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.

Avengers Marvel Masterworks volume 12


By Steve Englehart, Bob Brown, Sal Buscema, Don Heck & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5879-0 (HB)

One of the most momentous events in comics (and now, film) history came in the middle of 1963 when a disparate gang of heroic individuals banded together to combat an apparently out of control Incredible Hulk.

The Avengers combined most of the company’s fledgling superhero line in one bright, shiny and highly commercial package. Over the intervening decades the roster has unceasingly changed, and now almost every character in the Marvel multiverse has at some time numbered amongst their colourful ranks…

The everchanging roster proved that putting all one’s star eggs in a single basket can pay off big-time. Even when all Marvel Royalty such as Thor, Captain America and Iron Man are absent, there’s no detriment: it merely allows the team’s lesser lights to shine more brightly.

Of course, the founding stars are never away for too long due to a rotating, open door policy ensuring most issues include somebody’s fave-rave.

After instigators Stan Lee & Jack Kirby moved on, the team prospered under the guidance of Roy Thomas who grew into one of the industry’s most impressive writers, guiding the World’s Mightiest Heroes through a range of adventures ranging from sublimely poetic to staggeringly epic. He then handed over the scripting to a young writer who carried the team to even greater heights…

This stunning hardcover compilation – also available in eBook iterations – assembles Avengers #112-119, plus crucial crossover episodes from Defenders #8-11: collectively covering June 1973 to January 1974 and celebrating the beginning of an era of cosmic catastrophe and cataclysmically captivating creative cross-pollination…

This bombastic tome commences with Avengers #112 in ‘The Lion God Lives!’ (illustrated by Don Heck & Frank Bolle) wherein a rival African deity returns to destroy the human avatar of the Panther God. As the Black Panther and his valiant comrades tackle that threat, in the wings an erstwhile ally and enemy and his exotic paramour made their own plans for the team…)

Unreasoning prejudice informed #113’s ‘Your Young Men Shall Slay Visions!’ (Bob Brown & Bolle) as a horde of fundamentalist bigots – offended by the “unnatural” love between Wanda, the mutant Scarlet Witch and the Vision – turn themselves into human bombs to destroy the sinful, unholy couple. Soon after, ‘Night of the Swordsman’ in #114 (Brown & Esposito) formally introduces the reformed swashbuckler and his enigmatic psychic martial artist paramour Mantis to the team… just in time to thwart the Lion God’s latest scheme.

In 1973 wunderkind scripter Steve Englehart (who provides a context-enhancing Introduction in this collected volume) was writing both Avengers and Defenders (as well as Doctor Strange, the Hulk and Luke Cage, Hero for Hire) and, yearning for the days of DC’s summer blockbuster annual events, 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.

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 and 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 some 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, Inhumans, Guardians of the Galaxy 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.

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

The classic confrontation finally commenced in Avengers #115 with lead story ‘Below Us the Battle!’ (Brown & Esposito) wherein the still-understaffed heroes travel to England and the castle of the Black Knight, only to encounter mystic resistance, a troglodytic race of scavengers and a comrade long missing…

The issue also contained a brief prologue at the end. ‘Alliance Most Foul!’ reveals other-dimensional Dark Lord Dormammu and Asgardian god of Evil Loki allying to secure an ultimate weapon which will give them ultimate victory against all their foes. This despotic duo plan a false flag operation to deceive the Defenders into securing the six component parts: surreptitiously “revealing” that the reconstructed Evil Eye can de-petrify and restore the Black Knight – a plan that opens with a similar prologue at the end of Defenders #8…

‘Deception’ (Englehart, Sal Buscema & Esposito) is the first chapter in ‘The Avengers/Defenders Clash’, disclosing how a mystic SOS from the spirit of the Black Knight is intercepted by the twin gods of evil, leading directly to ‘Betrayal!’ in Avengers #116, wherein the World’s Mightiest Heroes, hunting for their missing comrade, “discover” their oldest enemies Hulk and Sub-Mariner may have turned Black Knight to stone…

This and third chapter ‘Silver Surfer Vs. the Vision and the Scarlet Witch’ see 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 (with Sal Buscema & Frank McLaughlin art) begins with tense recap ‘Divide …and Conquer’ before ‘The Invincible Iron Man Vs. Hawkeye the Archer’ and ‘Dr. Strange Vs. the Black Panther and Mantis’ sheds more suspicion and doubt on the vile villains’ subtle master-plan…

In Avengers #117, ‘Holocaust’, ‘Swordsman Vs. the Valkyrie’ and crucial turning point ‘Captain America Vs. Sub-Mariner’ (all illustrated by Brown & Esposito) lead to the penultimate duel in Defenders #10 (Sal Buscema & Bolle) in ‘Breakthrough! The Incredible Hulk Vs. Thor’ and the inevitable joining together of the warring camps in ‘United We Stand!’. Tragically, understanding comes too late as Dormammu seizes the reconstructed Evil Eye and uses its power to merge his entire dimensional realm with Earth’s.

