To me there’s nothing like the ORIGINAL historical context in which fictional heroes were introduced, so I’ve examined 1930s, 1940s and 1960s superhero characters, often reviewing their first 20 stories. Here are the first 20 Defenders stories from the 1970s.

Marvel Feature 1MARVEL FEATURE Vol 1 #1 (December 1971)

Title: The Day of the Defenders

Villain: The Omegatron

Defenders Roster: Doctor Strange (Stephen Strange, MD), the Hulk (Bruce Banner, PhD) and the Sub-Mariner (Prince Namor McKenzie)

Comment: The Defenders were originally far different from the mere “street level” heroics that fans of Marvel Television adaptations associate with the team’s name. In 1971 Marvel had just one Avengers team in addition to the Fantastic Four and the X-Men. The Defenders often fought to save the entire world or even the entire universe or multiverse.

Doctor Strange and the Hulk had been around since the 1960s. The Sub-Mariner was introduced in 1939 (so BEFORE Aquaman), back when Marvel Comics was called Timely Comics. 

Synopsis: The evil scientist Yandroth, an old one-off foe of Dr Strange, has been spending his years since his defeat at Strange’s hands mastering sorcery as thoroughly as he had previously mastered science. He is on his death bed after having devised a scheme to ensure that the world will be destroyed shortly after he dies.

With typical villain bluster, Yandroth has Dr Strange summoned to his death bed and taunts him about his plans and tells him that in five hours the entire Earth will be destroyed by his creation the Omegatron unleashing every nuclear and biological weapon in the world. Before passing away, the villain reveals that he used BOTH sorcery AND science to create the Omegatron, ensuring that it cannot be defeated by JUST sorcery or JUST science. It will require the proper combination of the two.

Marvel feature 1 splash pageKnowing he has no chance of stopping this menace with his magic alone, Dr Strange mystically summons the Sub-Mariner, Monarch of Atlantis, to his side and explains the situation. Since even Namor’s realm of Atlantis will be destroyed by the Omegatron he allies himself with Stephen.

The Sub-Mariner suggests that Dr Strange also enlist the immensely powerful Silver Surfer to fight beside them. The sorcerer conjures up an image of what the Surfer is up to at that very moment. He and Sub-Mariner see that the Silver Surfer is, for the umpteenth time, trying to penetrate Galactus’ barrier which keeps him banished on Earth. Once again the Surfer fails and plummets back to Earth.

Since the Silver Surfer will need hours to recover from his crash landing back on our planet, Doc and Namor instead summon the Hulk to help them. Our heroes track down the Omegatron to an abandoned lighthouse in the northeastern United States.

The trio of heroes invade the lighthouse and use their combination of physical and mystical powers to fight their way past the Omegatron’s defenses and reach its core. Once there they find they cannot destroy the device so, with time running out, Dr Strange draws on his two allies’ moral support to magically slow down time around the Omegatron’s detonator. It will take several centuries for each remaining second to tick off, meaning that it will not go off for thousands upon thousands of years. By that time, Strange hopes that humanity – if it’s still around – will have advanced enough to be able to destroy the Omegatron THEN.

As our heroes prepare to go their separate ways, Dr Strange follows up Namor’s reference to the three of them as the world’s defenders by saying that “Defenders” would be a fitting name for their group if they ever again need to team up. Sub-Mariner reminds Strange that he’ll only help fight menaces that would destroy the entire planet, since even his beloved Atlantis would fall, too. Before he leaves, the Hulk sullenly refers to how much he hated the brief time he was a member of the Avengers.

NOTE: Though modern audiences associate the Hulk exclusively with the Avengers, in truth he quit that team after just two adventures with them in the 1960s. In the 1970s and 1980s the Hulk was known as a Defender instead. 

Marvel feature 2MARVEL FEATURE Vol 1 #2 (March 1972)

Title: Nightmare on Bald Mountain

Villain: Dormammu

Defenders Roster: Dr Strange, Sub-Mariner, Hulk, Clea (Clea Orini)

Synopsis: The story opens at night on Bald Mountain in Vermont. NOTE: This is NOT the real life Bald Mountain, which is located elsewhere. The fictional Marvel Comics Bald Mountain, near Rutland, Vermont, is a site of eldritch supernatural energies dating back to pre-Columbian times.

In caverns honeycombing the mountain, a ceremony is being held by cloaked worshipers of Dormammu, the literal god who rules the mystical universe called the Dark Dimension. His actual power is far greater than that of Dr Strange, whom he has often fought, but he has long been restrained from attacking Earth and our universe by a vow – enforced by the entity called Eternity – not to.

NOTE: Through retconning or just awkward wording, Marvel Comics often referred to the vow as preventing Dormammu from invading our dimension, period, while other times made it sound like the vow instead prevented him from killing Dr Strange. Since Strange would, of course, be ready to lay down his life opposing Dormammu if he invaded, that supposedly accounted for the confusion over what the vow actually forbade. You know comic book writing.

Back to the story, since red-tinted supernatural energies have suffused Bald Mountain for the first time in 13 years, Dormammu’s Earthly worshipers held this ritual in order to communicate with him from their cavern altar. An image of Dormammu appears to them and informs them that he will manifest in our dimension and reduce it to the same vile darkness which grips his own, IF they sacrifice Dr Strange to him on their stone altar there.

(So, if you go by the interpretation of Dormammu’s vow that means he simply can’t kill Dr Strange himself, this story will make sense. If the vow prevents him from invading our dimension PERIOD, it won’t. Unless, of course, Dormammu is lying to his Earthly worshipers and simply wants Dr Strange dead as revenge.)

CleaTo help his legion of worshipers accomplish their task, Dormammu endows them with some of his power, as he once did with Dr Strange’s archenemy Baron Mordo. The worshipers attack Dr Strange at his Sanctum Sanctorum in Greenwich Village. The powers they’ve been granted enable them to overcome and kidnap Strange despite the best efforts of him AND his apprentice Clea (at right).

With Dormammu behind all this, Clea summons Dr Strange’s two recent allies, the Sub-Mariner and the Hulk. COMMENT: I’d have had Clea be a Defender already in their first adventure, fighting the Omegatron. Anyway, if Dormammu is unleashed, Atlantis will suffer the same fate as our entire universe as Dormammu transforms it, so Namor is on board with helping out.

At the cavern altar inside Bald Mountain, the Defenders overcome the worshipers despite all the power Dormammu can grant them. Our heroes also battle Dormammu in his own dimension and seal the interdimensional portal the worshipers had opened in order to communicate with Dormammu. The cave collapses amid all the destruction, killing all of the worshipers. The Defenders all got out alive.

marvel feature 3MARVEL FEATURE Vol 1 #3 (June 1972)

Title: A Titan Walks Among Us

Villain: Xemnu

Defenders Roster: Dr Strange, Sub-Mariner, Hulk

Synopsis: The Sub-Mariner, always honorable toward innocent victims despite his general hostility toward the surface world, leaves Atlantis briefly to save two returning Earth astronauts from a failed splashdown. It later turns out that one of the astronauts was possessed in space by an alien entity named Xemnu.

NOTE: Xemnu, like Groot, Warlord Kaa, Fin Fang Foom, It the Living Colossus and many others, was originally a monstrous menace in Marvel Comics’ horror comics in 1960, before they got back into publishing superheroes in the summer of 1961 with the Fantastic Four.

At any rate, Xemnu had been reduced to his component atoms and had them scattered throughout the solar system after his second failed attempt to conquer the Earth was defeated by Joe Harper (who for all I know Marvel may have retconned into Ulysses Bloodstone since then, like they’ve done with other bland “heroes” from their old monster comics).

