This is another older comic book that I had forgotten about, but which I still have. It was bought for my brother Ken initially, and only found its way into my possession over time. So I definitely read it back in the day. And while I can today testify that it is indeed a very fine comic book, back in 1975 it was yet another example of why Marvel comics just weren’t for me.
This was during Steve Gerber’s excellent tenure as author of DEFENDERS. He was an individualistic and iconoclastic writer, but he’d squarely hit true emotional notes that made his work fascinating. The lead story was illustrated by Don Heck, seldom a huge favorite of mine. But here he turned in a very nice job–and even the often-maligned Vinnie Colletta did nice work on the inks.
The story is super-cool, although as a young kid I couldn’t quite click into who to root for, nor could I connect with any of the very strange leads. The issue opens with Kyle Richmond, secretly the Defender known as Nighthawk. Kyle is out on the town–he’s in the midst of a whirlwind romance with Trish Starr, another old character who had previously appeared in some Ant-Man stories. Kyle and Trish get to their car and start the engine–and then WHOOSH, the whole thing blows up around them. They’re rushed to the ER, both still clinging to life
Hearing about the incident, Dr. Strange and Valkyrie make their way to the hospital, where Strange lends his medical skills as a consultant to try to save Kyle. Under the strain of the operation, he accidentally psychically summons the Hulk, who bursts through a wall of the hospital, concerned about his friend “bird-nose.” Elsewhere, the momentarily-retired Hank Pym sees a news report about the explosion. Trish Starr had helped him out when he was Ant-Man and in battle with her uncle, Egghead. He suspects that Egghead must have planted the explosive, and suits up as Yellowjacket to search him out.
For his part, we find Egghead down and out, getting into fights at the flop houses where he’s forced to dwell. He’s hit bottom, this once-brilliant villain. Yellowjacket–who has never been cooler than he is in this story, it’s a shame that Gerber didn’t get to do more with him–confabs with Trish to find out what she knows about Egghead’s whereabouts. Meanwhile, the three Defenders speak with Kyle about who might want him dead, landing on his former partners in the Squadron Sinister as the most likely culprit. So they head out to track those villains down.
Yellowjacket finds Egghead in the gutter, a pathetic figure. Accosting him, Egghead admits that he was the one who booby-trapped the car, wanting Trish to feel his revenge. Yellowjacket decks the creepy criminal–but returning to the hospital, he is stunned to learn that Trish has had to have her arm amputated thanks to the damage sustained in the explosion. This bit really creeped me out as a kid. Going next door to let Kyle Richmond know that the man behind the attack has been apprehended, Yellowjacket is prevailed upon by Richmond to find and stop the Defenders. Thanks to his information, they’re going after the Sinisters, who had noting to do with the bomb. The tired Yellowjacket agrees to intercede if he can.
The Defenders find the Squadron hiding out in Crayton Observatory, examining a weapon that was left for them by their benefactor Nebulon. The Sinisters are taken completely by surprise by the savage and unexpected attack by the Defenders, but they’re good enough to turn things around, defeating the heroes. I will admit that when I read this story originally, I didn’t get the connection between the Squadron members and my beloved Justice League of America. While there were some similarities between them, the one-to-one connection eluded me.
The Defenders are left imprisoned while the Squadron seeks out Nighthawk so they can have their revenge on him for deserting their ranks. Byt Doctor Strange is able to release his ectoplasmic astral form and guide Yellowjacket to their location–and shortly thereafter, they’re just in time to mix it up with the Squadron members again just as they’re beginning to scoop up Kyle from the hospital. And it’s a rout, with Yellowjacket again being the MVP player. My understanding is that Gerber had wanted to bring Yellowjacket into the series on a regular basis, but was blocked by AVENGERS writer Steve Englehart, who brought Hank and Jan back to the Avengers rather than lose them. But a lot of space was spent on making Yellowjacket look badass here.
And so, the adventure wraps up. Everybody is safe, two different groups of villains have been captured, the day is saved. But not for Trish Starr, who needs to learn to live with her loss. In the closing page, she breaks up with Kyle, feeling that the specter of her lost limb will change the nature of their relationship. And so, the story ends on something of a downer
The issue also included a pair of back-up stories, reprints from the past. The distant past in the case of the Sub-Mariner tale that followed–it dated back to World War II. It’s a lovely early Bill Everett episode in which Namor must deliver a vital supply of Influenza Serum to a base in the furthest reaches of Alaska, battling both the elements and enemy forces to do so. Along the way, he rescues a doomed town and helps out some stranded airmen as well. As was often the case in the Golden Age, the plotting was relatively haphazard–stuff just sorta happens–but the journey itself is fun.
The second back-up was a Doctor Strange solo adventure from his days in STRANGE TALES. This would have been my first encounter with the artwork of Steve Ditko–and sadly, I must report that it made no particular impact upon me. The plot involved Baron Mordo making off with Doc’s mortal body while Strange was off in his ectoplasmic form, hiding it out in a wax museum in the hopes of preventing Strange from rejoining with it before his 24 hours ran out. It’s a good story with some great visuals–but at this point in my life, it wasn’t what I was looking for from my comics. Doctor Strange wasn’t really a super hero per se. So this is one more failure to hook me into reading Marvel books regularly.