Monday, August 6, 2012

Non-Team vs. Faux-Team: Defenders 13

Defenders #13 (May 1974)
"For Sale: One Planet --Slightly Used!"
Writer: Len Wein
Artist: Sal Buscema
Inker: Klaus Janson

Karen: Yup, we're actually doing a Defenders review. And not just one -we'll follow up with the conclusion of this tale next week. Looking back at this title, one realizes just how good it really was. Starting out with Steve Englehart at the helm, switching to Len Wein with issue 12, but with the fabulous Sal Buscema the whole way, providing a very solid look to the non-team. I have to say, I love Klaus Janson's inks on Sal. They give true weight and depth to the art. Sal Buscema's Hulk is the one I recall fondly from childhood, not Herb Trimpe's, and it's mostly because of the Defenders. I just wish Sal had done the cover. The Kane cover is OK but I'd like to see what Sal would have done.

Doug: As long as you raised the issue of Klaus Janson's inks, I've always felt that his embellishing provides a grown-up look to the pencil art. His feathery line is not unlike the work of some of the Filipino masters who would grace the pages of Savage Sword of Conan, for example. My source for this material is Essential Defenders, volume 1, so the B&W pages really lend themselves to a full appreciation of Janson's (and Sal's -- let's not leave him out!) work. I'd add that, for myself at least, while the absence of color can leave a somewhat "wanting" feeling when reading these Bronze Age tales, what is gained is a purity apart from the oft-muddy coloring techniques of that era. In an Essentials, one never has to worry about colors bleeding from page to page, or worse yet, being off-register.

Karen: I'll be scanning from the Masterworks, so the color may be a bit pumped up! This issue is notable for introducing a soon-to-be-Defender: Nighthawk. Created by Roy Thomas as a Batman-avatar for his JLA take-off, the Squadron Supreme (here it's Sinister), the character sported one of the funkiest get-ups ever, including a mask complete with a tiny little beak! Thankfully that would change in a matter of a few issues, and he'd get a very stylish dark blue outfit. The bodysuit is not too bad, except for the baby blue color, but that beak and the rust-brown cape are terrible. But we're going to have to persevere through this trainwreck of a costume for these two reviews.

Doug: Talk about standing out like a sore thumb! And I've always really enjoyed the rest of the Squadron's costumes. I particularly like the homage in color scheme of the Whizzer to his Golden Age forebear, and Dr. Spectrum's outfit always seemed very sleek and classy. Although Hyperion is the stand-in for the Man of Steel, his suit always evoked the Big Red Cheese in my mind. But all were solid creations, and I especially enjoyed when the roster expanded in Avengers #141, and again in Avengers #147.

Karen: I had never thought about that before, but you're right, Hyperion does look more like Captain Marvel than Superman. But with Lex Luthor's red hair! As f
ar as I know the Squadron Sinister only had these four members, unlike their alternate universe counter-parts. If I recall correctly, Whizzer joined the Thunderbolts and became Speed Demon, but was still a lunatic.

Karen: Our story starts with a quiet night at Dr.Strange's place. It's a little too quiet for Valkyrie and Hulk, who are bored to tears by Doc's lesson on shrunken heads. Just in time, the front door comes crashing in, and Nighthawk appears, saying he has business with them. Of course, Hulk automatically lunges for "Bird-Nose." Nighthawk nimbly leaps out of the way, only to have Valkyrie attack him. But Nighthawk manages to trip Val up too. He tries to tell them he needs to talk with them, but the two hot-heads are having none of it. Finally Doc intercedes and wraps Hulk in the unbreakable Crimson Bands of Cyttorak. Hulk finally calms down, as does Val. Then Nighthawk starts his tale.