Xemnu had begun reassembling his component atoms into the body of the astronaut he had figuratively “possessed.” The astronaut had since retired and was appearing on television as a “friendly” monster on a children’s show. In reality he was taking over the minds of every child who saw the program. (If not for the fact that this was written in 1972, I would have SWORN this was intended as a humorous poke at the cult-like success of Barney the Purple Dinosaur.)

Xemnu’s vile plan was to take all of Earth’s children with him back to his home planet of Xem in order to turn them into youngsters of his own alien species, thus repopulating Xem. (All of the planet’s inhabitants had died from a space plague.)

The Defenders get involved, since Namor doesn’t want Atlantis’ children abducted by Xemnu, either. It turned out the “monster” shape on the children’s show was how Xemnu REALLY looked and he fought our heroes. On top of his hypnotic abilities he was strong enough to go blow for blow with Hulk and Sub-Mariner, plus animate machinery like a techno-path. In the end Xemnu seemed to have been reduced to scattered atoms again. 

defenders 1DEFENDERS Vol 1 #1 (August 1972)

Title: I Slay By The Stars

Villain: Necrodamus

Defenders Roster: Dr Strange, Sub-Mariner, Hulk

NOTE: The Defenders now have their own comic book and have been upgraded to bi-monthly publication from quarterly. 

Synopsis: The Hulk finds the fallen Sub-Mariner’s unconscious form trapped within a transparent energy field. His dim memories allow him to seek out his friend Dr Strange (whom the Hulk often calls “Dumb Magician”) at his Sanctum Sanctorum in Greenwich Village. Hulk manages to convey to Strange that their ally Sub-Mariner (“Fish Face” as Hulk calls him), needs help.

Dr Strange and Hulk return to Namor’s body in the forests of Upstate New York. There they are greeted by Necrodamus, a Dr Strange-level sorcerer who also has Hulk-level strength, in keeping with the original theme of the Defenders fighting threats that combine the physical with the mystical.

Necrodamus informs Doc and Hulk that he has been sicced on them by the Undying Ones, Lovecraftian Marvel Comics demonoids who used to rule the Earth long ago and want to again, etc.

I slay by starsNOTE: The Undying Ones, former foes of Doc, had also been fought by Dr Strange and Sub-Mariner in Sub-Mariner #22 (February 1970), when they were defeated only by Dr Strange willingly staying in the Undying Ones’ dimension, since a human presence there was needed to keep the banishing spell intact. In Hulk # 126 (April 1970), Hulk helped Dr Strange free himself from the realm of the Undying Ones and their leader the Nameless One. Both of them were helped by the willing sacrifice of Barbara Norris (the future Valkyrie), a repentant cultist who had worshiped the Undying Ones. To save the Earth, Barbara took Strange’s place as the human presence in the Undying Ones’ dimension.

When that night’s stars come into a certain alignment, Necrodamus will kill Sub-Mariner with his mystic knife and that sacrifice will free the Undying Ones, who will kill Dr Strange and the Hulk to avenge themselves on them. Next the Undying Ones will revert the Earth to the volcanic hell the planet was when they ruled it in the distant past.

The Hulk and Dr Strange battle Necrodamus for an extended period until Strange finally hits upon a spell that restores the captive Namor to consciousness. Sub-Mariner frees himself from the force field from within and joins Doc and Hulk against our villain.

NecrodamusThe destructive battle goes on for so long that the awaited alignment of stars comes and goes, with Necrodamus unable to slay any of the Defenders at the right moment. Having failed the Undying Ones, Necrodamus is reduced to a shriveled-up, hunched-over old man. He’ll need to start from scratch obtaining souls for his masters to again build up his magical power AND his physique, which may take years.

Our heroes learn that the adventure isn’t over yet when Sub-Mariner informs Strange and the Hulk that the one responsible for turning him over to Necrodamus in the first place was the being they once considered for membership in the Defenders – the Silver Surfer! 

defenders 2DEFENDERS Vol 1 #2 (October 1972)

Title: The Secret of the Silver Surfer

Villains: Calizuma and his Warrior Wizards

Defenders Roster: Dr Strange, Sub-Mariner, Hulk and the Silver Surfer (Norrin Radd)

Synopsis: For the past two months Doctor Strange and the Sub-Mariner have been spending their every free moment scouring the Earth for the Silver Surfer. If he truly has gone bad he must be found before he serves the Undying Ones again. Naturally the Hulk didn’t have enough of an attention span to stick with the search and wandered off on his own long ago.

In the waters near Antarctica, Sub-Mariner and Dr Strange at last happen to cross paths with the Silver Surfer, who swoops down and greets his one-time ally Namor. NOTE: In Sub-Mariner 34 & 35 (February & Mar 1971), the Sub-Mariner recruited the Silver Surfer and the Hulk into a VERY short-lived team called the Titans Three. They disbanded after their first mission, which involved saving the world from a weather-controlling machine run amok.

Subby attacks the Surfer in anger over the way he defeated him and turned him over to Necrodamus. The Silver Surfer insists he doesn’t know what Namor is talking about. He defeats Sub-Mariner and Dr Strange and flies off, disgusted as ever by the irrational behavior of Earthlings.

From a passing remark the Surfer made during the fight, Strange deduces that he headed for the Valley of the Undying Ones in the Himalayas. It was there that Doc first became aware of the Undying Ones’ existence when an old colleague of his found a statuette of those beings there. (Doctor Strange Vol 1 #183 November 1969) And no, I don’t know why that valley wasn’t the FIRST place they looked. It’s even got the Undying Ones’ name in its moniker!

secret of the silver surferOn their way to the Himalayas, Doc and Subby round up the Hulk, too, to improve their chances against the Silver Surfer and any Undying Ones he may be serving. Once arrived at the aforementioned Valley, our heroes see the Surfer apparently living in peace with multiple brutish Yetis, who accept his tutelage in building and other activities.

It turns out the half dozen or so Yetis are really a sorcerer named Calizuma and his Warrior Wizards. They drop their mystic disguises and attack our heroes. They had disguised themselves as simple-minded, peaceful Yetis to fool the Surfer and – unrealized by him – mesmerize him to unknowingly serve the Undying Ones by delivering Namor to Necrodamus.

All four Defenders battle the villains and, when the Warrior Wizards are defeated, it takes all of our heroes’ combined power to defeat Calizuma himself.

Epilogue: Amid their post-battle conversation, the Silver Surfer explains to his fellow Defenders that he was trying to escape Galactus’ barrier when they saw him the night they gathered to face the Omegatron. Norrin Radd discusses how much he misses his long-lost love Shalla-Bal back on his home planet of Zenn-La. Dr Strange tells the Surfer he thinks he knows how to help him escape the barrier, while, from their dimension, the Undying Ones look on and plan to use Doc’s plan for their own purposes.   

defenders 3DEFENDERS Vol 1 #3 (December 1972)

Title: Four Against The Gods

Villains: The Undying Ones

Defenders Roster: Dr Strange, Sub-Mariner, Hulk and the Silver Surfer

Synopsis: Dr Strange proposes to the Silver Surfer that in order to circumvent the Galactian Barrier which prevents him from leaving the Earth, he will cast a spell to teleport the Defenders to another dimension where the barrier does not exist and the Surfer can fly where he pleases. Then, the others can just teleport back to the Earth.

Norrin Radd agrees, and Hulk & Sub-Mariner agree to accompany Doc and the Surfer on their undertaking. Strange casts his spell, but because he’s foolishly doing it while still in the Valley of the Undying Ones, they are able to hijack the spell and transport the Defenders TO them.

