Retro-Reviews: The New Defenders #132-152 By Gillis, Perlin & Others For Marvel Comics

The New Defenders #132-152 (June 1984 – February 1986

Written by Peter B. Gillis (#132-152)

Pencils by Don Perlin (#132, 134-145, 147, 149-152), Alan Kupperberg (#133), Luke McDonnell (#146), Sal Buscema (#148)

Inks by Kim DeMulder (#132-144), Art Nichols (#145-149), Alan Kupperberg (#150), Randy Emberlin (#150), Dell Barras (#151-152)

Coloured by Christie Scheele (#132-135), Petra Scotese (#136-138, 151), Michele Wrightson (#139, 142-147, 149-150), Ken Feduniewicz (#140, 152), Bob Sharen (#141, 148)

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

J.M. DeMatteis set up the new status quo for this book, and then basically bounced after only a few issues, handing the reins to Peter B. Gillis, who has a bit of a history for oddball comics.  DeMatteis put a lot of effort into suggesting that Moondragon might not be trustworthy, and might be manipulating Iceman and Angel into having feelings for her, and I’m curious to see where Gillis takes this stuff.

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

The Team

  • Angel (Warren Worthington III; #132-146, 149-152)
  • Iceman (Bobby Drake; #132-147, 149-152)
  • Moondragon (Heather Douglas; #132-143)
  • Valkyrie (Brunnhilde; #132-141, 143-147, 149-152)
  • Cloud (#132-147, 149-150)
  • Gargoyle (Isaac Christians; #132-152)
  • Beast (Hank McCoy; #132-152)
  • Son of Satan (Daimon Hellstrom; #148)
  • Hellcat (Patsy Walker; #148)
  • Andromeda (#149-152)
  • Manslaughter (152)

Villains

  • Manslaughter (#134-135, 150-151)
  • Blowtorch Brand (#135)
  • Unnamed Wizard(#136-138)
  • The Dragon of the Moon (#138-139, 143-144, 151-152)
  • Trolls (#139)
  • Moondragon (under the influence of the Dragon of the Moon; #143-144, 151-152)
  • Hotspur (#146-147)
  • The Star-Thief (#150)

Guest Stars

  • Oliver Cutlass (#133, 148)
  • Typhoon (Kwan Tai Fung; #133, 148)
  • Odin (#139)
  • Red Wolf (#139)
  • Senator Robert Kelly (#142)
  • The Valkyrie (all of Valkyrie’s sisters; #144)
  • Johnny Blaze (former Ghost Rider; #145-146)
  • Andromeda (#146-147)
  • The Interloper (#147, 149, 151-152)
  • Seraph (#147, 149-151)
  • Hannibal King (#148)
  • The Cosmic Cube (#150)
  • The Beyonder (#152)
  • Mister Fantastic (#152)
  • Human Torch (#152)

Supporting Characters

  • Dolly Donohue (the Defenders’ housekeeper; #132-136, 138-140, 142, 144-145)
  • Candy Southern (Warren’s girlfriend; #133, 135, 138-140, 142-147, 149, 151-152)
  • Vera (Hank’s girlfriend; #140, 149)
  • Chris Larmouth (Warren’s mechanic; #141, 152)
  • Andrea ( #143, 145-146)
  • General Argyle Fist (#144-146)
  • Roxanne (Johnny Blaze’s girlfriend; #145-146)
  • Specialist Nancy Turpin (#145-147)
  • Wong (#146)
  • Sarah Wolf (#146)