Doug: Ah, yes, the ol' "I want to have a civil conversation with you so I 'm going to blow up the front of your house" routine. Sheesh -- talk about your comic book entrances! Question for the Hulkophiles out there: Can anyone inform me about the Hulk's status with Banner during this period? It seems to me that since the Hulk is just sitting in Strange's mansion, bored to tears, that his pulse rate would slow down and he'd revert back to his Banner form. Thoughts? And really, come to think of it, Banner was never really in any Defenders comics that I can recall -- seems like he was in full Hulk-mode all of the time. One last thought here -- the movie version of the Hulk that we witnessed earlier this summer would have caught Nighthawk and plucked him. Just sayin'.

Karen: Our mysterious bird-man received a letter that threatened to out his secret identity unless he went to an observatory at midnight. Flying there in his hawk-plane (really) he soon discovered who his blackmailers were: Hyperion, the Whizzer, and Dr. Spectrum -his former partners in the Squadron Sinister. All three of them were presumed missing or locked away. But they all got help, from the same source. And that 'help' suddenly appears in the room: a towering golden-skinned being who calls himself Nebulon, the Celestial Man. It turns out Nebulon is the one who freed the Squadron members and restored their powers. Nighthawk smells a rat and asks what's Nebulon's end of the bargain. A frantic looking Hyperion says that he sold him the world! At this point, Nighthawk has had it and starts to walk out on the group, wanting nothing to do with them. But Nebulon shoots a ray at him that paralyzes him. They say they need him back in the group, and Nebulon refuses to release him until he says he'll stay. Grudgingly, Nighthawk accedes. He asks the others, with all their super-powers, why they would need him. We don't hear the answer but by his shocked expression, and statement to the Defenders that it was the "most cold-blooded plan I'd ever heard" you know it's pretty terrible. Nighthawk's stunned look here is well-done, particularly with the coloring effects.

Doug: Nebulon's a good-looking, mysterious villain, and I liked the way his appearance and voice were described. I think so often we, in our own minds, try to "hear" how characters talk, sound, etc. It was certainly fine to get a little help with this guy -- I felt it enhanced his introduction. I have another question on Marvel history, and I guess I need to go back and read the Squadron's first appearances in the Avengers: when does the "alternate Earth" aspect of their history come into play? Certainly by the time we reach the #140's of the Avengers that's all there, but was it at this time? I find it missing here, unless I'm not being observant enough. I know Hyperion's from a sub-atomic world, but I also know that Dr. Spectrum was doing some facetime as an Iron Man baddie, too.

Karen: Well, between my memory and a little Google-based assistance, here's what I've put together: the Squadron Sinister appeared first in Avengers #69 (1969) and were created by the Grandmaster to serve as his champions against Kang's champions, the Avengers. The Squadron Supreme made their debut in Avengers #85 (1971). The Sinister guys were always on "regular" Marvel Earth, while the Supreme gang was always on an alternate Earth. But Marvel has had a distressing habit of confusing them on comic covers, like Avengers #141.

Doug: Well, I certainly appreciate that information -- and yes, it's indeed confusing. Offline, I even threw this out to Karen: The next appearance of the Squadron Sinister is in Giant-Size Defenders #5 (April 1975), which predates the already oft-mentioned tilt in Avengers #141 (November 1975). Further, come back next week to see what Hyperion says about alternate dimensions, et al. and how this adventure ends, and you may see why I am so confused!

Karen: But despite agreeing to the Squadron's plan, Nighthawk's conscience won't allow him to go through with it, which is why he's talking to the Defenders. You see, he'd tried going to the Avengers first -who wouldn't? - but that effort failed. It seems the Squadron, fearful of Earth's Mightiest Heroes, had arranged with Nebulon that they should become invisible and intangible whenever the Avengers were near. But even though Nighthawk couldn't speak with Captain America or Iron Man, he overheard them discussing their recent meeting with the Defenders, and so Nighthawk came to his second choice group! Although Val is still annoyed that Nighthawk blew down the front door, Doc is willing to hear him out, and wants to know what the Squadron's ultimate goal is. Nighthawk explains that his former allies, as part of their deal with Nebulon, plan to melt the ice caps and put the whole world underwater! They are building an incredibly powerful laser that will do the job. Doc wonders how the Squadron thinks they will survive, and Nighthawk answers that they are all so far gone that none of them seem to care. This struck me as being a bit chilling. Nighthawk asks if the Defenders will help him, and just as Dr. Strange says yes, Nighthawk cries out in pain. It seems the Squadron has found him. There's a sudden flash of light and he's gone.

