College English departments very often classify their faculty by the era of literature in which they specialize. The Beowulf and Chaucer guy is a Medievalist, the Shakespeare folks are Renaissance, the professors focusing on Thoreau and Emerson are Americanists, and anyone who touches something written after the early 1900s is a Modernist. If Blastoff were an English department – which is a beautiful idea, a mix of two things I love dearly, because I am a gargantuan nerd – I suppose I’d be the Modernist. I’m catching up on the classics, and I’m loving what I’m reading, but my love of comics was birthed from Y: The Last Man, from Preacher, from Blankets. The earliest superhero stories I read as an adult were during Marvel’s Civil War. In fact, before this month, I’d never read a single Defenders book. As I often do, I entrusted Scott Tipton with my reverse education in classic comics, and he led me to Defenders #48, which I thought I’d cover for my final feature of Blastoff’s Defenders month.
The issue, written by David Anthony Kraft & Don McGregor with art by Keith Giffen, introduces the Defenders as “the vibrant Valkyrie, the high-flying Nighthawk, the happy-go-lucky Hellcat, and the incredible Hulk.” Truth is, though, those were the characters that got the least page time in this issue. Scorpio, Nick Fury, and Jack Norriss get the most action here, which primarily focuses on the kidnapping of Norriss by a society-hating, beer-loving Scorpio.
It opens with Scorpio ranting to Nick Fury about how societal norms have made humanity into a lesser version of itself, and how even he feels compelled to conform to what people have come to expect of a man his age. He wants to free himself from the chains of expectation, along with everyone else. He tasks Fury with bringing him Jack Norriss, and – of course – a case of beer. All of this still resonates today, which leaves me wondering if they’ve merely tapped into timeless issues, or if the state of society is something we should be perpetually mourning. Anyway, Fury seems completely into the plan, and it’s not clear from this issue if Fury is a corrupted LMD, if he’s really down with Scorpio at this time in continuity, or if he’s riding out the villain’s plan to his own end. The dialogue suggests they’ve been hanging out for a while, too, and Scorpio even says that he doesn’t really need Fury, but he keeps him around because it gets lonely without him. D’aww.
As Fury leaves on his mission, we catch up with the Defenders. This issue is mired in a lot of continuity, and points readers back a few issues with editor notes to explain some of the odder details of the plot. As of now, Norriss is hanging out with the Defenders, but he’s unhappy about it because Valkyrie is possessing the body of Barbara Norriss, Jack’s wife. Jack resents her for turning his wife into something he doesn’t recognize and, even though she’s not Barbara, Jack’s words hurt Valkyrie. The best scene in the issue is a conversation between Val and Hellcat who are riding a “winged steed” named Aragorn. Because why not? It’s in bits like that, the seamless mix of the mundane – the human angle – and the wild fantasy that makes this such a unique read.
Wonder Man and Moon Knight are also hanging around, and the conversation between the Defenders and their buds reveals that Jack has important information buried in his subconscious. Makes sense that Scorpio would want to exploit him, then. As Nick Fury convinces Jack to leave the Defenders and come with him on SHIELD business, we cut away for a small but interesting glimpse at what the Hulk, who has been noticeably absent from all of the Defenders scenes, is doing. And he’s brooding! He’s having a bit of an existential crisis, and he’s tired of everything. Tired of fighting, tired of puny humans, and tired of having friends. D’aw.
The issue gets even more interesting – and hilarious – when Norriss gets to Scorpio’s place. Scorpio gives him the whole villain plan (he’s got a machine that’ll fix society) spiel, but it really kinda seems as if he just wants a bud to drink with. His dialogue is slowly taken over by more and more references to drinking beer that I was sure there would be some kind of plot twist that led to beer being his downfall. But nope. He just really likes beer.
We’re left off during a cliffhanger, but the story, characters, and startlingly unique tone are enough to bait me for the next issue. If you find yourself flipping through Defenders back issues, the Kraft/McGregor/Giffen run is a good bet if you want a fun and weird ride with a classic feel but pacing akin to modern superhero comics.
PAT SHAND is a comic book writer (Robyn Hood, Charmed: Season Ten, Grimm Fairy Tales) and pop culture journalist (Blastoff Comics, Sad Girls Guide). He lives in San Diego, where he can be found pretending to write at local coffee shops. Really, he’s watching cat videos.