Monday, August 13, 2012

Melt With You: Defenders 14

Defenders #14 (July 1974)
"And Who Shall
Inherit the Earth?"
Len Wein
Artists: Sal Buscema/Dan Green

Doug: Welcome back to the conclusion of our Defenders/Squadron Sinister 2-parter. You can refresh your memory of Defenders #13 by clicking here. When we left our heroes, th
e non-team had been encased in a transparent globe. The alien Nebulon had come to the rescue of his allies, the Squadron Sinister, who had been dispatched by the Defenders. We pick it up here.

Doug: Nebulon wants to off the good guys, but strangely Hyperion talks him out of it. Doc Spectrum and the Whizzer think he's crazy, but Hyperion insists that the Defenders must live long enough to know why they are going to be killed. We then get a look into the muscled one's
backstory. He was from a subatomic world which was destroyed. Sent adrift across the cosmos, he was captured and enlarged by the Grandmaster to be a pawn against the Avengers. Fighting the mighty Thor, Hyperion was defeated when Thor used Mjolnir to imprison the Grandmaster's champion. However, the process reverted the growth process and Hyperion was shrunk back down. Again adrift in space, he floated along until encountering the ship of Nebulon. Nebulon sent a "grapple-beam" to haul in the globe imprisoning Hyperion. Once inside Nebulon destroyed the globe, and Hyperion reverted once again to his full human size. They then had a conversation.
Karen: Boy, Hyperion is a real cold-blooded killer, isn't he? Not only does he want all of Earth to die, he wants to make the Defenders suffer by seeing it all happen! I also like the backstory and the fact that once again, Thor's hammer can do just about anything. Shrink a guy and encase him in a snow globe? No problem!

Doug: Yeah, Hyperion's a real doozy; that is, until you get to the Whizzer. Nebulon described himself as an intergalactic prospector, searching for materials that would ensure his world's continued existence. Having thus far failed in comparison to his co-workers, he was interested when Hyperion offered to sell him a world that would suit his needs -- Earth. The Defenders protest loudly, as does Nighthawk; Hyperion scoffs and explains that he does not care. Nebulon, he argues, is powerful enough to transport the Squadron to other-dimensional worlds untold. And here is where I somewhat cryptically questioned Nebulon's goals in last week's post. Now that we know he needs certain mineral resources to export to his own planet, it seems strange that flooding the Earth would be the solution to that issue. It just seemed like a lot of work, and I additionally wondered why Nighthawk was needed to create the big laser-deal. If Nebulon can create these impenetrable globes, transport people across dimensions, and travel inter-stellarly, then what the heck did the Squadron "need" Nighthawk for? Because it sets up his redemption and transformation, I suppose...

Karen: Realistically, once Hyperion showed Nebulon the location of Earth, I wouldn't think the alien would need any of the Squadron. He could have cast Hyperion back in his globe and just destroyed the icecaps himself. But yes, then we wouldn't wind up with Nighthawk's change of heart.

Doug: As Nighthawk pops off to Hyperion, Nebulon takes matters into his own hands and transfers Nighthawk to the Defenders' spherical prison. The Whizzer, who comes across as a total wingnut, moves forward and demands the heroes' blood. He's rebuffed again by Hyperion and when he says that one more word, he gets "Buscema-blasted". Nebulon then sends the prison sphere into the atmosphere at Hyperion's request for suffering. Once aloft and rising, the Defenders struggle to break out. Spells, punches, Dragonfang strikes -- none of it works. It's Nighthawk who suggests that all power be concentrated in one spot, and lo and behold -- it works! But, once free our heroes notice that it's a long way down! Dr. Strange envelopes everyone in an aura of his making that preserves their oxygen supply (is there nothing the good Doc cannot do?), and the team gets back on terra firma.

