Friday, March 9, 2018

The Day Of The Defenders!

It's unclear whether or not Dr. Strange had the good sense to take further steps in securing the Omegatron--the doomsday device created by the scientist/sorcerer known as Yandroth to explode the world's nuclear stockpiles at the moment the device speaks its creator's name--following its previous attempt to power itself to a sufficient level to carry out its task. Since the Omegatron is a creation of both science and magic, Strange doesn't seem to believe his power can affect it at all--"Too potent is the mixture of science and sorcery that birthed [it]." Only the Valkyrie, armed with the Black Knight's ebony blade, was able to damage it to a point where it was incapacitated--but like a Timex watch, the darned thing appears to be able to take a licking but keep on ticking. Only in the Omegatron's case, its countdown has run its course, and it only awaits the power it needs to activate its deadly conflagration.

Yet we have the Omegatron to thank for bringing together a new group of heroes--only don't make the mistake of calling them a "team,"  at least within earshot.

This premiere issue of Marvel Feature was published during the last month of 1971, with an eye-catching cover by Neal Adams that practically guaranteed a double-take from the comics rack browser. (Did these three cause the destruction and panic going on in the background--or have they just dealt with whoever did? Haven't you wondered?) Since Strange had previous and separate dealings with both the Sub-Mariner and the Hulk when they fought together in common cause, it was likely no complication for writer Roy Thomas (who scripted those earlier instances) to craft another story involving them, which was workable as a one-shot (or even a two-shot)--yet, what was the plan here? The Bullpen Bulletins page plugging the Marvel Feature title described it as a quarterly book that "will present try-out stories for new series, new ideas"--so it appeared that Thomas was floating the concept of the Defenders as a new series to be picked up later, depending on initial sales. But did he look that far down the road with this concept? Men like Namor and the Hulk could be coaxed to join Strange on those rare occasions when the need was desperate enough--but was Thomas expecting that to do the trick on a regular basis?

At any rate, the "Defenders" were an intriguing concept that deserved a look, and Thomas crafted a compelling enough story to launch it--with Strange's old enemy, Yandroth, at death's door, yet who warns of dire consequences from beyond the grave.

At first I thought it served the story well (and the character, too) to have Yandroth meeting his end due to a common street accident, but I was a bit dismayed to discover that he had planned his death thus. It would be one thing for him to design and build the Omegatron as a contingency plan which would give him "the last laugh," so to speak, when he breathed his last; but to discover that he'd actually arranged the circumstances of his death seemed a little over the top. Granted, we would have had to wait who knows how long for Yandroth's life to come to an end, otherwise--but even villains can't foresee every eventuality, and having a worldwide catastrophe come about much earlier than even its orchestrator expected would have made for an interesting twist. But as we'll discover, Yandroth has summoned Strange and alerted him to the Omegatron for a reason, one which goes beyond mere braggadocio or the satisfaction of gloating.

And so Thomas has Strange covering a few bases prior to bringing in the other two title characters. First, he compels the physicians, through magic, to operate on Yandroth in an effort to save his life and thus avert world's end--though, to his horror, Yandroth dies on the operating table, which means that the Omegatron has begun a five-hour countdown to its activation. Secondly, Thomas provides a convenient if unsubstantiated reason for Strange to spend precious time reaching out to Namor and the Hulk, rather than dealing with the Omegatron himself: the "suspicion" that the device cannot be dealt with by magic alone.

Now racing against time, it only remains for Strange to bring the players together--a task we learn the Sub-Mariner can facilitate, which could be the reason why he's Thomas's first choice for Strange to seek out.

At Namor's suggestion, Strange then mystically locates the Silver Surfer, only to find him engaged in another attempt to break through the barrier of Galactus which keeps him imprisoned on Earth. When the effort renders him unconscious, Strange turns his attention to ascertaining the whereabouts of the Hulk. It's possible that Strange's attempt to conscript the Surfer is the reason why a number of people consider the Surfer to be one of the "original" Defenders, even though the character never actively participated in this tale or in any of the other two stories which made up the Defenders' run in Marvel Feature; indeed, the Surfer's later appearance as one of the group only came about through a misassumption on Namor's part that the sky-rider was a willing part of a plot by agents of the Undying Ones to slay him. At most, the Surfer "became" a Defender due to circumstances beyond his control--though since he joined with the others to solve the mystery of the his impostor, perhaps it's a moot point.

As for the Hulk, his circumstances for signing up for this mission were far less dignified than Namor's.