Avengers #118 delivers the cathartic, climactic conclusion in ‘To the Death’ (Brown, Esposito & Frank Giacoia) wherein all the heroes of the Marvel Universe resist demonic invasion on hideously mutated home soil whilst Avengers and Defenders plunge deep into the Dark Dimension itself to end forever the threat of the evil gods (well, for the moment, at least…).

With the overwhelming cosmic threat quelled, the victorious Defenders attempt to use the Eye to cure their petrified comrade, only to discover that his spirit has found a new home in the time of the Crusades.

In #11’s ‘A Dark and Stormy Knight’ (Sal B & Bolle), the group battle 12th century black magic, fail to retrieve the Knight and acrimoniously go their separate ways – as did overworked scripter Englehart, who dropped the “non-team” to concentrate on “The World’s Greatest Super-Heroes”…

Those never-ending struggles resume and the adventuring pauses after a delightfully traditional spooky Halloween tale as the Avengers – warned by clairvoyant vision from enigmatic Mantis – head once more to Rutland, Vermont for the ‘Night of the Collector’ (#119, by Brown & Heck): encountering old friends, a dastardly and determined foe, blistering action, staggering suspense and blistering battle…

As if extra enticements be needed, also included in this compendium are pages and pin-ups from company fanzine F.O.O.M. (#5, 6, 7: Mantis by John Byrne & Duffy Vohland, Jarvis by Marie Severin and a bombastic team shot by John and Sal Buscema), plus house ads for Avengers #116, previous collection covers from Carlos Pacheco, Jesus Merino & Ang Tsang, John Romita & Richard Isanove and original art pages by Brown & Esposito and #119’s Romita cover.

Roy Thomas and Steve Englehart were at the forefront of Marvel’s second generation of story-makers; brilliantly building on and consolidating the compelling creations of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko while spearheading and constructing a logical, fully functioning wonder-machine of places and events that so many others were inspired by and could add to.

These terrific tales are perfect examples of superhero sagas done just right and also a pivotal step transforming the little company into today’s multinational corporate colossus. Best of all, Englehart’s forthcoming concoctions would turn the Marvel Universe on its head and pave the way for a new acme of cosmic adventure…
© 1973, 1974, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Nova Classic vol 2


By Marv Wolfman, David Anthony Kraft, Sal Buscema, Carmine Infantino, Bob Hall, Don Perlin, Keith Pollard & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8544-4 (TPB)

By 1975 the first wave of fans-turned-writers were well ensconced at all the major American comic-book companies. Two fanzine graduates – Len Wein and Marv Wolfman – had achieved stellar successes early on, and then risen to the ranks of writer/editors at Marvel, a company in trouble both creatively and in terms of sales.

After a meteoric rise and a virtual root-&-branch overhaul of the industry in the 1960s, the House of Ideas – and every other comics publisher except Archie – were suffering from a mass desertion of fans who had simply found other uses for their mad-money.

Where other companies dwindled and eventually died and DC vigorously explored new genres to bolster their flagging sales, Marvel chose to exploit their record with superheroes: fostering new titles within a universe it was increasingly impossible to buy only a portion of…

As seen in this second no-nonsense compilation collecting Nova #13-19 plus guest shots from Defenders #62-64, Fantastic Four Annual #12 and Marvel Two-In-One Annual #3, (cumulatively covering September 1977-September 1978), the neophyte learned quickly and on-the-job, earning a sterling reputation, but never quite settled on what he should be doing…

The Man Called Nova was in fact a boy named Richard Rider. The new kid was a working-class teen nebbish in the tradition of Peter Parker – except he was good at sports and bad at learning – who attended Harry S. Truman High School, where his strict dad was the principal.

His mom worked as a police dispatcher and he had a younger brother, Robert, who was a bit of a genius. Other superficial differences to the Spider-Man canon included girlfriend Ginger and best friends Bernie and Caps, but he did have his own school bully, Mike Burley

An earlier version, “Black Nova” had apparently appeared in the Wolfman/Wein fan mag Super Adventures in 1966, but with a few revisions and an artistic make-over by the legendary John Romita (Senior), the “Human Rocket” was launched into the Marvel Universe in his own title, beginning in September 1976.

Nova borrowed heavily from Green Lantern as well as the wallcrawler’s origin, as Rider’s life changes forever when a colossal star-ship with a dying alien aboard transfers to the lad all the mighty powers of an extraterrestrial peacekeeper and warrior. Centurion Rhomann Dey was tracking a deadly marauder to Earth. Zorr had already destroyed the warrior’s idyllic homeworld Xandar, but the severely wounded, vengeance-seeking Nova Prime was too near death and could not avenge the genocide.

