Tuesday, October 11, 2016

It's Raining Defenders!

In a three-part story from 1978, the dynamic Defenders were forced to part with their anonymity as an under-the-radar informal super-group when they became the subjects of a broadcast documentary that not only outed them to the world and detailed their exploits, but also extended an open invitation for membership to any interested parties--acts taken without the knowledge of the Defenders themselves and, needless to say, entirely unauthorized. How do you think the Defenders reacted to this turn of events? Well, judging by the cover of the initial issue, the state of Nighthawk will probably give you an idea of how smoothly things went down.

Our aspiring filmmaker on the cover's corner is known as Dollar Bill, a film student at Empire State University who probably reads a little too much Variety and whose work as a filmmaker is likely destined to remain in the amateur category. Bill met the Valkyrie while she was taking a stab at attending college, and through her became aware of the Defenders while dealing with a brutal menace on campus known as Lunatik. Bill has a habit of pursuing his art without giving any thought to the possible consequences--and when he became further involved with the Defenders and their adventures, he must have thought he'd hit the mother lode as far as film-worthy subject material.

And so, on a day the Defenders aren't likely to ever forget, Bill makes a surprise announcement to the group of the completion of his documentary project, just as it's about to air as a television special. "Surprise" is without a doubt the word that applies here--but Nighthawk has a few other words for this budding nemesis who's wedged his foot in the Defenders' door.

As Nighthawk says, there's little to do now but watch the film and hope for the best. Dollar Bill of course is stoked that his art is receiving such attention, and his self-confidence is (as usual) off the charts, which gives Nighthawk and the others a cautious sense of anticipation. Do we dare tune in with them to watch this potential disaster?

Without confirming or denying the Hulk's misgivings as to the quality of Dollar Bill's documentary, let's just say that there might be a number of people in the room who want to "smash picture-box" by the time this little presentation is over.

From the look of things, Dollar Bill wants to add "publicist" to his list of talents, declaring himself to be the Defenders' press agent (the '70s equivalent of the term). Ironically, he may have just single-handedly deprived himself of his first and only clients, if Nighthawk has anything to say on the subject. And boy, does he have plenty to say.

Nighthawk's primary concern (aside from the Defenders being used to fill Dollar Bill's coffers) is that people will be beating down the door wanting to become part of the team, now that Bill has practically put out the welcome mat. For those of you who think that's probably an exaggeration, rest assured that the next morning, Nighthawk wishes you'd been right.

To say that chaos erupts from this point on is the understatement of all understatements. You can't help but crack a smile at one bird-associated hero angrily taking off after the other; but afterward, apparently forgetting their reason for coming, four other newcomers make tracks for some recreational horseback riding, leaving the other new arrivals already deciding that it's time for new leadership in the Defenders.

Hellcat and the Valkyrie, at least, are making some effort at decorum, with Hellcat concluding that Christmas has come early with all the new men to flirt with--while the Valkyrie makes her first attempt at brewing coffee for their guests. Unfortunately, even the Hulk's insistence isn't enough to make her offering palatable.

Meanwhile, it appears Hellcat is a little too ingratiating for her own good, as things get out of hand when two of the men she's spending time with (Captain Ultra and the Jack of Hearts) become competitive for her affections and begin hurling (what else?) colorful insults at each other.

Gee--throw in the 3-D Man and Doctor Spectrum with these two, and we've got ourselves a party. But as we can see in the background, our young friends on horseback have lost control of their steeds thanks to being dive-bombed by the unthinking Nighthawk and the Falcon--and the bickering suitors are forced to dive for their lives.

Elsewhere, just to make matters into even more of an uproar, some brainiacs have conferenced in private and agreed that they should attempt to capture the Hulk and end his menace once and for all. We could make the case here that most of the newcomers could lay claim to the word "menace" without much argument from the Defenders--but the Defender in question has his own method for settling the problem.

Iron Man's arrival has him delivering news that hordes of super-villains have invaded Manhattan and declared themselves Defenders, hoping to take advantage of the situation in order to commit multiple crimes in the group's name. What Iron Man doesn't know is that the ones who are behind the whole thing are Libra and Sagittarius, members of Zodiac recently created by Scorpio and which the Defenders defeated, in order to achieve a state of equilibrium. Taking responsibility for the invasion, the prospective Defenders decide to join with Nighthawk and his team to travel into the city to stop the influx of villains--but that will first involve getting everyone's attention, using a time-tested method that's proven effective over the centuries:

Hercules restores order (as difficult as that is to believe), and outlines the stakes involved; but the Hulk, for one, refused to become further involved in this idiocy, especially in light of the behavior he's only recently been a victim of. Leaping off, he leaves Hercules, Nighthawk, and the Valkyrie splitting up everyone into three squads to better cover the city's territory and end the violence.

As Polaris notes, three among the newcomers have decided to withdraw, having realized that they would be a poor fit for the Defenders, and most definitely vice versa.