As contemptuous as Thomas's story handles Strange's treatment of the Hulk, Thomas takes some unlikely shortcuts in securing the Hulk's cooperation, since, to the Hulk, Strange has proven himself by his actions to be an enemy. It makes little sense for the Hulk to react to Strange's continued attacks by suddenly shifting his mood to one of patience and curiosity, even at Namor's urging--and equally improbable for him to trust this man who hasn't uttered one word of explanation or regret for his actions. To Thomas, it seems the Hulk's simple-minded state always provides a way out of such situations--an unfortunate approach, even when it serves to move things along as it does here.

Thanks to one of Yandroth's doctors name-dropping the location of his home in Maine, Strange and the others proceed there, where they find the Omegatron's defenses adequate enough to prevent their gaining access easily. Even now, Strange tends to take for granted the cooperation of those who accompany him; whether that's out of a sense or urgency or if it's simply "his way" is unclear, though his history has shown him to be rather aloof and/or abrupt when finding himself in a position of having to deal with others in the course of accomplishing his goal. Fortunately, for the sake of a concept that might turn into a lucrative series, Thomas allows him to begin to have more meaningful interaction with his associates--in this case, learning very quickly that he must tread more carefully with Namor than he did with the Hulk.

The preliminaries over, Thomas and artist Ross Andru provide ample opportunity for those readers who aren't all that familiar with these characters to see what both the Sub-Mariner and the Hulk bring to the table as far as breaching the Omegatron's defenses--more so the Hulk, whose name and bulk make him more suited to be shown fighting his way past whatever the Omegatron throws at him. When the way is sufficiently cleared--and the Omegatron sufficient distracted--Strange manages to penetrate the walls and confront the Omegatron directly, only to learn that he's played right into Yandroth's hands.

Based on what the Omegatron has divulged, it's now imperative that Strange prevent his allies from making physical contact with the device and thus supplying it with the power to carry out its task. That will be no simple matter, given that they've been warned of the Omegatron's ability to protect itself with hallucinations--and what hallucination could be more earnest and coincidental than the image of Dr. Strange, appearing in their midst to call off the attack just when their destruction of the device appears imminent?

How ironic that both Namor and the Hulk have the presence of mind to deduce (if erroneously) that the Omegatron has cast a false image of Strange--yet they so easily fall prey to the images that Strange has caused them to see. That's either due to the possibility that Strange's illusions are sophisticated enough to remove all doubt from Namor or the Hulk, or it's a plot oversight on Thomas's part.

With the clash of the Hulk and Namor itself providing the Omegatron with the power it needs, and that Strange is running out of time, the solution that he arrives at is a clever one, since its principle is that of time itself.

The Hulk's parting sentiments would be echoed by Namor in the third and final installment of this series of "try-out stories" for the Defenders, once the two aided Strange in defeating Xemnu, the Titan: "...come, brutish one. Our business here is finished. And, let not even Dr. Strange summon us in Earth's next hour of need... for, we will not come!" Oh, Namor. Those are what we humans call "famous last words."

Marvel Feature #1

Script: Roy Thomas
Pencils: Ross Andru
Inks: Bill Everett
Letterer: Sam Rosen


George Chambers said...

If Strange had just thought to use his time-dilation whammy on Yandroth, to prolong his comatose state indefinitely, he'd not have needed to recruit Hulk or Namor. Just sayin'.

dangermash said...

Is this that famous comic where the inker went all passive aggressive and inked every single line that had been pencilled? Everett inking Andru or Andru inking Everett? Something like that?

Comicsfan said...

George, not being a doctor this is only supposition on my part, but a comatose state likely wouldn't have suspended any life-threatening injuries that Yandroth sustained as a result of the truck impact--so his death would still have been a certainty, particularly with his doctors giving him only until the morning to live.

dangermash, stay tuned for a scheduled post early next week which addresses that very topic!

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of a story in Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol, in which they face a giant floating eyeball called the Decreator, which was beginning to erase the universe. The Doom Patrol couldn't stop it so they just slowed it way down, like Doc Strange did with Yandroth.
The Decreator is still erasing the universe, just really slowly, piece by piece. This explains why you only get one sock out of the dryer, why you don't hear about Judd Nelson anymore, or why the hair on top of your head starts to disappear.
I'll bet you dollars to donuts Morrison got the idea from this story.


Comicsfan said...

Good lord, M.P.--I was thinking about Judd Nelson just the other day, and how I'd like to see "From The Hip" again. ::shudder::

James MacKay said...

Dangermash, this was indeed the issue where Everett had both Roy (and Stan Lee) royally honked off by the way he embellished Andru's pencils. Apparently, they got over their anger, since Everett continued to work for Marvel until his untimely death in 1973.

Warren JB said...

Funny, I was thinking how interesting the inking looked. I thought it had a vague Steve-Bisette look about it, in places. (Very, very vague, maybe)

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