Trusting to fate, Dey beams his powers and abilities towards the planet below where Rich is struck by an energy bolt and plunged into a coma. On awakening, the boy realises he has gained awesome powers… and the responsibilities of the last Nova Centurion…

This compelling trade paperback and/or digitally formatted epic resumes the non-stop action courtesy of Wolfman, Sal Buscema and Joe Sinnott, Nova #13 begins another extended tale with the introduction of debutante hero Crime-Buster in ‘Watch Out World, the Sandman is Back!’

After the once-formidable villain takes a beating, he falls under the influence of a far more sinister menace. Meanwhile, Rich Rider’s dad is going through some bad times and succumbed to the blandishments fallen of a dangerous subversive organisation…

The story continues in the Dick Giordano inked ‘Massacre at Truman High!’ as Sandman attacks Nova’s school and the mystery mastermind is revealed for in-the-know older fans, before guest-star-stuffed action-riot ‘The Fury Before the Storm!’ sees veteran illustrator Carmine Infantino take over pencilling as Tom Palmer returns to the brushstrokes.

When a bunch of established heroes attack the newbie all at once, it’s even money they’re fakes, but Nick Fury of super-spy agency S.H.I.E.L.D. is real enough and deputises the fledgling fighter for #16’s ‘Death is the Yellow Claw!’ and #17’s spectacular confrontation ‘Tidal Wave!’

As the kid comes good and saves the city of New York from a soggy demise, the long-anticipated conclusion occurs in ‘The Final Showdown!’, inked – as is ‘Beginnings’ (a short side-bar story dealing with the fate of the elder Rider) – by the agglomeration of last-minute-deadline-busters dubbed “the Tribe.”

A new foe premieres in #19: ‘Blackout Means Business and his Business is Murder!’ opens the final large story-arc of the series, as an ebon-energy wielding maniac attacks Nova, but before that epic completely engages, the Human Rocket guest-stars in some other Marvel titles.

Although included here November 1977’s Fantastic Four Annual #12, isn’t one of them. It proclaims ‘The End of Inhumans… and the Fantastic Four’ (by Wolfman, pencillers Bob Hall & Keith Pollard and inker Bob Wiacek) and lacks any sight of Nova, but does involve the aforementioned heroes battling rogue Inhuman tyrant Thraxon, and his mysterious sponsor. That is old Nova foe the immortal Sphinx, who shares his origins and plans for the Human Rocket before being trounced by the assembled team…

Just slightly lightly less notional is Nova’s appearance in Defenders #62-64, (August to October 1978 by David Anthony Kraft, Sal Buscema, Don Perlin & Jim Mooney). ‘Membership Madness’, ‘Deadlier by the Dozen!’ and ‘D-Day!’ depict how a poorly-judged and unwanted TV documentary leads an army of superheroes – Nova included – to seek membership in the Defenders, leading to chaos and blockbusting battle with Zodiac and an army of villains trying to legitimise their crimes…

This side-bar saga comes with the first two pages of #65 (illustrated by Perlin & Bruce D. Berry) to complete the experience before moving on to a proper team-up from Marvel Two-In-One Annual #3 (September 1978).

Battling beside the Thing in a simple yet entertaining tussle with god-like cosmic marauders Nova resists mightily ‘When Strike the Monitors!’ – crafted by Wolfman, Sal Buscema, Frank Giacoia & Dave Hunt – to save an alien princess and save Earth from demolition.

Adding even more value is a selection of original art pages from Buscema & Giordano, Hall & Wiacek, Buscema & Hunt, Giacoia and Perlin, plus past collection covers by John Romita Jr. Bob Layton, Ed Hannigan, Rich Buckler and John Buscema,

There’s a lot of good, solid fights ‘n’ tights entertainment and fabulous superhero art here, and Nova has proved his intrinsic value by returning again and again. This stalwart edition is one readers can rely on to deliver the blockbusting basics in the approved Marvel Manner.
© 1977, 1978, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Avengers Epic Collection Volume 7: The Avengers/Defenders War


By Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas, Jim Starlin, Gerry Conway, Bob Brown, Sal Buscema, John Buscema, Rich Buckler & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1000-6

One of the most momentous events in comics history came in the middle of 1963 when a disparate gang of heroic individuals banded together to combat an apparently out of control Incredible Hulk.

