I hadn’t really been wowed by the previous issues of DEFENDERS that I had sampled, so I don’t know what made me pick this one up on my regular weekly trip to the 7-11, apart from it possibly being a small week for new comics and me thinking about how much better AVENGERS got once I gave that series a second chance. Either way, with this issue I became a regular reader of the series for years, despite never really liking it all that much, apart from the odd issue here or there. As I got more and more onto the Marvel bandwagon, I also became more enraptured with the notion that you really needed to be following all of the core super hero titles if you were going to be a real fan. I was managing to finance this by skipping my school lunches and pocketing the money, so I had enough steady income to experiment a little bit.
This story was the climax to a three-part adventure designed to wrap up some loose ends left from the introduction of Devil-Slayer some months earlier. This was something that Marvel did routinely, although some of the wrap-ups tended to be poorly-conceived finales. But at least things weren’t left to float forever unresolved. In the case of Devil-Slayer, he had started life as a character for rival publisher Atlas Comics, starring in one issue before that firm went belly up. Thereafter, creator Rich Buckler brought the character into the Marvel Universe by giving him a slight color and name change–turning Demon Hunter into Devil-Slayer. DS’s big thing was trying to stop the coming of Xenogenesis, the time when demons would overrun the Earth. This DEFENDERS story was designed to bring that potential threat to a climax, intended or not.
I’ll admit, I don’t think I’ve looked at this issue since it first came out and I didn’t remember any of the details about it until I opened it once again in preparation for this post. The issue opens with the Defenders dealing with a stricken Doctor Strange, whose astral form has not returned to his body. Doc’s spirit-form went on a mission into Mexico, and the Defenders decide that they need to follow him, and bring Doc’s corporeal form so that he can rejoin with it before it is too late and his ectoplasmic self disintegrates. We then cut to Mexico, where the cultists knows as the Harvesters of Eyes are attempting to bring about Xenogenesis, the rise of demons throughout the world. Devil-Slayer is there, locked in battle with an agent of the half-woman, half-demon Vera Gemini, but it seems like his efforts to prevent Xenogenesis from coming about have been futile.
David Anthony Kraft, the writer of this issue, was a big fan of rock music, and so this issue and the previous two are littered with references to the songs of Blue Oyster Cult. That top panel on this page is riffed from one of their album covers, and depicts the Oysters as demons wagering with Vega Gemini on the outcome of her plans. You couldn’t easily do this sort of thing today when likeness rights and IP concerns would be paramount. (I feel like I detect the hand of Marie Severin in that top panel as well–Marie was always skilled at capturing likenesses, and she was often brought into play to make a cameo such as this one look more like its source.)
The Defenders, meanwhile, have made it to Mexico, but not without hardship. Their plane was shot out of the sky by American fighters under the command of a General who had been possessed by a demon. But the non-team and their spectator guest, the filmmaker called Dollar Bill, survived, with the Hulk annihilating the attacking jets, and the team made it to their destination. However, as they move in on the Cult headquarters, they are confronted by a horrific demon-slug in the middle of which Doctor Strange’s astral form is situated. So now they need to battle to survive themselves and somehow find a way to free Strange’s essence and reunite it with his body.
And so the battle is joined. It turns out that Vera Gemini is using Strange’s Eye of Agamotto to open the portal between Earth and the demon-realm, so it’s the macguffin that the heroes are going to need to either get back or deactivate. There’s lots of fighting to be had, and ultimately Valkyrie is forced to slay the demon-slug containing Strange’s essence with her enchanted sword Dragonfang. This winds up being a good thing, though, as with the demon destroyed, Strange’s astral form is freed to join up with his physical body. Now they just need somebody to go into the mystic portal and retrieve the Eye of Agamottot. Strange says that only Nighthawk will be able to make this happen, and he once again separates his own astral form to accompany Nighthawk on his mission.
Nighthawk’s form takes a terrific amount of stress as it enters the demon-realm, an environment inherently hostile to living creatures, and Doc in spirit form can do nothing to help him. He fights his way past several demons and is able to lay hands on the Eye–but he can feel himself lapsing into unconsciousness. Before he goes under, though, he sets his jetpack to autopilot his boy back through the portal. While this is happening, the other Defenders are mopping the floor with demons–and Hellcat manages to ensnare Vera Gemini in Devil-Slayer’s Shadow-Cloak, a mystic item that contains a dimensional aperture through which he would pull weapons–but which now swallows Vera Gemini whole, ending her threat. The wrap-up to this wordy and complicated adventure is abrupt, as though penciler Ed Hannigan simply ran out of pages and stopped. That said, he did some nice work in this issue. And it must be said that the Defenders definitely had a unique flavor to it as a series. It wasn’t one that appealed to me much as a kid, but I can see more of the appeal looking back at this issue years later.