For Those Who Came In Late: We’re continuing our more-exhaustive-than anticipated exploration of the Defenders’ roster, having just left off with the introductions of the Son of Satan and Luke Cage to the team that wasn’t really a team. Next up to join? Well, what does a team with an alien, a monster and a reformed supervillain need to really get the positive spin going? Of course — a Communist!
Premiering in DEFENDERS #35, “Bring Back My Body To Me, To Me…!” (written by Steve Gerber and drawn by Sal Buscema), the newest Defender brought an interesting political twist to the group dynamic, with the introduction of Soviet brain surgeon Tania Belinsky, a.k.a. the Red Guardian. After her dissident father was sent to Siberia, Belinsky decided to try and change her country from within, fighting crime and protecting dissidents as the Red Guardian, taking the name and costume from an earlier Soviet costumed adventurer created by the state in an attempt to inspire the Soviet citizenry in much the same way as Captain America.
We first see the Red Guardian foiling a street mugging, and then fleeing from the police:
Belinsky’s life takes an unexpected turn when she receives a phone call from one Stephen Strange in the United States, seeking her services. Tania’s help was needed to assist with the whole “Nighthawk’s-brain-removed-from-his-skull” problem we discussed previously. Between Dr. Strange’s connections and Nighthawk’s fortune, enough strings are pulled to arrange for Dr, Belinsky to make her first visit to the United States, where she’s met by Doc Strange at the airport:
Before the operation, Tania expresses her desire to Strange to stay a little longer in the U.S. without her “minders” from the Party, sent along to insure she does not defect. Being a full-service kind of guy, Dr. Strange decides to make it happen:
Meanwhile, having completed the surgery and tucked Nighthawk’s noodle back into his brainpan, Tania is attempting to talk to Kyle when she’s interrupted by a trio of goons looking to kidnap the convalescing millionaire. Talk about your bedside manner:
That kidnap attempt is repulsed, but later, a second try is made, this time a success. And when both doctors Strange and Belinsky decide to investigate in their costumed identities, they both run into the same culprit: the Plantman.
The two meet up inside their vegetable prison and exchange notes:
Dr. Strange and the Red Guardian escape the Plantman’s cell, and tussle with the Plantman once more alongside Luke Cage and Jack Norriss, but the Plantman gets away.
With her Soviet bodyguards now out of the picture, the Red Guardian becomes a full-time Defender, and despite her own problems with the Soviet state, her Communist upbringing does come up from time to time, such as when she learns just what Luke Cage does for a living:
The Red Guardian had a brief stint as a Defender, lasting just about a year before she was “called back to the Soviet Union,” ostensibly due to threats to her family from the KGB. The character made an inauspicious return just under a year later, having fallen under the thrall of a radioactive Russian bad guy known as the Presence. Poor Tania was permanently mutated into a radiation-spewing zombie, and later left Earth with the Presence due to their being to lethal to remain on the planet. I think they’re back on Earth these days, locked in a Russian cell somewhere. Bummer. The character deserved better than that.
Speaking of hard-luck characters, our next Defender hasn’t had it a whole lot easier that the Red Guardian. I’m speaking of course of the happy-go-lucky Hellcat, who would hook up with the Defenders in issue #44, “Rage of the Rajah.” But first a bit of backstory:
Throughout the late ’40s, ’50s and early ’60s, along with its superhero, monster and Western comics, Marvel had been continually publishing teen-humor comics as well (you know, like ARCHIE) — in particular a series called PATSY WALKER or PATSY AND HER PALS, which featured the “hanging-out-at-the malt-shop/cruising-in-the-jalopy” adventures of cute redhead Patsy Walker, her best friend Hedy, and her boyfriend Buzz.
In a very surprising turn, Patsy was introduced to the Marvel Universe in the Beast’s solo series in the pages of AMAZING ADVENTURES, showing up as an old friend of Hank McCoy’s, now a bored housewife, looking to shake up her life by becoming a superhero, and asks Beast to help her out with “just a costume, with some power, or a serum, or something.” Not long after that, Patsy tags along with the Beast and the Avengers on a raid of a Brand Corporation, and in storage there discovers one of the superhero costumes created for the short-lived 1970s Women’s-lib superhero called the Cat. (The Cat, by the way, had since become mystically transformed into Tigra, so the costume was currently up for grabs). Donning the uniform, Patsy discovers that it enhances her own natural physical abilities and reflexes, and immediately leaps into action alongside the Avengers as Hellcat. Yes, sometimes it’s just that easy.
Hellcat has a brief run with the Avengers before being talked into leaving the team (and the planet) by the Avengers’ resident psychic and drama queen Moondragon, and soon the two are off to “develop Patsy’s mental abilities,” whatever the hell that means. Before too long, though, Patsy is back on Earth, being sent back to warn of some sort of imminent but suitably vague danger, and finds herself on Dr. Strange’s doorstep to do just that, in the aforementioned DEFENDERS #44.
There, Patsy runs into Valkyrie and the Red Guardian, and before she knows it she’s going into action with them as the entire population begins to fall under the hypnotic spell of the Red Rajah (who is himself a brainwashed Dr. Strange, by the way).
Something about the way Hellcat was drawn in DEFENDERS always made her look a little creepier than in her earlier uses in AVENGERS, especially when drawn by Keith Giffen and Klaus Janson, as seen here:
Unlike her Russian teammate, Hellcat was in with the Defenders for the long haul, even finding romance with a fellow member, falling in love with and marrying Daimon Hellstrom, the Son of Satan. Unfortunately, things don’t turn out quite so well for Patsy after that, as she’s driven insane by her husband during one of his demonic possessions (although, I gotta say, you marry a guy named “Son of Satan,” you gotta see that coming) and kills herself. That’s a bummer.
Feeling bad about it later, Daimon manipulates Hawkeye and the West Coast Avengers into heading to the Underworld and retrieving Patsy’s soul, and these days she’s back among the living, appearing the pages of SHE-HULK.