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

  • A man is stumbling through the desert, starving and dehydrated.  He comes across some equipment left from gamma-bomb testing, that has some lichen growing on it.  He eats it, not realizing how radioactive it is. He collapses, apparently dead, but then gets up and starts walking north.  In New Mexico, the New Defenders, minus the Beast, are hanging out together. Bobby flirts a bit with Cloud, and then a bit with Moondragon, and they are interrupted by the appearance of the man from the beginning of the issue, who has plant material growing all over him.  He mentions how humid the place is, and then turns into a monster, but seems unaware of it. When Moondragon tries to read its mind, it attacks her, and the team doesn’t know how to stop it. Eventually Cloud and Gargoyle combine their energy attacks, and blow the thing up.  The team is confused, and unhappy at the mess. Val, using her Valkyrie death sense, realizes that the creature was not really alive, and cuts it open, showing that its insides are full of flowers. Cloud gets attacked by these, so Bobby puts the whole mess on ice. Warren takes a shower, but finds some of the creature stuck on his back, and flies off.  Bobby, looking for answers, tries to find Hank, who is at Cornell University giving a lecture. When he goes to check on the creature, he finds that it’s mutated again, and that bits of it are all over the room, and attacking again. Bobby and Val try to fight it. Warren, still flying higher and higher, figures that ultraviolet rays in the upper atmosphere might burn the thing off him, and he’s successful, despite the fact that it’s nighttime, so I’m not sure where those UV rays would be coming from.  Back at the house, Bobby figures that he can use his powers to dehydrate the creature. He has Isaac blow a small hole in a window, and begins funnelling all the moisture in the room into a pile of ice outside. This works, and the creature becomes inert. Later, the team praises him, and we see a cloud of spores or something blowing through the mountains, suggesting that this nameless and bizarre threat is not finished.
  • The Statement of Ownership for 1983 lists the Defenders as having an average press run of 262 000, with average newsstand returns of 130 000.
  • Issue 133 is really not a good comic.  It opens with a dead body floating off a pier in San Francisco, a long ceremonial dagger stuck in its back.  The team (still missing Beast) stands around their New Mexico home, in the snow, as Warren’s hazardous waste disposal team scrubs the place clean after the monster attack last issue.  The team complains about the cold, so they decide to go stay at Warren and Candy’s place in San Francisco. Next we see them in SF, trying to decide which of Warren’s spots they should go to.  I guess they left Dolly in the snow, because she disappears at this point. They decide on Nob Hill. A guy who’s bleeding turns up at the offices of Cutlass & Typhoon, a pair of “Oriental Expeditors.”  A dagger like the one on the first page flies through the window and kills him, and Cutlass gives chase as the assassin gets in a car and drives off. Cutlass rides on top of a cab, right past Warren’s house, so the Defenders get involved.  Basically, we get a weird story about people trying to smuggle drugs into the US using a forbidden form of caviar, but really that’s all a front for a DEA agent who is actually part of the Mongolian KGB, using this front to smuggle information.  The Defenders get involved, but it all feels more like Gillis is trying to sell Cutlass & Typhoon as potential characters. In the middle of all this nonsense, Beast meets a professor whose work on Blake impresses him. At the end of the issue, some person tells another person that the Defenders must die.
  • Beast returns to the Defenders’ home, and finding things very quiet, is surprised when Valkyrie grabs him from behind.  The team lets him know that they’ve been receiving answering machine threats from someone named Manslaughter. They catch Hank up on what’s been happening, and we learn how someone put a garland of flowers (and snakes and a note) around Cloud’s neck while she was sunbathing, and then tagged another note on Warren’s wings while he flew around the house.  Bobby was working out and some weird device attached to his weight machine branded him with the words “the heat’s on” (this is all really weird, as it suggests that Bobby is always a regular human who is sometimes encased in ice, instead of turning into it). Moondragon and Gargoyle were talking when Isaac disappeared in a “pentagram of flame”. Valkyrie discovered that her sword, Dragonfang, was missing.  As the team finishes telling Beast all these things, Manslaughter appears in the living room, wearing one of the worst supervillain costumes I’ve ever seen – it’s like someone was trying to make a gay Deathstroke (Kevin Nowlan makes it look acceptable on the cover, but the interior art!)  He explains he’s going to kill them for the druglord from the previous issue, and then disappears.  Beast comes up with an idea, and then they all sit around in a protective stance for a long time. Finally Cloud needs to use the washroom, and when she goes in alone, Manslaughter cuts her throat, killing her.  The team decides they need to split up and search the house, so they do. Manslaughter jumps on Iceman and snaps his neck, killing him. He next catches Warren, who is wearing a clear gas mask, but sprays him with nerve gas that will enter through his wings.  Trying to fly free, Warren collapses. Manslaughter next uses poison on Dragonfang to cut and kill Val. He confronts Moondragon next and reveals that he is telepathic, but only in his ability to read the autonomic nervous systems of others, which allows him to appear invisible.  They do telepathic battle, which results in Moondragon somehow linking her body to Manslaughter’s, so that when he cuts his hand, she feels the pain. He is ready to finish his fight with her when he is suddenly attacked by Cloud and Iceman, who freezes him in ice. It turns out that this was Beast’s plan all along, that Cloud turn into a cloud when he cut her, and then that she animate an ice body made by Bobby, so that his neck can’t be broken, and that Bobby save Warren from falling and freeze him and Val so the poisons in their system don’t kill them.  Of course, that meant that Hank was able to predict the exact manner in which he would attack them, and the sequence of events, but this is comics and sometimes they’re dumb. Manslaughter admits that he had nothing to do with Gargoyle’s disappearance. Moondragon gets upset that Manslaughter violated her mind, and as she cries, Cloud declares her love for her.