The Avengers combined most of the company’s fledgling superhero line in one bright, shiny and highly commercial package. Over the intervening decades the roster has unceasingly changed, and now almost every character in the Marvel multiverse has at some time numbered amongst their colourful ranks…

The Avengers always proved that putting all one’s star eggs in on single basket can pay off big-time. Even when all Marvel Royalty such as Thor, Captain America and Iron Man are absent, it merely allows the team’s lesser lights to shine more brightly.

Of course, the founding stars always regularly feature due to a rotating, open door policy ensuring most issues include somebody’s fave-rave.

After instigators Stan Lee & Jack Kirby moved on, the team prospered under the guidance of Roy Thomas who grew into one of the industry’s most impressive writers, guiding the World’s Mightiest Heroes through a range of adventures ranging from sublimely poetic to staggeringly epic. He then handed over the scripting to a young writer who carried the team to even greater heights…

This stunning seventh trade paperback compilation – also available in eBook iterations – assembles Avengers #115-128 and Giant Size Avengers #1, plus crucial crossover episodes from Defenders #8-1, Captain Marvel #33 and Fantastic Four # 150; collectively covering September 1973 to October 1974 and celebrating an era of cosmic catastrophe and cataclysmically captivating creative cross-pollination…

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 some 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, Inhumans, Guardians of the Galaxy 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.

In 1973 wunderkind scripter Steve Englehart was writing both Avengers and Defenders (as well as Doctor Strange, the Hulk and Luke Cage, Hero for Hire) and, yearning for the days of DC’s summer blockbuster annual events, 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.

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

This bombastic tome commences with Avengers #115 as lead story ‘Below Us the Battle!’ (illustrated by Bob Brown & Mike Esposito sees the critically- understaffed Avengers travel to England and the castle of the Black Knight, only to find mystic resistance, a troglodytic race of scavengers and their old comrade long missing…

The issue also contained a little prologue, ‘Alliance Most Foul!’, which revealed other-dimensional Dark Lord Dormammu and Asgardian god of Evil Loki united to secure an ultimate weapon which would give them ultimate victory against all their foes.

This despotic duo would deceive the Defenders into securing the six component parts by “revealing” that the reconstructed Evil Eye could de-petrify and restore the Black Knight – a plan that began with a similar prologue at the end of Defenders #8…

‘Deception’ (Englehart, Sal Buscema & Esposito) was the first chapter in ‘The Avengers/Defenders Clash’ disclosing that a mystic SOS message from the spirit of the Black Knight is intercepted by the twin gods of evil, leading directly to ‘Betrayal!’ in Avengers #116, wherein the heroes, hunting for their missing comrade, “discover” that their oldest enemies Hulk and Sub-Mariner may have turned the Black Knight to stone…

This and third chapter ‘Silver Surfer Vs. the Vision and the Scarlet Witch’ see 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 (with Sal Buscema & Frank McLaughlin art) begins with tense recap ‘Divide …and Conquer’ before ‘The Invincible Iron Man Vs. Hawkeye the Archer’ and ‘Dr. Strange Vs. the Black Panther and Mantis’ sheds more suspicion and doubt on the vile villains’ subtle master-plan…

In Avengers #117, ‘Holocaust’, ‘Swordsman Vs. the Valkyrie’ and crucial turning point ‘Captain America Vs. Sub-Mariner’ (all by Brown & Esposito) lead to the penultimate duel in Defenders #10 (Sal Buscema & Frank Bolle) in ‘Breakthrough! The Incredible Hulk Vs. Thor’ and the inevitable joining together of the warring camps in ‘United We Stand!’. Tragically, understanding comes too late as Dormammu seizes the reconstructed Evil Eye and uses its power to merge his monstrous realm with Earth.

Avengers #118 delivers the cathartic climactic conclusion in ‘To the Death’ (Brown, Esposito & Frank Giacoia) wherein all the heroes of the Marvel Universe resist the demonic invasion on hideously mutated home soil whilst the Avengers and Defenders plunge deep into the Dark Dimension itself to end forever the threat of the evil gods (well, for the moment, at least…).

With the overwhelming cosmic threat over the victorious Defenders attempt to use the Eye to cure their petrified comrade, only to discover that his spirit has found a new home in the 12th century.

In #11’s ‘A Dark and Stormy Knight’ (Sal B with Bolle inks), the group battle black magic during the Crusades, fail to retrieve the Knight and acrimoniously go their separate ways – as did overworked departing scripter Englehart, who dropped the “non-team” to concentrate on “The World’s Greatest Super-Heroes”…

The drama resumes with a delightfully traditional spooky Halloween tale as the Avengers, warned by clairvoyant vision from martial arts enigma Mantis, head to Rutland, Vermont for the ‘Night of the Collector’ (#119, illustrated by Brown & Don Heck); encountering old friends, a dastardly and determined foe, blistering action and staggering suspense…

In ‘Death-Stars of the Zodiac!’ (Avengers#120, by Englehart, Brown & Heck), terrorist astrological adversaries and super-criminal cartel Zodiac attack again with a manic plan to eradicate everyone in Manhattan born under the sign of Gemini.

