Previously: We’ve been lingering of late over the roster of the Defenders, Marvel’s most decidedly casual super-team, last week looking at the introductions of Hellcat and the Red Guardian to the team. This week, we explore the Defenders’ final four recruits, a much more outlandish, motley crew. Let’s get to it.
I’m usually pretty positive in these columns. I’ve always thought there was more to be gained by a positive review than in just spewing negative criticism, and try to avoid going off on the clichéd Internet rant. But here’s the thing: if I’m going to talk about the Defenders’ lineup, and devote all this time to it, that means I’ve gotta try and be complete, which beings us to this fellow:
I frickin’ hate Devil-Slayer. Hate hate hate. Hate everything about him. Bad name, bad costume, bad powers, bad motivation, bad origin. Just plain bad. So let’s get this clown out of the way and move on to a couple of good Defenders.
Making his debut with the team back in DEFENDERS #58, Devil-Slayer became a more frequently attending member during the Defenders’ battle with the Six-Fingered Hand, an affiliation of demons, circa DEFENDERS #90-100, give or take. A disillusioned soldier turned mob hitman, Eric Payne resigned from his life in organized crime after accidentally killing the wife and child of one of his targets, Looking for direction, he hooked up with a group of occult types called the Demon Cult, where he learned to unlock his brain’s psionic potential and was given a dimensional cloak, which allows him to carry around an arsenal of weaponry, and traverse great distances instantly. When he realized that the Demon Cult’s demonic masters meant to obliterate mankind (gee, imagine that), Payne rebelled against the cult, calling himself “the Devil-Slayer.”
I never understood why we were supposed to be rooting for this guy. Sure, he’s killing demons, and all, but there’s still that small matter of his past as a mafia hitman and the murder of innocent civilians. Eventually, DEFENDERS writer J. M. DeMatteis seemed to come to the same conclusion, and had Payne sent to the penitentiary to pay the price for his crimes.
A much better fit for the team came along in DEFENDERS #94, in the orange scaly form of senior citizen Isaac Christians, a.k.a. the Gargoyle.
Introduced at the beginning of the Defenders’ aforementioned lengthy battle with the Six-Fingered Hand, Christians, the Mayor of his Virginia hometown Christiansboro, was distraught at the slide into poverty and despair he saw in the community his family had built, and took drastic steps to try and remedy it. Christians, a dabbler in the black arts, made a deal with the demon Avarrish, one of the members of the Six-Fingered Hand. In exchange for restoring prosperity to the town of Christiansboro, he would allow his soul to be transferred to a demonic gargoyle’s body, and do Avarrish’s bidding: namely, kidnapping the Defender Hellcat, When Christians realized that Hellcat and her fellow Defenders were to be killed by the Hand, he rebelled against Avarrish and fought alongside the Defenders. Although the Defenders managed to defeat the Six-Fingered hand and free Christiansboro from demonic influence, it wasn’t without a cost: Isaac Christians was now trapped in the Gargoyle’s body forever.
Christians adapted surprisingly well to his new life with the Defenders, and became a pillar of the team for the remainder of its run. The dichotomy of seeing Isaac Christians’ turn-of the-century, Mayberry-style manners and mannerisms coming out of the mouth of this hideous, grinning orange monster always made for a fun visual.
And the Gargoyle’s powerhouse strength and toughness gave the team the extra muscle it had been missing with the absence of the Hulk, Sub-Mariner and Luke Cage.
Speaking of the Gargoyle, if you’re burrowing through the back-issue bins this convention season, you could do much worse than to try to track down the 1985 GARGOYLE limited series, written by J. M. DeMatteis and drawn by Mark Badger.
Therein, we learn much more about Isaac’s life, his traumatic childhood and tortured personal relationships that led him to one day making his deal with Avarrish. It’s a moody, creepy and personal tale, featuring some of DeMatteis’ best writing and gorgeous art by Badger. One of the best, and most tragically overlooked, comics of the ’80s, in my humble estimation.
Next to join was longtime super-team mainstay Hank McCoy, a.k.a. The Beast, fresh from lengthy stints as first an X-Man, and then an Avenger. Beast had shown up on Doc Strange’s doorstep in DEFENDERS #103, looking for some sorcerous assistance. After pitching in on a mission with Strange and Devil-Slayer (and a hastily recruited Wonder Man), we discover the Beast’s dilemma in DEFENDERS #105, “…Rising…”, by DeMatteis and artist Don Perlin. After a bout of Skrull sabotage at Avengers Mansion, the Beast’s girlfriend Vera Cantor was left in a state of “non-life,” neither living or dead, and Beast had come seeking Dr, Strange’s help in reviving her, with the help of a destroyed alien artifact, the Resurrection Stone. When the efforts of both Strange and Reed Richards prove futile, the three of them journey to the realm inside the stone, where they encounter the consciousness of the Stone itself, which uses their very life-forces to reform the destroyed artifact.
Luckily, the first to encounter the newly cohesive Resurrection Stone at Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum is a returning Daimon Hellstrom, freshly cleansed of his father’s demonic influence. Feeling its temptation of power, he again destroys it, freeing Dr. Strange, Reed Richards and the Beast.
Even better, Daimon is able to use his hellspawned powers to heal Vera, returning her to life before the Beast’s overjoyed eyes.
Following Vera’s resurrection, the Beast elects to remain with the Defenders, although over time the team’s loose-knit, unofficial nature would begin to wear on him, finding himself longing for the more stable structure of the teams he worked with in the past. This would drive him to completely revitalize the team as of DEFENDERS #125, and he’d call in a couple of old friends to help him out. More on that next week.
And finally, there was one more new Defender not too long after Beast joined, the oversized multiple-personality psychic called The Overmind, but man, was he dull.
Best to move on, really.