Ah, The Defenders. Marvel’s non-team. Nothing epitomizes the Bronze Age zaniness of Marvel Comics in the 1970s – all of the weird, offbeat characters and mystical or occult storylines – better than the Defenders.
Initially banded together by Roy Thomas to complete a storyline interrupted by the cancellation of Doctor Strange’s first series, a storyline that ran from Doctor Strange #183 through Sub-Mariner #22 and ended in Incredible Hulk #126, the Defenders would – after a brief appearance in Sub-Mariner #34 and #35 – eventually debut in Marvel Feature #1. Their three-issue run proved popular enough that Marvel published Defenders #1 to start a series that ran 152 issues and included one annual and five Giant-Size issues.
While there are some key issues that most collectors are aware of – Barbara Norris becoming Valkyrie (#4), the Avengers/Defenders War (issues #8-11), and the Guardians of the Galaxy storyline (Giant-Size #5 and issues #26-29) – most of the rest of the series’ run can be found in just about any comic shop’s back issue bins. Usually, they’re priced in the $2.00 to $4.00 range for raw copies graded fine or better. Amidst those cheap back issues, however, is some potential gold. Mind you, I did say “potential” – for the collector willing to dig. Let’s take a look…
Mutants & The Wrecking Crew
Magneto and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants appear as the major villains in Defenders #15 & Defenders #16. This is a rare appearance by mutants during this time period as the X-Men were deep into their reprint run prior to Giant-Size X-Men #1. Professor X also guest stars. Defenders #17 brings the first appearance of the Wrecking Crew as well as a guest appearance by Power Man – Luke Cage. While the Wrecker had been around for a few years by this point – since Thor #148 – this issue marks the first appearance of the other members of the Crew – Bulldozer, Piledriver, and Thunderball.
Moon Knight & The Zodiac
Defenders #47-50 are among the best issues in the entire series. Besides including early Moon Knight appearances, these books also feature Scorpio as the primary villain. That’s with a newly created Zodiac in their first appearance. Nick Fury also guest stars. Of particular note, this run includes early Keith Giffen artwork. It’s a definite stylistic precursor to his long stint on Legion of Super-Heroes.
The Six-Fingered Hand
Defenders #94-100 are a culmination of all the weirdness of 1970s Marvel. This run kicks off with the first appearance of Gargoyle in Defenders #94. The storyline leads to a blockbuster 100th-anniversary issue. It includes a cornucopia of heroes both mainstream and offbeat. Doctor Strange, Sub-Mariner, Hulk, Silver Surfer, Valkyrie. Oh right, and Nighthawk, Hellcat, Ghost Rider, Man-Thing, Son of Satan, and Devil Slayer, to name a few. Eternity plays a prominent role in the story. Among the many villains are Dracula, Mephisto, and Satan himself!
The Defenders after this point abandon most of the eccentric and bizarre aspects of 1970s Marvel and become first a regular old super-hero team, a la the Avengers, and then run headlong into mutant mania with half the team being comprised of three-fifths of the original X-Men – Angel, Beast, and Iceman – before being canceled to make way for X-Factor #1. Looking for very affordable Bronze Age issues that showcase the creative craziness of non-mainstream Marvel at the time? You can’t get much better than these Defenders issues.
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