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The Defenders

Old 05-10-20, 01:59 PM
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The Defenders

One title that started off really, really good and went downhill after the original artist left was The Defenders.

The legendary Roy Thomas came up with the team (originally The Silver Surfer, Sub Mariner, and the Hulk), and put them together in the pages of The Sub Mariner's comic. It was a two part story in issues 34 & 35. Good stuff, with very good art from Sal Buscema and Jim Mooney. From there the team continued in the pages of Marvel Feature (1-3), with Thomas continuing the writing, and Ross Andru pencilling the art. (Interesting story, too, how Bill Everett HATED Ross Andru as a penciller because his work was so rough - so Everett intentionally BOTCHED the inking job on Marvel Feature #1 - the official introduction to the team. Everett inked EVERY line that Andru drew, exactly as Andru drew them. The result is a Godawful mess. Stan Lee was PISSED and read Everett the riot act!)

(Everett was not used for Marvel Feature #2, but he was brought back for #3, and he did a much better job on that one to make up for his sabotaging of #1.)

The team and stories were offbeat. It was conceived as a non-team team, a team that gets together when they're needed, and then they separate when they aren't. There would be a line-up flux as different people would come in and out of the team.

The first line-up change was to replace The Silver Surfer with Doctor Strange. Stan, at that point, still had the rule where no one could use the Surfer without his permission, and NO ONE could use him as a regular on any title. Thomas asked, but was denied the use of the Surfer going forward (only for the introduction of the team and an occasional guest appearance later on).

Once The Defenders graduated to their own title (no Marvel Feature above the Defenders name), the underrated Steve Englehart took over writing the comic, and did a really good job (arguably better than Thomas did). Sal Buscema came aboard as regular pencil artist at the same time, and the book looked much slicker and professional.

Englehart created a new Valkyrie, one with a fascinating backstory, and made her a part of the team.

After Englehart's run Len Wein had a really good run of his own on the title, with Sal Buscema remaining as artist, giving the series continuity. Wein brought in Nighthawk from the Squadron Supreme, and gave him a total makeover (a big improvement, too). After Len Wein, Steve Gerber took over and brought his own quirky storytelling style to the proceedings. Again, Sal Buscema remained the artist and the book remained top notch.

But when Gerber and Buscema left, the title went downhill. David Anthony Kraft replaced Gerber, and he was adequate, but Keith Giffen replaced Sal Buscema, and that was a huge drop in art quality. After that Herb Trimpe took over on pencils, and by that point he had lost his touch (his style had become simpler, slicker, and more cartoony).

And that's when I first bought an issue of The Defenders. Some time in 1977. The Defenders were featured in an issue of The Incredible Hulk following the death of Jarella (a great story with some AMAZING, emotive art by Sal), and I liked what I saw. Picking up an issue of The Defenders that year, however, I found Keith Giffen's art, which wasn't very good, and a story that was just OK. I gave The Defenders the occasional shot in the years that followed, but I always found the Post-Hulk art from Trimpe to be pretty bad. It was odd, too - Trimpe's art was really good for the Hulk title up through issue 193 (his last), but when he came back a year later on a fill-in title and an Annual his art had already changed and wasn't nearly as good as it had been a year earlier.

I honestly don't believe The Defenders ever recovered from the loss of Gerber and Buscema. It took another 8 or 9 years for the title to be cancelled, but Marvel's editors never seemed to make it a priority title after that (always assigning B Level talent to work on it).

But for the first few years it was a great title, sometimes better than The Avengers (which Englehart wrote at the same time he wrote The Defenders - which led to the Avengers/Defenders War storyline).

Old 05-10-20, 07:00 PM
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Re: The Defenders

I always loved the concept of the Defenders. Loved the characters individually and enjoyed the couple random issues I had, so I picked up most of the individual issues in cheap bins per the years. But now I own them all in digital, and they’re in my hue virtual ‘to read’ pile. Maybe your post will motivate me to dig them up and start....
Old 05-10-20, 07:45 PM
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Re: The Defenders

My favorite series, for about the first 30 issues or so. Even when Sal was still there but Klaus Janson started inking, the art lost its appeal to me.

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