  • We learn that Warren’s house looks over the town of Elijah, New Mexico, and meet the town’s sheriff, Garvin Macken, as he watches helicopters rush to Warren’s.  Candy’s brought doctors to help Warren and Val, who are still on ice. Beast is holding Manslaughter prisoner in the kitchen, and mocks him a little. The sheriff goes to a local bar where people complain about Mexicans and speculate that Warren is a mutant.  Some guy calling himself Blowtorch Brand makes a show of lighting a shot on fire and drinking it. When accused of being a carny, he gets mad, but then they are interrupted by news that there are “monsters” at the police station. What is really happening is that some of the Defenders have brought Manslaughter to town to turn him over to the police (with no discussion of how to manage the fact that he has psionic powers).  When the bartender comes to complain that someone is trying to burn down his bar, Moondragon and Cloud go to check it out. Brand sets Moondragon’s cloak on fire, but Cloud puts it out, and then uses her powers to knock out Brand. At the station, Beast makes a phone call to someone in the military so that the cops will take Manslaughter, and they also arrest Brand. At Defenders Mansion, Candy nurses Warren, and we learn that Val is recovered from her ordeal.  Cloud is upset about feelings she keeps having, which she characterizes as wrong and unthinkable. Beast and Warren talk about making their team more official, with a leader and proper supports. Dolly misses Isaac, which gives us a chance to see that he’s standing immobile in a ruined fortress on the other side of the world. A guy bails Brand out of jail, and it turns out that some rich white guy wants to pay him to burn down a factory he owns, so that no one finds out he uses immigrant labor to make bootleg jeans.  Two days later, Val sees that there’s a problem in the valley and the team comes to fight the fire Brand started. He’s inside, locking all the women who work there in, and shoots one of them. The Defenders bust in, and somehow he is able to hold them back. His use of an actual blowtorch to attack them does something to Cloud’s molecular structure (this makes no sense), and Warren has to get her out of there. Val takes the guy down and Iceman helps the women out. They learn that there are two women left inside, and the sheriff runs in after them, while the superheroes stand around.  The sheriff comes out with the women, and then collapses from having breathed in flame. Valkyrie wraps him in her cloak, and he disappears, while she talks about how few people die as heroes in the modern age. The team is a little surprised to learn that Valkyrie is a Valkyrie, but this upsets Moondragon most of all, as she thinks that this has something to do with Odin’s plan for her. These issues are, really, kind of dumb.
  • An old wizard in Afghanistan has Gargoyle trapped in a pentagram.  Cloud has more bad dreams, causing Moondragon to use her powers to put her back to sleep.  Gargoyle speaks to the wizard, who seems to be able to command him, causing him to make gold.  He shrinks Isaac into a talisman, which he then uses to stop an attack by Soviet helicopters on the mujahideen who are using the ancient fortress where he lives.  Basically, he commands a much larger version of Isaac, but can use his powers in ways that Isaac can’t. The wizard has Isaac kill the mujahideen fighters as well.  Cloud continues to dream that something is wrong with herself, and this is keeping her from Moondragon. While Moondragon meditates, Cloud comes to her, but now in a male form.  Shocked, Moondragon calls out, bringing the rest of the team (and Dolly), who are surprised to learn that Cloud is now male. The wizard attacks the Soviet military leaders occupying Afghanistan, manipulating one’s features, and sending the others back to Russia.  Isaac suggests he go to America, so they teleport there, but the wizard immediately senses that Isaac was trying to lead him to Doctor Strange, and so insists that they teleport to the Rocky Mountains. As the Defenders continue to talk about Cloud’s new form, and how he believes it is necessary due to his love for Moondragon, she senses the wizard’s, and Isaac’s, presence.  They take Warren’s jet to Colorado, and while on the way, Bobby demonstrates some transphobic behaviour, which Val takes him to task for (really though, this must have been very new and strange in 1984). The team lands and finds a large chasm that they leap or fly over. The wizard appears to them and tries to capture them in tree branches. Val insists that he produce Isaac, and then they are being loomed over by a massive and ensorceled Gargoyle.
  • The wizard postures some more, and the team break free of the tree branches holding them.  They somehow have time to make a plan before beginning to fight, as Iceman and Cloud combine their powers (after a touch more transphobia from Bobby), but this ends with the giant Gargoyle clutching Cloud, who needs to be rescued by Angel.  Val starts hacking at Gargoyle, and realizes that he wants to be killed. The wizard takes control of him and sends Val flying. Moondragon starts to talk to Isaac’s mind, and wants him to blast the headband that limits her powers, but his distrust of her persists, even when she shows him her soul.  The wizard figures out what’s going on and fights back, as Gargoyle blasts Valkyrie, leaving her and her horse to be rescued by Iceman. The Beast works out a theory, and starts talking some utter gibberish to the wizard about things like Sh’kinas, Ogdoad, and Pleroma, which starts to get the wizard to trust him, until Angel scoops him up and tries to steal his amulet, which burns his hands, although when he falls to the ground, he’s fine again.  Gargoyle attacks again, and Hank has to cut his hand off, which then turns into some kind of monster for them to fight as well. Moondragon tries again to get Gargoyle to shoot the headband off her, and again he refuses. Isaac suggests that they use the wizard’s poor eyesight against him, so they make a weird plan involving Val’s sword and Cloud’s lightning that blinds the guy. He commands Isaac to restore his sight, but he is instead shown the team through “true sight”, allowing him to view Hank as a scholar, Angel as a bird, Iceman as a jester, and Cloud as both a boy and a girl.  Looking at Val and Moondragon scares the guy so much that Bobby helps him run away, leading to him breaking the pentagram they were all standing it, which takes away his control of Isaac. As Gargoyle passes out, he tells the team to be careful of Moondragon.
  • Having finished their fight with the wizard, the team returns to their plane, and see him running off into the mountains like a madman.  They call him in to the authorities as they fly home. Hank accuses Moondragon of manipulating their minds, and Cloud jumps to her defense.  When the team gets home, they are confronted by a gun-toting Hulk. It turns out that Candy has installed a holographic security system that makes use of many of their friends’, and Richard Little’s, images.  She’s also installed high tech medical equipment (weren’t they only gone for a few hours?) that allows them to teleconference with real doctors. The doctor they talk to decides that Gargoyle’s hand will grow back on its own, and Isaac is already feeling better.  Moondragon meditates somewhere, so Hank takes the opportunity to ask Isaac about his warning last issue. He claims he can’t remember what he was talking about though. Later, Hank and Warren talk about the direction the team is going in, and Warren has an idea about leadership.  Bobby checks in on Cloud, who has returned to female form, and he claims he can relate to her issues (more foreshadowing for Bendis’s revelations about Bobby being gay?), but when she becomes male again, he feels he can’t help him. Later, Isaac goes to see Cloud, who is female again.  He tells her about what he learned when he looked in Moondragon’s mind, and we are given a history of the character. Moondragon was raised by priests on Titan, who taught her to prepare to be the Celestial Madonna. She was contacted by an entity called the Dragon of the Moon, but she refused its offers of power and defeated it, locking it into the deeper parts of her mind.  Isaac is concerned that the dragon is getting more powerful. We see Moondragon continuing to meditate, and it becomes clear that she is struggling to contain the Dragon, and even argues with a demonic creature in her imagination, and then argues with Mantis, also in her mind. Bobby is summoned by a holographic angel to a team meeting that everyone but Moondragon attends. Hank and Warren announce that they would like to make Candy Southern the team leader, for her administrative skills, and Candy accepts.  Just then, Moondragon is tossed into the room, and we see that Mantis has attacked her.
