De­fend­ing the De­fend­ers

With a TV show and on­go­ing se­ries fea­tur­ing a new lineup, things are look­ing up for the De­fend­ers.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Reads - By KALEON RAHAN star2@thes­tar.com.my

WHO are the De­fend­ers? This Marvel su­per­hero team is still rel­a­tively un­known com­pared to say, the Guardians of the Gal­axy, de­spite hav­ing length­ier comic book ap­pear­ances and more pop­u­lar team mem­bers.

Marvel chief cre­ative of­fi­cer, Joe Que­sada, him­self said, “No one knows who the De­fend­ers are”, when asked about the team’s new lineup for the up­com­ing Net­flix-based se­ries, set to pre­miere on Net­flix in Au­gust.

The TV show’s roll­call com­prises of Dare­devil, Luke Cage, Jes­sica Jones, and Iron Fist (and maybe Elek­tra). To comics fans who have been fol­low­ing the De­fend­ers, this is just one of many reshuf­fles the team has had through­out the years.

From the Ti­tans Three to the wannabe Fear­less De­fend­ers, the De­fend­ers have been through nu­mer­ous re­vamps. Could the TV show fi­nally suc­ceed in giv­ing the team its break­through, 46 years af­ter it was first cre­ated?

The orig­i­nals

While the Net­flix roll-call has a good mix of brains (Dare­devil), mus­cle (Cage), mys­ti­cism (Iron Fist) and fem­i­nism (Jes­sica), the orig­i­nal De­fend­ers were ex­ces­sively lob-sided, with a greater fo­cus on brute strength, and just a touch of mys­ti­cal en­ergy.

The orig­i­nal 1971 team con­sisted of Dr Strange, Namor the Sub-Mariner and the Hulk, and had the Sil­ver Surfer on the sub­sti­tute bench – essen­tially a team that seemed more suited for of­fence rather than de­fence.

I’m still not quite sure why the De­fend­ers were even formed in 1971, es­pe­cially when the Sil­ver Age was al­ready “well-de­fended” by teams such as the Avengers and Fan­tas­tic Four. One the­ory is that it was purely a mar­riage of con­ve­nience! Dr Strange’s reg­u­lar se­ries had just ended, tales about At­lantis were wa­ter­ing down, and the Hulk’s acts of vi­o­lence were get­ting too pre­dictable. So, the plan was to have them on one team and hope that they would turn out to be as pop­u­lar as the Avengers.

Sup­port­ing this the­ory is the fact that it took leg­endary scribe Roy Thomas almost two years (!) to an­nounce the De­fend­ers’ ar­rival. Thomas only for­malised the team via Marvel Fea­ture #1 (De­cem­ber 1971) af­ter two “un­of­fi­cial” teamups on dif­fer­ent story arcs across sev­eral books, namely Doc­tor Strange #183 (Novem­ber 1969), Sub-Mariner #22 (Fe­bru­ary 1970), The In­cred­i­ble Hulk #126 (April 1970) and Sub-Mariner #34–35, (Fe­bru­ary– March 1971).

Ti­tans Three

The De­fend­ers were ini­tially re­ferred to as the Ti­tans Three dur­ing their col­lab­o­ra­tion in Sub-Mariner #34. Then, the com­bined might of Namor, Hulk and the Sil­ver Surfer was un­leashed against a small is­land dic­ta­tor (!). While this seems like an overkill, their sub­se­quent col­lab­o­ra­tion had a more cat­a­clysmic impact in the form of an alien techno-wiz­ard named Yan­droth (see Marvel Fea­ture #1), who sparked the for­ma­tion of the De­fend­ers.

Team dy­nam­ics

From day one, the team’s in­di­vid­ual egos would prove to be its big­gest ob­sta­cle in be­com­ing Earth’s true de­fend­ers. Some­thing needed to change, and thus, af­ter barely one is­sue as a De­fender, the Surfer left and in came the Valkyrie, Hawk­eye, Nighthawk, and Power Man/Luke Cage.

It was Nighthawk’s in­tro­duc­tion that made the team more be­liev­able, thanks to his Bruce Wayne-sque wealth and his past team ex­pe­ri­ence (al­beit with the Squadron Sin­is­ter).

To­gether with Hell­cat, he gave bal­ance to the ini­tial mus­cle-heavy lop­sid­ed­ness of the orig­i­nal team, mak­ing them more suited for daily crime­fight­ing ac­tiv­i­ties. Nighthawk even of­fered the team a bet­ter head­quar­ters in the form of a ranch, which surely beats hang­ing out in Dr Strange’s house.