Thor, Iron Man, Vision, Scarlet Witch, Swordsman and Mantis are seemingly helpless to stop them but the blockbusting battle in #121’s ‘Houses Divided Cannot Stand!’ (illustrated by John Buscema & Heck,) and even the added assistance of Captain America and the Black Panther is of little advantage…

With Mantis injured the team begin to question her mysterious past, only to be lured to their seeming doom and ‘Trapped in Outer Space!’ (Brown & Mike Esposito) before at last turning the tables on their fearsome foes after the criminal Libra reveals a shocking secret…

Avengers #123, ( Brown & Heck) begins a vast and ambitious saga with ‘Vengeance in Viet Nam – or – An Origin For Mantis!’ as Libra’s claim to be Mantis’ father (a story vigorously and violently denied by the Martial Arts Mistress) sends the team to Indo-China in a big hurry.

The former mercenary declared that he left the baby Mantis with pacifistic Priests of Pama after running afoul of a local crime-lord, but the bewildered warrior-woman has no memory of such events, nor of being schooled in combat techniques by the Priests. Meanwhile, the gravely wounded Swordsman has also rushed to Saigon to confront his sadistic ex-boss Monsieur Khruul and save the Priests from being murdered by the gangster’s thugs… but is again too late. It is the same old story of his pathetic, wasted life…

Issue #124 has the team stumbling upon a scene of slaughter as dead clerics and criminals lead to a monstrous planet-rending alien horror freshly awakened in ‘Beware the Star-Stalker!’ (limned by John Buscema & Dave Cockrum)…

Mantis is forced to accept that her own memories are not real after Avengers #125, which unleashed ‘The Power of Babel!’ after a vast alien armada attacks and, in combating it, the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are trapped out of phase with their home-world.

This blockbuster battle bonanza was a crossover, and the penultimate episode of the spectacular Thanos War Saga that had featured in Captain Marvel, Marvel Feature and Iron Man.

Included in this compendium is climactic last chapter of that epic, plotted and illustrated by Jim Starlin, scripted by Englehart and inked by Klaus Janson. ‘The God Himself!’ (from Captain Marvel #33) sees mad Titan Thanos finally fall in combat to the valiant Kree warrior: a stunning piece of comics storytelling which stands up remarkably well here despite being seen without benefit of the preceding ten chapters…

It’s back to Avengers business as Roy Thomas, Rich Buckler & Dan Adkins return to the fold to delve and reboot some superhero history with ‘Nuklo… The Invader that Time Forgot!’ for the first quarterly edition of Giant-Size Avengers.

The stirring saga reintroduced 1940 Marvel sensation Bob Frank AKA The Whizzer in a taut and tragic tale of desperation as the aged speedster begs the heroes’ help in rescuing his son: a radioactive mutant locked in stasis by the US Government since the early 1950s. Unfortunately, within the recently unearthed chrono-capsule, the lad has grown into a terrifying atomic horror…

Moreover, while in the throes of a stress-induced heart attack the Whizzer lets slip that he is the also the father of mutant Avengers Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver

Back in regular continuity, Avengers #126 offers ‘All the Sights and Sounds of Death!’ (Englehart, Brown & Cockrum) as villains Klaw and Solarr invade Avengers Mansion in a devious attempt to achieve vengeance for past indignities, after which in #127 Sal Buscema & Joe Staton sign on as regular art team with ‘Bride and Doom!’ as the team voyage to the hidden Himalayan homeland of The Inhumans to attend the marriage of the aforementioned Quicksilver to elemental enchantress Crystal. Sadly, the happy event craftily coincides with an uprising of the genetic slave-race known as Alpha Primitives. Once again robotic giant Omega has incited the revolt, but this time it is controlled by an old Avengers enemy who reveals himself in the concluding chapter of the crossover…

The story wraps up in Fantastic Four #150 with ‘Ultron-7: He’ll Rule the World!’ by Gerry Conway, Buckler & Joe Sinnott, in which a devastating battle between FF, Inhumans and Avengers is ended by a veritable Deus ex Machina moment, after which, at long last ‘The Wedding of Crystal and Quicksilver’ ends events on a happy note.

