Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Revenge Is A Dish Best Served Unfrozen

In Part 1 of the Defenders tale which introduces the character of Nebulon, the Celestial Man, and returns to comics the Squadron Sinister (a team of criminals which includes, notably, the future Defender, Nighthawk), we learned of a bargain made by the Squadron with Nebulon that would "sell" him the planet Earth, on the condition that its entire surface be underwater before he would take possession of it. To that end, Nebulon supplied the Squadron with a laser device which would facilitate melting the polar ice caps, resulting in a sudden and massive rise in global sea levels which would inundate the world's land masses and cause widescale death and destruction. Upon hearing the insane proposal by his partners, Nighthawk rejected any involvement with their plan and eventually made his way to the Defenders to enlist their help in stopping it, only to be retrieved and imprisoned by Nebulon.

The Defenders mobilized and responded, taking their fight to the Arctic where the Squadron had already begun constructing the laser device. But though they did well at meeting the threat of the Squadron, it was Nebulon who again acted to curtail their interference, capturing them in the same type of energy globe that also held Nighthawk. And now, with the Squadron poised to fulfill their part of this mad bargain, Nebulon is prepared to destroy the Defenders--the first casualties in a wave of death soon to cover the entire world!

Yet, to the surprise of the other Squadron members, and certainly to the Defenders, Hyperion stops Nebulon from executing their prisoners, drawing on his own bitterness at the destruction of his sub-atomic world as well as his hellish imprisonment following a battle with the mighty Thor while acting as a pawn of the Grandmaster. In the process, we learn of his initial encounter with Nebulon in space--a prospector of sorts in search of a suitable world to ensure the survival of his race.

The "sale" of Earth, a recurring motif which has been conspicuous in this two-part story by writer Len Wein (and given prominent exposure on this issue's cover), is thus nothing more than a bargain struck between Hyperion and Nebulon--with the latter obviously not too concerned with confirming Hyperion's presumed credentials as a bona fide representative of Earth, as long as the Squadron follows through on flooding the planet. As for Hyperion's "asking price," as it were, it translates to the achievement of his long-sought revenge on our world--but what about the others? You'd think even men like Spectrum and the Whizzer would have something to say about their homeworld becoming uninhabitable, though Nighthawk in Part 1 gives cursory reasons for their agreement to cooperate.

Yet right now, it's the fate of the Defenders which demands our focus, since Nebulon is about to snuff out their lives. But despite the bloodthirsty Whizzer being on board with that, it's Hyperion, with his lingering issues, who insists that they suffer the same fate that Thor had meant for him--and since Nebulon has a timetable to observe, it's in his best interest to appease the man who is helping him achieve his ends. Little does Hyperion realize that, thanks in part to his former partner whom Nebulon has now imprisoned with the others, he'll be seeing the Defenders again quite soon.

Since Part 1 saw the Squadron Sinister take the heat from the Defenders, the battle that plays out in Part 2 shifts the spotlight to the non-team facing off against Nebulon, due to the alien's preoccupation with Hyperion and the others getting on with their work (and perhaps also to avoid the appearance of repetition, given that the Defenders have already proven themselves against the Squadron). As a result, the next five pages of the story unfortunately give the sense of everyone spinning their wheels until it's time for the climax to take center stage, since Nebulon appears to have no trouble holding everyone at bay.

Interestingly, it's the presence of Nighthawk--a character we haven't seen that much of, aside from an appearance in Daredevil--who keeps this story from drowning in the Defenders' seeming futility to make headway in stopping this scheme, and Nebulon in particular. His break with the Squadron... his determination to find allies to help stop them... his lack of hesitation in pitching in to fight with the Defenders... we know in hindsight that Wein has plans for him, but in this tale we see the beginnings of a makeover for a character who until now was under the radar. (And were it not for his association with the Squadron, he might well have stayed there.) There's not much Nighthawk can accomplish, since this battle occurs during the day and his enhanced strength doesn't kick in until after dusk--but the insight he brings to the table and his willingness to contribute make him out to be a natural team player. And before this day is over, we'll be witness to a more significant example of his worth.

As for the Defenders, their persistance finally pays off when their combined attacks force Nebulon to lose his focus--and for a creature like Nebulon, concentration is key to maintaining an existence on even frozen land.

With time of the essence, and a possible stalemate between the Defenders and their foes, Nighthawk takes stock of the situation and attempts a gambit on the spur of the moment--one which not only meets with unexpected success, but, for the Squadron Sinister and their ill-conceived bargain with Nebulon, also serves as a reminder that what goes around comes around.

Yet Nighthawk's pivot toward heroism meets with what could prove to be an untimely end, as his swiftness is unable to save him from the effects of Nebulon's last salvo against the device which very nearly began a worldwide cataclysm.

Nighthawk's new lease on life, combined with an assessment of his criminal past, then prompts him to make an unexpected request of those who literally gave their lives to save his--a request that under normal circumstances would be a no-brainer for a super-team to grant, but has its complications for a group with no formal structure. But the door is left open nonetheless, thanks to the lingering anger of the Sub-Mariner at being conscripted for this mission against his will--yet how cryptically Wein chooses to word Nighthawk's sentiments in the final panel, though Strange and the others seem to take them in stride.

It would be odd for Nighthawk to demonstrate a lack of self-confidence at this point (if that's indeed what we're seeing), having performed so well under duress throughout this entire affair. Or does he worry about his desire for criminal undertakings resurfacing? Wein wouldn't be staying long enough on the title to follow through on any foundation he might be laying in that regard--but as we've seen from the level of commitment in this first formal member of the Defenders (that is, if we're not counting the Valkyrie), the future showed that he opted to leave his past in the past.

The Defenders #14

Script: Len Wein
Pencils: Sal Buscema
Inks: Dan Green
Letterer: Artie Simek


Colin Jones said...

The revelation of Nebulon's true self is a sight that can never be forgotten - that tentacled monstrosity is like something dreamed up by H.P. Lovecraft!

So Nighthawk joins the Defenders and in the next issue his face replaces Namor's in the corner-box (corner-bubbles?) while poor old Val is ignored despite her being in the team since #5.

Comicsfan said...

Well, Colin, it would take a few more issues for Namor's image to be replaced by Nighthawk's (maybe they were weaning buyers who were Sub-Mariner fans--letting them get used to not seeing him in the issues before pulling his cover icon), but you have a point about Val. It would take her over 35 issues since her introduction to find her place on the cover's roster of Defenders, which seems an oversight to say the least. I guess the bright side is that, since the Defenders aren't formally a team, none of them should really care about a picture indicating whether they're a member, since the designation is inapplicable; in fact, technically their images could just be represented by question marks. Maybe that would have satisfied our Prince of Atlantis? :)

Anonymous said...

I think Wein was thinking of Lovecraft, that's what I immediately thought of when I first read this long ago.
I wonder if Wein wasn't also inspired by David Bowie's song, "The Man Who Sold the World."
Apparently Wein was into a lotta stuff I was into. Still am.
A classic two-issue arc. Some of the Squadron's motivations are a bit forced, as you pointed out, C.F., but it's a minor gripe.
If Nebulon had just waited around a hundred years or so, the icecaps would melt by themselves! But maybe he was on the clock and had to hurry things up.
Great comic and a great review.


Comicsfan said...

That's not a bad observation on Wein's inspiration for the big sale here by Hyperion, M.P. A pity the man is no longer with us to ask--a fine talent in Marvel's ranks, to be sure.

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