Doug: Although Nighthawk is obviously a Batman stand-in, he has some similarities to one Simon Williams as well, doesn't he? I thought Wein's inclusion of the Avengers and the plot device that rendered them non-factors was a good detail to include. The Marvel Universe was a sweeping thing back then, wasn't it? Concerning the Squadron's plan, I thought it odd -- given Nebulon's big reveal that's coming later -- that this plan factore
d into the overall equation. It just didn't jibe in the big picture. More on that later. I thought this story was also interestingly dated by a) the population of the world only being 3 1/2 billion people and b) obviously global warming was not yet at the tip of anyone's tongue, as melting ice caps are almost a daily thought in our times.

Doug: Didn't you think Nighthawk went "kablooey"? I was surprised when he turned up a few pages hence, as Sal's pictures were showing me an unpleasant end for our feathered friend/fiend.

Karen: After seeing Nighthawk disappear, Doc is more determined than ever to stop the Squadron. Knowing they'll need all the power they can get, he astrally travels to Namor, the Sub-Mariner, and asks for help. But Namor is in one of his moods, and refuses to help "surface dwellers." Doc isn't taking no for an answer though, and he magically transports the raging sea-king to them. Namor is ready to tear Doc a new one, but Valkyrie intervenes and explains what's happening. Thankfully, the hot-headed Atlantean calms down and agrees to help. There's a nice bit here where Hulk says he's glad he doesn't have to smash "fish-man" and remarks on his "funny clothes." This was right after Namor got his fancy blue-black suit.

Doug: Namor is the longest scratched record in comic book history, running on 75 years now, huh? I enjoyed that Doc Strange basically said "shut up, you're coming" and yanked him off Hydrobase. Funny stuff -- a bit of comedy from the Doctor. In regard to this band of heroes, Dr. Strange had somewhat the same role as Cap did with the Kooky Quartet -- I mean, keeping the tempers of Namor, Val, and the Hulk in check had to be worse than Quicksilver and Hawkeye (shoot, he was a Defender too for a time!) on their most obnoxious days! Those personalities make team books a lot of fun.

Karen: Cyclops had to keep Wolverine (and briefly, Thunderbird) in line in the all-new, all-different X-Men. It's hard being the leader.

Doug: It was good to see Namor in his Reed-designed oxygen outfit (for lack of a better name for it) -- I know you prefer the green Speedos, but I'm all about practical. And a crown prince strutting his stuff in nothing but a mankini will always lose out in my mind.

Karen: I just always thought Namor looked like he was wearing some whacky black leather outfit. Besides, fewer clothes make sense underwater! Now at full strength, the team heads for the Arctic Circle. From high above, Namor is the first to spot their targets. Down on the ice below, the Squadron is making preparations before they fire off the gigantic laser. Nighthawk is there too -not dead, but imprisoned inside a huge sphere. Nighthawk swears he'll get out and stop them, but the Whizzer scoffs at him -until he sees the Defenders zoo
ming their way. Hulk comes down like a meteor straight for Hyperion, but the super-powerful alien punches him away. Hulk admits that "masked man is almost as strong as Hulk!" which was a pretty rare thing for the "strongest one of all" to say! The two briefly debate who is stronger, and then rush head on at each other, resulting in a panel showing silhouettes of pure raw energy. Very nice.