Our heroes clash with the Undying Ones, then see Barbara Norris, the cultist who willingly enabled Dr Strange to escape this hellish dimension by taking his place. They approach her, only to get caught up in a mystic maelstrom which sucks them into the pocket dimension where lives the Undying Ones’ ruler the Nameless One.

Barbara reveals that in her loneliness while trapped there she gave in and mated with the Nameless One, who now reveals that that “mating” fused him and Barbara into one body. The Defenders are now face to face with the Nameless One, his 4-winged monstrous body now boasting Barbara’s head alongside his other two as part of their “union.” She willingly led the heroes into his maelstrom trap for her “mate.”

four against the godsThe Nameless One now plans to use the Defenders’ powers to penetrate through to the Earth and revert it to the volcanic hell it was back when the Undying Ones ruled it. He was draining their powers via hallucinations of their respective loved ones. Our heroes fight back and in the end the Nameless One winds up defeated and the Defenders prepare to escape his realm.

Dr Strange can’t bear to leave Barbara Norris behind again, despite her treachery, and casts a spell separating her from the defeated Nameless One’s body. Unfortunately, while they flee through the strange dimension the Defenders realize that Barbara has gone insane from the memory of mating with the Nameless One.

Eventually, the Silver Surfer’s cosmic senses tell him that they have fled far enough that they are now far past the Galactian Barrier back on Earth and tells Dr Strange to teleport the five of them out of the Undying Ones’ dimension. Apparently, “sensing” that was one last spiteful illusion from the Nameless One, and it turns out the Defenders returned to our dimension back on the surface of the Earth, albeit in England now.

Disgusted and saddened at still being stranded on our planet, the inconsolable Norrin Radd flies off in search of solitude. Dr Strange ponders the colossal failure of this little trans-dimensional expedition and tells Namor that HE should take over as the leader of the Defenders.

Comment: Okay, that’s a typically flawed comic book ending. Just because THIS attempt got shanghaied by the Undying Ones and their ruler, it doesn’t mean you can’t TRY IT AGAIN sometime, and maybe teleport JUST the Silver Surfer to another dimension this time. Or – call me crazy – teleport him BEYOND the Galactian Barrier while still in OUR dimension. Sheesh!

NOTE: On the cover of this issue, Barbara was drawn with black hair instead of blonde and the Nameless One was called the Undying One instead. Plus he was drawn with only one head instead of two and two wings instead of four. 

defenders 4DEFENDERS Vol 1 #4 (February 1973)

Title: The New Defender

Villains: The Enchantress, the Executioner and Queen Casiolena

Defenders Roster: Dr Strange, Sub-Mariner, Hulk and the Valkyrie (Barbara Norris)

Synopsis: The confused Hulk convinces himself that Dr Strange’s self-recriminations mean he harmed the crazed Barbara Norris intentionally. To save her the brute picks her up and carries her away with some of his huge leaps. Sub-Mariner and Dr Strange follow the Hulk into a castle he enters. 

Black KnightThat castle turns out to be Garrett Castle, home of the superhero called the Black Knight (Dane Whitman, who will be played by Kit Harington in an upcoming movie). The place seems empty and when Strange and Sub-Mariner encounter the enchanted brazier in the castle it transports them to where Hulk, Barbara Norris and, before them, the Black Knight himself, already went.

Doc and Subby find themselves in a medieval-themed dimension where they are attacked by the old Avengers villain the Executioner (Skurge) and an entire armored legion commanded by him. The tide is turned against our heroes when the mystic powers of the dimension’s Queen Casiolena strike them unawares and they join the Queen and the Executioner’s other prisoners.

Those prisoners: Hulk, the crazed Barbara Norris, the Black Knight and the Enchantress (Amora), another old foe of the Avengers and the former partner of the Executioner. We learn that the Enchantress enlisted the Black Knight into her latest campaign to win back her ex-lover the Executioner from Casiolena, who stole him from her several months earlier in an issue of the Avengers.

The Enchantress enthralled the Black Knight with a kiss and used his castle’s mystic brazier to transport them to Casiolena’s dimension. Unfortunately, even with the Black Knight and the Enchantress fighting together they lost to the Executioner and Casiolena’s Legion of armored soldiers. They’ve been imprisoned in this mystical cell ever since, until the Defenders and Barbara Norris arrived. 

Valkyrie rebornThe cell is magically tailored to contain the Enchantress, Black Knight, Sub-Mariner, Dr Strange and the Hulk, but the presence of the insane Barbara Norris gives the Enchantress an ace in the hole. Previously the Enchantress had once assumed the form of her defeated foe the Valkyrie herself (Avengers #83 December 1970) AND once endowed another woman – Samantha Parrington – with the form and powers of the Valkyrie (Hulk #142 August 1971).

The Enchantress endows that form and psyche of the Valkyrie on Barbara Norris, who transforms into the super-strong figure. Since the cell was only sealed with a spell containing the specific prisoners already in it, the Valkyrie (or actually the Valkyrie’s mind and powers in Barbara Norris’ body) is able to rip out the bars and free herself and the others.

dynamic defendersThe Defenders, Black Knight and the Enchantress defeat the Executioner, Casiolena and her legion of soldiers. When the woozy Executioner regains his senses the Enchantress offers to let him come back to her. Seeing that Casiolena AND her army have been defeated, he agrees.

The Black Knight, still under the influence of the Enchantress’ kiss which makes a man fall hopelessly in love with her, objects to this and challenges the Executioner. The evil Enchantress ends the dispute by giving the Black Knight another kiss, this one turning him into solid stone. She and the Executioner then teleport away.

The Valkyrie appropriates the Black Knight’s sword, the Ebony Blade AND his winged horse Aragorn, impressing her new teammates the Defenders with the way she firmly but gently accustoms the horse to letting her ride it. The Defenders – taking the stone form of the Black Knight with them – return to Garrett Castle via the portal created by the brazier.

Dr Strange’s spells are STILL not able to counteract the Enchantress’ power, so the Black Knight is still trapped in stone form. 

Defenders 5DEFENDERS Vol 1 #5 (April 1973)

Title: World Without End?

Villain: The Omegatron

Defenders Roster: Dr Strange, Sub-Mariner, Hulk, Valkyrie and Namorita (Nita Prentiss)

Synopsis: An unknown amount of time after the end of the previous story. Dr Strange has been letting the Valkyrie (and Aragorn) stay with him and his girlfriend/ apprentice Clea at his Greenwich Village Sanctum Sanctorum. He has even gifted the Valkyrie with enchanted crystals which will allow her to locate Hulk or Sub-Mariner when they are needed if he is not on hand to summon them.

With Strange and Clea preoccupied with his mystic tomes trying to find a spell to turn the Black Knight back to normal, Valkyrie grows bored and uses one of the crystals to lead her astride the flying horse Aragorn to where Namor is. It turns out he is visiting his now-elderly World War Two love interest Betty Prentiss. The two remain friends, though Sub-Mariner is still youthful due to his mutant nature as a human/ Atlantean hybrid.

NamoritaBetty has been raising Namor’s now teenage cousin Namorita, even letting her use the name Nita Prentiss as her secret identity. NOTE: Namorita (at right) has a slightly lesser version of the Sub-Mariner’s super-strength and, like him, can fly. Sub-Mariner is a bit peeved at Valkyrie for intruding on his private time. He explains to her that the Defenders are a “non-team” (the gimmicky phrase used in the Defenders’ early years as a hook to try to set them apart from other superhero teams).