Frankly I was expecting Daimon Hellstrom to be among those who felt this was a bad idea from the start, though Hellstrom would later return to the team as a very part of their line-up. (It may have been his earlier exposure to the group which compelled him show up in response to the TV spot and investigate the possibility of working with them.) By the way--wouldn't you think Captain and Ms. Marvel would have still joined the missions into Manhattan, regardless?

As to how all of these people were getting into the city--well, the simple answer would have been to use the same transportation they took to get to the riding academy, but then we would have been deprived of a little more hilarity.

Upon arrival, it's not all dramatic battling for the Defenders en masse, nor is it exactly a grateful public clasping its collective hands in relief as they spring into action. On the contrary, two of the three sub-teams find their brief taste of life with the Defenders to be about as welcome as the coffee they unsuccessfully attempted to down.

As Nighthawk and his crew press on, both Hellcat and Hercules fumble for their Avengers I.D.s in order to placate the police--but during their delay, their foes give everyone the slip (yes, apparently the police officers on the scene had their weapons trained on only the good guys) and escape, with Herc and his team in hot pursuit.

Meanwhile, Nighthawk's team seems cursed to offer the kind of heroic experience no hero in their right mind would want on a regular basis.

Nighthawk then attempts to collar the true villains at large on his own, only to be blasted by the Melter for his trouble. Afterward, he goes on to form up with the Valkyrie's team and challenge the group who attacked him. As for Hercules' team, they engage in a life-or-death struggle with their foes in the underground subway tunnels, a battle which is brought to an abrupt end when the mental fury of *gulp* Hellcat is unleashed.

So our count so far is:

  • Three Defenders applicants making an early departure;
  • One group of Defenders applicants deciding being a Defender isn't all it's cracked up to be;
  • One group of villains (led by Sagittarius) defeated; and
  • One group of heroes going down with them.

Leaving the Valkyrie's group facing off against Libra's group. Unfortunately, the Valkyrie also is a victim of the unexpected, when the insanity of her human host breaks through and comes into conflict with her Asgardian persona, and she turns against friend and foe alike.

On the bright side, the rest of the Defenders applicants decide to pack it in, with Nighthawk's blessing, leaving the mystery of the Valkyrie's behavior for another issue. On the not-so-bright side, Dollar Bill was booted off the Defenders' property by Nighthawk at the start of this mess--but true to his character, he lands on his feet and is off to tackle new boffo challenges.

Heaven help us all.

Yeah, I'm with you--just who the heck is this Tagak character, anyway?

The Defenders #s 62-64

Script: David Kraft
Pencils: Sal Buscema
Inks: Jim Mooney and Don Perlin
Letterer: John Costanza


George Chambers said...

Oh gods... so much clumsy, expositional dialogue. I mean, I don't go around saying "George Chambers will now have a beer!" I know they're superheroes and get hit in the head a lot, but I find it difficult to believe they've all forgotten how to use personal pronouns. Sheesh!

Comicsfan said...

If I had to take a wild guess, George, I'd say that everyone doing their own name-dropping had less to do with the use of personal pronouns (in this case, as you note, the lack of use) than it did with all the free advertising that was being deployed for those characters appearing in other books whom the reader might be seeing for the first time--to say nothing of characters like Ms. Marvel, Nova, and Black Goliath who were struggling to find an audience.

Warren JB said...

Gonna be honest, the dialogue that makes me double-take is all the 'boffo, socko, by cracky!' stuff, than the pronouns.

Anonymous said...

Dollar Bill for president!
Great post!

johnlindwall said...

As a youngster, I was a Defenders reader when this book came out. I LOVED this story! Dollar Bill was an annoying character but I like how how he was the catalyst for this fun wacky story!

As a giant Nova fan I was stoked to see him appear here! I also really liked Jack of Hearts who never found an audience, and also was a bit of a jerk in this issue.

I must not have had the final story of this "arc" (lol, we did not know that word back then!) since I do not recall reading about the fights in Manhattan with the baddies. Makes me want to collect this set! So fun.

The expositional dialog and wordiness were and are fine to me; my ear was trained reading these kinds of comics, so the fact that "nobody in real life would talk that way" does not even register as an argument to me. I can appreciate how newer readers have different expectations of writing to be sure.

Awesome post, as always!

Comicsfan said...

M.P. and John, so glad you enjoyed the look back at this tale. Unfortunately, Dollar Bill elbowed me aside and exclaimed something about calling on you for testimonials--you know how he is about raking in the praise! ;)

Anonymous said...

Maybe the Hulk's third person dialog ("Hulk no like Air Force dropping bombs on him. Hulk smash puny Air Force jets!" "Too many commercials. Hulk smash TV!") was contagious.

dbutler16 said...

This looks fun. I don't think I'll read these. I'll have to check them out.

As far as the dialogue, I've come to accept that the people in comics books aren't going to speak exactly like real life people, and a lot of that has to do with the dialogue being meant for the reader, rather than for the person being spoken to in the comic.