But not for long as a final tale from Avengers #128’ sees the FF’s nanny Agatha Harkness get a new job tutoring Wanda Frank in actual sorcery to augment her mutant power. In Bewitched, Bothered, and Dead!’ (Englehart, Sal Buscema & Staton), the new student unwittingly allows dark mage Necrodamus access to the Mansion and the souls of the occupants, even as increasingly troubled Mantis makes a play for the Scarlet Witch’s synthezoid boyfriend The Vision; heedless of the hurt and harm she will bring to her current lover The Swordsman…

Extra enticements include Roy Thomas’ ‘Avengers Re-Assemble’ article from Giant-Size Avengers #1, art and features starring assorted Avengers from company fanzine F.O.O.M. (#3, 5, 6, 7, by John and Sal Buscema, John Byrne & Duffy Vohland, Marie Severin, Dave Cockrum, John Romita); comedy skit ‘Those Wedding Bells are Bustin’ Up that Avengin’ Gang of Mine’ by Tony Isabella & Paty Cockrum; House ads, covers from previous collections by Carlos Pacheco, Jesus Merino & Ang Tsang and Romita & Richard Isanove and an original art gallery of sketches, pages and covers by Brown, Romita, Starlin, Ron Wilson, John and Sal Buscema, Buckler and Byrne.

Roy Thomas and Steve Englehart were at the forefront of Marvel’s second generation of story-makers, brilliantly building on and consolidating the compelling creation of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko: spearheading and constructing a logical, fully functioning wonder-machine of places and events that so many others were inspired by and could add to.

These terrific tales are perfect examples of superhero sagas done just right and also a pivotal step transforming the little company into today’s multinational corporate colossus. Englehart’s forthcoming concoctions would turn the Marvel Universe on its head and pave the way for a new acme of cosmic adventure…
© 1973, 1974, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.
Avengers Epic Collection Volume 7: The Avengers/Defenders War is scheduled for release on April 24th and is available digitally or for pre-order now.

Defenders Masterworks volume 2


By Steve Englehart, Tony Isabella, Len Wein, Sal Buscema, Bob Brown, Jim Starlin & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4216-4

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 second sterling and sturdy hardcover (and eBook) masterworks collection assembles a veritable host of Fights ‘n’ Tights wonders from a large list of sources: Defenders #7-16, Giant Sized Defenders #1 and Avengers #115-118, encompassing cover-dates August 1973 to October 1974 and commences after author Steve Englehart shares recollections of his groundbreaking tenure in an informative Introduction, after which Defenders #7 jumps right in as Len Wein co-scripts with Englehart and Frank Bolle inks Sal Buscema in ‘War Below the Waves!’

Here tempestuous ex-Avenger Hawkeye temporarily climbs aboard the “non-team” bandwagon to help defeat the undersea threat of Attuma and soviet renegade the Red Ghost; a bombastic battle to usurp the Sub-Mariner of his titles and kingdom concluded a month later in ‘…If Atlantis Should Fall!’ with Englehart once more providing all the words and Frank McLaughlin inking…

Since Defenders #4 the forward-thinking scripter had been putting players in place for a hugely ambitious cross-over experiment: one that would turn the comics industry on its head, and next here comes a little prologue taken from the end of Avengers #115 which finally set the ball rolling.

Drawn by Bob Brown & Mike Esposito, ‘Alliance Most Foul!’ sees interdimensional despot the Dread Dormammu and Asgardian god of Evil Loki unite to search for an ultimate weapon to give them final victory against their foes. They resolve to trick the Defenders into securing the six component parts by “revealing” that the reconstructed Evil Eye could restore the petrified Black Knight.

That plan was initiated at the end of Defenders #8: a brief opening chapter in ‘The Avengers/Defenders Clash’ entitled ‘Deception!’ as a message from the spirit of the Black Knight is intercepted by the twin entities of evil, leading directly to ‘Betrayal!’ in Avengers #116 (by Englehart Brown & Esposito) wherein the World’s Mightiest Heroes – hunting for their missing comrade – “discover” their old enemies Hulk and Sub-Mariner may have turned the Black Knight to stone.

This and third chapter ‘Silver Surfer Vs. the Vision and the Scarlet Witch’ see 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 (with Buscema & McLaughlin art) begins with tense recap ‘Divide …and Conquer’ before ‘The Invincible Iron Man Vs. Hawkeye the Archer’ and ‘Dr. Strange Vs. the Black Panther and Mantis’ sheds more suspicion and doubt on the vile villains’ subtle master-plan…

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

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

With the overwhelming cosmic threat over the victorious Defenders attempt to use the Eye to cure their petrified comrade, only to discover that his spirit has found a new home in the 12th century. In #11’s ‘A Dark and Stormy Knight’ (Bolle inks), the group battle black magic during the Crusades, fail to retrieve the Knight and acrimoniously go their separate ways – as did overworked departing scripter Englehart…

With issue #12 Len Wein assumed the writer’s role, starting a run of slightly more traditional costumed capers as Sal Buscema & Jack Abel illustrated the return of the mind-bending Xemnu in ‘The Titan Strikes Back!’ against a pared-down cast consisting of Strange, Valkyrie and the Hulk.

