Retro Review: The Defenders / The New Defenders #120 – 131 By DeMatteis, Perlin, Kupperberg & More For Marvel Comics

The Defenders #120-124; The New Defenders #125-131 (June 1983 – May 1984)

Written by J.M. DeMatteis (#120-130)

Plotted by J.M. DeMatteis (#131)

Co-plotted by Don Perlin (#121)

Scripted by Peter B. Gillis (#131)

Layouts by Sal Buscema (#127)

Pencils by Don Perlin (#120-125, 129), Alan Kupperberg (#126, 128, 131), Mike Zeck (#130)

Finishes by Alan Kupperberg (#127)

Inks by Jack Abel (#120-121), Kim DeMulder (#120, 122-125, 129-130), Andy Mushynsky (#120-121), Alan Kupperberg (#121), Alan Kupperberg (#126, 131), Mike Mignola (#128)

Coloured by George Roussos (#120), Christie Scheele (#122-125, 129-130), Paul Becton (#126-128), Glynis Wein (#131)

Spoilers (from thirty-four to thirty-five years ago)

When I started writing this column, I mostly wanted to use it as an excuse to revisit beloved runs and series from my childhood and teen days.  I love the opportunity it gives me to return to books I haven’t read in decades, and immerse myself in the stories they told, but also look at them from an adult perspective, and within the context of all the comics that came before or after them, which I was not aware of at the time I read them.

What’s surprised me is how often I now want to fill out collections, and turn to runs that I either didn’t read back in the day, or read in a fragmented, scattershot way.  It’s caused me to increase my overall collection, and dive into books that I wrongly ignored in my youthful ignorance.

All of this is to say that I never like The Defenders.  I didn’t buy the concept of the team that is not really a team, especially when it coalesced around a pretty stable core group of C-list heroes.  And really, it’s the main characters that kept me away from the comic. I’ve always hated Daimon Hellstrom, and didn’t like Patsy Walker when she was with him.  I thought that Valkyrie was a dull character, as were Nighthawk and often, Doctor Strange. Gargoyle was kind of cool because he was an old man, but that didn’t necessarily make me want to read a lot about him (I do have fond memories of the Mark Badger mini).  At the same time, the inclusion of three of the original X-Men (Beast, Iceman, and Angel), and the shift to the New Defenders, with characters like Moondragon and Cloud, did interest me, and while I’d only read some of that run, I felt like giving it another chance.

When I set out to fill in my gaps, I saw a good run in a cheap bin, and so rather arbitrarily decided to start reading this run at issue 120.  I’d thought that was the start of JM DeMatteis’s run, because Steve Gerber wrote the issue before it, and I thought he was on the book forever.  I was wrong about that, but it’s still where I’m starting this column. I wonder how this book is going to hold up…

Let’s look at who turned up in the title:

The Team

  • Son of Satan (Daimon Hellstrom; #120-122, 125)
  • Beast (Hank McCoy; #120-131)
  • Valkyrie (Brunnhilde; #120-123, 125-131)
  • Gargoyle (Isaac Christians; #120-131)
  • Hellcat (Patsy Walker; #120-122, 125)
  • Overmind (#120-122)
  • Doctor Strange (Stephen Strange; #122-125)
  • Namor the Sub-Mariner (#122-125)
  • Hulk (Bruce Banner; #122-125)
  • Silver Surfer (Norrin Radd; #122-125)
  • Iceman (Bobby Drake; #122-131)
  • Angel (Warren Worthington III; #125-131)
  • Moondragon (Heather Douglas; #125-131)
  • Cloud (#130-131)

Villains

  • The Miracle Man (#120-121)
  • The Darksoul (#121)
  • The Elf (#122-125)
  • The Tribunal (#123-125)
  • Cloud (#123)
  • Seraph (#123, 128)
  • The Harridan (#123, 128)
  • Ch’Kri (#125)
  • Mad-Dog (#125-126, 128-130)
  • The Secret Empire (#125-130)
  • Shocker (Mutant Force; #125-126, 128-130)
  • Lifter (Mutant Force; #125-126, 128-130)
  • Slither (Mutant Force; #125-126, 128-130)
  • Burner (Mutant Force; #125-126, 128-130)
  • Leviathan (#126, 128)
  • Professor Power (Secret Empire’s Number One; #127-130)
  • The Walrus (#131)