Doug: Sal Buscema has two "stock images" that he uses in almost every book he draws, but I never tire of them. One is the head-on clash of which you write; the other is the "holy crap, that backhand has really sent me reeling!" fly away shot. Love 'em, love 'em! Every time I read an issue of the Defenders, I always ask myself why I didn't read more Hulk books. I think part of it has to do with all of the funny nicknames he came up with, and how even in the midst of a rage he'd defer to Strange or Val.

Karen:I always seemed to enjoy Hulk in Defenders more than in his own title, too.
Karen: Dr. Strange avoids the energy constructs of Dr. Spectrum, while Sub-Mariner finds it very hard to hit a foe as fast as the Whizzer. Namor comments that even Quicksilver was not this fast -Pietro never got any respect! Subby flies off, prompting the Whizzer to chase him. The speedster goes flying though when Sub-Mariner pops out from a hiding place and
throws him, causing the Whizzer to complain that he's not fighting fair. While all this is going on, Valkyrie tries to cleave open the force sphere holding Nighthawk, but to little avail. But just as her fellow Defenders appear to be about to defeat each of their foes, a beam of violet light captures them all in another large force globe. Nebulon suddenly appears and tells his captives that he has no wish to harm them. Hulk of course responds that he will smash him, and Doc says they will protect their planets, so Nebulon quickly changes his tune: they've given him no choice but to destroy them!

Doug: A very nice cliff-hanger ending, and sets this up for a nice finish!

Karen: By Jiminy, this was just a rip-roaring good comic! The art is fantastic, it's a fast-paced, high-stakes story - can you tell I had a great time reading it? One of the things I loved about Defenders was getting to see Hulk in a team environment. He was the biggest loose cannon on a team of loose cannons! With him and Namor around, you never knew what would happen. It gave the Defenders a dynamic unlike any other group at that time. I can't wait to get to the next issue!


Anthony said...

The Hulk's transformations in his own comic were still controlled by his emotional state at this time. One could make the case that in addition to being bored, the Hulk is also somewhat annoyed at having to listen to " stupid magician " talking about shrunken heads. The most obvious reason for him not turning back is the Wein wanted the Hulk not Banner in the story. It saves a few panels of art not having him transform back into the Hulk when Nighthawk shows up. In fairness to Wein the Hulk is his own magazine didn't always changed back to Banner that quickly all the time. The reason sometimes cited is that his seemingly calm outward appearance belies some inner turmoil.
The Hulk in the Avengers movie seems to mirror early Defenders issues. That's why the third time was the charm for the Hulk. Whedon seemed to capture that vibe as well as being inspired by the Hulk Thor battle in Defenders 10.

david_b said...

I just reread this story last week, in my beloved Defenders MW, Volume 2..

Both Masterworks Vol 1&2 have become my FAVS thus far. Just looking at the development of this team unfold, from the weird, occultic birthpangs of having Doc Strange in charge, to the 'teamiest' non-team built up to take on our beloved A-team for Loki and Dormammu, and now this story. If you had to pick one of the funnest tales to introduce a new long-running character, this was it. I loved the Wrecking Crew and Serpent stories to follow, which I still have handy in my collection.

While I was **really** missing Hawkeye, Kyle was soon going to fill the hole pretty well in time. I still would have preferred this crafty yet 'down-on-his-luck' phase of Clint to the whiney, yet rich Kyle, but that's life in the Bronze, I suppose.

I've always had a hard time with the Squad Sinister (or supreme), both looks and backstory. I understand their DC-cloned baddies, but Hyperion's costume..? It's the lamest one I've ever seen, send to Whizzer here. At least Doc Spectrum has some genuinely cool threads, and seemed pretty scary in Ironman 63/64 (which I had as a kid..). They just seemed like a 2nd rate 'smucked-together' team of baddies, when both Masters of Evil and Zodiac were not available.

