I bought this issue of DEFENDERS on my regular trip to the 7-11 as well. This was the middle chapter of what is perhaps the greatest Defenders story ever told (for all that I acknowledge that any number of characters are a bit out of character in order to make it work.) It was three issues of unbridled nonsense, but it was absolutely fun. DEFENDERS as a title hadn’t made much of an impact on me, and really wouldn’t again after this storyline for a long, long time. But for these three months, the book was a huge favorite of mine.
Why is that, you ask? Heroes, heroes, heroes! The conceit of this storyline is that the Defenders’ resident hanger-on Dollar Bill had finished filming his documentary project on the team and gotten it airplay. As a part of the production, Dollar Bill revealed to the world that the Defenders were a Non-Team, which meant that they had no roster or rules and regulations. Accordingly, any hero who wanted to become a Defender became one! This caused an absolute army of second-string heroes to turn up at the team’s base of operations at the Richmond Riding Academy in Long Island declaring themselves members. With this many heroes in attendance, it was only a matter of time until a fight broke out–and the presence of the Hulk made it an absolute certainty.
A bunch of the assembled heroes jump the Hulk, believing him quite naturally to be a menace, but like so many who came before them, they don’t have enough power between them to bring him down. To make matters worse, Iron Man arrives with a bit of news for the huge group: in Manhattan, a horde of villains have likewise declared themselves to be Defenders and they are running riot across the city, besmirching the group’s good name. Something has got to be done–but before that can happen, somebody’s got to get everyone’s attention. Hercules takes that duty upon himself, scattering his fighting fellows with a handily-uprooted tree.
Accordingly, the assembled army of heroes splits up into three groups, one for each of the trouble spots Iron man indicated. Hercules will lead one group (and you know things are in desperate straits when Hercules is the calm, even-keeled one), Valkyrie will lead the second, and Nighthawk the third. Everybody falls into line with this decision save Captain Mar-Vell, Ms Marvel and Paladin, who choose to depart–as does the Hulk, in a snit, who does’t appreciate being attacked by his friends. And yeah, it’s strange that both they and Iron Man are unconcerned enough about the carnage going on in Manhattan to aid in the efforts to bring things under control, but I can understand the need to try to bring these groups back to some sort of manageable size.
Since Nighthawk is the leader of the genuine Defenders and a regular in this series, we stay with his group at the outset, which includes the unlikely grouping of Nova, Daimon Hellstrom, Tagak the Leopard Lord, Polaris and Marvel Man (who would eventually change his name to Quasar.) They arrive in the city just in time to prevent an auto theft. But the perpetrator, declaring himself to be a Defender, is just an unruly kid. What’s more, the kid’s father (the owner of the stolen vehicle) is outraged at both the Defenders’ involvement and the manner in which their film has corrupted his child. The team’s name is definitely becoming mud among regular citizens.
Elsewhere, Hercules’ band of Defenders–which includes among its number Black Goliath, Iron Fist, the White Tiger, Captain Ultra, Hellcat and Havok–are having better luck, depending on how you look at it. They’ve come across a band of villains causing chaos and looting at random, and move to engage them. The bad guys here include a bevy of Marvel mid-listers, including Whirlwind, the Porcupine, Batroc the Leaper, the Beetle, the Blob, Electro and Sagittarius of the Zodiac for some reason (as well as the Looter and Plant-Man hidden in the backgrounds of a panel or two.) How these disparate criminals joined forces is as unrevealed and unlikely as the group which now confronts them.
As the two super-groups melee wildly, the cops show up in force in response to the disturbance. Hercules attempts to bring them onside by declaring that he and his fellows are Defenders apprehending notorious felons. But Sagittarius immediately claims that he and his fellow villains are actually the real Defenders, attempting to bring down Hercules’ maladroits who are using the name without sanction. The lead cop, though, is unimpressed by the claims of either group, and so he and his men move in with the intent of arresting everybody! And that’s where this issue is To Be Continued! The whole thing is ridiculously daft, but it was also just about the closest thing we got in the days before SECRET WARS to a full-on company-wide crossover, and so it was wildly exciting despite its obvious faults.