A bona fide hit, the non-team were part of a big experiment in extra-value comics that began with opens with Giant Sized Defenders #1 (July1974): a stunning combination of highly readable reprints wrapped in a classy framing sequence by Tony Isabella, Jim Starlin & Al Milgrom. The vintage thrills commence with Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers’ ‘Banished to Outer Space’ from The Incredible Hulk #3, followed by magnificent 1950s Bill Everett Sub-Mariner fantasy-feast ‘Bird of Prey!’

From there the focus switches to Dr. Strange and the Denny O’Neil/Steve Ditko mini-masterpiece ‘To Catch a Magician!’ (Strange Tales #145) before the concoction concludes with a blockbusting battle as the star trio, sorcerer’s apprentice Clea and the valiant Valkyrie dispatch a self-inflicted mystic menace.

After a splendid double-page pin-up by Sal Buscema the regular epics resume for a spectacular Saves-the-World struggle against the villainous Squadron Sinister that opens in ‘For Sale: One Planet… Slightly Used!’ (featuring an early inking job for Klaus Janson) and concludes in the Dan Green-embellished ‘And Who Shall Inherit the Earth?’ as Marvel’s Batman-analogue Nighthawk unites with the Defenders to defeat his murderous former team-mates and aquatic alien marauder Nebulon, the Celestial Man.

Defenders #15 initiates a two-part duel with manic mutant Magneto who first institutes a ‘Panic Beneath the Earth!’ – courtesy of Wein, Buscema & Janson – leading X-Men mentor Charles Xavier to enlist the outcast heroes’ aid. The concluding clash includes the insidious Brotherhood of Evil and ‘Alpha, the Ultimate Mutant’ (inked by Esposito) as well as the apparent end of true master of evil…

Also included here are behind-the-scenes treats including contemporary house ads, creator biographies and previous collection covers by Carlos Pacheco, John Romita and Richard Isanove.

For the longest time, The Defenders was the best and weirdest superhero comicbook in the business, and if you love superheroes but crave something just a little different these yarns are for you… and the best is still to come.
© 1973, 1974, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Defenders Masterworks volume 1


By Roy Thomas, Steve Englehart, Sal Buscema, Ross Andru & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3044-4 (HC)

Last of the big star conglomerate super-groups, the Defenders would eventually count amongst its membership almost every hero – and a few villains – in the Marvel Universe. No surprise there then, as initially they were composed of the company’s bad-boy antiheroes: misunderstood, outcast and often actually dangerous to know.

For Marvel, the outsider super-group must have seemed a conceptual inevitability – once they’d finally published it. Apart from Spider-Man and Daredevil all their superstars regularly teamed up in various mob-handed assemblages and, in the wake of the Defenders’ success, even more super-teams comprising pre-existing characters were rapidly mustered. These included the Champions, Invaders, New Warriors and so on – but none of them had any really Very Big Guns…

For kids – of any and all ages – there is a positively 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…

Although the genesis of the team may have derived from their status as publicly distrusted but well-selling “villains”, originator Roy Thomas shares his own recollections and deeper ruminations in an informative Introduction which namechecks a pivotal continued experimental crossover which didn’t make the cut in this sterling and sturdy hardcover (and eBook) compendium.

I only mention it as the sinister antagonists of those tales play a crucial role in the later stories that do appear here; namely Sub-Mariner #34-35, Marvel Feature #1-3 and Defenders #1-6, spanning February 1971 through June 1973…

So, for fuller enjoyment, you might want to track down Dr. Strange #183(November 1969), Sub-Mariner #22 (February 1970) and Incredible Hulk #126 (April 1970) – Essential Defenders volume 1 has those plus all these and much more, but only in stark monochrome reproduction – which collectively detailed how ancient necromantic threat the Undying Ones returned to bedevil Earth…

An elder race of demons hungry to reconquer humanity, they clashed with Stephen Strange, but as his series unexpectedly ended with that issue the story went nowhere until the Sub-Mariner #22 brought the Prince of Atlantis into the mix. A sterling tale of sacrifice in which the Master of the Mystic Arts seemingly died holding the gates of Hell shut with the Undying Ones pent behind them then concluded on an upbeat note in Incredible Hulk #126, after a New England cult dispatched helpless Bruce Banner to the nether realms in an attempt to undo Strange’s heroic gesture.

Luckily cultist Barbara Norris had last-minute second thoughts and her own sacrifice freed the mystic, seemingly ending the threat of the Undying Ones forever. At the end of that issue Strange retired, forsaking magic, although he was back before too long as the fates – and fickle reading tastes – called him back to duty.

