Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Avengers/Defenders War, part 1

Avengers #116 (October 1973)
Writer: Steve Englehart
Penciller: Bob Brown
Inker: Mike Esposito
Defenders #9 (October 1973)
Writer: Steve Englehart
Penciller: Sal Buscema
Inker: Frank McLaughlin
Karen: This is a review Doug and I have wanted to do for some time, and have finally gotten to it. We’ve both mentioned in the past our love of huge groups of super-heroes. We’ve also tackled the Marvel tradition of having heroes fight other heroes, however, only in one-on-one situations. But with this review, we’re going to talk about taking those two favorite concepts and smashing them together in one gigantic slugfest! That’s right, it’s time for the Avengers/Defenders War!
Doug: I’m right with you, Karen – I’ve enjoyed this series every time I’ve read it. Admittedly, I came to it later than its newsstand life, but the collection of characters is without peer. Unless of course, you want to get into one of the stupid (ahem, sorry) mega-crossovers that dominate comics marketing today…
Karen: The idea came about simply enough: Steve Englehart was the writer on both titles at the time. He always enjoyed the summer annuals Marvel did, but that year (1973), Marvel didn’t publish any big annuals and Englehart decided to basically do his own big event – imagine that! He was given the go-ahead by editor Roy Thomas –with a warning to make sure they were on time! – and the rest is history.
Doug: Have you seen Englehart’s comments about this story on his website? He makes it very clear that he always intended the arc to be known as the Avengers/Defenders Clash, not War.
Karen: Yes, he seems pretty insistent about that. I wonder if the reason has anything to do with his personal beliefs. Did you know he was released from the Army during the Vietnam War for being a conscientious objector?
Karen:We’ll start our review with Avengers #116. The tail ends of both Avengers #115 and Defenders #8 basically set up the reason for the super-team conflict: the dread Dormammu and conniving Loki team up to gain possession of an arcane artifact known as the Evil Eye. With its power, Dormammu can destroy Earth, and anything that upsets Thor makes Loki happy. They manipulate the Defenders into seeking the six pieces of the Eye, leading them to believe that it will free the Black Knight from his stone body. The Avengers meanwhile have been searching for the Knight, and have heard that Dr. Strange may have taken his stone body.
Doug: I liked the set-up here – while not a Dormammu fan (or Dr. Strange fan, for that matter), sometimes all of that mystical stuff did make for a good plot device.
Karen: This issue starts with the Avengers trying to enter Dr. Strange’s sanctum sanctorum and getting a rude greeting, thanks to spells of protection around the place. Inside, the Defenders are oblivious to the commotion, as they mystically search for the six pieces of the Eye, which are scattered around the globe. Once they find the location of each piece, each non-team member heads off to recover them. Meanwhile, Loki has reconsidered his deal with Dormammu, and decides to enlist the Avengers to stop the Defenders. Loki gives Earth’s Mightiest a very vague reason – essentially, “they’re bad guys and will do bad things with the Eye” – and that’s enough for our heroes, who are already ticked off at Strange. Loki gives them the locations of the pieces and away we go!

Doug: That Thor can open a door, can’t he?

