many Very Big Guns…

The genesis of the team in fact derived from their status as publicly distrusted “villains”, and they never achieved the “in-continuity” fame or acceptance of other teams, but that simply seemed to leave the creators open to taking a few chances and playing the occasional narrative wild card.

The Avengers, however, are the result of one of the most momentous events in Marvel Comics history, when in 1963 Stan Lee & Jack Kirby combined most of their disparate, freshly minted individual heroes as a response to the astounding success of National/DC’s Justice League of America.

The Mighty Avengers combined the company’s fledgling superhero stars Thor, Iron Man, Ant-Man and the Wasp in one bright, shiny and highly commercial package: ostensibly called together by fate to stop the Incredible Hulk – although Asgardian nemesis Loki was actually the fiend behind it all.

Over the years the roster has waxed and waned until almost every character in their universe has at some time numbered amongst their serried ranks.

As described in his Introduction, in 1973 wunderkind scripter Steve Englehart was writing both series as (well as Doctor Strange, the Hulk and Luke Cage, Hero for Hire) and, yearning for the days of summer blockbuster annuals, decided to attempt his own massive multi-player epic. Bravely given the editorial go-ahead at a time when deadline crunches regularly interrupted ongoing storylines, the author and his regular pencillers Sal Buscema and Bob Brown laid their plans…

Threads had been planted as early as Defenders #4 with Englehart carefully putting players in place for a hugely ambitious cross-over experiment: one that would turn the comics industry on its head.

When madwoman Barbara Norris was cursed by Asgardian Amora the Enchantress she became an incarnation of old Avengers enemy The Valkyrie. The denouement of the tale also left part-time Avenger and Defender the Black Knight an ensorcelled, immobile stone statue, and as Strange and Co. searched for a cure, aided by the Silver Surfer and the tempestuous Hawkeye (another Assembler looking to forge a solo career), they fell into a subtle scheme orchestrated by two of the greatest forces of evil in all creation.

The massive cross-over experiment began with a little prologue taken from the end of Avengers #115 illustrated by Brown & Mike Esposito. ‘Alliance Most Foul!’ saw extra-dimensional demon lord Dread Dormammu and Loki unite to search for an ultimate weapon that would give them final victory against their foes. They would trick the Defenders into securing the six component parts by “revealing” that the reconstructed Evil Eye could restore the petrified Black Knight, a plan that began at the end of Defenders #8…

The first chapter in ‘The Avengers/Defenders Clash’ was ‘Deception!!’ (Buscema & Frank McLaughlin) as a message from the limbo-locked spirit of the Black Knight was intercepted and doctored by the twins of evil, leading directly to ‘Betrayal!’ wherein the Avengers, hunting for their missing comrade, “discover” that their oldest enemies Hulk and Sub-Mariner may have turned the Black Knight to stone.

This and following chapter ‘Silver Surfer Vs. the Vision and the Scarlet Witch’ comprise the contents of Avengers #116, illustrated by Brown & Esposito, wherein the rival teams split up: one to gather the scattered sections of the Eye and the other to stop them at all costs…

Defenders #9 (Buscema & McLaughlin) began with the tense recap ‘Divide …and Conquer’ before ‘The Invincible Iron Man Vs. Hawkeye the Archer’ and ‘Dr. Strange Vs. the Black Panther and Mantis’ shed more suspicion and doubt on the mystical villain’s subtle master-plan.

Avengers #117 ‘Holocaust’, ‘Swordsman Vs. the Valkyrie’ and the turning point ‘Captain America Vs. Sub-Mariner’ (Brown & Esposito) led to the penultimate clash in Defenders #10 (Buscema & Bolle) ‘Breakthrough! The Incredible Hulk Vs. Thor’ and the inevitable joining together of the warring camps in ‘United We Stand!’, but sadly too late as Dormammu seized the reconstructed Evil Eye and used its unimaginable power to merge his monstrous realm with ours.

Avengers #118 provided the cathartic climactic conclusion in ‘To the Death’ (Brown, Esposito & Giacoia) as all the heroes of the Marvel Universe battled the demonic invasion, whilst united Avengers and Defenders plunged deep into the Dark Dimension itself to end the threat of the evil gods forever (or at least for the moment…).

With the overwhelming cosmic threat over the victorious Defenders attempted to use the Eye to cure their stony comrade, only to find that his spirit had found a new home in the 12th century.

In Defenders #11’s ‘A Dark and Stormy Knight’ (inked by Frank Bolle), the group travelled to the distant past encountering wonderment, miracles and a kind of happy ending whilst combating black magic. However they ultimately failed to retrieve or restore the Knight and went their separate ways – as did departing scripter Englehart.

Also included in this perfect Fights ‘n’ Tights festival of fisticuffs and frantic action

is a cover gallery of all the issues – including the prologues from Avengers #115 and Defenders #8 – as well as Carlos Pacheco’s cover to the 2002 edition and the full-painted Buscema cover to this book, digitally enhanced by colourists Richard Isanove, Avalon’s Matt Milla & Michael Kelleher.

If all you want is spectacularly pure classic comicbook gratification then this is the book for you – especially as the latest paperback edition of this perennial favourite was only released last year…
© 1973, 2007, 2012 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.