Guest Stars

  • Odin (#122-123)
  • Scarlet Witch (#123-124)
  • Vision (#123-124)
  • Moondragon (#123)
  • Nick Fury (#126, 128-130)
  • Cloud (#127-129)
  • Colonel Rodian Razumihin (Soviet Intelligence; #129-130)
  • Seraph (#129-130)
  • Frog-Man (#131)

Supporting Characters

  • Father Gosset (#120-122)
  • Wong (#120, 122)
  • Dolly Donohue (the Defenders’ housekeeper; #122, 125-126, 128-130)
  • Vera (Hank’s girlfriend; #122)
  • Candy Southern (Warren’s girlfriend; #127, 129-131)
  • Mr. and Mrs. Drake (Bobby’s parents; #127)

Let’s take a look at what happened in these books, with some commentary as we go:

  • Issue one twenty opens with Daimon Hellstrom turning up at a monastery and collapsing.  Later, he wakes up in the presence of Father Gosset, who taught him in seminary, and who he sees as a close friend.  They discuss the fact that, after gaining control over his Darksoul, Daimon does not feel that he is a real man. He reveals his true form to the abbot, who encourages him to have faith.  Later, while watching monks meditate, Daimon is approached by a man named Brother Joshua, who is about to be initiated into the order. They talk and feel a connection. In New York, Patsy Walker has a dream about Daimon that makes her think he is in trouble.  The other Defenders – Beast, Gargoyle, and Valkyrie – dismiss her concerns. Daimon fixes a tractor, while Father Gosset admits that something about Joshua makes him uneasy. The Defenders train at a YMCA and Patsy convinces Hank that something must really be wrong with Daimon (apparently she has some low-level telepathic abilities – I don’t know if I remembered that).  Daimon feels weird at the monastery, and follows a hunch which leads him to Joshua, who has light glowing out of his head. Joshua asks that he not tell anyone about this, and Daimon’s sense of sharing some kind of kinship with the man gets him to agree. The Defenders go to Doctor Strange’s (he’s out) to get help from Overmind in tracking down Daimon. They learn that he is in Massachusetts, and they head out.  Brother Joshua is officially welcomed into the order, but he undergoes a change, recovers all of his memory, and as Daimon yells out in pain, turns into an old forgotten villain called The Miracle Man. He starts tossing the monks around, and turns Gosset into stone. Daimon transforms to confront him, and the Miracle Man turns the rest of the monks into stone too. Daimon begins to fight him, but quickly succumbs, as the pentagram disappears from his chest and appears on Miracle Man’s.  He holds up his trident and claims his Darksoul. The Defenders fly a borrowed quinjet towards Daimon, and they are all worried.
  • As the team approaches Daimon’s position in the quinjet, a bunch of large statues of monks keep popping up in their path.  Beast tries to avoid them, but clips one and the ship crashes, where they are immediately attacked by a gigantic monster made of snow.  After defeating it, they make their way to the monastery, where they find Miracle Man waiting to greet them, surrounded by happily eating monks.  They don’t know what’s going on so they play along for information, until they see that he’d turned Daimon into a statue. He restores him, and after recapping the last issue, teleports everyone to Java Indonesia.  There, the Miracle Man talks about using his powers for good, but Daimon reveals that he has his pentagram on his chest, and the Darksoul that goes with it inside of him. MM starts to improve the lives of the people around him, replacing their hovels with nice homes.  The Defenders aren’t sure how to take all of this, until an old blind man refuses (confusing, in Sudanese according to the editor’s box) his cure, and the MM gets offended (perhaps making this whole story a comment on missionary work?). Overmind tries to zap MM with his mind powers, which doesn’t work.  Neither does Valkyrie’s sword attack, so the whole team piles on him. The fight continues, without much success, until Daimon starts to speak to the Darksoul, calling it back to him, arguing that the mortal MM would not be enough to sustain it. It prepares to leave Miracle Man and return to Daimon, but as that transference begins, Hellcat and Overmind use their powers to attack it, and it ends up fleeing and embedding itself in a snake.  The team is teleported back to the monastery, and it looks like Brother Joshua is back to his old self.
  • Shortly after the end of the last issue, the Defenders prepare to leave the monastery.  Brother Joshua is welcomed into the care of the brothers, and Daimon tells Patsy that he wants to stay there as well, but then they declare their love for one another.  The next day, Beast plays with Sassafras, the dog he just bought while Val, Overmind, Gargoyle and Dolly watch him and speculate as to what Daimon and Patsy are up to. Those two return from a walk, and announce that they are going to get married and leave the team.  Val and Dolly are upset that Patsy is leaving, and when Patsy comforts Dolly, Val storms off. Doctor Strange is visited by the original Defenders – Namor, Hulk, and Silver Surfer, who claim he summoned them. A little elf, called The Elf, steps out from behind a curtain and shoots them with a gun.  Daimon and Patsy leave, and Val says a tearful farewell from the roof. Hank receives bags of fan mail forwarded from Avengers Mansion, and then gets a surprise visit from Iceman. Valkyrie receives a floating head message from Odin, summoning her back to Asgard, and she leaves. Weirdly, Bobby and Hank hang out with Gargoyle while he’s in the bathtub.  They are all planning a night out, and Overmind asks if he can come along. At a restaurant in the Village, Vera, Hank’s girlfriend, runs into the friends and gives Hank the cold shoulder for forgetting that they were supposed to go on a date. The team chats for a while about how Bobby misses being a hero (this is from when he was getting his accounting degree), and Hank complains about the non-team approach the Defenders have.  Dolly suggests he “make it a team” before dancing with Isaac. After their dance, Isaac toasts the team and their friendship, while Beast continues to think about what Dolly said.