  • Odin is checking in on Moondragon, worried that she may succumb to temptation.  The team tries to fight off Mantis, but Beast figures out that she’s not really there.  When he slaps Moondragon, Mantis disappears. Moondragon goes off, complaining that no one has ever trusted her, and declaring her hatred for her teammates.  While everyone stands quietly, Cloud, Dolly, and Candy go to her to help. Days later, Warren flies around a bit, and is told of a problem in the Earth by an eagle.  Candy doesn’t believe him, since he doesn’t usually talk to birds. On a hunch, Warren calls up the sheriff of the town closest to the Jicarilla Indian Reservation, and learns that there have been a number of bodies of people and livestock turning up.  The team flies to investigate, and on the way, Moondragon confesses to Beast that she has been summoning threats, such as the plant monster and Blowtorch Brand, to the Defenders, but then gets mad at Beast for questioning this. The team meets with the local sheriff, and are interrupted by a Native man named Talltrees, who takes them out to the reservation to look at a mine the people had opened, which has led to the problems of bloodless bodies turning up all over the place.  Talltrees is the hero Red Wolf. In the mountains near Defenders’ Mansion, a guy named William hunts a wolf, and when he thinks he’s shot it, he finds a three-headed wolf creature, and runs away. The team begins to explore the mine, when Val feels they’ve left Earth. They are attacked by trolls (the mythical, not the internet kind), and they begin to fight. The trolls catch them all quickly, chain up Val, and enthrall the others. There is something about a trough of blood. One of the trolls sees Moondragon’s headband and recognizes it as being made by Odin.  He has a way of removing it, requiring only a small push from Moondragon, who considers it for a while before refusing. Instead, she falls into the trough of blood, spilling some on Red Wolf, which frees him. He frees the others, while Val pulls on her chains and manages to collapse the underground cavern on the trolls. Outside the mine, Beast talks about Moondragon’s noble act. Val shows up, and we see that because she showed humility, the headband has fallen off of Moondragon.
  • Hank sends flowers and a poem to his girlfriend Vera (last seen eighteen issues ago) in an attempt to appease her that, despite her initial anger, may be working.  The team gathers for brunch, and they praise Moondragon’s new, more conservative, costume. Moondragon is trying to be nicer (I might even start referring to her as Heather from time to time) but still comes off cold.  Cloud speaks to her privately to profess her love, but Heather explains that it’s just a side effect of her mental manipulation of the team. Later, in some small town, the local sheriff talks to his son, who is in jail, claiming that he did whatever he did because he hates him.  The sheriff and his wife are visited by Edna Mae, a black woman whom their son wronged somehow. Edna speaks to them and asks to speak to the teen. She’s taken to the jail, which has demonstrators outside, and when she speaks to the boy, Danny, his eyes flash. Moondragon feels his psychic power from far away and gathers the Defenders to warn them of this potential threat.  Beast doesn’t want to accompany her, and Isaac feels that his hand has not healed enough to go on a mission. Bobby also decides to stay so the rest of the team heads out without them. As they leave, Bobby admits he didn’t want to go because he feels weird around Cloud, especially when he is in male form (more foreshadowing?). At a farm not far from Defenders’ Mansion, a cow gives birth to an older male human, who is covered in slime, and who attacks the people attending the birth, killing them.  A group of neo-Nazis are protesting at the jail when the Defenders arrive, and things turn violent. Moondragon calms the crowd. Later, for some reason, the Defenders are sitting in on Danny’s trial, where we learn that he wrote Edna Mae, his English teacher, a love letter, and then apparently assaulted her. He claims he did this because she’s a bad woman. A man, maybe Edna Mae’s husband or boyfriend, stands up and shoots at the boy, but Moondragon stops the bullet telekinetically. She compels Edna Mae to tell the truth of that night, and she reveals that Danny’s psychic abilities made her remember having and giving up a baby when she was younger.  Danny explains that he needed to make everyone in the town hate him in order to use his powers to remove their heartbreak. He walks out of the court, and Moondragon says something about how there is a lot of heartbreak in the world. Near Defenders’ Mansion, some weird plants blossom, but the blossoms are human hands that reach towards the mansion.
  • We learn that Warren runs a private airstrip right down the mountain from Defenders Mansion.  It is operated by Chris Larmouth, a small, young man who dreams of being a hero, and who spends a lot of time working out.  He suddenly begins to swell, but it is because of the weird plant from a few issues ago. When he collapses, he triggers an alarm that interrupts Bobby and Hank’s TV viewing, to show them what is happening.  They rush down and recognize that it’s the same organism from before. They hit an alarm, and when Isaac comes, they send him to get some medical equipment (including a flying van designed to isolate patients – just what every superteam would have).  Bobby freezes Chris, and they try to figure out what to do. At the same time, more plant creatures are seen throughout the valley, converging on the mansion. Bobby, Hank, and Isaac have a hard time getting Chris into the lab’s hangar. I don’t understand how they would have all this equipment, but still need to use a local mechanic and private jet.  Anyway, they call on the rest of the team, who are flying back from their adventure last issue. Moondragon communicates with everyone, while Bobby and Isaac seal up the mansion (Candy and Dolly are in a safe room, but Sassafras, the dog, is running around. They see demonic rabbits, but when Isaac blasts them, it seems to make them angrier. They mansion is enveloped in fog.  Hank works in the lab (it’s nice to see Hank finally work in a lab), trying to figure out what the organism is. Warren isn’t able to land on his usual landing strip, because of the organism, and has to head into Elijah. There, the sheriff tells them that people all over the valley are freaking out; Moondragon calms everyone down. Warren flies towards the mansion, but is kept out of the unnatural fog by Moondragon.  This half of the team waits out the night for the fog to disperse, and see that the organism has filled a massive valley. It pounds on the mansion, while Beast, assisted by Moondragon, who removes his fatigue, figures out what part of each cell in the organism needs to be targeted. The organism starts forming into one large creature that is trying to anchor itself to the mansion. Moondragon decides to walk into the creature, but realizes that she needs Isaac’s help to destroy it.  He also enters the creature, and when the two heroes try to work together, they have little luck. Moondragon kisses Isaac, so that they can better pool their powers, and they manage to liquify the whole thing. After, Moondragon apologizes for kissing Isaac without his consent, but he’s okay with it.
