Monday, November 17, 2014

Arc of Triumph? Defenders 22-25

Doug: My Defenders buying was hit/miss around these issues. I was definitely consistent by the time the Guardians of the Galaxy arc hit a few issues later. My main memories of the Sons of the Serpent come from reading the Marvel Triple Action reprints of the Avengers in the Kooky Quartet (plus Goliath and the Wasp) era. But what of these four issues? Who has recollection?


Edo Bosnar said...

I remember these, because I first read them in 1980 or so, when I borrowed a whole pile of Defenders issues from an older fan.
I really liked this story - this was pretty much when Gerber hit his groove with the Defenders. And while he was spinning a good superhero yarn, he also tackled some relevant social issues like urban poverty and racism without getting preachy.
And of course, there's the also the shock ending as well, wherein Kyle Richmond learns - *spoiler alert* - that his own fortune was being used to fund the Sons of the Serpent. Heady stuff.

dbutler16 said...

This is before my time in terms of having read it when it first came out, but I read Essential Defenders volumes 1 & 2 a year or so ago, and while my memory stinks, I do have a vague recollection of enjoying this arc (Edo's spoiler helped me recall a bit more), before Gerber's stuff started getting too strange. The Sons of the Serpent are always good bad guys!

Anonymous said...

I read all these in Marvel UK's 'Rampage' weekly in early 1978 and the scene I really remember is where a poverty-stricken mother says she can only afford to eat dog food - I was really shocked at such a thing happening in America, the richest country in the world. And why isn't Valkyrie in one of the corner circles - she'd been in the team longer that Nighthawk, that just looks like sexism !!

Humanbelly said...

What a solidly fine arc, yes. I believe I started buying this title off the rack w/ issue #20 or 21 after acquiring the previous 8 or so issues from my buddy's brothers' discard pile. They definitely became "my" group.
IIRC we had a nice coupling of Klaus Janson inks over Sal Buscema pencils for at least some if it. This was an inspired artistic team-up that flew smack under the radar of the fan populace in general. It achieved just the right balance of super-hero visuals w/ the noir tone of the story itself. And Gerber was quite apt in conveying the sense of futility our heroes experienced (particularly Kyle and Val) in the face of something as simple, and yet overwhelming, as large-scale urban poverty.
The one drawback with portrayals of the Sons of the Serpent is that they inevitably start to get "comic-book-ized"- becoming more like Hydra or Aim or the Living Lightning- and tend to lose their resemblance to the ignorant, isolated, brutal, thuggish Klan upon which they were originally based. I suppose, though, that presenting them as that sort of elevated threat is what makes them a proportionate adversary for super-folks.

The one criticism that has always nagged at me is that the covers are rather weak. Mostly too busy, and with just a feeling of "sameness" to them, y'know? I remember having to double check at the time to make sure I wasn't buying the same issue twice.


david_b said...

Interestingly enough, issue 23 was my only Defenders issue for many many years (other than ish 9 during the '73 summer clash). I remember picking it up and really liking that 'new guy' named Yellowjacket, wonderful splashpage entrance, and loved the laser pistol idea.

During my initial Avengers collecting stint, Hank and Jan were never mentioned (ish 103-129..), and my MTA collecting was conveniently done just before Hank had returned as Goliath, as prices went up to {gasp} 25 cents.

So effectively.., I had missed Hank's initial avenging completely.

I really thought, as a 'sideline gig', that YJ would have made a nice, comfortable Defender. In action here, with Gerber's writing and Sal's stallwart-awesome pencils, it was a spectacular issue. I'd like to ponder that Hank could have been one Bullpen meeting away from becoming what Kyle was essentially created for, the title's staple-superhero. Hank wasn't doing anything else during that time, and Jan's money easily could have filled the bill. Again, interesting to ponder.

Loved the Serpent written diatribe ala Gerber in ish 23.., it really kept the tension up.

I finally filled the holes of my Defenders collection (just 1-30) with Masterworks and floppies, and I still maintain this was the best Defenders era, to me anyways. The only shortcoming I felt was the throw-in of SoS, DD and Luke Cage.., it seemed a tad gratuitous to have all them thrown in for 2 issues, then leave again.

All in all, splendidly solid art, great scripting by both Steve's. Certainly a historical highpoint, and this Serpent story-arc was primo.

Doug said...

Boy, HB, you hit the nail on the head in regard to the similarity of these covers.

I think it's interesting in team books to see which character dominates the covers. In the aforementioned Avengers, after Hank rejoined as Goliath, he is front and center on every cover moving forward (with only one or two exceptions). Of course the Hulk is featured here.

I think I have the Essentials that includes this arc. I'll put it on my to-do list.

Interesting note relating back to a discussion of several days ago. Yesterday I was doing something I hate to do on a Sunday, and that's schoolwork. School has been extremely stressful this year, and I was actually not feeling too well physically in the midst of it all. I thought to myself that I should take a break and do something relaxing (which, by the way, would not have included watching the Chicago Bears). But as I looked over to the end table and spied that copy of the Nomad tpb, my stress level went up even higher! That's right -- I'm into the second half of the book, past the Sal Buscema art...

