I sometimes have trouble making my brain stop thinking. As a writer, it’s hard to read a book, story or comic or watch anything without having my “is this the way I would have done this?” or “what can I learn from this?” working in the background. This can be exhausting.
I’m in one of those periods now, so in the last couple of months, I watched the whole Logan’s Run TV series and a few episodes of the 1978 Battlestar Galactica for its kitsch, nostalgia and the mental time travel to my youth. I blogged a bit about 70s sci-fi TV here. But I still needed something more to listen to while driving and doing dishes.
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Luckily and very happily, I found the podcast Defenders Dialog, created by the novelists and comic book writers Christopher Golden and Brian Keene. One of my first comics was a Dr. Strange issue, so when I went to the spinner rack and saw him in The Defenders, I picked it up and started collecting during the JM DeMatteis years. I’ve been reading along with the podcast via my Marvel Unlimited subscription and really enjoying myself.
The key cast at the beginning was Dr. Strange, the Sub-Mariner, and the Hulk, with sometimes the Silver Surfer, with a very clear sense that these guys were not into being a formal group like the Fantastic Four or the Avengers.
The very quickly (by issue #4) added the Asgardian Valkyrie, with her great strength mixed with naivete and a brave warrior certainty.
Nighthawk soon followed as another mainstay, but the delightfully unstable cast included Luke Cage, Son-of-Satan, Red Guardian, Yellowjacket, Clea, and so on. I was never persuaded that many of these were actually real Defenders so much as 1-issue walk-ons as if this was a more ambitious Marvel Team-Up.
The first run was written by Englehart and drawn by Sal Buscema and immediately introduced an off-angle vibe to the series with such bizarre villains as Yandroth the Scientist Supreme and Nebulon the Celestial Man and the Undying Ones, a Marvel version of the Lovecraftian Old Ones.
In addition to the erratic cast, the early adventures went into a weirdness overdrive under the pen of Steve Gerber. The Headmen were created out of the dregs of 1950s Marvel horror comics and were just a bunch of scientists and losers who had damaged and augmented their heads at some point in their scientific or mystical pursuits.
Gerber took other existing Defenders IP and made it weirder too, like bringing back Nebulon and trying to make him into a cult leader based on a philosophy that everyone is a bozo. This weirdness reached its post-modern pinnacle with the Elf With a Gun, a… well, elf, who showed up in ways utterly unrelated to the rest of the plot and shot random people.
The addition of Valkyrie and Nighthawk created the emotional drive of the series, because unlike the rest of the Defenders, these two existed only in this series and had no other place to go. And their loneliness coalesced around my favorite characterization of the Hulk, which is someone who wants friends and doesn’t know how to have them, and is very lonely too.
His tantrums, logical leaps, and utter inability to practice deception were funny and often touching pathways into the other characters.
I’m reading issue #106 right now (out of 151) and I very much recommend doing this Defenders book club with Chris and Brian. It’s a lot of fun and can be done almost entirely in Marvel Unlimited. This service is missing about 20 issues out of the series, but enables reading all of the side issues and cross-overs, all for less than the price of Netflix. Check it out here.
Derek Kunsken writes science fiction, fantasy and horror in Gatineau, Quebec. His first novel, The Quantum Magician, in a finalist for the Locus Award. He tweets from @derekkunsken and is at the SFWA Nebula Conference this weekend before flying to Beijing for Another Planet SF Conference next weekend.