  • At Fontane College, in Boston, where Hank McCoy is expected to give a lecture soon, a young man named Adrian Castorp plays the piano.  He has six fingers, although I didn’t notice that until the story mentioned it. His friend Helen wants him to come to a student meeting, as it concerns him, but he refuses.  At the meeting, a student shows a video of a local newscaster calling for control of mutants in the wake of Dazzler’s outing in the Dazzler graphic novel (soon to be the subject of one of these columns!), and the students are angry.  We learn that Senator Robert Kelly, who is pushing the Mutant Affairs Control Act, is set to come to the school at the same time that Hank will be there. Hank arrives at the school, with Bobby and Cloud, and they meet Adrian, who is their guide.  At Defenders Mansion, Isaac shares with Dolly that he developed feelings for Moondragon. Warren talks to Candy about how responsible he feels for Chris, who is still frozen in ice after last issue. Moondragon meditates, but begins to feel ill and throws up in a sink.  While Hank and friends hang out at the school, they hear a scream and find Adrian has trashed his room. Helen explains that he has epilepsy, but Hank notices that he’s crushed his walkman. Bobby and Cloud sit and chat in a coffee shop. Bobby admits that he likes Cloud but is not comfortable around her male self.  Cloud explains that she is both male and female, and Bobby is nice about it for a change. The next day, protesters greet Robert Kelly’s arrival. Hank’s lecture comes to an awkward end when Adrian accuses him of being a mutant Stepin’ Fetchit. Later that night, Hank talks to Adrian, who admits that his mutant abilities (six fingers and infrared vision) won’t help him if the government comes to lock him up.  Kelly addresses a crowd, and Adrian mounts the stage and attacks him, showing great strength. Bobby’s ice barricade doesn’t stop him, and when Hank tries to slow him down, a guard assumes he’s also attacking the Senator and shoots him. Adrian fights Hank and Bobby some more, and Cloud, sensing some sort of electronics under his clothes, zaps him with lightning to short out whatever that is. It kind of fries him, and we learn that he suffered from nerve degeneration so his friends gave him an exoskeleton which granted him great strength.  I guess he dies? That night, Hank addresses a crowd and talks about supporting a mutants right movement called MONSTER. Moondragon meditates some more, and realizes that she is dying.
  • Moondragon remembers when her parents were killed as she fights against the illness inside her.  The Dragon of the Moon begins to speak to her from a mirror, telling her that she is dying; she resolves to heal herself.  Isaac hears a mirror breaking, and going to investigate, finds Valkyrie sharpening her sword. Val warns him that Moondragon has put them all in danger, but that she has to face it on her own.  A woman climbs out of a submarine at a pier in New York and starts jogging. She falls in front of a man, who helps her back to his place to treat her twisted ankle. Moondragon, on a cliff, scans her body and finds that the plant creature the team has battled twice has infiltrated her, and replaced some of her organs.  The Dragon of the Moon tells her that if she tries to get Gargoyle to help her destroy it, she will be killed. The Dragon tells her that it can save her, but she fights against that idea. To prove a point, it shows her what Hank, Bobby, and Cloud are doing at a party in Boston. Cloud is upset, and tells Bobby that she feels terrible for crippling Adrian last issue (I guess he’s not dead, despite how it looked), and how she feels bad for making people uncomfortable with her gender fluidity.  She blames Moondragon for causing her to change in the first place, and while Bobby is supportive, his comments seem pretty negative towards Moondragon. Valkyrie wakes up Candy and tells her to take Dolly and the dog away from the mansion as they are all in danger. Moondragon retreats into her memories, recalling a conversation with Mentor on Titan, after she picked her name. After Mentor left, the Elder called Runner showed up, attracted by Moondragon’s spirit. They zipped around the cosmos for a bit, but when he didn’t want to do anything to save the inhabitants of a solar system about to go supernova, Moondragon decided she couldn’t stay with him, and decided instead to stay on Titan.  The Dragon of the Moon tries harder to take over Moondragon, and because she doesn’t want to die, she allows it. At that, Moondragon attacks her Defenders colleagues, turning Gargoyle’s new hand against him, and blinding Angel. Valkyrie she zaps and makes disappear.
  • The Statement of Ownership for 1984 declares an average press run of 259 000 issues, with average newsstand return rates of 123 000.
  • Candy drives Dolly away from the mansion through heavy rain, and they arm themselves with uzis, which seems a bit much.  Candy gets through to Hank, urging him to come home, while Hank suggests that she get in touch with the military. Moondragon listens to the Dragon of the Moon as it works to consolidate its hold on her, and it is successful, appearing around her now as a black and shadow with yellow eyes.  We learn that Isaac’s hand has returned to normal, but that Warren is still blind. Hank flies Iceman and Cloud back towards the mansion, but their plane is attacked by a suicidal Aragorn, Valkyrie’s flying horse. Bobby manages to get on the horse and bring him calmly to the ground while Hank lands the plane.  After Hank and Cloud disembark, a lightning strike destroys the plane. The Dragon is enjoying itself, and it creates a path of power across the sky for Moondragon to walk. Suddenly, a very large Valkyrie shows up to block this path, and she begins to fight against Moondragon and the Dragon that surrounds her. This leads to the Dragon sending huge plumes of fire up from the Earth’s core.  Candy and Dolly reach a military base where Candy’s old family friend, General Argyle Fist, commands. They receive word that the pillars of flame are venting the Earth’s atmosphere into space. Big Valkyrie continues to fight the Dragon, while Hank, Bobby, and Cloud find Isaac and Warren. Big Valkyrie summons her sister Valkyrie to come and aid in her fight, and while they face the Dragon, Warren merges with Cloud to fly into the creature.  Warren is repelled, but Cloud penetrates and makes her way to Moondragon, who is acting very evil. Cloud blasts her with lightning to the heart, and Moondragon and the Dragon of the Moon disappear. Everyone seems okay, and as the sun rises, they see a large number of military helicopters approaching.
  • A man and woman ride a motorcycle through the desert.  When they approach a military roadblock, they simply jump over it.  Soldiers help the injured Angel and Cloud to Defenders Mansion while the remaining Defenders, Beast, Gargoyle, and Iceman talk to General Fist about what happened.  The General talks about all the things that have happened in the valley since the Defenders moved in, and Iceman interprets that as him being against them, which is not true.  Candy and Dolly arrive, and they receive word of the intruder who jumped the roadblock. In New York, Andrea, the jogger from a couple of issues ago, is still staying with the guy who helped her, and they are, of course, romantically involved.  He notices that her lips are turning blue, and attributes it to too much jogging. While he makes dinner, she summons a machine that duplicates his credit cards for her. Hank confers with doctors who tell him that Warren should be fine physically, although his sight has not returned.  The same doctors find that Cloud is a whole mess of physical abnormalities. The alarm goes off, as the motorcycle riders have reached the mansion and are bypassing their holographic defenses. The team and a bunch of soldiers converge on them, and Bobby recognizes the driver as Johnny Blaze, the former Ghost Rider.  He explains that he and his girlfriend Roxanne are just driving around the country, and her psychic abilities warned her that Johnny’s former friends from the Champions might be in trouble. An alarm goes off, as there is another intruder in the medical centre. It turns out to be Valkyrie, who everyone thought was dead.  She’s fine, but has lost the extra powers that Odin gave her to watch over Moondragon with. We learn that Moondragon, her powers depleted but still under the control of the Dragon of the Moon, and now with half of her face blacked out, is hiding in a cheap hotel in a third world country. Later, the team tries to decide if they should continue in light of their failure, and Candy tries to lift their spirits.  Johnny turns down Warren’s offer to become the Defenders’ mechanic, but does ask to borrow some money, which Warren freely gives him. Hank is thinking about how they still don’t know how to help the still frozen Chris, when he sees yet another intruder in the medical centre. This time it’s the female soldier, Nancy, who has apparently met Beast before. She pretends to be interested in the computer systems (in a medical centre?) so Hank leaves her alone.  It turns out that she’s more interested in Cloud, and has a newspaper clipping about a teen girl who survived a car crash. The photo, of Carol Faber, 17, looks just like Cloud.