I did eventually get myself settled down and was able to enjoy the rest of the day.


Humanbelly said...

Well, and Chicago did win, after all. . .
(But okay, yes, that's still far from a stress-free scenario--)


Humanbelly said...

Boy, and Colin you are surely correct about the sexism accusation! Not only was Val's tenure certainly longer at that point (she joined in issue #4, Kyle came aboard around #16 or so), I'm pretty sure she was also more powerfully "super" than he-- by a long shot (even in her borrowed Barbara Norris body). Also, on the one cover where she's prominently featured. . . what is she doing? Yes, saving children-- because that of course was the female-character thing to do. Pay no attention to the fact that she is specifically a WARRIOR character-- and not an inherently nurturing one at that. If anything, Doc Strange should be the child-rescuer of the group-- heck, even the Hulk has a pretty long history of that sort of thing.

My guess is that this reinforces the problem with the covers-- they're all by Gil Kane, right? And he was probably churning them out quickly, w/out any insight at all about character or context-- which is why they come off as so by-the-numbers. Is it possible that he never read the issues or outlines at all, you think?


david_b said...

If it's of any merit, I didn't like these Kane covers either.

As mentioned, they're just a tad too busy and Bronze Age Kane covers are rather hit/miss for me to begin with.

Humanbelly said...

Hunh- I somehow neglected to even include the cover to #25 in my thinking, w/ Val as the damsel in distress on . . . an inverted cross!!

It always surprised me that they could put that image on a PG-rated comic book. Those of us who were around for the whole Exorcist/occult craze a few years earlier could immediately recognize it as a seriously offensive image to a lot of mainstream Christianity-- pretty much edging right up to desecration or sacrilege.

And poor Val, of course, is technically a pre-Christian being herself. Bummer of a predicament, eh?


Karen said...

I recall enjoying this period of Defenders. But those are pretty generic covers. Of course, Hulk was prominently displayed. I had nearly forgotten that Luke Cage had hung out with the team -did he become an official member of the non-team?

After doing some reviews of Gerber's work in the last couple of years, I've realized that while I can appreciate his talent, and I've enjoyed some of it, a lot of it just goes too far in a rather negative outlook on life in general. Some of his stuff is downright depressing!

But this is pretty rousing fare. The twist ending could be considered objectionable by some. It does seem rather unbelievable.

Anonymous said...

Boy, Gil Kane sure was a busy guy during this period churning out all those covers!

- Mike 'Michael Jai White for Luke Cage' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Anonymous said...

I actually actually have these issues and I have access to the boxes they're in. So I did the old fashioned thing and went and read them. Didn't quite take me all day, there was that whole sleep thing in between. I read two before and the two after.

As stated, the story was pretty straight forward. Gerber's slant seemed to be rather than a one party using hate to unity and focus society on or from their problems, The Sons of the Serpent were being used to use hate to increase the profits of the wealthy. As we have learned, no one makes a profit during peace time.

One other point before I wrap this up. The Sons of the Serpent's motto alludes to the original serpent driving Adam and Eve out of the Garden. Uh, that wasn't the serpent. God drove them out. To me, it would be as though you had a group that was The Bricks Of The Wall, just as the original wall brought down Humpty Dumpty, so will the Bricks of the Wall bring down this decrepit society until no amount of men and horses can restore it.
The wall was there, but was that really what it did in the story?

I'll make a part two in case the internet cuts me off again....

The Prowler (Sit beside a mountain stream, see her waters rise listen to the pretty sound of music as she flies
Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo Doo doo doo).

Anonymous said...

What!?! More from this guy? I can't believe it!!!!!

Anyhoo, now for the peripherals. Some letters that I thought stood out. There were some, or one, who thought Sal's art had become stale and formulaic. Called for a change in artist. There were those who were interested in a black female super hero to the team. Didn't like Nighthawk, just a costume. Didnt' like Val, why did she have a sword if she just waved it around and never cut anybody. Perhaps she should have a different weapon. One writer suggested that since it was a non-team, then every character in the Marvel Universe was a Defender or potential Defender.

The intro box still had Namor as a member.

The Bullpen informed us that for every completed Marvel Value Stamp box, one would receive a perpetual 10% off coupon for subscriptions!!! Go to it Doug. You could also learn a trade at home from LaSalle Institute. Finish your education at home. And there were catalogs where one could buy just about anything. Good thing we have progressed so far in the what, 40 years since then. Imagine, buying things from home!?! Those crazy kids.

The Prowler (Wait 'til you're announced we've not yet lost all our graces the hounds will stay in chains look upon Your Greatness and she'll send the call out).

Doug said...