He says that the Defenders are just a loose, ad hoc collection of heroes whose existence is known ONLY to its own members, and that when a world-endangering crisis arises all or just some of them may assemble to deal with that crisis. They don’t really socialize any other time. Before Valkyrie can leave, Sub-Mariner vanishes, teleported away somewhere.

The crystal is still leading to Namor at his new location, so Namorita joins Valkyrie in going after him in case he needs rescued. They decide to use the other crystal to lead them to the Hulk first in case it’s BIG trouble. Shortly after they find the Hulk he, too, gets teleported away. Finding Dr Strange has disappeared, too, they follow the crystals leading them to Hulk and Subby, assuming Doc will be at the same place.

Valkyrie and Namorita are led by the crystals to the abandoned lighthouse still housing the Omegatron. It turns out the Omegatron at last managed to counter-act part of the time-slowing spell surrounding its detonator. It teleported Hulk, Namor and Strange to it to use their combined physical and mystical energies to create a new, gigantic robotic form in order to carry out its mission of triggering a globe-destroying explosion.

After assorted action scenes it turns out the Valkyrie is the only one who can stop this incarnation of the Omegatron. Since she herself is a combination of physical and mystical power in one form she is able to behead and destroy the robot, still using the Ebony Blade. With the fight over and the world saved, the Defenders go their separate ways again.

defenders 6DEFENDERS Vol 1 #6 (June 1973)

Title: The Dreams of Death

Villain: Cyrus Black

Defenders Roster: Dr Strange, Sub-Mariner, Silver Surfer and the Valkyrie

Synopsis: A renegade sorceror named Cyrus Black seals off Dr Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum in a mystical cube, thus trapping Doc, Valkyrie and the visiting Sub-Mariner inside with him. He tries to use his powers to kill them all. The Silver Surfer happens by, having come to apologize to his fellow Defenders for his sulky behavior at the end of their battle with the Nameless One.

The Surfer is powerful enough to penetrate the mystic cube and helps the others drive off Cyrus Black, who nearly destroyed the Black Knight’s stone form during the battle. With Doc still obsessed with finding a spell to cure the Black Knight, the Silver Surfer and Sub-Mariner agree to fly around the world with the Valkyrie for a few days, showing her 20th Century Earth, since the Valkyrie’s mind is unfamiliar with it.

Two days later they return to the Sanctum Sanctorum. The revenge-minded Cyrus Black attacks again, this time using mystic candles to allow his sleeping form to unleash demonic monsters from his dreams to attack the Defenders. After a long battle the Sub-Mariner tricks Cyrus Black into waking up, thus causing his creatures to vanish and leaving him defeated again. 

defenders 7DEFENDERS Vol 1 #7 (August 1973)

Title: War Beneath The Waves

Villains: Attuma and the Red Ghost

Defenders Roster: Sub-Mariner, Hulk, Clea, Valkyrie and Hawkeye (Clint Barton)

Synopsis: An unknown amount of time after the previous story, this tale starts out with Hawkeye, who recently quit the Avengers in a huff, following the Hulk into New York City. He and the Hulk had, earlier in the day, battled the electricity monster Zzzax and, when Hulk referred to finding the “dumb magician” Hawkeye wondered if he meant Dr Strange. NOTE: Hawkeye met Dr Strange years earlier when Doc and the Black Knight helped the Avengers save the world from Ymir and Surtur.

Hawkeye thus meets the Defenders and learns of the Black Knight’s current state, trapped in stone. He joins the team since he and the Black Knight are friends and because he is still ticked off at the Avengers. Dr Strange is roaming the world researching ways of curing the Black Knight, but Hawkeye interacts with Sub-Mariner, Hulk, Clea and Valkyrie.

Eventually, word arrives from Atlantis that Attuma, an old foe of the Sub-Mariner, Giant-Man & the Wasp plus the Avengers, is invading the surface world with Atlantean troops loyal to HIM and with Godzilla-sized sea creatures. The available Defenders go to Atlantic City, NJ where Attuma’s attack is underway.

The team (excuse me – NON-team) defeats Attuma, his soldiers and his sea creatures, all of which retreat beneath the waves, taking a captive marine biologist named Dr Jennings with them. When the Defenders follow the retreating villains under water the Hulk deserts them, since he hates water.

The others get ambushed and captured by Attuma’s forces. At his undersea HQ they learn that Attuma is working alongside the Red Ghost, an old Fantastic Four villain from the Soviet Union. Using the captured Dr Jennings’ marine science and the Red Ghost’s mastery of Cosmic Rays they plan to create cosmic powered amphibious forces which can first conquer Atlantis for Attuma and then America for the Red Ghost.

The Defenders don’t believe Jennings will cooperate but the Red Ghost uses his super-science to brainwash Dr Jennings into helping him. He has also brainwashed the Sub-Mariner and sics him on his fellow Defenders. 

defenders 8DEFENDERS Vol 1 #8 (September 1973)

Title: If Atlantis Should Fall

Villains: The Red Ghost and Attuma

Defenders Roster: Dr Strange, Sub-Mariner, Hulk, Clea, Silver Surfer, Valkyrie and Hawkeye

NOTE: The Defenders title is now published monthly instead of bi-monthly.

Synopsis: The enthralled Sub-Mariner defeats his fellow Defenders and they are all held captive under the sea. Two weeks go by before Dr Strange at last returns to his Sanctum Sanctorum with a new plan to try to help the Black Knight. He tries to summon the other Defenders but succeeds only with the Hulk and the Silver Surfer.

Doc puts Hulk into a trance to find out what happened to the other Defenders. Realizing where they are, Strange and the Silver Surfer go into the Atlantic Ocean where they see that they are just in time – the Red Ghost and Attuma, with the other Defenders now as enthralled as Namor, are leading their cosmic powered forces against Atlantis, with America to follow after Atlantis falls.

Working together, Dr Strange and the Silver Surfer free the other Defenders from mind control AND temporarily block cosmic rays from penetrating under the sea, thus cutting off the Red Ghost’s power. His and Attuma’s forces revert to normal and the entire Defenders team go on to defeat the invading army and the two villains. Afterward they return to Strange’s Greenwich Village mansion to hear his latest plan to help the Black Knight.   

avengers 118DEFENDERS Vol 1 #s 9 and 10, plus AVENGERS Vol 1 #s 115, 116, 117 and 118 (September 1973 – December 1973) –

THESE ISSUES ALL COVERED THE MILESTONE CROSSOVER EVENT CALLED THE AVENGERS-DEFENDERS WAR. Loki and Dormammu joined forces in order to destroy the two superteams while manipulating them into battle with each other over the six scattered pieces of a powerful magic relic called the Evil Eye of Avalon.   

Dormammu had deceived the Defenders into thinking that the reassembled Evil Eye could cure the Black Knight, while Loki deceived the Avengers into thinking the Defenders sought to use the reassembled Eye to take over the Earth. In reality the Eye would allow Dormammu to meld his own dimension with OURS, thus circumventing his vow not to invade our dimension and simultaneously making our entire universe as dark and vile as his home dimension. I covered all those issues HERE

defenders 11DEFENDERS Vol 1 #11 (December 1973)

Title: A Dark And Stormy Knight

Villain: Temax

Defenders Roster: Dr Strange, Sub-Mariner, Hulk, Silver Surfer, Valkyrie, Hawkeye and the Black Knight (Dane Whitman)

Synopsis: With the entire universe saved from Dormammu and Loki, the Defenders and Avengers part company. The Defenders return to Strange’s mansion to try using the Evil Eye to return the Black Knight to normal. The Eye fails to do so, so Doc instead orders it to take them to the Black Knight.