No­table mile­stones

The De­fend­ers’ first se­ries lasted 125 is­sues, be­fore chang­ing its name to New De­fend­ers from #126#152.

In the first 125 is­sues, no­table events in­cluded the Avengers-De­fend­ers War (Avengers (Vol. 1) #116-#118 and De­fend­ers #9-#11, and the in­tro­duc­tion of Al­pha The Ul­ti­mate Mu­tant (#15 and #16), who trans­formed Mag­neto into an in­fant.

My per­sonal favourite story-arc was The Scor­pio Saga, where the De­fend­ers, Moon Knight and Nick Fury took on the Zo­diac.

Not be­ing ac­tively in-sync with the main­stream Marvel uni­verse had its ben­e­fits too. The De­fend­ers helped “re­ha­bil­i­tate” sev­eral B-grade char­ac­ters and teams such as Howard The Duck, Omega The Un­known (!) and the (drum roll please)... Guardians of the Gal­axy (and look at where they are now!).

New-look De­fend­ers

While past “re­vamps” in­volved ro­tat­ing its core mem­bers, the first ma­jor change hap­pened in #126. An alien prophecy pre­dicted that the pres­ence of the four found­ing mem­bers would lead to the world’s destruc­tion, so they left the team.

A new team was formed, com­pris­ing Beast, An­gel, Ice­man, Gar­goyle, Moon­dragon and Valkyrie. With three mu­tant mem­bers, this new De­fend­ers team felt like just an­other X-Men spin-off. But at least Beast got gov­ern­ment clear­ance for the team, giv­ing it more author­ity than it ever had.

This team didn’t last long though – it suf­fered poor sales, and the three mu­tants were ear-marked for an orig­i­nal X-Men re­union via X-Fac­tor. To add in­sult to in­jury, in it’s fi­nal is­sue (1986’s De­fend­ers #152), the non-mu­tant mem­bers of the team were seem­ingly killed by a mind-pos­sessed Moon­dragon!

Not so se­cret

In 1990, the co-founders fi­nally de­duced that the alien prophecy that caused them to leave the De­fend­ers in the first place was a hoax (how con­ve­nient).

They sub­se­quently re­grouped via the pages of The In­cred­i­ble Hulk #370–371. This was fol­lowed by a cross­over event aptly en­ti­tled The Re­turn Of The De­fend­ers.

How­ever, this was a tem­po­rary mea­sure aimed at reignit­ing in­ter­est in the team, and it would take an­other three years be­fore Marvel in­tro­duced us to yet an­other new team: the Se­cret De­fend­ers!

This time Dr Strange formed the team from a com­bi­na­tion of A-lis­ters (Wolver­ine, Spi­der-Man, Hulk, and Ghost Rider) and up-and­com­ing he­roes (Spi­der-Woman and Darkhawk).

The Se­cret De­fend­ers seemed more like a Marvel Team Up event, and had min­i­mal impact on the main char­ac­ters, who had their own reg­u­lar se­ries to man­age.

While Strange’s role was sub­se­quently re­placed by Thanos and Doc­tor Druid, they couldn’t stop the in­evitable as the se­ries was can­celled af­ter 25 is­sues.

De­fend­ing the brand

There have been other at­tempts to res­ur­rect the De­fend­ers as well, in­clud­ing Kurt Busiek and Erik Larsen’s 12-parter in 2001-02; a five-parter in 2005 by Keith Gif­fen, J.M. DeMat­teis and Kevin Maguire; a post-Civil War mini-se­ries by Joe Casey in 2008; and Matt Frac­tion’s 2011 reg­u­lar se­ries.

There were even off-beat knock­offs like the Of­fend­ers and the Fear­less De­fend­ers, which beared lit­tle rel­e­vance to the orig­i­nal team. They all share the same fate though – dis­mal fail­ure.

Was it the scripts? The art­work? Or is there some in­her­ent flaw in the team it­self that pre­vents it from mak­ing it big?

What­ever the rea­son, a lot is rid­ing on the TV se­ries and the new on­go­ing se­ries fea­tur­ing this new team.

Here’s hop­ing that the De­fend­ers fi­nally get the break­through they’ve been wait­ing 46 years for.

The orig­i­nal De­fend­ers team - Namor, Hulk and Dr Strange. Only one of them both­ered to wear a shirt. A new on­go­ing se­ries AND an up­com­ing Net­flix TV show? This new De­fend­ers team has a lot going for it.

It may look like an X-Men team, but this was ac­tu­ally the ‘New De­fend­ers’.

The Se­cret De­fend­ers team had a lineup of A-lis­ters and new su­per­heroes.

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