  • The Elf is quite pleased to have transported the original Defenders to a nether-realm where they feel lost amid ghostly images of the past.  It looks like The Elf is working for some kind of time tribunal who build human-like robots and destroy them when they believe they are real or something.  Hank, Bobby, and Isaac fly their quinjet and almost crash it, as they head to visit Vision and the Scarlet Witch for dinner at their home in New Jersey. Some local kids see them arrive and are excited, although Bobby’s showing off earns him an attack from Wanda.  Down the street, a living cloud (named Cloud) returns from reconnoitering the heroes’ home, and reports to two others, Seraph and Harridan, that the Defenders are visiting. The two older women fight over who has control, and they decide that they will go finish their mission for “Number One”, and kidnap the Vision.  The Original Defenders find land in the nether-realm, and also find The Elf there. Namor wants to kill him, but he points out that only he can get them out of there. He leads them to a time slide. In Asgard, Valkyrie speaks to Odin, who says he has a task for her, and takes her to see Moondragon. The Defenders have a nice dinner with Wanda and Vision, and Beast offers Vision a spot on the team, which he turns down.  They are attacked by Cloud, who Wanda knocks out. The other women arrive, with Harridan using her staff to knock out Gargoyle. Bobby tries to freeze them, with no luck, and Seraph insists that if Vision give himself up, no one will be hurt. This leads to more fighting, and Harridan almost drains all life from Beast and Iceman. Seraph stops Vision, and wanting to leave with him, makes Harridan let go of Beast and Iceman, thereby ensuring that their life force will return to them.  Gargoyle has roused himself, and he takes out Seraph and Cloud. When Harridan tries to use her powers on his immortal body, the feedback takes her out too, but not before she makes reference to the Secret Empire. Once everyone is okay, Beast states that the Defenders are going to figure out what the Empire is up to. The Elf takes the Original Defenders to Earth in the 24th Century, which is a wasteland that he accuses them of having caused.
  • The Elf continues to show the Original Defenders around the destroyed Earth of 2387, and then takes them to his bosses, The Tribunal, who don’t like being questioned by Namor.  In New Jersey, the three women from last issue are packed up by SHIELD, while the Beast continues to fret about the Secret Empire. Vision and Scarlet Witch turn down his offer of membership in the Defenders, which upends Beast’s plans to turn the Defenders into a real team.  The rest of the issue focuses on the Original Defenders (despite Angel and Valkyrie, who never show up, being on the cover). They learn, through massive amounts of boring exposition, that the Tribunal are creatures that live in all times, and work to stave off chronal disaster through their use of the Elfs, which they thought would endear themselves to humans across cultures.  Apparently these Elfs kept showing up in past issues of the series, and it looks like DeMatteis is trying to wrap up some very old abandoned subplots. They learn that the woman Kyle Richmond used to date was really a timebuoy robot, and that all of the problems the Earth will face come down to a day when Doctor Strange will see a meteor, and discover that it’s an alien spaceship.  The aliens are trying to cure their prince through the use of human captives. When Strange tries to introduce himself to the aliens, they assume he is working for their enemy, and attack him. He summons the other three Defenders to his aid, and they stop the ship from leaving. They free the captured humans, but find that the ship’s machinery has shut down. They also discover that all of the aliens are dead, by self-inflicted wounds.  The Elf promises answers in the next issue.
  • Issue 125, which is double-sized, is the first with the new logo and title, The New Defenders, although the indicia in the front of the book does not reflect this change.  That damn Elf recaps for a couple of pages, before we join the Original Defenders at the Tribunal’s meeting place. Strange confirms they are legit, and they continue to narrate the future, as we see that the leader of the aliens, a guy called Ch’kri, learns that his son has died on Earth.  Beast, Iceman, and Gargoyle return home, parking their quinjet, after the two ex-X-Men have gotten drunk. Entering their brownstone, they find Moondragon there, and Beast attacks her. She quickly puts down Beast and Iceman, and begins to fight Gargoyle when Valkyrie stops the fight and explains that Moondragon is under her supervision, after Odin decreed it.  We also learn that she has a headband that limits her psychic powers, and causes her pain when she tries to use it. Everyone heads to bed, ignoring Dolly, who has something to tell them. They are surprised to see that Angel, Warren Worthington, has come to visit, but Dolly interrupts their partying to tell them that Patsy and Daimon are getting married the next day.  This is overheard by Mad-Dog, who is prowling outside, and who goes to report to the Secret Empire that they can do something to the Defenders at the wedding. Back in Elf-Land, we learn the reasons behind why the aliens come to destroy the Earth, and that in all timelines, if the Original Defenders stay together, it is destined to happen. That’s what the Tribunal wanted the group to know, and now that they know this, they send them home.  The ex-X-Men hang out, and Angel talks about how Callisto tried to force him to live with the Morlocks, and how this has led to Warren questioning his role in the world. When they return home, Beast starts talking about his idea of making the Defenders an official team. Moondragon isn’t interested. Later, they all fly out to the wedding (where is Overmind?), even though Warren and Bobby don’t know Patsy and Damian. They arrive, and everyone parties, but Mad-Dog is out in the woods watching.  