The Defenders are transported into the distant past, during the Crusades. It turns out the Black Knight’s soul got drawn out of the limbo it was floating in and was used to inhabit the body of the original Black Knight, Sir Percy, after Sir Percy’s soul passed on from a mortal injury during the Crusades. The Defenders learn that Merlin the magician cast that time-traveling spell when Percy died, so that the Crusades-era Black Knight’s body – now animated by his descendant Dane Whitman’s spirit – could help the Defenders save the medieval world from a mystical menace.

That mystical menace, the stone/ earthen god Temax. The Black Knight joins the Defenders in defeating Temax and accepts the return of his Ebony Blade from the Valkyrie, but he DOES let her keep the winged horse Aragorn.

It turns out that this is what was always fated to happen. Dane Whitman will go on to do all the things that history told him his ancestor Sir Percy did from that point on. Sir Percy’s soul – in Force Ghost fashion – will continue advising Dane Whitman like he did in his modern-day adventures.

Dane Whitman is thrilled that this is his destiny, since he has spent his life immersed in the history of his ancestor Sir Percy, never realizing that – from this point on in the Crusades – he was reading about his OWN deeds in Sir Percy’s body.

The Defenders leave the contented Black Knight in the past and return to our time. As always, they go their separate ways with the mission concluded.     

defenders 12DEFENDERS Vol 1 #12 (February 1974)

Title: The Titan Strikes Back

Villain: Xemnu

Defenders Roster: Dr Strange, Hulk, Valkyrie 

Synopsis: We pick up an unknown amount of time after the previous story. Dr Strange gives Valkyrie a mystic sword called Dragonfang to make up for her giving the Ebony Blade back to the Black Knight.

Xemnu is back on Earth, having reassembled his scattered atoms once again. He has taken over the town of Plucketville in the American Midwest. He again plans to repopulate his home planet of Xem at the expense of Earth’s life-forms.

Dr Strange, Hulk and Valkyrie are the only Defenders available who can be rallied to save the world from Xemnu. (I’d have thrown in Clea, too, myself.) Our heroes battle the alien, who is defeated and again seems to be destroyed in the explosion of a spaceship he made the enthralled citizens of Plucketville construct for him.

NOTE: Decades later, Xemnu would play a huge part in Hulk stories, even possessing his body at one point. This may have been an inside joke at Marvel since in his first appearance in 1960, Xemnu was called “Xemnu the Living Hulk.”

gsd 1GIANT-SIZE DEFENDERS Vol 1 #1 (July 1974)

Title: The Way They Were

Villains: QuasiMoD.O. , Mr Rasputin and Nazis

Defenders Roster: Dr Strange, Sub-Mariner, Hulk, Clea, Silver Surfer and Valkyrie

NOTE: For a time in 1974 and 1975 Marvel Comics tried adding quarterly-published Giant-Size editions of many of their titles, like Giant-Size Fantastic Four and Giant-Size Spider-Man, etc. Like the special Annual editions of their best-selling characters of the moment, these Giant-Size editions might have one NEW story but the rest of the issue would be reprints. The Giant-Size Avengers quarterlies were the best of the bunch from a writing angle given the way they were incorporated into the main storyline of the monthly issues of the time, notably during the Celestial Madonna Saga

Synopsis: Promotional material of the time indicated that this “story” took place in between Defenders #12 & 13. At Dr Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum, Clea and Valkyrie are just hanging out together. Valkyrie wants to know more about the past escapades of some of her fellow Defenders, so Clea accomodates her by conjuring up visions from Doc’s, Hulk’s, Sub-Mariner’s and the Silver Surfer’s past.

In reality that means that only the framing story with Clea and Valkyrie is new material. The rest is reprinted material, so think of this as a “Defenders Clip Show.”

First, Clea shows Valkyrie the way General “Thunderbolt” Ross once temporarily exiled the Hulk to outer space, from Incredible Hulk #3. Second, she shows her one of Sub-Mariner’s battles with Nazis during World War Two, from Sub-Mariner Comics #41. Third, she shows Val Dr Strange’s clash with his one-off foe Mr Rasputin, an evil mystic who was a descendant of THE Rasputin, from Strange Tales #145. Fourth, Clea shows her the Silver Surfer’s battle with the Mad Thinker’s AI construct QuasiMoD.O. (Quasi-Motivational Destruct Organism), from Fantastic Four Annual #5.

To wrap up the framing story, Clea learns that she lost control of the spells she was casting and accidentally imprisoned Doc, Subby, Hulk and the Silver Surfer in the events she was showing the Valkyrie. The damage is undone, the Defenders are freed, and Clea learns a sort of Sorcerer’s Apprentice lesson.

Comment: If you wanted to treat this like a REAL Defenders story you could write it like another odd attempt of Cyrus Black to eliminate the team. Or write it like a team-up between Mr Rasputin and QuasiMoD.O. to get revenge. Those two villains combined would represent the “scientific AND mystical menaces at once” angle of early Defenders stories.    

defenders 13DEFENDERS Vol 1 #13 (May 1974)

Title: For Sale: One Planet … Slightly Used

Villains: Nebulon and the Squadron Sinister

Defenders Roster: Dr Strange, Sub-Mariner, Hulk, Valkyrie and Nighthawk (Kyle Richmond) 

Synopsis: One night the supervillain Nighthawk, in his original black & gray costume with the ridiculous beak-nose, shows up at the door of the Sanctum Sanctorum in a trenchcoat which covers most of his costume. When the door is opened by Wong Nighthawk fights his way inside, where he is attacked by Valkyrie and the Hulk.

After a brief battle in which Nighthawk shows off his incredible agility and his doubled-by-night strength (later retconned to tripled-by-night), Nighthawk convinces Doc, Hulk and Valkyrie that the world needs the Defenders’ help. They agree to listen to his story. He recounts how, years earlier, the universe-roaming alien called the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldbum in the movies) transformed himself (Kyle) and three other Earthlings into their super-powered parallel universe counterparts.

In that parallel universe those figures – Nighthawk, Hyperion, Dr Spectrum and the Whizzer (later renamed the Speed Demon) – were superheroes, but the Grandmaster pitted OUR universe’s version of the four against the Avengers as supervillains in another of his countless competitions.

NOTE: The inside joke inherent in the Squadron Supreme is that Hyperion, the sole survivor of his sub-atomic planet in the Microverse (now called the Quantum Realm) was a pastiche of Superman … Dr Spectrum, wielder of a “Power Ring Prism, was a pastiche of Green Lantern … Whizzer (no relation to Marvel Comics’ World War Two hero of the same name), a super-speedster, was a pastiche of the Flash … and Nighthawk, with his name inspired by a creature of the night, his wealth and items like his Hawk-Plane, was a pastiche of Batman.

Nighthawk and hawk planeNighthawk/ Batman fought Captain America in the Grandmasters’ tournament and tried to steal the Statue of Liberty via his Hawk-Plane. (Nighthawk could not fly until a few issues down the road.) He later clashed with Daredevil but escaped again.

Kyle Richmond returned to his rich playboy lifestyle, leaving his Nighthawk identity in the past, until recently. An interstellar geologist called Nebulon (FIRST APPEARANCE) happened to save Hyperion/ Superman, who was still drifting through space after his defeat by Thor in the Grandmaster’s tournament. Hyperion convinced Nebulon he and his friends “owned” a planet that was rich in varied minerals and offered to sell it to Nebulon. Earth, of course, was that planet.

