The Defenders. I didn’t think it was possible to have a group that changed its line-up more than the Avengers, but I was wrong. I took a glimpse at the Defenders’ tangled history and decided to start in a safe and oversized place: Marvel Treasury Edition #16. It opened with the first comic featuring The Defenders by that name, “Day of the Defenders.” It was published in Marvel Feature #1 in 1971. The pages brought together Dr. Strange, Namor, and Hulk. Not necessarily a group I would have expected to work together, but then again, they didn’t seem thrilled to be working with each other either.
Image via Bronze Age Babies
Various heroes dropped in and out of the group, and in “For Sale: One Planet – Slightly Used” written by Len Wein with art from Sal Buscema and Klaus Janson (also in the same Treasury issue), the group is comprised of Dr. Strange, Namor, Hulk, and Valkyrie. Namor still doesn’t want to be there. I realize there have to be multiple occasions when Namor isn’t surly and sullen. There have to be. I just haven’t come across many of them yet.
The issue opens with Valkyrie and Hulk hanging at Dr. Strange’s house. Strange is attempting to entertain his guests, but they’re over it. They’ve clearly heard Dr. Strange’s anecdotes and stories one too many times. Luckily, a distraction arrives in the form of Nighthawk. He makes a threatening entrance and immediately jumps into insulting Hulk with the most ridiculous (read: best) names:
Lettuce-lips, jade-jaws… I can’t say those would be the first names to pop into my mind if I encountered Hulk, but I can’t say they wouldn’t be either. I’ve never met a green rage-monster; I don’t know how I would react.
After he stops making Hulk and Valkyrie angry, Nighthawk explains himself. Long story short: he used to be part of the Squadron Sinister. Just when he thought he was out… you get the idea. The group is now under Nebulon’s thumb and he has to be seen to be believed and truly appreciated:
He apparently raided Donna Troy’s closet.
Kidding aside, Nebulon looks fabulous. Maybe he doesn’t come across as your standard villain – he’s way too sparkly for that – but the gold, silver, and black do make him look glorious. That’s its own kind of intimidating.
Nebulon has bullied the Squadron into selling him Earth. As in, the entire planet. It wasn’t like there was a large “For Sale” sign hanging off the North Pole, but Hyperion took it upon himself to offer up planet anyway. I hope he asked for a solid commission. Regardless of that, he did secure a way off the planet because Nebulon plans to wreck everything by putting the planet underwater. He needs to do so to ensure the continuation of his species.
Dr. Strange, Hulk, Valkyrie, and a very grumpy Namor (Strange literally forced Namor to accompany them) do their best to stop Nebulon from melting the polar ice caps with a massive laser. They fly into the Arctic confident. They are the Dynamic Defenders after all. However, they find more resistance than they expected. The Squadron meets them punch for punch, and Nebulon traps them inside a globe. He could have proceeded with his plan, but Hyperion stops him and Nebulon lets him yammer on about how he was blasted into space in a bubble because of Thor and wants revenge on the Defenders, blah blah blah.
Those panels gummed up the forward momentum of the story for a moment, but things got back on track soon because the Defenders escaped the globe and jumped back into fighting form. They’re able to stop the Squadron and save the planet, but only after Mr. Sparkly No-Pants Nebulon transforms into his true form. He’s really a giant slimy creature with tentacles.
It’s not exactly a face you’d follow into battle.
The issue ends with the Defenders focusing their energy upon Nighthawk to heal him from near-death. They succeed, and Nighthawk asks to join the ranks of the Defenders. Namor seizes the opportunity and spits out that Nighthawk can have his place because he is done. Over it. Finished. He doesn’t give Dr. Strange a chance to answer before he heads back to the seas. Hulk doesn’t seem to mind that he’s lost his friend Fish-Man since he’s gained a new pal, Bird-Nose. I can only hope that Nighthawk comes up with some more fantastic nicknames for Hulk.