He is joined by the Mutant Force, who have been sent by the Secret Empire. Mad-Dog proves his dominance on the mission, and then they attack the wedding. Beast stops Gargoyle from over-reacting, but Valkyrie does. Moondragon fights Mad-Dog, but he knocks her out. Patsy reveals that Mad-Dog is her ex-husband Buzz (seriously). The others fight the Mutant Force outside, while Patsy fights Buzz and he bites her. There is more fighting, and after Moondragon distracts Buzz, Damian gives him a beat-down, just as Patsy recovers from his toxin-laced bite.  The wedding continues, and Beast sees the team’s success as proof that they should follow his plan. Bobby and Warren agree, as do Gargoyle and Val. Moondragon also agrees to join, and Beast calls them the New Defenders. Then the Original Defenders show up to tell them that they have their blessing, as they can no longer work together (which of course got retconned away later on). Best of all, the frigging Elf gets taken back to the Tribunal.
  • The New Defenders are visiting with Nick Fury in New York, making sure that Mad-Dog and the Mutant Force are adequately incarcerated.  They find out that Seraph, Harridan, and Cloud never made it to SHIELD custody, causing Nick to admit that his organization has been infiltrated by the Secret Empire.  The team fly through the city, and both Bobby and Warren entertain romantic thoughts about Moondragon. The Secret Empire plans to free their operatives. At the SHIELD base, Fury discovers that power has been cut to the lower levels, and that a prisoner they were holding, a former SHIELD scientist, has escaped.  The Defenders meet over dinner, and when Beast proposes they create a charter for the team, and select a leader, Val insists she take that job. Beast proposes he’d be better, and she laughs. They all start arguing, and Warren storms off. He flies around questioning why he’d be interested in Moondragon while in a relationship with Candy Southern.  He sees items like cars being thrown through the sky, and goes to investigate. The rest of the team is looking for Warren, but follow police sirens and discover that he’s been grabbed by Leviathan, the missing SHIELD scientist who has grown to giant-size, and is pretty simple. The team has no luck stopping him individually, but after a few pages, Warren rallies them to work as a team, and they are able to knock him out.  SHIELD comes to collect him, and Fury learns that Mad-Dog and the others have escaped.
  • After a couple of pages of Assistant Editors’ Month nonsense, the story begins.  Cloud is running from a pair of Secret Empire robots. She manages to escape, but the robots pursue.  Hank and Warren (with Candy, Warren’s girlfriend) have gone with Bobby to visit his parents on Long Island.  They have a nice time, until Bobby tells his parents that he’s going to be working with his friends as a hero again.  At the Secret Empire’s headquarters, we learn that Professor Power is running the show. He learns that Cloud has escaped and is being pursued, and then we get a bit of a recap of his time as a villain, and how he is running the organization in the name of his son who lost his sanity because of something that happened with Professor Xavier and Mentallo.  Moondragon practices her martial arts and gets mad that Isaac and Val watched. To calm down, she tries meditating, but is interrupted when Cloud enters her room and attacks her. The other two Defenders return, and Isaac knocks the young girl out. Moondragon is upset, because she saw in Cloud’s mind that she is there for help. The ex-X-Men, returning to the brownstone, joke around and then notice robots flying towards their home.  They pursue, leaving Candy alone with Beast’s dog. Cloud, recovered, tells the others about how she has learned the truth about herself and fled the Secret Empire, and has come to the Defenders for help. At that moment, Angel, Beast, and Iceman bust into the room while fighting the two robots. The team springs into action and take down the robots. Cloud tells them that there are more coming, and seven more bust down the wall and attack.  They take out most of the team, grab Cloud, and fly away.
  • So issue one twenty-eight is inked by Mike Mignola, but you’d never guess it from looking at the art.  The team is moving into Warren’s place in the Rocky Mountains of New Mexico, after the Secret Empire robots destroyed their NY brownstone.  They are not happy about things, despite Dolly’s efforts to feed them processed foods. Moondragon gets annoyed with everyone and argues with them, before reminding them that they need to go rescue Cloud.  The girl, meanwhile, is being held prisoner by Professor Power. She talks about how the Secret Empire killed her parents and forced her into believing that Seraph was her sister. Cloud escapes the restraining harness she was wearing, and attacks Power before having her abilities shut down again.  Moondragon tells the Defenders the same story, and everyone is happy to see Valkyrie return to them. Moondragon tells the team where the Secret Empire’s headquarters is, and then uses her powers on Beast when he gets territorial, which leads to her headband kicking in, which upsets Warren and Bobby (who both keep having romantic thoughts about her throughout the issue).  The team flies their borrowed quinjet and let’s Nick Fury know where they’re going. They fly right into a force dome, which they need Moondragon’s help to burst through. They fight a lot of Roman-themed guards, some booby-traps, and Mutant Force, Mad-Dog, Seraph, and Harridan. They get past them, but are stomped by Leviathan as they enter the SE’s headquarters. Later, they wake up prisoners of Professor Power, who rants about his son some more, and reveals that his plan, to kill the original X-Men to punish Professor Xavier, doesn’t make a lot of sense (and really doesn’t explain why he tried to kidnap Vision), and so instead he’s going to make the Defenders kill the New Mutants, and then he’s going to rule the world.  This is not really good plotting, is it?
