Previously: All month, we’ve been exploring the wacky world of Marvel’s DEFENDERS, their catch-all team book for characters who didn’t really belong on a team, a weird concept that worked out surprisingly well throughout the 1970s. Last time, we met new Defenders recruit and #1 team booster Nighthawk. But who else was hanging about?
With the addition of Kyle “Nighthawk” Richmond to the team, the pretty-much regular membership of the Defenders was in place. While folks would come and go, the core group of Hulk, Namor, Dr. Strange, Valkyrie and Nighthawk (and to a somewhat lesser extent the Silver Surfer) would remain a standard. However, there were plenty of new members to come along as well. This week, let’s round out the roster a bit, shall we?
One of Marvel’s most…unusual characters joined up in GIANT-SIZE DEFENDERS #2, one Daimon Hellstrom, a.k.a. the Son of Satan. Hard as it is to believe, Marvel actually tried out the idea of the anti-Christ as a superhero, looking to cash in on the Satanism craze that was all over the popular culture in the early 1970s with movies like THE EXORCIST and THE OMEN.
Born to a demon and a human woman (Marvel tried to sidestep the whole anti-Christ issue by saying that Daimon’s father wasn’t the Satan, just a lesser demon who called himself Satan. Sure, that’s much better.
Orphaned as a child after his mother discovered the true identity of Daimon’s father and understandably went insane, Daimon Hellstrom was raised in a Jesuit orphanage (although it seems to me the first thing they should have done is change that last name –“Daimon Smith” wouldn’t raise so many eyebrows) and grew up to become a leading anthropologist and the world’s leading expert on the occult, exorcism and demonology. Naturally, you don’t have Satan for a father and not have powers of some sort. All Daimon had to do was focus on the pentagram-shaped birthmark on his chest (as I type this, it boggles the mind that Marvel ever got away with publishing this alongside SPIDER-MAN and THE FANTASTIC FOUR) to manifest his “Darksoul,” which would grant him superhuman strength and the ability to throw “soulfire.” Not only that, he carried around a trident that let him better focus his soulfire and allowed him to fly.
Oh, and he rides around in a flaming chariot that was pulled by three demon horses.
A superhero that would have people running in the streets and immediately saying their prayers. A perfect fit for the Defenders.
The Son of Satan is recruited by Dr. Strange to help out when the Hulk is kidnapped by the sorcerer Asmodeus, and uses his trident to track down Asmodeus’ lair, where the Defenders are beset by illusions based on their won fears and insecurities. In the end, Daimon is instrumental in defeating Asmodeus, thanks to his trident, manufactured (where else) in hell:
Daimon didn’t get a lot of play in DEFENDERS early on, but later in the run, particularly in the J. M. DeMatteis-penned issues, he becomes much more of a major player, including a romance with a fellow Defender — more on that later.
The next new Defenders recruit joins the team through a time-honored comic-book tradition: the Misunderstanding That Leads to a Fight Scene. In DEFENDERS #17, “Power Play!”, written by Len Wein and drawn by Sal Buscema, Nighthawk learns that buildings he owns are being targeted for destruction by the Wrecking Crew, a gang of super-strong brawlers who would later become fairly frequent antagonists for the Avengers. When Nighthawk and Dr. Strange head out to investigate the condition of the last remaining building he owns, they run into a little extra security hired by Nighthawk’s company: Luke Cage, Hero for Hire.
Strange and Nighthawk try to explain that they’re on the same side, but Cage isn’t having it, and delivers a bit of the old five-knuckle shuffle to Doc Strange, which admittedly seems a bit of overkill:
Surprisingly, Nighthawk is able to hold his own against Cage:
The two tussle until Strange recovers and slaps Luke Cage inside a magic bubble, but before they can come to an understanding, the building collapses around them, thanks to the arrival of the aforementioned Wrecking Crew. Cage teams up with Strange and Nighthawk in the next issue against the Crew, and continues to work with them as they try to stop the Wrecking Crew from getting their hands on a miniaturized gamma bomb. However, at the case’s conclusion, Cage seems to have little interest in continuing to work with the Defenders:
Luke Cage finds himself drawn back into the Defenders’ world in DEFENDERS #24, when he gets a phone call from the Hulk — or, well, Bruce Banner, anyway:
With Dr, Strange, Valkyrie, Nighthawk and new associate Yellowjacket kidnapped by the white-supremacist terrorist group the Sons of the Serpent, Banner and Clea took it upon themselves to call in as many onetime Defenders as possible, summoning Daredevil, Daimon Hellstrom and Luke Cage to assist the Hulk in tracking down their kidnapped teammates. Cage is particularly incensed when it’s discovered that the mastermind behind the Sons of the Serpent’s activities, is Pennyworth, the African-American CEO of Nighthawk’s corporation, who had hoped to use the strife caused by the Serpents’ activities to garner more profits for Richmond Industries.
Cage finds himself called in to help the DEFENDERS again only 13 issues later, and as he’s primarily a hero for hire, he’s getting a little tired of doing all this pro bono work. Luckily, Kyle Richmond (with his brain freshly replanted in his noggin, by the way) has a simple solution: put him on the payroll:
Cage stuck around for about another year or so, before leaving the group pretty much for good in DEFENDERS #46, declaring that “being a reg’lar member of a super-team just ain’t my bag!” Wise words from the future partner of Iron Fist and full-time Avenger…
However, Cage’s absence wouldn’t leave the team short-handed — by the time he left, two new members had already joined up. And in a team that had already included the anti-Christ and a militant mercenary, what better to cement the team’s popularity in Cold War 1970s America than a Communist and a feminist.
We’ll meet Red Guardian and Hellcat next time. Come on back.