Monday, December 7, 2009

The Defenders #51

TITLE: The Defenders #51


COVER DATE: September 1977


17 pages


So up until a few years ago, I only ever owned one Defenders book. It was #152, which was the last issue of the original series, as well as a Secret Wars II tie-in. I'm pretty sure I bought it because I bought every other Secret Wars II tie-in as well. I can't remember too much about it, and that's the way it stayed for a long time.

There's always been something about The Defenders though, that kind of intrigued me. The idea of a "non-team" of super-heroes seemed like something that, if it was done well, would be really entertaining to read. Unfortunately, everything I had heard was not very encouraging.

So fast forward about twenty years and my brother-in-law informs me that he has come into possession of a comic book collection from the late 70's/early 80's that was given to him by a family friend. Being the resident "comic book guy" of the family, I volunteered to see what he had, and get the collection in order so that his son could have a nice-sized collection. He offered to let me have whatever I wanted from these as well.

All in all, it was a nice little collection of about 1000 books ranging from 1975 all the way up to 1995. Alot of this collection was stuff I already had, so my nephew got a pretty decent collection of books including some Claremont/Byrne X-Men and some McFarlane Spider-Man.

There were a couple of runs that I did end up keeping for myself that allowed me to finish off my Byrne Fantastic Four run and 50 or so issues of The Defenders. My curiosity was finally going to be sated, as far as the The Defenders were concerned.

So what was the verdict? Where they any good? Let's find out...

A Round With The Ringer!
  • Writer: David Kraft
  • Penciller: Keith Giffen
  • Inker: Klaus Janson
  • Letterer: Bruce Patterson
  • Colorist: Phil Rache
  • Editor: Archie Goodwin
The story begins with an epilogue of sorts from the previous storyline featuring a battle against Scorpio. Joining the Defenders on this adventure were Nick Fury and Moon Knight, who are still around as S.H.I.E.L.D. picks up the pieces from the epic battle.

This is a style of storytelling we just don't see anymore. With most books these days being written with the trade paperback collections in mind, it would just be too difficult to work out how to package this epilogue to the previous four issues, and not butcher the next volume.

It does date the book slightly, but I always enjoyed this technique. It makes the title seem more serial in nature, and not just a random collection of 6 issue adventures.

It's during this epilogue that we are reminded that Nick Fury's brother was killed. Whether or not his brother was Scorpio, I couldn't tell from the dialogue. He does seem to be at peace, however, just knowing the final fate of his missing brother.

We also see Moon Knight and Nighthawk palling it up and remarking about how well they fought together, with Moon Knight recapping how he managed to escape certain death with the help of a beer can (see the previous post here for more details).

Everyone soon goes their separate ways, and it's a rather uneventful couple of weeks in the life of the Defenders before we pick up their story again. Kyle Richmond and Barbara Norris (a.k.a. Nighthawk and Valkyrie) are riding in his limo as he is escorting her Empire State University, where he has convinced her to enroll for classes.

Here, Valkyrie encounters a villain more dastardly than any the Defenders have previously fought...the bureaucracy of college admissions. After a full day of standing in the wrong lines, filling out the wrong forms, and missing most of the classes that she wants, her day comes to a close with her application forms being ripped up in front of her. She leaves, vowing to get Kyle for getting her into this, but not before splitting the administrators desk in two with her bare hands.

So that was what the Valkyrie was up to. Let's check in with Nighthawk to see what sort of villainy he is now thrown up against. Arriving at the Manhattan offices of Richmond Enterprises, he finds that it is surrounded by S.W.A.T. teams who are trying to capture a small time villain known as The Ringer.

Without a moment's hesitation, Kyle changes to Nighthawk and bursts into the building to stop the Ringer. Unfortunately, it doesn't go to well for him as the Ringer uses his Rapid-Fire Wrist Rings to snare and constrict Nighthawk, crushing his jet pack.

Nighthawk does manage to get a couple of good shots in, using his damaged jet pack as a projectile, but the relentless barrage of rings is just too much. Reeling in pain and momentarily unable to stop him, the Ringer collects his loot and begins to make his escape.

While Nighthawk attempts to recover in time to stop the Ringer, let's check in with the next member of the Defenders to see how she is coping with the rather hum-drum villainy of ordinary, everyday life.

And apparently it's not going well for Hellcat, who has lost a momentous battle with the coffee pot.

Will this torture never end for our heroes?