A fun frothy story from start to finish, I definitely liked the cover of ish 14 MUCH better. I know Kane did a few Defenders covers around this time, but I disappointed in 'em all. Sal was so much better, and could have really done memorable covers. The inks inside are PERFECT as well.

As for the Hulk's more relaxed demeanor, I recall Stephen typically had him in a spell to retain (yet subdue..) his anger. You saw him revert to Banner a handful of times in these pages when Stephen (or Hulk) was knocked out (like during the Serpent attack..).

Yes, with both Namor and Hulk in your team, you definitely had to 'have game', and Stephen was the perfect choice to lead.

Despite the so-so cover, this is one of the best early Defender stories.

david_b said...

Sorry, in my post, I meant to say Hyperion's costume is the lamest, even worse that Whizzer's here (almost as bad..).

Anonymous said...

I love this issue! When this came out, I had just taken the full-time plunge into reading comics... I think the prior ish was the first Defenders book I'd bought with the intent of collecting the series. Len was my favorite writer, Sal was (and still is!) my favorite artist, Klaus was my favorite inker, Hulk was my favorite hero, and the Defenders was my favorite team and book. Come to think of it, the soft spot I've always had for the Squadron Sinister/Supreme originated here as well. Nighthawk became my favorite Defender (without a title) because I was there at the begining of his time with the team.

Not sure why there's no love for this cover; it's one of my all-time favorites! The colors are fantastic! I'm not convinced Sal could have done it better!

Best part of this story is where Doctor Strange kidnapped Namor into the battle. This highlighted the non-team spirit of the book, and the loose-cannon nature of the personalities involved. It also dramatically set up Namor's exit from the team.

I remember Banner playing a key role in a David Kraft storyline, defusing a nuclear reactor will under stress and fear of becoming the Hulk in the middle of his efforts. And, as indicated above, it was cool to see Banner interact with the others during the Sons of the Serpent storyline!

Thanks for the memories of one of my all-time faves!!


Doug said...

RE: the cover.

The color scheme is evocative of modern coloring techniques, isn't it? I can't think of too many Bronze Age covers that use that palette with that degree of blending.


Fred W. Hill said...

I loved this story too. This was my introdcution to the Squadron Sinister, and I didn't become aware of the Squadron Supreme until Englehart used them in the Avengers but probably because the lineups were a bit different I never had any problem telling them apart in the context of whichever particular stories they appeared.
Regarding Bruce Banner, he made a few brief appearances (in the Avengers, the only time he showed up was in issue 3, having transformed and running away befoe he could be seen after the end of the Hulk & Subby's first teamup and their battle with the mighty assemblers! BTW, to my recall, the only time Subby ever met Quicksilver was in an early issue of X-Men wherein Magneto tried to convince him to join the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants; otherwise I don't recall that Namor & Pietro ever fought.
Finally, I'm pretty sure it was Sal Buscema who drew the Squadron Sinester's first appearance in the Avengers and thus likely designed their costumes. Yeah, their not particularly great but considering that they were apparently originally intended as a one-time joke by Roy Thomas, to have knock-offs of four of the most famed members of the JLA take on the Avengers, the costumes weren't that bad and were certainly distinct from their DC counterparts. Of course, Roy just couldn't help repeating the joke with some convoluted twists. But that's part of what made Marvel comics fun to read!

humanbelly said...

Wow, what a DELIGHT to have this story (from this title. . . from this period. . . ) brought back into the spotlight! An incredibly welcome refresher, as I know that this story and the BoEM & Wrecking Crew tales that immediately followed had been getting kind of jumbled in my memory. Heck, even though it wasn't an "arc", per se, I think a case could have been made somehow for including issues 13 through 19 in our recent bracketology venture.