Nebulon, with his massive cosmic powers, rounded up the other three Squadron Sinister members at Hyperion’s request and a deal was negotiated. In exchange for the Earth, Nebulon would teleport each of the Squadron members to a parallel universe of their choosing. But on one condition. Nebulon wanted the Earth entirely underwater to make his geological studies easier for himself.

Nebulon the Celestial ManHis survey of the Earth after Hyperion led him to it showed multiple super-powered beings who might interfere with the planet being submerged so the Squadron would have to flood the Earth FOR Nebulon first. Using Kyle Richmond’s wealth plus the superpowers of the Squadron combined with alien technology provided by Nebulon himself, the Squadron spent several weeks secretly constructing a machine capable of generating enough heat to melt Earth’s North and South Poles, flooding the world.

As the project moved along, Nighthawk alone of the Squadron members found himself unable to go through with the horrible deed. He secretly went in search of the Fantastic Four, X-Men and Avengers but found that, as a precaution, Nebulon’s powers had made it so that he could not be heard or seen or felt by any of Earth’s publicly known teams of superheroes.

While futilely trying to communicate with the Avengers at Avengers Mansion, Nighthawk at last gave up trying, but heard the Avengers mentioning the Defenders, whom they had met a few months back. They talked about how the Defenders’ existence was kept secret from the world at large, so Nighthawk knew they would likely not be covered by Nebulon’s powers. And so he came to Dr Strange’s mansion this night.

Dr Strange rounds up the Sub-Mariner, given the toughness of the Squadron Sinister AND the unknown quantity called Nebulon. Namor was busy helping out the Hydro-People, human guinea pig victims of a supervillain and didn’t want to come along. He pointed out to Strange that this menace – flooding the Earth – would pose no danger to his undersea realm, so the selfish and destructive surface world could just fend for itself without him.

Doc refuses to take no for an answer and teleports Namor to his side with the other Defenders. Promising to settle things with Strange after the upcoming battle is over, Sub-Mariner goes with the others to the North Pole with Nighthawk’s Hawk-Plane.

Once there they attack Hyperion, Dr Spectrum and the Whizzer, who are using the Pole-melting device on the Arctic ice, already causing a slight rise in the sea levels. In a less than suspenseful battle, the five Defenders (Nighthawk is now a member) defeat the three villains and shut off the Pole-melting device.

Nebulon strikes out of nowhere, using his cosmic/ geoplanetary powers to entrap the Defenders in a transparent pinkish bubble of energy. He announces that the melting of the Earth’s Polar ice will now continue without interruption. 

defenders 14DEFENDERS Vol 1 #14 (July 1974)

Title: And Who Shall Inherit The Earth?

Villains: Nebulon the Celestial Man and the Squadron Sinister

Defenders Roster: Dr Strange, Sub-Mariner, Hulk, Valkyrie and Nighthawk

Synopsis: Nebulon the Celestial Man converses with the imprisoned Defenders in their bubble. He demands an explanation from the still-free Nighthawk regarding what is going on. The defeated members of the Squadron Sinister regain consciousness and underscore Nighthawk’s treachery to Nebulon. The immensely powerful alien teleports Kyle into the bubble with the Defenders so he can share their fate. 

The Celestial Man gets ready to kill the captive Defenders but the embittered and cruel Hyperion wants them to suffer like he did, drifting helplessly in space before they die. Only fictional villains are stupid enough to do this, so Nebulon agrees, casting the pinkish bubble into space so the Defenders’ deaths will be long and drawn out. Meanwhile he has Hyperion, Dr Spectrum and the Whizzer resume using the alien tech device to melt the Polar ice.

Back with the Defenders in space above the Earth, Sub-Mariner, Doc, Hulk and Valkrie are each lashing out at the imprisoning bubble at random. In a reminder that comic books are mostly for kids, it takes Nighthawk to suggest that his more powerful teammates concentrate their efforts on one particular section of the bubble.

As any child could predict, this works. The imprisoning bubble is shattered and Dr Strange gets the Defenders back down to the Earth to once again trounce the Squadron Sinister. Nebulon proves to be a much tougher foe, and his strength plus his energy projecting powers make him a powerful match for the five Defenders.

Nebulon's true formAfter awhile, Nebulon is so tired from the lengthy battle that he loses enough concentration that he drops the illusion in which the Celestial Man has cloaked himself. Instead of a bipedal humanoid of almost angelic appearance, Nebulon is really a hideous, scaly, tentacled being who is clearly intended for an underwater habitat, hence his demand to flood the world.

Still, his powers remain incredible, and he begins firing more of his pinkish energy blasts at the Defenders from his tentacles, staying in his real form rather than the humanoid form he adopted to mimic the being he rescued (Hyperion) and thus earn his confidence.

Realizing that he and his fellow Defenders are on the verge of defeat, Nighthawk climbs up the huge alien tech device. He knows how to maneuver it since he oversaw its construction (through Nebulon’s blueprints and technology) at Richmond Enterprises. He rides it and redirects the beam melting the ice caps so that it hits Nebulon instead. This weapon of his own people’s tech is powerful enough to seriously harm the villain and seemingly kill him, taking Hyperion, Dr Spectrum and Whizzer with him.

The alien device, with Nighthawk still driving it, explodes from overheating. Kyle Richmond lies on the ice before the other Defenders, his life ebbing away quickly. He is so far gone that there is only one way to keep him alive. Doc obtains permission from Sub-Mariner, Hulk and Valkyrie to join him in transferring a small fraction of their own life essence to Nighthawk. (He did, after all, save them and the world from Nebulon just now.)

That mystic ritual completed, Sub-Mariner now settles his argument with Dr Strange about shanghaiing him into this battle even though Atlantis was in no danger. He warns him that if he EVER again summons him to his side to serve as a Defender, he will instead come as an enemy.

Hulk watches Namor fly away and puts his arm around the recovering Nighthawk, saying “Let Fish-Face go. Bird-Nose (Nighthawk) can be Hulk’s new friend.” Kyle Richmond, with his villainous costume symbolically in tatters from the explosion (and that ridiculous beak nose gone), says he’ll be glad to keep being a Defender. It will help him make amends for his misspent life.  

Nebulon later onNOTE: Neither Nebulon nor the Squadron Sinister were dead, of course, and would return separately to fight the Defenders many times in the future.

Nebulon would continue to use his “body beautiful” form until, in the 1980s, his own race would catch up with him, put him on trial and trap him in that humanoid form permanently as part of his punishment.

defenders 15DEFENDERS Vol 1 #15 (September 1974)

Title: Panic Beneath The Earth

Villains: Magneto and his Mutant Brotherhood

Defenders Roster: Dr Strange, Hulk, Valkyrie, Nighthawk and Professor X (Charles Xavier, PhD)

Synopsis: Nighthawk shows his fellow Defenders his new, blue, red and yellow costume, with jet-pack technology that will let him fly and WITHOUT the stupid bird nose. (Though “Bird Nose” will go on being the Hulk’s name for him.) Valkyrie, meanwhile, finds herself increasingly troubled by the random fragments of Barbara Norris’ memories which have begun surfacing within her.

Elsewhere, the X-Men’s archenemy Magneto has assembled the most powerful incarnation of his Mutant Brotherhood to date, consisting of Mastermind, the Blob, Unus the Untouchable and Lorelei. Their recent actions have alarmed Professor X, the behind the scenes head of the X-Men. His team of mutants are off on a secret mission, so he reaches out to his old friend Dr Strange about his concerns.