  • Warren practises flying with Cloud serving as a co-pilot of sorts, as he attempts to overcome his blindness.  When they land, Candy talks about bolstering the team with some new recruits, as she and Hank have set up a game with the holographic security system to make it look like Thor was joining.  Johnny Blaze and his girlfriend announce that they are leaving (there was really never any point to their coming, was there?). In New York, later, Andrea and her boyfriend go to a club where a very garishly dressed figure gets everyone dancing, as if in a trance.  Andrea notices that the guy, called Hotspur, is using razor claws in his gloves to slice up the revellers. She moves to stop him, and they end up fighting, revealing that Andrea is not what she seems. Hotspur runs from her on a horse, and Andrea finds her boyfriend and goes home with him.  At Defenders Mansion, the whole team sits in while Warren’s eyes are examined remotely, and the doctor, who makes an amusing reference to a colleague named Dr. MacNider (who is the blind DC Golden Age hero Doctor Mid-Nite), tells him he needs to go to New York for an examination. Later, the team gets ready to leave, and General Fist says he wish they’d stay.  He’s decided to send Nancy, the soldier from last issue, to keep an eye on them. The team arrives in New York, and stays at Doctor Strange’s home (despite the fact that Warren has referred to his property in NYC). Strange is away, and the team gets settled. Val worries that the team is not strong enough, while Warren feels optimistic and Hank wants to read more.  Cloud is surprised by Nancy, who reveals herself to be her sister, before this scene ends and isn’t referred to again in the issue. Later, Val wakes up Hank, saying that something is wrong. Isaac is missing, but no one seems too worried. Instead, Val takes the team to Central Park, where Hotspur is holding a weird, orgiastic party. The Defenders attack him, and he defends himself with Soulfire, which allows him to do things like cut off one of Val’s braids, and toss Hank around.  When just Cloud and Iceman remain to face him, Hotspur is surprised to see that Andromeda (who is clearly Andrea), show up to fight him.
  • Candy finds Gargoyle looking at an amulet in Doctor Strange’s house, and tells him the Defenders need his help.  Isaac flies off, pocketing the amulet for reasons he doesn’t know, and finds his friends standing around in Central Park (with Andromeda with them), while Hotspur’s party guests dance and bleed.  Andromeda tries to kill Hotspur, with no luck. Valkyrie tries next, and is surprised when he turns into a troll, and is joined by other trolls. This is an illusion though, which causes Hotspur to mock her.  The team finds him aided by armed demon troops, and the team begins to fight them, until they all get caught by a massive device called a “Hades-Engine” that’s been designed to capture them all. Candy chats a bit with Nancy, the soldier, who gives her tea that’s been drugged.  An old guy in a cloak and hat walks through the Siberian wilderness, and exerts some sort of control over some wolves, so they don’t eat him. The narration suggests that whoever he is, he’s around because of the Dragon of the Moon. While the Defenders are trussed up, Hotspur explains that he was a rapscallion in 18th century London who convinced a demon to make it so he can return to Earth one day, after one of his reincarnations is able to will it.  This happened, so he’s back. While he talks, Nick Fury (Sgt., two-eyed Fury, not Colonel eye-patched SHIELD Fury) appears to help the Defenders escape. He gives them all guns, since their powers don’t work, and they prepare to shoot at Hotspur’s demons, until Isaac realizes this is another ruse, and gets them to stop. They were about to shoot down the revellers, and Hotspur keeps talking about how he’s going to keep putting the Defenders in these types of scenarios for his own amusement.  Isaac figures that the key to stopping him is to blanket him in hurt, so he gets Cloud to think about how much Moondragon hurt her, and then firing his bio-mystical blasts into her, shorts out Hotspur, leaving behind only his human self. The crowd is confused but okay, and Valkyrie congratulates Andromeda on helping them. Bobby points out that Nancy is with Cloud, and she reveals herself to actually be Seraph, and announces that she’s taking Cloud away from them, to help her recover. She says she knows who Cloud really is.
  • Issue 148 is another ridiculous fill-in style issue like 133, which brings back the San Francisco exporters Cutlass and Typhoon.  Daimon Hellstrom and Patsy Walker have been hired by some rich guy to find a mystical object, and after being driven by a Groucho Marx look alike cabbie, they find that Beast and Gargoyle have also been brought in on the case.  Things get ridiculous quickly, as there is an overzealous police detective, some goons, Cutlass, Typhoon, an elaborate suicide, unrequited love, bad puns, and a tennis racket. I didn’t enjoy this issue, which was guest-drawn by Sal Buscema, an artist I’ve never been fond of.  It’s too complicated to fully break down the plot, and I don’t really want to flip through it again. Better to let this one go…
  • The New Defenders are in Doctor Strange’s house, talking with Seraph and Cloud.  Seraph wants to take Cloud with her to tell her her full story, and Andromeda, who is not on the team, declares she will go with her.  The rest of the team, as decided by Valkyrie, agrees to help her too. After Seraph and Cloud leave for the night, Candy asks Andromeda for her story.  Andromeda is Atlantean, and was a decorated military commander until the glass ceiling kept her from advancing, so she resigned her commission and decided to follow in Namor’s footsteps and join the Defenders.  That her method for doing this was hanging out in a city they don’t live in until she ended up fighting a villain who they later had to fight is not discussed. She joins the team. Hank has coffee with Vera, and gives her a Beast Signal Watch so he’ll know when she’s lonely, and then leaves her.  The team flies towards West Virginia, and Cloud starts freaking out, zapping Beast who is flying the plane. The plane almost crashes, but the blind Warren manages to save the day. In Siberia, the old guy in the cloak (of fear) and hat walks into a Soviet military facility unnoticed, and grabs some maps that he needs to find the “dragon-spoor”.  The narration calls him The Interloper, and he starts walking from Kamchatka to New Mexico, across the Ocean. The Defenders go to a hospital in Norbrook where Seraph asks to see Carol Faber, the girl in the newspaper article she had before. She has to use her powers on the doctor to get him to allow this. Cloud gets nervous but Bobby has her enter the hospital room, where the girl Carol, and a boy, Danny, lie unconscious in oxygen tents.  It turns out that Cloud really is a cloud, who because of some sort of danger, tried to get in touch with these two while they drove, and ended up driving them off a road. Cloud somehow merged with them, explaining her dual genders, and then she got found by the Secret Empire. Cloud can’t remember more, so Seraph suggests they go to the place where the accident happened. Once there, Cloud goes a little nuts and passes out. Bobby gets mad at Seraph, but Hank figures that Cloud needs to get into the air.  Gargoyle flies her upwards, where her memories return. Just then, a storm surrounds the Defenders, and they all disappear.