My own bits of observation:

-Yep, Banner did pop up on occassion in this book-- but not very often,naturally. There was a sense that Banner & Stephen were in fact rather close-- to my younger eyes, it seemed like they related to each other as the two "grown-ups" in this group. In spite of their current disparate stations in life, their paths had initially been similar in that they were extremely highly-regarded professionals in their respective scientific fields. I cannot imagine this Stephen Strange sending either Banner or the Hulk off to another world as part of the Illuminati plot that ultimately led to World War Hulk. (Although, heh, LOVED seeing him taking a beligerent Subby by the metaphorical ear here, and making him help metaphorically clean the metaphorical house with all the rest of the metaphorical kids. . .

-I think this is where the tone of the book in general finally tilted (for awhile) towards traditional superheroey-ness, in spite of being a so-called non-Team. Prior to that, it was very heavy on mystical/supernatural/demon-dimension type threats.

-Doug, speaking of characters' voices (and I'm thinking more literally, here), d'you suppose that might be a possible fun future topic-- sort of an idle, blue-sky, while-away-the-time type one? To wit: Whose voice do you hear in your mind's ear when you read these characters' dialog?

-The spell wears off. "Oh my God! I'm the WHIZZER!!!" ZOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMM!!!!
Anyone remember that particular highly memorable panel? (In a different book, mind you)

-I too loved the Greenskin we had for so many years in the Defenders. The Simple Hulk, as I've said many times, is my Hulk. And Len Wein was one of the best (albeit undersung) Hulk writers. This team saw him through The. Worst. Moment. of his life (in this incarnation), and he forged bonds with all of them-- particularly Val and Stephen-- that was just shamefully forgotten about by other writers in later years. Luke Cage, a bit later, was also someone he trusted and came to respect, as it turns out (we find this out in Marvel Team-Up, of all places). Spiderman as well.

Whoops- gotta go get the lovely WifeBelly's birthday moving along-- thanks for listening, eh?


Anonymous said...

Fist thoughts on this issue - I thought Gil Kane did a great job on the cover, Hulk & Hyperion duking it out in the foreground with Drs. Strange & Spectrum in the background exchanging energy blasts. Sal Buscema would have brought a different vibe if he had done the cover here. (Disclaimer - Gil Kane is one of my favourite Marvel artists ever!)

As for the interior art, I've never been a huge fan of Klaus Janson's heavy inks; I think his heavy style is better suited to other artists who employ shading a lot like Tom Palmer or Gene Colan.. Sal's pencils have always been too sketchy for my taste (I've always preferred big brother John's powerful artwork over Sal) but you can clearly see he enjoyed drawing the Hulk in particular.

The Squadron Sinister's costumes were well designed (with the glaring exception of Nighthawk) given the fact that this was a team initially created by Rascally Roy as an in-joke (Marvel's knockoff of DC's JLA). So Doug & Karen, even though Hyperion's outfit reminds you more of Shazam than Superman, you gotta admit it's memorable and distinctive.

Doug, I have to agree with Anthony on why Len Wein decided to not have Hulk transform back into Banner regularly. He simply wanted the Hulk in his storylines more than Banner and probably hoped readers like you wouldn't ask the obvious (if Hulk is calm why isn't he transforming back to Banner?).

I thought Namor's black suit at this time was effective, although he could have lost the arm wings. Nebulon was a great character here too.

- Mike 'Marvel for gold, DC for silver' from Trinidad & Tobago.

J.A. Morris said...

Thanks for posting this! I recently got the 2 Defenders Masterworks books, this write-up reminded me I need to review some Defenders books on my reprints blog.

Defenders was never the best Bronze Age book, I think it was more fun than the others.
I always loved Nebulon too, great look.

As for voices, yes this would be a good future topic. I always thought this cartoon got Namor's voice right:

Doctor Strange was okay here too, but not how I've always "heard" him in my head.

Doug said...

Anyone think there's some ballot-stuffing going on in the final poll? Dark Phoenix had a 67%-33% lead a fair way in, and now it stands right at 50-50. I find it hard to believe that all of the subsequent voters are more inclined toward Crisis...


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