NOTE: This “secret mission” reference was simply to justify why Xavier wasn’t sending his X-Men after Magneto and company. The X-Men’s own comic book had been canceled and was relegated to reprints at this time. References to teams like the Avengers or Fantastic Four, etc being “off on a mission” were often used for verisimilitude, to explain why whichever super-team was dealing with a world-ending threat couldn’t just rally the other teams to their side and had to handle the menace themselves. (“We tried to call in the Fantastic Four/ Avengers but they’re away on a mission” was a standard type of line used in Marvel Comics at the time.)

In 1975 this particular “mission” that the X-Men were supposedly off on was retconned as their investigation of and captivity on Krakoa the mutant colony creature when Xavier gathered the new team of X-Men to rescue them following their lengthy absence.   

At any rate, Dr Strange confides in Professor X about the existence of the Defenders, so Charles joins the group, hoping to take down the new Mutant Brotherhood. Out west, Magneto and his team have covertly seized part of Carlsbad Caverns to use as their headquarters. They are using technology provided by an unknown alien benefactor to concoct a bio-chemically created “mutant.” (I think Marvel should have later said the Shi’Ar agent Eric the Red was the alien involved, to help justify that figure’s further assistancc to Magneto in X-Men #104.)

Doc, Hulk, Valkyrie, Nighthawk and Professor X locate the Brotherhood’s Carlsbad Caverns lair and attack them. The team defeats Blob, Mastermind, Unus and Lorelei, leaving just Magneto still unconquered. He holds out long enough to finish the bio-chemical experiment and then unveils the creation. It is a 20-some foot tall cave-man looking brute in a loincloth, a being which Magneto introduces as Alpha, the Ultimate Mutant and says he will let Magneto conquer the world.

NOTE: This storyline is the last appearance of Magneto as he was originally written – as a typical, megalomaniacal supervillain who was using his claims of “protecting mutantkind” as a mere excuse to further his own ambitions of global conquest. Magneto hadn’t even been given a real name at this point. After this two-part story, new X-Men writer Chris Claremont would go on to drastically retcon Magneto and his past, making him a Holocaust survivor and a true believer in his crusade on behalf of mutantkind.   

defenders 16DEFENDERS Vol 1 #16 (October 1974)

Title: Alpha, The Ultimate Mutant

Villains: Alpha and the Mutant Brotherhood

Defenders Roster: Dr Strange, Hulk, Valkyrie, Nighthawk and Professor X

Synopsis: While the Mutant Brotherhood members regain consciousness, Magneto has Alpha demonstrate how powerful he is. He easily withstands anything that the Defenders try to do to him. Magneto then uses his magnetic powers to cause a massive cave-in, hoping to crush our heroes while he has Alpha teleport him and the Brotherhood away to an unknown destination.

The Defenders survive and break free, then track down Alpha and the others to New York, where Magneto, Alpha and the rest seize the U.N. building. Magneto insists that the representatives convey his demands for each of their governments to surrender their sovereignty to him. As an added threat, he orders Alpha to levitate the entire building plus its concrete surroundings high in the air over the city.

The Defenders fly up to the floating chunk of real estate in the sky, where Magneto orders Alpha to kill them. With each use of his powers, Alpha mutates further (hence the “ultimate mutant” designation), his powers and intelligence growing at a geometric rate. Alpha resists a little, then tries placating Magneto by animating huge stone monsters to attack our heroes.

They destroy those creations and barge into the General Assembly, where an increasingly recalcitrant Alpha reluctantly obeys Magneto’s orders to defeat the Defenders. It is clear he obeys him only out of sentimentality for this only “parent” he has ever known, albeit very briefly.

The battle goes on, and after Hulk, Valkyrie and Nighthawk have fallen in combat, Dr Strange and Professor X, noting how much more articulate Alpha has grown and how huge his ever-expanding cranium has gotten, stop fighting him and try to reason with him. They appeal to his obvious sense of decency and point out the vileness of the Mutant Brotherhood’s actions.

AlphaMagneto doesn’t help his own cause by throwing his typical (at the time) fits of anger, hatefully demanding that Alpha just shut up and obey him. Alpha orders both sides to be silent as he communes with each of their minds, to determine which team is pursuing the more virtuous cause.

The ultimate mutant determines that the Defenders are in the right and the Mutant Brotherhood is in the wrong. He uses his powers to punish them in a way that is at first kept hidden from the reader. Alpha restores the UN building to its foundation below, then, STILL mutating with each use of his powers, he departs for far-off galaxies to seek his future among the stars.

We now see what Alpha did to the Mutant Brotherhood. Killing was apparently against his nature so he reverted Magneto, Mastermind, Blob, Unus and Lorelei to infancy, to give them a second chance at life.

NOTE: As all X-Men fans know, Chris Claremont later made it so that Professor X had given the five “infants” to his old research colleague Moira MacTaggert. She was raising the babies on her research facility at Muir Isle, to give them a gentle upbringing in hopes that they would be much better people this time around.

Since it was a certainty that these five infants were mutants, it was also an unprecedented opportunity to study their physiology as they grew, since most mutants didn’t manifest themselves until puberty. Eventually, in X-Men #104, Eric the Red located Muir Isle and used Shi’Ar technology to restore Magneto to adulthood, keeping him in the prime of his 30s rather than his full old age in order to ensure Magneto had maximum power to kill the X-Men for him.

Eric the Red also restored Mastermind, Blob, Unus and Lorelei to adulthood, too. The events at the UN in this Defenders story were later cited at the trial of Magneto in X-Men #200 in 1985.

gsd 2GIANT-SIZE DEFENDERS Vol 1 #2 (October 1974)

Title: H … As In Hulk … Hell … And Holocaust

Villain: Asmodeus

Defenders Roster: Dr Strange, Hulk, Valkyrie, Nighthawk and the Son of Satan (Daimon Hellstrom)

Synopsis: Asmodeus (Charles Benton), the late cult leader who died long ago in battle with Dr Strange, is suffering in Hell. He strikes a desperate bargain with the demon Satannish, who is NOT Satan himself, but a goofy-named subordinate demon. Asmodeus and his cult the Sons of Satannish once unleashed Ymir and Surtur on the world and it took Doc, the Black Knight and the Avengers to save the Earth.

Asmodeus/ Benton’s deal with Satannish goes like this: Asmodeus will be returned to the living if he can get 5 souls for Satannish in return. It’s apparently the kind of enterprising spirit that the actual Satan likes to see in his lesser demons so Satannish agrees, hoping to please his master Lucifer. He grants Asmodeus 12 hours, from Noon to Midnight, to pull this off. The dead cult leader will have his old mystical powers back for that period as well, to help him perform his task.

Using the form of an innocent blonde little girl, Asmodeus tricks the simple-minded Hulk into willingly entering Hell via a portal in a dark temple in the New York slums. As the Hulk suffers the torments of the damned, the ghostly, cloaked Asmodeus delivers a crystal ball to Dr Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum so his teammates can behold his suffering. Doc, Valkyrie and Nighthawk are appalled at the torments being endured by their fellow Defender.

The ghost of Asmodeus tells the Defenders that in order to free the Hulk from Hell they must submit to his demands, mysterious demands that he will reveal to them only if they agree to the exchange. Not trusting such an infernal bargain, the Defenders first try to rescue the Hulk themselves.

Our heroes scour New York City, which they recognized as the site of the portal that Hulk entered. Unable to find it after several hours, they meet back at Strange’s Greenwich Village mansion. Doc decides to consult the renowned exorcist and demonologist Daimon Hellstrom in Saint Louis.