  • The Defenders fight with the New Mutants at the Xavier School.  Hank, Bobby, and Warren struggle with fighting the new students of their former teacher, but Val is okay with it.  Isaac also balks at fighting children, but it is Moondragon that reveals to them all that none of what they are seeing is real.  They are in some weird contraption that has them trapped in small cubes, while the Secret Empire works to prepare them to kill Xavier’s students.  It seems they’ve been at it for three days, and have still not been able to break our heroes. When one of the robed Empire guys questions Professor Power, he doesn’t respond well, and insists that his plan will work, although he also doesn’t mind killing the Defenders.  Hank recaps the plot, and then Moondragon contacts the team telepathically, which causes her pain. Professor Power speaks to his advisors, and checks in on Project Sublimate, which is being overseen by Mad-Dog. We learn that Power’s whole plan involves launching a satellite that will subliminally lead American and Soviet leaders into launching their nuclear weapons at one another, while the Secret Empire waits out the war underground, and then emerges to take over the world.  Nick Fury coordinates with Colonel Rodian Razumihin, of Soviet Intelligence, to locate the Secret Empire (their base has disappeared). Candy shares with Dolly that she’s a bit jealous that Warren is sharing his remote home with the Defenders, when she saw it as their hideaway. Seraph, who it turns out is a Soviet double agent, frees Cloud from her imprisonment, and when they are discovered, they begin fighting guards. When alarms go off, Moondragon and Gargoyle link their powers to free the team.  They are joined by Cloud and Seraph in fighting some SE robots. Power kills one of his higher ranked robe guys, and flies away in an escape craft, hoping that his satellite will still launch. The Defenders show up at the launch site, but are unable to stop the countdown from taking place. As it launches, Valkyrie and Moondragon clutch the side of the rocket.
  • Mike Zeck drew this issue, making it a real treat.  Valkyrie and Moondragon squabble while riding the rocket.  Val has some success hacking at it with her sword, to Moondragon’s surprise, but Mad-Dog remote controls it back onto its path.  Cloud and the other Defenders try to stop him, and everyone is surprised to see the rocket explode. Angel and Gargoyle rush to catch the falling women (and Warren’s growing feelings for Moondragon are somewhat exposed).  They rescue them with some help from Iceman, and the team learns that Moondragon used her powers to blow up the rocket (are there any threats in this series that she isn’t the solution for?). The Mutant Force and Mad-Dog attack.  Fury, Colonel Razumihin rush into the facility to help, but find they aren’t really needed. After the fighting is done, there is some tension between Angel and Seraph. She says she is leaving, which upsets Cloud, who sees her as partially responsible for her family’s deaths.  Moondragon steps in and calms Cloud down, showing real empathy and promising to help her, which surprises the entire team, and fills Val with some dread. Later, the team returns to Warren’s place in the mountains, where they find that Professor Power is holding Candy and Dolly hostage.  He attacks the team, who have little success in fighting him, until Moondragon reaches into his mind and pulls the dormant consciousness of his insane son forward, causing them to merge and collapse. Beast is not happy about this this solution. Days later, Warren hangs out with Candy but finds himself thinking about Moondragon.  That she is standing outside the room suggests to us that she might be behind his infatuation. The rest of the team is hanging out around the pool when Beast comes to tell them that he is starting to book lectures at five thousand dollars an appearance, and that Nick Fury called to say the team has been granted Official Government Clearance, which makes everyone but Moondragon happy.
  • An overweight man is strapped to a table in a weird lab at Brooklyn University.  It turns out that the man’s Uncle Humbert has been experimenting on him, trying to make him into a superhuman for a long time now.  This time the treatment works, and the man believes he has been given the proportionate strength of a walrus, which gives him an idea for his superhuman identity.  Hank is at Brooklyn University to give a lecture, and he’s a little nervous. Bobby and Warren have come with him, but they don’t really calm him down, especially when Bobby tells some young women that he is Hank’s boyfriend (which is, you know, some interesting foreshadowing).  While Hank throws up in the other room, the two friends talk about him. Frog-Man has stolen his father’s old Leap Frog costume again, and is rushing to see Beast’s talk, in the hopes that he can join the Defenders. He arrives in time, just as Beast bounds into the lecture hall and impresses the audience with his acrobatics and his humour.  During a question and answer period, Frog-Man leaps onto the stage, wrecking the lectern, and causing Bobby and Warren to suit up and come to Beast’s aid. He tells them he wants to join the team. In Colorado, the women of the team, and Gargoyle, hang out by the pool. Candy and Moondragon argue, and Moondragon ends up meditating in the pool.  The Walrus goes on a rampage at a Kwikkee Burger, trying to get media attention, while his uncle directs him to attack the Beast’s lecture. The college kids urge the Defenders to accept Frog-Man, just as the Walrus shows up and starts a fight with Beast. The fight leads outside, where the Walrus is able to smack all three Defenders down with an uprooted tree.  At that point, he begins to feel weaker, just as Frog-Man attacks him. Frog-Man doesn’t really hurt him, but Walrus does collapse, his powers faded away, and Frog-Man takes the credit for it. Just as the team considers having to accept him, Frog-Man’s dad shows up and drags him away by the mask. Angel tells the crowd that this was all staged, to save face, but then the university’s dean yells at Beast, and tells him that the cost of the damages will come from his lecture fee.