Karen: "Buscema-blasted" - nice! The Whizzer is definitely a loon, and Hyperion's back-hand is properly dismissive. The whole "let's hit it together" idea was one you used to see a lot of in comics, but perhaps not so much any more. I noticed that Sal's outer space backgrounds look like his big brother's, with all the little crescent moons floating around. It doesn't make much sense but I always bought it!
Doug: Once down, the primary goal is the destruction of the laser cannon. The Defenders attack, but Nebulon creates an icy giant (looking an awful lot like Ymir). He creates two pages of havoc for the Defenders, who attack singly (will these hero-types never learn?). Valkyrie discovers that hacking off a limb does no good, as it just grows back. Finally, the Hulk picks up the giant and hurls it right into the path of the cannon. End of giant. Nebulon realizes that he's taken the Defenders far too lightly, so decides he must face them alone. Hyperion protests, but is rebuked. Nebulon metes out some punishment to each Defender, but once the Doc gets hold of him... Nebulon's knocked off-balance, then down, and says he's starting to lose his concentration. Wait, what? Ah, all is not what it seems...

Karen: It's ironic, after their escape from the bubble, which required team work, that these heroes all go back to fighting solo. I guess some people never learn! Then again, Dr. Strange isn't exactly leading them. I mean, Cap would've been telling them where to strike and when and that giant would have been done in minutes. But in any case Hulk does eventually get the job done. And what was Nighthawk thinking? Hulk and Sub-Mariner both crash into the thing and get swatted away, so he, powerless, tries the same tactic? Doc does redeem himself a bit when the team goes after Nebulon himself, but being the Defenders , they don't really listen to him!

Doug: Last week I commented that Nebulon was a "good-looking super-villain" -- by that I meant he had that David Lee Roth thing going with the hair, the Doc Savage skin, and the Cockrum-era Star Boy costume. What says "1974" like that? Well, all is not what it apparently seemed. Suddenly Nebulon morphs into the nastiest worm/octupus-looking thing -- he's just flat-out U-G-L-Y!! Calling himself the "Celestial Man", he's drooling like Jabba the Hut. However, he does clear up my mystery-of-motive (see above): In this form, we learn that Nebulon is from an aquatic people, hence the need to flood the Earth before he could make use of it. Ah -- good work then, Len Wein! Nighthawk surveys the situation and quickly determines that there is no way the Defenders can defeat the combined might of this new Nebulon and the Squadron. Feeling that Nebulon is the greater threat, Nighthawk ascends the laser cannon and unleashes it on Nebulon. The power is too great for him to absorb and he succumbs -- in a big way. The Squadron turns tail to collectively run, but as they do Nebulon implodes, apparently killing them with him. Nighthawk is hurt in the blast, and lies near death.

Karen: Nebulon in his true form reminded me of every H.P. Lovecraft story I've ever read. That was fairly trippy stuff coming from Sal. I was happy to discover that the plot to flood the Earth did actually make sense and was not Len Wein having a brain fart. Despite seeming ineffectual earlier in the story, Nighthawk shows his value here by swiftly deciding to use the laser cannon against Nebulon. Although he is gravely injured, the blast did destroy his costume, so that has to be counted as a small victory.

Doug: But why would anyone lie near death when Dr. Strange is around? In one of the "we've got to use all of our life-energies" scenes, Strange draws the Defenders near him, and requests that each person will part of their life force to him. He, in turn, channels this energy into Nighthawk. Nighthawk quite suddenly awakens, and after shaking off the cobwebs offers to join the Defenders (as you said, we are the beneficiaries that Strange chose not to revive the costume!). Strange explains that it's not like that, but is interrupted by the always-diplomatic Namor. Subby says "let him join" because he's out, and when he returns, yada yada yada. So as Namor flies off in a huff, Hulk, Val, and Strange welcome Nighthawk into the fold. Question -- does he become the first permanent member of the non-team?

Karen: The life force stuff, another comics cliche. But I didn't mind it, not really. But wasn't it silly at this point for Dr. Strange to keep protesting that the Defenders were not a team? Come on! Namor's rant is just so typical of him and another reason why he al ways straddles that hero/villain line. He just doesn't play well with others. But Nighthawk, despite his lack of power, will become a vital addition to the team. As for your question, I'd say Valkyrie probably gets my vote as the first permanent member of the Defenders. She was around from issue 4 and put up with all of their crap and hung in there for years!

Doug: This was a quality story from start to finish. Good plot, interesting and challenging villains, a new hero joins the team, and superb Bronze Age art. I really liked reading this, for me the first time ever. These early issues of the Defenders are a lot of fun, with an out- of-the-ordinary cast and offbeat baddies, to be certain. Fun, fun!

Karen: Agreed, these two issues were the best reviews we've gotten to do in a while. My only wish is that Klaus Janson had inked this issue too; it didn't
have the flair of the previous issue. But still, a great Bronze Age read.