The Defenders’ story officially begins here with Sub-Mariner #34-35 of his own title (February and March 1971). The Prince of Atlantis had become an early advocate of the ecology movement, and here he took the next step in their evolution by fractiously recruiting Hulk and the Silver Surfer to help him destroy an American Nuclear Weather-Control station.

In ‘Titans Three’ and the concluding ‘Confrontation’ (by Thomas, Sal Buscema & Jim Mooney) the always-misunderstood trio battled a despotic dictator’s forces, the US Army, UN defence forces and the mighty Avengers to prevent the malfunctioning station from accidentally vaporising half the planet…

With that debacle smoothed over life resumed its usual frenetic pace for the Hulk and Namor until giant-sized try-out comic Marvel Feature #1 (December 1971) presented ‘The Day of the Defenders!’ wherein a mysteriously returned Dr. Strange recruited the Avenging Son and the Jade Giant to help him stop the deathbed doom of crazed super-mind Yandroth.

Determined to not go gently into the dark, the Scientist Supreme had built an Omegatron weapon programmed to obliterate the Earth as soon as Yandroth’s heart stopped beating and only the brute strength of the misunderstood misanthropes could possibly stop it…

Naturally the fiend hadn’t told the whole truth but the day was saved – or at least postponed – in a canny classic from Thomas, Ross Andru & Bill Everett.

Clearly and immediately destined for great things, the astounding antiheroes returned in Marvel Feature #2 (March 1972) with Sal Buscema replacing Everett as inker for late Halloween treat ‘Nightmare on Bald Mountain!’

By capturing arch-foe Dr. Strange, extra-dimensional dark lord Dormammu sought to invade our realm through a portal in Vermont, only to be savagely beaten back by the mage’s surly sometime comrades, whilst in #3 (June 1972) Thomas, Andru & Everett reunited to revive an old Lee/Kirby “furry underpants” monster in ‘A Titan Walks Among Us!’

Xemnu the Titan was an alien super-telepath seeking to repopulate his desolate homeworld by stealing America’s children until thrashed by the Defenders, but older fans recognised him as the cover-hogging star of Journey into Mystery #62 (November 1960) where he acted as a road-test for a later Marvel star in a short tale entitled ‘I Was a Slave of the Living Hulk!’

An assured hit, The Defenders exploded swiftly into their own title (cover-dated August 1972), to begin a bold and offbeat run of reluctant adventures scripted by super-team wunderkind Steve Englehart. As a group of eclectic associates occasionally called together to save the world (albeit on a miraculously monotonous monthly basis) they were billed as a “non-team” – whatever that is – but it didn’t affect the quality of their super-heroic shenanigans.

With Sal Buscema as regular penciller an epic adventure ensued with ‘I Slay by the Stars!’ (inked by Giacoia) as sorcerer Necrodamus attempted to sacrifice Namor and free those pesky Undying Ones; a mission that promptly led to conflict with an old ally in ‘The Secret of the Silver Surfer!’ (inked by John Verpoorten) before concluding in the Jim Mooney-inked ‘Four Against the Gods!’

Here the Defenders took the war to the dimensional dungeon of the Undying Ones and rescued the long-imprisoned and now utterly insane Barbara Norris.

Clearly a fan of large casts and extended epics, Englehart added a fighting female to the non-team with ‘The New Defender!’ (inked by new regular Frank McLaughlin) as Asgardians exiles Enchantress and Executioner embroiled the antiheroes in their long-running and lethal love-spat. The fallout included bringing the Black Knight briefly into the mix and turning Barbara into the latest incarnation of Feminist Fury (these were far less enlightened days) The Valkyrie.

Defenders #5 began a long-running plot thread that would have major repercussions for the Marvel Universe. The denouement of the previous tale had left the Black Knight an ensorcelled, immobile stone statue, and, as Strange and Co. searched for a cure, the long defused Omegatron suddenly resumed its countdown to global annihilation in ‘World Without End?’

This initial collection then concludes with the increasingly isolationist Silver Surfer momentarily “rejoining” in #6 to share ‘The Dreams of Death!’ as new lightweight magic menace Cyrus Black attacked, and was as rapidly repulsed…

After a spiffy team pin-up by Sal Buscema, a revelatory Afterword by Steve Englehart segues into a brief bonus feature including unpublished cover art, contemporary house ads and creator biographies.

For a brief while The Defenders would be one of the best and weirdest superhero comics in the business, but to get there you really need to observe this unruly, uncomfortable selection of misfit heroes in their salad days here. At least the fact that their widespread and far-reaching origins are still so eminently entertaining should be both a relief and delight.

Go on, Enjoy, Pilgrim… the best is yet to come…
© 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 2009, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

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.