Defence of the Realm

Today, in something of a prequel to the next Marvel Treasury Edition, we’re looking at The Coming of the Defenders from February 2012.

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The Defenders were of course Marvel’s “non-team”: the anti-hero powerhouse characters who couldn’t play nicely with the Avengers-at least in 1971. They originated in two Roy Thomas storylines- the Nameless Ones crossover between Dr. Strange, Sub-Mariner and the Hulk, where Strange retired with a new alias as Stephen Sanders.

The second saga was a Sub-Mariner two-parter in which Namor teamed up with the Hulk and the Silver Surfer.

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The Defenders were launched in Marvel Feature, a title which, once they span off in their own series, hosted Ant-Man and the Thing in a predecessor to Marvel Two-in -One, until 1973. Marvel Feature would relaunch in 1975 as the original home of Red Sonja’s solo series.

This classy reprint special was a tie-in to yet another relaunch of the Defenders- their fifth by my calculations (and a sixth followed it this year). Perhaps over the next couple of posts, we’ll discover why the series has rebooted so often.

The Day of the Defenders:  by Thomas, Andru and Everett, this was the premiere of the series and a  moody, atmospheric  piece which I’ll discuss in more detail next time. Suffice to say for now, the villain of this nostalgic tale dates back to the Jim Lawrence/Dan Adkin era of Strange Tales in 1968.

The Return: Stephen Sanders encounters the blue-masked Dr. Strange (actually an imposture by Baron Mordo). Thomas undoes the end of the doctor’s career simply and directly; Heck does a good job of evoking Ditko and Colan.

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Nightmare on Bald Mountain: Dormammu returns in a Lovercraftian story, as does Clea- like a lot of Roy Thomas’s heroines, her powers have “all but faded”. This is one of Marvel’s Rutland stories so Roy and Jeannie Thomas appear diegetically. There’s reference to the previous year’s Lady Liberators adventure and Thomas namechecks Lovecraft in Bruce Banner’s dialogue. The Defenders spend a lot of time in civvies and it’s a bit of a snoozer. Sal Buscema’s finishes on Andru give a glossy Marvel sheen, however.

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A Titan Walks Among Us: a more interesting satirical tale poking fun at celebrity and, perhaps,  the Krofft brothers. Xemnu, the original Hulk, a fuzzy Marvel monster from 1971 reprints in Monsters on the Prowl ( formerly Chamber of Darkness) appears in this story. It is in a Twilight Zone vein with echoes of Quatermass II. An astronaut is killed rather violently and the Hulk and Namor swear never to help out Strange again.

The respect and admiration Thomas has for Namor and his creator Everett is apparent in this collection. The stories remind me somewhat of Joe Orlando’s mystery books at DC. The Golden Age-y art, while probably not to Stan’s taste, definitely does not look like the Romita-fied Marvel Universe. It feels very much in fact like the end of the Sixties.

Coming soon:  Musical Minds

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners

A World of Fire and Fury

In the last post, I looked at the Conan Treasury edition from the summer of 1977. Today I want to talk briefly about its sequel of sorts: Marvel’s Conan The Barbarian Annual 3 from the same year.

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As the cover indicates, the comic contains two tales of Robert E. Howard’s barbarian heroes. The first story, At the Mountain of the Moon-God is by the classic Thomas/Buscema team. It is a colour reprint from Savage Sword of Conan 3 (1974) and is a direct sequel to the REH story Black Colossus.

A stylish and confident wordless prologue sets the scene, in the boudoir of Princess Yasmela. It’s a story of court intrigue as Conan goes on a rescue mission to liberate Yasmela’s captive brother. The condottiere Murilo from the colour series gets a namecheck in this medieval adventure but it’s marred rather by a silly monster of the month: a full-grown pterosaur that hatches from an egg accidentally boiled in oil.

The panels are small and cluttered and there is slightly more innuendo and violence than the colour comic: the treacherous handmaiden Vateesa literally falls on her sword. We discover how Conan loses his position within Yasmela’s court via a lesson in marital alliances and political expediency. It’s a reasonably accomplished comic book but it lacks any of Howard’s exotic  necromancy and sense of decay, achieving a rather Harryhausen tone.

The second story is Beast from the Abyss, a Kull story adapted from a 1967 Lin Carter reworking of an REH outline. It was originally published in SSOC 2, also in 1974.

The “dreamy pleasure city” of Kamula is “lazy and languid…like some intricate fountain: gay and sparkling when it functioned, cold and stagnant when it stopped.” This effete and decadent civilzation is postively yelling sexual deviancy and devil-worship. When one of Kull’s Pictish allies is abducted, the king discovers a cult of human sacrifice, centred around Zugthuu the Slitherer: an archetypal Lin Carter monster- a giant slug with an implied human intelligence.

This Steve Englehart/Howard Chaykin tale is a prettily drawn if simplistic tale. Chaykin’s figurework and action are a refreshing change from the Buscema model and of course are remisicent of DC strips: Iron Wolf and Fafhrd and the Mouser. I doubt however if a Chaykin Kull series (or Conan for that matter) would have been any more successful than DC’s stab at Sword and Sorcery.

As a taster for the b/w magazine, this is a reasonably effective marketing tool. I had read the Conan story in the UK SSOC monthly around 1978 but it was never one of my favourites. The Kull story is one-dimensional and a retread of Carter’s ideas from his derivative and rather juvenile Thongor series. For diehard Marvel Conan fans only.

Coming soon: a brace of posts on the dynamic Defenders.

All images are presumed copyright of their original owners.