Rest In Peace, Joe Kubert.  Thanks for the memories.


Anonymous said...

When I was growing up, I knew who Joe Kubert was before Jack Kirby. That's because one of the first comic books I read on a regular basis was DC's adaptation of Tarzan. I don't think I missed many issues, which was unusual back then for me as a nine or ten year old kid with limited access and funds.

From that point, I found out that he had been drawing for years and years and I started seeing his old stories of Hawkman, Viking Prince, the Golden Age stuff.....I have even picked up some of his more recent work (FAX from Sarajevo), and I have continued to keep up with him via blogs such as this one. His work continued to be incredible, even at an advanced age. I just thought he would go on forever.

He had one of the most distinctive styles as well. You can spot his artwork from a mile away. We will really miss him.


Garett said...

Love Kubert's Tarzan and Yossel. This is sad news, although he certainly lived a long and productive life. I was looking forward to more of his work, as he was right on top of his game. Thanks for the great comics, Joe.

Anonymous said...

RIP Joe Kubert. The master is gone. That's all I have to say.

- Mike from Trinidad & Tobago.

david_b said...

I admire all the great work Mr. Kubert did for SO MANY years, not a fan of him myself, but he certainly was an industry legend.

Back to Defenders 14, one of my favorite Bronze issues..

Great cover, nice classic Wein 2-part story, simple, fun, elegant, great use of our dynamic team of personalities, with an important historical layer of adding Nighthawk to what will become a long-lasting anchor membership and standout Bronze character.

The ONLY change I could think of would have been to add a final-page epilogue of somehow seeing his new outfit, like the new Falcon or Nomad outfits in the pages of CA&F.

That would have been sweet icing on the cake.

Chris said...

There's so much love for Defenders on this site you guys have persuaded me to give them another try.

I always thought they were too quirky as a kid. I preferred the traditional teams of the FF and Avengers.

However, I've been picking up back issues to give the series a good go. I might pick up the Masterworks which includes these two issues as Defenders No. 10 is a little too pricey so the Masterworks makes good sense.

Redartz said...

Saddened to hear about Joe Kubert, but grateful for all the years of fine artwork he produced. He was a true master at graphic storytelling; his line quality energetic and alive...

As for the Defenders, this story is a sentimental favorite. It was the first Defenders story I read; buying it due to the dramatic cover to issue 14(still a sucker for black covers). This was a good example of the quirkiness found in the Defenders; a trait drastically magnified with the Gerber issues. Len and Sal give us a good ride here; as Karen noted, Klaus Janson's inks would have been nice.

Fred W. Hill said...

In my early years as a collector, I regarded the FF & Avengers, along with Spider-Man, as my 3 favorite comics, but I also had definite soft spot for the Defenders and I liked their quirkiness, that despite a rough similarity to the Avengers, they were unique. The Hulk didn't fit in with the formality and by-laws of the Avengers, but he somehow worked with the loose framework of the Defenders (geez, can you imagine the Hulk on monitor duty in Avengers mansion, even during his somewhat more intelligent early years???). Of course, this was a transitional story -- Subby's last appearance for several years and Nighthawk's induction as part of the quartet that would be the core for nearly three years, until Doc's departure.
Not a particularly great story, but still a fun romp.
I hadn't read many issues with Joe Kubert's art, but I still appreciate his very fine artistry. Certainly, his depiction of Hawkman looked majestic.

Greg said...

Ah, the Defenders. I always enjoyed picking up an issue of this comic from the racks, you never knew what you would get! As others have said, the quirkiness was key here- and fun too. I was reading a little later in the series so I'm not super familiar with these older issues- I may have to rectify that. I do remember Nebulon showing back up in an Avengers annual w/ The Defenders as guest stars- if I remember right.

This was really a great recap too- lot of fun to see your thoughts on what looks like a Bronze Age classic. Well done (I know this is an older post but I'm playing catch up a bit!).

"Buscema- blast". Love it, so true...

Doug said...

No worries about this being an older post, Greg! With the "Recent Comments" feature on our sidebar, someone may see this and revive the conversation!

Thanks for coming aboard our cast of regular commenters, and thanks for doing some spelunking through our history. Karen and I appreciate it!


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