Karen: Oh man, that scene really cracked me up! The son of Odin gets mighty peeved!
Karen: First up: The Vision and the Scarlet Witch vs. The Silver Surfer. As much as I respect Vizh and Wanda, they were hopelessly outclassed here. But I thought the battle within the volcano was really exciting and some of the best work we’d see from Bob Brown during his Avengers tenure.
Doug: I wouldn’t claim to be a Bob Brown fan, perhaps more of an “appreciator”. I always thought he was solid in this era of the Avengers, and especially liked his Daredevil stuff. But, hey – concerning the splash page of this issue: doesn’t Brown’s depiction of the Vision sort of remind you of Deadman? And another thing – how about the cover to this book? One database source I consulted said the cover artist was unknown; the Grand Comic Book Database says it’s by Jazzy Johnny Romita and Mike Esposito. Nice shot of the Vision, but doesn’t the Surfer’s stance look goofy?
Karen: The cover definitely has Romita touches, particularly Wanda’s face. Of course, Jazzy Johnny did a lot of covers and art re-touching, back in the day.
Karen:So round one goes to the Defenders. Our next battle is in the pages of Defenders #9. This time, it’s a rematch: Iron Man vs. Hawkeye! Yes, faithful ones, the loudmouth archer was actually playing for the Defenders at this time.
Doug: I think it’s interesting how easily characters moved between these books; shoot, if you count the Surfer and Namor, they moved in and out of their sometimes-home in the FF mag, too.
Karen: I got a kick out of Hawkeye hitting on Valkyrie, as politically incorrect as it might be to admit it!
Doug: Hawkeye’s as brash as ever – the way he should always be written. Sal Buscema’s pencils give a very familiar air to this issue. Sal was certainly prolific – how many Marvel characters did he draw? And you know what? They all looked solid. I don’t know if there’s any character that you would say, “Yeah, he was Sal’s”, but he certainly never harmed any book he worked on. It will be nice when the TwoMorrows biography comes out – the man is deserving.
Karen: I always felt Sal was a very solid artist. I sure wish big bro John had been drawing Avengers during this cross-over – that would have been spectacular!
Karen: Boy, the fight between Hawk and Shellhead really got personal. They say former friends make the worst enemies and these two are proof of it.

Doug: A very well-choreographed battle scene. All of the gadgets one would expect. Did you think it was a little too much when IM just drilled Hawkeye in the face? That metal gauntlet couldn’t feel good up against bare skin.

Karen: Yeah, kinda surprising that IM would cut loose on Hawk like that – shouldn’t he have been mush from that repulsor blast? It was clear that Hawk wasn’t a match for Iron Man, but he still managed to get the Eye through guile, which is a trait Hawkeye would employ again and again.
Karen: Round three takes us to the corn fields of Indiana, and a tussle between Dr. Strange and the Black Panther and Mantis! This has got to be the oddest match-up in the whole war. I guess it just got to a point where Englehart had these three characters left and had to do something!
Doug: Mantis must be a tough girl – ever walked through a cornfield? Those sheaths cut! And you can’t beat a little Marvel cross-marketing – did you catch the farmer’s reference to The Cat?

Karen: Yes, a little internal promotion there! While the Panther makes a spectacular mid-air grab of Strange, the outcome is never really in doubt. Strange easily defeats the two Avengers. Were you surprised though, when Mantis attacked Dr. Strange, that he said martial arts had been part of his training when he was in the Himalayas? I wonder if anyone ever had him do any martial arts again?
Doug: My money was on Mantis in that one. After all, she was Englehart’s pet character, not the Doctor!
Karen: In part two: Captain America vs. Namor! Valkyrie vs. Swordsman! Who will prevail?


Anonymous said...

I don’t agree with you about the pairings, I think they were all shrewd. Shellhead & Hawkeye were old enemies, conversely, Cap & Namor were old WW2 allies (maybe the fact that Sunfire interceded was an intentional irony !), Hulk & Thor were the two strongest, Val and the Swordsman, well, duh, but I think that Mantis vs Doc Strange is a battle of mystics, is it not? Vision, Wanda and the Surfer, well, none of them are human, but that’s it, I think this battle was more ‘leftovers’ myself, but still a corker.

I think the cover of 116 looks very JR – remember he was art director at that time, but also he always worked from the bullpen, so he got a lot of last minute work. Wanda totally looks JR, even her cape, and look at the shading on the Vision. Am I crazy, or could the inker be Joe Sinnott?

Anonymous said...

I think I saw Englehart say somewhere
that the Surfer and Vision fight each other first because they're the most logical and reasonable characters; so when they misinterpret each other's motives, it's both ironic and more convincing to the others than if, say, hotheaded Hawkeye or Namor had done so.

And while Wanda doesn't do much here, it's because Englehart's saving her for later.

Redartz said...

Avengers/Defenders is one of my all time favorites! And overall I thought the pairings pretty effective. Dr. Strange vs. Panther and Mantis seemed to involve all the characters least inclined to battle. Note Doc's attempt to slip away.

Loads of memorable cover art in this arc. Much by Romita; always a plus...

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