Back in the thick of battle, Nighthawk has recovered enough to catch up to the Ringer and cut short his escape. The Ringer continually calls out Nighthawk as a hypocrite for indulging in violence and hero worship, all the while doing it to protect somebody else's money. Little does he know that the man he fights is actually the owner of Richmond Enterprises himself!

A game of cat and mouse ensues within the massive office building, with the Ringer's head games keeping Nighthawk off balance. Again, it looks like our hero is going to be trapped by the wily wrist bands of the Ringer, when fate smiles upon him. Not anticipating to meet any superpowered resistance, he didn't pack enough wrist ring and has now run out. Eager to put a stop to this battle, Nighthawk delivers a swift kick to the jaw of the Ringer.

We'll leave the final fate of the Ringer for a few pages, as we catch back up with Hellcat. She was distracted from seeking revenge on the coffee machine as Valkyrie's estranged husband, Jack Norriss, has arrived at the team headquarters. They take a walk and attempt to work out their feelings for each other, and Valkyrie.

Which finally brings us to the last member of the Defenders that we haven't seen engaged against uncanny villainy from the most mundane of sources. That's's the Hulk!

And who is he pitched in fierce battle with?

A hot dog street vendor, who else. But seeing as how this is the Hulk we're talking about, it's a rather one-sided battle.

Back at Richmond Enterprises for the last time, we catch up with the Ringer as he jumps through a window trying to escape Nighthawk.

Nighthawk picks up the Ringers discarded ring chain and ensnares him as he bursts through the window. A few witty rejoinders about the true nature of jealousy and hypocrisy later, and the Ringer is down for the count.

The issue ends with a rather bizarre scene where we find Valkyrie still on campus, trying to regather her wits at a local coffee bar. She is soon hit upon by a couple of people who I get the impression I should know, but I am drawing a blank. They go by the names of Dollar Bill and Ledge, and they are soon escorting her to the movies.

To make this sequence even stranger, the are being followed in the shadows by a man with a lead pipe who has just assaulted a fellow pedestrian for littering. It's definitely tough living in a world full of vigilante justice.


I think I caught the Defenders on an off day, as they seemed to have had no end of problems dealing with the most mundane of ordinary problems and the D-Listiest of D-List superheroes. I get the impression from the epilogue at the beginning that they'd rather be fighting super-villains attempting world domination than stand in line at the D.M.V.

Seriously though, this issue was a blast. I can definitely see how a cult following has built up for this title over the years. It's fun and goofy, while at the same time hitting on some big time themes of loss, responsibility, honor, duty, inequality, and social justice.

Although what exactly the Hulk was trying to teach us by stealing hot dogs, I can't quite figure out. I guess every group needs it's Kramer.

The other thing I absolutely loved about this issue was the artwork from Keith Giffen and Klaus Janson. I've long admired Janson as an inker, but haven't had too much exposure to Giffen as a penciller. Together, I think they make a fantastic team. It's got a great Kirby sensibility to it, without trying to be an outright clone of his style. The storytelling was top notch, and the facial expressions and acting worked perfectly with a touch of humor that balanced everything out.

All in all, this issue was a real winner and definitely one of my favorites that I've reviewed on this blog so far. Unfortunately, most of the 50 issues that I picked up from my brother-in-law are not from this era, but from the early-to-mid 80's. That just means that I have another excuse to go longbox diving and find at least the rest of the Keith Giffen issues of this title, but I can also see myself not stopping with just those.

All characters and artwork reproduced are (c) Marvel Comics

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  1. I love the old Defenders! I have only a scattering of issues, but they're nearly all entertaining, and have a real 70s vibe to them. Best of all are the issues written by Steve Gerber, the Grant Morrison of the 70s. Sometime you might want to check out issues 21-25, which have the Defenders fighting a white supremicist religious cult.

    If I ever happen to come across this particular issue, I'll probably pick it up now.

    --Thelonious Nick

  2. I totally forgot to check my LCS yesterday for some back-issues of The Defenders. D'oh!

    I'm definitely looking before the year is out as an early Christmas present to myself, so I'll keep a particular eye out for issues #21-25.

    Thanks for the tip!

  3. The Defenders is, along with Tomb of Dracula, my favourite strip of the 1970s. I'm glad you enjoyed the read.

  4. Over the last year, The Defenders has become my main guilty pleasure when I get the chance to read some non-blog related back-issues. How I missed out on this title for the first 25 years of my comic book reading career is beyond me.

    I've never read any of the Marvel horror stuff from the 70's. Nothing against 'em, I think I'm just afraid of opening up a new genre to collect if I do start reading.