Son of Satan figurineStrange sends his astral form to Daimon’s office at Gateway University and, after introductions, he explains the problem to Daimon. Hellstrom confides to Dr Strange that the rumors in occult circles are true, he is the son of Satan and a mortal woman, but he opposes the forces of Hell. Daimon raises both hands in the Sign of the Trident (three fingers up), which gesture always transforms him into his Son of Satan costume complete with a trident made of Nethermetal from Hell.

Doc teleports the Son of Satan to his mansion. Daimon uses his trident to lead him to the conjured-up portal to Hell and flies off, using the trident like a divining rod. Doc, Valkyrie and Nighthawk fly along behind him.

The Son of Satan leads his fellow Defenders to what appears to be a litter-strewn vacant lot in the inner city. Hellstrom uses his trident’s Soulfire in combination with Dr Strange’s magic and the pair expose the now-invisible temple/ portal which Hulk entered.   

The Defenders descend into Hell, where they get separated and each begin to suffer the torments of the damned. Those torments are tailored to each of their specific souls and some are fairly grim for a comic book of 1974. At any rate, Son of Satan has battled demons in Hell before over in his own series so he at last prevails over his tormentors. Dr Strange, no newcomer to the kind of horrors unleashed on him, also survives on his own, but the other Defenders need help.

Daimon frees the Hulk from HIS tormenting demons, Dr Strange frees the Valkyrie from hers and she in turn frees Nighthawk from his. Before the five heroes can flee back to the world of the living the floor beneath them collapses and they fall into the presence of the dead cult leader Asmodeus.

He unleashes the mystical powers that Satannish temporarily restored to him and, as exhausted as the Defenders are from their ordeals this night, he is on the verge of being able to steal their souls to fulfill his bargain and return to life, leaving our heroes here in Hell to suffer in his place.

Only the Son of Satan is able to continue fighting him, because of his unique hybrid nature. He defeats Asmodeus then uses his Soulfire to fully restore the Defenders’ half-drained souls to them. When he’s done with that, Midnight tolls, officially ending Asmodeus’ allotted time. Satannish shows up to punish Asmodeus as Satan will no doubt punish HIM for this debacle.

The Defenders suddenly find themselves back in the world of the living, where the vacant lot is TRULY vacant now, and no longer a cover for a portal to Hell. After a post-mission conversation, the Defenders go their separate ways.

Daimon Hellstrom would serve as a Defender off and on over the years, helping them fight villains like the Sons of the Serpent, Chondu the Mystic, the Reverse-Defenders, the Six-Fingered Hand, the Overmind and others. He wound up marrying his fellow Defender, the superheroine called Hellcat.

NOTE: I did a Halloween Season look at the Son of Satan’s 1970s stories HERE.    

defenders 17DEFENDERS Vol 1 #17 (November 1974)

Title: Power Play

Villains: The Wrecking Crew

Defenders Roster: Dr Strange, Hulk, Valkyrie, Nighthawk and Power Man (Luke Cage)

Synopsis: This story opens up an undetermined amount of time after the previous story. Kyle Richmond has used some of his massive wealth to convert the Richmond Riding Academy on Long Island into a secret high-tech headquarters for the Defenders, so that they don’t have to keep using Dr Strange’s Greenwich Village home for such purposes.

The stables at the riding academy will make a better home for Aragorn (til now I guess Doc was just making Wong clean up after him). Nighthawk, always cocky, bets Valkyrie that he can get Aragorn to let him ride him, given all his experiences playing Polo among the jet-set. Doc, Hulk and Valkyrie watch as he tries to ride the horse in one of the outside paddocks.

The attempt fails, and Kyle good-naturedly gives up. The Defenders all move back inside, where Nighthawk even shows them the meeting room he had built, complete with a massive chair for the Hulk made out of priceless adamantium to ensure he couldn’t break it.

Eventually, things take a sadder note as Valkyrie takes a leave of absence from the team in order to find out what she can about Barbara Norris and let her loved ones know the fate of the missing woman. Kyle has his chauffer drive Valkyrie to the airport after Dr Strange casts his spell which lets Val switch from her street-clothes to her Valkyrie costume just by drawing her sword Dragonfang.

Hulk leaves in a pout because he misses Valkyrie already. Nighthawk continues entertaining Dr Strange until Kyle’s financial manager Pennysworth calls and tells him to switch on a news broadcast. That news broadcast details how villains calling themselves the Wrecking Crew have been demanding millions from New York City to stop destroying buildings overnight. The mayor has refused. The two most recent buildings demolished were owned by Richmond Enterprises.

Pennysworth (The name is, of course, a sly joking reference to the way Nighthawk started out as a one-shot pastiche of Batman) tells him not to worry, he has taken extra security measures to protect the last of the three buildings that Richmond Enterprises owns in New York City itself. Kyle decides he will stake out the place as Nighthawk just for good measure and Dr Strange decides to join him.

Wrecking CrewNOTE: The Wrecking Crew (FIRST APPEARANCE) are led by Thor’s old villain the Wrecker, who was granted Thor-level strength and other powers by Loki long ago. Recently, the Wrecker and three fellow convicts escaped from prison and dug up the Wrecker’s crowbar, which Loki had made the villain’s equivalent of Thor’s hammer.

In a ritualistic way, the four men held the crowbar up to the skies during an electrical storm and, when the crowbar was struck by lightning it restored the Wrecker’s superpowers AND granted superpowers to the other three men. The other three also donned costumes and called themselves Piledriver, Thunderball and Bulldozer. Naming their team the Wrecking Crew, they set off on this extortion scheme against New York City.

Back to the story, that night, when Nighthawk and Dr Strange are staking out the Richmond Enterprises building, they get jumped by Luke Cage, the superhero-for-hire called Power Man. After a typical battle of misunderstanding, the three realize they are on the same side and come face to face with the real villains – the Wrecking Crew. NOTE: Hiring Luke Cage was the “extra security precautions” that Pennysworth made an enigmatic reference to.

COMMENT: Sorry to end on a cliffhanger, but that’s twenty stories! Naturally the Defenders – with Power Man their newest member – defeated the Wrecking Crew. Power Man served with them off and on over the years against additional foes like the Sons of the Serpent, Nebulon, the Headmen, Shazanna, the Emissaries of Evil and the Red Rajah. Luke Cage was a central figure to the Marvel Television version of the Defenders.  










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  1. Pingback: FIRST TWENTY DEFENDERS STORIES FROM THE 1970s — Balladeer’s Blog – Revolver Boots

  2. jerryquinn

    Love the Defenders. I was probably 10 or 11 when I picked up my first issue – which was #24, and although I didn’t understand most of it, my small brain really enjoyed the strangeness of the Steve Gerber run! 😁

  3. Miranda

    Your right they should have made Clea an official Defender when she helped out against Dormammu in that story.

  4. Barry

    These early Defenders stories are so good, before Gerber deconstructed them to the point of absurdity.

  5. Gregoree

    Valkyrie was such a badass! Her movie version sucks!

  6. Jared

    Perfect review! These Defenders are much better than the ones from tv.

  7. Peter J

    Now these were Defenders who actually did something! The tv Defenders were so booooooring!

  8. Hardy

    The Silver Surfer is so awesome!

  9. Kaspar

    I like that Justice League dark approach to so many of their early stories.

  10. Teco

    Nebulon was an awesome villain but they used him worse and worse every time he appeared.

  11. Rackem

    You put a lot of work into this! Great analysis of the early defenders stories and some of the background to the stories.

  12. Cycstorm

    I thought Power Man was an Avenger first?

  13. Pattywampus

    You gave the women their due! Good job with Clea, Valkyrie and Namorita!

  14. Jakub Rejak

    You are my favorite superhero and pulp hero site!

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