This issue of DEFENDERS featured the climactic chapter to one of the dopiest and most fun stories in the entire series, and a real favorite of mine. Honestl, after this, DEFENDERS became something of a slog for a very long time, a title that I bought out of habit or obligation, but not one that was really doing anything for me. It wasn’t until J.M. DeMatteis took over the writing some thirty issues later that I truly began to get interested in the series again. Still, I was there every month for the most part (I missed or skipped issue #65 for some reason) and so my 35 cents a month was solidly accounted for. And yeah, I don’t know why the Texas Twister is firing guns at Valkyrie here either, given that he’s a tornado guy–could be that the cover artist (there’s some question as whether it may have been George Perez or Keith Pollard–but George created the Texas Twister and would have known who he was) saw a cowboy character and just naturally figured six-shooters.
The art is maybe just a hair shakier on this installment. As usual, Sal Buscema does his typically fine job pacing and laying out the book. But while Don Perlin was a solid artist in his own right, as a finisher it feels like he approached this issue with too light a touch. So everything feels kind of too open and just a little bit sketchy. It isn’t a terrible job, but neither is it outstanding.
So at this point in the story, the situation is: Dollar Bill’s documentary film about the Defenders has been broadcast on television. In the narration of the movie, Bill reveals that the Defenders have no charter and no rules–if somebody wants to become a Defender, then whammo! They just are! This causes massive complications for the team when two-dozen assorted Marvel characters turn up on their doorstep ready to be Defenders. What’s more, villains all across Manhattan have declared themselves Defenders as well, hoping to blame the group for their random looting and pillaging. The assembled heroes split up into three groups to deal with the variety of threats, and it’s been action and nonsense all the way from there!
Nighthawk, who is the ostensible leader of the Defenders, has his hands full all across the boards. Not only are other heroes vying for the leadership position, but he needs to take care of the villains marauding in the team’s name, and bring all of the newcomers into line. And honestly, Kyle Richmond really isn’t up to it, and at a certain point in this issue, one group of would-be Defenders departs. Apparently, whatever hazards are being caused by the marauding villains aren’t enough to get them to stick around. Which is just as well, really. Now on his own,. Nighthawk soars towards the New York Stock Exchange, which is reported to have been overrun by evil Defenders.
Hellcat, meanwhile, is in the company of a different band of Defenders aspirants, one in which Hercules has taken charge. They’ve been pursuing retreating villains into the New York Subway, where they battled and chased from stop to stop, with neither crew really getting the upper hand. At a key moment, the immovable Blob gets Hellcat in a stranglehold, choking her out almost to the point of death. At which point, the telepathic blocks that Moondragon had set up to tamp down Hellcat’s psychic abilities break, and she kayos everybody present with an uncontrolled psionic whammy. So that’s another bunch of heroes and villains accounted for.
The third group of pseudo-Defenders includes Valkyrie, and they’re in pursuit of a group of villains who are attempting to make their escape on the water, on the Staten Island Ferry. Much like what happened to Hellcat, Valkyrie is grappled by obscure villain Joe the Gorilla, and suddenly she’s having flashbacks to her earlier life in Asgard as a chooser of the slain. In her delirium, seeing both friend and foe as marauding trolls, she scatters all of the combatants like tenpins, fighting wildly. Nighthawk turns up at this moment, and Valkyrie almost kills him by instinct. But he’s able to talk her back to sanity. And that’s a third group of rogue defenders accounted for, clearing the board. But still, Valkyrie’s instability is something that’s going to need to be addressed in the future.
And so, this crazy story wraps up, with a last bit of business portending awful things in store for the female Red Guardian in her native Russia. There are plenty of legitimate complaints about this story, primarily that it treats pretty much all of the guest heroes as interchangeable non-entities, which is fair. But it also had the patina of the sort of adventure a group of kids might come up with playing with an oddball assortment of action figures in a sandbox, and on that level, it’s a lot of fun. More fun that DEFENDERS was going to be again in quite some time, I’ll attest to that.
10 thoughts on “BHOC: DEFENDERS #64”
For me, DEFENDERS was always well-worth my money until DAK left. I’m bemused that, by this point, you felt the series had been a slog for quite some time. It was never less than enterprising and entertainingly-varied from issue #1 through DAK’s last.
Read more closely.
Tom wrote that AFTER this issue the series became a slog.
After this issue, there were two more issues written by DAK, two co-plotted by DAK and co-plotted and scripted by Ed Hannigan, and then Ed was the regular writer until DeMatteis took over, though there were a few fill-ins, one written by Shooter and Jo Duffy, a couple by Steven Grant, and another of Ed’s co-plotted by DAK again from an idea by Gruenwald and Grant.
Smartass teenage me referred to this stretch as “Hannigan’s Bog.” Ed was a strong artist and a terrific designer, but his DEFENDERS run as writer was just not all that dynamic.
Then again, I thought the series never recovered from Gerber being booted off it. It was energetic at least through issue 50, an energetic mess for a while thereafter, and then once Giffen was gone, the mess continued, but I never thought DAK had interesting ideas but his craft (no pun intended) wasn’t strong enough to organize them or present them well. The Documentary Disaster was a high point, but even it was stronger at the start than at the end, and as Tom points out depended on characters acting wildly out of character to keep it from collapsing immediately.
I kept buying it until solidly into the Hannigan-written run, but it was eventually enough of a slog that I just couldn’t justify buying it, which was a huge step for me at the time. Once I started reading a book on an ongoing basis, I almost never quit, not back then.
I didn’t know Hannigan was an artist but a lot of his concepts for that adventure in another dimension looked really pretty. Like Mr. Busiek, Hannigan got me to give up a book I’d been following (though with increasingly little enthusiasm) since #4.
I think the cowboy on the cover might actually be Pecos of the Split Second Squad from a Roy Thomas Avengers issue. They showed up as faux-Defenders in this story. I think that is also Joe the Gorilla and Cap’n Skragg from that same group in the picture.
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You’re correct, Chris — Pecos even helpfully identifies himself by name during the fight. And the pattern on his hatband and the polka-dot scarf go back to his debut in AVENGERS 77. His outfit isn’t colored the same (his hat is, at least), but it’s been a few years and they’re ordinary-looking Western wear, so maybe he just likes polka dots.
Joe the Gorilla names himself, too, and he’s apparently still wearing the same green sweatshirt. So that pretty much has to be Cap’n Skragg, as well, though he’s never named and never even gets to speak.
The Texas Twister, as far as I can tell, isn’t in the story at all.
I agree the next stretch of issues was uninspired but more than being a completist kept me going. I had (and still have) immense affection for the core Defenders, Hellcat, Hulk, Nighthawk, and Valkyrie with Gargoyle added to that list the moment he arrived.
Good analysis of Don Perlin’s inks / finishes over Sal Buscema on this issue. It’s unfortunate that Jim Mooney wasn’t able to provide the embellishments for this final chapter.
I didn’t care for Kraft’s work on Defenders at all, but this arc was an exception.
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“The sort of adventure a group of kids might come up with playing with an oddball assortment of action figures.” This strikes me as the perfect description of this story line and perfectly captures why I love it so much. Around the same time this came out, my Star Wars figures fought with and alongside my Micronauts on a daily (if not hourly) basis.