And with that, JM DeMatteis departed the book that he had just reworked, and had begun laying longer term (Moondragon-related) plotlines for.  This one year’s worth of comics really did show a lot of change in the focus of the title. Hellcat and the Son of Satan got written out of the book, and after a long, boring, and probably unnecessary storyline, the original four Defenders – Doctor Strange, Namor, Silver Surfer, and the Hulk – were also written out in such a way that they could never become Defenders again (until, of course, they did).  Overmind just disappeared, having helped the team in one issue, and just being gone the next, never to be mentioned again.

The switch to The New Defenders (a change that still, at this point, hasn’t happened in the publisher’s indicia) brought a lot of new life to the title.  Bringing Iceman and Angel into the team really helped them gel as a group, providing a light-hearted centre to the comic, and through Warren, providing the team with a new location (every picture we see of Warren’s Rocky Mountain house makes me wonder how you get there if you can’t fly) and the option of funding where needed.

Putting Moondragon into the book is a bold move.  She was always an interesting character, skirting the line between villain and hero, and always causing controversy wherever she went.  Adding her to the Defenders, charged with learning about humanity, and limited through the use of Odin’s headband, provides the book a focus and the team with a purpose.  The thing is, once she’s there, it begins to look like every threat the team faces can only be handled by her, and that each of these threats require her to push against the limitations that Odin imposed, which starts to get a little boring.  It’s also both interesting and heavy-handed, watching both Bobby and Warren act so smitten with her, often having the exact same thought at the same time.

