I wasn’t ever really a big fan of DEFENDERS. Oh, I bought it dutifully for literally years, but it was never a top title in my firmament–and often, I was continuing to buy it out of rote more than any particular love for it. This is due to the fact that, despite the fact that it continued on for another hundred issues, DEFENDERS’ best days all lay within its initial fifty releases–and I had simply come in too late to read those stories new. DEFENDERS also has the drawback of not having any characters on its roster that I was especially attached to. I mean, I liked them all well enough, but none of them truly sparked with me, and definitely not in the context of this weird non-team set-up.
This was another book that I got out of a 3-Bag, one which I was certainly purchasing to get another title contained therein. But that said, I liked this issue well enough. It was a bit more traditional and a bit more involving than was the norm for the series, and so it hit better. This was during the period when the very young Keith Giffen was doing his best Jack Kirby impression, wit a bit of Jim Steranko tossed in, and that looked exciting to me. The whole story, really, is a paean to Steranko and specifically the hanging thread which had been the true identity of his Fury villain Scorpio. Roy Thomas ad later decided that Scorpio was Fury’s younger brother Jake and ad introduced an entire Zodiac of super-villains around him. For what it’s worth, having read those issues, I’m convinced that Steranko intended for Jimmy Woo to have been Scorpio, but he’s never revealed his plans or confirmed Scorpio’s real identity in all these years, so I doubt he’ll start now.
At the same time, David Anthony Kraft was also trying his damnedest to channel the spirit of Steve Gerber into his work. Gerber’s absurdist run just a short time previous to this had set a high bar for DEFENDERS. He refused to do typical super hero stories, and instead explored ideas and emotions that were more personal to him while his Defenders faced bonkers foes such as the Bozo Cult. Kraft wasn’t as skilled at this sort of ting as Gerber was–Gerber was the real deal whereas Kraft often came across like a cover band, trying to duplicate a sound without quite getting its underlying meaning. But this Scorpio storyline was probably the closest he came to matching Gerber. (That and his one-page wrap-up to Gerber’s dropped Elf-With-A-Gun plotline, which Kraft concluded in bravura style by having the Elf run over by a truck.)
Te story begins with Scorpio recapping the past few issues with his L.M.D. of his brother Nick Fury. They’ve been trying to capture Jack Norriss for some reason, but their forces were driven off last issue by the Defenders and Wonder Man. But they reckon that since Norriss is trying to turn himself in, he’ll hand himself over to the Fury L.M.D. and then Scorpio can continue on with the rest of his plan. Scorpio is 52 years old, looking at the downward slope of life and dissatisfied with his lot, so he’s attempting this power coup in order to self-actualize, to prove his worth to himself. Basically, he’s depressed as heck. Anyway, as “Fury” turns up at Avengers Mansion to take Norriss into custody, the assorted Defenders scatter back to their own lives and concerns. Valkyrie is disturbed by er interactions with Jack Norriss due to the fact that her Asgardian spirit is inhabiting the body of Norriss’ wife, which is a bit awkward.
By the time Valkyrie and Hellcat get back to the Riding Stable owned by Kyle Richmond that serves as the Defenders’ nominal headquarters, Nighthawk is there to let them know that he’s received a ransom call from Scorpio for Jack Norriss’ release–and that his fellow Defenders unknowingly handed Norriss over directly to their foe. But Nighthawk is going to make the ransom drop himself, which may give them an opportunity to track down Scorpio and put things right. Meanwhile, Jack is made comfortable by Scorpio, who offers him a beer and shows him what all of this is about: Scorpio as created a grand chamber in which he is growing his own new Zodiac–a group of androids that will follow his directions and change the world in the manner that he chooses. But he needs funds to complete their construction, and that’s where Norriss and Kyle Richmond come in.
But there’s a complication to Scorpio’s plan: Moon Knight! Having become involved last issue, he followed the Fury L.M.D.’s car to Scorpio’s hideout and e proceeds to bust into the place. Unfortunately, Scorpio manages to catch him in a death trap–a huge sealed vat that will fill up with water, drowning Moon Knight. Scorpio tosses Moon Knight a beer for the road and then turns on the water. Things look bad for the moonlight crusader (this is such an early appearance of Moon Knight that much of what we today recognize about the character hasn’t been established yet) But by the next morning, Scorpio finds the vat empty, Moon Knight having vanished–and left Scorpio’s beer can behind as a fare-thee-well.
Anyway, both Scorpio and Nighthawk head out for the ransom rendezvous–but Scorpio changes the game by revealing that he’s worked out that Nighthawk is really Kyle Richmond. And why should he settle for the $500,000 ransom for Jack Norrisss when he can have the entirety of Richmond’s fortune? Using his Zodiac Key, Scorpio zaps Nighthawk and transports the pair of them away–and on that note, this bizarre issue is To Be Continued!
The letters page this time out includes a missive from Bob Rodi, a regular contributor to the letters pages of Julie Schwartz’s DC comics, and thus a name I was familiar with. Rodi would go on to become a successful novelist and would also write some Marvel comics in the years to come, probably most notably the LOKI limited series painted by Esad Ribic.