Defenders #10, November 1973
Writer: Steve Englehart
Artist: Sal Buscema
Inker: Frank Bolle
Avengers #118, December 1973
Writer: Steve Englehart
Artist: Bob Brown
Inkers: Mike Esposito and Frank Giacoia
Karen: This is it, the conclusion to our review of that early cross-over classic, the Avengers-Defenders War. After five pitched one-on-one (or nearly so) battles between our two teams, the two biggest cannons for each group finally go toe to toe. We’re talking, of course, about the throw-down between the Mighty Thor and the Incredible Hulk!
Doug: Yep, this was the biggie; while the other match-ups might have had some interest, there was a sense that some of them were forced. This was the most natural conflict of all.
Karen: These two had a history going back to the very beginnings of the Marvel Age. Although they had faced off in the past, neither had truly been the winner in any contest –although they both believed themselves greater than the other! But as arguably Marvel’s most powerful heroes in the early days, it was natural for fans to want to know, “Who was stronger?”
Doug: I have a reprint of Journey Into Mystery #112, their first knock-down drag-out. Do you recall that the battle itself actually happened during Avengers #3, but off-camera? At least that’s how Stan presented it in that JIM.
Karen: Yes, it’s kind of odd but that’s how Stan did it! Talk about getting two for the price of one!
Karen: In Defenders #10, both the Hulk and Thor arrive in Los Angeles, seeking the final piece of the Evil Eye. Hulk finds it a split second before Thor, and Thor tries to appeal to the man-brute on the basis of their being founding Avengers. Hulk’s response is quick and to the point: “Yes…Hulk was an Avenger once…didn’t like it!” And with that he starts our show with a haymaker that sends the thunder god flying!
Karen: The battle between these two is your typical super-hero dust-up, and although it’s done competently, I have to say that, then and now, I find it disappointing. With these two powerhouses, there is so much potential for a real battle of epic proportions, but what we get is some punches thrown, and then – the two grapple each other for an hour, until their team-mates show up. By grapple, I mean they hold each other’s wrists and stand face to face, grimacing. It’s not bad artwork but it’s just uninspiring. I would have loved to see something along the lines of the battle between Superman and the Kryptonian criminals in the movie Superman 2 – but perhaps Marvel didn’t want to show two heroes destroying L.A. like that! In any case, I found the battle a let-down. And just as an aside: back in the day, I missed this book when it hit the newsstands. Months later I made a schoolyard trade to get a beaten up copy of Defenders 10, assuming it would be mind-blowing. As you can tell, the disappointment has lasted some 30 years!
Doug: Many have argued that for a long time, Superman II was the best superhero movie ever made. I agree with you here – while there are some good early panels in this brawl (how about Hulk whirling Thor by his cape, screwing him into the ground?), it does devolve into the “hand-holding” ending. But you know, if you think about it, what better way was there to show that these two were so evenly matched in strength?
Karen: I know they don’t want to spoil the question of who’s stronger, but boy, that just seemed so unsatisfying to me! Logically however, I can see your point.
Karen: The two teams meet and realize that they have been manipulated by both Dormammu and Loki. There’s a nice full page shot of the two teams just standing around talking. As the heroes try to patch things up, Englehart again demonstrates his talent for finding the right ‘voice’ for each character. By their dialogue alone, you can pretty much tell the characters apart.
Doug: Yes, patch things up – for the most part, these little meetings occur between the groups that not so long ago had been combatants.
Karen: The heroes realize they’ve left both Hulk and Thor alone in L.A. and Dr. Strange teleports them all there. With all the pieces of the powerful Evil Eye in one place, Dormammu makes his move and sends a mystical creature to collect them. The teams are caught off guard and the artifact is instantly transported to Dormammu, who begins altering the fabric of reality, merging his dimension with ours. People begin transforming into monsters, buildings melt and change, and the Dark Lord informs them that in one hour, all the people of Earth will be his slaves.
Karen: The action picks up in Avengers #118, as the two teams try to defend themselves from the transformed citizenry, without actually harming them. But they quickly realize they must take the battle to Dormammu, and so leave the Earth to be protected by her other champions. This issue is insane –Englehart literally throws the kitchen sink at the reader, as the list of guest appearances seems to cover the whole Marvel universe at that time! Making appearances, however brief, in this story are: SHIELD, the Watcher, the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the Inhumans, Luke Cage, Ka-Zar, Ghost Rider, Man-Thing(!), Dr. Doom, Dracula, Warlock, and even Thanos! Poor Bob Brown! This issue must have been quite the ordeal for him – on the credits, a balloon appears which says “Heart-felt thanks to blown-away Bob Brown, for knocking himself out on the artwork this ish! Very well done, Bob!” Despite this, I felt the art looked rather rough; certainly not as clean and smooth as the work over in the Defenders.
Doug: Brown does a wonderfully frenetic job in the first several pages of showing the chaos that had ensued. It’s also a great time for Englehart to again display his knack for nailing each character’s voice/mannerisms. We’ve remarked on this time-and-time again when covering Englehart-scribed stories – almost like it’s some sort of novelty. Again, I guess in today’s market (specifically Avengers market), it is.
Doug: However, the one voice that through this entire story I could not “hear” was Loki. In spite of the injury to his eyes, I could not see this god being so used to being above every person, every situation, grovel as he did before Dormammu.
Karen: After a harrowing journey through Dormammu’s dark dimension, the heroes confront him. However, Dormammu uses the Eye to render the Defenders unconscious, leaving the Avengers to face him. Now I know that the Avengers have to look good in their own book, but I was really disappointed that Englehart just casually disables the Defenders for the rest of the story!
Doug: No doubt, Karen. Englehart really takes this ending down to a “Secret Wars”-type of level, focusing on all of Marveldom. I say “down to”, as I am not a fan of the company-wide crossover.
Karen: Although Mantis would undeniably become Englhart’s focus in later issues, he does show a strong interest in the Scarlet Witch during his run. Here, Wanda’s hex power turns the tide, by having the Evil Eye absorb Dormammu’s sorcerous life-energy – and simultaneously driving Loki mad. The Defenders wake up and take the Eye and all is right with the world.
Doug: Wanda was certainly in flux during Englehart’s run, and I’d argue that there were changes that were certainly not for the better. In seeing how she single-handedly decides this conflict, I’m reminded of a device Chris Claremont used at least twice in X-Men – channeling all of the energy-mutants’ powers together and through one outlet (Storm, Cyclops, Polaris, Phoenix, for example) and at the unfortunate foe or situation. I don’t ever think of Wanda as having that kind of power.
Karen: All in all, this is a very enjoyable read. If you’re a super-team geek like both Doug and I are, it’s hard to find fault with a story that’s stuffed full of heroes! I do feel the conclusion was a bit weak, but the individual battles make up for that. It’s funny how the approach of this saga actually mirrors the method DC would use for so many of its team stories, with the heroes breaking off into pairs or small groups to face threats. I wonder if that was intentional, or if it’s just a case of small groups being much more manageable for the writer and artist? But wouldn’t it have been something to see the entire rosters of both teams go at each other all on the same battlefield? Wow!
Doug: As Karen said earlier could have been so much better had Big John been penciling the Avengers at the same time Brother Sal was on the Defenders. Bob Brown’s art was particularly scratchy in the final episode – maybe it was Giacoia’s inks? Mastermind Steve Englehart carries it through, tying both books together rather seamlessly – Englehart brags on his website that this was not only the first “mini-series”, but the first bi-weekly comic as well. At any rate, I would agree with Karen that it is a fun read whether in comic book or trade paperback form. We’d highly encourage any of our faithful readers who are interested to seek out this story!