Now this issue was the beginning of a three-part epic that is probably my favorite DEFENDERS story of all time. That said, it’s a story that, by necessity, turns something like a dozen and a half Marvel characters into little more than action figures that do what the plot requires without any concern about the personalities, drives and desires of the individuals within those costumes. I wouldn’t approve this story done in this manner if it were pitched to me today. But I have to admit, the whole thing was an awful lot of fun. Considering how often from here on out DEFENDERS was a dire series that it was often difficult to get through (but which I continued to buy every month anyway–as I said yesterday, I was often a creature of habit) I’m willing to forgive this story its myriad faults simply because it was so entertaining. And, hey, rules were meant to be broken, right?
It probably didn’t hurt that the story was illustrated by Sal Buscema, one of the more underrated artists working at Marvel in the 1970s and 1980s. While his work wasn’t as ornate or pretty or challenging as many of his contemporaries, what Sal did better than anybody was to tell a story in a direct, straightforward manner, with all of the requisite Marvel action and drama. This is why so often he was called upon to break down as many as 4 or 5 books a month, leaving it to other embellishers, some of whom were not terribly simpatico to his style, to finish the work. If nothing else, Sal’s involvement meant that the bevy of guest stars who showed up this issue all looked on-model.
This story was the payoff to a running plotline that writer David Anthony Kraft had been building in the background for some months. DAK’s alter ego in the series, Dollar Bill, had been filming a documentary about the Defenders ever since he became aware of the group’s existence thanks to his friendship with Valkyrie while she was attending college. And in this issue, that documentary airs as a TV Special . It’s a fractured summation of the last few months’ events in the title, and it culminates with Dollar Bill explaining that as a non-team, the Defenders have no rules and no charter–so membership in the group is as simple as a particular hero declaring themself to be a Defender. And pow, they’re in! He also lists the address of the Defenders’ digs at the Richmond Riding Academy to prospective members. But Nighthawk never cleared any of this, and he foresees a disaster in the making. And, of course, he is right in every way.
Come the next morning, there’s a knock at the Riding Academy door, and when he opens it, Nighthawk is astonished to see a whole flock of super heroes congregated on the doorstep, all angling to be Defenders. Now, this is where the suspension of disbelief comes in. It’s extremely unlikely that most of these folks would have turned up in this manner after having seen a TV special. Even the ones who might most want to be a part of a super hero team have more good graces and common sense than that. But we’re going to scootch straight on past that little point, because the story very much does. It’s a really weird mixed bag of characters that DAK brings into the mix here–pretty much anybody he could get his hands on that was vaguely a super hero and who wasn’t locked up permanently somewhere else.
From here on out, this becomes the Marvel equivalent of Archie’s MIGHTY CRUSADERS story “Too Many Super Heroes”, and only played marginally straighter. Nighthawk tries to get Dollar Bill to disperse the new arrivals, but this mob of do-gooders isn’t really listening to either of them, or even much to one another. They’re all giddy to be out here in the wilds of Long Island and on the cusp of super-stardom. In a spontaneous vote, based on his long years of experience, the newcomers vote Hercules in as Defenders leader, which doesn’t sit wonderfully with Nighthawk, who actually is the leader. Meanwhile, the other Defenders deal with the newcomers in their own ways; Hellcat flirts with them, and Valkyrie and the Hulk go off to brew a bucketload of coffee.
The quality–or lack of it–of Valkyrie’s coffee has been a running bit in DEFENDERS, and here is no different. But as the beverage is served, a small group of heroes comprised mainly of Havok, Torpedo, Black Goliath, Iron Fist and Tagak the Leopard Lord are aghast to see that the Hulk is in their midst. The Green Goliath’s reputation as a rampaging menace is well-established, and these guys figure that they’d better take this opportunity where they’ve got the numbers to put the Hulk down once and for all. Again, this doesn’t quite sound like a sentiment that would be put forward by any of these guys, but again, we’re going to simply roll with it here.
Meanwhile, most of the rest of the assembled heroes are engaging in comedy routines that wouldn’t be out of place in a Fred Hembeck strip. Captain Ultra and Jack of Hearts get into a shouting match over Hellcat’s affections, each one hurling color-based insults at one another. Nova and Marvel Man attempt to ride the horses for some reason, setting off a small stampede. And the Hulk is just minding his own business. That is, until a group of overzealous would-be Defenders descend upon him, intending to bring him to ground. Any Hulk fan can tell you what an awesomely bad idea this is. But you’ll have to wait a while to see how it all plays out–because at this point, the story is To Be Continued. If anything, what this issue of DEFENDERS reminds me of is the Keith Giffen-helmed JUSTICE LEAGUE run of the 1980s–more sitcom with super heroes than actual super hero fare. But at least for me, it worked.