  • Issue 150, which is double-sized, took a lot of work to get through.  The team and Seraph find themselves in space, but they can breathe because they are inside Cloud, who shows them that a huge expanse of space is being blacked out.  This upsets her, because she’s really a nebula, not a cloud, and she feels pain that so many of her sister and brother stars have died. That’s why she went to Earth in the first place, to get help.  As the team tries to figure out what to do, they are approached by a fleet of ships which drags them inside. The ships are controlled by Wookie-like creatures that they first fight with, then befriend.  These aliens come from a galaxy that died with its star. There’s a spikey planet just outside the ship who is friends with Cloud – it’s actually the Cosmic Cube that Captain America dealt with. The Cube gives the Defenders translator things, so now they can barely understand the aliens who use a stilted speech.  Everyone agrees to work together, and the Cube takes on Captain America’s form. They take a ship to some place that they figured out is right, and are confronted by the apparition of the Star-Thief, the creature that is killing or taking stars. There is a lot of talking before they all go to the right place again, where they get into a fight with a fleet of green creatures with eye designs similar to the Star-Thief’s.  There is some more terrible dialogue, and the team ends up crashing through the stratosphere of the Star-Thief’s planet riding a giant Captain America shield. The Star-Thief appears again, but the team flies the shield to a palace where they discover that the Star-Thief is a sick and comatose princess with vast mental powers. Somehow Angel equates this to his blindness, so he gets Cloud to telepathically link him to the girl (because that makes sense), and after everyone puts a hand on the girl, a bag appears in her hand.  It holds all the missing stars, and the Cap Cube decides he will now go put them all back, starting with the Wookies’. He decides to take Cloud with him, but first she declares her love for Bobby. Cap Cube then sends the Defenders away.
  • The backup story in #150 has Sassafras, the dog, running around Defenders Mansion alone after the soldiers left.  He mistakenly turns on the security system, so we get a few pages of him running from various Marvel character holograms before the program is shut off by Manslaughter, who holds the dog and praises him.
  • The Interloper, who has been walking across the Pacific Ocean, approaches America during a heavy storm, and tracks a ship that is floundering in it.  On that ship is Moondragon, who uses the Dragon of the Moon’s powers to protect the boat. Interloper walks on, not ready to face his foe. The Defenders say goodbye to Seraph at an airport, and then fly home to New Mexico.  When they arrive at their mansion, Candy jumps out of a giant cape wearing a ridiculous superhero costume. When Angel embraces her, he is zapped or something, and it turns out that Manslaughter was hiding inside the Candy hologram.  He tells the team he wants to join them, and then disappears, a hologram himself. Leaving Warren to rest, the team looks for Candy. Iceman finds her first, but is trapped in weird trap. Isaac and Andromeda find Sassafras, and are also trapped by Manslaughter.  Beast and Valkyrie find that he’s been in their computer center. Beast is attacked by insects, and when Manslaughter shows up to gloat, Val gets him by the neck and makes him look into her eyes. The others come to stop her from killing him, and he says that he’s going to burn down the mansion.  He uses another hologram to blind them all, and when their vision returns, they realize that the mansion is indeed on fire. Manslaughter, wearing a firesuit, asks again if he can join the team. Just then Interloper shows up and stops him. He blows out all the windows, which puts the fire out, and then introduces himself to the team.  He tells them that he trained Manslaughter in the use of his abilities, and apologizes. He also warns them of the danger coming. Just then, the sun is eclipsed, and then splits into two. We realize these are the eyes of the Dragon of the Moon, as Moondragon walks up and tells her former teammates that she is there to kill them.
  • The last issue of this series is also a Secret Wars II tie-in, so you already know that some of it isn’t going to make a lot of sense.  Moondragon, under the control of the Dragon of the Moon, confronts her teammates in their wrecked mansion. She tells each of them what she doesn’t like about them (except for Andromeda, who she doesn’t know).  She even tells off Manslaughter, who has more or less joined the team at this point. She’s surprised to see the Interloper there, and he attacks the Dragon itself, urging the Defenders to attack Moondragon. A weird combination of Gargoyle’s blasts and Manslaughter’s weirdness messes with Moondragon’s mind, and she begins to change into a variety of shapes.  Manslaughter kisses her, and she flees. The Interloper tells the Defenders about how he trained Manslaughter, and how he’s been fighting the Dragon for a long time – including back in the days of King Arthur. Moondragon and the Dragon lie in a canyon talking to each other. The Dragon tries to make her think it can be a force for good, and tells her about the Beyonder, who she summons to her side.  The Beyonder believes she wants to be good, and gives her power, but it is immediately subverted by the Dragon. The Defenders talk more, until Manslaughter senses Moondragon’s presence. She claims she is free of the Dragon, and when Gargoyle goes to help her, she attacks him, ripping his soul from his body, tossing it (where did it go?), and turning him into more of a monster. Interloper throws his cloak of fear on them, while Val and Andromeda stab Moondragon, but they’ve disappeared.  Candy blinks out, and Warren goes after her while the rest of the mansion collapses. Warren, with his sight back, is confronted with the sight of Candy hanging upside down, a knife to her throat. Moondragon tells him he can save her or fight, and he chooses to fight. The same thing happens to Beast, only with the frozen body of Chris the mechanic, and again, Beast decides to fight over saving his life. Iceman makes the same choice, only this time it’s the two kids who Cloud merged with.  The three ex-X-Men find themselves joining their comrades on some other plane, where the Dragon, Moondragon, and Evil Gargoyle face them. There is more fighting, but the ex-X-Men (or should I say future X-Factors?) hold back, worrying about the people they care about. Val and Interloper decide to pool their powers, even though that might mean their death. Andromeda and Manslaughter choose to join them, and their energies rise. The others can’t decide what to do, until Val yells that they should go defend the innocent.  Warren saves Candy, Beast freezes Chris again, and Bobby fixes the oxygen tents over the Cloud kids. When they return to the battleground, they find all of their teammates, including Gargoyle and Moondragon, turned to dust. Candy, Chris, and the two kids join them, all okay. Chris and the Cloud kids claim that Moondragon spoke to them in their minds, and that she was good. Sassafras turns up, and Hank says they need to go home. The last page of this comic has an ad for X-Factor.