Cloud is also an interesting addition to the book (although she becomes more interesting after Peter B. Gillis starts writing her).  She’s basically a teenage girl who is naked all the time, save for a pair of strategically placed clouds. It doesn’t really seem right, but her naivety and innocence pairs nicely with more cynical characters like Valkyrie.  It’s interesting to watch Moondragon treat her, and only her, with kindness.

The character that stands out to me as feeling very different from how I’ve viewed him for the last three decades is Hank McCoy.  The Beast frets about how to shape and legitimize the team, but does not display any of the intelligence that we’ve grown used to seeing from him.  He has no lab, does not tinker with biology, time travel, or any of the other things that all fall into his wheelhouse in this day, and instead seems content to be the team joker and leader at the same time.

I’ve been a fan of JM DeMatteis’s writing for a long time, and have long viewed him as a very versatile writer, capable of humour and very mature, serious comics.  I’m not sure that I really know what he’s going for here. On the one hand, he’ll have Daimon Hellstrom confront his inner (literal) demon, and spend tons of space on Moondragon’s moods, but he’ll also show us a fight between Frog-Man and the Walrus.  

A lot of his plotting feels kind of improvisational.  I’m still not all that clear on what the Secret Empire was trying to accomplish.  They wanted to subliminally goad world leaders into sparking a nuclear war, but also Professor Power wanted to get revenge on Charles Xavier.  Nowhere do I see where kidnapping the Vision, which is what led the team to reforming and being aware of the Empire’s resurgence, had to do with anything.  So they just happened to stumble across a plot that involved using three of them for one thing, and the insane ex-husband of another of them for another thing.  Really?

Artwise, there’s not much to say here.  Don Perlin and Alan Kupperberg provide us with some pretty standard 80s Marvel house style art.  I was a little surprised when the editor started talking about Perlin’s new approach to art being so groundbreaking, but I couldn’t see what had changed.  Still, it’s all pretty decent stuff. Mike Zeck’s guest issue was a nice break in things though, as I’ve been a fan of his work since the early 80s.

One thing that I noticed (and that drew me to this series as a kid) is that the covers on this comic are often incredible.  Kelly Plunkett, Carl Potts, Kevin Nowlan, and Frank Cirocco gave this book a really unique look at times, that sadly didn’t extend to the interiors.

Anyway, it’s really only after Peter Gillis takes over the writing that this book becomes a little stranger and (if I remember correctly), more experimental and a little more out there in terms of themes, threats, and characters.  Next time we’ll look at his complete run, taking us to the end of the title.

If you’d like to see the archives of all of my retro review columns, click here.

If you’d like to read the stories I talk about here, you can follow this link for a recent trade that has all of them:
The New Defenders, Vol. 1

 

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