Previously: When last we convened, we were continuing our discussion of THE DEFENDERS, Marvel’s 1970s super-team of loners and misfits that feature previously unteamed A-listers the Incredible Hulk, Dr. Strange, the Silver Surfer and the Sub-Mariner. With the team graduating to its own monthly series after a tryout stint in MARVEL FEATURE, surely new members were in the offing…
So other than the Big Four, what it did it take to become a Defender?
Pretty much, it was just a matter of whoever showed up.
Famously described by Marvel as a “Non-Team,” the basic rule was that anyone who fought alongside the Defenders was considered a Defender. Seems simple enough. However, there were definitely two kinds of Defenders. There were the folks who would show up for a battle, then make with a jaunty salute and not be heard from again, and then there were the folks that were crashing on Dr. Strange’s couch so much that Wong was practically setting them a place at the breakfast table every morning.
Rather than try and detail this mess chronologically, let’s get the easy ones out of the way first. Among the super-folks who fought alongside the Avengers for the proverbial cup of coffee are such luminaries as Namorita, Professor X, Daredevil, the Thing, Yellowjacket, Moon Knight, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Man, Black Panther, Dracula (Dracula?) , Ghost Rider, Man-Thing, Wonder Man, Mr. Fantastic, Captain America, the Scarlet Witch and the Vision. While these folks are all technically Defenders, it’s not like they had a spare key to the Sanctum Sanctorum.
No, the folks we’re going to begin talking about today are the core members, the ones who tended to stay in for the long haul, and it’s no surprise that most of them tended not to have their own solo series, at least not while being featured in DEFENDERS. It’s just instinct for a writer to focus on the characters they can really make their own, and not have to worry about what another writer was doing with them somewhere else.
First up is Clea, Dr. Strange’s disciple and longtime main squeeze, who as we’ve already seen made her first DEFENDERS appearance all the way back in MARVEL FEATURE #2, when she called together the team to help recover Strange’s corporeal form from the clutches of the Dread Dormammu (who happens to be her uncle, as it turns out).
A couple of years later, Clea would have a lengthier stint with the team, but nowhere near as lengthy as the Defenders’ next recruit.
Joining up in DEFENDERS #4 was the Valkyrie, who would remain with the team until its eventual dissolution and reformation as the NEW DEFENDERS (more on that later) and through that team’s entire existence as well.
Val’s backstory gets a little convoluted, so try to keep up.
Back in INCREDIBLE HULK #126, Hulk and Dr. Strange were facing a second-rate sorcerer-type called the “Night-Crawler” (no relation to the X-Men’s Kurt Wagner, of course). Anyway, one of this clown’s disciples, a confused young woman named Barbara, sacrificed herself to otherdimensional exile in order to free Doc Strange and the Hulk. Years later in DEFENDERS #3, Strange accidentally transports the Defenders back there in an attempt to free the Surfer from his earthly imprisonment, and they re-discover Barbara and free her.
Unfortunately for them, she’s since mated with the Nameless One, the Big Cheese of that particular dimension, and has been transformed into one part of a hideous three-headed creature. Yeesh. Talk about your bad dates.
Well, the Defenders decide it’s time to split, and this time, Doc Strange is determined not to leave Barbara behind. Strange casts his usual mystic hoodoo and plucks Barbara from her unholy bonding with the Nameless One as they depart. Unfortunately for Strange (whose batting average isn’t too high on this particular trip, to be honest), Barbara didn’t want to be unbonded, and the process of ripping her apart from her demonic mate left her completely insane.
Now back on Earth with the insane Barbara in tow (as of DEFENDERS #4, that is, written by Steve Englehart and drawn by Sal Buscema), the Defenders (minus the Surfer, who had left in a huff after Strange’s failure to return him to his home planet) stumble across a mysterious castle, which mystically transports them to yet another unknown realm, where they wind up prisoners alongside Thor’s Asgardian nemesis Amora the The Enchantress and the onetime Avenger the Black Knight, who have been locked away by this realm’s queen Casiolena, a sorceress of considerable ability herself.
However, now that there’s another woman in prison with them, the Enchantress can play her ace card: the ability to create the Asgardian warrior woman known as the Valkyrie, as she once did when battling the Hulk some months before. The Defenders object, but to no avail, and within moments the Enchantress had bonded the Valkyrie’s Asgardian spirit to the body of the insane Barbara:
Valkyrie wastes no time kicking ass, busting the Defenders out of prison and tackling Casiolena’s army (led by the Enchantress’ longtime whipping boy the Executioner, as it happens). Valkyrie does have a weakness, it turns out, one implanted by the Enchantress: she can’t raise her hand against another woman.
So after the Enchantress blows away Casiolena, she and the Executioner make their departure, but not before trapping the Black Knight in a stone body on her way out (more on that when we get to “Recommended Reading”). In the meantime, Valkyrie lays claim to the Black Knight’s winged horse Aragorn (since the Knight’s certainly not gonna be needing it), and announces her intention to remain with the Defenders as well:
Val was a mainstay of the group from that moment on, sticking with it to the very end. She made for a very good addition to the series. Not only did she add a much-needed female presence to the book, but her search for her own identity was a very successful and intriguing long-running subplot, as Valkyrie tried to discover who precisely the woman was whose body she was possessing. Val’s search led to an unexpected result, and an even more unlikely Defender , Jack Norris, who initially hung around the team in an attempt to win back the woman he thought was his wife, and eventually wound up fighting alongside the team on numerous occasions.
The Defenders’ next recruit is a favorite around these parts, Hawkeye the Marksman. Hawkeye joined up in DEFENDERS #7, having left the Avengers in a huff after being thrown over by his longtime crush the Scarlet Witch.
Hawkeye’s stint as a Defender wasn’t the longest, only lasting five issues, but they were significant ones nonetheless (the famous “AVENGERS/DEFENDERS WAR,” to be precise, which we’ll get back to later).
However, the newest Defender to follow Hawkeye was indeed down for the long haul, and would come to exemplify the team for a generation of comics fans. Come on back and meet Nighthawk next time.