Honestly, I remember this series being a lot cooler than it was on this re-reading.  These are not great comics. Peter B. Gillis has some very interesting ideas, but doesn’t manage to turn a good idea into a good story.  His dialogue is often very stiff, and concepts are introduced and used up a little too quickly.

It’s pretty obvious that this book was canceled so that Beast, Angel, and Iceman could join X-Factor, as that title took its place on Marvel’s schedule.  Really, that was a good decision on Marvel’s part, as that title was so much better than this one.

I think my biggest problem with this series, over Gillis’s twenty-one issues, is how little character development took place.  I don’t know the first thing about Valkyrie after reading years’ worth of Defenders comics. She’s a complete cipher. Gargoyle doesn’t fare much better – he’s just there when he’s needed.  I don’t even know why Andromeda was brought into this book – she is a less powerful version of Valkyrie, and demonstrates almost no character. The ex-X-Men fare better, for being better developed, but even there, they don’t really have any kind of b-plot.  Beast gets back into the lab from time to time. Angel frets over the team, and decides to get a perm at some point (which is never discussed, but looks stupid). You can’t count losing his sight as character development, especially when it barely affects any plots.  Iceman maybe gets the most character work, but that largely revolves around his being uncomfortable with Cloud when he manifests as a male.

Cloud and Moondragon are more or less the two focal points of this series.  Moondragon’s story becomes boring pretty quickly – I liked it better when she was trying to prove herself to the team, rather than when she becomes Dark Moondragon, and falls under the sway of the Dragon of the Moon, and falls into predictable and familiar tropes.  It’s nothing like the work that was done later with the character in Guardians of the Galaxy (I do think it’s time for her to return yet again, I really like her).

Cloud is a pretty groundbreaking character – the first genderfluid member of a superhero team – but then she turns out to be a living sentient nebula who has merged with two teenagers, which explains away her fluidity rather unsatisfactorily.  I’d like to see this character return in some way, as I think she’d be pretty interesting as portrayed in a more modern and inclusive way.  It’s also amusing, in light of the recent retconning of Iceman’s sexuality, to see him overreact to the notion of developing feelings for the male Cloud.

Finishing the title by killing off most of the characters was a bold move, and I’m not sure how many of them have made their return to the Marvel Universe.  I know that Valkyrie is still knocking around (I liked the way she was handled in the recent all-female Fearless Defenders), and loved Moondragon’s return. I’m sure that Gargoyle came back, although I can’t remember where I’ve seen him since the mid-80s.  Andromeda and Manslaughter can stay gone though – we’re okay without them.

The art on this series stayed very house style, but there are places (usually splash pages) where Don Perlin showed as much potential as his subjects.  I don’t know what kind of deadlines he was working under, but the book often looks rushed and slapped together.

It’s interesting that, over the last thirty years, Marvel has tried to revive this book a few times, in a few different ways, but it’s never stuck or lasted for long.  As a concept, perhaps the Defenders is slightly cursed?

Anyway, this was an odd diversion.  For my next column, I want to take a look at a DC title I never made time for before, but feel like now is the time to make some time for it.  And no, it’s not Time Masters or Chronos…

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

If you’d like to read any of the stories I talk about here, it looks like you’re going to have to dig through some dollar bins.  I don’t think these issues have ever been collected in trade.

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