Sunday, September 16, 2012

Family Feud


Marvel 100th Anniversary Issues

FEATURING:


The Defenders #100


This issue is the culmination of a lot of things that writer J.M. De Matteis--now with nine issues of the title under his belt--has set into motion. Let me see if I can boil it down for you in a nutshell:
  • The Defenders find themselves captive and witnessing a dimensional shift that's transforming Earth into Hell--thus the title of the issue, "Hell On Earth";
  • They face the power of Satan, along with his other manifestations of Mephisto, Thog, and Satannish;
  • Patsy Walker (Hellcat) has been transformed, with Satan claiming that she is actually his daughter;
  • Satan offers the Defenders a deal: "unleash the light in darkness' heart" and he abandons his plans for Earth--fail to do so, and, well, like I said, Hell on Earth.

So, for the one-hundredth issue of The Defenders, presumably we have the ultimate battle of good vs. evil. With Daimon Hellstrom, the "Son of Satan," caught in the middle. But we'll get to that in a moment. We have a full complement of Defenders here:
  • The original team of Dr. Strange, the Hulk, and the Sub-Mariner
  • the Silver Surfer, who some consider to be one of the team's founders, but who I maintain to this day wasn't
  • the Valykrie and Nighthawk--oh, and Hellcat, though currently indisposed
  • informal member Clea, Dr. Strange's disciple at the time
  • the Gargoyle, Devil-Slayer, and the Son of Satan

So off Satan sends three groups of Defenders to struggle against some threat, tailored to their individual characters, in order to save Earth--which, as we learn later, is a big waste of time. For one thing, it's probably no stretch that any deal offered by Satan, of all entities, is going to have a catch. But our other tip-off is that this issue has all the ring of any "contest" we've ever seen set up by the Grandmaster: groups of heroes having no choice but to fight against threats in different scenarios in order to save Earth. And while the battles here are mildly interesting, they have no real impact and thus no real value to the issue.

No, both the value and the interest come from another player in this battle who might otherwise have slipped beneath our radar--Daimon Hellstrom. For in the interludes between battles, it's becoming clear what--who--Satan's true goal is in this conflict: having his son stand again at his side. And Satan's transformation of Patsy Walker, who Daimon had fallen in love with, is proving to be a most effective tool for messing with Daimon's head:



When the Defenders are all assembled again and they realized they've failed in their individual missions, they come to understand that it's Daimon who is the focal point of the conflict. As for Satan, he realizes that his son needs to be weakened further in spirit, and so makes his attack a two-pronged one. First, by sending his "sister," Patsy, to kill him--where, trident poised to slay her, Daimon refuses to end her life and admits his love for her. And secondly, by entering the fray himself, making it a contest between father and son. The Defenders, seeing the battle quickly go against Daimon, mystically arrange for Daimon's demonic "darksoul" to come to the fore in order to put the battle on more equal footing. The tactic fails--but it's only here that the climax of this issue truly arrives:


So with both Daimon's return to his father's realm, as well as the return of his full heritage in the form of his darksoul (thanks to the Defenders), Satan's real battle has been won despite the dog and pony show of a "hell on Earth." At the battle's conclusion, Satan restores Patsy Walker to normal, suggesting that his story of her demonic origin as his daughter could have been simply a concoction in order to further his goal. He also twists the knife by reminding the Defenders that by going back on their word not to interfere in the battle, they adopted his own methods of lying and deceit. And it goes without saying that, in part, because of that interference, Daimon made the decision to return to his father.

Not exactly a victory to write home about--but still, clearly in the "win" column, however bittersweet, and typical fare from De Matteis as he would demonstrate in later issues. That becomes apparent as early as the very next story, "Renewal," an epilogue of sorts to this battle and an excellent example of the characterization that he brings to The Defenders. It's a writing style that, as we saw in issue #100, stresses that the more important victory in a battle is attained more by realization that by throwing a punch. Which is why the Hulk, until now a mainstay of this title (more for commercial reasons than any other), makes a noticeable exit with issue #101 and isn't seen much in The Defenders thereafter. It's a vivid indication of De Matteis changing the book's course, with issue #100 marking a true turning point.


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