BHOC: DEFENDERS #57

When the cover price on comic books went up to 35 cents, this presented certain new challenges for readers. Primary among them was the fact that a dollar would no longer get you three comics–you needed to be packing an extra nickel. I didn’t really yet have a ready source of income at this point, I was still operating hand-to-mouth, which meant that on occasion I would have to make tough choices in terms of what I was able to buy. On the flipside, there would be times when I would end up at the spinner rack with enough extra cash on me for one more hit. This was an intolerable situation to me, and one that I solved in most cased by buying some other comic book that I’d never read before. So it was with this issue of DEFENDERS, the first one that I’d buy off the stands new.

This technically wasn’t my first experience with the Defenders. Several years before my younger brother Ken had gotten GIANT-SIZE DEFENDERS #4 which had eventually passed to me. But this was during the time when I didn’t want much of anything to do with the Marvel books, and that oversized comic didn’t do much to change my mind of that assessment. But in 1977, some years later, I was beginning to probe and map the various regions of the Marvel Universe, and so any comic book that looked interesting and which promised more of the type of super hero action that I sought was worthy of investigation.

As things turned out, this issue was a fill-in, an evergreen story designed to be dropped into the continuity wherever necessary when the schedule was running behind. That didn’t bug me especially, though, seeing as how I was coming in just as fresh. And it was a good issue. As was his way, writer Chris Claremont used the opportunity to both plus his ongoing MS MARVEL series by guest-starring Carol and also dragged a bit of his continuity into the Defenders’ orbit. It also didn’t hurt that George Tuska’s solid but not flashy pencils were embellished in this instance by Claremont’s X-MEN partner Dave Cockrum. Cockrum gave the work a seen and a flair that Tuska didn’t always evidence–it was a good combination.

ADDITION: It was pointed out to me that Dave Cockrum wasn’t an inker on this issue, but rather a penciler for several pages. Dan Green inked the whole thing. So with that, it looks like this story might have been cobbled together around some unused pages for something possibly.

So I liked this issue just fine, and began reading DEFENDERS on a regular basis. And that was where the trouble started. because at this time, DEFENDERS was a book in the middle of a transition, and it wasn’t a transition that did it any favors. When people speak of the classic DEFENDERS era, they’re pretty much talking about stories from the title’s first 50 issues or so. Well, the second fifty issues were largely pretty crummy apart from the occasional ray of sunshine such as the “Defender For A Day” three-parter. And yet, having made the mental leap to becoming a reader of DEFENDERS, I stuck in there with it. I bought and read years of issues that I really didn’t like almost at all in the hopes that things would improve soon. Comic book fans can be morons sometimes.

The story opens months earlier, with Dr. Strange’s crystal ball burping up an image of Ms Marvel, which is enough to make the Hulk go a bit nuts in response–he’s trying to protect his friends from the “ghost-woman” but he’s doing so by smashing the place up. Eventually, this perfunctory opening action reaches its end, and we cut to the present, where Carol Danvers’ psychiatrist Mike Barnett is in a bar. He’s one of the few at this point who knows that Carol Danvers is Ms Marvel, and he’s mesmerized and abducted by Arthur Shaman, an agent of A.I.M. Advanced Idea Mechanics want to know how Carol gained knowledge of their hidden base in a recent Claremont-penned issue of MS MARVEL and they figure her shrink may know the answer.

Ms Marvel herself shows up at Kyle Richmond’s apartment–her plot-assisting “seventh sense” giving her both a knowledge of the Defenders’ existence and a premonition that they will be attacked by the same guys who made off with Barnett. And she’s right. In probing Barnett’s psyche, A.I.M. has learned that Carol has had recurring nightmares about being killed by the Hulk (no idea where these come from–Carol hasn’t even yet met the Hulk) so they figure the best thing to do is to snatch up the Hulk from Dr Strange’s place, brainwash him, and send him to kill Carol. As super-villain plans go, this is in the bottom three, but maybe my Idea Mechanics just aren’t Advanced enough to grasp the nuances. Anyway, A.I.M. does succeed in making off with the Hulk, but Ms M and the other Defenders are close behind.

From here, it’s really just fight, fight, fight, as the Defenders and their special guest star plow through everything that A.I.M can throw at them, rescuing both Mike Barnett and the waylaid Hulk in the process. And that’s it–everything wraps up neatly and we’re on our way. These sorts of inventory jobs were becoming more common at Marvel as the editorial staff attempted to cope with their criminally late production schedule and to prevent any books from resorting to reprints, as had been the pattern for many years before.

This issue also included a letters page which featured communications concerning recent issues both from Peter Sanderson, who would one day become a key researcher on the OFFICIAL HANDBOOK OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE, and Kurt Busiek, who would write a myriad of comics including DEFENDERS. There was also a missive from Bob Rodi, who was a regular contributor to the DC letters pages and who would eventually write for Marvel as well in the 2000s. So it’s a bit of an all-star letters page in retrospect.

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