After my treadmilling I got my copy of Essential Defenders, volume 2 off the shelf. In betwixt (when is it not a good day when you can use the word "betwixt"?) a slew of Amazing Spider-Man auctions ending tonight I've managed to read the first issue in today's arc. I do recall reading it before, most likely when I was a waif. Gerber seems to make his point about poverty, inequalities in housing, urban blight, etc. However, I'd suggest that his in-your-face approach is more to my liking than Denny O'Neil's severely heavy-handed treatment of the same material during his "Hard Traveling Heroes" run on the Green Lantern/Green Arrow strip.


Doug said...

Prowler --

"Why is this man smiling?"

Well it ain't because his 10-year old self cut up his funny books!!


Anonymous said...

HB, a point I forgot earlier, Val was hanging upside down not as an occult or demonic sign but to signify her treachery/betrayal of her white heritage. Just as Peter chose to be crucified upside down to symbolize his betrayal of The Christ so was Val hung upside down.

And the addition of women into the Sons of the Serpents. Was this a subtle dig at ERA or a silent approval?

The Prowler (I live my life like there's no tomorrow, all I got I've had to steal).

pfgavigan said...


These issues are precisely the point when I began to really appreciate the scope of Gerbers' writing ability. Yes, I enjoyed Man-Thing, but barely noticed his Submariner and his run on Daredevil was not an essential read to me.

The Defenders was a book that never really jelled to me until this point. The characters just seemed to be there with no unifying purpose. With Gerber I had the sense that they were turning to each other for help against adversaries who they might not be able to overcome. That they were turning to the people that they trusted to help them in times of trouble.

I got a sense that this was a book about a rather odd assortment of friends.

As I understand it, Gil Kane loved being the primary cover artist for Marvel around this time. He got paid a slightly higher rate per cover and he didn't have to plot out a story or struggle with a bunch of manky panels.


Edo Bosnar said...

Karen, since the Defenders themselves were, as you noted, a non-team, what would becoming an "official" member entail?
But yes, Luke Cage did spend a lot of time with them during Gerber's run - as did the Red Guardian a little later. I really liked the friendship she and Luke formed, they had some really interesting conversations.

And man, all this Kane dissing. I like the covers just fine...

Fred W. Hill said...

I loved this storyline -- heck, I loved Gerber's entire run on the Defenders. Alas, as a kid I missed the final chapter and next thing I knew, Stephen, Val, Hulk & Kyle were dealing with the time-warped original Guardians of the Galaxy. Plugged in those holes years later (both issue 25 and the Giant-Size ish in which the GotG story began).
This was the first time I'd encountered the Sons of the Serpent -- the reprint of their first tussle with the Avengers would come out a bit later. Well, of course, they got their theology twisted, but that's pretty much par the course (at least I'd guess that how Stan, who came up with them back in 1966, or Gerber might have described how they came up with their moniker).
I enjoyed Steve Englehart's and even Len Wein's runs on this title, but for me it was really Gerber who really brought the Defenders to life as a unique title. After Gerber, aside from the Scorpio storyline, IMO it mostly floundered and I only continued collecting it more out of habit than out of genuine enjoyment.

Doug said...

Hey, gang --

Tonight I finished reading this arc. The first issue (#22) was the only one I had memories of -- I am pretty certain that I owned it at one time. The others -- nope.

What a great story! Gerber did a great job building the suspense over the course of the arc, and Sal's art was of course top-shelf. I really liked the inclusion of Yellowjacket, and the scene with the Hulk following his lead was good.

I did find the frankness of the racism a bit too realistic, but I fully understand what Gerber was going for. That it had some shock value was perhaps a necessary by-product of the plot. But there were some lines throughout the story that were really raw.

And you know what no one mentioned above? This was the debut of the Elf With a Gun!


Robert L. said...

The Defenders for me was a very depressing book. I enjoyed the first team with Namor, Hulk, Silver Surfer and Dr. Strange.

After Gerber took over, the social commentary, especially the scene where Valkyrie saves that poor child from that rat really jarred my 13 year old mind. It really upset me to the point I didn't think this belonged in the pages of a comic book.

The Elf with a gun was never explained and just pointless. I am sure some future writer is going to run with that and create the Elf with a Gun Saga some day in this decade.

Gerber's storytelling style was throw anything on the wall and see what sticks just turned me to more optimistic material. I knew the Defenders were not going to solve the poverty problem and it was just false to me.

I think Gerber's best social commentary was in the pages of Howard the Duck. He was always for the underdog and fought the good fight.

But I digress...more on the Defenders:

The Defenders Bozo story line was another commentary about politicians and cults that went nowhere.

However, even in my young mind it was a misplaced message. The team never solved anything and it just became an absurd parody of the super hero genre.

There were no morals or lessons to be learned other than life with the Defenders was non-stop depressing, pointless and painful.

The editors should have stayed with the tone of the earlier issues where they save the world from powerful evil forces that would give the Avengers or X Men a bad day.

Once they went down the path of the bizarre, I very quickly stopped buying this book. It wasn't fun to read anymore.

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