Defenders Marvel Masterworks volume 3


By Len Wein, Steve Gerber, Chris Claremont, Jim Starlin, Sal Buscema, Vince Colletta, Gil Kane, Dan Adkins, Don Newton, Don Heck, George Tuska & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5961-2 (HB)

The Defenders were the last of the big star-name conglomerate super-groups, and would eventually number amongst their membership almost every hero – and some few villains – in the Marvel Universe. No real surprise there, since the initial line-up was composed of the company’s major league bad-boys: misunderstood and mad, outcast and bad and so often actually dangerous to know.

The genesis of the team 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 more chances and playing the occasional narrative wild card.

This third titanic hardcover/eBook Masterworks collection assembles a veritable host of Fights ‘n’ Tights wonders from a large list of sources: Defenders #17-21, Giant Sized Defenders #2-4 and Marvel Two-in-One #6-7, cumulatively encompassing cover-dates October 1974 to April 1975. The action commences after team originator Roy Thomas shares recollections of his time as Editor-in-Chief of Marvel and as the series began to find its singularly unique voice and tone…

The action opens with a supernatural thriller from Giant Sized Defenders #2 (October 1974), scripted by Len Wein and fabulously limned by master craftsman Gil Kane and rising star inker Klaus Janson. ‘H… as in Hulk… Hell… and Holocaust’ pits the always-embattled Jade Giant against sinister cult the Sons of Satanish and their dead leader Asmodeus before the Defenders (core-group Doctor Stephen Strange, Valkyrie and reformed bad-boy Nighthawk) must perforce call on Daimon Hellstrom, Son of Satan, for some highly specialised assistance…

In Defenders #17 the heroes set up housekeeping in a converted Long Island Riding Stables, courtesy of Nighthawk’s civilian alter ego Kyle Richmond just as displaced Asgardian soul Valkyrie leaves to seek out the truth about the human body she currently inhabits.

The main plot of ‘Power Play’ (by Wein, Sal Buscema & Dan Green) sees the remaining heroes engage with and then enlist the aid of Hero for Hire/Power Man Luke Cage, as super strong thugs the Wrecking Crew topple a number of Richmond’s New York’s buildings hunting for a hidden super-weapon. The spectacular ‘Rampage!’ reveals their object is a pocket gamma bomb, before the furious finale (Chris Claremont, Wein, Buscema & Janson) sets everybody frantically ferreting out the location of a deadly ‘Doomball!’ whisked away by some foolish bystander…

Immediately afterwards Strange, his disciple Clea and Fantastic Four lynchpin The Thing encounter a disharmonious cosmic challenge in Marvel Two-In-One #6’s ‘Death-Song of Destiny’ (by Steve Gerber, George Tuska & Mike Esposito) that concludes in MTIO #7 with ‘Name That Doom!’ (Sal Buscema pencils) wherein Valkyrie joins the melee just in time to cross swords with the egregious Asgardian exiles Enchantress and Executioner who are beyond a cosmic scheme to reorder the universe…

The aftermath of that eldritch encounter spills over into Defenders #20 as Gerber came aboard as regular scripter, beginning a truly groundbreaking run of stories. ‘The Woman She Was…’ (art by Sal B & Vince Colletta) starts unravelling the torturous backstory of Valkyrie’s unwitting human host Barbara Norris during a breathtakingly bombastic battle that also reanimated the diabolical threat of the Undying Ones. Late arriving, Strange and Nighthawk almost perish at the hands of the demons’ human worshippers…

Steve Gerber was a uniquely gifted writer who combined a deep love of Marvel’s continuity minutiae with irrepressible wit, dark introspection and measured imagination, all leavened with enticing and surreality. His stories were always at the extreme edge of the company’s intellectual canon and never failed to deliver surprise and satisfaction.

In Defenders #21, he began a long and epically peculiar saga with ‘Enter: The Headman!’ (illustrated by Buscema & Sal Trapani) wherein a trio of thematically linked scientists and savants, all originating in Marvel’s pre-superhero fantasy anthologies, opened their insidious campaign of conquest and vengeance by driving New York city temporarily insane…

Before the next chapter however, a brace of extended sagas play chronological catch-up here: firstly ‘Games Godlings Play!’ from Giant-Size Defenders #3 (written by Gerber, Jim Starlin & Wein with art from Starlin, Dan Adkins, Don Newton & Jim Mooney), sightless swashbuckler Daredevil joins Strange, Valkyrie, and Sub-Mariner Prince Namor to save the Earth from Elder of the Universe The Grandmaster: a cosmic games-player whose obsession with gladiatorial combats pits the heroes against intergalactic menaces from infinity… and beyond…

Then follows a more down-to-Earth tale as sometime-Avenger Yellowjacket pops in to help crush insane criminal genius Egghead and Nighthawk’s old gang the Squadron Sinister on ‘Too Cold a Night for Dying!’ (Giant Sized Defenders #4, by Gerber, Don Heck & Colletta) before this compendium concludes with the Atlas Era short tales that originally introduced Gorilla Man Arthur Nagan, human horror Dr. Jerold Morgan and Chondu the Mystic who comprise the heinous Headmen…

Nagan debuted in in ‘It Walks Erect!’ by Paul S. Newman & Bob Powell (Mystery Tales #21, September 1954): a driven obsessive surgeon performing appalling transplant research on gorillas who ultimately take an unholy revenge upon him, whilst biologist Morgan’s matter compression experiments terrified – but saved – the city in ‘Prisoner of the Fantastic Fog’ by an unknown writer and Angelo Torres from World of Fantasy #11, April 1958.

Tales of Suspense #9 (May 1960) then revealed how stage magician Chondu was far more than he seemed in mini-thriller by Stan Lee & Larry Lieber, wonderfully rendered by the miraculous Doug Wildey.

The vignettes had all been reprinted in horror anthology Weird Wonder Tales #7 (December 1974) and the cover of that issue opens a selection of added extras which also include house ads and creator biographies.

For the longest time The Defenders was the best and weirdest superhero comicbook in the business, and this bitty, unwieldy collection was where it all really kicked off. The next volume would see the inspirational unconventionality reach stellar heights…

If you love superheroes but crave something just a little different these yarns are for you… and the best is still to come.
© 1974, 1975, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.