I still wasn’t a regular reader of DEFENDERS–I sort of backed into it after buying a few issues in a row, where momentum simply took over at that point. I had read the issue prior to this one and liked it well enough, but not so strongly as to motivate my purchase of the next issue. Fortunately for Marvel’s acquisition of my 35 cents, Spider-Man guest-starred in this issue–and that wound up being all the extra incentive I needed to put down my quarter and dime at the 7-11 counter the week this book showed up on the spinner rack.
DEFENDERS was still being written by David Anthony Kraft, and his issues of the series were the ones that I enjoyed the most when buying them new. After he left, the book went into an interminably long period where it was, to use a phrase, lousy. And yet, having made the leap to following the title, as a devoted Marvelite, it would be years before I gave the series up. The same was true of other books such as GHOST RIDER, which spent much of this same period being a slog to get through. But things weren’t quite so bad yet on DEFENDERS. The artwork was provided by a relatively young Ed Hannigan. Hannigan would go on to be one of the most innovative cover designers of his generation, but at this moment it seemed like he was simply trying to learn the fundamentals. You wouldn’t necessarily have a good assessment of his true talent (I certainly didn’t) looking at these early jobs. But that was one of the fun things about Marvel Comics in the 1970s–suddenly creators would develop dramatically and almost bloom right in front of the readership’s eyes.
This issue was more to my liking in that it was a bit more grounded than the previous one. It opens up with Hellcat showing off the Shadow-Cloak that she inherited from Devil-Slayer during their Xenogenesis adventure. The Cloak allowed her to pull weapons from out of nowhere, and was an attempt to level Patsy Walker up a bit as a super hero. Ad the Defenders hang out (with the Hulk somehow calmly sitting on a couch and not turning back into Bruce Banner–it was moments like this that made the idea of the Defenders as a functioning entity questionable to me.) filmmaker Dollar Bill draws everyone’s attention to a report about new killings by Lunatik, a harlequin-faced character who’d had a previous run-in with Valkyrie. Lunatik was interesting in that he was kind of the first step on the road to the development of Lobo across town at DC. But Keith Giffen was gone from DEFENDERS by this point, and so Kraft and Hannigan had to run with the character as best they could.
Outraged that her mercy in their prior encounter has allowed Lunatik to continue his murder spree, Valkyrie and the Defenders vow to bring him to ground. In attempting to come up with a plan to trap him, they enlist the aid of Empire State University Professor Turk–who visually, it is clear, is intended to be connected with Lunatik. He provides the team with a psychological breakdown of the vigilante, and for reasons that defy understanding, and logic that is strained beyond credibility, the Defenders determine that they will lay a trap for Lunatik by using a statue they will commission of Spider-Man, a wanted felon, as bait. Why Lunatik should be so interested in a Spider-Man statue is somewhat casually hand-waved away–this is what we gotta do to get the real Spider-Man into the story, ya know? Roll with it!
The Defenders intend to have the Hulk hide in a small alcove in the base of the statue and emerge to capture Lunatik when he appears. Which is an awful plan–so awful, in fact, that the Hulk refuses to go along with it. These guys are not exactly strategic geniuses when the Hulk is the smartest fellow in the room. With the Green Goliath having leapt away in protest, it’s time for Plan B, which amounts to the Defenders simply keeping the statue under surveillance. Elsewhere, J. Jonah Jameson is outraged as you’d expect that E.S.U. is erecting a monument to his nemesis, and so he dispatches Peter Parker to get pictures of the unveiling, figuring that the wall-crawler himself will be there. Which Jonah has just guaranteed. Spidey figures that the statue must be bait for him, so when his spider-sense tingles to alert him that he’s being spied on, he webs first and asks questions later and winds up ensnaring Hellcat. Spidey had met Patsy Walker’s predecessor the Cat in MARVEL TEAM-UP, so that gives him pause long enough for Patsy to explain the whole cockeyed plan to him. And so, the pair settle in to see whether Lunatik will show up as predicted.
And as this would be a pretty short and dull adventure if Lunatik went to the movies instead, he does show up, right on cue! Lunatik was a pop-culture spouting homicidal maniac with a twisted heroic streak. In short, he was a lot like Deadpool, albeit never nearly as popular. And he proceeds to make a monkey out of first Spidey and Hellcat, and then, when they show up as well, Nighthawk and Valkyrie as well. You would think that any one of these guys would be a match for a zany with a fast mouth and a staff, but you would be in error. None of them can seemingly lay a glove on him, and while the Defenders are able to keep Lunatik from defacing or destroying the statue, he’s able to make his escape from their trap with almost effortless ease. It’s a sad day for the forces of justice.
As his final move, Lunatik throws the tarp covering the statue over the Defenders to ensnarl them while he makes good his exit. In the brief second that it takes the heroes to extricate themselves, he has vanished. But what commands their attention instead is the statue of Spider-Man that Nighthawk has commissioned. It’s hideous. (Well, it’s supposed to be hideous, but truth to tell, I kind of like it. It has a real Ditko flavor to it.) Spidey is mortified by the thing, and everybody agrees that it’s got to go. And that’s the final note that the book ends on. But for all that this was a relatively silly story with heroes whose basic competence was in question, I kind of enjoyed it–enough to pick up the next issue, at the very least. And that one was the start of the Defenders’ most memorable three-part story, and that was enough to keep me buying. So add another title to my regular pull list.
The letters page this time out was short, devoting a third of its space to a plug for the Beatles issue of MARVEL SUPER SPECIAL that David Kraft, a huge music fan, had put together along with artist George Perez. But I wasn’t a music guy, and so this ad had little relevance for me. More noteworthy to me is the fact that this page featured another letter from future Marvedl historian Peter Sanderson (well, an excerpt of a letter–Peter tended to write expansive missives much of the time) as well as one from Bob Rodi, whose name I recognized from Julie Schwartz’s FLASH letter columns, where he was a regular contributor. He’d go on to become a novelist and write comics for Marvel as well in the years ahead.